“The Heart of the Swarm” Bats Congress Speech 2015

Excerpts from Dr. Yohuru Williams BATs Teacher Congress Speech, “The Heart of the Swarm,” delivered Saturday July 24, 2015. This is a shortened version of Dr. Williams’s remarks during the BAT’S Congress on Saturday.
10169447_10153444324956118_8138437963594981830_nWelcome Back to DC Bats! A little less than a year ago today, we marched on the Department of Education to deliver a simple message. Restore our schools. We pledged then that we would not stop fighting until we had achieved our goal of the restoration of public education and re-centering of its focus back on children. We explained to the world then . . .and remind all today . . . that BATs privilege three things: people over profits, parity of charity and choice over chance.

We return today for phase two moving forward with a plan to reclaim our educational system from the forces of politics and enterprise who continue to endanger them.

This danger takes many forms. An education secretary, for example, with neither the credentials nor the political will to understand the necessity of public education. A mighty cabal of corporate interests pushing a program of high stakes testing and privatization that seeks to drain every penny from the public coffers. A host of unethical politicians and so-called community leaders who have swallowed the corporate education Kool Aide echo them in their claims that that our schools are failing and beyond hope. Add to this, fake grass roots organizations like Students First funded by the moneyed interests that promote their anti-union, anti-local control program under the guise of public service. Claiming their work to be the great civil rights issue of our time, they forge ahead administering one death-dealing blow after another to public education assisted by panoply of petty bureaucrats and civil servants without the knowledge or power to challenge them.

Last year we came to plead our case. This year we come to draft and mobilize behind a national platform, which we will decide . . . that that will allow us to fight as a unified force for restorative justice in reclaiming public education.

We recognize that there are rough waters ahead and we fight against a national narrative of failure informed by racism and poverty— however we will not back down.

We come today prepared to roll up our sleeves, hammer out our differences and begin mobilizing on a scale the likes of which have not been seen in the United States for decades. Welcome to the BATS Congress!

I feel a little like I am preaching to the choir this morning, but sometimes even the choir needs to be reminded why we sing. Our voices matter because we speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

A snapshot of the past six months, in this regard is instructive. Indulge me if you will for just a few moments to show you how. Despite a national opt-out movement, and on the ground actions by groups such as the Movement of Radical Educators, the Caucus of Working Educators, the Newark Student Union, United Opt Out and of course the BATS, the pied pipers of corporate education reform continue to push their poison penned legislation. They would have the effect of turning the nation into the charter barter tragedy that is the state of public education in the city of New Orleans today, unregulated, hyper-segregated, economically deflated, and politically negated.
They continue, nevertheless, to undermine democratic practice, flaunting their poor grasp of history and their lack of vision; attacking the very agents who are an essential line of defense for our youth, teachers, and schools.
. . .
We are going to be clear, our schools are not for sale, and we are not interested in your Cartoon Education Reform. Stop turning public education into a mockery with your corporatizing crockery.

I recognize that they have cut instructional time for literature in our schools so it may feel for some like “Apocalypse Now” but I would remind you as my literature teachers would that “The Sun Also Rises.” Today over Morningside Washington, we rise with the sun with a powerful message for those who are in danger of finding themselves on the wrong side of history.

So I would like to, in conclusion. read to you from the Gospel of Bats A farewell to Arms: The BATs version.

Attention enemies of public education, time for you to go on a permanent vacation. Today you may smile and laugh with scorn. But do not be surprised in the next few months if you find yourself in the heart of the swarm.
. . .
The Bats are going to play TSA for TFA.

Because when we recognize, in your lack of training, a detriment to youth, we cannot hold back, we must tell you the truth.
We appreciate the deception but numbers don’t lie.
It was clear. so clear, you weren’t ready to fly.
So we show you the door, but don’t you despair, for I’m sure now that you’re jobless Ms. Rhee will be there.
And when she runs in the other direction clutching her purse, scream to her “But Michelle you said students first!” ask her to explain where is your piece of the pie and while you’re at it for BATs please tell her “Bye Bye.”

For nearly eight years Mr. Duncan, the balls been in your court.
But it is obvious to all, leadership wasn’t your sport.
Your reign is now ending in thunderous despair.
You hear a crack from the heavens and you wonder “Whose there?”                                                                                                                                                                                             You reach for your binder and swing; ‘swat swat’.
It’s a shame you didn’t play baseball, or you would know all about BATs.
BATs fly by radar; we see with mind, how you have left our children and schools in a bind.
When down in a block we descend from the sky, to show you the door and tell you “Bye Bye!”

Bill and Melinda Gates your intentions so clear, trading the humanities for technology is all you hold dear.
We can teach without your I Pad and you may wonder why because the center of everything you do begins with I, I, I.
But we are the people and we will decide what is best for our children and as an aside when we show you the door and free money, you cry . . .                                                            We will do our best Backstreet boys impression and tell you Bye, Bye, Bye.

Corporate Education Reform lackeys too numerous to name, from small town America to Greece, Russia and Spain.
Your diabolical plans to drive our schools in a hearse was diagnosed and exposed by a public school nurse.
She took your temperature and grimly informed our nation has the Germ . . . Global Education Reform.
I suppose this is why you cut our school nursing jobs first, then libraries, athletics, music and verse.
But if you stay real quiet you can hear the beat of our drum for
we must
we can
we shall overcome…
We will restore our schools, so be forewarned, that truth and justice are at the heart of this swarm.
Our democracy is too important.
We can’t allow it to crash and that . . .you see . . . is why they call us badass!

For we will stand for the littles and fight for the truth, perish for principle in defense of our youth, do all in power to put the wrongs to end.

So BATs roll up your wings let the Congress begin!

The 5 Teachers You Meet in Heaven: What It Really Takes to Save Our Schools

10169447_10153444324956118_8138437963594981830_nA few weeks ago, I had the privilege of delivering commencement addresses to the graduates of the Read Middle School and the Metropolitan Business Academy Magnet High School in Bridgeport and New Haven, Connecticut respectively. The student speakers at both schools thanked their principals and teachers for helping prepare them for the next chapters in their lives — chapters, of course, yet to be written. Their remarks, nonetheless, were far from perfunctory as evidenced by the heartwarming displays of affection students from both schools showed for their teachers. It is a safe bet that all they imagine regarding the significance of the connections they made will prove not only true but also richly rewarding in the future. They only have to look around to see why.

There are abundant examples of the many ways in which teachers change lives. During his acceptance speech for the Tony Awards top honor, Best Musical of 2015, producer Joey Parnes, for example, made it a point to thank “two of my many teachers” as well as “two of my newest teachers” emphasizing the importance of lifelong learning. During the same ceremony, actor Neil Patrick Harris likewise acknowledged his former “teachers in small town New Mexico.” He explained, “When sports were the only option, you showed creativity has a place in the world.” These are wonderful and much needed nods to the importance of and need for continued support of music and arts education. They also illustrate the deep, if not always-obvious ways, teachers can inspire greatness through a challenging assignment, a stimulating discussion, a few well-timed words of encouragement, the unbridled enthusiasm of a librarian, some constructive feedback on a piece of music or art, a successful entry at the science fair or the special attention of a club leader or coach. It is an aspect of the art of teaching that long-term educators cherish.

Given the continued attacks on the teaching profession from so-called corporate education reformers, these displays of gratitude and emotion are especially welcome as they powerfully reaffirm the quintessence of teaching as a humanistic enterprise.

Beyond the artificial scales of progress measured by high stakes testing, teaching at its core is about building relationships. It is one of the reasons that I believe if Mitch Albom’s bestselling book The Five People You Meet in Heaven was not simply a work of fiction, one or more of the five persons you meet in Heaven would most certainly be teachers.

Albom’s popular book, of course, begins with an extraordinary act of kindness and self-sacrifice with the main character giving up his life to save another. Albom, however, paints a portrait of Heaven, not as a place but a process. Consistent with this premise the main character’s voyage into the afterlife begins with a quest to understand his life’s true meaning. Over the course of this journey, he comes to appreciate how all life is intricately and beautifully interwoven — how one tiny ripple or encounter can have enormous consequences.

This is true of teachers and the immense responsibility they shoulder in guiding the hopes and dreams of the nation’s youth. Perhaps more than others, they understand the interconnectedness that Albom aims to highlight — especially in the present climate when so many of the foundations of our educational system are in real peril from corporate education reform and high stakes testing.

Those bent on destroying these foundations, would do well to heed the wisdom of Albom’s narrative voice. There are no random acts. Tinkering with those bodies and traditions that connect us is a risky enterprise. One of the institutions that still powerfully unites Americans are our schools. It would be magnificent if the “common core” they sought to promote focused less on artificial standards and test scores and more on establishing a deep appreciation for our shared humanity.

Teachers, of course, can lead the way, not toward some false utopia embodied in the privatizing, anti-union, agenda of the testing moguls but in education’s humanistic roots — providing young people with multiple pathways to success through a wide variety of educational, artistic and athletic experiences.

“People think of Heaven as a paradise garden, a place where they can float on clouds and laze in rivers and mountains,” Albom writes. “But scenery without solace is meaningless.” People who believe that hastily prepared teachers and high stakes testing can yield the promised land of educational achievement should recall that form without substance is equally meaningless. We cannot afford to settle for the façade of excellence without fully investing in tackling all of the problems that beset our nation’s youth.

There can be no discussion of great schools in the abstract without improving strategies to address poverty and inequality, as well as building cultural competencies that emphasize our pluralistic strengths not undermine them. This, by definition, must include support for music and the arts, athletics and afterschool programs that help to build communities and promote democratic practice. This can never be accomplished without the cultivation of a diverse pool of well trained, properly supported teachers — true professionals forged in our nation’s graduate education schools and imbued with a sense of instruction that emphasizes care for the whole person not merely the cultivation of test scores.

No matter how loudly self-interested billionaires and sly politicians try to deny it, great schools begin with great teachers, collaborating with enlightened administrators and communities to serve the needs of the next generation.

In this sense, the five teachers that you meet in Heaven will likely be the same dedicated professionals currently working in an environment in which they are understaffed, underfunded and often grossly underappreciated, but still relentlessly sacrificing in the hopes that the tiny ripples they create can shape a life and perhaps, a better future.




Standardized assessments don’t match up with real-life challenges and the wide variety of individual abilities

Melissa Tomlinson
Melissa Tomlinson

While New Jersey’s state commissioner of education, David Hespe, may be attending the Task Force Commission’s public hearing sessions, the question is whether or not he is actually listening.

After the testimony, Hespe expressed his wishes for people to address the alternatives to PARCC and standardized assessments instead of just complaining about what has currently been put into place.

Several conversations have taken place about alternative forms of assessment, including a discussion about portfolio assessments that was submitted during January’s open public forum session at the State Board of Education meeting.

Hespe’s direct quote, as reported by John Mooney of NJ Spotlight, reads: “What is missing from this conversation and what I have asked from testifiers to address is what would they do to this societal problem where half of the students are graduating without the skills and knowledge they need.”

There is a glaring issue with his statement. The claim that half of the students are graduating without the skills and knowledge they need should lead us into a few questions.

First, where is this data coming from? Is this data from the Achieve-led study that was conducted with questionable methods of statistical analysis? One has to wonder: How can New Jersey have one of the top-rated public school systems in the country, yet only half of the students have graduated with the necessary skill set? , Maybe we need to take a moment to discuss some definitions.

What are the skill sets that we as a society see as necessary for the future success of our children? What kind of future do we want to be shaping? Do we want well-rounded children who grow up with exposure to the arts, culture, and music? Or do we want over-tested, over-stressed children who see only the importance of achieving academic growth? Are we looking to provide our children with the skills that are necessary to instill a sense of morals, coping skills, and human compassion? Or do we continue to narrow down the focus of academics to what can be measured on a standardized test, and use that as a predictor for future success?

Those questions lead us into another set of questions. What exactly is the definition of success for our children? Who is designing this skill set that is absolutely necessary to succeed? Have we succeeded if we reach the end of our Race to the Top and have left no child behind? Have we even been told exactly where it is that we are racing to, what goal is at the end, or what purpose has been accomplished when we get there?

If we take a look at the lessons history has taught us, it should not be to compete with our fellow human beings on this planet in the never-ending competition to have more, to earn more, and to control more.

What right does anyone have to define what success should look like for any other human being, child or adult?

As a society, we should really be having some in-depth conversations about defining success and how we can shape that definition for the betterment of life for future generations. For one student, success is measured at the end of each night when he has gotten his younger brother to complete his homework, eat dinner, and into bed at a decent time, while their mother is working her second shift. For another student, success can be measured when the four-times table has been correctly written. Yet another student has ended his day successfully when he has managed to resist the impulsiveness of his behavior that leads him to making sarcastic remarks to adults, resulting in disciplinary action.

So what exactly should success look like in schools? How should it be measured? According to Hespe, we are not yet doing that. Perhaps that is because we are forever narrowing down our focus to only academics, crowding out the arts and music, neglecting the fact that we, as adults, are responsible for a child as a whole.

If we were to redefine what successful schools look like, would we perhaps find better ways to serve our children and better prepare them with the skill sets necessary to achieve future success?

This is where the conversation of community schools needs to be developed. What do the children in a specific community need?

We should be targeting those areas and coordinating services so that they are brought to the schools, so that we can instill the importance of these institutions within a children’s makeup at a young age. Partnerships with health-care, dental, emotional and behavioral health services should be created. Adult education needs to be incorporated, so that children see the value of continuous learning through adulthood while the benefits of assisting families in a community are addressed. Employment services, housing services, and financial counseling should all be available in a centralized location within a school campus area to ease access for families, while coordinating the needs between different areas through communication to produce more effective results.

Yet the question then remains, how will all of this be assessed? How will we know if the school is “up to standard” as an educational institution?

Instead of creating a test that will suddenly seem to improve every one’s education through a set of standards, the discussion of what exactly what set of standards we need to measure should occur.

Equity of access of resources, healthy natural development of child, safe school environments and coordination of services are all necessary for a child to achieve true success.

The main determinate of this could easily be identifiable through analysis of prison statistics. Are we actively reducing the amount of youth being incarcerated? Are we actively decreasing the percent of young black males who are finding themselves in the system at an increasingly alarming rate? Can we actively find ways to prevent our youth from entering the prison system in the first place?

To see how a society is faring as a whole, one only needs to look at the largest group of the population that is not living within the normal identified definition of a productive citizen. Until such an issue is addressed — how to stop a future of recurring statistics — then we as a society have failed. We are only as strong as our weakest link.

The need and desire for assessment of student learning will still exist, if only for the benefit of opening discussions about our children and how they are doing in school. But these conversations need to look at more than merely a not-proficient or proficient rating on a single test.

They need to revolve around the child as a person. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How can we utilize those strengths and help the child work with and overcome their strengths?

These are the key discussions that education teams within a school should be having. A system needs to be developed that assigns a team to be responsible for a group of students, allows them to set goals, creating plans, meeting to discuss progress and making adjustments when necessary.

This would create a different vision of professional development than we have seen in the past – but it will actually bring us back to what professional development should look like, researching and implementing professionally valued practices that will benefit both students and teachers.

Such a vision could come true, with time and money – money that is being spent instead on the PARCC exam and its related expenses and time that could easily be found by creating by child- centered professional communities with a purpose other than completion of more paperwork and forms for the state.

Some big questions need to be asked now that we are at a crossroads in education. What has been wrong with society in the past? What changes do we need to make to correct those wrongs? What role do schools play in supporting those visions?

What is it that our children really need?


Story can also be found: njspotlight.com

Sense and Sensibility: Why Librarians Remain Essential to Our Schools

Why Librarians Remain Essential to Our Schools

By: Yohuru Williams

Librarian-The-Original-Search-EngineIn the broad constellation of professionals who make up public schools, it is important to pause and acknowledge the forgotten education professionals who aide and support teachers. These include the librarians, nurses, social workers, learning specialists, and guidance counselors. They contribute to the growth and development of our young people but often find themselves left out of broader discussions about the preservation of public education. They provide a range of critical support and intervention frequently invisible to us. Most certainly, their value has escaped the notice of so-called education reformers and politicians. All too often, these champions of a “new order” have taken aim at the forgotten teachers in their ever-expanding quest to cut public school funding.

To be clear, budget and personnel cuts have hurt the profession across the board. However, professionals in these areas bear greater risk, given widespread misperceptions about the essential services they provide that remain vital to public schools. As a youngster, for instance, I benefitted from the expertise of a speech pathologist in helping me overcome a minor speech impediment. Having the problem addressed early in my education boosted my self-esteem and ended years of torment at the hands of insensitive friends and classmates. I would not have understood this as a significant moment of formation in my academic and personal growth if not for countless recent news stories about proposed cuts to these position in school districts across the country.

Another equally hard hit position is that of the school librarian. Fifty years ago, it was inconceivable to imagine schools without appropriate library resources and the personnel to staff them. The disparity in library facilities, for instance, helped civil rights attorneys demonstrate the inherent inequality in segregated schools. With the advent of the internet and digital resources in particular, the flawed assumption surfaced that these positions are no longer necessary. Librarians remain important conduits for student support in ways that many might be surprised to learn. Contrary to popular perception, librarians do more than curate collections of dusty books; they teach critical research skills and often serve as the first destination for young people on the road to quality research.

Librarians know best that research in the digital landscape is often more difficult to manage and navigate unless students receive the proper guidance and training. As a former high school history teacher, I was keenly aware of our library staff as a critical part of the instructional team. This remains equally true as a college professor. Although not always regarded as “teaching” in the conventional sense, the ways in which librarians assist students may in fact be one of the most authentic forms of instruction. Working with students on projects generated by their unique interests, librarians help students to unlock and decode the vast amount of information now at their fingertips.

A well-documented pool of research indicating the impact of librarians on student achievement exists. A 2011 Pennsylvania School Library Study, for example, found that school library programs most meaningfully affected students at risk. The same study determined that poor, minority students with learning challenges were at least twice as likely to earn “Advanced” writing scores when they had access to full-time librarians as those without access to full-time librarians.

In spite of this research, school libraries and librarians remain at risk. Last February, the Los Angeles Times determined that “About half of the 600 elementary and middle school libraries” in the city were “without librarians or aides denying tens of thousands of students regular access to nearly $100 million worth of books, according to district data.” Unfortunately, we can only expect those numbers to grow in 2015 without a concerted effort to restore library budgets and correct misconceptions about the important role played by library professionals.

In the final analysis as the work done by speech pathologists and librarians illustrate, public school instruction extends beyond what happens in the classroom to other areas where highly specialized and dedicated professionals assist student achievement on a variety of levels. They also reinforce the notion of education as a humanistic rather than a commercial enterprise that requires a respect for the individuals who serve. As the late Jesuit educator Timothy Healy, former President of Georgetown University and the New York Public Library once observed, “The most important asset of any library goes home at night — the library staff.”

Unless lawmakers can be made to understand the critical role these and other educational professionals play in contributing to schools in which we can all be confident and proud, then many of these positions will remain in jeopardy to the detriment of the students and communities they serve.

We Need to Do More Than Listen

Student Power


Melissa Tomlinson
Marla Kilfoyle

Thankful Reflections

batwordsToday, as we are reflecting upon a day of giving thanks that many of us were blessed to share with family and friends, BATs wanted to take a moment and also reflect upon what we, as an organization are thankful for. We are thankful for you, our members and our followers, and the simple fact that so many of us have found each other and joined together to unite against common enemies. We are all here, at this moment in time, for different reasons and with different visions of what our goals should look like. As we progress through these battles that face us, the organic nature of our struggles influences shifts in everyone’s perspectives that echo one sentiment, to build a better future for our children. This has always been known as the American Dream, a dream which many are convinced has died. We are here working to bring that dream back through equity and understanding of all children.

BATs have a lot of projects underway to help bring us closer to reaching our goals. Currently BATs are

Planning for the BATs Teachers Congress this summer where BATs will lobby lawmakers and hopefully participate in a meeting with the education committee to discuss our concerns as well as Democrats for Public Education.

Sending an open letter to Robert Kim the direct adviser to Duncan regarding Civil Rights violations we see in our schools. We have already been in direct contact with him.

Sending to Mike Yudin, Duncan’s adviser for Special Education, issues we see going on with our special needs children. We have already been in contact with him.

Planning how to establish a weekly radio program.

Establishing a method to researching legislation so that we can act on laws/policies before they are implemented and prepare us for The BAT Congress.

Getting ready to make an announcement regarding a small scholarship to be given to a student of color in the education program at Howard; with hopes of spreading this nationwide as we grow.

Working to prepare our HUGE NEA Caucus for the NEA convention this summer to be a major force in the NEA.

In communication to register as a caucus at the AFT Convention in 2016.

Writing often to publish in national news outlets as well as our blog that is close to 300,000 hits featuring great writing by BAT members.

Working with the Education Bloggers National Network – which houses some of the most prestigious bloggers in the nation.

Working closely with NPE for their upcoming conference in Chicago this April.

Working closely with SOS for their upcoming international summit in 2016 to address Human Rights concerns for children and their education. SOS will also be working with us on the Congress.

Being featured in a book due out next year called Grassroots Resistance to Corporate Education Reform.

Participating in a monthly spot on We Act Radio out of DC (thank you to Dr. Denisha Jones for representing BATs on that show).
As we look forward to the holiday season and the coming of a new year we are thankful that you have joined us on this journey as we strive to reestablish the foundations upon which our educational system was based, for all of our children and all of our communities.

High Stakes Testing as a Weapon of War

High Stakes Testing as a Weapon of War

Corporate Control Public SchoolsThe continuing war on public education represents a grave danger for parents and teachers engaged in the struggle to preserve educational opportunities for not only this, but also for future generations. With communities all over the country facing the possibility that their neighborhood schools could be closed, the inherent inequality in which many of the decisions are made is shocking.

As we make resolute decisions to stand against the corporate forces poised to engulf, strangle, and starve our public school systems it is important that we take careful note of the weapons of war being deployed against our schools.

One of the most significant weapons comes in the form of the high stakes tests that are turning our schools into little more than test-prep centers. This is only a stop-gap on the road to schools being labeled as failing schools while the real issues of poverty and inequity are ignored. In New Jersey, such ratings have already led to disastrous results, as evidenced by the One Newark Plan.

High stakes testing has become the centerpiece of resistance against corporate education reform, particularly in white suburban areas where parents feel that their right to make decisions concerning the education of their children has been infringed upon. Not as vocal in the current resistance to testing are the cries coming from our disadvantages communities that are fighting a different, more urgent battle against the systematic closing of neighborhood and community schools.

Corporate Control Public SchoolsParents in urban areas tell of supply shortages, unsafe learning conditions, and the lack of necessary services for the children. In reality, these communities far more devastated by the results of these high stakes testing and should have even a greater reason to cry out against them. These tests are often the main determining factor upon which a majority of educational decisions are based that include the closing of community schools that force children to unfamiliar locations as well as approval of charter school chains that use the false promise of school choice to cherry-pick and skim their students.

When schools are identified as low performing, with high-stakes testing scores as the main measure used to make this determination they are placed under the oversight of Regional Achievement Centers (or RACs). The theory behind RAC is that resources will be shifted and allocated to support the “focus” and “priority” schools. Theoretically, it seems that RACs would greatly benefit schools that have displayed a large achievement gap through the provision of much needed resources to close that gap. However, it has been revealed that the financing behind these RACs include a large grant for funding from the Broad Foundation, an organization created with the intent of closing public schools.

Under the guise of meeting accountability requirements, money has been spent on items that do not directly benefit the students within the district.

In reality, what has happened has become a nightmare for those who support public education. Under the guise of meeting accountability requirements, money has been spent on items that do not directly benefit the students within the district. Consultants are brought in to analyze current curriculums and systems, make recommendations and then leave, their wallets having been made fatter for the experience. Technology is upgraded, or purchased new, only to be locked away so that it will be ready for the PARCC – a computer based assessment.

The goal of the entire district becomes united, but it is not a goal of making decisions that best benefits the children. It is not the goal of providing a safe learning environment for all. It is not the goal to instill a joy and love of learning in the youngest to the oldest of students. Instead, the goal is to raise test scores high enough to rid the district of the “focus” and “priority” labels. With this goal in mind, test-focused programs are implemented as child-centered learning, education of the whole child, and teacher autonomy become distant memories.

Corporate Control Public SchoolsWhen analyzing statistics of the schools and districts that are labeled “focus” and “priority”, a direct correlation is revealed. Districts labeled as such are mainly concentrated in areas that serve a larger population of black and brown students. Economic disadvantages social inequality, lack if resources, and the blatant inequity seen in these areas puts the students at a greater disadvantage when facing high-stakes testing. In fact, research shows that they enter school much more disadvantaged than their white, suburban counterparts.

As a result, the state has singled out public schools that serve predominately Black and Brown students in poor neighborhoods for disparate treatment. The implementation of corporate reform education policies has done nothing to re-allocate resources that would level the playing field to give these students an equal chance. Instead, we have been brought back to a day of racial and socio-economic policies that continue to hyper-segregate our public schools.






Melissa Tomlinson
Melissa Tomlinson

Time and Punishment: Why Teacher Voices Matter

By : Yohuru Williams

The publication of Time magazine’s cover attacking teacher tenure also marked the one-year anniversary of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s infamous attack on New Jersey middle school teacher Melissa Tomlinson.

chris-christie-yells-at-teacherIn the fall of 2013, Christie, then up for reelection, crisscrossed the state spouting the now familiar subterfuge of failing schools and attacks on teachers and teacher unions associated with corporate education reform. In speech after speech, he rattled off brazenly against underperforming teachers and schools, without acknowledging the more than $1 billion in funding cuts he initiated in his first year in office; those cuts severely compromised the state’s system of education. Equally troubling, the governor reiterated his desire to channel more resources away from underfunded public schools to unregulated charter schools and through a proposed voucher program even eventually to private schools. “I would be happy to take as many dollars as possible away from failure factories that send children on a no-stop route to prison and to failed dreams,” Christie told one such audience in Teaneck. He claiming he wanted to “take that money and put it into a place where those families have hope.”

It was a winning, if dishonest strategy, for the gruff governor unaccustomed to challenges to his authority. His reputation for not only bullying and berating opponents but also retaliating against those who opposed him however, did not deter Tomlinson. She arrived at a Christie rally in Somers Point, NJ on November 4 with a simple question for the governor. When presented the opportunity, the otherwise soft-spoken Tomlinson boldly stepped forward, asking Christie why he continued to persist in falsely “portraying our schools as failure factories.”

The question immediately set the short-tempered governor off. “I’m tired of you people,” he barked at Tomlinson finger jammed in her face. “[Schools] have more money now than they’ve ever had before,” he lectured her, the entire tirade documented by Slate reporter Dave Weigel. “This is an old story from you folks,” Christie continued, “and they fail because you guys are failing in those schools.”

The image of the Governor sternly chastising a polite middle school teacher for asking a question, against the backdrop of a state wide investigation into fiscal mismanagement in education, made national headlines propelling Christie and Tomlinson into the national spotlight.

Denied the opportunity for a reasoned dialogue by Christie’s angry outburst, Tomlinson responded in a post on Badass Teachers Association co-founder Dr. Mark Naison’s blog. “What do ‘we people’ want, Governor Christie?” she asked again seeking the space for dialogue. “We want our schools back. We want to teach. We want to be allowed to help these children to grow, educationally, socially, and emotionally. We want to be respected as we do this, not bullied.

Tomlinson never anticipated that her story would make the national news Nevertheless; she was encouraged by the expressions of support that poured in from around the nation. Most were emails and letters from teachers appreciative of her courage in speaking out.

It was an important moment. Tomlinson symbolically stood for every teacher silenced and bullied by politicians, pundits, and public administrators quick to blame teachers for problems in the schools. “It was galvanizing for me,” recalled Arizona teacher and activist Kathie Wing Larsyn. In subsequent interviews, Tomlinson deftly linked race and poverty to her message, continuing to touch a nerve with many parents and teachers disturbed by high stakes testing and other signs of decay in corporate education reform.

According to Bronx teacher and education activist Aixa Rodriguez,
Melissa was the canary in the coal mine. We saw what he did to her and we were like is that all you got. Now we see kids taking the streets and the parents taking the streets in Newark and Camden. We are no longer afraid.
Highlighting her association with the Badass Teachers Association, Tomlinson offered teachers another outlet to find support and express themselves. “BATs exploded after Christie stuck his finger in her face,” recalled BATs General Manager Marla Kilofoyle.
Here you have this tiny woman step up and confront a man who had bullied and pushed around her profession. She didn’t back down and I think that she raised the bar for what we really need to do. We need politicians to be afraid of that wherever they go.
Tomlinson was not the only teacher to stand up, of course. But, her story resonated with many who had become accustomed to seeing the plight of public education as hopeless and victory by the corporate education reformers as inevitable.

Ohio teacher and education activist Dawn Neely Randall best summarized the significance of Tomlinson’s individual action. “Here we had one dedicated teacher,” she explained, “who courageously took her humble pebbles of questions and went to the frontline to confront the goliath who was spewing harmful rhetoric that was a direct assault on the good that was going on in classrooms across her state. She continued, “Melissa made me realize that I needed to not be afraid to confront the goliath in my state of Ohio, too.”

Perhaps, she will never join the ranks of other celebrated persons in history whose acts of courage and defiance helped to advance the cause of justice. It may still unfortunately, be too soon for many to appreciate the importance of the battle by teachers and others to roll back the corrosive effects of corporate education reform. Nevertheless, Melissa Tomlinson remains a powerful symbol of why teachers need to lend their voices to this struggle in whatever capacity. Her defiant stand still has the power to inspire. As Connecticut teacher Jo Lieb explains, “Every time I see the photo of Melissa standing up to Christie, I feel empowered as a teacher to stand up for my own students.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote memorably in his masterpiece, Crime and Punishment, “Power is given only to him who dares to stoop and take it … one must have the courage to dare.” In speaking out against Time Magazine and up against the likes of political bullies like Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo and Tom Corbett who have waged war on public education, teachers like Melissa Tomlinson and others dare to speak truth to power in pursuit of true educational equality and economic justice.

Common Core Betrays the Civil Rights Movement

By Nicholas Tampio and Yohuru Williams

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGiven the power of its symbolism, many individuals and entities have attempted to appropriate the legacy of the civil rights movement for their own purposes. In 2010, for instance, conservative talk show host Glenn Beck led a march on Washington to restore what he professed was the distorted history of the movement. While Beck’s tenuous appeal to the movement’s heritage might be dismissed, the danger of misappropriation of its core values of justice and equality are greater when the person or group doing the usurping can legitimately lay a claim to that legacy.

This has become clear recently with a campaign to promote the Common Core State Standards by the National Urban League, which played an important if less visible role during the civil rights movement. Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League, has declared that the Common Core will “help bridge the achievement gap by leveling the playing field so that all students, regardless of race, geography or income, have an equal shot at gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century global economy.” This fall, the National Urban League haspartnered with Radio One to deliver this message on multiple media platforms.

We agree that education should empower young men and women, of whatever race or background, to succeed in college and careers. Our contention, however, is that the Common Core’s promise does not correspond to its reality. More strongly, we contend that the Common Core betrays the civil rights legacy more than advances it.

In his recent book on the origin and consequences of No Child Left Behind, the political scientist Jesse H. Rhodes explains why civil rights activists support the idea of national education standards. For years, activists demanded that black children have the same opportunities as white children, including science and history courses, music and theater programs, and qualified teachers running small classes. The equity movement failed, however, to produce measurable results and overcome conservative opposition.

The idea of educational standards, however, unites civil rights and business groups convinced that all Americans need a quality education. That is why both the National Urban League and the US Chamber of Commerce support the Common Core. The excellence movement, as it is called, may succeed where the equity movement didn’t.

Yet good intentions do not always translate into effective policies. The National Urban League, whose mission “is to enable African Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights,” is on shaky ground with the Common Core. We can identify at least three reasons why the Common Core is already harming a generation of young African-Americans.

First and foremost, Common Core testing has branded a large percentage of black youth as failures. In New York, only 19.3 percent of black students demonstrated proficiency on state math tests and 17.6 percent demonstrated proficiency on state English language arts tests. Do these numbers light a fire under educators to do a better job? Maybe. But they also mean that the educational system is signaling to many black children that they have no future in higher education or the modern workforce.

Second, the Common Core focuses attention on math and English test prep above all other academic or extracurricular pursuits. The Race to the Top program incentivized states to adopt the Common Core as well as a testing regime that punishes teachers or schools with low student test scores. In New York City, the Success Academy charter schools excel on the Common Core tests. How? According to one administrator, by turning children into “little test-taking machines.” It goes without saying that many wealthy parents would never accept such an education for their children; in practice, the Common Core widens rather than narrows the opportunity gap.

Finally, the Common Core dedicates limited resources to textbook and testing companies rather than teachers and children. The Race to the Top program awarded$330 million to two Common Core testing consortia: PARCC and SBAC. Schools, in turn, must purchase aligned-curricula as well as the technology to run the online Common Core tests. Meanwhile, financially strapped school districts are cutting art and music programs that stimulate brain development and teach skills such as cooperation and perseverance. This is a tragedy for all students, including African-American ones.

We share the National Urban League’s ambition to prepare black youth to succeed in the 21st century global economy but disagree that the Common Core is the way to make that happen. So far, the Common Core is draining educational budgets, narrowing the curriculum and turning students into little test-taking machines. This is no way to advance the civil rights legacy. Instead, we should recommit to the principle that all children, of whatever race or background, can attain the same kind of education only available, right now, to the children of privilege.

Opting Out: Our Strongest Weapon against…

Opting Out: Our Strongest Weapon against the Corporate Education Reform Machine


batopt2Since No Child Left Behind was implemented and schools across the country were held hostage to unreasonable goals, punished for educating low achieving students, and besieged with an alarming increase of high stakes standardized testing, parents, teachers, and students have been fighting back. Unfortunately President Obama and his administration doubled down on the false narratives set by NCLB with Race to the Top which increased testing and evaluating teachers based on those tests, also known as value-added measures.  Nonetheless, those of us who know that high stakes testing is not a valid measure of a student’s academic achievement or a reliable measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, continue to fight back against these dangerous policies that have created an atmosphere of blame, punishment, and failure.  United Opt Out (UOO) is a grassroots national organization formed in 2011to lead the fight to resist high stakes standardized testing. The mission of UOO is “to strengthen public education; fight corporate based reforms . . . and, in particular, to end the practice of punitive, high-stakes [testing] and related activities that are fraudulently being used as ‘proof’ of the incompetence of public education/ teachers [and schools].”

UOO has encouraged parents to opt their children out of high stakes standardized testing in an effort to deny the corporate model of education reform the data they need to profit off our children’s education.  Parents have a right to say no to policies and practices that they believe are unethical and harmful to their children. Although many states and education leaders claim that opting out is not legal, UOO has developed state guides that inform parents of their right to opt out is indeed a recognized right for parents to have control over the education of their children. UOO also instructs parents on how to inform the principal at their child’s school that they will be opting out of high stakes testing.  Some parents have felt resistance and have been scared into thinking that if they opt their child out it will have a negative effect on their school but to date that has not happened and thousands of parents across the country have been successful in opting their child out of high stakes standardized tests, field testing, and testing used to evaluate teachers.

Parents are our first line of defense when it comes to opting out because unlike teachers they cannot be fired for their decision. However, teachers are increasingly choosing not to administer tests that they know are harmful to their children. In January 2013, teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle Washington voted not to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test to their students. The teachers argued that the tests lacked any significant value because they were not aligned to the state standards. Superintendent Jose Banda threatened to suspend any teacher who did not administer the test but after receiving numerous emails and calls of support from parents he backed down and the teachers were not punished for their actions.

In February 2014 both Drummond Elementary School and Saucedo Elementary School boycotted the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). Parents, students, and teachers were also threatened with dire consequences if they went through with the boycott but they refused to back down. As the opt out movement continued to grow, President Obama continued to pay lip service to the concerns of parents, teachers, and students about the alarming increase of high stakes testing. During his State of the Union Address in 2012 he called for an end to teaching to the test and this past month he issued a statement that appeared to be a call to reduce the escalation of high stakes testing. The Christian Science Monitor writes that President Obama said, “I have directed [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan to support states and school districts in the effort to improve assessment of student learning so that parents and teachers have the information they need, that classroom time is used wisely, and assessments are one part of fair evaluation of teachers and accountability for schools,” in a statement on Wednesday October 15, 2014.

Two days letter Secretary of Education Arne Duncan writes an article for the Washington Post where he claims to support the cutback in testing but continues to argue that tests are the best ways for parents to know how their students are performing. Dr. Yohuru Williams, a professor and education activist reminds us that these words are not surprising given that we are in an election year and that we should not be fooled into thinking that the Obama Administration is going to back down from the mantra of high stakes testing.  Despite the continued rhetoric that does not correspond to real action from our supposed education leaders, teachers, parents, and students continue to fight back and say no to corporate education reforms that seek to privatize public education.

Last month, kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles from Gainesville, Florida issued a statement to the parents of her students that explained why she would not be administering the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading (FAIR) tests. Citing her ethical concerns that administering a test for six weeks to kindergarten children was not something she could do in good conscience she risked being fired to do what she felt was right.  In response Florida education officials have dropped the FAIR test for kindergarten students throughout the state. A small step but immensely important victory for the opt out movement.

Following closely in Bowles steps, Peggy Robertson, an administrator for UOO and a teacher in Aurora Colorado also issued a letter stating that she refuses to administer the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, a new test aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  She argued that the tests along with the CCSS “have placed unrealistic expectations on our youngest learners, many who now view themselves as failures because they are unable to meet the developmentally inappropriate expectations set by the . . . standards.”  UOO next issued a plea for unions to support teachers who refuse to administer the test. When asked by Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss if they would support teachers who refused to administer the test both NEA and AFT said they would support teachers who did not administer the test but failed to elaborate on what kind of support they would issue.

So what should be our next move? We know we cannot wait for the Secretary of Education to follow up his claims with tangible actions that actually reduce or eliminate our national reliance on high stakes standardized testing. And we know that we cannot continue to allow our children to be over-tested and turned into data points instead of human beings who are entitled to a high quality public education.  So we must continue to fight. But we need to be strategic in how we fight. The unions say they will support teachers but what will that support look like and will it be enough? The only way to know for sure is for more teachers to refuse to administer the test. If teachers are disciplined for their refusal then we will demand that the unions offer the support they promised.

Now we understand that every teacher is not in a position to risk losing his or her job. Many teachers work in right-to-work states and have zero protections including tenure and the right to due process. And although the unions claim they will support teachers who refuse to administer tests we do not know what this support will look like and if it will keep teachers from losing their jobs or being disciplined.  So we are looking for teachers who are preparing to retire or leave the profession and are willing to risk retaliation if they refuse to administer the test. If the teacher is disciplined or fired for their actions we will reach out to their union leaders to demand the support and advocacy they said would be there.  Then we will know just how far the unions are willing to go to support teachers.  Therefore, if you are willing and able to refuse to administer high stakes standardized tests, which are not a valid and reliable measure of student’s ability and promise, please write and publish a letter stating your intentions.  Send a copy to info@unitedoptout.com so we can keep track of your situation. Together we can deny the corporate reformers the data they so desperately need and drive out the testing insanity that has dismantled our public education system.


To learn more about how you can actively fight back against corporate education reforms, please join United Opt Out at their Standing Up for Action Spring Event January 16-18th at the Broward County Convention Center in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, UOO is hosting an event that brings advocates for public education together to form plans of actions.  For more information and to register visit our Eventbrite page.

By: Denisha Jones

Denisha Jones is a professor in the School of Education at Howard University. She is former kindergarten teacher and preschool director. She is an admin for the Badass Teachers Association and United Opt Out.

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