Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Opting out of the Dinosaur (end of year test)

Today I sent in a second letter to refuse PARCC/CMAS for my son, Luke. The first email I sent at the beginning of the year was not sufficient as they required a "form" opt out letter which I refused to sign. Here is my letter. Mind you, opting out of the end of year test is opting out of the dinosaur. We are being inundated by daily online testing, social/emotional/behavioral testing, all which lead to algorithms to be used by artificial intelligence allowing the schools to replace teachers with tech - for more on this please read wrenchinthegears.com, datadisruptors.com, educationalchemy.comemilytalmage.com, and schoolsmatter.info. While opting out of the end of year test is important, it's a drop in the bucket. Until parents begin to refuse all corporate testing as well as tech, there is no end in sight to the privatization of public schools and the destruction of the teaching profession.

The letter:

March 5, 2018

Dear Principal ____,

Thank you so much for honoring our decision to opt Luke out of all the standardized tests this year. I am unable to sign the opt out request form you sent home as I do not believe that any of the tests listed provide teachers with any information valuable "in order to provide individualized instruction" - as stated in the letter.

I believe the tests simply standardize children, fail children and are used to shut down public schools. The tests create test takers, and the current state of our country needs much more than test takers if we have any hope whatsoever of regaining any semblance of a democracy.  

I absolutely put my trust in you, Mrs. _____, and all the teachers at _____ Elementary to know my son, and determine his strengths, attempts and next steps.  Luke absolutely loves school and is having a wonderful fifth grade year. As a teacher I never needed these tests - these tests simply got in the way of real learning, problem solving, and the development of smart, confident and passionate citizens. I also watched these tests get used in ways that destroyed a school's philosophy, and replaced it with a militant test driven ideology.

What is most unfortunate about the testing, is that we are simply going to have more testing. The end goal is daily online testing, already occurring in many public schools. In addition to that testing, the next new frontier is social/emotional/behavioral testing, thanks to a new provision in ESSA.  Children have become human capital and their data will be used to create immense profit.  Teachers, unfortunately, must waste easily a third of their year testing and teaching to the test; I saw this first hand in Denver.

I am opting Luke out of all the PARCC/CMAS tests. What makes this year of testing even more ridiculous is that Colorado is dropping the PARCC and most parents don't even know it. I will be sure to talk to Mrs. _____ to determine what days it might be better to keep Luke home for part of the day during testing.

Thank you for all that you do Principal _____. Thank you for welcoming Luke this year and helping him to feel a part of the community immediately.


Peggy Robertson 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

#timesup for Domestic Abusers

I was a victim of domestic abuse for approximately 18 years.  Hearing the stories of Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, the former wives of Rob Porter, was like hearing my own story.

As the #metoo movement has begun to unfold I've struggled with how to address my own experiences with rape, sexual harassment, and domestic abuse. When I turn on the news every day I am presented with one more abuse story, one more rape, one more assault; it's time to write and tell my own story. Writing has helped me survive many incidents in my life, most publicly evidenced in my blog here in which I have chronicled my work as an education activist who has fought tooth and nail, unsuccessfully, to help save a mainly female profession and our public schools. 

And now, when a wife beater, Rob Porter, resigns from a White House position, our president, wishes him well. I can stay silent no longer. So let me get on with my story.

I was taught never to air dirty laundry. I was taught that men control and rule the world. I was taught to present a perfect picture to the world. I was taught all of this simply by observing every day life. It was a man's world.

During the eighteen years of my abuse I never called the police. This might seem strange to many, but I have to be honest and say that this simply was not an option. I had been taught to put on the best face; and deep down, somehow, I was taught that I deserved this abuse because women, simply, were not worthy. I watched how men controlled reality and how women jumped to help them and ignored their own needs and desires. I watched women get treated poorly, and I saw that in this world, that it was the norm - it was acceptable. So no, I never called the police. It never entered my head.

I was physically hit by my abuser.  I would brush off comments when people noticed a mark on my eye and on one occasion we went to a motel for the night to avoid family members seeing my busted lip. I received bruises in places no one could  see too many times to count.  I once was dragged down a wooden staircase by my hair; my neck has never been the same. On one occasion I tried to remove myself from a fight by jumping in my car, only to be stopped by a fist smashing the front windshield. He broke both doors on my car due to slamming them during fights. I barricaded myself numerous times in rooms - my heart pounding as I waited to see if I would be allowed to rest or simply just breathe. Door frames were destroyed in our house. Walls had dents or holes.  On one occasion a cabinet door in the kitchen was smashed and destroyed. In my world, there was the constant hiding of physical marks on my body, the need to fix damaged property - these things were all secrets, dark secrets, that strategically and quietly had to be handled.

On long road trips where arguments would often arise he would accelerate the speed of the car in order to terrify me and cause me to agree with whatever he was saying. On long trips if I fell asleep he would smack my leg hard to wake me up; this was considered funny. I wasn't allowed to take a bathroom break on long trips until I was in absolute dire pain.

If I ever attempted to retaliate during a fight, the punishment would only be more severe. I had a childhood teddy bear that made me feel safe. He ripped it up and burned it on the barbecue grill. He burned my high school photo albums. While I was pregnant he knocked me off a cot and on to the floor.  He continually used his strength to forcefully grab me, hold me, or refuse to let me pass by, or leave a room.

I was deprived of sleep if I refused to agree with him.  He would rip the sheets  and bedspread off the bed. He would come in to the bedroom and berate me and wake me up again and again until I apologized or said whatever was necessary to end the fight. By the end of fights, I no longer knew what I believed or what I had said because he was masterful at twisting words and leaving me to believe I was crazy, or stupid, or simply worthless.   

When we no longer slept in the same room it was the greatest reprieve of my life. After I barricaded the door every night, I found myself enraptured in painting. I painted pictures every night for months; I believe it saved my life, and helped me build my strength. 

We attempted to save our marriage by moving to a new town. It didn't work. It was in this new town that my child first observed the anger and physical aggression of my abuser. My child screamed and cried. And I knew, I had to get out. I don't think I can ever relay to another human being the absolute gut wrenching fear that comes from attempting to escape an abuser. It is terrifying because the abuser's anger heightens to levels you cannot imagine. Fear encompasses your every second of the day.

I am white. I have privilege. And with the help of my family, monetarily, and emotionally, I escaped my abuser. I got a restraining order. I was lucky to have a judge who listened and heard me, and helped me. I am one of the lucky ones.

No one talks about what it is like after you escape the abuser. It is beautiful, but it also is haunted. I immediately purchased a pink bedspread with flowers because I was never allowed to have anything bright or pretty in the house; everything was brown. I bought 100 watt light bulbs, because I had been living in the dark for 18 years with 35 watt bulbs. I listened to music I loved. I laughed. I made real friends. I went on dates - I had never dated, and I had never had anyone treat me well. Dates were beautiful but filled with immense social anxiety that took years to overcome. At night I cried in the dark, because while I was free, I was haunted. I still to this day suffer what feels like post traumatic stress disorder. I have triggers, and they can cause me to hyperventilate, cry, or shudder. I have nightmares. I wake in the night and catch my breath to look around and see if I am back in the life with my abuser. When I realize I am safe, I want to cry with relief.

The abuser's ultimate goal is to control you and destroy you so that you are simply there to serve him; at least that's how it was for me. Yet, everyone loved my abuser. He was the life of the party. He was smart. He was creative. I no longer know the girl who once lived with that abuser. I am no longer her, but she haunts me. I look at the paintings she created and I want to paint again, but I fear it will cause me to remember too much about her. I am a survivor and I have become strong; I can no longer be broken. And now, I have a beautiful family and an amazing husband; life is good. 

That is my story.

But I have one last thing to say. I have a message for the Rob Porters of this world. You don't get a pass; no longer will abusers get a pass. We are coming for you. We will call you out and we will call out those who praise you.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Social Emotional Data. The new Cash Cow in the Corporate Assessment Industry

Recently I was asked to allow my son to participate in a survey at school. The "opt in" survey form specifically stated, "the questions on the survey relate to peer relationships, how safe students feel at school, and the quality of student-teacher relationships." It went on to say that the questions might make my son feel uncomfortable and that this was all voluntary, with the ultimate goal being to "inform a more effective bullying prevention program and help improve the safety, social and emotional skills, and well-being for all students."

There it was. Social Emotional. The new cash cow in corporate assessment building. ESSA created an additional data point which schools must use to report their progress. Each year schools must report back on school quality in some shape or form; in other words, how is the school climate? Is there bullying? Is it safe? How well are students or teachers engaged and are they feeling confident, successful? More or less, it's about feelings. How we feel and interact as humans, is complex and incredibly difficult to confine to a data point.  Confining learning to a data point is not new. They've managed to confine academic learning to data points by defining finite standards which must be measured in small bites in order to create the ability to control teaching and learning (therefore humans) and profit off of public schools.  Corporate assessments are not about helping children, they are simply about making money - assessing social emotional learning is the new cash cow.

True assessments, created by teachers, are messy and include teacher commentary, student commentary, pieces of student work, teacher observation and more - true assessment occurs by teachers who know their students and develop solid student/teacher relationships with them.  It's impossible to plug all of that into finite data points because humans are not robots.  We feel. We read each other's body language, we make choices and decisions every day that are influenced by our background, our surroundings, our mood, our daily interactions with others, our health, and more. To think that we can now accurately assess student feelings and catalog these feelings into social and emotional competencies, well, it's just ridiculous and unnecessary. But that's what they are doing because there is huge profit to be gathered and ultimately all of this data can be funneled to create more effective artificial intelligence, therefore our children can further learn via online learning versus humans - less need for teachers and less need for teachers with actual teaching degrees.

Social emotional data will confine children to specific finite social emotional competencies that will define who they are, what they are capable of, and what intervention is needed to make them act and behave as demanded by the requirements of the corporate online assessments. 

Recently a contest was held to review social emotional learning assessments. I watched the webinar to view the results of the contest, and in a nut shell, well, the results were just plain stupid.  I'll try to recap quickly for you as I would hate for you to have to sit through the webinar as it's absolutely mind numbing boring.

The webinar reviewed the assessments of the winners. The first presenter (from NWEA) had assessed students who rapidly guessed during test taking and the presenter decided that if they did indeed rush through the test, there was a high likelihood that this child could not self manage and was not engaged.  He showed data demonstrating that this most definitely could lead to suspensions and dropping out of school. Therefore, it's important to intervene with these rapid guessers and modify their behavior so that they no longer rush through some mind numbing corporate online test. Emily Talmage has blogged about this happening in her classroom during testing - you must read it to see how absolutely ridiculous and wrong this SEL assessment is. 

But according to NWEA, rapid guessing = low engagement and lack of self management.

Goodness, these wild unmanageable children!! Umm...how about, these kids think the test is STUPID? How about maybe they are tired or hungry or worried that they may have to sleep in the car again tonight and therefore they simply don't give a rat's ass about this stupid pathetic excuse for an assessment? Seriously I could go on for pages and pages about all the reasons the children flew through the test. Hey, maybe their parents told them it's bullshit and said just fill in the bubbles and get out of the online program and go read a book and use your time wisely. Truly the number of reasons for rapid guessing are infinite. Maybe these kids are revolutionaries in the making - better squelch that quick, huh?

It was very surreal watching this webinar and listening to adults talk about this like it was deep stuff. Seriously, these people have PhDs and this was absolute idiocy.

On to the next assessment......this one really did me in. This assessment was about becoming a social detective and being able to really understand how someone else feels. In other words, walk in their shoes. This assessment, courtesy of Panorama, had children watch interviews of people and then determine what the person was like - how does that person feel? Who are they? Are they shy?  And so on. If you didn't perceive the person as the author of the test determined you should, you lacked the ability to read people more or less. And therefore.....you were given strategies on how to improve your ability to really understand people.

Okay. Again, stupid. Why? Because number one, students can actually interact with real people in real life and get real feedback from one another and/or parents, teachers, and other adults involved in their lives. Two, maybe the student thinks this assignment is stupid and the actors in the interviews seem fake? Maybe the student would rather go outside and kick a ball around with his or her friends? Why waste time meeting people on a computer that you don't care about and DON'T KNOW??? Seriously I could care less about these people they interviewed. I don't know them. They aren't real to me.  So, does this mean at parent/teacher conference a parent might be told that the child lacks the ability to really perceive others due to this assessment when in reality the child has great friendships and gets along well with everyone? Sheesh.

The third assessment dealt with puzzles. Let me tell you a bit about my experience with puzzles. Every Christmas I buy a puzzle and as soon as I get it out to start the puzzle the family all gives one another a "look" and then suddenly, they vanish. Poof. Gone. I like puzzles. They hate them. When I first started doing puzzles they would all pretend to like them because they didn't want to hurt my feelings. As the years wore on and every year they watched me excitedly purchase a new puzzle they finally had to come clean and confess that they do NOT LIKE PUZZLES. Yup, catalog all those social emotional competencies that went into those family interactions.

So...if my boys were asked to do this assessment which asks if you would like a more challenging puzzle they'd both say umm...no thank you. And at parent/teacher conference I would be told that they were not "challenge-seeking." Hilarious.

Okay, I'll stop there, but you get the picture at this point I'm sure. If you want to feel the gut wrenching pain that accompanies watching (catalog that emotion competency) the webinar here it is.

The hard part about this particular blog is that I have so much more to say, as this is one small piece of a very big and very scary picture of where we are headed, but I truly need to stop before I lose my audience. I'll write more on this again I promise. Also check out www.emilytalmage.com , www.wrenchinthegears.com , and www.educationalchemy.com

Bottom line, the gathering of social emotional data, is a new frontier in corporate assessment creation. ESSA created major funds for this to occur - ESSA being the federal bill that the unions supported - yup THAT ESSA.  ESSA = fast track to privatize. Thank you AFT and NEA  - oh, and the unions are also happily unionizing those charter teachers who will be absolutely stellar in monitoring all this online learning and assessment needed to gather SEL data, but that's another blog for another day.

Regarding $$$ for SEL,  I found a quick summary of the SEL funding via ESSA. I can't speak to how this actually rolled out, but the total sum appears to be around 21 billion in 2016. Correct me if I'm wrong, see here.

Quoting this NPR article: But, at the root of it all, is the fact that "emotion data" is not the same thing as the real, vivid, present, enacted emotional experiences we have being human. Our emotions are not our faces or our voices. They aren't data. They can't be pulled out like a thread, one by one, from the fabric of our being.

Big picture - this is about compliance. This is about colonization. Compliance is necessary in order to profit and control a population so that the outcomes fit the needs and demands of the market and the elite. Children living in poverty must learn to regulate their emotions as the corporations see fit and they must comply with the system, even when they are hungry and tired. 

How about taking that SEL funding and feeding, housing and providing health care for these children and their families? Oh wait, this isn't about the children. It's about profit.

So, back to my original story about the survey my son's school wanted him to take.....I, of course, refused it. I researched the behavior curriculum they are using at my son's school. The name of the program is Second Step and as of August of 2017 they have joined forces with Panorama (the same Panorama I discussed above in the SEL contest) to create a technological platform to gather social emotional data. Big surprise. And even more fascinating, Panorama came out with a rigid list of social emotional competencies in 2015, the same year ESSA rolled out. Again, there are no coincidences here.

So, as a parent, I sat down with Luke and discussed all of this and he is aware that he is not to participate in any surveys or online learning that is related to Second Step. And of course, I informed the school of all of this before the school year even started.

So, that's a small window into the brave new world we have entered. Back to my chickens who make me happy.  How does one catalog chicken happiness?

Fyi...I rejoined Twitter. My love/hate relationship with social media is never ending. I didn't de-activate, I literally deleted it so I lost all my followers. If you are interested in keeping up with me once again follow me @itspegrobertson 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

"Bring Our Chickens Home" Day

Today was Bring Our Chickens Home Day. I know this makes my chicken friends especially happy. For my education friends I'll continue to try to connect my thinking to the radical transformation of our public education system; it's actually not hard, as everything one experiences is learning, whether it be new learning or learning that is adjusted, refined or expanded. Brian Cambourne refers to the zone of proximal development when supporting children with new learning.  It's helpful to connect new learning to a child's strengths and approximations, something perhaps they've already tried or something they have a bit of knowledge about already; or something they are just on the brink of truly understanding and putting into practice.

For my family, we have some knowledge of raising chickens; if a farmer were to take a quick assessment of our greatest strength, in terms of raising animals right away on our little farm, chickens would be the go-to animal to pick - it's within our zone of proximal development.  We have a great chance of doing quite well with raising even more chickens. Our knowledge is in no way vast, as we have previously only raised city chickens - lovely spoiled rotten chickens who lived in a beautiful coop that looked like this!

Our new home is on a two acre plot with fairly unruly land. No one has gardened or raised animals on this land in ages. We have our work cut out for us.

Our new space for chickens isn't actually pretty compared to our city coop, our land isn't perfectly manicured, the coop is crazy old, and there's a lot of weeds to be cleared. We started our day by clearing out the coop - my husband did most of the work - it was full of dust, cobwebs, and wasps.  We then discovered that the roosts weren't chicken friendly. Chickens really prefer a roost that they can wrap their foot around and these roosts were thin and flat (you can see them below the large round roost we added today).
New roost 
If we let them run wild, they would sleep in trees at night, so the preference is something a bit like a tree branch to roost on. We found an old log and began measuring to see if it was the right size for the coop. Is it pretty? No :) But it works! Also, the little door that allows the chickens into the yard had no pulley, which means we would have to go inside the coop every morning and night and pull it open. Seems like a small thing, but these little tasks add up. Luckily my youngest son had a pulley kit that he had never used. We pulled it out and learned how to create a pulley for our little chicken door. Imagine children doing this at school? A pulley is a great thing to know about - you can pull things up with half the use of power!

And there's something fabulous I've discovered about old farmhouses (ours was built in 1905) - there are little treasures everywhere. We found wood, hook and eye sets, little S hooks and managed to rig together a system quite quickly. We got the pulley set up, a new roost intact, and the coop was ready to go.

We did a lot of reading about fencing before we picked out a fence. We had three things to think about - chickens escaping, predators getting inside, and simply considering how permanent we want this to be. If we hope to rotate the chickens in the various paddocks, permanent fencing would be a mistake. We ended up going with an electronet fence. It has a solar/battery charger and it gives off just enough shock to keep you away from it - we all tried it so we know :) And quite honestly, in terms of cost,  I would consider it to be the most cost effective fencing for our particular plan. We got 164 feet for about 175 bucks - and we can move it if we want to. We set it in a location that allows the chickens to get shade, sun, as well as dust baths and plenty of places to explore.

So - lots of learning, but learning that occurred within our zpd (zone of proximal development). My husband had drawn up plans and created our city coop from scratch. Here, with a chicken coop already in place, we had to figure out how to work with what we have. With a little pulley physics, measurement, a handy power drill and a fence post driver and a lot of reading, we pulled it off. It's just the beginning of our plans. We are going to expand the coop to allow us to have two sides - one for hens, and one for meat chickens. And yes yes yes, of course I'm going to paint and doing something to make it pretty!

I think about all the learning that went into getting our coop "chicken ready" today, and I wonder, why are we allowing the corporations to drive public education - when learning could be so different? Why aren't we demanding learning that is holistic, engaging, and allows children to research, be outside more, and be mentally, physically and emotionally engaged? Learning that connects them to the earth? Learning that connects them to solutions for our many many problems?  I wonder when the education revolution will occur - will the students lead it? Will they be so bored from the absolutely mind-numbing scripted online learning that they revolt? I fear with the direction the unions are going (normalizing charters and unionizing charter teachers and supporting ESSA), there's very little hope of a mass teacher uprising. Those that stand strong to demand all for all children are sadly chastised and labeled purists. It's an incredibly difficult world to navigate these days. I have immense respect for my teacher friends who are still pushing forward.

In the meantime, we have happy hens. We picked them up at the neighbors where they've been the last four months and there have been no complaints thus far. Happy Bring Our Chickens Home Day. Enjoy the pics my chicken friends!!!

Luke puts Mrs. Piggle Wiggle over the fence

Electronet fence

Happy happy chickens 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Interregnum

I pulled up my blog a few days ago to see when I wrote my last entry. It was in March of 2017. Almost six months of no blogging! Very rare for me. I left my job in Aurora Public Schools in May of 2016. A lot has transpired in the last year and a half - for all of us. My dear friend Morna and I refer to this "space" we are in as the interregnum. You can find out more about the interregnum at Morna's blog educationalchemy.com .

The interregnum, in the simplest terms, is a gap. However, if you are interested in exploring the interregnum more there's some good information here. I think of it as a space in time where we must reposition ourselves, reflect, rethink and hopefully radically reorganize our vision for our world, our children, in an effort to salvage what is left. But also, to make it better in every facet we can imagine. It's a huge order. It's scary. It seems impossible. And there are many distractions right now. A lot of folks will simply say to you - seriously - it took you THIS long to see that this was needed? They were right.

As an activist I've had to rethink my role. As an educator I've had to rethink my role as well. I've been poking around trying to figure out where to go, where to land, and how to contribute. As I've been sitting in this interregnum I've been reflecting on what exactly I've done as an activist in my life. I haven't always been focused on education. As a child I actively protected friends who I felt had been judged unfairly, going so far as to steal their toys out of the teacher's desk and return them to the owner  - believing the teacher had no right to take something that wasn't hers. In kindergarten I skipped school one day. My first foray into schooling was unpleasant. The teacher yelled all day and I was miserable. So one day, I decided she had no right to my day, my time, my life, and I skipped. I played in the neighborhood and showed up  halfway through the day in an effort to protest this space and this person who left me feeling trapped and defenseless. Is that activism? I suppose any time we stand up for justice, our rights, for the rights of others, we are displaying an act of activism. In my thirties I was denied health insurance, as was my youngest son. I was told that because I had a c-section, I would be required to be "sterilized" (YES, they used THAT word - see here) if I had any hopes of getting health insurance. They told me my son couldn't be insured because, well, he was just too small. I, of course, lost it (see plates flying) - and filed complaints with the division of health insurance and soon found myself whisked off to DC to give testimony to help get health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. My complaint to the division of health insurance sent me down an activist rabbit hole that truly, I never fully understood, as it wasn't ever my area of expertise. I recall being asked a question at the hearing, and knowing that my answer needed to be succinct and impactful - I'm pretty sure I failed on that point as I was really unaware of all the big players in the room. It was a political game and I was just beginning to really understand the corporate control in our country and how I would need to think big picture, research the details, and come up with clear strategies to fight back. Shortly after that I became involved in education activism, and well, this blog tells the rest of that story.

However, in the last year and a half, because times have changed, I haven't been able to figure out what my role is moving forward. ESSA was passed and a large portion of key education leaders (including the unions) stayed silent as this corporate takeover of the public schools rolled out. Relay Graduate School was ignored until it was too late. Charters have been normalized and unions plan to unionize charter teachers. Artificial intelligence is the name of the game in public education. Corporations are drooling over the opportunities to be had with social impact bonds.  Daily online testing is here. And truthfully, the push back has been inadequate - I include my own push back in this statement. I know a lot of people who want to push back, but they are struggling with exactly how to do it. It's so many fights on so many fronts. There is an idea shared in this post that could have an impact. Meanwhile, there has been a push to normalize these changes, and accept crumbs and compromise. There is a HUGE push to demand that our children behaviorally demonstrate acceptance of all these new changes to come. In other words, you better damn well like it or we will behaviorally modify you to make sure you LOOK and ACT like you like it. There was a reason ESSA included social-emotional data as a factor. It sure as hell isn't because someone cares about your child's feelings.

I have moved on, past my previous role within education activism, and am beginning to find a space in which I can contribute again. I don't know how not to write, as it's part of how I breathe. So, I'm breathing again and I'll let the words land here once more.

Let me give you a quick update, intro so to speak, so you can see where this blog is headed, if you are still reading at this point. My family left the city of Denver. We moved to the western slope of Colorado. We live in a tiny tiny town. My first instinct to move occurred while reading Micah White's book, The End of Protest.  He discusses the concept of moving to small rural areas and getting involved politically to rise up and reclaim our lives, our world. He believes that small towns are one way to begin to reclaim what is ours. Next, I had entered a space in which I knew I no longer could teach in the corporate, militant, abusive conditions that exist in the public schools. Finally, my husband had a career opportunity that came his way, and we took it. So here we are. Our goal is to create a self sustainable little farm. We are in a privileged position and I don't take that for granted.

We move into our house this week. It's an old farmhouse with two acres and we hope to work the land, teach our boys things I believe they should have learned in school, and meanwhile I'm going to do my best to write about our journey in a way that might contribute to thoughts and ideas about how schools could be radically transformed. I'm tired of watching the corporations take over every aspect of our lives; and I want to help my boys get a glimpse at more activist strategies that can be used to stop the corporate, incessant and calculated destruction of our lives and world.  If we have any hope of stopping Monsanto, every child needs to know how to grow a garden. I know my youngest child would rather be outside gardening then sitting in front of a computer testing day in and day out - why aren't we demanding these things as part of the curriculum? What parent would choose online testing over a school garden, if given this option? And I don't mean outsourcing like learning ecosystems. Heck no, I mean AT THE SCHOOL. Have you noticed that we are no longer given "options?" Technology owned by corporations are determining our children's fates.

I recall during my childhood days how 4H clubs were chuckled at a bit. There was this sense that farming and raising animals was not a valued skill among us cultured city folks.  My son will be in 4H here. I only wish I had been in 4H as a child. Yes, I will have to negotiate the far right and very white constituency that encompasses 4H but I also had to navigate through the Trump signs in my suburban neighborhood back in Denver as well as the confederate flag on the truck across the street.

I have so much to learn while I work my way through the interregnum. I use to absolutely cringe at the thought of raising animals for meat. After reading about how they are processed in these huge factories, and watching how they are jammed together while they are alive, I have changed my mind.  I, of course, had read about all this before while sitting in my city kitchen, but it wasn't ever present in my mind as it is now that I live in a rural area where I am surrounded by animals. I was detached from this reality.  I've decided that if I am going to eat meat and I actually have the opportunity to raise animals for meat in a humane fashion, then the responsible thing to do is to figure out how to do it - says the city girl who hates bugs and loves a good latte, and yes, on a few occasions let her city chickens come into the kitchen.  I am no longer on social media so I won't be sharing my blogs in that sense. I tried to get back on social media and found that it was just no longer productive for me. If you are reading this blog and you were a friend of mine on FB, I hope all is well with you. 

More soon....feel free to let me know what you are up to in the comment section, the more strategies we can share during this interregnum, the better.

For my education activist friends who are out there fighting their way through this interregnum, keep kicking ass.

And for my chicken friends, there will be pictures soon, many many pictures. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Jewell Elementary & Aurora Public Schools Skirt Law

Letter sent to Colorado State Board of Education, as well as media, senators who sponsored bill, Aurora Education Association, Aurora superintendent office and Aurora school board.

Dear Board Members,

I wrote to you last week concerning PARCC incentives that are occurring at Jewell Elementary in the Aurora Public School District. See here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/03/08/school-offers-incentives-to -get-kids-to-take-common-core-standardized-test/?utm_term=.ac09ab89615a 

The incentives are still moving forward. There is a lot to be concerned about here; it's clear that HB 15-1323 (often referred to as the opt out law) is not being followed. Jewell plans to exclude "opt out" students from PARCC rewards.

However, in addition to that, Jewell plans to have negative consequences for students who do not show great effort. How is effort determined? Trying to determine effort will be very subjective, and sadly, will impact children who need the most support. Children who have behavior issues, or simply can't sit still, may be punished simply because they cannot endure these long testing sessions. As a teacher, I can assure you that these testing sessions are brutally exhausting.

I am told that the word "extracurricular" is how Aurora is getting around the law. They believe prizes and celebrations for test participation do not count as "extracurricular."  Therefore, they believe there are no negative consequences for children. I am a bit floored by this attempt to twist the law. Raffles and parties which exclude children are clearly negative consequences for opt out children, regardless what one might think "extracurricular" refers to.

I looked up the definition of extracurricular and I'm pretty sure that raffles and parties do not fall within the normal routine of the school day at Jewell. For a district to attempt to skirt the law in such a manner is disgraceful.

I would really appreciate your help with this. If Aurora is allowed to do this, it sets a clear precedence for other districts. There should be no enticements for testing and children should not be punished for so-called low effort or opting out.  The "opt out" portion of the law is worthless if opt out children can be punished simply because someone has decided that prizes and parties are not considered extracurricular. Finally, punishing children who have "low effort" is cruel and targets our children with the most needs. This particular section of HB 15-1323 (see page 16) must be honored, otherwise more districts will move forward with such bribery and punishment.

Thank you for your help.


Peggy Robertson

Friday, March 10, 2017

Retweet to @aurorak12 please re: PARCC incentives at Jewell Elementary

If you read my post from last Sunday you will know that there is currently a PARCC incentive plan afoot in my former school, Jewell Elementary in the Aurora Public School District. The plan will reward students who show great effort on PARCC and who attend on all testing days. It will punish children who do not show great effort. It will punish students whose parents have opted them out.

As you can imagine, the children who don't show great effort will be the children who are struggling in some shape or form, whether it be due to problems at home, stresses at school, lack of food, fatigue, emotional and behavioral needs that are not addressed, the list goes on. So, our neediest children who test will be punished for lack of effort. The opt out students will be punished because their parents are refusing to allow their children to participate.

This week has been a week of attempting to shut this PARCC incentive plan down. You can read more about it in these links:


Washington Post (Answer Sheet w/Valerie Strauss)

And Peter Greene did a nice piece about testing bribes here.

Currently there are lots of rumors running around so it's hard to know how this will be resolved. These PARCC incentives are not in compliance with the House Bill 15-1323 which was passed in 2015. There is some indication that Aurora believes they have skirted the law successfully because the PARCC incentives occur during school hours (HB 15-1323 states you cannot deny opt out students "extracurricular" activities, which apparently is being translated as activities after school). Jewell is planning raffle prizes and a party during school hours.

So, does that mean it's okay to punish children during school hours only? Not after school?

There are some rumors that Jewell might pull back from such a harsh stance and bend the policy a little. But the PARCC incentives will indeed remain.

This is not okay. Our children are not dogs to be given treats. Our children should not be taught that compliance is the best policy. Our children should not be taught that this test has any value whatsoever to a child's life. As Stephen Krashen states regarding these tests, "The tests only serve to enrich the oligarchy. There is no evidence that they help students."

There is plenty of evidence that they harm students.

Senator Holbert and Senator Kerr are looking into this - they both sponsored HB 15-1323. Hopefully we will hear more on this soon.

In the meantime, I would appreciate any help tweeting to @aurorak12 as well as media. You can find me on Twitter @PegwithPen. Feel free to retweet my tweets or simply create your own. We must continue to push back against policies which harm children.

Many many thanks to all of you.