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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hallelujah, hallelujah, the people are marching!

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, The People are Marching!
Admit Hasan wrote on facebook: "I like this spirit! You are great, Mr. Jesse Turner. My reply ~ "No Amit , I am just one little person, but one little person can become great and do something beautiful when he is joined by others.  It's the otherness that achieves greatness; it is the otherness that moves the spirit. Yesterday was Democracy in Action; it was Grassroots in Motion. Maybe even the sound of the people singing their Hallelujahs to the Lord. We were Great; We were Beautiful;
We were marching on Washington. This is what Dr. Martin Luther King taught us to do.  Martin was with us there yesterday, and he too said "Hallelujah" 
Leonard Cohen wrote the song
I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

It was no coincidence that Barry Lane sang that song yesterday; it was no coincidence that the thousands there sang along with him; it was no coincidence that great children, great parents, great teachers, and administrators were there yesterday. No Admit, I am not great, but our people together are great.
We never look down,  we didn't cry, we didn't beg, we did not bow down,  no indeed, we marched, we marched  just like Dr. King taught us to do.
Dylan sang:
“Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth saving”

My friends, I cannot even begin to put into words the beautiful feeling that marching brought yesterday. 

"Show me what democracy looks like ~ This is what democracy looks like"
Thousands of children, parents, teachers, and administrators chanted yesterday as we showed a president, a secretary of education, and a nation what democracy does indeed look like.
Today 11:00am and it's Save Our Schools Congress; you can bet your bottom dollar that we will be calling for another march next year!
The time to march with us is now America.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day # 3 Two visions

Where do I begin? Where does a man go when he sees his dream coming through right before his eyes. This SOS dream is real, it is so real, there is a revolution growing here in Washington DC.  For as long as I can remember I have been the lone ranger in the room saying, “but, but, but, children are more than test scores”  it’s been over a decade now of NCLB.  But here in DC everyone is a ranger, everyone is speaking up, speaking up loudly,  for children, parents, teachers, and public schools.
I am humbled by their chorus of “we are marching”. Honestly, I am in awe of these conference attendees here at SOS.

Keynote: Let me say first that Diane Ravitch is powerful, her voice carries out the truth, the suffering, and the hopes of children, parents, teachers, and our public schools. SOS have been blessed, she is our gift, and she walks in beauty!

Making the choice over which session to attend  is just too hard here. It’s like you are in the candy shop, and someone tells you everything is free.   But the sessions I could not resist yesterday was “Wisconsin Teachers Organize and Take Action on Social Justice.” Again, I just sat, listening to three teachers tell the story of how they risked it all, how they stepped up to assume leadership roles in Wisconsin. Step by step, they gave their stories on how they grew a resistance.  Three beautiful souls Amy Mizialko, Amy Daroszeski, and Judy Gundry use become organized, have mass sick outs, even how to write petitions. Their story is truly inspiring.
Being teachers of course, they had us break into small groups and share what we had learned. You know the old saying, “You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher.”
The Eureka moment for our group came as we worked on reframing the message”

A Tale of Two Public Schools

SOS Schools
Children as data
Children as test scores
Children as proficient,
Children as standards,
Children as not proficient,
Children as not being at standard.
Children as human beings,
Children as critical thinkers,
Children as artists,
Children as writers,
Children as Readers,
Children as saviors of our democracy,
Children as change agents,
Children as responsive citizens.
Children as gifts.
Schools as data factories
Schools as for profit institutions,
Schools as assembly lines of proficiency,
Schools of choice places you change like your socks, place you never really come to know.
Schools as places where teachers are silence,
Schools as places where parents are silent,
Schools as a race where most are losers, and only a few are winners,
Schools as places where students are no more than Washington DC’s data.

Schools as change agents,
Schools as depositories of our collective nation’s story,
Schools as holders of our past, present, and our future,
Schools places where our history unfolds,
School places where
our brothers and sisters went,
Places our parents went,
School where our grandparents went,
Places where our children go,
Schools places where teachers are respected,
Schools places where parents are respected,
Schools as places where children are more than test scores.

This morning, in about two hours time, I am marching.  We are marching as SOS, we are marching in the light of God.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day number 2 at SOS

We are not alone any more.  For the first time in many years I sat back, and listened to other people fight the good fight.  After two years of walking for change I was able to sit down, and rest these tired feet. The SOS House is full; people are not on their knees, they are not silent; they are working for change.  This  house is not a house of silence and apathy, it is the house of change, and we are marching.
 Jonathon Kozol gave the challenge, and the challenge is being met by people from every corner of America. This is a sharing of actions, a sharing of resistance stories; this is a sharing of parents, teachers, educators, and yes-even students.  There are vocal students here from New Orleans, and I am in love with their energy, their passion, and most of all their commitment.

Yesterday I attended the session “ The New Parent Involvement” by Parents Across America’s Karran Harper Royal and Pamela Grundy. I leaned that our parents in New Orleans and Charlotte-Mecklenberg, North Carolina are truly organized, fighting back with information, and resisting the mental slavery of NCLB/RTTT.
Pamela shared the story of how parents reached out to teachers, and how a North Carolina district chased a “Can’t Get Enough testing crazed Superintendent” out of Charlotte-Mecklenberg.  Karran took us through the tragedy of what is happening to the New Orleans Public Schools where state approved charter schools use push-out/trick out schemes to remove special education and low performing students from their schools.  Their goal is to get these students out . This is why The Southern Poverty Law Center is suing the State of Louisiana. Karran said “ I am here to tell you that New Orleans is the canary in the coal mine, and the canary is dead! Please do not replicate what is happening in New Orleans”.

Another session I attended was “Think/Do Tank”
Mike Klonsky led a brain storming session on how we need to defend ourselves from the forces of privatization in public education. This session was like something from the 1960’s. At this session we began the work of building a foundation under this resistance to NCLB/RTTT.
This session focused on reframing the public school debate from teacher bashing to supporting teachers, children, and our local schools.
When asked about why people were here…over and over again conference attendees said “we are here to march, to act, do something, to stand up for children and teachers, and we are marching”.
My favorite moment came from a Principal named Buzz Howard who said: “We should frame this discussion around who we are and what we do.
 I suggest the following mantra:
We are your public schools, the place where young people come to develop habits of
·      The mind and intellect
·      Character and citizenship
·      Social and emotional intelligence
In a nourishing and challenging environment to become happy, responsible, and responsive participants in American society. The place where teachers are professional men and women who make school work”

At the end of the day we invited the White House to our March:
We sincerely appreciate the interest of the White House in the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action. We’d be pleased to host any White House or Department of Education personnel on the Ellipse on Saturday so they can hear firsthand what teachers, students, parents & community members from around the country have to say about public education. Thousands of concerned citizens will be sharing their experiences and their thoughts on the future of our schools. July 30th is your opportunity to listen to us. After the March, we will be open to meeting with White House or Department of Education leaders to further discuss our specific proposals.

All in all, the cat is out of the bag, the revolution is here, and we are marching. Come one, come all to DC, your schools need you this Saturday.
I am marching,

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Walking Man is in DC!

This one is rough people it’s nearly 2:AM, and I just unpack. I’m in DC people. I'll edit it in the morning, but in the meantime I want my readers to feel what it is like.

Well, well, well, the Walking Man is here in DC for the Save Our Schools March. I am looking forward to attending the SOS conference at the American University, and meeting all those stand up do right marchers. A year ago Bess Altwerger, Sabrina Stevens, Vivian Vasquez, and I were praying someone would show up in DC last Labor Day to hear about my walk to DC, and to discuss the negative impact of NCLB on children, parents, teachers, and local schools. 80 people show up at Bus Boys and Poets, and 25 people show up at the American University the next day. We saw that as a success. Bess Altwerger always said Jesse walks this year, and next year we all walk. We joined Chris Janotta and Laurie Murphy from SOS Million Teacher March, because they said they were marching to DC. We started plotting, but the National Park Service said we would need to raise 150, 000 to hold a rally in DC.  Well that left some of us with shaky legs, but Bess said we could do that! I like to say I felt confident about that, but I was shaking in my boots.
The seed for Save Our Schools started there short a 150, 000 dollars. Somehow Laurie and Bess convince people we could to it. We wanted parents in so we grew into Save Our Schools March and became a genuine grassroots movement when Rita Sonnet from “Parents Across America” said we’re in. Then Rita said I think I might be able to bring Diane Ravitch on board as well. Anthony Cody’s Teacher Letters To Obama were always in, but when they officially came on board things really started to take shape.   
CELT, the Center Expansion of Language and Teaching, (CELT) gave us our first real donation, (We were only 149, 000 dollars away at that point). Then brought the NCTE, (National Council of Teachers of English), and IRA, (International Reading Association). CELT members kept their support coming, and Diane Ravitch not only came on board like Rita said, but gave us a 10,000 donation, (only 139,000 short then). Then the endorsements just started rolling in every single day, and people started giving small donations 10 and 20 dollar ones. They started to add up. We were nearly at 90,000 with those small donations. I forgot to mention that the Freedom came on board. They empowered us, and lifted us morally and spiritually as well. They wanted to come, but needed help. Matt Damon even kicked in some money to help bring the Freedom Riders to the March as well, and said I’ll be there my mother is a teacher.
Then the American Federation of Teachers said we want in, and we want to help, and help they did. Next the National Education Association jumped, and started helping as well. Parents, educators, and teachers started registering for the conference, the conference sold out, but people said that’s alright we are still coming for the march.
People came through it looks like we raise the necessary funds, but the executive committee is still a little worried that we might end owing money. We have put our names on the line for this, and let me tell you I haven’t slept easy for the past 6 months. We most certainly are grassroots.
My Momma use to say sometimes a person has to testify. You just have do what is right no mater what the consequences. She knew silence and apathy are not acceptable.  That who we “Save Our School Marchers” are the do right- no matter what people.

Well back to my walk from Connecticut to DC to protest NCLB/RTTT I met with individuals, small groups (2-4 people), and groups ranging between 12 to 30 people all along the way.  One day I calculated I met and spoke to roughly about thousand people on my walk. A couple of newspapers gave my walk a passing glimpse. No CNN, MNBC, or Fox news they were too busy hanging on every word Arne Duncan had to say. Not one person out of that thousand told me they had a positive view of what NCLB was doing to their children and schools, and messages of support were coming by the truck load from Facebook groups like "Stop Senate Bill 6", " Parents Across America, Teacher letters to Obama. These were my lifelines on the days were no one show up. Teachers and parents from every corner of America started emailing me, and posting messages on our Facebook Children Are More Than Test Scores group. Membership in that group went from 2 in March to over 7000 members a year later.  Last year people use to say are you really walking. This year people are saying walk Jesse walk.
I’m in DC Secretary Duncan, and I am available to meet with you anytime you are ready. I think you know my message, but just in case Mr. Secretary I am here to tell you that Children Are More Than Test Scores.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why the Walking man is Marching.

The Walking Man is marching

First: The differences between Real Experience, and a CEO who has people at his call:

My name is Dr. Jesse Patrick Turner, the Walking Man.  I’m the guy who walked 400 miles in 40 days from Connecticut to DC last August protesting No Child Left Behind & Race To The Top policies.  I just might be the guy who got this whole Save Our Schools March actually moving.
Take a seat ~ this may take a while…
The road that brings me to the Save Our Schools March is indeed long and winding.  To begin with, I am the product of a public school education.  I grew up in poverty, and I attended public schools that the current No Child Left Behind Policy would have certainly labeled as failing schools. I am an educator, who for the past 30 years has worked in the trenches next to children, parents, and teachers.
Arne Duncan our nation’s Secretary of Education on the other hand, is a CEO, a former semi-pro basketball player, who tutored children for a year in an after school program run by his Mother. Mayor Daly of Chicago appointed Arne the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.  His friend, President Barack Obama then chose him to be the Secretary of Education in 2008. He works with other CEOs, DC policy makers, and educational leaders from across the nation. His experience as a public school is non-existence.  While my experience with CEOs is non-existence.   

However let’s go back a little further…  While Arne Duncan attended costly private schools and universities, I attended public schools and graduated from state universities.  I did not select a university on the other side of the country. I could not afford the plane tickets, the dorms, or the all you can eat meal plan. Instead I rode the downtown Montgomery Street bus, past the projects and up the hill ~ with my lunch, to the local state university, New Jersey City State University, for my undergraduate degree.  And then I walked to work right after class each day.   

My journey to teaching followed the traditional route; I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Studies and Education.  It took me six years to achieve my first degree.   Sometimes it’s just the simple things, like eating and having a place to live, you see they took precedent over my academics at times.  Contrary to many DC elites I know poverty matters, because I have lived it.

By now you should be aware that Arne Duncan and I have very little in common. He grew up in a life of privilege. Secretary Duncan’s father was a professor at a university. My father left my Mother and three sisters when I was ten years old. Secretary Duncan’s mother was educated, and ran after school programs for children ~ a lot like me. My Mom was a high school graduate and worked as a waitress.  Arne grew up in the land of milk and honey. I grew up in the land mayonnaise sandwiches. At times my family existed on welfare and food stamps.  I’ve known a Thanksgiving without a Turkey, and a Christmas without a tree.  Don’t even ask about a NJ winter without heat.  Where I grew up, if your father stay around, and had a steady job you were lucky. The only professionals in my neighborhood were teachers, police officers, and fire fighters.   They were our role models.  I imagine in Arne’s neighborhood there were doctors, lawyers, judges, CEO(s), and probably a few political makers and shakers.  I doubt if there were many teachers that could afford to live in Arne’s neighborhood.

The schools I attended were my salvation, and those teachers were all my heroes.  Not because they had the blessings of the United States Department of Education, or because they attended prestigious Ivy League Universities.   They were heroes because often they were the only adults who cared what happened to us. Our teachers were there for the long run, from Kindergarten to 8th grade, and then all through high school.  We had the same teachers as our friends, our siblings, even our parents.     There was no need for two-year missionaries who came to save America’s schools. Our teachers went the distance.

With my Bachelor’s Degree in hand, I followed my heroes into teaching. It was only natural that the spark for learning lit by those teachers would inspire me to continue my education.  I earned two master’s degrees, one in supervision and urban education, and another in remedial reading.  All of three of my first degrees were at the same university, the one I used to ride the bus to. The only difference for my master’s degrees was I drove to classes.

That reading bug caught me during my second master’s degree.  Eventually I would cross the country to earn my Ph.D in Reading, Language, and Culture at the University of Arizona.  I eventually found myself back on the east coast in Connecticut, as the Director of the Literacy Center at Central Connecticut State University.   For the past actually work with children, parents, and teachers.   Where as the secretary calls on others for answers, I call upon my own real experiences of working with children, parents, and their teachers, and the knowledge base that come with three advance degrees in education.  

I know first hand the pain of children and parents who have suffered the consequences of a policy that claims Poverty does not matter; Small classes don’t make a difference, and Hiring more tutors and reading specialists are not necessary for children with special needs.   This ridiculous policy has spent nearly one trillion dollars on new assessments, new standards, and teacher proof curriculums.  All of which the data now (after 10 years) clearly demonstrates little, or no impact on closing the achievement gap.  Arne Duncan  seeks to close the achievement gap of our nation through testing and with competitive grants. While I work on it, one child at a time.  There is something to be said about real experience.  There is something to be said about saving the world ~ one child at a time.  My teachers used that same one child at a time approach to save my friends and I, from the gangs, the drugs, and the violence of the inner city back in the 70’s.

Second the difference between a balanced assessment framework and the policy rhetoric of NCLB/RTTT:
Some thirty years of learning about assessments, and working with struggling readers helps me to understand that any assessment on its own is at best a limited snapshot of any one person at any one time.  While I have no particular angst with standardized assessments, I fully understand that on their own they offer no court of appeals, and their objectivity is at best ~ cold and heartless.  For our government to have made such measures the single major focus of evaluating our public schools, and each child’s academic success, is folly at best.  Without a doubt, it is the most blatant act of violence ever committed by any United States Department of Education against America’s children.

I have absolutely no objection to including standardized assessments in a balanced assessment framework, I include them, but cannot give them precedent over other measures.  Standardized assessments give only one angle of any child.  A balanced assessment framework views academic achievement as a photo album of performance, over time.  It measures the whole child, not isolated pieces. It includes many pictures of a child’s progress from multiple performance indicators. It includes the voices of children, parents, and teachers. Yes indeed, I think children and parents should have a say in what goes into that photo album of performance.  Again standardized tests are included, but they weigh no heavier or lighter than other parts of the assessment. This is what balanced is all about equal values. All data is important within a “Whole Child” perspective. We should not only assess on demand reading and writing tasks.  We should allow children to include the writing pieces they select. The piece they were motivated to read and write about the one they chose.  There should also be a place for the work they do in school everyday.  Grade point average counts in a balanced assessment framework. With standardized measures the view we have is limited to what a child can do when not being guided by a teacher.  Most of school, just like the work place, is about what we do with others under the guidance of someone.
The current educational policy rhetoric relies solely on isolated not integrated assessments. These assessments break down reading, writing, and math into isolated components.  Any Graduate Assessment Course clearly presents the concept of the whole child and the need for a balanced assessment framework.  However Secretary Duncan never had the opportunity to sit-in on that course. He has his people to call upon, but something tells me his people never took this course themselves.  The fact that Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond is speaking at our Save Our Schools rally is an indication that Secretary Duncan is not even listening to the Assessment Experts he calls into the Department of Education for advice.

Thirdly top down driven mandates will meet with resistance every time.
There is a vast difference between rhetoric and real experiences.  After a decade of DOE leadership, our nation is bewildered as to how 85% of our public schools will be labeled “Failing Schools” by 2013 ~ who was in charge.   With data indicating the achievement gap was closing quicker before NCLB, educators and parents are perplexed as to how not one Secretary of Education during the past 10 years has even questioned this policy.   The mantra of “Testing and New Standards will save us” is repeated over and over again.  Each year America’s children lose two/three months of teaching and learning to testing and test preparation.

Every so often The Department of Education holds “Listening Tours” but they are the ones who do the talking, and no one in the DOE appears to willing to listen.   They promise things will be different in 2014, or with the re-authorization of NCLB, but our public schools continue to suffer tremendously.  Secretary Duncan has publically claimed that educators are elated with his policies ~ every chance he is given. We have testified, e-mailed, written letters and reports explaining our opposition to NCLB/RTTT policies to no avail. Lately we have taken to the streets to walk, to protest, and now we are marching to the White House to inform the Secretary of Education that enough is enough.  
Albert Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.
Not only does No Child Left Behind fail Einstein’s imagination standard, but it relies on an antiquated means of measuring literacy.  It uses 20th century assessments in this the 21st century.   Literacy has changed dramatically over the years, it is now communication engineered through digital lenses.  A lens that already dominates the lives of our children both in and out of their classrooms.   Standardized assessments have little chance of catching up to the literate lives of our 21st century students.

Finally returning to why I am marching?

Some are marching for equitable funding across all public schools and school systems.
Some are marching for full public funding of family and community support services.
Some are marching for full funding for 21st century school and neighborhood libraries.
Some are marching for an end to economically and racially re-segregated schools.

While I applaud all the above, and gladly wave those banners.
Just like last year, when I walked those 400 miles in 40 days from Connecticut to Washington DC under the hot summer sun, I am marching to Washington DC to tell them again that “Children Are More Than Test Scores”
I marching for the teachers who inspired me to be more than just another thug.
I am marching for the guys in my neighborhood that never made it this far.
I am marching for my Mom who did absolutely everything just to keep her boy on the right path.
I am marching for my sisters who carried me on their shoulders, because they were born before ghetto girls were pointed toward college.
I am marching for Father Fitzgerald and Sister Antonelle who knew boys needed more than academics.
I am marching for every child, parent, guardian, and teacher I’ve ever worked with because they deserve some one to march for them.
I am marching to “Take Back Our Schools” from the inexperienced, the well connected, the Ivy League, that good ole DC boys club.
I am marching to let America’s CEO’s know that our schools are not for sale.
I am marching so America’s billionaires know; we welcome their gifts, but not their puppet strings.
I am marching, and I am coming Secretary Arne Duncan to DC.
Marching to DC,

My song for today is James Taylor's Walking Man