Short Stuff 29.4

Seattle Students Vote with Their Feet

Not a single junior at Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School showed up to take this spring’s Smarter Balanced tests (SBAC—one version of the Common Core standardized tests), according to a school district spokeswoman.

Earlier this year, a group of teachers, administrators, parents, and students had agreed to boycott the standardized tests, but Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland threatened teachers with the loss of their teaching licenses if they didn’t administer the test. Under this pressure, the school’s leaders sent an email to families saying they would give the test after all. But the 280 juniors opted out anyway.

Doug Edelstein, a history teacher at Nathan Hale, told the Seattle Times: “Students voted with their own feet. They felt like they knew the facts and made their own decisions.”

And they made that decision all over Seattle: 95 percent of the juniors at Garfield High School opted out of the SBAC. This is the same class that made history as 9th graders by refusing to take the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test. At Nova High School, 100 percent of the 11th graders and at least 60 percent of the 10th graders opted out. At Ballard High, the figure was 95 percent of 11th graders; at Ingraham High, 80 percent.  

Adapted from reporting by Leah Todd at the Seattle Times and Dora Taylor.

Poets Start Young

April was National Poetry Month. This poem by a 1st grader in a public school in New York City’s Lower East Side was posted to Facebook by photographer Jason Gardner and reported at Studio 360 by Julia Lowrie Henderson (invented spelling preserved):

We did the soft wind.
We danst slowly. We swrld
Aroned. We danst soft.
We lisin to the mozik.
We danst to the mozik.
We made personal space.

Schoolchildren Targeted in Baltimore

When violence erupted in Baltimore on Monday, April 27, after the funeral for Freddie Gray, who was murdered by local police, mainstream news reports “described the violence as a riot triggered by kids who had been itching for a fight all day,” reported Sam Brodey and Jenna McLaughlin for Mother Jones. But it turns out that the truth was quite different.

Before school let out that afternoon, police in full riot gear had flooded the African American neighborhood. They closed the local subway station. Then, according to teacher Meghann Harris: “Police were forcing buses to stop and unload all their passengers. [Frederick Douglass High School] students were trying to leave on various buses but couldn’t catch any because they were all shut down.” In essence, they were “corralled,” a police tactic for surrounding protesters that has come under critical scrutiny in New York, Oakland, and other cities.

A parent reported on Twitter: “The majority of those kids aren’t from around that neighborhood. They need those buses and trains to get home. If they would’ve let the children go home, yesterday wouldn’t have even turned out like that.”

Another teacher told Gawker: “Those kids were set up, they were treated like criminals before the first brick was thrown.”  

Based on reporting by Sam Brodey and Jenna McLaughlin at Mother Jones.

Global Teacher Unions Protest at Pearson Meeting

Parents, teacher unions, and organizations from around the world—including the American Federation of Teachers, teacher unions from England, Australia, and South Africa, Global Justice Now, and ActionAid—protested at the Pearson stockholders meeting in London April 24. They had three demands:

  • Stop spying on kids
  • Withdraw from for-profit schooling in the Global South
  • End high-stakes testing

The demand to “stop spying on kids” stems from reports that Pearson has been watching the Facebook and other social media posts of children taking Pearson’s Common Core tests, supposedly to make sure they are not talking “inappropriately” about the test.

But the main focus of the protests was Pearson’s international reach. According to reporting in Education International, the education “market” is worth $4.2 trillion globally, and Pearson is playing an increasingly aggressive role, with enormous influence over education policy around the world. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Australia, said: “Education is a human right which should not be perverted by the profit motive. School curricula should not be patented and charged for. . . . As the profit motive embeds itself in education systems around the world, unfortunately these fundamental principles come under ever greater threat, leading to greater inequality and exclusion for the most disadvantaged children and young people.”

The same day, Global Justice Now released a report showing how Great Britain’s Department for International Development (the British equivalent of the U.S. Agency for International Development) uses aid money to open up markets for Pearson and similar companies in the Global South.

In an interview with TeacherSolidarity, David Wilson of the United Kingdom’s National Union of Teachers said: “Today represented the deepening of an international coordinated effort to resist the global education reform movement and its promoters and promulgators—like Pearson.”  

Teacher Fired for Get-Well Letters to Mumia Abu-Jamal

This May, hundreds of community members, educators, and parents called for the immediate reinstatement of first-year teacher Marylin Zuniga to her position as a 3rd-grade teacher in Orange, New Jersey. The Orange Township School Board fired Zuniga because she allowed her students to write get-well letters to imprisoned journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is in critical danger from a prison-induced medical crisis.

The students had discussed a quote by Abu-Jamal—”So long as one just person is silenced, there is no justice”—during a Black History Month lesson on civil rights leaders. When Zuniga later mentioned that Abu-Jamal was seriously ill, students asked to write him get-well letters. According to Zuniga, “My kids should be looked at as heroes because they showed compassion, care, and love, like any member of the community should show.”

Abu-Jamal has spent more than 30 years in prison, almost all of it in solitary confinement, after a legal process that Amnesty International condemns as fundamentally flawed. In April, he was rushed to an outside hospital near death from untreated diabetes and suffering from an undiagnosed full-body skin disease, severe weight loss, and multiple neurological symptoms. In the period since, he has been denied adequate medical treatment and contact with his doctors, lawyers, and family. His current condition and his continuing incarceration have been the subject of an international campaign.

Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer, and the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has strongly opposed all efforts to re-open his case. Many of Zuniga’s supporters believe the FOP applied pressure on the Orange Township School Board. According to Mark Taylor, professor at Princeton Theological Seminary: “At the heart of this matter is the question of who controls what happens in public school classrooms. As long as the FOP can influence what our children can and cannot learn, the right to democratic education is lost.”

Tamia Chatmon is the parent of a student in Zuniga’s class. “Marylin Zuniga was beloved by her students and was a wonderful teacher,” Chatmon said. “If we are thinking about what is best for the children, which should be our only concern, Ms. Zuniga would be back in her classroom.”