Badass Gratitude


We would like to start off the New Year with a heartfelt thank you to various people and organizations that have bravely stood up and spoken out in the face of market-based education reform. Without these people and these groups, the success that we have experienced in the Badass Teachers Association would not be possible.

Thank you, Newark Students Union, Philly Students Union, Providence Students Union, the Colorado Students who boycotted their annual tests, the 60,000 students who refused tests in New York, and the students who boycotted the ISATs in Chicago.  Thank you, Helen Gym, Jeanette Deutermann, Lee County (FL)Parents, Leonie Haimson, Cindy Hamilton, Karran Royal Harper, Brother Jitu Brown,  Andrea Rediske, Shoneice Reynolds, Rousemary Vega, Diane Ravitch and all the parents (grandparents) who have stood by their teachers and public schools fighting off privatization efforts. Why do we thank you? We thank you because we have previously been beaten down, silenced, and threatened.

Teachers do not set out to become millionaires. We become teachers because we enjoy working with children, watching them learn and grow, observing them interact with peers and bond with friends, play at recess, and get excited when they have a chance to perform at the yearly concert. We become teachers because we know that through education children will have a chance at a better life. As teachers, we need our students and parents – plain and simple. We are not listened to – we are told to be quiet, we are told we are to blame for poverty, we are told we are to blame for inequality,  we are told simply that we are to blame. Thankfully our parents and our students see that we are NOT to blame and although we have been fighting, we have also been silenced. 

Our silence is killing us. As we watch corporate education reform drive out our veteran teachers, target our teachers of color, hurt our students and their families, we are slowly dying. We try to speak up, we do, but we are silenced. We are silenced by governors, we are silenced by education commissioners, we are silenced by administrators who enjoy the kool-aid rhetoric that corporate education reform sells. We are silenced. 

We want you to know that we are standing up and we are speaking out in all ways that we can. Give us time to build more momentum, remain patient. But, continue to fight for us, for we have had enough.  We are slowly waking from the slumber, the good old days where we were respected and trusted, appreciated, and revered. We no longer teach in those times and some of us are in denial. When we all wake up, and come out fighting, there will be a revolution, the likes of which people have not seen.  Parents and students will have blazed that trail and we will all stand hand in hand as we fight for equity, equality, and for our public schools to remain public. 

Students and parents, we ask that you help us wake up our brethren. Make an appointment with your local union president and the executive board. Go in together, united, supportive, hand in hand. Tell the union you want to help, you want to support. Ask what you can do to motivate and activate the teachers. Make a plan, act upon it, and work with the teachers who are awake and ready. You hold the power, and teachers that feel they do not will gain in power as they become united with you. Your voice is more powerful in this game that seeks to profit off the poor, marginalized, and our children. Make that powerful three way connection and then mobilize with letter writing campaigns together, visit lawmakers together, plan a protest together, attend a protest together, phone bank together, do everything together. Our side will become unstoppable. Teachers, if you are parents in your community, your role is doubly important here. You are parents and need to use that role in YOUR community to mobilize the teachers that teach your children.  Make that appointment with your union president and executive board.  Do that NOW!

Thank you, parents, students, and teachers who have mobilized in 2014. You are making a difference

BATs demand CR Investigation


img2Dear Sec. Duncan and Mr. Kim:
This open letter is a respectful request to convene a national committee to investigate civil rights abuses that have reached a crisis point. While we commend you for meeting with BATs, Save Our Schools, United Opt Out, Journey for Justice, among other educational activist groups (and hope that you have read the Journey for Justice report entitled “Death by a Thousand Cuts”), we are requesting a follow up process that will result in action regarding disturbing trends we have observed with regards to civil rights violations of both students and teachers.
As a national group of nearly 52,000 educators, we have collected the following observations as areas of concern:
Children and Communities of Color
We are anticipating disproportionately low scores on PARCC tests among African American and Latino students in high poverty public schools. Poverty stricken, homeless or transient students are at a distinct disadvantage taking tests reliant on technology with which many of them are unfamiliar. We are also concerned that cash strapped school districts have reprioritized their budgets to procure computers specifically for the tests, rather than on educational materials and supplies. Additionally, urban schools that educate children of color often start the school year understaffed, leaving students at a disadvantage throughout the school year. The use of punitive, high stakes tests under such conditions violates the students’ rights to an equitable education. Additionally, we are concerned with:
• Removal of waivers from states that refuse to give into test based accountability for teacher evaluations (deeming every school in the state a failure). This doesn’t hurt teachers it hurts kids and kids in districts with least resources will be especially harmed.
• Children attending school with NO heat (Rick Snyder’s budget cuts in Michigan caused this).
• Students prevented from physical activity, recess, and physical education in order to raise test scores.
• Kindergarten children made to sit for hours at tables with pencil to paper. Those who are unable to meet these demands are punished for being children. They are forced to take standardized tests and writing assessments all year long. Their recess has been decreased immensely.
• Reports of inappropriate demands placed on children that conflict with research on child development. For example, a teacher from a rural Title I school reported having been told to have kindergarteners reading 65 words per minute and writing eight connected sentences by the end of kindergarten. When the teacher presented administrators with research that showed the importance of play and socialization in kindergarten, she was removed from her kindergarten teaching position of ten years. This is one specific anecdote that is similar to dozens we are hearing from educators across the country.
• Districts forbidding Hispanic students to speak Spanish.
• Removing extra support services for English Language Learners in New York State. The state is moving in a new direction as a result of Common Core. ESL Students will no longer be allowed to be taken out of their mainstream classroom for extra help. They will be forced to do Common Core and Grade Level work even if they had interrupted or no schooling before coming to the US. The new law ignores many immigrants who do not come from Spanish speaking countries and actually punishes children who speak a minority language or who are illiterate in their first language. The state is removing supports for these students but masking the new law with claims that the removal of these supports somehow prevents these students from being ignored. A close read of the new law makes it clear that they very much will be ignored now, worse than ever.
• English Language Learners are the most over-tested group of students. In New York State, they take more tests than general education students yet struggle to do so because of their lack of proficiency in the testing language: English. In addition, the new ESL law will require districts to reallocate funds that should go toward education services and instead spend it on administrative paperwork proving compliance. The state is requiring changes that they CANNOT adequately fund so they are forcing districts to pay for things they cannot afford. In addition, Charter Schools do not have to follow the law for English Language Learners and do not have to even provide services to these students.
• In Oregon, ELL students starting as kindergarteners in Oregon take a 45 minute web based state test in English proficiency. The ELL K-2 students are the ONLY students that are made to sit through a 45-minute computerized test. All other K-2 students are exempt from state testing. We find this inequity in testing unacceptable.
• Michigan’s ACLU lawsuit expected to be appealed provides an example of a state abdicating its responsibility for

A Renewal of Spirit

Working Educators First Annual Convention:  A Renewal of Spirit

Renewal of Spirit

10805066_529645700504647_105655907_nSaturday was one of those days when I was reminded, and thankfully so, that we are not alone in this fight against the corporate reform agenda. I had the honor of attending the Annual Convention of the Caucus of Working Educators of Philadelphia.

Dr. Yohuru Williams was the keynote speaker for the conference. While the convention was held in a community church, one did not need the backdrop of a house of worship to feel the power and the truth behind Dr. Williams words as he brought life to the great words and ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Creating the Schools our Children Deserve featuring Dr. Yohuru Williams can be seen here and here.

After the opening speech, small group discussion sessions were formed. Scheduled were the following:

  • More than just Health Care – The Corporate Takeover of Public Education

  • Lessons from Chicago – How to Reinvigorate Our Union from Below

  • Taking Back Our City – Communities Standing Up for Democracy and Accountability

I attended the third session, Taking Back Our City. Expecting to experience a conversation that focused on specific issues surrounding Philadelphia schools, I was enthused to realize that we would be having real conversations about what is wrong with our schools, what we envision would be right for our schools, and how the bridge could be built between the two. Real conversations were occurring that included the start of real solutions.

The Lunch Session included several tabletop discussion. The choices of these included:

  • Pre-Service teacher Campaign

  • Charter School Teacher Allies

  • Stories from MORE

  • Opt-Out Philly

  • Start your own!

Truthfully, many wonderful conversation were taking place for me to remain seated for long. Get a bunch of activists together from Philadelphia, New York, and New Jersey and you can feel the energy in the air!

The afternoon sessions included:

  • Are You a Social Justice Unionist? – Changing the Culture in Your School

  • Parent Power! – Parents and Teachers working Together

  • Beating Apathy – Secrets of a Successful Organizer

Beating Apathy seemed like the perfect session for me to attend as I often find myself frustrated by the amount of teachers that just want to close their classroom door and ignore the issues that our public schools are facing. Labor Notes hosted the session and I left with some great ideas for conversation starters within my school building as well as within my community.

The session ended with a wonderful exercise where we were asked to toss out words that described how we were currently feeling. As momentum built for this exercise, words like inspired, energetic, not alone, and motivated were said with increased conviction and force.

Days like this are what band us together. Meetings, in person, face-to-face and in the flesh are what fulfill our activist spirit. They are what replenishes that well of energy that is needed to continue this fight. They are what reminds us that we are not alone. More importantly, they remind us that we are human, fighting for human civil rights.

To read Aixa Rodriguez’s open letter to Dr. Williams, visit the BAT Blog .

For more information about Caucus of Working Educators visit their website.

Photos from Taking Back our City

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Time For Teachers!


[box]Intro: Due to the overwhelming social media response, last night the Badass Teachers Association was asked by Time Magazine to write a response to the cover of their most recent issue. As we all know that cover continues, and supports, the false narrative that due process (tenure) is a job for life and the reason that our schools are “failing.” Here is that response that was emailed to the author Hayley Edwards this evening!:[/box]

badassmag3As delegates of an organization that represents the collective voices of 53,000 teachers, we take issue with the cover selected for the November 3 edition of Time. We believe that the image is journalistically irresponsible because it unfairly paints teachers and teacher tenure in a negative light.

The gavel as a symbol of corporate education, smashing the apple – the universal symbol of education – reinforces a text applauding yet another requested deathblow to teacher tenure. Instead of clarity, this continues the misconception that tenure ensures a job for life. It does not. It ensures “just cause” rationale before teachers can be fired.

In addition, the cover perpetuates the pernicious myth of the “bad” teacher and tenure as the prime enablers of larger failures in American education. This is a false narrative. These failures are due to structural inequalities and chronic underfunding in our educational systems, not due to teachers and teacher tenure.

The cover feeds this narrative with the misleading statement, “It is nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.” A few months ago talk show host Whoopi Goldberg made similar statements suffering under the same basic misunderstanding of teacher tenure as something akin to what college professors enjoy rather than a simple guarantee of procedural due process which is its function in K-12 education.

Nevertheless, opponents of teacher tenure have consistently invoked the “bad teacher” argument as pretext to attack not only teachers but also teacher unions, arguing that they place the needs of students second to the protection of underperforming teachers.
In fact, teacher tenure has served as an important protection to allow teachers to advocate for students— especially with regard to maintaining manageable class sizes, safe instructional spaces, the needs of students who are English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities.

Given the massive increase in student enrollments, one of the greatest shortfalls is in the number of teachers themselves. A simple accounting of all the teaching positions lost in the great recessions reveals that the nation would need 377,000 more teachers in the classroom just to keep pace not to mention combat the shameful shortage of teachers of color.
In its haste to disparage teachers, the cover inadvertently tells a larger truth. The instrument used to destroy teacher tenure is wielded against the entire profession. It seeks to obliterate due process for all teachers rather than to ensure its proper use.

More significantly, the cover uncritically situates the tech millionaires as saviors without revealing their own self-interest in the tenure fight, the creation of a nation of corporate-run franchise schools taught by untrained teachers and measured by high stakes test developed and administered by those same millionaires.

In an age where transparency in politics and journalism is sorely needed, we regret Time’s decision to proceed with a cover so clearly at odds with the truth.

[box]This is in response to the recent cover of Time Magazine



BATs Lay Down a Challenge to Duncan

By: Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager
Melissa Tomlinson, Asst. General Manager
of the Badass Teachers Association

Melissa Tomlinson and Marla Kilfoyle with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka
Melissa Tomlinson and Marla Kilfoyle with Newark Mayor
Ras Baraka

The Badass Teachers Association, an organization of over 52,000 teachers, has a bold challenge for Arne Duncan. Duncan released an opinion piece in the Washington Post last night titled “Standardized Tests Must Measure Up” . In this piece he attempts to respond to parent outcry against the current education culture of toxic standardized testing. He continues to not see the real problems and issues that teachers and parents face. Therefore, BATs cordially invites the Secretary to conduct a Town Hall phone conference to hear the real concerns of parents, students, and teachers.

Arne Duncan fails to recognize a few important factors in his piece. He fails to acknowledge his role, in conjunction with the Department of Education, for paving the way for states to become test taking laboratories that are experimenting on children and teachers. He states that “the Education Department has provided $360 million to two consortia of states to support that work.” Duncan’s Race to the Top, defined by the educators in this nation as No Child Left Behind on steroids, has perpetuated a testing culture in our schools that is focused on punishing children, blaming teachers, and closing schools.

The money that is being spent to develop and implement these new tests could have far better use. Money should be used to provide safe school environments through financing construction and renovation of school buildings, to implement before and after school programs, and to support wrap around services in schools for our communities in need. Secretary Duncan does not see his role in creating the test mania we see in our schools today. He does not see that funding used to pay for tests is the main contributor to the funding pitfalls that schools are currently facing. He claims to want to help his own children “build upon their strengths and interests and work on their weaknesses” but what his children get and what public school children get are NOT the same. Duncan shows no understanding for the position that children, other than his own, have been placed in. Schools that are facing budgetary crises are forced to starve in order to have money to implement new standardized tests, which are forced upon districts as an “unfunded” mandate.

His statement, “A focus on measuring student learning has had real benefits, especially for our most vulnerable students, ensuring that they are being held to the same rigorous standards as their well-off peers and shining a light on achievement gaps.” Duncan, once again, perpetuates the false narrative of blaming schools and teachers for the achievement gap (which continues to widen). He continues, once again, to NOT acknowledge that poverty and inequality are direct indicators of the widening achievement gap. Standards of learning should not be set until all children, regardless of zip code, have access to the resources they need to be successful in school. Until that is achieved, the Secretary of Education, and the people within the Department of Education, should be charged with the task of finding ways to make that possible. The standards that they should be discussing should be a standard of equal resources for all children. The Secretary should NOT be discussing a standard of learning that will never be achieved until other societal issues are faced and dealt with, namely poverty and inequality.

Sec. Duncan fails to realize that yearly snapshot testing is not indicative of how a child is progressing in their educational journey. It is constant communication and attention of parents and educators to daily classroom interactions that drive this journey. A yearly assessment that is based upon the presumption that all children start off on an even playing field serves no purpose other than to put a spotlight on children living in poverty and the fact that they cannot compete with students that have been given more opportunities and have access to more resources.

Sec. Duncan mentions the waiver that he has offered during this first year of transition to provide flexibility on connecting teacher evaluation to test results. The allowance of such practices by the Secretary speaks volumes about his concern for the future of our educational system. As test results get tied to decision-making with regards to schools, the potential for a great disservice directed toward our children looms ahead. Teacher performance ratings tied to test scores will result in the loss of many excellent teachers and future educators. There are too many other factors that impact the educational performance of a child which, sadly, the Secretary continues to ignore this.

Throughout this whole process, the lack of communication with actual teachers by the Secretary has been apparent. Arne Duncan speaks to communicating with his children’s schools and teachers to create a collaborative team that is working towards the end goal of providing for a better future. We feel that it is time that Arne Duncan applies this to the country as well. As an association that represents over 52,000 educators, and interested parties, the Badass Teachers Association is extending a direct invitation to Arne Duncan to communicate with teachers who will give him a direct vision of what is really happening in our schools.

We invite you, Secretary Duncan, to participate in a Town Hall phone conference to speak with those that really care, those that have real experience, and real knowledge about education; America’ s teachers.

Consider this your formal invitation to get informed!

We await your call!


Also featured on:

Diane Ravitch’s Blog

Badass Teachers Association Blog

Savagetek Site