Category Archives: Articles

Articles of current interest


The Big Apple Blues

Ever wonder what it would be like to grow up, then teach in inner city, NY.  Pamela Lewis presents a heart-felt description of her experiences in a letter to President Obama:



A Message to the President From a Bronx Teacher
Pamela Lewis
(Written to Be Delivered at Occupy DOE 2.0)

Good Afternoon,
Angela Davis once said, “The word radical simply means a grasping of the root.” By that definition, Michelle Rhee is not a radical, as her book title suggests. I am a radical because I grasp from the root. In our world of education, that translates to looking to fix the origin of the achievement gap rather than divert from it by blaming teachers for something that we did not cause. The root of this problem is poverty.
I come from humble beginnings. I grew up in Edenwald Projects, located in the Northeast Bronx. My living arrangements were…interesting. It was the house that my mother and her siblings grew up in and apparently never left. Three generations lived under one roof in our 1C apartment. The Tanner family that we watched every Friday night had nothing on us. We were the true meaning of a full house.
There’s a lot that comes with growing up poor aside from lack of material things. What it often means is ignorance. When abnormal things are normalized in any community, it has the ability to warp one’s mentality. It is this warped mentality, coupled with the obvious lack of resources in poor communities that account for low performing students. My mother was the only one to complete college in her family however, she was only instructed to go in the first place to keep her deceased father’s social security checks flowing, not because anyone valued education. I stand here today only due to a series of serendipitous events like the one just mentioned, my mother’s incidental education. She liked children, but suffered from severe low self-esteem and didn’t feel she was intelligent enough to teach school age children, which led to her picking early childhood education as her major because she thought it would be easier. Being an early childhood teacher led to her understanding the importance of educating her own child from birth, which led to me having an edge over my peers academically and in life. It doesn’t make us better, it makes us lucky. A series of serendipitous events…
Teachers are not the ones to blame for the achievement gap…poverty is. Even with all of my mother’s discipline, high expectations, support and teachings, I still narrowly made it out of my own way. By the time I got to junior high, I had developed an attitude. An attitude that I couldn’t understand at the time but now I can trace back to being angry about things that I couldn’t control. Sound familiar? On top of that, being a goodie goodie did not fare well with my peers. My priorities shifted. I deliberately learned how to speak improperly. I paid less attention to school and pleasing teachers and more on memorizing lyrics that denigrated women because it was cool. My mother would yell at me and say “I didn’t raise you this way.” “You’re not the only one raising me,” I retorted. I’ll say it again, when you live in a community where certain realities are normalized, it begins to warp your mentality. It is this mentality and the obvious lack of resources in poor communities that account for low student achievement.
As early as elementary school, my best friend and I would get made fun of for being virgins at the age of eight. We learned hand games with extremely sexually explicit lyrics…of course most of these kids hadn’t had sex yet, but they still knew too much too soon, which led to them having sex too soon and babies too soon. These same girls used to see me in the street when I came back to Edenwald to visit my grandmother—my mother and I had moved out by then—wondering why I had not started a family yet. I was 18 and a freshman at Fordham. They were on their second, sometimes third child.
I chronicle my childhood to offer two points up to the Gods, that is, the policy makers to whose ears I hope are hearing my words. Number one: I am an anomaly, a glitch in the sytem. Being a college graduate from a prestigious university, having two master’s degrees, having a career, these are not typical realities for a project kid. Just because it is possible doesn’t make it probable. Realities are usually far more dismal. I have family members in jail right now, family who dropped out of high school, who were alcoholics, drug addicts, heroine being the drug of choice. He grew up during the 70s. Vietnam amputees lined our streets, nodding in their fatigues. We called it Bum Hill. My relative was sent to rehab several times to get clean, only to come back to Edenwald and within weeks be at it again because it was all around him. He’s clean now, and has been for years…because he didn’t come back home. He couldn’t come back home.
Immediately after graduating from Fordham University, I began teaching in the South Bronx, which made my neighborhood look like Beverly Hills. Many cannot fathom the kinds of problems that our children are dealing with. Many of them are lucky to be alive, yet we are concerned with whether they get a three or a four on an exam. As we continue to be used as scapegoats for societal ills, poverty prevails.
For anyone who says teachers are to blame for our students failing, I have one thing to say: How DARE you? Teachers are heroes to a lot of children who have none! The problems of the ghetto will always be problems of the ghetto until we begin to make changes toward fixing the ghetto. They are the same problems I saw in the classroom twenty years ago as a student. Children who are angry and lash out because of their home lives, distracting the entire class from learning. Children with so much on their minds, who stare out of windows all day and never know what’s going on in the classroom. (Those are usually the children principals tend to ask questions to gauge whether your lesson was effective during an observation.) Children born in America, with American born parents, who have language issues, that do not understand a simple question because no one talks to them at home. Parents that suffer from depression and other forms of mental illness. Children who live in shelters and move every few months. Children who are neglected, who haven’t had a decent shower in days, whose hair hasn’t been combed, teeth haven’t been brushed. Please explain to me what you would do under these circumstances? Do you know what it’s like to have to have a class meeting to address the bullying of the little girl who smells? Have you ever had a child ask you to wash his clothes for him because his little nine year old hands can never get the stains out when he washes them out by hand? Have you ever tried to teach a child whose mother decided she was going to punish his teacher by not giving him his meds that day? Have you ever seen a ten year old girl get stomped out by a parent? How would you feel if you had to confiscate the gang beads a child made using art materials provided for an art project? What do you say to a little girl whose father was killed in front of her by the police over the break? You heard the story on the news the night it happened. You just didn’t know it was one of your students it had happened to. Try teaching a child who’s father just left him and his mother for another woman the night before. Who heard his mother crying to you on the phone that she doesn’t how she’s going to survive? Do you know what it’s like to have to raffle off televisions and play stations to get more parents to come to parent teacher conference? What would you say to the little boy whose social worker just called to inform you that ACS is on their way to pick him up at dismissal because both of his parents have just been arrested? How do you help the woman who has taken the children of all three of her crack addicted siblings but cannot manage them all in one home? How do you stop kids from talking about the police cars that are blocking the street in front of your school because there are body parts of a slain mother sticking out of the duffle bags that her son put them in littering the curb? What makes you think environment cannot impact a child’s cognitive ability, language development, attention, and motivation?
Because of the issues that plague our community, our students have additional needs. For one, we don’t need teacher cuts. We need more teachers. In my community, there are so many children who are struggling readers that need small group instruction but not enough teachers to pull those children out to give reading intervention. As a result, these children are classified as special education students too quickly because they cannot read the exam and fail. If we had more teachers to provide small group instruction prior to special education referral, we could prevent those children from ever entering special education at all.
Students also need more than academic instruction. As a special education teacher, it is disturbing to see how much emphasis is placed on an exam that many of our students cannot pass. Many of our students need life skills, and trade skills to ensure that they can still be contributing members of society that know how to get along with one another because in the 21st century, something has happened to the fabric of our nation. Morality has gone A wall. Can we teach kids how to act like civilized human beings who do not beat or rape or rob or shoot up schools and communities? The death toll in Chicago equates to that of Afghanistan’s! We need something in place that will ensure our students learn right from wrong because many are not learning it at home, and if they are, mass media and the streets are teaching them otherwise.
They need healthier, better educated communities. They need to grow up in a place that doesn’t normalize dysfunction. We need more programs to help educate the people of my community, parent workshops, prison to work programs, mental health programs, jobs and small business programs, more affordable art and music programs. This is what kids need to see instead of liquor stores and fast food places. You cannot change a child without first changing his environment.
They need teachers who care. By consistently tearing teachers down, despite our efforts, one thing that is to be guaranteed is an exodus of teachers leaving inner city schools or the profession entirely. Micro-management of teachers will not make them better teachers, it will make them unhappier teachers, who will begin to hate their jobs. Micro-management of teachers destroys the relationship that teachers have with their students, and with each other. It is toxic to the school environment. Teachers in schools that are micromanaged begin moving to other schools that aren’t feeling the pressure, schools where the stresses of a poverty-stricken community do not exist. The ones that stick around are shells of their former selves. They cannot provide the same love and support that they were once able to provide their students. They watch the clock for dismissal.
As for all of my teachers who are present today, let us send a message not of hate, as much as we may hate what these policies are doing to our schools, to our children and to our own lives. While we stand here in Washington, I must quote Dr. King’s advice to his fellow demonstrators. “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” Let us send a message of love for what we do, and for who we do it for. So for the media trying to destroy our images, Washington and Mr. President, which by the way, teachers, we have more in common with him than you think, we both know how it feels to be blamed for everything. We both know how it feels to need other players to get with the program in order to get something accomplished. Mr. President, I am not the enemy. I am a teacher. I love what I do. I love my kids. Like the teachers of Newton, Connecticut, I’d give my life for my kids. I have been educated and trained to no end in order to teach my kids effectively. Some of my kids will still fail the test, as the test only measures certain things. That doesn’t mean they aren’t all great in some way. And it doesn’t mean that I have failed them. Please do not diminish my impact to a test score. My kids will remember me when they’re old and gray. They will remember they were loved. They will remember my passion. They will remember that someone cared about their future. Thank you.


Inauguration Day

Our friend, Mike Martin, is the author of the most popular article we have ever posted, by far.  Since we first posted it, Waiting for Super Fraud has been viewed by more than 10,000 visitors.  Mike has written a piece describing the role of students in the civil rights movement for Inauguration Day and has allowed us to print it here.  The article piqued my interest because of the role I think students must play in stemming the tide of privatization of the public schools that is sweeping the nation.



It was interesting to watch the inauguration of President Obama on
Martin Luther King Jr. Day but I still say people need to understand
what really brought about the Civil Rights Act. What really allowed
Barack Obama to win the Presidency in the United States of America.

People want to publicize the Tuskogee Airmen, and their history is
important and dramatic, but mostly as an illustration of the stupidity
of racism. The Tuskogee Airmen themselves had little effect on people in
the Jim Crow south. It had an influence in the banning segregation in
the U.S. military, but not much effect on civil society. The same is
true of the Brown v. School Board decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
That decision made segregation illegal, but it was largely ignored.
Busing didn’t happen because of Brown. School integration didn’t happen
because of Brown. President Eisenhower forced the intregration of Little
Rock High School, but that was essentially a one time event. Similarly,
Rosa Parks is lauded for her courage, but she had a very limited effect
on Jim Crow. Her protest is noted primarily because it was the first
involvement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It has historical import for
that reason but not because it significantly changed the lives of
African Americans in the U.S. There were many different efforts to break
Jim Crow in the 1940s and 1950s, including violent riots. Nothing really

However, on February 1, 1960, four Black college students (Ezell Blair,
Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond) started a
sit-in at the lunch counter of the F. W. Woolworth’s in Greensboro,
North Carolina. As I detailed in an essay at this action started
the movement that crushed Jim Crow. It was 4 college students, not
college graduates, not adults, not Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who
started the sit-in that ignited a wildfire across America. Those
students learned about freedom and courage in American public schools.
They were still in college when they stood up to Jim Crow. And to top it
off, the Greensboro business community refused to cave because they knew
the college students would go home for the summer. But when that
happened, Dudley High School students led by William Thomas took up the
protest and expanded it to Meyer’s and Walgreens. It was then that the
local business community capitulated. High school students broke Jim
Crow. They were emulated throughout the country and a national meeting
of sit-in participants was called to form the Students Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

College students in Tennessee were encouraged by the sit-ins and
performed a sit-in on interstate buses. They were contacted by the
Congress On Racial Equality about participating in a Freedom Ride on
buses through the south. That Freedom Ride started in Washington, D.C.,
and when it got to Atlanta they were told by Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr., that they would never make it through Alabama. In Birmingham,
Alabama, violence against the Freedom Riders, including the firebombing
of one bus, resulted in the adults calling off the effort. But SNCC
students refused to stop and continued the ride into Montgomery,
Alabama, where a mob severely beat the riders. One of the white students
was hospitalized where he told the others to keep going. And they
continued, with support from the Kennedy Administration and Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr., on to Mississippi where they were arrested but the
federal transportation agency decided to enforce integration in bus
transportation, so the students won.

That, in turn, inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to try integrating
businesses in Birmingham, Alabama in early 1963. He instituted marches
and boycotts, but the adults were repeatedly arrested and thwarted. Dr.
King wrote in his biography that they were defeated: “As we talked, a
sense of doom began to pervade the room. I looked about me and saw that
for the first time our most dedicated and devoted leaders were
overwhelmed by a feeling of hopelessness.” There was no way the adults
could defeat Jim Crow. Dr. King realized “If our drive was to be
successful, we must involve the students of the community. Even though
we realized that involving teenagers and high school students would
bring down upon us a heavy fire of criticism, we felt that we needed
this dramatic new dimension. Our people were demonstrating daily and
going to jail in numbers, but we were still beating our heads against
the brick wall of the city officials’ stubborn resolve to maintain the
status quo. Our fight, if won, would benefit people of all ages. But
most of all we were inspired with the desire to give to our young a true
sense of their own stake in freedom and justice. We believed they would
have the courage to respond to our call.”

When you see movies of the fire hoses used on marchers, and police dogs
biting marchers, those marchers were students. Bull Connor had
peacefully arrested the adults, but when thousands of kids joined the
protest he turned violent because he ran out of jail space and they
still kept marching. The fire hoses and police dogs didn’t stop the
students from continuing the protest marches. The business community
finally capitulated in the face of the student protest. The student led
triumph in Birmingham resulted in a national vindication for Dr. King
and nonviolent protests. It resulted in the galvanizing of protests
against Jim Crow and the organization of the “March On Washington” where
on August 28th, 1963, in Washington, D.C., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
gave his “I have a dream” speech. That is a historical event, but it
wasn’t a triumph of adults. Condoleeza Rice lived with her parents in
Birmingham, Alabama, at the time and they did not participate in the
protests. The adults lived with Jim Crow, it was the students who
learned about freedom and justice in their public schools who broke Jim

The Birmingham Board of Education, however, expelled over a thousand of
the protesting students, which continued the controversy. So in the fall
of 1963 protesters attempted to integrate Birmingham schools, 9 years
after Brown. They enrolled children in white schools in the face of
rioters who tried to attack them, and after a series of unfortunate
events, the schools were, in fact, integrated. The protests were
organized and led out of the Sixteenth Street Baptist church. It was in
September, 1963, during this school integration struggle that this
church was bombed, killing 11-year-old Denise McNair and three
14-year-olds: Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins. It
was this bombing that outraged the nation, even the world, and
galvanized efforts to finally bring civil rights to Black Americans.
Certainly the protests were organized and instigated by adults, but it
was the courage of 11-year-old Dwight and 9-year-old Floyd Armstrong
enrolling at Birmingham’s Graymont elementary school in the face of
jeering adult mobs, and teenager Richard A. Walker who integrated Ramsay
High School as a White mob fought with police, that integrated public
education. And, of course, four young students died in the process as well.

For some reason, no one wants to give credit to the children and their
public schools for liberating America. Certainly I haven’t heard Barack
Obama talk about them. Certainly I haven’t heard Arne Duncan talk about
them. And Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., learned from them, not the other
way around. Where did 4 young adults get the idea to stand up against
Jim Crow nonviolently in Greensboro, North Carolina? Where did the young
Freedom Riders who refused to quit when the adults gave up get their
ideas of courage and liberty? What possessed young people in Birmingham,
Alabama, to face down fire hoses and police dogs to rescue a failed
adult protest? With adults screaming violently at them, how is it that
school children in Birmingham integrated schools? Do we really want to
teach that history just happens? Mysteriously?

It seems to me that this is the most important lesson to teach young
people today: the adults are not going to save you. The adults are not
going to prevent global warming. It is not Barack Obama who will control
guns and stop children from being shot to death in classrooms. My interest in the article NRA
is nothing compared to Jim Crow. Jim Crow had night riders, lynchings,
assassinations. Students crushed Jim Crow. They did it by learning about
history, by learning about leadership, by learning about courage, by
learning about perseverance, by learning about working together
nonviolently. Where did they learn this?

Mike Martin
Phoenix, Az


Why Not Ask Teachers How They Would Improve Our Schools?

This article is from Kenneth J. Bernstein who is a schoolteacher and a blogger whose work appears on Daily Kos and other sites.

We were sitting in a Starbucks in Arlington, Va. It was our first meeting. Previously, Iowa governor Tom Vilsack and I had talked by phone and exchanged blog posts on education. His campaign staff had reached out to a number of educational bloggers, as he was seriously considering running for president and thought education was a good issue for him. Since he was going to be in my neighborhood, we agreed to get together.

At one point I mentioned that the governors had just had a meeting on education, and he nodded. I remarked that each had brought a business leader to the meeting. The governor nodded again. And then I asked, “Why didn’t you bring a teacher?”

The governor was surprised, and acknowledged he had never thought of it.

That was in 2005. The nation’s governors had a meeting to talk about education and the voices of teachers had not been included.

Follow this link to the full article:



Full Disclosure

Full disclosure: I spent 36 years in public education as a high school math/science teacher and as a district-level administrator responsible for curriculum, instruction and assessment. At the university level I have taught graduate-level classes in curriculum, instruction, and especially in the teaching of higher-level thinking. My background includes speaking in venues across the continent on higher-level thinking, school facility design, and brain research as it applies to teaching. I spent the last 20-plus years in the private sector. I worked for a design firm that specialized in school design and have served as a consultant to districts regarding curriculum, instruction, assessment, and facility design.

So I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

Why am I a telling you this? My half-century of serving the public schools tells me we have ignored the vast research base regarding human development and learning and are allowing the privatizers, aided and abetted by the UDDOE, to steal the futures of our nation’s children. I cannot sit idly by while our public school system is pillaged by Wall Street.

Today I want to focus on just one aspect of the sacking of our public schools, high-stakes standardized testing. Listed below are just 10 of the many problems identified by our friend, Marion Brady, in his “Problems: High-Stakes Standardized Tests,” found at My own background tells me that any one of the ten is reason to question the use of the tests and taken together are reason to totally reject them.

  • Provide minimal to no useful feedback to classroom teachers
  • Lead to neglect of physical conditioning, music, art, and other, non-verbal ways of learning
  • Hide problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring
  • Use arbitrary, subjectively-set pass-fail cut scores
  • Are unavoidably biased by social-class, ethnic, regional, and other cultural differences
  • Have no “success in life” predictive power
  • Are open to massive scoring errors with life-changing consequences
  • Are at odds with deep-seated American values about individuality and worth
  • Waste the vast, creative potential of human variability
  • Simply don’t work. The National Academy of Sciences, 2011 report to Congress says thatthe use of standardized tests “has not increased student achievement.”

If you are an educator, what excuse do you have for not speaking up? How could you allow this particularly nasty form of child abuse go on without saying anything? Did you not know of these problems? Now that you do know, what are you going to do? Teachers in Sandy Hook stood up to bullets. Are you willing to stand for what is right?


Reject high-stakes standardized testing. This is the time to speak up.


A Superintendent Speaks Out About Standardized Testing

John Kuhn is superintendent of a small school district in Texas. But his voice is mighty and powerful. Those who have heard him wish he were Commissioner of Education for the state of Texas or in another position where everyone would learn from his wisdom.

Kuhn was the first person to be named to the honor roll for his eloquence and courage in support of public education.

The Dallas Morning News Published: November 2, 2012

 John Kuhn, superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt school district in Jack County, northwest of Fort Worth, is active speaking out and writing critically about public-education reformers. He’s gained some fame for his oft-quoted “Alamo letter” from 2011, in which he vowed never to surrender the fight for his students. Now that more than 850 Texas school boards have signed on to a resolution against over-reliance on high-stakes testing, we asked Kuhn what that movement is all about. (This is a longer version of the Q&A that appears in print.)
You’ve said some very pointed things about education reformers, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and their impact on schools. What worries you the most?
What worries me most as both a dad and an educator is the outsized influence of test-makers, statisticians, and economists on modern educational decision-making. Unfortunately, our wizards of data are not wizards of humanity, and they have foolishly elevated impersonal forces as the drivers of education.
The education of children is above all a human endeavor. We aren’t programming answers into computers; we are inspiring and encouraging and challenging and coaxing and pushing and pulling and hoping and praying and hugging and wiping tears and watching ballgames and telling them how nice they look in their prom dresses. The value of the factory model touted by today’s educational Taylorists is quickly disproved by its absence of the holistic and humane methods employed in the best private schools. Middle class kids need and deserve more art in their lives than the arrays of bubbles they pencil in. Elite reformers want what’s best for their kids, but they often only want what’s most efficient for yours and mine.
Ultimately, I want for my kids what caring parents, like our president, want for theirs: a thorough, non-standardized education of the whole child. Today we are so busy raising test scores that we are forgetting to raise children. The little red schoolhouse is fast becoming a little red widget factory, and that’s wrong for kids and detrimental for our future well-being as a people. Continue reading

Open Letter to Michelle and Barack Obama:

Open Letter to Michelle and Barack Obama:

Here is what the experts say our kids will need to be successful in the 21st Century:

  • Basic, scientific, mathematical, and technological literacies.
  • Inventive thinking including curiosity, creativity, and risk taking as well as higher order thinking and sound reasoning.
  • Effective Communication including teaming, collaboration, and interpersonal skills.
  • High     Productivity refers to the ability to prioritize, plan, and manage for results. It includes the use of real-world tools and the     production of relevant, high-quality products.

Here is what your kids get at Sidwell:

  • Pretty much everything on the list

Here is what the kids get in our local public school thanks to NCLB and RttT:

  • High-stakes bubble-in tests in a narrow range of subjects (mostly reading and math), beginning in the lowest grades and extending through high school
  • Test-prep curriculum designed to produce one right answer
  • Regimented day with all students in cohort on the same lesson at the same time
  • Little     opportunity to explore interests, participate in cultural     activities, or play

Somehow this isn’t getting it. Do you get it? We need to end the Federal mandates, return the schools to the local communities, and provide the resources local schools need to transition to 21st Century learning. Our children’s future depends on it. Our nation’s future depends on it.


Analysis of I-1240

The debate regarding charter schools is of great importance to local school districts throughout Washington State.  I-1240 has the potential of diverting millions of dollars from local school coffers to charter schools which are operated by non-democratically selected boards and have no oversight by elected school boards.  Here is an analysis by Dr. Wayne Au, a University of Washington at Bothell professor.  Please read carefully and if you agree with his analysis, contact local school board members and urge them to pass a resolution opposed to I-1240.


Kennewick Board Members Brooks, Mabry and Messinger Fined for Campaign Law Violations

Details from the PDC record are posted at the bottom of this article.

Following Tuesday’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) hearings in Olympia, Kennewick School Board members Brian Brooks, Ron Mabry and Ben Messinger were fined for violating PDC rules during their 2011 election campaigns.

Each candidate had selected the Mini Reporting option for financing his campaign which limits total contributions and expenditures to $5000. with a maximum contribution from any individual of $500.

Local businessman, Ty Haberling initially contributed $250.  to each candidate then later paid $2817. postage for mailing three political advertisements featuring the three candidates.  Proportionally dividing the postage among the candidates resulted in an additional individual contribution of $939. which exceeded the limit by $689. Continue reading