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My Newest and Most Important Battle Ever…

One year ago today marked our first full day of living in Dubai. The boys and I had arrived very late the night before, which also happened to be my 40th birthday. Starting a new decade of life on a new continent halfway across the world made the move especially poignant, I remember thinking. I felt so positive, so “renewed”, and yet so anxious all at the same time.

We came home in June for the summer, with plans to return (and to a new school with a much better contractua/housing package and a seemingly much better academic program for the boys).

We never made it back to Dubai. In mid-July, a routine doctor’s appointment led to a diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer that had spread into my lymph nodes.

After hearing a couple of treatment options, I decided to go with having chemotherapy before the radiation (as opposed to the other way around). And I’m currently halfway through the 6-session treatment cycle.

So far, the news has been positive. The doctors feel the chemo is working. I had a tumor in a node on my neck that was easily noticeable. It looked like half a boiled egg, but has shrunk down to the point that my oncologist can’t even feel it anymore, never mind see it. This makes us optimistic.

And I have to be optimistic. I have three boys who are only 7, 8, and 10 years old, and need a mother. So I try my best to stay positive. I stay away from Web MD and those other sites. I ignore the statistics. Because I have to.

I wasn’t sure whether to take my battle public via this blog. But I do have a fairly significant followers by now – enough to warrant an explanation as to why I’m not back in Dubai.

So there it is. Hopefully this post will prove to have cured my writer’s block. For most of the time between chemo sessions I’m feeling well enough to be writing and taking action against corporate reform, and now I feel like I can get back to it!

Link

A Call to Action for Anyone Invested in Public Education and Our Children’s Futures

A Call to Action for Anyone Invested in Public Education and Our Children’s Futures

 

It is imperative that this link be shared far and wide, and that people add their names to the list. The Gates’ Foundation is being asked to divest from corporate education reform, and the letter with signatures will be delivered at the Educating Gates Rally on June 26th.

Their policies continue to use our children as guinea pigs in corporate reform experiments and risk doing “irreparable harm to our schools and our students”.

Please take the time to sign and share…

A Colorado English Teacher Slams Common Core…

…as well she should.

Pauline Hawkins came into the field of teaching just as NCLB got underway. Her recent blog post was also her resignation letter; it has gone viral. Whether you started your teaching career alongside Ms Hawkins, or even before NCLB, as I did, you know too well the harm that has come to our next generation….and continues to come, as long as this insanity keeps up. 

I would like to help spread Ms Hawkins’ eloquent and on-point letter…I hope you do, too.

http://paulinehawkins.com/2014/04/07/my-resignation-letter/

Famed Authors Challenge Obama’s National Education Policy…As Well They Should

There’s not a person in America…or likely, the world…who doesn’t know the name Maya Angelou. She is not only an author, but in my opinion, one of the most inspirational women of our time. Dr. Angelou has recently voiced her disagreement regarding President Obabma’s national education policy, along with 120 other famous authors.

Judy Blume carried me, personally, through my pre-teen years. I remember being in 5th grade and getting a box set of Blume’s books for Christmas. My older cousins told my mother to take, “Then Again, Maybe I Won’t” out of the set because it was “too risqué” for a 10 year old. I hated them for that, even though, at the time, I didn’t know what “risqué” meant! But I do admit to practicing the exercises in “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret?”…”I must, I must, I must increase my bust”; I don’t think there’s a girl of my generation who didn’t!

The other author I was happy to see among the list of signatures was Rosemary Wells. The “Max and Ruby” books and TV show were a major part of my own boys’ toddler years, and one of the few shows I actually enjoyed watching with them (sorry, “Caillou”…as much as they loved you, I can’t say I felt the same).

Let’s hope that when acclaimed authors make such a statement to Obama, he might actually take note. Although I’m not optimistic, but at least the effort is there…read on…

 

Maya Angelou hits Obama on school ‘testing overuse and abuse’

10/28/13 07:15 AM—UPDATED 10/28/13 09:57 AM
By msnbc staff

Famed author and poet Maya Angelou and 120 other children’s book authors are challenging President Obama’s national education policy over what they call an “overuse and abuse” of standardized testing. They say the focus on testing hurts children’s imaginations and has a negative impact on children’s love of reading. 

Obama’s signature education program, “Race to the Top,” has been criticized for heightening the value placed on students’ performance on standardized tests as an indicator of a teacher’s success in the classroom.

Read the letter below:  

President Barack Obama

The White House

Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

We the undersigned children’s book authors and illustrators write to express our concern for our readers, their parents and teachers. We are alarmed at the negative impact of excessive school testing mandates, including your Administration’s own initiatives, on children’s love of reading and literature. Recent policy changes by your Administration have not lowered the stakes. On the contrary, requirements to evaluate teachers based on student test scores impose more standardized exams and crowd out exploration.

We call on you to support authentic performance assessments, not simply computerized versions of multiple-choice exams. We also urge you to reverse the narrowing of curriculum that has resulted from a fixation on high-stakes testing.

Our public school students spend far too much time preparing for reading tests and too little time curling up with books that fire their imaginations. As Michael Morpurgo, author of the Tony Award Winner War Horse, put it, “It’s not about testing and reading schemes, but about loving stories and passing on that passion to our children.”

Teachers, parents and students agree with British author Philip Pullman who said, “We are creating a generation that hates reading and feels nothing but hostility for literature.” Students spend time on test practice instead of perusing books. Too many schools devote their library budgets to test-prep materials, depriving students of access to real literature. Without this access, children also lack exposure to our country’s rich cultural range.

This year has seen a growing national wave of protest against testing overuse and abuse. As the authors and illustrators of books for children, we feel a special responsibility to advocate for change. We offer our full support for a national campaign to change the way we assess learning so that schools nurture creativity, exploration, and a love of literature from the first day of school through high school graduation.

Alma Flor Ada
Alma Alexander
Jane Ancona
Maya Angelou
Jonathan Auxier
Kim Baker
Molly Bang
Tracy Barrett
Chris Barton
Ari Berk
Judy Blume
Alfred B. (Fred) Bortz
Lynea Bowdish
Sandra Boynton
Shellie Braeuner
Ethriam Brammer
Louann Mattes Brown
Anne Broyles
Michael Buckley
Janet Buell
Dori Hillestad Butler
Charito Calvachi-Mateyko
Valerie Scho Carey
Rene Colato Lainez
Henry Cole
Ann Cook
Karen Coombs
Robert Cortez
Cynthia Cotten
Bruce Coville
Ann Crews
Donald Crews
Nina Crews
Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Laura Dower
Kathryn Erskine
Jules Feiffer
Jody Feldman
Mary Ann Fraser
Sharlee Glenn
Barbara Renaud Gonzalez
Laurie Gray
Trine M. Grillo
Claudia Harrington
Sue Heavenrich
Linda Oatman High
Anna Grossnickle Hines
Lee Bennett Hopkins
Phillip Hoose
Diane M. Hower
Michelle Houts
Mike Jung
Kathy Walden Kaplan
Amal Karzai
Jane Kelley
Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff
Amy Goldman Koss
JoAnn Vergona Krapp
Nina Laden
Sarah Darer Littman
José Antonio López
Mariellen López
Jenny MacKay
Marianne Malone
Ann S. Manheimer
Sally Mavor
Diane Mayr
Marissa Moss
Yesenia Navarrete Hunter
Sally Nemeth
Kim Norman
Geraldo Olivo
Alexis O’Neill
Anne Marie Pace
Amado Peña
Irene Peña
Lynn Plourde
Ellen Prager, PhD
David Rice
Armando Rendon
Joan Rocklin
Judith Robbins Rose
Sergio Ruzzier
Barb Rosenstock
Liz Garton Scanlon
Lisa Schroeder
Sara Shacter
Wendi Silvano
Janni Lee Simner
Sheri Sinykin
Jordan Sonnenblick
Ruth Spiro
Heidi E.Y. Stemple
Whitney Stewart
Shawn K. Stout
Steve Swinburne
Carmen Tafolla
Kim Tomsic
Duncan Tonatiuh
Patricia Thomas
Kristin O’Donnell Tubb
Deborah Underwood
Corina Vacco
Audrey Vernick
Debbie Vilardi
Judy Viorst
K. M. Walton
Wendy Wax
April Halprin Wayland
Carol Weis
Rosemary Wells
Lois Wickstrom
Suzanne Morgan Williams
Kay Winters
Ashley Wolff
Lisa Yee
Karen Romano Young
Jane Yolen
Roxyanne Young
Paul O. Zelinsky
Jennifer Ziegler

Happy 11 Month Birthday, Indignant Teacher!

I remember a year ago tomorrow like it was yesterday. I dropped my boys off with my mother and headed “in town” to Court Street, where I went through the lengthy process of resigning from the Boston Public Schools, after 15 years of dedicated service in some of the most impoverished schools in the City.

The day was bittersweet – and stressful. I had no plans for my financial future, and no idea of what possibly I could do, other than teach. But I also knew that I had no choice. I could not continue to go to work every day and do these things that I was mandated to do, while knowing that none of them were in the best interest of the lives I was expected to positively affect.

People thought I was crazy. People thought I was having a mid-life crisis or something for throwing away this job security and financial security for my future, to just “quit”. But I wasn’t “quitting” the job I once loved – the job I once knew I excelled at…that was long gone. I was leaving this nightmare of corporate reform, which, at the time, I was totally ignorant about. All I knew then was that everything that was happening in the schools was so very, very wrong. And I hated being a part of it all.

So I turned in the requisite paperwork and went home and started studying…reading…learning about everything I had no idea about before this. Diane Ravitch was the voice of clarity for me. And a month later, The Indignant Teacher was born.

I started testifying at the State House against the corporate reform measures. I started writing this blog in hopes that my voice would be heard. And so far, I’ve had 380,000 views, which I think is pretty successful.

 

Summertime came, and I realized that my retirement package would not last forever, and I needed to find something to do. My good friend was going to teach in Abu Dhabi, so I started looking into that. However, I was applying in the very late stages of international teaching jobs, so I was not optimistic.

September came, and I realized I had to make a decision about the education of my own 3 elementary-aged boys. Not wanting to expose them any longer to the devastation of corporate reform, I decided to home-school. This was far from my own ideal situation, but, as a mother, I didn’t know what other choice I had.

We turned the dining room into a “classroom” and school got started for these 1st, 2nd, and 4th graders. Funny enough, all three of them were much “better” students than they were sons. They put on their school faces, even at home school, but once they left the dining room for the day, all bets were off, and they again went into the driving-me-crazy mode.

During the third week of September I was invited to have a Skype interview with a private school in Mirdif, Dubai. I was offered, on the spot, the position of Special Needs Coordinator. I accepted, and, on October 7th, we got on the plane.

My life here has been amazing – but also difficult, in some ways. The school is unspeakably awesome; from a parent’s point of view, I couldn’t ask or hope for more. My boys are thriving; their teachers are some of the best I have ever come to know. They are also learning Arabic – and all picking it up so quickly – which I think is fantastic. It is a fully bilingual IB school, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of it, and have my boys be a part of it as well.

If you had asked me 11 months ago whether or not I’d ever see myself walking away from everything I ever knew – leaving my comfort zone of Boston, to travel halfway across the world to teach in the Middle East – I’d have said you’re crazy. But we’re here, and I couldn’t be happier to have this opportunity – or especially, to give my boys the opportunity to be educated in a place that values and focuses on what they need, and not what someone is trying to make a buck from.

At the end of the day, I miss my Boston friends and family terribly, and I hope to someday return. But this corporate reform movement needs to be redirected – and soon. I will continue to do what I can from here, and am optimistic that things will soon change. We all need to stand together and fight for what is right for our children – and tomorrow’s generation.

A Letter to My Massachusetts Colleagues

Dear Massachusetts Public Schoolteachers,

I am writing to you today from Dubai, where I relocated in October to escape the insanity that came with trying to educate our students under the ridiculous mandates of corporate reform. We all know well the disastrous turn education has taken over the last decade or so, and it is time we finally unite to stop our schools from careening down this path any further.

While I know PARCC is already underway this week in many schools, it’s still not too late to do something about it. Most parents – and many teachers, I assume – have been led to believe that a child’s participation in PARCC is mandatory. It is not. Bob Bickerton, an official with the MA DESE, recently admitted that students can not be forced to take PARCC. Likewise, they may not face any adverse consequences as a result of being opted-out.

The purpose of this letter is to urge each one of you to notify your students’ parents about their right to opt their children out of PARCC – immediately. Our Freedom of Speech Act entitles all of us to take this step without any possible consequence.

The bottom line is, each of us went into teaching because we care about the well-being of children, and because we want to see the next generation succeed. We do know best; we are experts in the field of education, and we need to stop letting non-experts dictate. Especially when everything they are telling us to do is so very, tragically wrong.

The state of Massachusetts has long been considered as having the best public schools in America. Isn’t it time we reclaim that title, and go down in history as the state that led the nation to victory in this corporate reform war?

Let’s see what can happen to ed reform when it comes from the bottom up for a change. Let’s see what we teachers can do when we do what we know is right. Let’s join together and encourage our students’ parents to opt them out of PARCC.

I have written a sample letter below – please feel free to share it, edit, or create your own. But please, please do what’s best for the students in Massachusetts, and at the very least give the parents the option – and the knowledge – to make an informed decision.

Dear Parent/Guardian,

As you know, the PARCC field test is currently being administered in your son or daughter’s classroom. I am writing to inform you that your child’s participation in this field-test is not mandatory.

Having your child participate in PARCC this spring will serve no benefit to his/her personal education or development as a citizen. Students are being asked to take part in this “experiment” to “test the test” of the Common Core – the set of standards that Massachusetts (& most other states) adopted. Common Core State Standards were set – and in stealth – by a small group of people (none of whom were actually teachers), funded from start to finish by one source (Gates Foundation), for the purpose of competing for federal monies via Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. While the media may say differently, education experts and the vast majority of teachers do not support these changes that Gates and RTTT have imposed for many reasons; the primary one being that they are not what’s in the best interest of the children we teach.

I am writing to you today because I care very much about the social, emotional, and academic development of your child, and also because I know that the general populous is being fed mis-truths about what is happening in public schools. As parents, caregivers, and taxpayers, you have the right to make informed decisions when considering the well-being of your children, and so today, I am urging you to do just that.

For more information, I suggest you visit dianeravitch.net, networkforpubliceducation.org, citizensforpublicschools.org (MA advocacy group), teachersletterstobillgates.com, and theindignantteacher.wordpress.com; also check out the “Mass Parents Opt Out of PARCC Pilot” page on Facebook.

Only then will you be able to make the best choice for your child, and the future of his education.

 

Aside

Mercedes Schneider Explains the Current Desperation of the Common Core

Mercedes Schneider writes one of the best edu-blogs I’ve read. In her most recent post, she dissects the desperation of the “mammoth corporate reform machine”, as opponents are finally having their voices heard.

Coincidentally, The Today Show has put forth a survey on Facebook, to find out how many Americans support or oppose the high-stakes tests that are infesting and infecting our public schools today. They will “tackle the debate” on air tomorrow.

I don’t think it will be much of a debate – most recent numbers indicate over 6,000 are against & 40 are pro testing. Be sure to cast your own vote. https://www.facebook.com/questions/10152328881051350/?qa_ref=pp

In the meantime, read on…

It seems that the protests of the American citizen against the so-called Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has become proverbial grains of sand in the works of the mammoth corporate reform machine.

Die-hard supporters of CCSS are becoming desperate, and such is showing in their words and actions.

Consider Jeb Bush’s declaration, “In Asia today, they don’t care about children’s self esteem….”

This hard-nosed attitude is supposed to appeal to the American public and advance CCSS?

Jeb is definitely pushing CCSS whether America likes it or not– but he is becoming sloppy in his rhetoric.

He is not alone in his desperate, Save CCSS efforts.

Founder and director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools Caroline Roemer-Shirley (sister to our state board of education president) wrote this op/ed for the Baton Rouge Advocate on March 24, 2014.

Not surprisingly, she is pro-CCSS.

Notice the authoritarian desperation in her closing statement:

It’s critically important that all of us — parents, educators, community leaders and businessmen — oppose efforts to derail the Common Core State Standards.

Good public education is the key to success for our children and we must help them get there by all means available. A quality education is one of childhood’s most basic civil rights. Our goal must be to get our children into the top tiers nationally. That means pushing aside anything or anyone standing in the way of their success. [Emphasis added.]

Roemer-Shirley equates CCSS with “a quality education.”

The same day at Roemer-Shirley’s op/ed, education historian Diane Ravitch posted a marvelous piece that unequivocally demonstrates CCSS as not even qualifying as standards given its secretive, controlled, stakeholder-absent creation and declared rigidity:

In the United States, the principles of standard-setting have been clearly spelled out by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). …

[CCSS] were written in a manner that violates the nationally and international recognized process for writing standards. The process by which they were created was so fundamentally flawed that these “standards” should have no legitimacy.

Setting national academic standards is not something done in stealth by a small group of people, funded by one source, and imposed by the lure of a federal grant in a time of austerity.

There is a recognized protocol for writing standards, and the Common Core standards failed to comply with that protocol. [Emphasis added and some text order reversed.]

Monday, March 24, 2014, also gave us blogger Peter Greene’s fine post on the purpose of CCSS to tag student data down to the very classroom assignment.

Roemer-Shirley does not care for protocol that honors the democratic process, and she does not care about the invasive, science-fiction nature of CCSS data tagging. Instead, she is willing to “push aside anyone standing in the way of their (let’s be real, folks– she doesn’t mean students’) success.”

Hmm.

The creepy-desperate CCSS push does not stop there. On March 18, 2014, both national union presidents met with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO– one of the two CCSS copyright holders), with in attendance all desiring to save CCSS.

It seems that AFT members can expect their national president to cling to CCSS no matter what her constituency thinks:

Weingarten added that she expects that many of her members would call for outright opposition to the standards during the AFT’s summer convention, even though both the AFT and NEA support the standards and Weingarten said she wouldn’t back away from the common core. [Emphasis added.]

If the AFT membership opposes CCSS “outright,” how is it, then, that “AFT supports the standards”?

Does a declared, “official” position outrank the desires of AFT’s own membership?

Apparently so.

NEA (not the membership, mind you) is right there with AFT in its protection of CCSS:

During the same discussion, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel… said the union remained squarely behind the standards themselves….

What is one to do in order to ensure CCSS support? Why, one must promote a positive CCSS message in the media:

… (South Dakota) Education Secretary Melody Schopp expressed concern that enough wasn’t being done to push more positive common-core stories to the public: “The media’s not hearing that.” [Emphasis added.]

All of this “pushing” so-called reform “to the public.”

Genuine standards are not “pushed.” Genuine standards are elicited.

Nevertheless, in our current, for-profit reform era, it’s all about the spin. No organization knows that better than Stand for Children (SFC). (I debated SFC Louisiana twice on CCSS– see this link and this link.)

The question is, how far will SFC go in its CCSS-desperation spin?

Well beyond the ethical, it seems.

In their efforts to “push” a positive CCSS message, SFC Oklahoma decided “positive” need not necessarily be honest:

…Some names on a petition, from a group hoping to keep Common Core, were faked. The group, Stand for Children Oklahoma, presented a petition to legislators in early March with 7,000 signatures, but many people whose names are on the list said they didn’t sign it.

Sherri Crawford is one of those. She’s adamantly against Common Core. …

When asked if she signed it, she responded, “No, absolutely not.”

Sherri found out her name was on the petition after a group of moms, who oppose common core, got a hold of it and started checking the names. They said they found not only several obviously fake names, like Barrack Obama, but more than a thousand they have personally verified didn’t sign it. [Emphasis added.]

Yes, my fellow lovers of the democratic process, we have indeed become grains of sand in the greasy wheels of the pro-CCSS engine.

The very idea makes me smile.

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