Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

On Monday, Add Your Voice

obriena's picture

One theme of this blog over the past several months has been concern that the conversation on public education does not reflect that the reality of most public schools. It reflects the spin of mainstream and talk show media, political figures and business celebrities. Educator and parent voices are often left out of conversations on the state – and future – of our nation’s schools.

Others share this concern. That is why this coming Monday, November 22 has been declared a national Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform. It is a grassroots effort to bring together educators (including parents) to offer their ideas on how to improve America’s public schools.

On that day, give thanks for educational successes, share your ideas for real reform or describe an educational community that makes a difference for contemporary learners.

Other potential topics include:

  • Can we fire our way to success? Some educational reformers view the inability to easily fire teachers and principals as a substantial barrier to increasing student achievement. What do you think?
  • What role do charter schools play in driving public school transformation? Are there charter schools in your community? How have they impacted your school or district?
  • What state and federal policies have driven the students in your school to success? Describe how your experience as an educator, parent or student has been impacted by governmental policy. Moving forward, what kind of policies do you advocate?

Once you have written a blog post, you can add it to the collective voice in a couple of ways.

1) Post it on the Educator’s PLN at http://edupln.ning.com/

- Create a profile
- Add your post to the “Blog Post” panel on the right sidebar (or create a post linking back to your own blog)

2) Drop ASCD your link on Twitter @ASCD_Inservice

3) Add your link to the comments section of http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/ideas/

Whichever you choose, if you tweet your post, include the hashtag #blog4reform

And if you feel so inclined, you can leave a link in the comments on this post as well…

Happy Blogging!

I have been scouring

I have been scouring educational sites for signs that hateful trends of teacher bashing and blaming are ending, and that more compassionate and sensible voices are beginning to be heard. That I have not given up hope despite evidence to the contrary says a lot about my personality. I am nothing if not tenacious and hopeful. Both qualities, I believe, serve my students well. Most have autism spectrum disorder, and would be labeled as high functioning by some. That means that they have IQs that range from close to average to high. A few are advanced academically. They excel on both on standardized assessments, and within their gifted education classrooms. Others have severe learning challenges. I focus on making learning and school for these students fun and engaging by structuring my teaching around their interests. I’ve looped with them for three years, and have seen their progress and their joy in learning increase. However, their progress does not show up on standardized assessments. Several bombed last spring’s assessment, and I momentarily panicked. I spent about a week restructuring my teaching to better match the assessments, until I realized that it was the assessments that were wrong and not my students or I. Among the teaching strategies I use are the National Urban Alliance Literacy Initiative, Comprehension Toolkit, and Bloom’s Taxonomy. I have watched my students go from not being able to say one word about what they just read to summarizing both orally and in writing. Through programs, such as the Daily Five, I have taught my students how to pick the right books for them, and to build their stamina in reading them. Together my students and I work hard and learn much, yet we go outside and play for a while on a beautiful day. The last thing I want for my students who struggle so much to learn academics is to look upon school as the greasy grind of testing that the reformers are forcing American children into.

Teaching academics is only part of my job. If you haven’t guessed it already, I am a special education teacher. All students in special education have a legal document called an IEP (Individualized Education Program), which is written based on evaluations done psychologists, physicians, and other specialists. These experts determine the areas in which students need specially designed instruction. These areas may include academics of reading, writing, and math, but also may include skills in social, emotional, organizational, study, and adaptive skills. I am legally required to teach all areas of specially designed instruction in which students qualify. It can be very difficult for individuals with autism to recognize and regulate their emotions. They may become over-stimulated and act out by screaming, hitting, or running away. They may not recognize danger when they see it. And to have autism is to struggle socially. My academically gifted struggle the most with behavior issues. It is very gratifying when a student gradually learns more effective ways to calm down when upset, and to evaluate situations before escalating into a meltdown.

I’m a second-career public school teacher. My previous career was in non-formal education of museums and adult education. I had a master’s in environmental science and education and a bachelor’s in zoology and physical anthropology before earning my teaching endorsements. I have two science endorsements and a special education endorsement. I have specializations in autism and in general special education. Over the past several years I have read extensively about autism, been mentored by experts in the field of autism, attended intensive summer institutes on autism, and symposiums on autism. I continually learn about autism and how to better teach and serve those with autism. This is an important skill, especially given that autism is on the rise. I piloted and run an autism program that has gained a positive reputation for being caring, responsive, and successful. I don’t think I am a teacher that should be driven away or penalized because not all of my students will shine on standardized assessments.

I understand your situation

I understand your situation as I was a special ed teacher for 25 years and am raising a grandson who has high function autism. I wrote into his IEP that he would take the high stakes test ONE TIME and only for our information. that it would not determine his ability to graduate. So far that has held up. Actually he did extrememly well but did not pass all the subjects. Math seems to be his least able area.

As a teacher I spent most of my career as a transition specialist and feel it was time well spent, but it certainly doesn't get any praise these days. My goal was to make sure my students graduated TO something, not just FROM high school. But my grandson is getting no help at all from the school so I am on my own. The things that actually help special needs kids get on with their lives seem to matter not at all to the 'new focus' on testing. whether kids have the ability to connect the dots or not doesn't matter I guess.

I retired last year on disability when my life with scoliosis became more than I could bear. But if I had felt there was any way to make a difference for my students I would have tried to continue. That isn't the case though. No one is listening and the testing will force schools to try and 'dump' special needs kids so their schools won't have to include the scores of those students. We aren't leaving kids behind, we are throwing them under the bus. And their teachers with them.

Post your blog at

Post your blog at http://www.wallwisher.com/wall/BRR2010 as well

I have just posted my entry

I have just posted my entry in this event at Daily Kos

It has the title "One educational reform I would like to see"

and can be read at this link



Thanks so much for your

Thanks so much for your story, Anonymous. The way that we evaluate special education students and their teachers too often gets lumped in with all students. Yes, there are and should be similarities...but there are also important differences. We need to do more to acknowledge those differences.

Ira, thanks for sharing the link. I'll check it out.

And Teacher Ken, thanks for sharing your piece. I particularly enjoy this section:

"Anyone who wishes to impose what we are seeing as educational policy from our national and many state governments and far too many think tanks and the likes of TFA and NLNS and the Gates and Broad Foundations should be required to put their own children under the same regimen they are imposing upon the rest of our children. If it is so good, why not?"

I am not sure why that point does not come up more in ed policy debates.

And just FYI for those who are looking for my own contribution to this forum. As someone who is not in the classroom, and who sits in Washington looking at policy all day, I am not sure I am the target for this effort. Today is a day for me to listen and learn (though I would like to think I do that every day). Check back tomorrow for some of what I take away.

I've raised three autistic

I've raised three autistic students. One's needs were easily and inexpensively met. The other two were not so fortunate.

They've been made to "feel stupid" due to people who've chosen to change successful methodology and educate to a model rather than to the individual. I should add that this change in methodology came when my twins were Honor Roll students doing grade appropriate work; they are now educational hemophiliacs.

Instead of doing proper testing, incorrect testing was utilized and scores were lowered to make it appear as if the students didn't qualify for services (The district actually doctored the document they then left in the file).

Rather than admit a mistake was made, the district took the position of making things so hostile we'd relieve them of their obligations.

They waited until my husband was supposed to be overseas to attempt to have me arrested for criminal trespass while at the school as arranged under NCLB. They committed perjury to have false criminal charges filed for alleged truancy (the IEPs had alternative attendance goals and attendance records that have disappeared from the files didn't mention truancy once) as soon as I filed an OCR complaint. They stood in court and claimed that "children's capabilities are irrelevant under Utah law" ... right before they tried to sabotage an offered plea in abeyance in a case they knew to not have merit.

Recommendations were made and the district refused to follow them; saying they were going to continue doing things the way they'd been doing them ... that would be the way that failed and both an IEE and state investigation had ruled against.

Then the district split and we were left with someone who didn't want those students' needs to be what they were, the placement the other district had suggested and committed to in front of a sitting legislator years before, so she's been delaying the process for a year and a half of the remaining three years of state obligation.

My girls have been bureaucratized out of their education because a few district administrators gave up on them and wouldn't allow staff to do what was needed. It was much easier to make education hostile and document graduation credits for just showing up ... I believe that's not an acceptable standard under Rowley or any sense of professional honor. How would fabricated graduation credits prepare a student for college (the new district's mission)?

What my girls need is a champion within the system who knows that special education is not necessarily remedial education ... who will fight for their education. Sadly, I don't believe that person exists in Utah; it's a small state where professionals are dependent on referrals.

My girls' education has been taken from them, but hopefully letting people know of such abuses will make it harder the next time a school/district decides a student isn't worth educating and tracks that student out of their education altogether.

I am proud to leave my name because, if I'm not willing to stand for what I say, nobody will.

Here's a post w/ excerpts

Here's a post w/ excerpts from a new essay by our president, Zoe Weil: "The World Becomes What You Teach: Transforming Our Education Systems to Graduate Solutionaries for a Better World": http://humaneconnectionblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/world-becomes-what-you-...

My contribution just went up-

My contribution just went up- “Real Reform”


What I would like to see is

What I would like to see is an elected school board in Chicago. I would like all eligible candidates to submit a position paper on why they should be elected, and what they PROMISE to do if elected. No media ads or campaigning, no fliers or shoe leather on the streets, no buying the election by candidates who are rich, NOTHING but the position paper, and perhaps a properly moderated series of debates. In other words, the highest signal to noise ratio we can create so that the board can be chosen on merit by the parents whose children it serves. No back room deals, period.

Not only should school board

Not only should school board members across the nationsbe elected, they should be required to disclose conflict of interest in both their board and regular job positions. One thing Utah did do right, albeit in regards to another state agency, is to require investigations of possible internal wrongdoing be done by an independent firm that specializes in investigating, similar to the Labor Commission. I'm working on getting the same standard established for education.

I would like to see our

I would like to see our teachers receive the same respect and support that we have learned to give our soldiers, nothing less. This does not include the Teach For America program, since, if we trained our soldiers the way TFA trains teachers, America would have been defeated long ago, and the Stars and Stripes would be a distant memory.

Soldiers are not

Soldiers are not automatically given respect ... they earn it. We need to have the same standard for teachers. A teacher who puts their 'no days missed' bonus over the medical needs of a student they know they are endangering is not deserving of respect. We had teachers deliberately attempt to ruin my husband's honored military career by waiting until deployment to unilaterally enact the one thing they'd been told would cost catastophic failure. How did they earn the respect you speak of?

Rochelle, I found and read

Rochelle, I found and read your earlier post containing the info missing from your reply to me. While I stand by my assertion that teachers deserve respect and support, it is quite clear to me that you were treated in an extremely biased and criminal manner by a school system that couldn't be bothered to be inconvenienced by doing it's job. I seriously suggest you get a lawyer, even if you have to get one from outside of Utah. Unless Utah is in some ultra bizarre twilight zone, documents have to be preserved. Doesn't mean they will be. I know they will probably dig in deeper and lie louder and try to defame you, but I think you have to fight this if you have the strength. I'm saddened to learn of the evil perpetrated against you, and my thoughts are with you. Be Well. CA

Rochelle, please see all of

Rochelle, please see all of my replies. sorry they didn't come out in order.

I too believe teachers and

I too believe teachers and support staff should receive respect, but it still has to be earned.

I have to get my son to work ... and might have to stay out due to an impending blizzard, but promise I will read everything posted.

Utah does, indeed, live in some alternate universe where documentation disappears and is altered to the system's benefit.

However, in a mistaken belief they were helping school districts avoid interference from disruptive parents, the legislature saw fit to give schools full governmental immunity ... take away monetary damages in educational malpractice cases ... and enact a frivolous law suit law school districts are using to provoke parents into due process hearings so they can outlitagate the family into bankruptcy before the state then hold the family fully accountable for the entire situation. Of all the definitions of obscene, this has to be one of the most heinous. The catalyst for those actions was a case involving Nebo School District (v. K.B and J.B.?).
Until the legislature sees the error in giving omnipotence to a corrupt system, there can be no resolution. Education simply need play the 'anti-education' and 'you're hurting students/teacher' cards to get sympathy from the court of public opinion. I will not enable them playing that game. I will trust the laws as they were written and expect civility at the most informal level. If they want due process, let them file and attempt to bankrupt a disabled veteran who gave his health in service to this nation for nearly 29 years.
Media here will say nothing bad about schools; coverage would have to come from outside Utah. If I've retained documentation they've purged ... that would be a story deserving of national attention since we are talking federal law.
Twice the same school district interfered with my husband's military obligations. The first time, the commander was able to replace him. The second time, the school was told such action would end his career and end all sources of income ... they waited to attempt it. I believe the law addressing this is 18 USC 115 2388; the key word being "attempt". The statue of limitation for prosecution is ten years ... there are four years remaining.
My husband had to return home from Kuwait after 9/11. How dare any public agency interfere with the communications sergeant of an active unit in a warzone!



The link is to proposed anti-S.L.A.P.P. legislation, which Utah obviously doesn't have. Other states do. You might find it an interesting read. If you have the time, comment after reading my other posts to you. In the mean time, I ask you to trust that I know as much about teachers as you know about the military. Based on what and how you write, I trust your judgment on that. Once again, be well. CA

I just want to explain

I just want to explain something in a bit more detail ... there are teachers who I will be grateful to the rest of my life. My son's sixth grade teacher allowed autistic quirks because my son was learning; that my son excelled was more important than how it looked - this teacher was invited to my son's Eagle ceremony and received the Mentor Pin. When the girls were in kindergarten, the teacher would pull the girls by the arm, causing one to develop aphasia. First grade was about helping them feel safe regardless of how that looked (I still see that teacher and have written some children's stories from the classrooom stuffed animal mascot's point of view; you'd be amazed how perspective can enable a child to learn things far before they are expected to do so). J's second grade teacher took things step by step. At first, J was allowed to bring a blanket and stuffed animals. Then it was just the stuffed animals. Then one stuffed animal. Then whisper in the teacher's ear. Then speak softly. By the end of the school year, J had to be disciplined for talking out of turn in class. The teacher immediately came and gave her a hug because it was such an accomplishment given the aphasia at the beginning of the school year. When this teacher applied at a new school, the principal asked what the teacher's greatest accomplisment was; she answered in one word - my daughter's name.
In most cases, it's not that teachers don't want to do the right thing ... They are merely over their heads or are prevented from doing their jobs. Either way, IDEA has specific resolution for inability or unwillingness to meet a student's needs.

Speaking only for myself,

Speaking only for myself, anyone who volunteers to serve and makes it thru boot camp instantly has my respect and support, whether or not they see combat, just for stepping up.
Teachers earn their respect just as our soldiers do, by showing up day after day and, especially in our inner cities, doing a very, often extremely hard job. It's our obligation to acknowledge that fact, just as it is with our soldiers. I'm old enough to remember Vietnam, and the disgraceful way our nation treated those lucky enough to make it home. There must not be a Vietnam for teachers, as many are trying to make happen as we speak. It is being done for reasons far more cynical and evil than the ignorance that led to our initial treatment of our Vietnam vets.
As to your experience with a "deliberate attempt" at ruining your husbands career, I have no clue as to what you are referring to, and can not even begin to guess what it might be, based on what you have written. If you would care to elaborate, I'd be glad to respond. The one thing I can say is it looks a whole lot like you are blaming all teachers for a wrong that one seems to have done you. In the America I know and love, we do not do guilt by association.

Not all teachers ... not even

Not all teachers ... not even a high percentage. But the ones who do act illegally are not deserving of respect or their jobs. Utah does not have an administrative review process for when there are 'inaccuracies' in state investigations. A state investigation in Utah need not involve actual investigating nor be accurate. They've learned that all they need do is say they are following the law because not even OCR checks beyond what' claimed.


Not along the same lines, as

Not along the same lines, as I'm an parent, not a teacher, but here's mine, right under the wire.

Here's my

i have been a teacher my self

i have been a teacher my self and my students gave me enough respect. one thing i have learned from my experience is that if you are not a wise person yourself you cant be a good teacher and eventually you wont get the respect. The question is why should "one" get the respect? is it because of the position/label/designation? my answer would be "no, respect should not be a (or rather i should say, is not a) derivative of your position or social label. Respect is what comes from with in of another because of what one is.