"Stop Humiliating Teachers" by David Denby was published in the Feb. 11, 2017 issue of The New Yorker.
DEY is issuing a statement in opposition to the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.
DeVos showed in her hearing testimony on January 17th that she is profoundly unqualified to serve as Secretary of Education. She was unable to answer basic questions or address controversial issues. But, most important, she is against public education and, instead, wants to privatize public education. DeVos has a proven history of supporting efforts that discriminate against low-income communities and communities of color. At DEY, we support the equal opportunity of every young child for an excellent education. We are especially concerned that DeVos will undermine the national and state efforts to promote universal preschool public education.
For more information about advocacy for appropriate public education, visit DEY’s website at www.deyproject.org.
ece policy matters' susan ochshorn discusses betsy de vos nomination and dey's latest report, "teachers speak out"
Senator Patty Murray (D, Washington), Cabinet nominee Betsy DeVos, DEY's latest report, "Teachers Speak Out"
THE POWER OF THEIR VOICES: EARLY CHILDHOOD TEACHERS TALK SCHOOL REFORM
(originally published on Jan. 19, 2017)
A former preschool teacher carried the torch for democracy at the confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, Donal Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education. "The Senate should ot be a rubber stamp, Patty Murray said. We owe it t the American people to put families and children first, not billionaires."
Those were fighting words from the mild-mannered senator from Washington State, and senior Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee. Especially with Microsoft and Amazon among her top campaign contributors from 2011 to 2016. But as the results of our recent election attest, women’s ascent to power is convoluted. The pacts we make can be Faustian: these days, a former Microsoft executive runs Washington’s department of early learning.
In the week before the hearing, as opponents of DeVos signed petitions, called their senators, and entreated members of the HELP committee to dump her, Defending the Early Years, a nonprofit organization based in Boston, released “Teachers Speak Out.” The report highlights the concerns of early childhood teachers about the impact of school reforms on low-income children. Authors Diane E. Levin and Judith L. Van Hoorn culled their data from interviews with 34 educators in California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington, DC.
The link between socioeconomic status and academic achievement has been firmly established in research. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 47 percent of children under six years old lived in low-income families near or below the poverty line in 2014. The level rises to nearly 70 percent for Black and Native-American children and 64 percent for Hispanic youngsters. In a recent survey conducted by the Council of Chief State School Officers—which helped design the Common Core standards—teachers across the United States listed family stress, poverty, and learning and psychological problems as the top barriers to student success.
Yet the mandates of the Common Core are exacerbating the problem. As Levin and Van Hoorn point out in the report’s introduction, “recent reforms…have been developed and implemented by people with good intentions but often little formal knowledge of early child development.” Those with the expertise now face a “profound ethical dilemma.” As top-down mandates dictate the teaching and assessment of narrow academic skills at younger and younger ages, early childhood educators are forced to do the “least harm,” rather than the “most good.”
In an exchange at the hearing, between DeVos and Todd Young, a Republican senator from Indiana, she crowed about our “great opportunity…to really empower [teachers] in a new way to do what they do best.” She horrifies educators. They’ve been leaving the field, exhausted and dispirited, in record numbers. Respect for the profession and morale are at an all-time low, as teachers have picked up the slack for a society that starves its schools and communities, and blames them for all its ills. But out of this malaise, a new activism has emerged, with great energy dedicated to defeating her.
Early childhood teachers—with some notable exceptions—have been missing from the action. The reasons are complex. This is a workforce that has long been marginalized, their work devalued, and expertise ignored. “It’s just babysitting,” New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, said some years ago, of his state’s prekindergarten program—a perception shared by many, and internalized by those in the field. Salaries for educators working in community-based programs are significantly less than those of their colleagues in the public schools. Many are living in poverty, and afflicted by the toxic stress common among their students. The newest practitioners are worried about putting their careers at risk. Few have been willing to go on the record with their critique.
As I read through the report, I kept underlining the quotes from the teachers, as if to amplify them, to lift them off the page. They’re struggling to honor early childhood’s robust evidence base, but they’re undermined by a lack of agency and autonomy:
The trust in my expertise and judgment as a teacher is gone. So are the play and learning centers in my classroom. Everything is supposed to be structured for a specific lesson and rigidly timed to fit into a specific, tight, preapproved schedule.
The negative impact of reforms on children’s development and learning can’t be overstated. Practice has become more rote, and standardized, with less time for deep relationships—among children, and between them and caring adults. We’re stealing the heart of high-quality early education, as the individual strengths, interests, and needs of children get lost:
With this extreme emphasis on what’s called ‘rigorous academics,’ drills are emphasized. It’s much harder for my children to become self-regulated learners. Children have no time to learn to self-regulate by choosing their own activities, participating in ongoing projects with their classmates, or playing creatively. They have to sit longer, but their attention spans are shorter.
The authors bring us into the classrooms studied by Daphna Bassok, Scott Lathem, and Anna Rorem, of the University of Virginia, who used two large, nationally representative data sets to compare public school kindergarten classrooms between 1998 and 2010. More formal, directed instruction in reading, writing, and math, once the province of first grade, has trickled down into kindergarten. Close reading is becoming part of the expected skill set of 5-year-olds, and the pressure has extended, in some cases, to prekindergarten, where children are being asked to master reading by the end of the year. The repercussions are severe:
It’s essential for every kindergarten child to feel welcomed and included, to be part of the class. Instead, we’re separating the cream from the milk. From the beginning, we’re telling kids who are poor, ‘You’re deficient,’ instead of helping them become competent and feel successful and part of their class. Then it’s ‘remedial this, remedial that.’ It’s discrimination.
The report concludes with a series of recommendations—from the real experts in the room. The first calls for the withdrawal of current early childhood standards and mandates. Another urges the use of authentic assessment, based on observations of children, their development, and learning. Number ten addresses child poverty, our national stain:
Work at all levels of society to reduce, and ultimately end, child poverty. To do this, we must first acknowledge that a narrow focus on improving schools will not solve the complex problems associated with child poverty.
Breaking the silence was never so sweet. Now it’s time, as John Lewis says, to get in good trouble.
defending the early years releases its latest report: "teachers speak out: how school reforms are failing low-income young children"
Defending the Early Years is proud to announce the release of its newest report, "Teachers Speak Out: How School Reforms Are Failing Low-Income Young Children."
In the wake of federal and state education mandates, this report documents interviews with early childhood teachers across the country about how school reforms negatively affect low-income young children.
Authored by Diane E. Levin, Professor of Early Childhood Education, Wheelock College, and Judith L. Van Hoorn, Professor Emerita, University of the Pacific and published by Defending the Early Years, the report finds that the mandates disregard teachers’ knowledge of child development, culturally appropriate practice, and how to meet the diverse educational needs of poor children.
Find the full 16-page report here.
Find the two-page summary report here.
Find the press release here.
Senate hearings on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education begin on January 11, 2017. Many educators have grave concerns about Mrs. DeVos. See "A Sobering Look at What Betsy DeVos Did to Education in Michigan - and What She Might Do as Secretary of Education" from The Answer Sheet in The Washington Post and "Betsy DeVos and God's Plan for Schools" in the Dec. 13, 2016 New York Times.
Network for Public Education is mounting a campaign and encouraging educators and other concerned citizens to contact their Senator. Find a sample letter and the addresses of all Senators at https://actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-your-senator-to-vote-no-for-betsy-devos?source=facebook&. Or write your own letter, in your own words.
Another option is to call 202-225-3121 and be connected with any congressional member, both Senators and Members of the House of Representatives. Tell the staffer who answers that you are opposed to Mrs. DeVos' confirmation as Secretary of Education. They will ask for your name and zip code and tally your call as a "yay" or "nay."
DEY was represented at the recent tribute to Diane Ravitch, held in New York City.
Left to right: Diane Ravitch; National Board member Deborah Meier; Gina Contursi, DEY's Director of Outreach and Social Media; and Susan Ochshorn, founder of ECE PolicyWorks and long-time DEY supporter
On November 8th, 500 kindergarten and pre-k teachers on Long Island came together for the first time in a conference organized by the Long Island Pre-K Initiative. Pre-k and kindergarten teachers often work and learn in separate arenas, so this was an important day for exploring common ground as early childhood educators. Nancy Carlsson-Paige was their keynote speaker. She talked about the value of play and play-based learning and the need for all of us in the early childhood community to find our common voice as we advocate for the kind of learning all young children need and deserve.
This was originally posted in The Answer Sheet of The Washington Post.
Backpack Full of Cash is a film title that suggests some untoward money dealings. And a new film by that title is — though the theme is not the traditional movie yarns about arms or drug dealing.
Actually, it’s a 90-minute documentary about the real and ongoing movement to privatize public education and its effects on traditional public schools and the students they enroll. With actor and activist Matt Damon narrating, “Backpack” tells a scary but important story about corporate school reform policies that critics say are aimed at destroying the U.S. public education system, the country’s most important civic institution.
While many Americans have heard of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, often by for-profit companies, and school “vouchers,” which use public money to pay tuition for private schools, they may not understand their central place in the broader corporate reform movement. That movement, which also includes policies such as standardized test-based “accountability” systems, thrived under the administrations of presidents George W. Bush, a Republican, and then Barack Obama, a Democrat. But there are both Republicans and Democrats who oppose corporate reform as well.
“Backpack” — done by Stone Lantern Films, and Turnstone Productions — attempts to explain the entire movement through the prism of the 2013-2014 school year. The best way to understand what is happening is by looking at how corporate reform affects schools, teachers and children, and that’s what the film attempts to do. Here’s a description of the film, from its Kickstarter website:
BACKPACK takes viewers to Philadelphia, where in 2013-14, the charismatic principal of South Philadelphia High worries about the upcoming school year — his school has no music teacher, no librarian, and just two counselors for over 1,000 students. Across town, the C.O.O. of a brand new charter school welcomes students to gleaming, high tech classrooms.
In North Philly, a 10th-grader performs a virtual frog dissection on her computer, in her bedroom. Her cyber charter school is run by the biggest for-profit online education company in the world.
In Nashville, TN, a teacher is giving standardized tests to her eight-year-old students. This is their 30th Test Day of the year. Testing companies reap huge dividends.
And in Louisiana, a Bible school headmaster teaches creationism to students who pay tuition with tax-funded vouchers.
[Why the movement to privatize public education is a very bad idea]
The description also notes that the term “backpack full of cash” refers to the belief by corporate reformers that every child should be allowed to take their share of public education dollars — their “backpack full of cash” — to any school they want, charter, religious, online or public. (The problems with such a system are many: Public money shouldn’t be used for religious purposes; traditional school systems, which educate the vast majority of students, need dependable budgets to properly operate; and the public has little or no oversight over private, religious and charter schools.) The title could equally refer to the billions of dollars that private philanthropists have spent in recent years to privatize the public education system through pet projects that have no research to back up their effectiveness.
“Backpack” was directed and co-produced by Sarah Mondale, president and co-director of Stone Lantern who is also a public school teacher in New York. She directed and co-produced the 2001 four-part series titled “School” — and she was nominated for an Emmy for her direction of “Asylum: A History of the Mental Institutions in America.” The film makers are seeking funding via a Kickstarter campaign to complete final work on the film and distribute and promote it.
The film makers got Damon, who has been vocal about the importance of public education for years, to narrate it. In an email, Damon explained why he agreed:
“I got involved in the making of ‘Backpack Full of Cash’ because it tells the important story of how current education reform policies are increasing inequality and causing harm to our most vulnerable children.
The expansion of charter schools is draining funds from our public schools and benefiting some children while leaving others behind with fewer resources. We need a public school system that gives every child an equal chance to a great education.
I had that chance in the public schools I attended and I want to see it given — fairly and on an even playing field — to every child in our nation.
“Backpack Full of Cash” helps us realize that true education equity will come when we address the deeper issues underlying education inequality such as child poverty, racial segregation, and the unequal funding of our schools.”
Supporters of the privatization of public education say that outsourcing school management and running public schools like businesses is more efficient than allowing government to do the job. Critics say civic institutions can’t be properly run like businesses in part because children aren’t widgets.
According to Samuel E. Abrams, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, whose recent book, “Education and the Commercial Mindset,” details how and why market forces have become important in corporate school reform:
… where there is insufficient transparency for proper contract enforcement, the free market fails. Laissez-faire enthusiasts neglected to differentiate discrete (that is, easily measurable) from complex services. In the case of schooling, which is a classic complex service, the direct consumer is a child, who is in little position to judge whether classes are being properly taught. The parent, taxpayer and legislator are at a necessary distance. And standardized testing as a check on quality is rife with problems. It isn’t merely that teachers and principals under tremendous pressure to raise test scores can correct wrong answers on bubble sheets, as documented in Atlanta most notably, but they can also give students more time to complete tests and lend help in the process. More fundamentally, heavy reliance on standardized testing leads to teaching to the test, which means crowding out instruction in subjects that aren’t tested, particularly art, music, crafts and play, which are fundamental to a well-rounded education.
Damon’s involvement is the latest in a string of education-related activities. In March 2011, he said during a television interview that President Obama’s standardized test-based school reform policies had disappointed him. Two months later, Obama took a shot at Damon in a comic address to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, saying:
“I’ve even let down my key core constituency: movie stars. Just the other day, Matt Damon — I love Matt Damon, love the guy — Matt Damon said he was disappointed in my performance. Well, Matt, I just saw ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ so . . . right back atcha, buddy.”
Then in July of the same year, Damon came to Washington and delivered a speech at the Save Our Schools rally where teachers, parents and others protested the Obama administration’s standardized test-based school reform policies. Damon came at the request of his mother, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a well-known child development expert and professor emeritus at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., who was involved with the rally.
The administration at the time was concerned enough about his speech to attempt to arrange a meeting, with then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan offering to meet Damon at the airport and talk to him on the drive into the city, according to sources at the time. Damon refused.
In 2014, Damon had an online conversation with fans on Reddit and among the subjects he discussed was his opposition to standardized test-based school reform and the exclusion of teachers from the shaping of education policy.
And now, he has narrated “Backpack Full of Cash.”
BACKPACK FULL OF CASH, a 90-minute documentary narrated by Matt Damon, will premier at the Philadelphia Film Festival on October 22nd and 29th.
BACKPACK FULL OF CASH gives viewers an inside look into how a nationwide coalition of "reformers" is moving the public toward charter schools, vouchers and other programs that shift funds and control away from the public to the private sector. Focusing on the chaotic educational landscape in Philadelphia and other cities that are flash points in the battle over school "reform" and privatization, BACKPACK features thought-provoking interviews with historian Diane Ravitch, policy analyst Linda Darling Hammond, and journalist David Kirp. The film leaves viewers with critical questions about what it will mean for our nation's democracy if public education disappears.
For more information about the film, click here.
The producers have recently started a Kickstarter Campaign. Click here to learn more and to make a donation.
Dr. Diane Levin, DEY Senior Advisor, and Dr. Denisha Jones, a member of DEY's national Advisory Board and DEY's new blogger, will present a workshop during the NAEYC Annual conference in Los Angeles. The workshop is entitled: "School Reform Mandates versus the Whole Child: Special Challenges for Children from Families with Low Incomes."
The workshop will be presented on Friday, Nov. 4 from 10-11:30 am in Room 411 in the LA Convention Center.