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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 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 ( 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

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