Protect Transgender Students

What have we come to as a country when we no longer protect our children? What have we come to as a country when we are afraid of our own children?

The removal yesterday of Obama era protections for transgender children in our schools shames us as a country. The fact that our government sees those children as people to fear embarrasses us as a country.

Please read “DeVos Concedes to Sessions and Fails her First Civil Rights Test”.  It was written by Jason Courtmanche, who is Director of the Connecticut Writing Project at the University of Connecticut and conducts professional development for teachers across the state of Connecticut. Jason cites research that tells us that 30% of transgender youth have attempted suicide, 42% have self-injured, 63% have been bullied, and the suicide and self-injuring rates are four times the rates for straight or gender-conforming youth. Also, more than 50 percent of transgender youth avoid school on a regular basis, drop-out of school at staggering rates, and 75% of them report feeling unsafe in school.

Yet our government has decided to increase the risk to these children. Why?  Because Jeff  Sessions and Donald Trump have the power to do so. We, the voters, gave them that power. Shame on us.

The new federal ruling, because it preferences states’ rights, leaves in place Connecticut’s 2011 law that outlawed transgender discrimination, but we in Connecticut must not be complacent. Other states do not offer that protection. We must speak for those students. We must also show our Connecticut students that we are people of integrity and oppose injustice wherever we see it. We, as adults, must be the voice for all children. We, as educators, must stand up for students throughout our nation.

If you are a teacher or a school administrator, please post “DeVos Concedes to Sessions and Fails her First Civil Rights Test” in your faculty room. If you are a parent of a school age child, please bring a copy of “DeVos Concedes to Sessions and Fails her First Civil Rights Test” to your next parent meeting at your child’s school and share it with other parents and teachers. If you are the parent or grandparent of a transgender child, hug that child with a fierce tenderness in the name of all of us who oppose the shameful and fear-mongering ruling of the Trump administration.



Stop HR 610

The new administration’s attack on public education has begun, and we need to take action to stop it.

In late January, HR 610 was introduced by Steve King of Iowa, with representatives from Maryland, Texas, and Arizona signing on.

HR 610, the School Choice Act, will eliminate the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was passed as a part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty”.  Federal funds that are now given to schools will be given to parents who choose to enroll their children in private schools or to homeschool their children. Doing that will give upper middle class parents who can afford private schools for their kids help in paying the steep tuition of private schools and will leave public schools minus adequate funds to provide for the education of the children remaining in them.

HR 610 will give taxpayer money to parents to send their children to religious schools. That is a main intent of the bill. Children will be given vouchers to attend religious schools like the one that Donald Trump praised when he visited it. You can watch this video of the children at that school pledging allegiance to The Bible.

HR 610 will also roll back nutritional standards for free lunches for poor children.

With HR 610, the opportunity gap between the haves and the have-nots will widen in our nation. Education as the great equalizer will cease to exist.

Please contact your Member of Congress and object to HR 610.

It is clear that bills like HR 610 will be supported by both the U.S. Department of Education and the White House. The Trump administration favors alternatives to democratically controlled public schools. The Trump administration has an unmistakable bias against public schools.

Yet the fate of the nation rests on making sure that we have quality public schools for all children.

Defeat HR 610.

Righting the Ship

This blog is about getting education right in this country after getting it wrong for the past 15 years. But first things first. It all starts at the top. Let’s get that right first. E.J. Dionne make clear what the first step is. Sadly.

First Responders For The Nation’s Children

I urge you take a very few minutes and read this New Yorker piece by David Denby. I want to second one of Denby’s points and elaborate on another.

I agree with Denby when he writes that what is currently called “reform” in education should be put in quotation marks. There is no reform when those who know nothing about how young children learn write the standards for early childhood education.  There is no reform when one man, David Coleman, single-handedly mandates how all students should be educated as readers and writes when he has zero knowledge of how to best do that. There is no reform when taxpayer money is used to run schools for the few when the many are deprived of the use of those taxes. There is no reform when segregation is increased due to charter schools in both the North and the South. There is no reform when the public schools of a democracy become privatized and run for the profit of the rich. Branding the efforts of entrepreneurs and charlatans as reform in public education is wrong. Nothing has been reformed on their watch. Nothing has been improved.

David Denby writes about the Common Core aligned tests as being harder. But are they? Harder than what? Harder than another standardized test? Any teacher can make a hard test, one that everyone in the class would flunk. Being hard means nothing. It is what is on the test, what is being assessed that matters. It is how the students’ expertise is being assessed that matters. A standardized test may be as hard as nails, but it can never ever assess competence.

Hats off to David Denby who recognizes that teachers are the first responders to what ails our society, not the cause of it, and that those first responders deserve our support.

U.S.Education: Up To Us

Betsy DeVos was blocked by protestors from entering a DC public school. That action could be a symbol of saying NO to a Secretary of Education entering a public school for the first time in her life.  That action could be a symbol of saying NO to a Secretary of Education who does not understand what it means to learn and what it means to teach. That action could be a symbol of saying NO to a Secretary of Education who does not know how to maximize learning and support good teaching.

But physical blocking is not the answer. It doesn’t take us far enough.

We need actions that say NO to whatever Betsy DeVos tells us to do that undermines what we know is in the best interests of students.  We can start right now by:

  As parents, teachers, and school administrators, show up at local school board meetings and legislative hearings on local and state budgets and say NO to public tax money being given to privately managed charter schools which have no accountability to the public about how they spend the taxpayer money taken away from 85% of the nation’s children who are in traditional public schools.

  As parents, opt your children out of standardized tests because they do not assess learning and take valuable learning time away from students as they prepare for those tests, which are roads to nowhere. 

  As school administrators, conduct professional development for teachers about what it means to teach and what it means to learn. Familiarize teachers with the skills that students need to develop as learners and thinkers in order to succeed in the world of work and live productive and fulfilling lives.  

  As school administrators, tell teachers about the research which proves, without a doubt, that standardized tests are unreliable and invalid measures of student learning. 

  As school administrators, tell teachers to ignore the demands of the standardized tests and commission them to work together to create meaningful curriculum, firmly grounded in an understanding of how children and adolescents learn. Throw out the Common Core because it is not based on any understanding of how children and adolescents learn. 

  As teachers, continue to grow in love of your profession and love of your students and ignore what the U.S. Department of Education says and does.

  As citizens, address poverty and racism in your community and state – and see public education as the solution it has always been.

And that’s just for starters. We have the whole enterprise of U.S. education to run.  There’s no one else. Only us. Let’s get busy. 





The Times For Which We Were Made

This morning, the morning of the vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, I heard Steve Schmidt, an experienced Republican strategist, say that 48 Republican Senators know that Betsy DeVos is incompetent but do not want to spend their political capital by opposing her with a “No” vote. They would wait, he said, for a more important issue. How sad that at least one of those Senators who knows that she is unfit could not say to himself or herself: This is the place where I put my stake in the ground. This is where I begin to oppose what is ethically and legally and politically wrong with Donald Trump and his administration. Here I stand. And it is only the beginning for me.

But not one of those 48 Republican Senator had the character to vote for what he or she knew was best for the children of this country. We will not forget what they did. We will vote them out.

In the meantime, what shall we do?

The good news is that no one doubts that Betsy DeVos is incompetent so there is room for those of us with real competence about education to speak out, to advocate, to resist, and to educate the country about how children learn, about what good teaching is, about what good curriculum is, about how to best assess students, and about how public education is necessary to keep our democracy.

We must admit that Betsy DeVos is not the first person on the national scene who knew nothing or very little about teaching and learning. Bill Gates paid for the Common Core Standards and knows nothing about teaching and learning. David Coleman wrote the Common Core Standards and knows nothing about teaching and learning. Arne Duncan, who had been a director of an elementary school mentoring program and the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools but had no experience with the teaching and learning of K-12 students, knew little. He privileged charter schools and high stakes standardized testing. John King, who taught only one year in a traditional public school, also knew little about teaching and learning. He continued the anti-public school policies of Arnie Duncan and favored publicly funded, privately managed charter schools.  So we have been going down the wrong road since 2001 due to the enactment of No Child Left Behind with its focus on standardized testing and its refusal to look at the root issues that produce differences in student achievement.

Betsy DeVos is just the end result of an almost 16 year journey. I choose to believe that most of the forerunners of Betsy De Vos were well intentioned but unknowing and misguided. Betsy DeVos, however, is a caricature of a public school educator. Her intention has long been to end public education as an institution of this democracy. She has given her time and her money for that goal, and she now has the power to accomplish it.

We must step in.

I suggest that every educator in Connecticut and every parent in Connecticut pick one of the following issues to give time and energy:

  1. Oppose charter schools which are funded by public taxes but which have no transparency about what they do with taxpayer money and no accountability for the education that they provide with that taxpayer money and no record of being more successful than traditional public schools. Address the General Assembly and local boards of education. Demand transparency and accountability.
  1. Write in print and for online publications and speak to the media about what the data clearly shows are the inadequacies of standardized testing to assess student achievement, teaching expertise, or quality of schools.
  1. Write in print and online publications and speak to the media about the tawdriness of the Common Core Standards and how focusing school curriculum on the Common Core Standards denies students the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.
  1. Be a watchdog regarding the Connecticut State Budget to make sure that there are adequate funds allocated to education and that the distribution of those funds is equitable. Testify to the General Assembly. Contact your elected representatives.
  1. Oversee full and accurate reporting about graduation rates, K-12 student performance, and college retention rates for graduates of all  Connecticut schools funded with taxpayer money.

How will you do this? Where will you get the resources?

We have the force of our passion and our solidarity with one another, and we have two excellent resources:

  • Here in Connecticut, a new group, Connecticut United for Strong Public Schools, is comprised of educators in K-12 schools as well as in colleges and universities, lawyers, and concerned citizens who are knowledgeable about Connecticut legislation, Connecticut schools, and the research about teaching and learning. Members of that group will provide you with information and help you to strategize.

A friend of mine at the Women’s March in Washington DC carried a sign that said:


Indeed. Let’s get busy.

Vote No

This is what the editorial board of Betsy DeVos’s home state newspaper, The Detroit Free Press, wrote about her being voted on as Secretary of Education on Tuesday, February 7th:

Make no mistake: A vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education is a vote to end public education in this country as we know it.

This isn’t conspiracy theory, or ideologically driven slander. Look at DeVos’ own words and actions, over her long career advocating against traditional public schools; her funding of an ideologically driven pro-charter lobby; her willingness to spend whatever it takes to ensure her policy preferences become law.

DeVos is unqualified in every respect to serve as head of this critical department, and the U.S. Senate must vote Tuesday to reject her nomination.

So, by the end of the day on February 7th, we will know if the institution so vital to the functioning of a democracy, public education, is in dangerous hands. We will also know if what David Brooks warned us about is coming true. We will know if the Republican Senators have sold their souls.