Journal of Educational Controversy


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Special Invitation to our Global Readership

As the year comes to an end, we at the Journal of Educational Controversy are busy getting ready for our exciting and important issue on "The Education and Schools our Children Deserve" that is scheduled for publication in the summer of 2011.

In addition to publishing papers from some of the most progressive educational thinkers of our time, the journal will also feature examples from innovative schools and classrooms. I would like to extend a special invitation to our colleagues across the globe to consider submitting articles and videos that highlight the important work that their school is doing. We are particularly anxious to have examples from schools around the world so we can learn from each other on what is possible. We can extend the deadline for articles in this section.

For more information on the controversial scenario posed for this issue, go to our "call for submissions" page of the journal.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Recommended Changes to a future DREAM Act

Although the DREAM Act was not passed by the current Congress, it will undoubtedly come up again for consideration. At its recent convention in October, the Illinois Federation of Teachers had recommended that the bill include more options. Concerned with the militarization and the limited options of the current bill, the IFT had recommended four changes for a more just version of the bill. Perhaps, a future bill will accommodate these changes:

1. Include a community service path to legalization

2. Include a vocational path to legalization

3. Allow undocumented youth access to Pell Grants and federal financial aid money to offer an honest chance to go to college

4. Allow youth to petition their parents for legal status

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Student Sues School District after Enduring Years of Harassment

The problems of bullying, harassment, and the "school to prison pipeline" are some of the tragic incidents that plague our young people and our public school system. We have approached this issue several times in this blog and are planning to have an entire issue of the journal devoted to it. Below is an account from the ACLU of some litigation that it is taking on behalf of a student here in Washington State who has endured six years of harassment all during his middle and high school years.

Student Sues School District after Enduring Years of Harassment

ACLU Suit Says Aberdeen Failed to Take Steps Needed to End Severe Harassment

A student who endured severe and persistent harassment throughout junior high and high school is suing the Aberdeen School District, the ACLU of Washington announced today. The suit says that school district officials were aware of the harassment but failed to take steps reasonably calculated to end it. The ACLU of Washington is representing the student in the suit, which was filed today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

The school district’s failure to act created a hostile educational environment for the student. His academic progress was hindered, he was isolated at school, he felt discouraged from using his locker, and he avoided extra-curricular activities that put him in contact with his peers. Further, the student suffered extreme emotional distress and psychological damage, including an inability to concentrate on studies, serious depression, despair, and anxiety. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Public school officials must be held accountable when they fail to meet their responsibility to act decisively when a student is subjected to harassment by his peers. We hope that in the future other students will not have to endure what this young man faced,” said Sarah Dunne, legal director for the ACLU of Washington.

Russell Dickerson III, now 19, is an African-American resident of Aberdeen. For six years, from 2003 when he entered junior high until 2009 when he graduated high school, Dickerson was harassed by other students on the basis of his race, sex, and perceived sexual orientation.

As a student at Miller Junior High, Dickerson was called names by other students and found notes in his backpack and taped to his back calling him “stupid nigger” and “dog.” He found notes in his locker and in his school binder with viciously derogatory insults. Students tripped him in the hallways and threw food at him in the cafeteria. In one incident, three students pushed him to the floor in the hallway and smashed a raw egg on his head; only one of the students was disciplined.

The student and his parents reported the harassment to school administrators. The district Superintendent was aware of the harassment yet took no steps reasonably aimed at ending it. But an assistant principal recommended that the student consider changing his style of dress to avoid further harassment. Only after his father went to the school board did the district initiate a formal investigation of the ongoing harassment. A school insurance professional hired by the district to investigate concluded that Dickerson had been harassed but recommended no adjustments to the district’s anti-harassment policies or its implementation of them.

At Aberdeen High School, the harassment escalated, with Dickerson subjected to derogatory names including “nigger,” “nappy ho,” and “faggot.” Because he did not fit gender stereotypes for a young man and was perceived by other students to be gay, he endured derisive comments about his physical appearance and suspected sexual orientation. Dickerson suffered physical harassment, with other students pinching and fondling his chest, spitting on his head, and throwing objects at him.

In 2007 students in the district created a website mocking Dickerson and his perceived sexual orientation, and posted threatening racist comments on it. Students discussed the website at school. The district did nothing to prevent or mitigate the continuing harassment on school grounds, even after being put on notice that Grays Harbor Superior Court had issued a no contact order between Dickerson and one of his harassers who had threatened on the website to lynch him. Rather, Dickerson became the target of retaliatory harassment after reporting the website to school authorities.

In his first year in high school, an assistant principal discouraged Dickerson from reporting misconduct by the student’s peers. Nevertheless, the student and his parents repeatedly reported incidents of harassment to district administrators, both verbally and in writing. The district failed to take other steps reasonably designed to end the persistent harassment.

The lawsuit says that the deliberate indifference to ongoing harassment by Aberdeen School District, which receives federal funds, violated federal law –

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The district’s inaction also violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination’s protections against discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and perceived sexual orientation.

The lawsuit is seeking monetary damages to cover costs of counseling for Russell and post-secondary or vocational schooling.

Representing Dickerson are ACLU-WA cooperating attorneys Michael Scott, Joseph Sakay, and Alexander Wu of Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson P.S. and ACLU of Washington staff attorneys Sarah Dunne and Rose Spidell.

See also:

KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio. A service of the University of Washington

Huffington Post

American Civil Liberties Union of Washington

ACLU Related Links
Read Russell Dickerson’s statement
Read Russell Dickerson's father’s statement
Read the Legal Complaint
Watch the press conference
Hear what Dan Savage says about the suit

Thursday, November 25, 2010

New Curriculum on Democracy and Jazz

Many of our readers will be interested in a new curriculum produced at Teachers College, Columbia University called, “Let Freedom Swing: Conversations on Democracy and Jazz.” On the eve of President Obama’s inauguration on January 20, 2009, a concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC brought together Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and jazz musician, Wynton Marsalis. It was from this event that the idea of a curriculum based on two American traditions – jazz and democracy – was conceived. Readers can access the DVDs and study guide at:

From the website: “Three key themes structure the videos and study guide: “We the People,” “E Pluribus Unum” (From Many, One), and “A More Perfect Union.” Each video is about six minutes in length. The study guide contains questions for discussion, teaching activities, and additional resources. The website contains the three videos, the study guide, information about the project, and additional print, digital, and video resources.”

The journal has published an earlier article on another curriculum produced at Teachers College called, “Teaching the Levees: An Exercise in Democratic Dialogue.” We are planning on publishing an article on this latest curriculum in our upcoming issue next summer.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Newly Published - "Dear Maxine: Letters from the Unfinished Conversation"

In our winter 2010 issue of the journal dedicated to the life and work of Maxine Greene, we announced that a new book was about to be published in the fall by Teachers College Press. The book, Dear Maxine: Letters from the Unfinished Conversation, is now available. Readers can find information at the Teachers College Press website.

From the website:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Do Teachers have Free Speech Rights? An Update on Recent Court Decisions

Readers will remember the article by author Sam Chaltain in our winter 2008 issue of the journal, entitled, "Ways of Seeing (and of Being Seen): Visibility in Schools." Sam has his own website and blog at: "Democracy,Learning,Voice." Check it out. Sam gave us permission to reprint his article on teachers' rights from his website.

Free Speech for Teachers? Think Again . . .

by Sam Chaltain

Reprinted by permission from Democracy, Learning, Voice.

In case you missed it, there was a major case last week involving the First Amendment rights of teachers to make curricular content decisions. And the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling puts another nail in the coffin of the free-speech rights of public employees.

In the most recent case, an Ohio teacher’s contract was not renewed after controversy erupted over a few book assignments she made with her High School English class. As recently as a decade ago, the teacher may have had a legitimate chance in court (although not neccesarily). That’s because, prior to 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court evaluated public employee free-speech claims by using a test with two basic prongs. First, the court would determine whether the speech in question touches on a matter of public concern. If it did not, the teacher would receive no First Amendment protection whatsoever. If the speech did touch on a matter of public concern, the court would proceed to the balancing prong of the test, in which it would balance the teacher’s interest in commenting upon a matter of public concern against the school officials’ interest in promoting an efficient workplace of public service.

Prior to 2006, courts sometimes sided with school officials even though the public school teachers’ speech touched upon a matter of public concern. In one 2001 case, for example, the Eighth Circuit determined that a school principal did not violate the First Amendment rights of three teachers who were ordered to quit talking about the care and education of special needs students. Subsequent appeals in the case acknowledged that the teachers’ complaints about the lack of care for special needs students touched on matters of public concern. Nonetheless, the appeals court noted that the teachers’ speech “resulted in school factions and disharmony among their co-workers and negatively impacted [the principal's] interest in efficiently administering the middle school.”

Conversely, in 1993 the Eleventh Circuit reached a different conclusion in the case of Belyeu v. Coosa County Board of Education. In this decision, a teacher’s aide alleged that school officials failed to rehire her because of a speech she made about racial issues at a PTA meeting. The aide said the school should adopt a program to commemorate Black History month. Immediately after the meeting, the principal asked to speak with her and told her he wished she had raised this issue privately rather than publicly. A lower court determined that the speech clearly touched on a matter of public concern, but that the school system’s interest in avoiding racial tensions outweighed the aide’s right to free speech. On appeal, however, the Eleventh Circuit reversed, writing that the aide’s “remarks did not disrupt the School System’s function by enhancing racial division, nor, based on the nature or context of her remarks, was her speech likely to do so.”

This is all a precursor to 2006, however, when the U.S. Supreme Court effectively eliminated the free-speech rights of public employees in its 5-4 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos. As my friend and former First Amendment Center colleague David Hudson explains, since Garcetti “public employers are able to defend themselves against allegations of retaliation by claiming that employees’ criticisms of government operations were made as part of their official duties.”

Indeed, a pattern has emerged in this post-Garcetti world, in which it has become almost impossible to mount a successful First Amendment lawsuit based on speech that relates to the workplace. In other words, a teacher who wishes to claim First Amendment protection for decisions about curricular content must do so knowing that the same protections s/he would be afforded as a private citizen will not apply to anything so directly related to his or her official duties.

Ironically, the 1969 case that is hailed as the high-water mark for student free-speech, Tinker v. Des Moines, features these lines: “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.”

No longer.

(Postscript: If you’re a junkie for First Amendment law, check out my three books on the subject, including answers to all of the most frequently asked questions as they pertain to First Amendment issues in schools.)

Sam Chaltain is a DC-based educator and organizational change consultant. Previously, he was the National Director of the Forum for Education & Democracy, an education advocacy organization, and the founding director of the Five Freedoms Project, a national program that helps K-12 educators create more democratic learning communities. Sam spent five years at the First Amendment Center as the co-director of the First Amendment Schools program. He came to the Center from the public school system of New York City, where he taught high school English and History. Sam also spent four years teaching the same subjects at a private school in Brooklyn.

Sam’s writings about his work have appeared in both magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, Education Week and USA Today. A periodic contributor to CNN and MSNBC, Sam is also the author or co-author of five books: The First Amendment in Schools (ASCD, 2003); First Freedoms: A Documentary History of First Amendment Rights (Oxford University Press, 2006); American Schools: The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009); We Must Not Be Afraid to be Free: Stories Of Free Expression in America (Oxford, 2011); and Faces of Learning: 50 Powerful Stories of Defining Moments in Education (Jossey-Bass, 2011).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New Issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy Now Online

The Journal of Educational Controversy is pleased to announce that the Summer 2010 issue titled, “The Professions and Scholarly Communities: Creating the Public’s Questions and Understandings in the Public Square” is now online.

Controversy addressed in the issue:

Professionals and scholarly communities in all fields bring a special expertise to the discussion of ideas in the public square of a democracy. At times, democratic decisions or views widely held by the public conflict with sound professional knowledge of the professional or scholarly community, and challenge the integrity of the choices that a professional must make in a particular case. At other times, the professional is faced with a conflict within the profession itself between deeply entrenched traditions and the challenges posed by newer paradigms. Under both circumstances, the professional is left with a decision about the ethical path to follow and the result will influence the public’s understanding and questions. This issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy examines instances where professionals are faced with a dilemma that either pits a democratic decision against the expertise of professional standards or a conflict within the profession itself when traditional paradigms are challenged. How does the professional examine the choices that would have to be weighed and consider the most ethical position that should be taken?

Following is a list of the articles featured in the journal:
Privacy and Library Records, a case study in Whatcom County
Joan Airoldi
with introduction by Daniel Larner
Ethical Breach and the Schizophrenic Process: Theorizing the Judge and the Teacher
Heather Greenhalgh-Spencer
Bryce Bartlett, Hausch, Blackwell, and Saunders

Next Issue: The Education Our Children Deserve
We invite readers to contribute formal refereed responses to our Rejoinder Section or more spontaneous responses on our journal’s blog.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Time for a Serious National Conversation on the Public Purposes of our Schools: An Interview with Bill Ayers

Readers will find the interview with Bill Ayers from an interesting departure from the mainsteam media's superficial coverage of our national debate on school reform. We reprint it in its entirety with permission from In his interview, Ayers talks about the public purposes of schooling -- something often left out of the economic and privatized goals that have dominated the national debate -- and the real social and human conditions that need to be addressed. For readers who would like to read the article we published by Bill Ayers in our special issue on "Schooling as if Democracy Matters," go to: "Singing in Dark Times."

Back to School: An Interview With Bill Ayers
Friday 01 October 2010

by: Maya Schenwar, Executive Director, t r u t h o u t Interview

Reprinted by permission from

As the 2010-2011 school year grumbled to a start - and millions of public school students settled into overcrowded, underfunded, under-resourced classrooms - I sat down in Chicago with education theorist and activist Bill Ayers to discuss true democracy, false reform and his latest book (co-authored with cartoonist Ryan Alexander-Tanner), "To Teach: The Journey in Comics." In an educational culture increasingly permeated by top-down marketplace values, Ayers, who taught primary school for years, still believes in the possibility of a schooliverse where every teacher is respected and every student is valued as a full human being, where collaborative learning and growth trump the school-eat-school "Race to the Top." And by the end of our conversation, I did, too.

Maya Schenwar: In "To Teach," you talk about how a good school is defined by good teachers. What do you think of this practice that's been circling the country, of "reconstituting" schools and firing all the teachers? Does that logic work?

Bill Ayers: Not at all - not even close.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

More on the Tribal Sovereignty Curriculum: Since Time Immemorial

Since we posted an outline of Washington State’s new Tribal Sovereignty Curriculum on this blog, we have received many e-mails for more information. Shana Brown gives us a first-hand account below of her involvement with the curriculum both as a teacher and lead contributor to its development. Shana also provided us with a nine-page report that gives more details. We have added a link to the report and the webite where readers can find the curriculum following her post along with a short bio to introduce this committed teacher to our readers.

Shana's personal story comes at an opportune time for me. Just the other day, students in our teacher education program brought up some searching questions about the profession they are about to enter. They are young, idealistic and committed, but also somewhat anxious about the reality of the world they are about to experience. They want to make a difference in this world and are searching for answers to their existential questions. Shana's story of life as a teacher, sometimes lonely, sometimes exhilarating, is a deeply honest and insightful account on ways teachers can make a difference in community with others. Her story will not only speak to our students' search for the meaning of the profession they are about to enter, but hopefully also to the politicians, media and think tanks that have exploited real problems and real social and human conditions by resorting to a simple campaign of "teacher bashing." Thank you for your story Shana.

Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State Curriculum

By Shana Brown

It’s been awhile since I reflected in writing about STI: Since Time Immemorial. I’ll post the articles I’ve written and co-written for a lot of the background information, but as far as what I’m feeling now regarding the curriculum, how I feel as a teacher, tribal person, parent…well, that deserves a bit of writing.

When I started this project, I felt very alone in it. I was trying to get my teacher colleagues to include tribal perspectives in history and literature, trying to get myself to do the same, and it never quite matched my vision of what it ought to be.

And that gets us in trouble, we teachers. Always thinking about the way our classrooms, lesson, students, and the world ought to be.

But it is what keeps us honest, too.

And when we’re honest about what we can and cannot do, we become one among those rare, incredibly lucky teachers whose visions becomes actualized. And the thing I have concluded through this immense exercise that I began almost twenty years ago is that if we depend just upon ourselves to realize whatever our educational vision happens to be, we will fail. Big.

Kafka says that “…the book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” If for Kafka the book is the remedy for our inner being, our inner truth, then it is the act of communing that is the remedy for the isolation that stems from being an army of one. As it turns out there were dozens of teachers plugging away at making their little corner of the universe a little better, a little more inclusive of tribal history, a little more truthful. As it turns out, there were dozens of tribes plugging away at making their histories known. As it turns out, the teaching of tribal history and tribal sovereignty was an idea whose time had finally come.

For a very large reason, a kind of harmonic convergence occurred over Washington State beginning in 2005 with the passage of House Bill 1495. John McCoy’s sponsored bill was the “giddyup” that we needed to bring all of us together. The “Us” became OSPI (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction), Federal Title programs, state legislature, teachers, school districts, the state AG’s office, tribal attorneys, state library associations, the state’s Secretary of State’s office, tribes, tribal schools, tribal libraries, and the list just continues. We’ve received funding from federal, state, and tribal agencies, and most recently we added the Gates Foundation. And then we joined other states in their varying degrees of tribal history inclusion, namely Montana (Regional Learning Project) and Wisconsin (Indian Land Tenure Foundation). I tell you, the more who were interested, and who in turn invested their time and money into our efforts, became overwhelming. I’d find myself giggling while en route to whatever training, presentation, or function, I’d happen to be attending, giddy with the fact that what I’d envisioned so long ago was coming true. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Yes, Virginia, there are other like-minded individuals, who can nod and make it so. I’m smiling and giggling right now, in fact.

My words of wisdom: it may take awhile, but don’t give up. Really. It happens. It can and it will. And sometimes it happens all discombobulated and backasswords, but really—have faith. If Ray Kinsela taught me anything it is that sometimes when faith is all you got, it’s all you need. We started with a flickering of an idea when it came to our curriculum initiative, and we had no funding. Now we’re staring at a regional, multiyear effort that has a generous budget.

Now, the curriculum itself. In the articles I explain the rationale and the mechanics of it, but I’m still fearful that it’s not good enough. Hell, I know it’s not good enough purely because many of the lessons haven’t been tried. Remember how I said some things happen bassackwards? Well, the writing was one of them. I wrote, then my curriculum partners wrote, but without pilot schools to try them out. Then, we got pilot schools, but no real budget to support them the way we wanted. That meant only a few of the lessons were vetted properly. Then, we got the budget to support them, but after the pilot ended. So now, we have the budget to pilot and evaluate, get the lessons out to the tribes for them to see, too. But there’s still a big chunk of it that needs to be scrutinized, edited, and reworked. For example: I have a GREAT idea for how we can take the history of Celilo Falls on the Columbia river and transform it into a storypath, a la Margit McGuire from Seattle University (look her up. She’s great.) But, time for a teacher is short, and so I had to resort to recording my suggestions on what to do with the unit in order to develop it further. So, perhaps one day I’ll be able to continue it, but it’s going to take awhile. Another: some of the units just feel so “first-drafty” to me, but that, too will change as more people look ‘em over and say, “Hey! You really ought to change it to X,” or, “There’s a problem with Y.” I’m just lucky my ego ain’t locked up inside of my work. Okay, not locked up inside my work that much.

The cornerstone of our curriculum, though, is our saving grace: we don’t pretend to be the definitive voice on any one tribe’s history and definition of tribal sovereignty. Our curriculum compels its users to create and develop partnerships between school districts and tribes so that tribes can tell their own stories and begin trusting an educational system that was hurtful at best and genocidal at worst. Tribes are damned tired of having schools teach about them rather than with them. Our curriculum’s success depends on it. And how will you as teachers accomplish this? Hopefully, not bassackwards, but have faith that if it does happen that way it will probably be okay.

There’s a lot more to say, and my class will begin in 20 minutes and I have yet to make the photocopies I need (that part of teaching does not change. Ever.). I hope I’ll be able to chat with some of you as time allows. I’m very eager to find out what people think, how the work is used, not used, augmented, revised, and ultimately used.

There’s a whole other topic about the generosity of folks in this project. I think part of why it works is that no one wants to make any money on it. When you’re not worried about profit, the rest seems to flow easier. Kind of like growing up poor and not realizing it until your adulthood. You’re incredibly oblivious to just how difficult being poor actually is because you’re just so incredibly happy. It doesn’t matter that it’s your fifth meal mainly comprised of commodity cheese; you’re just happy you get grilled cheese sandwiches again!

Link to Report: Washington State’s Tribal Sovereignty Curriculum Initiative: Since Time Immemorial by Shana Brown and CHiXapkaid

Also see: Since Time Immemorial: Developing Tribal Sovereignty Curriculum in Washington's Schools by Barbara Leigh Smith, Shana Brown, and Magda Costantino

Link to the website: Tribal Sovereignty Curriculum Website

Shana Brown is a descendant of the Yakama, Snohomish, Stillaguamish, Squaxin, Puyallup, Muckleshoot, Tulalip, and Snoqualmie tribes. She was born and raised on the Yakama reservation, and despite her surroundings, was never introduced to any tribal history in the public schools. It has been her vision as a veteran English, Language Arts, history, and technology teacher of 22 years to develop curriculum that becomes part of the everyday experiences of all students, not just an ancillary tip of the multicultural hat. She has developed curriculum for the Washington State Historical Society, the University of Montana’s Regional Learning Project, and is the lead curriculum developer and writer for OSPI’s Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State, or STI. She currently teachers ancient cultures, language arts, and technology at Broadview-Thomson K – 8; her husband and two young children keep her busy, happy, and healthy.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Waiting for Superman" Stirs Controversy

Davis Guggenheim sure knows how to draw a crowd. He did this first with the environmental awareness documentary “The Inconvenient Truth” and now he is at it again with his highly controversial documentary on the current face of American public school system: “Waiting for Superman.” The New York release of the film brought people out, not only to view the movie but also to protest its seeming promotion of charter schools and anti-union message. The movie and the message it carries are definitely stirring up some strong emotions from both sides of the union and charter school fences.
Below are some of the loudest voices, some are educational and balanced while others are passionate and opinionated.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Groundbreaking Curriculum on Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State

Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State

Denny Hurtado

Director, Indian Education
Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction
Washington State

In 2005, the Washington State Legislature passed House Bill 1495, which officially recommended inclusion of tribal history in all common schools.

The resulting curriculum is called Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State. The final product will be web-based and will be available in August 2010.

This curriculum uses three approaches:

An inquiry based approach with five essential questions:

How does physical geography affect the distribution, culture, and economic life of local tribes?

What is the legal status of tribes who negotiated or who did not negotiate settlement for compensation for the loss of their sovereign homelands?

What were the political, economic, and cultural forces consequential to the treaties that led to the movement of tribes from long established homelands to reservations?

What are the ways in which tribes responded to the threats to extinguish their cultures and independence, such as missionaries, boarding schools, assimilation policies, and the reservation system?

What have tribes done to meet the challenges of reservation life? What have these tribes, as sovereign nations, done to meet the economic and cultural needs of their tribal communities?

A place-based approach. Our approach encourages teachers and students to address the essential questions in the context of tribes in their own communities.

An integrated approach. Teachers choose how much time to spend on tribal sovereignty content to complete their units throughout the year. The integrated approach provides three levels of curriculum for each of the OSPI recommended social studies units, each level building on the last. Where appropriate, units build toward successful completion of Content Based Assessments (CBA).

Selected goals of tribal-sovereignty curriculum

Elementary School:

• Understand that there are more than 500 independent tribal nations and that they deal with the United States and one another on a government-to-government basis.
• Define tribal sovereignty as "a way that tribes govern themselves in order to keep and support their cultural ways of life."
• Identify the names and locations of tribes in their area.

Middle school:

• Understand that under the U.S. Constitution, treaties are "the supreme law of the land."
• Understand that tribes are subject to federal law and taxes, as well as some state regulations.
• Understand that levels of sovereignty vary from tribe to tribe and that there are continued threats to tribal sovereignty.

High school:

• Recognize landmark court decisions and legislation bearing on tribal sovereignty.
• Understand that tribal sovereignty works toward protecting tribes' ways of life and toward the development of their nations.
• Explain the governmental structure of at least one tribe in their community.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Teachable Moment: Discussing the Controversy over the Proposed Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero

We just learned about an interesting curriculum that we wanted to bring to the attention of our readers. It was developed by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. We invited the center to describe its work in the post below.

Curriculum Ideas for Discussing Park51
From the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding

Park51, the proposed cultural center/mosque near Ground Zero is one of the most talked-about and volatile issues in the U.S. right now, raising questions and feelings about Islam, extremists, terrorists and 9/11.

The same information that characterizes the debate in the mainstream media will inevitably color students’ perceptions of the issue, as they inherit the media’s and individuals in their communities’ take on the debate. Tools for helping guide conversations around this issue are important. The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding has created a curriculum to help arm teachers with the resources they need to turn this tension-filled topic into an enriching classroom experience.

Tanenbaum is a secular, non-sectarian organization committed to the vision that people of all beliefs, from the most religiously devout to the most committed atheist can live, learn and work peacefully together in a spirit of true respect. The mission of the Religion and Diversity Education program is to train educators across the globe to prepare students to be global citizens, skilled in living and succeeding in a religiously diverse society and able to incorporate coexistence into their everyday lives. We know that teachers encounter questions from students about the role of religion in their lives and in the world and offer our trainings and curriculum to help them in that work.

Using the curriculum, teachers can explore the Park51 controversy specifically, or use it as an avenue to discuss conflict generally and look at conflict resolution and mediation tools. They can look at anti-Islam sentiment across the country, and compare it to other historical “phobias” in the U.S. They can also use the conversation as a tool for having a thoughtful conversation about 9/11 and what it means for the U.S. and our relationship with the rest of the world.

You can download the Park51 Curriculum Guide and Fact Sheets from Tanenbaum’s website. If you have any questions, please contact

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Global Infestation of U.S. Educational Ideas: A Cautionary Thought by Author Kay Ann Taylor

Editors: Today we welcome a post by guest blogger, Kay Ann Taylor. Our readers will remember the article that we published in our winter 2009 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy by Kay Ann Taylor, entitled, Poverty's Multiple Dimensions. In today's post, Dr. Taylor reflects on her recent visit to a conference she attended in Istanbul, Turkey where she learned about the extent that the United States focus on standardized testing has had on the educational thinking in other nations. Historically, U.S. educational ideas have had an influence around the world. Our author asks us to think about what ideas we are exporting today and if this is the "best the U.S. has to offer."

Exporting U.S. Education: Is Standardized Testing the Best the U.S. Has to Offer?
by Kay Ann Taylor
Kansas State University

As an educator and an individual, a major personal bias and belief is my non-belief in standardized testing (ST). With the onset and passing of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the festering in American education surrounding standardized testing has reached the status of some god-like or pagan entity that determines the futures of not only our children, but our teachers, schools, communities, country, and impacts our global efficacy. Those who are not educators (politicians) continue to direct and dictate policies and practices to those who are. How can and why does the American public at large and in general succumb to the edicts of this flawed, detrimental, and demeaning measure of human capacity? And, more to the point, why and how did exporting U.S. ST become so welcome, so revered, and, received so uncritically by our global community? Like cancer, the disease of U.S. standardized testing infects the global arena. I remain critical and skeptical regarding the gate-keeping effects of ST in terms of its impact and outcome on the lives, futures, education, thinking, and psyches of the human enterprise.

The polar views in the U.S. regarding ST are far from new. They are divergent in philosophical orientation, utility, purpose, interpretation, and implementation. There are scholars that support ST. Conversely, numerous scholars continue to challenge the oppressive nature of ST in that it lacks context and marginalizes English language learners, learners from low socioeconomic status, creates winners vs losers. Critics argue further that ST in no way represents learning, knowledge, understanding, much less real-life application. Additionally and importantly, some scholars contend that ST is racist and gender-biased. There is a distorted Darwinian element ingrained in ST, i.e., the survival of the fittest, which misrepresents Darwin for one, and rather, serves the interests of those seeking to maintain the status quo. Further, ST represents an outdated factory system of education that serves social efficiency, social control, social reproduction, and maintains the status quo for social mobility, thus begging the question, “Whose interests are served by standardized tests?” Believing that humans can be ranked, filed, and sorted on the basis of ST is one of the most destructive and dehumanizing practices education faces.

Standardized testing is big business. This hit me squarely during a session at the World Council of Comparative Education Societies this June (2010) in Istanbul, Turkey. I co-presented with my former M.S. student (now pursuing her Ph.D. in Russian Literature at another institution while teaching Russian Language at our university) based on her historical and qualitative thesis research in which she compared the first-ever national 2008 External Knowledge Testing in her Ukrainian country of origin to the historical onset of ST in the U.S. We went to our session location in advance to familiarize ourselves with the setting and to ensure the technology was in place. A Lebanese professor, who teaches in higher education in her country of origin, was there to attend the session and started a conversation with us. The title of our presentation, "Border Transmission and Reproduction Déjà Vu: Ukrainian External Independent Knowledge Testing—Reflections in the Mirror of U.S. Standardized Testing," captured her interest. Even before the session began, we discovered our topic was controversial because of our critical perspective.

As conference sessions go, ours was well attended by 25-30 people from almost as many different countries represented. There were two other countries and comparative topics in our session. Questions for all presenters were held until the end after everyone presented. Evidently, I have been naïve for quite some time because I was unprepared for the lively Q&A that followed regarding our research. Until our session, I remained blissfully unaware the extent to which ST from the U.S. has been exported globally. Plainly, we struck a nerve with most of our colleagues. From the discussion that followed directed at our research, it appeared to us that ST not only is well-received by our global counterparts, but that for many, it never was questioned critically regarding the numerous flaws and negative effects noted above.

After our session, I went outside to relax briefly. A young lady who attended our session stopped to visit with me. She is Brazilian by birth and informed me that Brazilian higher education institutions require the GRE. When I brought up my passion for Critical Race Theory (CRT), she smiled and informed me that she studied for three years with Kimberlé Crenshaw, Cheryl Harris, and Claude Steele—all prominent CRT scholars. She likely was the only individual attending our session who was familiar with, understood, much less agreed with, our position.

This experience provided considerable material for my reflection. After returning from the conference, I visited with a colleague and shared what happened. To my surprise, he challenged our critical assessment of ST and informed me that he knows personally an administrator for one of the major testing companies in the U.S. He explained that in his conversation with this person, he was informed that the company exercises care in test construction with the host country’s interested parties to ensure native language and culture are represented and not misinterpreted. After visiting the company’s web site to see for myself, I engaged in more reflection about this phenomenon. What struck me is that what is highly likely in this international ST-creating process is that the same flaws and biases inherent in the U.S. system also are reproduced in each country constructing “culturally sensitive” ST. For example, as stated above, ST represents an outdated factory model of schooling in the U.S., especially in terms of social efficiency, social control, and maintaining social mobility for the status quo. As I continued my conversation with my colleague, I continued to delineate the negative aspects of ST. One comment made by my colleague that struck yet another chord, was his statement that ST in many countries is used for placement in education. This, of course, also caused me consternation as I responded that placement represents tracking—from my perspective yet one more oppressive and outdated practice that remains deeply entrenched to the detriment of many in the U.S. In a final attempt to convince my colleague, I posed the question, “Do we want our students to be good test takers or to be able to understand, engage, embrace creativity, and be able to apply what they know?” It was this question that finally afforded success in relaying my concerns about ST to my colleague.

I continue to contemplate this conundrum of ST plaguing our schools and educational system in the U.S. With every semester since the passing of NCLB, my undergraduate foundations preservice students enter my class increasingly expecting me to tell them what to think and how to do “it”. Colleagues at other institutions indicate similar observations in their parallel classes. I anticipate that this will continue to worsen with each class of K-12 students in our public education environments who are subjected to the edicts of NCLB.

Thus, I now am acutely and painfully aware of the global infestation of ST. The oppressive biases and stultifying effects of ST now appear to be accepted uncritically in numerous countries. Moreover, ST reinforces competition and isolation rather than cooperation, collaboration, and understanding—the latter qualities needed to serve all humans productively in our global setting. U.S. education is revered deeply by many international communities. Will this, in turn, affect the success of international professionals seeking to live and work in the U.S.? Will ST ensure for them that they are no longer required to start their education over in the U.S. in order to pursue a profession they were educated for and practiced, perhaps for decades, in their country of origin but their “foreign” education and experience is inadequate by U.S. standards? I doubt it.

Ultimately, my question remains: Is exporting standardized testing the best practice U.S. education has to offer?

Kay Ann Taylor is Associate Professor of the Foundations of Education, American Ethnic Studies at Kansas State University. Her article, the Poverty's Multiple Perspectives, appeared in our winter 2009 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the theme, The Hidden Dimensions of Poverty: Rethinking Poverty and Education.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"Teaching Tolerance" Challenges Agenda of Focus on the Family

In our post below, we drew our readers’ attention to a group called, Focus on the Family, who is challenging public school anti-bullying policies that draw attention to the harassment of gay and lesbian students as part of a “gay agenda.” Maureen Costello, the director for Teaching Tolerance, a publication aimed at developing greater tolerance in our schools, has come out with a statement challenging the group's agenda.

You can read their statement at: Focus on the Family Goes After LGBT Students

On their site, teachers can also order a free copy of the new Teaching Tolerance documentary, Bullied: A School, a Student and a Case that Made History.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ideology vs. Sensibilities

I am often amazed at the great divide between people when ideological positions become reified to the point that we are blind to the life experiences and suffering of real individuals. This morning, I read an article in the Denver Post entitled, “Focus on Family says anti-bullying efforts in schools push gay agenda.” The conservative Christian media ministry group sees efforts to confront the problem of bullying and cyber-bullying in the public schools as part of a “gay agenda.” In the post below, Warren J. Blumenfeld, an Associate Professor of Multicultural and International Curriculum Studies at Iowa State University, looks at the real life experiences of children who confront this kind of bullying and the devastating effects it can have.

My “Gay Agenda”:
A Response to Focus on the Family
A Commentary by Warren J. Blumenfeld

Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian media ministry organization, asserted in published accounts (“Focus on Family says anti-bullying efforts in schools push gay agenda,” The Denver Post,, 8/29/2010) that gay rights advocates are forcing their viewpoints (their so-called “gay agenda”) in schools in the guise of bullying prevention.

Focus on the Family spokesperson, Candi Cushman, asserted that gay activists are the real schoolyard bullies while conservative Christians are the victims. According to Cushman, “We feel more and more that activists are being deceptive in using anti-bullying rhetoric to introduce their viewpoints, while the viewpoint of Christian students and parents are increasingly belittled.”

I have been gay most of my life, probably all of my life, and I have been involved in community organizing for the past 40 years, and I still don’t understand this term “Gay Agenda.” If you talk to two random “gay activists,” you will most likely find multiple viewpoints toward social change.

If making schools safe and welcoming spaces for students, faculty, and staff of all sexual identities and gender expressions (as well as racial, ethnic, socioeconomic class, religious, ability backgrounds, ages, everyone), then yes indeed -- this is certainly part of my “gay agenda.” Let us look at the reasons why this must be part of all of our agendas, including that of Focus on the Family.

Ryan Patrick Halligan was born in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1990. His parents described him as a rather shy boy growing up, who early on exhibited developmental delays in his speech, language, and motor skills. The family moved to Essex Junction, Vermont, where, by the fifth grade his peers bullied him at school on a regular basis. Rumors soon circulated throughout the school that Ryan was gay. By middle school in the seventh grade, his classmates continually teased and harassed him on school grounds and extended their taunts over email for having a learning disability and for allegedly being gay. On October 7, 2003, feeling that he could no longer live with the constant abuse, Ryan Patrick Halligan took his life. He was 13 years old.

Reports (Spero News, 2006) indicate that Ryan displayed many of the symptoms of youth targeted by face-to-face and on-line cyberbullying: he spent long hours on his computer, and he was secretive regarding his interactions on communication and information technologies. His parents saw him manifest a number of changes in his behavior: he increasingly lacked interest in engaging in social activities that included his peers, and he exhibited a pronounced change in his overall attitude, his appearance, and his habits.

Ryan’s father, John P. Halligan, established a web site in loving tribute to his son as a clarion call to prevent what happened to Ryan from impacting the lives of any other young people. John Halligan expressed his hope:

“This site is dedicated to the memory of our son Ryan and for all young people suffering in silence from the pain of bullying and having thoughts of suicide. We hope young people become less ashamed to ask for help when feeling suicidal. We hope adults gain knowledge from our tragedy. As a society, we need to find better ways to help our young people through their most difficult growing years (”

The American Psychological Association (APA) passed a resolution (2004) calling on educational, governmental, business, and funding agencies to address issues of face-to-face and cyberbullying. In the resolution, they particularly addressed acts of harassment “about race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity” (p. 1). In addition, the resolution specifically emphasized the high rate of bullying around issues of sexual identity, gender expression, and disability:

“[C]hildren and youth with disabilities and children and youth who are lesbian, gay, or transgender, or who are perceived to be so may be at particularly high risk of being bullied by their peers.”

Though too late to help Ryan Patrick Halligan as someone with a disability and who was perceived as gay, possibly this resolution can assist in developing policies and can ultimately help in the reduction of bullying behaviors.

GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) found in its 2007 National School Climate Survey of 6,209 middle and high school students that 86.2% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students experienced harassment at school in the past year, 44.1% reported being physically harassed, and 22.1% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year, 73.6% heard derogatory remarks such as “faggot” or “dyke” frequently or often at school, 60.8% felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, 38.4% felt unsafe because of their gender expression, and 32.7% skipped a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe. The report also found that the grade point average of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.8 versus 2.4).

On a positive note, the survey also discovered that schools can make a marked and powerful difference when they directly and visibly address the problem of bullying and harassment.

Students who are the targets of harassment and attacks by their peers are associated with higher rates of mental health problems. Risk factors for those targeted include increased school absenteeism, school difficulties including slipping grades, and dropping out of school. Also, they have increased risk of alcohol and drug use and abuse, as well as psychosomatic symptoms. They are also linked to serious mental health problems including depression, anxiety disorders, increased fear and withdrawal from family and peers, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), low self esteem, poor body image, suicidal ideation, attempts, and completion.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are integral members of families throughout this nation and the world. If Focus on the Family is seriously concerned with improving the quality of life and is truly focusing on families, they will join us in this effort to work to secure the safety and the equity of educational outcomes for all people, including our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, Associate Professor of Multicultural and International Curriculum Studies at Iowa State University. He is co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States.

Permission was granted to publish this commentary.

To view state laws on anti-bullying, go to:

To see an example of a Middle School Cyberbullying Curriculum developed by the Seattle Public Schools, go to:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Community Organizing Group Compiles Studies on Charter Schools

A community organizing group based in Mississippi, the Southern Echo, has compiled a list of studies on the charter school movement on their website. The studies include those by the Rand Corporation, Stanford University, Teachers College, Columbia University, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA and others. For our readers who would like to check out the various studies in one place, we are providing the link to the research on their website.

The Southern Echo describes its mission as working to empower the African American community through an intergenerational model of effective community organizing. With the mainstream media always covering educational change from the top down model, our readers may be interested in examining this grassroots movement directed at change.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Latest News from Arizona’s Ban on Certain Ethnic Studies Classes

According to an Education Week article today, Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne is moving ahead in his threat to reduce the Tucson Unified School District’s budget by 10 percent for not conforming to the new state legislation banning ethnic studies courses that are geared toward one particular ethnic group. The law goes into effect on December 31st. As we mentioned in our earlier blog posts, the districts believe they are not violating the law. They argue that their ethnic studies courses are open to all students, and therefore, do not violate the new law, H.B. 2281.

In his disagreement with their characterization of their program, Horne requested in a letter to John Carroll, the Superintendent of Tucson Unified, that all the classes be videotaped in their entirety. Apparently, if the district refuses to videotape them, Horne “will offer that refusal as evidence to the administrative law judge that the school district has deliberately hidden facts that would show that the district is in noncompliance with H.B. 2281."

Below is the letter sent by Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne to John Carroll, the Superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District so our readers can read it for themselves.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

New Journal on Native Literatures Launched

JEC Editorial board member, John Purdy, has launched a new journal called Native Literatures: Generation. The mission of this new journal is described as follows:

NLG is dedicated to providing a global forum for original works of literature by writers from the indigenous nations of North America and Hawai’i. Our goal is to support writers in their endeavors by offering a venue linking them with new audiences and potential publishers. Moreover, our magazine is designed to generate funds to provide financial support for writers through scholarships for their studies or grants for specific writing projects.

NLG is a quarterly, with content accessible online for three months with rights reverting to authors thereafter.


NLG is seeking original, unpublished works by writers from the indigenous nations of North America and Hawai’i. We publish in all genres: poetry, fiction (short stories but also novel excerpts if self-contained), creative nonfiction, drama and mixed-genre/media. We are seeking works that extend this body of literature by avoiding cliché and trite conventions through risk-taking and experimentation, but also through distinctive and engaging voices, exciting and innovative approaches. For full submission guidelines, please visit our website. For information, contact or

Congratulations John on the launching of your new magazine. Readers can check it out at:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Great Resource for Teachers

Several times, we have referred our readers to a very helpful website called, American Indians in Children’s Literature. Just in time for the fall semester, the website has put up several lists of Top Ten Book Recommendations for teachers in the elementary, middle schools, and high schools, who are looking for some authentic readings for their classrooms. There is also a link to an article, "Native Voices," by Debbie Reese from the School Library Journal where readers can find annotations.

The site is run by Debbie Reese, who provides helpful criteria for teachers to use in making selections. Be sure to check out her section on “Evaluate from an informed perspective.” You will find information on Guidelines for Evaluating American Indian websites, Resources for research projects, Tribally-owned Websites, Images of Indians in Children's Books.

A member of the Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico and former school teacher, Debbie Reese currently teaches in UIUC's American Indian Studies program.

Keep up the good work Debbie.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Dangerous Proposal

Editor: Today we welcome a post by guest blogger, Joel Shatzky. Dr. Shatzky is a contributor to the Huffington Post where readers can read his series of articles on the topic, "Educating for Democracy." Check out:

In his post to our blog below, Dr. Shatzky asks us to consider a "dangerous" proposal.

A Dangerous Proposal

by Joel Shatzky
“Unofficial” Blogger “Educating for Democracy” on Huffington Post

A number of recent news items on education should demonstrate to educators how little attention the political establishment has paid to the legitimate concerns of teachers. That is because the so-called “educational reform” movements that were initiated during the Clinton Administration, codified by the Bush Administration’s “No Child Left Behind” program, and intensified by the Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top” have little if anything to do with improving education. They have to do with creating the illusion that they are improving education.

To improve education would mean also improving the social and economic life of young learners who are disadvantaged because of racial, ethnic and class discrimination by an economic system that is consistently failing to provide good-paying jobs to an increasing number of working class and lower middle class workers. This is a systemic problem and using the schools as the whipping boy for its failure is one way in which politicians deal with serious problems: distract the public with a simplistic solution instead of a challenging one.

The fraudulence of the “Educational Miracle” that improved test scores since Michael Bloomberg took control of the New York City schools system was revealed in a report by Daniel Koretz and Jennifer Jennings of Harvard University ( “State’s Exams Became Easier to Pass, Education Officials Say.” NY Times. 7/20/10). The findings of the study which included such practices as “test[ing] a narrow part of the curriculum, particularly in math, and . . .[that] questions were often repeated year to year . . .” exposed the manipulation of test scores to create the illusion of improved learning. The “higher standards” that Chancellor Klein is promising will be no more valid than the present “lower standards” the NYC school system has been promoting since the emphasis will continue to be on test prep instead of education.

The following day (7/ 21/10) The Times reported that 27 states are adopting “National Standards” for their education curriculums so as to be eligible for some of the “Race to the Top” funds by August 2. Laudable as it might be to have “national standards” (France has them), what procedures are going to be used to measure the success—or failure—of schools to “educate” their students up to these standards? Will there be penalties, as there are now, of school closings, student dislocation, loss of tenure, seniority, and, as a consequence, experienced teachers as a product of establishing and testing for these “standards?” If they are so important, why shouldn’t they be required for all schools in the country, private as well as public?

Although I know of no systematic study on the practices of private schools, from their literature and my discussions with private school students and teachers concerning testing, these educators do not spend any significant amount of time, if at all, “prepping” their students for standardized tests. It would be an interesting project to find out exactly how many private and elite public school teachers actually take these programs seriously, especially if they are left alone to teach and not play the role of bookkeepers.

Steve Nelson, the School Head at one of the more prestigious private schools in New York City, The Calhoun School, whose alumni include Ben Stiller, Wendy Wasserstein, the late playwright, and Peggy Guggenheim, the philanthropist, is cited in the school’s website: “While Steve acknowledges that standardized tests can help schools determine which content areas of their programs need strengthening, they fail to benefit students in any real way and can actually cause harm. By measuring a very narrow range of abilities--most notably, the ability to take a standardized test--the tests provide a mere snapshot of the student, and cause him or her to be defined by test scores alone. The tests do not account for different learning styles.”

This statement echoes that of thousands of educators across the nation; the only difference is that The Calhoun School recognizes and limits the potential abuses of standardized tests while public school teachers are increasingly at risk in doing so. Having been born to wealth or privilege is in itself an advantage for any young learner at a private school. The programs spreading throughout the country that will cripple public schools only increase the disadvantage of others.

In the research I’ve done on a pamphlet I’m preparing for those who read my blog, “Why Our Economic System Is Unsustainable (And What You Can Do About It),”
one of the many statistics I’ve discovered is that 43% of working people earn less than they spend and that the average family is going deeper into debt every year since long before the present Recession. This is due, in large part, to the stagnating wages that have, at least for men, remained very much the same as they had thirty-five years ago. By deflecting this wage stagnation through blaming the public schools, the political and economic leaders in this country have an excuse for the increasing trend toward economic—and I would add political—inequality.

The two principal initiators of these school “reforms,” Rod Paige under the Bush Administration and Arne Duncan under the Obama Administration, have been shown to be failures, if not frauds in the case of Paige, in the programs they administered as the superintendants of schools in Houston and Chicago. In Paige’s case, the improved test scores were found, in some instances, to be the product of cheating, and many of the statistics were skewed by not counting drop out rates. In Duncan’s case, some of his “reforms” proved even more lethal as rival gangs, forced to share the same “turf” because one of their schools was closed, began to wage gang wars, reflected in the rise in the recent murder rate in Chicago. Yet there has been no serious re-examination of the validity of Paige’s and Duncan’s programs in view of their actual records as “educators.”

The issues I’ve raised in this blog have been discussed and debated for almost a decade in one form or another as teachers have become more aware of the danger to their profession: its quality, integrity and the respect it should receive as these repressive, anti-intellectual and sorry excuses for “educational innovation” seem to be taking hold throughout the country. The issue of the rise of charter schools would be the subject for another blog but suffice it to say that from what I can see, they do not provide a solution to the problems of school learning and, in many cases, exacerbate them. Diane Ravitch’s study, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, is an excellent analysis of the way in which what might have been a good idea has turned into a nightmare.

But what is to be done? Instead of a Modest Proposal, I would like to offer a Dangerous Proposal. The only way the leaders of this country and enforcers of this policy are going to realize that they have to rethink their agenda is by teachers getting their attention. I believe that evidence of the strength of teacher opposition to testing instead of teaching is through a “Sick of Testing Sick Out”: a national “sick out” that would be determined by education activists and those among the three million teachers in this country who recognize that these destructive practices must stop. They must also offer, as they certainly should, alternatives to testing and a clear explanation as to why these programs have been bad for students.

I am a retiree with a pension and so I realize that there is a danger in organizing a national “sick out” for the future careers of young as well as experienced teachers. But I remember when my parents felt that they had to have a union to protect them from arbitrary treatment by principals and school boards and risked their jobs and pensions to go on strike with Albert Shanker back in the 1950’s. A one-day “sick-out” might be the only way to get the attention of politicians who assume that “business as usual” is the way to solve a serious social issue. In Florida, a “Right-to-Work” state, the Republican Governor vetoed a bill that would have stripped teachers of almost all collective bargaining rights due, in no small part, to a teacher “sick-out” that was supported by a majority of the parents in the state. Yes, this is a “Dangerous Proposal,” but I believe that doing nothing more than discussing and debating issues we know are ruining our public school system and the future of democracy in this country is even more dangerous.

Note: For any readers interested I am providing a link to a video I wrote and performed in (as the “Drill Instructor”) on the difference between “drilling” and teaching.

It was produced by ICOPE (Independent Commission on Public Education) .

Independent Commission on Public Education --

The link to my archived blogs on the Huffington Post is:

Joel Shatzky is an early-retired English Professor who taught writing and drama at SUNY-Cortland (1968-2005) and is presently teaching English and writing at Kingsborough Community College. He has a half-dozen novels, scholarly, and topical studies to his credit, published by UNC Press, Greenwood Publishers and Drybones Press. Shatzky has published articles on theatre and education in the New York Times, Jewish Currents, Studies in Jewish American Literature, Players, and a half dozen other journals. As a playwright, Shatzky has written eight produced OOB shows, among the most recent, “Amahlia,” at 13th Street Rep. His article, “Education for Democracy,” was the lead article in the Winter 2009-2010 issue of Jewish Currents. Another will be coming out this Fall, a review of Diane Ravitch's study, The Death and Life of the Great American School System and an interview with Dr. Ravitch. Shatzky's book on the decline in student literacy, The Thinking Crisis (with Ellen Hill), was published by Authors Choice Press in 2001. Contact Joel at My website is

Monday, July 12, 2010

An Impassioned Defense of Public Education: Diane Ravitch's Speech before the NEA

Below is a transcript of the speech by Diane Ravitch that was delivered before the 2010 Representative Assembly of the National Education Association. We reproduce it with her permission in its entirety to inform our readership.

Ravitch's new book,The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, questions many of her earlier commitments as the Assistant Secretary of Education under the President George H. W. Bush. In her impassioned speech before the National Education Association, where she received its Friend of Education award, Ravitch takes a critical look at the state of today's educational reform movement, the consequences that have followed its implementation, and the betrayal of public education as the "backbone of this democracy."

Speech Delivered at the 2010 NEA Representative Assembly

by Diane Ravitch

Thank you, John Wilson. [Ed.: Dr. Ravitch points out that the transcript on the NEA website omitted her acknowledgement of Dennis Van Roekel as well as John Wilson.] Thank you, all my friends in the NEA. Thanks to all my new friends in Colorado and Massachusetts and California. Thank you so much, California. The first time I spoke about my book was before the NEA scholars group in October. But the first time I went public was in San Jose, California. Thank you.

Let me first thank you so sincerely for this honor. I accept it with humility, with gratitude, and with respect for the more than three million educators that it represents.

Next, I would especially like to thank Camille Zombro of San Diego. Without Camille and without her help and the help of teachers in San Diego, I could not have written chapter 4 of the book. Read it and you will see why.

Well, it’s kind of amazing that this convention is being held in New Orleans. I was, just a few minutes ago, interviewed by documentary filmmakers who said to me, “Well, don’t you know that New Orleans is proving a new model?” The new model consists of wiping out public education and firing the unions, and it’s spreading across the country. And I said, “God forbid.” I pointed out to them what we all used to know, which is that public education is the backbone of this democracy, and we cannot turn it over to privateers.

Since my book appeared in early March, I have started out on what I thought would be a conventional book tour, but it really has turned into a whistle-stop campaign. I have been to 40 different cities and districts. I have another 40 planned starting in September. I talked to union members, to school board members, to administrators, to left-wing think tanks, to right-wing think tanks. I have met with high-level White House staff. I have met with about 40 members of Congress. I would say that I have met so far about 20,000 teachers, and after today I think I am going to increase it to 30,000.

And in all of this time, aside from the right-wing think tanks, I haven’t seen met a single teacher who likes what’s happening? I haven’t met a single teacher who thinks that No Child Left Behind has been a success. I haven’t met a single teacher who thinks that Race to the Top is a good idea.

Wherever I went, I met teachers who understood that there is a rising tide of hostility to teachers, to the teaching profession, and to teachers’ unions. You see it almost daily in the national media, in Newsweek magazine with its dreadful cover story about firing teachers, and Time magazine with awful columns, and in the New York Times and the Washington Post and all of the major media.

And as I talk to teachers, by the end of my talk, I hear the same questions again and again: What can we do? How can we stop the attacks on teachers and on the teaching profession? Why is the media demonizing unions? Why does the media constantly criticize public schools? And why does it lionize charter schools? Why is Arne Duncan campaigning with Newt Gingrich? Why has the Obama Administration built its education agenda on the punitive failed strategies of No Child Left Behind?

And teachers want to know, as you want to know, who will stand up for public schools and their teachers? At every appearance that I’ve made, teachers would come up to me afterward and they would say to me, “Stand up for us. Speak for us. Be our voice wherever you go.” And I promised that I would, and I have.

I promised to speak out against No Child Left Behind. It’s a disaster. It has turned our schools into testing factories. Its requirement that 100 percent of students will be proficient by the year 2014 is totally unrealistic. Any teacher could have told them that. Thousands and thousands of schools have been stigmatized as failing schools because they could not reach a goal that no state, no nation, and no district has ever reached. By setting an impossible goal, No Child Left Behind has delegitimized public education and created a rhetoric of failure and paved the way for privatization.

I will continue to speak out against high-stakes testing. It undermines education. High-stakes testing promotes cheating, gaming the system, teaching to bad tests, narrowing the curriculum. High-stakes testing means less time for the arts, less time for history or geography or civics or foreign languages or science.

We see schools across America dropping physical education. We see them dropping music. We see them dropping their arts programs, their science programs, all in pursuit of higher test scores. This is not good education.

I have been told by some people in the Obama Administration that the way to stop the narrowing of the curriculum is to test everything. In fact, the chancellor in Washington, D.C., the other day announced she plans to do exactly that. That means less time for instruction, more time for testing, and a worse education for everyone.

In speaking out, I have consistently warned about the riskiness of school choice. Its benefits are vastly overstated. It undercuts public education by enabling charter schools to skim the best students in poor communities. As our society pursues these policies, we will develop a bifurcated system, one for the haves, another for the have-nots, and politicians have the nerve to boast about such an outcome.

Public schools, as I said before, are a cornerstone of our democratic society. If we chip away at support for them, we erode communal responsibility for a vital public institution.

Teachers are rightly worried about the Race to the Top. I pledged to keep asking again and again why a Race to the Top replaced equal educational opportunity. Equal educational opportunity is the American way. The race will have a few winners and a lot of losers. That’s what a race means.

Race to the Top encourages states to increase the number of privately managed charters, to pass laws to evaluate teachers by test scores, to promote merit pay, and to agree to close or privatize schools with low scores or to fire all or part of their staff. All of this is wrong.

And thank you for passing a resolution expressing no confidence in Race to the Top. Why expand the number of charters when research shows that on average they don’t get better results than regular public schools? Last year, a major evaluation showed that one out of every six charters will get better results, five out of six charters will get no different results or worse results than the regular public schools. A report released just a couple of weeks ago by Mathematica Policy Research once again shows charter middle schools do not get better results than regular public middle schools.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, on whose board I served for seven years, has tested charter schools since 2003. In 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, charter schools were compared to regular public schools and have never shown an advantage over regular public schools. Charter schools, contrary to Bill Gates, are not more innovative than regular public schools. The business model and methods of charter schools is this — longer school days, longer hours, longer weeks, and about 95 percent of charter schools are non-union.

Teachers are hired and fired at will. Teachers work 50, 60, 70 hours a week. They are expected to burn out after two or three years when they can be replaced. No pension worries, no high salaries. This is not a template for American education.

If we pursue the path of privatization and deregulation, we better keep in mind what happened with the stock market in 2008. And to those who tout the benefits of vouchers and charters, I want you to point out this example to them, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milwaukee has had charters and vouchers now for almost 20 years. Twenty years with vouchers, almost 20 years with charters.

They have seen a steadily declining enrollment in the public schools, and meanwhile research now shows that African-American students in Milwaukee, the supposed beneficiary of all of this choice, have test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, test scores that are below those of their African-American peers in Mississippi and Louisiana.

There was no rising tide. Choice promoted no rising tide, and no boats were lifted. While all of this money was invested in choice, there were no benefits to the students.

The Race to the Top plan to use test scores to evaluate teachers is a very bad idea, badly implemented. Legislatures should not decide how to evaluate teachers.

SB6 was wrong in Florida. Thank you to the Florida Education Association and to all the parents and friends who stood with you who defeated that pernicious piece of legislation. And thanks to you for persuading Governor Charlie Crist to do the right thing by vetoing it. Now you have got to make sure that whoever is the next governor will veto it again if it dares to come back again.

191 is wrong in Colorado. Sorry to say that it was passed. It was signed into law, and the teachers may stand to be fired because the test scores didn’t go up consistently. And these are matters that are, in many cases, beyond their control. Teachers should be judged by professional standards and not by a political process. Research does not support evaluating teachers by test scores.

Students are not randomly assigned to classes. Teachers’ so-called effectiveness fluctuates depending on which students happen to be in a teacher’s class. The single most reliable predictor of test scores is poverty, and poverty, in turn, is correlated to student attendance, to family support, and to the school’s resources.

And perhaps we should begin demanding that school districts be held accountable for providing the resources that schools need. Just like No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top requires and pressures districts to close low-performing schools. The overwhelming majority of low-performing schools enroll students in poverty and students who don’t speak English and students who are homeless and transient. Very often, these schools have heroic staffs who are working with society’s neediest children. These teachers deserve praise, not pink slips. Closing schools weakens communities. It’s not a good idea to weaken communities. No school was ever improved by closing it.

You know, a lot of teachers don’t pay attention to the national scene. They are busy teaching kids. They don’t pay attention to what’s happening in Washington. But when the Central Falls staff, the entire staff, was fired without a single teacher having an evaluation, the message went out that there is a new game of punishing teachers. And the message also went out when this was endorsed by Secretary Duncan and then reaffirmed by President Obama. This is not a good message.

We should thank our teachers, not fire them, not threaten them, and not close their schools.

Merit pay is another of the useless fads of our time. Merit pay has nothing to do with education. It destroys teamwork. It incentivizes teachers to compete with each other for money instead of collaborating for each other for the benefit of children.

Teachers need to share what they know and work towards one common goal — helping children and young people grow and develop. Merit pay will promote teaching to not very good tests. It may or may not improve scores, but it definitely will not improve education.

I have spoken out repeatedly to defend the right of teachers to join unions for their protection and the protection of the teaching profession. Teachers have a right to a collective voice in the political process. It’s the American way. I don’t see the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post or the pundits complaining about the charter school lobby. I don’t see them complaining about the investment bankers lobby, or any other group that speaks on behalf of its members. Only teachers’ unions are demonized these days.

Currently, there is a campaign underway to eliminate tenure and seniority. To remove job protections from senior teachers would destroy the profession. Supervisors will save money by firing the most expensive teachers. Imagine a hospital staffed by residents and interns with no doctors. Bad idea.

Instead of the current wave of so-called reforms, we should ask ourselves how to deliver on our belief that every student in this nation should learn not only basic skills, but should have a curriculum that includes the arts, history, geography, civics, foreign languages, mathematics, science, physical education, and health. But instead of this kind of rich curriculum, all they are getting is a heavy dose of high-stakes testing and endless test preparation. And as the stakes increase for teachers and schools, there will be more emphasis on test prep and not what children need.

Policymakers have been far too silent about the role of the family. Teachers know that education begins at home, and that when families take responsibility, students are likely to arrive in school ready to learn. We need, not a Race to the Top, but a commitment to provide greater resources for those children who are in the greatest need. Schools and school districts continue to vary dramatically in their access to resources. The role of the federal government in education is to level the playing field, not to set off a competition for money. Nor do we expect the federal government to tell states and districts how to reform themselves based on the Chicago experience.

Around the world, those nations that are successful recognize that the best way to improve school is to improve the education profession. We need expert teachers, not a steady influx of novices.

We need experienced principals who are themselves master teachers. We do not need a wave of newcomers who took a course called “How to be a principal.” We need superintendents who are wise and experienced educators, not lawyers and businessmen.

The current so-called reform movement is pushing bad ideas. No high-performing nation in the world is privatizing its schools, closing its schools, and inflicting high-stakes testing on every subject on its children. The current reform movement wants to end tenure and seniority, to weaken the teaching profession, to silence teachers’ unions, to privatize large sectors of public education. Don’t let it happen!

So here’s a thought for NEA. Print up four million bumper stickers that say, “I am a public schoolteacher, and I vote — and so does my family.”

Do not support any political figure who opposes public education. Stand up to the attacks on public education. Don’t give them half a loaf, because they will be back the next day for another slice, and the day after that for another slice.

Don’t compromise. Stand up for teachers. Stand up public education, and say “No mas, no mas." Thank you.

For an interesting interview with Diane Ravitch, see