The Greater Good

Activism is something that isn’t earned or a promotion.  It isn’t glorious and full of fame and fortune.  It can be ugly at times and downright depressing.  It requires your time and patience.  True activism is voluntary.  It isn’t selfish or part of an agenda.  It just is.  Because you believe in something so strongly you will do what it takes to make sure people listen.  It isn’t violent.

For years now I’ve been pointing out what is wrong in education from my viewpoint.  Sometimes I feel like many have heard.  Other times, like no one heard.  I’ve met people from all walks of life during this journey.  There are times when it can be the loneliest experience in the world.  Other times I am beyond grateful for the support from others.   I do all of this for the greater good.

The greater good is something you feel will benefit humanity as a whole.  If I write about an elected official or a state employee, it is based on what they bring forth in education.  If it is about a face behind a company, I am less merciful most of the time.  If I agree, I praise it to the high heavens.  If I disagree, watch out.  I tend to disagree a lot.  I sincerely hope the people I disagree with know this is a very gray area when it comes to what I write.  I feel I have to question motivations based on what I know.  Because if I don’t, who will?  That may sound arrogant and cocky, but coming forth with something education related is going to make me question where it is coming from.  And half of that search is in the timing.  Timing is everything as they say.  I fully own this and accept it.  I also understand it will make people think twice in communicating with me.  I’ve seen this frequently.  And I’m okay with that.

Some have basically said I’m a grenade launcher and blow up everything in my path.  What they don’t realize is the path is already cloudy and murky.  You can’t see the forest from the trees.  I throw grenades to clear the landscape.  So that after the smoke clears, we see what is really there.  It is frequently ugly.  But I would rather know what I’m facing than not.  I’ve learned that what most people hear isn’t the same thing as the truth.  I don’t see myself as an “education thought partner”.  I don’t do this so I can sit at a table, sing “Kumbaya”, and go along to get along.  If you see me as a partner, it is only because you think you can mold me.  You can’t.  I see myself as an “education truth seeker”.  I’m the one up on the roof shaking the place and letting the dust fall so people start taking off their masks.  I will be brutally frank here: there is some truly nasty shit coming up in education that will leave parents shaking their head as their students are turned into drones for the workforce.  It is happening now, right before your eyes.  And you don’t see it.  This isn’t even about saving what came before in America.  It is about preserving what is left.  I don’t mind change unless it is good change.  But to get there, you have to make calls at times.

I fully understand many people are unwitting pawns in all this.  A slight whisper, a few words, and boom: they got you!  So what do I do?  I call the unwitting pawn out.  I let them know exactly what I think is going on and why they are doing it.  The hope is they realize they are being used and snap out of it.  That doesn’t happen often.  So I keep doing it.

Sometimes you have to do things for the greater good.  Sometimes it isn’t pretty.  Sometimes it hurts people’s feelings.  Get over it.  It IS about the kids.

Parent Strike: What Is It? How Can I Help? What If I Can’t Come?

These are the questions Delaware parents have been asking me for the past five days, and it is time for some answers.  Parent Strike is a national effort on September 17th, coordinated with Constitution Day, whereby parents across America attempt to stop the insanity that has become public education.

What Is So Bad About Public Education?

  • The high-stakes testing environment which has culminated in the Smarter Balanced Assessment
  • The lost school-time based on test prep and interim assessments
  • The penalties to schools and teachers over low-scores in our high-needs schools
  • The hundreds of millions of dollars that have gone to outside companies instead of into our schools
  • The extreme amount of interference from companies without educators who think they know how to “fix” education
  • The lack of transparency from the State of Delaware with the Smarter Balanced Assessment
  • Regulations inserted into code without any legislative input by the State Board of Education
  • The very structure of the Smarter Balanced Assessment
  • American Institutes for Research as the testing vendor for Smarter Balanced
  • Classroom sizes that are way too big and even the most advantaged children are not able to learn
  • Schools with low demographics of sub-groups being labeled as “Recognition” or “Reward” schools
  • Schools with high demographics of sub-groups being labeled as “Focus” or “Priority” schools
  • The lack of true stakeholder input in the creation of standardized assessments
  • The complete and utter disregard by Governor Markell in failing to listen to parents and the legislators of Delaware with his veto of House Bill 50
  • The continued bullying and intimidation of parents by districts or charter schools when they give an opt-out letter
  • The charter schools even giving a hint that students may not get a spot or won’t be able to keep their spot over opt-out
  • The Common Core implementation and many disturbing aspects in it that have nothing to do with education
  • The lack of oversight over special education in our schools and listening to parents
  • Regulation 103 and it’s punitive measures against students, teachers, schools, and communities

How Can I Help?

  • Write a Refuse The Test letter to your child’s school advising them your child will not take the Smarter Balanced Assessment during this school year and you expect your child to have an education while other students are testing and hand it to the administrator of the school first thing in the morning
  • Attend a press conference outside Legislative Hall in Dover at 12:30 pm and go to the State Board of Education meeting at 1pm and give public comment about your opposition to Regulation 103
  • Talk with other parents at your child’s school about opt-out if they are not aware of it
  • Wear a red shirt as a symbol of protest for Parent Strike
  • Drop off flyers everywhere you go with a print-out of these bullet points
  • Paint REFUSE THE TEST on your car (with temporary paint)
  • Use stealth guerilla tactics: Put sticky notes everywhere (bathroom stalls, school supplies, in cereal and toy aisles at stores, anywhere you can think of) with REFUSE THE TEST written on it
  • Thank your child’s teacher for all they do and that you are willing to fight for them
  • Help a parent write a REFUSE THE TEST letter
  • On the night before, use sidewalk chalk on pathways parents use to walk their children to school
  • Whatever you can think of to legally spread the message

What If I Can’t Come To Dover?

  • You aren’t required to come, but all are welcome and a larger crowd always sends a larger message
  • You can write letters to the editor of your local paper
  • You can go to your local board meeting and give public comment about opt-out and your thoughts about what is going on with education
  • Plan an event for a future date to gather parents in your district to discuss what is going on with pubic education
  • Email your State Representative, State Senator, Congressmen, Governor Markell, the Delaware Department of Education and the State Board of Education
  • You can read all about it with hashtag #parentstrike on Twitter and the Parent Strike Facebook page and see what others in Delaware and the USA are doing

I’m going to tell a story.  The first time I went to a public meeting knowing I would give public comment, I was scared out of my mind.  I didn’t believe my voice could make a difference.  It was the State Board of Education meeting in April 2014.  Since then, I have spoken at several events.  I’ve reached out to fellow citizens across the state, from Wilmington to Rehoboth, and answered questions to the best of my ability.  I’ve educated, informed, and spent a great deal of time helping other parents.  But I won’t ever forget that first time, the hardest time.

The power of voice is one of the most amazing things in creation.  I encourage anyone speaking publicly on something they believe in for their children to reach back to the moment your child was born.  When you first looked into their eyes and vowed you would do whatever you can to protect them.  Over the years, we lose some of that.  It gets lost in all the noise.  We may know something could be bad for our child, but other factors get in the way.  We worry about the implications and overthink things to the point where we are unable to act.  Many have asked me how I can do all I do.  I don’t have an easy answer for that.  But I always remember that initial promise to my son.  The one moment that matters most of all, born out of unconditional love.

It’s not an easy thing, being brave.  It takes courage you may not think you have.  It means taking yourself out of your usual comfort zone.  Any advocate or activist started out this way.  It’s not a matter of being practical, it’s about being radical.  Too many of us see “radicals” as sign-carrying flower children from the 1960s yelling and screaming all the time or protests getting arrested.  Being radical means going against the viewpoint of those you think are wrong.  That’s it.  There is no formula to it.  I can promise you, once you start, it gets easier.  I won’t say the words get easier, but it gets easier to speak them.  The very best public comments I’ve ever heard are those initial ones, because they come from the heart and usually carry a great deal of emotion.

You need to ask yourself: who is going to speak for my child?  Teachers can’t.  Not when it comes to standardized testing and opt-out.  Your friend can’t, your neighbor can’t and your child can’t.  Only YOU can.

These are the groups or people that talk a lot about education and what’s best for your child but they also brought us to this point and you should take what they say with a grain of salt: Governor Markell, the Delaware Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, the Vision Coalition, the Delaware Business Roundtable, and the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  As well, for parents of minority children, I implore you to do research.  There are many civil rights groups who speak the same kind of language as the above entities.  Always find the connections.  For example, the Wilmington Metropolitan Urban League spoke out against opt-out claiming it would put at-risk children even further behind.  As we have seen from the initial results of Smarter Balanced, the gaps widened even further than they did last year.  I like to think these groups go with the governmental flow and take things at face value without doing their own research.

People will tell you that you are wrong.  They will argue your points until you are blue in the face.  That’s alright.  Ask them how they know they are right and you are wrong.  Ask them for research to support their points of view.  But never, ever, just give up and throw your hands up in the air.  Don’t let Governor Markell tell you what you speak out about is a recipe for the status quo.  Don’t let Rodel tell you what your child needs to succeed.  Listen to your heart and your own convictions.

Some will tell you I am just a rebel rouser, or a fire-starter, just looking to cause chaos due to injustices inflicted on my son in the past.  They couldn’t be further from the truth.  I have no vested interest whether your child is opted out or not.  I don’t get paid one single solitary cent for what I do.  Blog stats are just numbers that mean nothing to anyone.  I believe.  I believe education can and should be more than what it has become.  There are far too many in power dictating every single move, and the result is a generation that will suffer immensely.  Unless we stop it, and we stop it now.

Please share this post on your Facebook page, or your Twitter account, or Instagram.  Email it to friends.  If you believe, don’t be afraid to let others know.  Any movement starts with a few voices but it can rise to a legion more powerful than anything.

An Interview With The Magnificent Melissa Katz! “The Start Of An Educational Revolution”

katz
Every once in a while, someone pops up on the blogosphere and makes a deep impression with people.  For the New Jersey blogs, that person is Melissa Katz.  I wrote about Melissa last month when I saw one of her articles re-tweeted all over the place.  I read it and I was amazed!  For someone so young to have so much insight into the reality of education today is something special.  I had the opportunity to interview Melissa recently, and I welcome you to get to know an amazing young woman who has impressed not only many of her fellow citizens in New Jersey, but also America.  Melissa is the voice of the future, in my opinion, for what education should be.  In between her studies, activism and friends, Melissa also writes a blog called The Educational Activist: From Student To Teacher.

Exceptional Delaware: What made you decide to become a teacher?

Melissa: I always loved school. But more than that, I always loved learning, which in many cases is lost in school due to the current test-and-punish tactics. I would spend my free time playing teacher and Continue reading