Tuesday, April 28, 2015

On April 30: Poems, Pockets and Baltimore

Thursday, April 30 is Poem In Your Pocket Day. This is a day for everyone to carry a favorite poem around and share it with whomever they meet. Normally, this is a joyous occasion for me and a reason for celebration, but I woke up today with the situation in Baltimore on my mind and with several not-so-happy poems running around in my head. Here are my nominees for poems that need to be in our pockets on Thursday and shared widely. And let us remember that riots do not happen in a vacuum, they are the product of deeply felt and long held hurt. Hurt that cannot be assuaged by too late calls for calm.


by Countee Cullen

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, 'Nigger.'

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.

If We Must Die
 by Claude McKay

If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen!  We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

A Dream Deferred
 by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore--
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Poems carry powerful messages and powerful messages are called for on this day. Share a poem, start a conversation, make a connection with others, but mainly think of Freddie Gray and be informed and engaged in the conversation as we try to take lessons from another very personal, and yet very public, tragedy.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Network for Public Education Conference: Highlights of Day 2

Public School Champions
Lily Eskelsen Garcia/Diane Ravitch/Randi Weingarten
At NPE Conference/Chicago
Day 2 of the 2nd annual Network for Public Education opened with a selection of sessions for all interests. I chose to go to the one chaired by my friend and public education hero, Carol Burris. Carol is well known for her advocacy in New York, where she has not only been named Principal of the Year, but has also been a consistent thorn in the side of Governor Cuomo and all education reformers. Carol frequently blogs on The Answer Sheet at The Washington Post. You can check out some of her work on that blog here.

Schools of Opportunity

Carol Burris and her colleagues at Schools for Opportunity are trying to change the conversation about what constitutes a good school. Rather than focusing on test scores as a definition of excellence, Schools of Opportunity seeks to look at a broad based  picture of educational excellence and to reward schools for achievement in overall excellence. Schools of Opportunity looks at multiple criteria for achieving excellence and recognizes schools that achieve this excellence. Their criteria include creating and maintaining a healthy school culture, broadening and enriching curriculum, providing more and better learning time, ending disparities in learning opportunities created by tracking and ability grouping, using a variety of assessments designed to respond to student needs, supporting teachers as professionals and 5 more.

This is a group that truly deserves our support as they try to change our definition of excellence in schooling to a broader more nuanced view. Please visit their website here to learn more.
Morning Keynote: A Conversation with Diane Ravitch, Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen Garcia

The anticipated highlight of the day did not disappoint. Randi is feisty and political, Lily is quieter, more teacherly, but every bit as skilled a speaker and Diane Ravitch is, well, Diane Ravitch, the hero of the anti-reform movement. It is no secret that many in the room have had their disagreements with the two labor leaders, but on this day, the discussion was mostly a pro-teacher, anti-reform love fest as Lily and Randi pledged to fight for tenure and against yearly testing and even grudgingly agreed to concerns about the Common Core, even if that was couched in the old canard that the problem is really the test. The denouement of the session was reached when Diane asked the two leaders of multi-million dollar unions if they would pledge to refuse to accept money from the Gates/Walton/Broad billionaire reformers club foundations. As the audience held their breath, both Randi and Lily said a resounding, “Yes!” We all hope they mean it and we will all be watching to make sure they follow through.

Getting Your Book Published

I attended this session with new friends like Steven Singer and Duane Swacker, NPE members who surely have a good book or two in them. Steven has a wonderful blog you should follow called gadlfyonthewall. Steven is a reader of my blog and now I am a reader of his. This is how it works in the wonderful whacky world of blogging to defend public education. Three men who started out blogging and ended up writing books, Anthony Cody, Jose Vilson and John Kuhn discussed the process of going from blog to book. Denny Taylor, long-time champion of great literacy instruction and now a visionary publisher discussed the publishing process, the goals of her Garn Press and plugged Anthony’s book, which she published. Regular readers of this blog will know these three titles from earlier reviews, but in case you haven’t read them yet you should go out and get the following.

            Cody, Anthony (2104) The Educator and the Oligarch. NY:Garn Press
            Kuhn, John (2014) Fear and Learning in America. NY:Teachers College Press
            Vilson, Jose (2014) This is Not a Test. Chicago: Haymarket Press.

Karen Lewis and Diane Ravitch

Former head of the Chicago Teachers Union and the person who undoubtedly would be the mayor elect of Chicago right now if she had not been struck down by serious illness, Karen Lewis, closed the show with Diane Ravitch. It was good to see Karen, looking good and sounding vigorous as she gave credit to others for all the great work she has done for public education and schools. Karen delivered a message of unity and solidarity in the good fight for good schools. Ravitch closed the proceedings by declaring that we will still be here working with and for children after the millionaires and billionaires find another hobby.

Russ on Reading would like to thank all the volunteer members of the Board of Directors of the Network for Public Education, Diane Ravitch, Robin Hiller, Anthony Cody, Mark Miller, Darcie Cimarusti, Phyllis Bush, Xian Barrett, Jitu Bown, Carol Burris, Bertis Downs, Leonie Haimson, Julian Vasquez Heilig, Kennet Santana, and Colleen Doherty Wood, for putting on such a wonderful conference and allowing me to be a part of it. Hope to see all of you at the conference next year.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Network for Public Education Conference: Highlights from Day 1

Chicago, Illinois is ground zero in the fight against corporate education reform this weekend as the Network for Public Education (NPE) held its 2nd annual conference at the Drake Hotel. It was an exciting day filled with information, exhiliration and emotion as almost 600 passionate teachers, teacher leaders, political activists, parents and education bloggers packed the house. For those who were unable to make it to Chicago the event was livestreamed at schoolhouselive.org. You can catch day two there tomorrow. Here are the highlights from the sessions I was able to attend today.

Opening Keynote

New Jersey’s own Tanasia Brown of the Newark Student Union showed off the skills of a veteran speaker as she got the day off to a rousing, not to mention, chanting start. Her message: “Victory means seeing my brother being able to attend a real public school in Newark. Tanasia was followed by the always inspirational Jitu Brown of Chicago. Jitu urged us to stop describing corporate education interlopers “reformers” and start calling them what they are “colonizers.” Powerful stuff.

Defending the Early Years

The first panel session I attended was presented by Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin. The presenters and the members of the audience together created a powerful indictment of the Common Core State Standards for grades K-2. Carlsson-Paige, McLaughlin and their colleagues are doing great work publicizing the developmental inappropriateness of the Common Core for young children. Their website is certainly worth visiting frequently for constantly updated information for those of you fighting for appropriate learning environments for young children. Check out the website here. One parent in the audience summed up the discussion by declaring, “My child is not college and career ready because he is   -   a child.”

How to Effectively Debunk Myths in an Era of Education Misinformation

Jeff Bryant of the Education Opportunity Network moderated this panel of media communication experts Hilary Tone and Diallo Brooks. Tone cited the recent study her group did that showed when news outlets do stories about education, they rarely talk to educators. Brooks encouraged teachers to tell their stories. Stories carry the messages better than facts do, because people are not persuaded by facts. Reformers are telling a simple false story of failing schools and bad teachers. We must combat this false narrative with our own stories and we must keep telling them.


Lunch, of course, is always a highlight for me, but today’s lunch was made particularly memorable for the opportunity to listen to bloggers Jennifer Berkshire (Edushyster) Peter Greene (Curmudgucation) and Jose Vilson (Thejosevilson.com). I if you haven’t sampled the witty writing of these three champions of public education, I suggest you click on these links and get started.

Afternoon Keynote

If you have not yet read Yong Zhao’s book Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Dragon, I suggest you do so right away. I discussed Zhao’s take on the standardized test mania in this post. Zhao’s talk was the hands down highlight of the day. Warm, witty, knowledgeable and incisive, Zhao had the large group roaring with laughter and thinking hard and well about testing all at the same time. Zhao says that the Common Core targets the wrong goals in college and career readiness. For him, “Readiness should be ready to not live in your parents’ basement – to be a productive member of society.” My favorite line, “I should not have to be ready for kindergarten, kindergarten should be ready for me.”

Teacher Evaluation Begins with Valuing Teachers

I was privileged to lead a panel discussion on teacher evaluation with National Board Certified and former teacher of the year in Michigan, Nancy Flanagan and public education hero, former principal and believer in the democratic process in schools, Deborah Meier. The audience for this late afternoon session was large and engaged and many had horror stories to tell. The take aways were many, but a few can be stated here:

·         A valid evaluation system must include the teacher as integral to the process
·         Evaluation requires nuance, not numbers
·         VAMs and rubrics can never capture the richness of a teaching situation
·         Instructional observers must be knowledgeable and have the resources to do the job
·         A democratic process of peer evaluation is effective, but difficult to manage
·         Evaluation is primarily an opportunity for professional reflection and growth, not a gotcha’

Truly a wonderful day. Looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions, including Diane Ravitch’s “conversation” with the AFT’s Randi Weingarten and the NEA’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia. Fireworks anyone? Livestream if you cannot be here.

A Thorn Between Two Roses
Deborah Meier/Russ Walsh/Nancy Flanagan
Teacher Evaluation Panel