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  • The Opt-Out Bus Rides Again!

    Kindergarten teacher Susan DuFresne and her husband Shawn are are taking their repurposed school bus cross country, giving away books and talking about the testing juggernaut, determined to instigate change one person at a time.  This is such a creative way to inform people about the harm standardized testing is doing–and encourage the joy of reading while they are at it. Last summer we had the good fortune to be on their route, and helped paint some slogans onto the bus.  It inspired teacher and education blogger Katie Lapham to create an opt out book cart that she plied on the streets of Brooklyn!    I drew my little curly haired kid representing the importance of play…which allowed me to be playful as well! If you have some funds to share with the DuFresnes to help purchase books and gas, go to https://www.gofundme.com/272unp54   Read more →


  • Steal this letter (and make it your own!)

    I got a letter from Diane Feinstein today about the latest version of ESEA.  sigh.  I include it at the bottom of this post.  Here is my response.  May it inspire you to write your own. Dear Senator Feinstein, All the provisions you sponsored are worthy, but your statement that “No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has provided educators and lawmakers with critical data demonstrating the strengths and weaknesses of America’s public education system.”  is disheartening.   The data was there long before NCLB, in the form of underfunded and understaffed low income urban and rural schools, and the de-facto segregation of our city school systems.  Poverty was and is the major defining difference in the educational opportunities for young Americans.  The demoralizing pounding of standardized tests gave us no new information.  If anything, it set back the small gains that had been in progress.   It did strengthen the hands of those looking for ways to increase their bottom line on the backs of teachers (non-unionized charters) and poor families (rearranged budgetary priorities: more for test prep, less for the arts, field trips, counseling…) From what I have read so far, Congress has made some modest progress in addressing the catastrophe public education in America has endured since 2000.  There seems to be less focus on punishment in the legislation being sent to committee.  But by leaving such a large burden of testing in place they have not basically altered the misdirection that NCLB sent us in.  Your glee that the new law will “preserve annual state-designed assessments to ensure teachers and parents have reliable achievement data, and make increased investments in the expansion of high-quality charter schools.”  convinces me you have not taken off the rose colored glasses for-profit organizations have been passing out. I expected more from you. Sincerely, Amy Valens retired California elementary school teacher film co-producer:  AUGUST TO JUNE, bringing Life to School Good Morning Mission Hill: the freedom to teach, the freedom to learn Dear Ms. Valens, Thank you for writing to share your thoughts on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  I appreciate the time you took to write, and welcome the opportunity to respond. Since its enactment in 2001, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has provided educators and lawmakers with critical data demonstrating the strengths and weaknesses of America’s public education system.  Fourteen years later, Congress is considering Read more →

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  • You can help roll back testing overkill by acting today!

    Tell your two U.S. Senators to vote for Sen. Jon Tester’s amendment to reduce federally mandated standardized testing from every-kid-every-year to once each in elementary, middle and high schools. The Senate will vote the week of July 7 on a new federal education law to replace “No Child Left Behind.” The bill ends federally mandated high stakes for schools and teachers. That’s big progress for assessment reformers! But the proposal maintains annual testing in grades 3-8. Sen. Tester’s amendment will end that counter-productive policy. At Fairtest’s site you can easily just sign your name, or personalize the letter they will send to your Senators. Read more →

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  • Overhaul ESEA/NCLB: National Day of Action April 8

    Less Testing More Learning! If we raise our voices together, we can persuade the Senate Education Committee to reduce testing requirements as it debates renewal of Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind. Please take a few minutes on April 8 to phone your U.S. senators in Washington, DC. Ask to speak to the staffer who works on education policy. If no one is available, leave your message with the person who answered the phone. Find the phone numbers here Below is a model message. Feel free to use it, modify it, or say something entirely different. Hello. I’m [your name], calling from [your town]. I’m calling to ask Senator [name] to support changes to No Child Left Behind that will promote a saner and less intrusive approach to public school testing. Specifically, I urge [him/her] to support a switch to testing once each in elementary, middle and high school, and to remove high-stakes consequences from federally required standardized tests. Both these measures will help address the current over-emphasis on testing at the expense of learning. If you have specific stories about problems with over-testing, please relate them. Personal stories are the most effective. Do you tweet? then join the April 8 Twitterstorm:as well!! Here is an example. If you modify it, be sure to include ‪#‎cutfederaltests‬ and the link to getting your Senators’ numbers: “Join BATs, FT, SOS, TRRA, & UOO 4/8 ‪#‎CutFedTests‬. Call Senate http://thndr.it/1P6DfEf. Cut back tests, end high stakes.” To tweet your Senators, find their Twitter handles here: And if your speed is email, to send a letter to your Senator, go here   Read more →

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  • Let Congress know what you think about high stakes tests!

    Now’s the time to contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives to reduce federally mandated testing! Our children deserve less testing and more learning.  Your voice can make a difference!  Go here to add your letter to congress.   Read more →

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  • Ann Arbor Open Is Allowed to Abandon the NWEA MAP Test

    Ann Arbor Open won’t administer the state’s standardized tests this year! It will be allowed to develop its own form of assessment. Bravo!! This is a huge step past opt-out. Current principal Kit Flynn has tenaciously and effectively presented the case against standardized testing. Yay Kit!! Their founding principal, Joan Goldsmith, made an early connection with the progressive North Dakota Study Group on Evaluation. That is where I first met teachers Bette Diem and Mary Wigton, who were instrumental in bringing August To June and me to their school. May others take heart from their success!  In fact, this is a good moment to share their success with any progressive administrators you know of.  That might lead to more stories like this next testing cycle. Read more →

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  • New York Area Groups March in May!

    Join these 26 organizations Saturday May 17 2pm in City Hall Park at the Take Back Our Schools March and Rally: BATS – Change The Stakes – Children Are More Than Test Scores – Class Size Matters – Coalition for Public Education-Connie Hogarth Center for Social Action at Manhattanville College – EDU4 – iCOPE – Lace to the Top – LI Opt Out MORE – New York Allies for Public Education – NY PRINCIPALS .ORG – NY Student Union – NYCORE – Parent Leadership Project-Parents to Improve School Transportation – Port Jeff Station Teachers Association – Radical Women Reclaiming the Conversation on Education – Save Our Schools (SOS) – Save Our Schools-NJ – Stop Common Core in New York State-Students Not Scores LI – Students United for Public Education (SUPE) – Teachers United – Time Out from Testing…and more!   Read more →

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  • Support Chicagoans Boycotting the ISAT

    The Chicago Teachers Union rallied on March 10 in opposition to ISAT testing. Joined by parents and students, teachers are boycotting the tests at several schools. The district is threatening teachers with loss of certification, and bullying and intimidating parents and students who have opted out or wish to opt out of the ISAT. They need your support. Please call the Chicago Board of Education and voice your support for Chicago’s teachers, parents and students standing up for their rights. Call 773-553-1600 and tell the Board: “I’d like to leave a message for all members of the Chicago Board of Education. I support families boycotting the ISAT and there should be no retaliation against teachers who stood up for their students on the ISAT.” Also, if you haven’t signed this petition yet, it is not too late to do so now. Read more →

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  • August to June plays pubic tv in Denver and Pittsburg to finish the year !

    Dec 27 at 7pm find us on KBDI channel 12 in Denver, or set your recording unit to 3am Dec28 for the rebroadcast. Dec 29 at 4pm it plays on WQED Pittsburg, and again on Dec 30 at 2:30 pm! Could this be a good time for a family conversation about what counts, and how to change the picture for the children in your life? Read more →

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  • Add your name to the National Resolution on High Stakes Testing

    More than 550 organizations and 18,000 individuals have signed the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing. How about you?  We encourage organizations and individuals to publicly endorse it, with a letter to the editor, a tweet or other social media comment, or whatever other public means at your disposal. Organizations can modify it as needed for their local circumstances while also endorsing this national version.   Read more →

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  • got someone to talk to?

    The conversation was hitting me with particular relevance because of an encounter the night before, after showing August To June.  It was with a young woman who had previously taught in a small east coast independent school, and was in her first year in a Los Angeles public elementary school.  She was close to tears as she explained how nothing she tried seemed to be creating the kind of joyful classroom she had expected.  Her students were disinterested and disruptive.  The day before she had broken down in class and told them she was at her wits end.  When I asked her if she had found any more experienced teachers to ask for guidance, she said she had no one to talk to. I was now sitting with a group of mostly independent school teachers at the Progressive Education Network Conference in LA, discussing what role, if any, teachers in the private sector have vis a vis public education.   Earlier in the conference a speaker had suggested that independent schools should raise money for public schools in their neighborhood, or share specialists free of charge. Others had taken umbrage with that, saying it smacked of paternalism, missed the point of the need for communities to fund their schools. As this small group talked, it turned out that several of them had been public school teachers earlier in their careers, and had left the public sector wanting more freedom, and a more progressive setting.  They talked about how isolated they felt in those conventional public schools.  Another person in the group was involved in a progressive teacher training program in LA.  She would like to place her student teachers in progressive public school classrooms, but can’t find enough of them, so finds herself using independent schools for many of her students.  This has double consequences.  It reinforces the idea that if you are a progressive creative teacher, you’d be better off in the private sector.   But if her student teachers do chose to teach in a public school, they will not have had a student teaching experience that prepares them for some of the realities:  large class sizes, limited funding, the plethora of issues related to poverty, and everyone else so busy with all the mandates, that they have no time to help a new teacher. A light went on.  While it was not enough, my small conversation last night had Read more →

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  • Is your public TV station on this list?

    So far the one hour version of AUGUST TO JUNE has been programmed by stations in North Carolina, Rhode Island, Ohio, Nevada, Missouri, Alaska, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oregon, Florida and California. That still leaves 39 states to go.   I can see that lots of parts of Florida and California are not yet reached, and I can’t tell how well we cover the other states where we are programmed.  So we hope you will go to our Upcoming Screenings page, and check to see if your public tv station is listed. If not, and you have time, call them before August 24, and politely ask them to take the NETA feed of our show (NOLA Code of AUJU 00 K1) that happens at 4pm (1600) that day. Even if they don’t program it right away, if they take the feed, they can program it whenever they want. We know that WNET, WGBH, and KQED are recording the show, but have not programmed a time to actually air it. The only spot in Florida so far is West Palm Beach…where we showed the film in 2011–maybe someone at the TV station saw it? If you find that the show is playing near you or near folks you know, we hope you will alert them to program their DVD players etc to record it, even if the time is not good for them to watch it.  Stations seem to have ways to know how many people tune in, and the higher the number the more likely they are to play the show again.     Read more →


  • What we did on our Summer Vacation part one

    We all need time for renewal, time for thoughtful exchanges of ideas.  Joining Anthony Cody in Willits CA for his second Tomki Education Retreat was a glorious way to do just that. Other than Anthony, the only member of the 9-person gathering that Tom and I had met before was Susan DuFresne, but we were all education activists with stories to tell, and current work to share.  Noel Hammatt came from Baton Rouge, with research that disputes the idea that schools are ‘failing’ at his fingertips (and a penchant for chopping up Anthony’s firewood!).  Mary Porter came from Boston, hopping mad over injustices she had watched unfold in her high school and in the world of (so-called) philanthropy.  Katie Lapham came from Brooklyn, where she works with English language learners at a public elementary school and was tasked to prepare materials for standardized testing.   Beyond teaching kindergarten in Seattle, Susan has been the moving force behind several education activist online sites.  She brought her husband Shawn, and 18 year old son Garrett.  Like Tom, they brought their perspectives from outside the profession.  Anthony had met each of us as a result of the blogs and websites he has developed, starting with Teachers Letters to Obama.  We collaborated with him in 2011 on short videos to advertise the SOS conference in DC. What struck me most was the fire in the belly of all these people.  The source of that fire was almost always having seen children hurt by the direction education policy has taken—or not taken: students dropped from the roster and into the street without a diploma because their test scores could hurt the school’s reputation, a terrible home situation ignored because addressing the effects of poverty is not on the agenda, important values questions left out of the curriculum because they will not be on the tests, and weeks of class time lost to the mountains of paperwork most of us are unaware accompany the testing regimen. Sadly, we all agreed that people purporting to make it better have thrown public education to the wolves.  The financial stake these “reformers” have in the directions they suggest is shrugged off as if it was inconsequential.  Yet what gives me reason to come away from Tomki revitalized and optimistic (besides swimming in the water hole)  is that each person there was taking actions that could change the picture.   And each Read more →

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    A one hour version of AUGUST TO JUNE may be playing on a public television station near you this fall, and you can be part of why it reaches a broader audience!  There are very few ways for small independent documentaries to get broadcast.  You can be sure we have been looking for a way to get our message to a larger audience for quite a while!  The opportunity came when KRCB, a local station in California, offered to help us find national distribution. We have been taken on by the National Education Television Association (NETA).  NETA has offered our program to local public television stations.  They will be able to download it on August 24, for broadcast over the course of the fall as many times as they please.  But of course they don’t have to take up that offer, or they may program us at 2AM.  That’s where you come in!  Here is where to find the phone number for your local public television station. We hope you will call them, and tell them to upload the NETA program with the NOLA Code of AUJU 00 K1 and why you think it should be broadcast at a time when parents are likely to see it.  We’ve already heard that KOPB Plus in Oregon, KVIE in Sacramento CA, and KRCB are programming it!   We will keep you posted on our website and Facebook pages as we hear of stations planning to play the show! Read more →

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  • Got a first hand account of urban school “reform”?

    Brett Murphy, 11th grade U.S. History Teacher, Brooklyn, NY wants your stories!!! “In the past decade, alarms have been ringing about the need to improve public education in the United States and, in particular, “fix” city schools. With its roots in the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, the furor over transforming urban districts has taken on a life of its own. Accountability,choice, and control, the reform movement has argued, are the key ideas that can solve social inequity and ensure that every child can learn and succeed. Much of the information on the progress of these new policies has come from politicians, journalists, and even filmmakers on the left and right who have framed these specific changes as the start of an important movement towards a quantitatively better education system. Absent from the dialogue – and from the knowledge that everyday Americans have about what’s going on – are the qualitative experiences of what’s actually happening inside of city classrooms. This edited volume will be a collection of essays by teachers working in urban districts for the general public that provide firsthand accounts of how these reforms are being experienced and what it means for the children growing up in our nation’s cities. The book is organized around the recurring buzz words that the education reform movement has used to define their policies: accountability, quality, evaluation, choice, and equity. Each of these will be a chapter that includes an introduction by the editor covering related policies implemented in urban districts, including the stated goals of policy makers for creating these reforms. This short introduction will be followed by the stories of teachers that demonstrate how these reforms play out on a daily basis. The editor will do a follow up interview with each contributor about their vision for what would work in public education to complete the epilogue. The book’s topics would be organized into the following chapters: 1. Introduction to the book 2. Accountability: Standards and high stakes testing 3. Quality: Measuring a teacher’s worth, tenure, and turnover 4. Evaluation: School grades and closures 5. Choice: Charter schools, co-locations, and the small school movement 6. Equity: What it really means to educate every child well. 7. Epilogue – 21st century skills: Reframing the vision – how teachers imagine education reform Please send abstracts to edreformteachertalk@gmail.com by July 15, 2013, including which chapter you think your story Read more →

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  • write to Bill Gates

    Bill’s money is shaping the education reform movement.  What would you like him to understand about the impact of his funding and lobbying?  http://teachersletterstobillgates.com/ Read more →

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  • New Yorkers: stop student data sharing!

    This is the last week of the state legislative session. A bill, A. 7872, that would allow parents to opt-out of the risky student data-sharing scheme called inBloom Inc. was approved by the Assembly Education Committee last week. Please call these three Senators today and urge them to pass the same bill in the NYS Senate: Senator Dean Skelos: (518) 455-3171 Senator Jeff Klein: (718) 822-2049 Senator John Flanagan: (631) 361-2154 These three men could save your children from having their most private information shared with for-profit vendors and protected from data breaches that could permanently damage their futures. Read more →

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  • Call Chicago in solidarity against school closures!

    Monday, May 20 is a national day of support for Chicago teachers, parents and communities fighting plans to close 54 public schools that will affect over 30,000 schoolchildren. Let the families, educators, and students know that you stand in solidarity with Chicago. Call on Monday, May 20, 2013, or later if you don’t see this in time, to support a moratorium on school closings. “Don’t close our schools – Save them.” call: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 312.744-5000  Barbara Byrd Bennett – CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, 773. 553.1500  Dick Vitale, President of the Chicago Board of Education, 773.553.1600 Read more →

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  • Progressive Educators Gather April 25

    The SF Bay Area Progressive Education Network (PEN) is sponsoring an “Ignite!” evening at Christa McAuliffe School, 12211 Titus Ave., Saratoga, April 25th, 7-9 pm.  The group will explore the questions: What is Progressive Education? How can it make a difference? and Why is it Important?  through  ten, 5 minute talks about progressive practices.  Among the participants is Judy Voets, one of the founding teachers of the Open Classroom where August to June was filmed Others include Tom Little, President of PEN and Dale Jones, a progressive public school administratoe currently working at  Discovery Charter School, where Constructivism is an important guiding practice.  The talks will be followed by an opportunity to meet new people, ask questions, and learn more about Progressive Education in the Bay Area.  A suggested donation of $5 makes this  true bargain! Read more →

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  • March 14th Denver Students Walkout of the TCAP

    March 14 at 11 am Denver students are converging on the steps of the Colorado State Capital as a protest against standardized testing and its ramifications.  They ask that the Colorado State Legislature cut standardized testing instead of cutting the arts, music, PE, classroom resources, or closing schools. Even if you can’t join them, you can go to their Facebook page and offer encouragement! Read more →

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  • An important petition for New Yorkers to sign, and others to emulate!

    There  are 12,000 signatures so far on this petition, started by Carol Burris, of the New York Principals.  This group’s first effort was a letter to the governor stating their position against high stakes testing, signed by 1536 principals!  That’s one third of all the principals in New York State!  If you are a New Yorker, you don’t have to be a principal to add your signature to Carol’s petition.  If you are from another state, can you find a principal with the courage to do what New York’s have done? Read more →

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  • Tell the Motion Picture Association of America to stop marketing violent films to children

    The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood has a letter you can sign if you think violent media should not be marketed to children. Read more →

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  • Three Cheers for CA Governor Jerry Brown!!

    The education section of Brown’s State Of The State address is printed in full below, because it is so exciting to see a politician exercise his power to make the changes we have been working on for years. Is it possible he watched the DVD of August To June we sent him? Write him a thank you note! “In the right order of things, education—the early fashioning of character and the formation of conscience—comes before legislation. Nothing is more determinative of our future than how we teach our children. If we fail at this, we will sow growing social chaos and inequality that no law can rectify. In California’s public schools, there are six million students, 300,000 teachers—all subject to tens of thousands of laws and regulations. In addition to the teacher in the classroom, we have a principal in every school, a superintendent and governing board for each school district. Then we have the State Superintendent and the State Board of Education, which makes rules and approves endless waivers—often of laws which you just passed. Then there is the Congress which passes laws like “No Child Left Behind,” and finally the Federal Department of Education, whose rules, audits and fines reach into every classroom in America, where sixty million children study, not six million. Add to this the fact that three million California school age children speak a language at home other than English and more than two million children live in poverty. And we have a funding system that is overly complex, bureaucratically driven and deeply inequitable. That is the state of affairs today. The laws that are in fashion demand tightly constrained curricula and reams of accountability data. All the better if it requires quiz-bits of information, regurgitated at regular intervals and stored in vast computers. Performance metrics, of course, are invoked like talismans. Distant authorities crack the whip, demanding quantitative measures and a stark, single number to encapsulate the precise achievement level of every child. We seem to think that education is a thing—like a vaccine—that can be designed from afar and simply injected into our children. But as the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” This year, as you consider new education laws, I ask you to consider the principle of Subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is the idea that a central authority should Read more →

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  • Support Seattle Teachers Refusal to Test!

    Imagine if the entire staff of a large urban high school said NO to standardized testing. Would it be the oooomph that would get other teachers to take that risky step en masse? The teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle have taken that first step. The more people who applaud their move, the more likely it is that other school staffs will be emboldened. Sign this petition to show your support! Then consider writing or calling José Banda, Seattle Superintendent of Schools, who sent a letter to his principals threatening disciplinary action against teachers who refuse to participate in high stakes testing. Phone: (206) 252-0180 Fax: (206) 252-0209 Email: superintendent@seattleschools.org Here is my letter, which you are free to use as a template! Dear Superintendant Banda, Instead of punishing the brave teachers in your district standing up for their convictions and the best interests of their students, you should be joining them in protesting a system that is hurting all students, those who score well, and those who score badly. Where is your sense of outrage at all the misdirected funds that you could be using to give a hand up to struggling students and enrichments to all? Teachers and educators across America are applauding the bravery of these teachers. You could be another hero, or you can make martyrs of them, but you can’t weaken their message: it is time for people who love children and teaching to take a stand against a testing regime that is detrimental to both! Read more →

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  • Stop the Race To The Top with a phone call a week!

    Donna Yates Mace, Bonnie Cunard and Stefanie Rysdahl Fuhr have come up with a plan to make our voices more effective:   Starting December 21, Contact the White House weekly at 202-456-1111 on your state’s designated day! Message:Give all students the same education your girls are getting! Abandon Race to the Top and stop privatizing public schools. (or your version thereof)MONDAY Alabama  Alaska  Arizona  Arkansas  California  Colorado  Connecticut  Delaware   Florida   Georgia TUESDAY   Hawaii   Idaho   Illinois   Indiana   Iowa   Kansas   Kentucky   Louisiana   Maine   Maryland WEDNESDAY Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey THURSDAY  New Mexico  New York  North Carolina  North Dakota  Ohio  Oklahoma  Oregon  Pennsylvania  Rhode Island  South Carolina FRIDAY  South Dakota  Tennessee  Texas  Utah  Vermont  Virginia  Washington  West Virginia  Wisconsin  Wyoming  Washington, D.C. The Twitter hashtag for this action is #StopRttT  The quote below comes from the Stop RttT Facebook page.  I have shortened it somewhat and added a few words of my own. “What is ‘Race to the Top’?” “RttT is an initiative from the Obama administration that allows states to extend the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandate that ALL children be working at grade level by the 2014. States that accepted RttT agreed (along with many other things) to evaluate teachers using student test scores as part of the evaluation and provide more charter schools as a parent ‘choice’.” Rather than encouraging innovation and meaningful teaching, RttT encourages “a decline in the quality of education in our public schools AND corporations lining up to write tests, new curriculum, and open charter school chains…as RttT provides a way for the monies designated for public education to go to the accounts of corporations that are joining the education bandwagon. Parents must speak out now! Teachers and administrators must speak out now! America must speak out now! STOP THE RACE TO THE TOP!”   Read more →

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