Thursday, May 29, 2008

Clinton Backers Plan Rules and Bylaws Protest

By Garance Franke-Ruta
The cracks in the divided Democratic Party just got a little deeper.

A group of high-profile Hillary Clinton supporters, Democratic fundraisers
and Florida Democrats is planning to hold a day-long rally Saturday outside
the Washington hotel where the Democratic National Committee's Rules and
Bylaws Committee Meeting will be considering the fate of votes cast in the
Michigan and Florida primaries to call attention to what they say is the
exclusion of women's voices from the democratic -- and Democratic -- process
and the disenfranchisement of Michigan and Florida voters.

"Our purpose is not to divide the party or attack the DNC or Senator Obama,"
said the Hillary Rapid Responders, one of the rally planners, in an online
announcement of it. "At the same time, Hillary's strong support cannot be
dismissed in DNC efforts to unify the party."

The rally is perhaps a more unusual intra-party affair than such words
suggest, pitting powerful Democratic women against a party for which they
have done much.

The event is being co-organized by the Women Count PAC -- founded by five
top Clinton supporters, including longtime Clinton friend and fundraiser
Susie Tompkins Buell and Stacy Mason, a former editor of Roll Call - -and a
coalition of disparate other groups working under the umbrella of the New
York-based group Count Every Vote '08. It will draw together some of
Clinton's most loyal backers and be emceed by Jehmu Greene, the former
president of Rock the Vote who sat on the DNC committee that spent 2005
trying to reform the party's primary process.

Announced speakers so far include National Organization for Women President
Kim Gandy and Florida Democratic congresswoman Corinne Brown. Organizers say
that they expect individuals to come in from 26 different states for the
rally, as well as some major celebrity speakers, and that they are receiving
logistical assistance or other support from the pro-Clinton United
Federation of Teachers and EMILY's List. The group Florida Demands
Representation, organized by James Hannagan, will also be there.

The rally was the brainchild of a young Clinton fundraiser and New York
attorney who is a member of Count Every Vote '08, according to the group's
spokeswoman Karen Feldman, a political consultant from Hudson, N.Y., who
specializes in female candidates. Count Every Vote '08 first came together
in mid-March to lobby Democratic superdelegates on behalf of Clinton. "When
we started we were a group of women primarily supporting Hillary Clinton,"
said Feldman of the initial team, which also included legendary N.Y. Clinton
fundraisers Ricki Lieberman, Pamela Hayes, and Barbara Layton, as well as
Allida Black, the project director and editor of The Eleanor Roosevelt
papers at George Washington University who has known Clinton for years
through human rights circles.

Black also joined together with Tompkins Buell to start Women Count PAC two
weeks ago, along with Clinton fundraiser and Silicon Valley executive Amy
Rao, former Roll Call editor Mason and corporate communications specialist
Rosemary Camposano. The group raised more than $250,000 in four days,
Camposano told The Trail, and used that money to buy ads in the New York
Times, USA Today and four newspapers in Kentucky and Oregon.

In response to the ads, "we started getting e-mails and phone calls -- just
thousands and thousands of women saying, 'How we can stand up?' 'How can we
help?'" says Camposano. "We've been hearing from women who feel like women,
as group, we are 51 percent of the country and we don't have a voice when
getting heard in the media. ... We're hearing from the women who feel
completely outraged about being ignored in this process and being

The latest ad, which ran in the Times over the weekend, called on women
readers to attend the May 31 rally.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Goin’ Abroad, Goin’ Local - from The Wave

May 16, 2998
Goin’ Abroad, Goin’ Local
by Norman Scott

Tokyo Notes
The conga line snakes around the arena. 450 kids from 24 countries on five continents. We are in Tokyo. The children are between nine and 17 years old and we are at the end of three days of competition at the Asian Open FIRST LEGO League tournament.
The kids are from Peru and Brazil; a bunch from the US, Canada and Mexico; five from China; teams from Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea; many from Western Europe – France, Spain, Germany, Holland, all the Scandinavian countries; and Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia. We were disappointed to hear the two teams from Israel had to cancel at the last minute - we could have solved the Middle East in those three days.
I was asked to be one of four referees – the other three were Japanese college students, only one of whom spoke English. Yikes! I’ve never been a referee and didn’t really know the game well enough, especially in such an intense competitive environment – sort of like being asked to umpire your first game in the World Series. But they needed an English speaker. I spent part of the 14 hour plane ride studying and then raced around on the practice day getting all the rules straight, relying a lot on
Tomo, the English speaking student, who ended up being my ref partner throughout the tournament – thank goodness – after I made sure to recruit some of the Europeans to join us. It turned out many of them were in my boat – helping organize and run tournaments but never having time to learn the intricacies of the game.
This year’s theme was energy – the Power Puzzle – and teams also have to do research on solving the energy crisis and do a presentation in front of a panel of judges. So, things were a bit chaotic and on the first day we didn’t get out until 8 PM. Later that night a group of us gathered in the lobby going over the rules until 11 PM. I marveled at the fact that here are adults spending hours working on this stuff and taking it so very seriously to make sure it goes ok for the kids. But that is what working with FIRST robotics is all about.
The refereeing went pretty well, though there were kids from two Chinese teams pretty mad at Tomo and me for some of our rulings. One of the kids spent a half hour arguing with me and I told him he should be a lawyer. The next day all the kids came over to take pictures. Having this kind of contact with kids after so long an absence was the great benefit of the trip. It is the major thing I miss about teaching.
We had two contrasting NYC middle schools - one public school (Herman Ritter) from the South Bronx and the other a private school (Little Red School House) from Manhattan where the kids raised $1200 in bake sales to assist the Ritter kids in getting to Japan. Ritter returned the favor by taking Little Red to dinner in Tokyo, the idea of Bronx FLL organizer Gary Israel (my roomie) who has been instrumental in promoting the Ritter kids.
This trip turned into a unique opportunity to interact with a great variety of adults and children from all over the world. I was fortunate in having Marcio Noguchi as a traveling companion. Marcio, of Japanese descent but born and raised in Brazil, lived in Japan for nine years. He now works for Credit Suisse in New York, so he brings a perspective of three continents to the table. We spent a lot of time together walking miles around Tokyo, so I got some great insights, illuminated after a sampling of sake at one restaurant. Afterwards, we went staggering – er - looking for ice cream and not finding a place, ended up at an all night McDonalds for shakes. It is a five story vertical place with stools at counters where some people spend many hours studying. Marcio left his motorcycle in my driveway and some of my neighbors were concerned that I was going through some kind of phase.

Back to Earth Day in Rockaway
The remarkable Jeanne Dupont, who heads the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance and organized the 2nd annual Earth Day on May 3 (two days after I returned) asked me to set up a display of the Power Puzzle for the event. (Native Rockawayite Bob Woods from LEGO Education also had a display on building solar cars.) Despite somewhat iffy weather conditions, we were visited by some of the local schools that expressed an interest in FLL robotics for next year and I hope to be able to assist them. Registration for Climate Connections, this year’s theme, is already open. FLL is not just for schools, but also for clubs and neighborhood teams. We even had a NYC Parks Dept. Team from Staten Island this year. Contact me if interested.

Goin’ more local
I retired six years ago because I wanted to have the time to do other things. I had been in a pretty cushy job for the previous four years in computer support and didn’t feel the need to go, other than time was a-wasting.
FIRST robotics was the first thing I did and have been handling registration and team recruitment ever since. I also have been deeply involved in educational and union issues and other activities, mostly Manhattan based.
In the past year or two I have been getting more involved in local activities in Rockaway. I’ve been doing a lot of video work along with my friend Mark Rosenhaft (NorMark Film.) Last night I attended my first local Planning Commission meeting videotaping with filmmaker Jennifer Callahan for the upcoming “Bungalows of Rockaway.” The major issue was the sometimes controversial re-zoning plan. In a very crowded meeting, there were lots of illuminating things going on, with some East/West Rockaway fault lines showing their cracks.
It would be beneficial for more people to find ways to work together. A group of Manhattanites have become part of the east end community as bungalow owners and that adds an interesting dynamic that bears watching.
Mark and I spent a year as co-producers, editors and cinematographers on “Dispatch,” a film that will be shown at the upcoming Rockaway Literary Arts and Film Festival. That experience made me more aware of local events that are worth getting involved in.
We recently interviewed The Wave’s Howard Schwach for a segment on Manhattan Neighborhood Network. When I showed it to the group I am working with, one of the people said, “I did the interview with him for Channel 4 when the plane crashed in Rockaway.” She is Rita Satz, who worked as a producer on the Today Show and is now retired. She has roots in Rockaway and is interested in producing the segment on Schwach.

Through the “Dispatch” film, I met Rockaway Theater Company’s John Gilleece who played a role in the film. John said RTC was looking for a videographer to tape the shows. I taped every show last year, sometimes twice. And I saw them gain when I worked on making the DVD’s. I could have watched them ten times. Seeing the shows from the booth and through a lens provides a unique perspective. Not a bad moment in any of them. Great acting, sets, spirit. There’s nothing not to like.
Having taught, my favorites are the shows with kids. Last year’s “Oliver” blew me away, not only for the quality of the show but for the way the kids were treated and how they responded. In addition to everything else, RTC does some remarkable teaching.
I’ve been around the “Annie” production from the first auditions back in January and never fail to be amazed at the kids and the adults working with them, especially co-directors Kathy Valentine and Frank Caiati. I need another column to describe the work Kathy and Frank do. (They also help paint the props.) They help create some of the remarkable spirit and energy that infuses the Rockaway Theater Company, where everyone – kids, parents, adult actors, etc. pitch in, from cleaning the theater to selling snacks during intermission. How such a small geographical area can nurture so much talent is astounding.
I can testify that Frank is a remarkable teacher, having recently completed an acting class with him. And he is also a great actor. The kids are lucky to have him around, at least until he makes it big on Broadway or in film.
I saw “Annie” with a large group of friends last Saturday, some first-time RTC-goers. They will be back. I went back on Sunday to tape it and am going back this weekend to tape it again. I won’t be bored for an instant.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Education of Ms. Quinn (editorial)

New York Sun

May 23, 2008


"We're lawmakers, not education experts," City Council Speaker Quinn declared in a breakfast speech Tuesday. She proceeded to wring her hands over cuts of $191 million to the schools. If she really wants to be mayor, better she should be asking how the administration squandered the $8 billion added to the budget these past six years, even as the system serves 60,000 fewer students, and why the results are so lackluster.

When the Board of Estimate was struck down by the courts in the 1980s, the resulting charter allowed for increased powers for the City Council to provide a counter-balance to the vast influence enjoyed by the mayor. The charter has made the Council Speaker the second most influential person in the city government and term limits make her an automatic candidate for mayor.

The first speaker, Peter Vallone the elder, found the right balance. Mr. Vallone was cooperative with Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani when circumstances called for it, yet maintained an independent critical posture making the most of the Council's influence. Yet Mr. Vallone was unable to transfer his expertise and the respect it won him to success at the ballot box and was defeated in his 2001 bid for mayor.

The second speaker, Gifford Miller, took office knowing that he would serve just four years. He assumed an attack dog posture, challenging Mayor Bloomberg at every turn. This strategy ended in a disastrous electoral rout.

Ms. Quinn has taken the role not of attack dog but of lap dog. She is so in step with the mayor that it hardly seems that two separate branches of government exist. The only challenges to the mayor's agenda have been on inconsequential nonsense, such as whether children should play baseball with aluminum bats.

This has not served the public well, particularly in regard to the schools. Under Mr. Miller, the chairwoman of the education committee, Eva Moskowitz, took a hyper-critical role, holding the feet of all of the players to the fire through frequent public hearings. Ms. Quinn's education chair, Robert Jackson, has been indifferent, even somnolent.

Six years into the mayoral control experiment results are less than stellar, so one would think that Ms. Quinn and her members, who have to approve the budget that pays for this, would be engaging in some careful criticism. But they are not. Despite a 72% increase in education expenditures during this period, scores on the highly regarded NAEP tests are flat, and high school students' scores on SAT exams have actually declined.

One can argue that things were actually better for students and parents before the mayor gained control of the schools. Under Chancellors Crew and Levy, scores on the NAEP actually increased. While scores on the state tests, widely criticized as being enormously inflated, have risen (and will continue to rise) under Chancellor Klein, the rate of test score growth was actually greater during the tenure of his predecessors.

Earlier this week, throughout New York State, voters gave their thumbs up or down to local school budgets and elected school board members. Only here and in Yonkers are citizens denied such direct input into their schools. The mayor frequently asserts that when city residents elected school boards, the system was rife with corruption and political influence. The fact is that these concerns were largely eliminated by changes in the decentralization law passed at the end of 1996 at Mr. Crew's behest. In the long run, more democracy is always better than less.

Under the old system, with arguably better results, fewer of the public's tax dollars were spent, and what was spent was done with far more transparency than today. Under the "bad old system" every contract exceeding $100,000 had to be approved at a public meeting at which citizens were invited to speak their minds. Contrast this with the tens of millions in questionable no-bid contracts now awarded behind closed doors.

The mayor and chancellor see things differently. But for them to be effective they need the scrutiny of the branch of city government charged with that task, the Council. That hasn't come from Ms. Quinn, who seems to care more for the mayor's possible endorsement.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

PEN's Juanita Doyen & Seattle Teacher Carl Chew

I neglected to post this when Juanita first sent it out. It is pertinent today with Bronx teacher Doug Avella under attack because his kids boycotted their 22nd standardized test this year.



Date: April 20, 2008

Contact: Juanita Doyon, Director, Parent Empowerment Network, Spanaway, 253/973-1593

Carl Chew, Seattle Teacher, 206-265-1119 email

Carl Chew, a 6th grade science teacher at Nathan Eckstein Middle School in the Seattle School District, last week defied federal, state, and district regulations that require teachers to administer the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to students.

I have let my administration know that I will no longer give the WASL to my students. I have done this because of the personal moral and ethical conviction that the WASL is harmful to students, teachers, schools, and families,” wrote Chew in an email to national supporters.

School District response to Mr. Chew’s refusal was immediate. After administrative attempts to dissuade his act of civil disobedience had failed, at the start of school on the first day of WASL testing, April 15, Mr. Chew was escorted from the school by the building principal and a district supervisor. Mr. Chew was told to report to the district Science Materials Center where he was put to work preparing student science kits while district administration and attorneys consulted on an appropriate penalty for what was labeled, “gross insubordination.”

Mr. Chew attended one hearing at Seattle School District Office, where he was accompanied by a Seattle Education Association representative. On Friday, April 18, Mr. Chew received a letter from Seattle School District Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson which began, "This letter is to inform you that I have determined that there is probable cause to suspend you from April 21, 2008 through May 2, 2008 without pay for your refusal and insubordination to your principal's written direction to administer the WASL at Eckstein Middle School."

During his weeklong struggle with the district over consequences, Mr. Chew was supported by allies throughout the state and nation. “Carl Chew is saying ‘No!’ to high stakes testing and a resounding ‘Yes!’ to student needs and to teacher professionalism,” stated nationally renowned education activist and author Susan Ohanian of Vermont.

“There are many more teachers who are ready to follow suit. They just need an example and leader,” states one Washington teacher.

Organizations and individual allies are now working to replace Mr. Chew’s lost wages. “Though a minor gesture in response to your so much larger gift, I plan to contribute to your salary for the two-weeks the schools aren't paying,” was the response of one colleague from Washington.

Parent Empowerment Network will be presenting Mr. Chew with a check for $200 to help alleviate his loss of wages and is encouraging organization members to also support Mr. Chew with words of encouragement and monetary contributions. The Vermont Society for the Study of Education and Colorado’s Coalition for Better Education have also pledged contributions.

The following is a full statement of Mr. Chew’s reasoning for his refusal to administer the WASL.

On April 15 I refused to give the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to my 6th grade students at a Seattle Public Schools middle school. I performed this single act of civil disobedience based on personal moral and ethical grounds, as well as professional duty. I believe that the WASL is destructive to our children, teachers, schools, and parents.

It is important for me to note that my disobedient action was not directed at any individual. I love being a teacher; my students are fantastic; my fellow teachers collaborate with and help me every day in numerous ways; and my school administration has always shown a willingness to listen to and support the teachers. I understand that my action has caused people pain, and I am truly sorry for that, but I could no longer stand idly by as something as wrong as the WASL is perpetrated on our children year after year.

Though my act of civil disobedience was individual, I do not stand alone in my strong beliefs. Any Internet search for high stakes testing will reveal highly regarded educators, distressed parents, and sensitive teachers with a wealth of thoughtful writing and case studies supporting my views.

The WASL is bad for kids.

To my mind the measure of successful childhood is that each child learns about who she or he is and how the world works, gains an assertive and confident self image, and feels safe, well fed, and happy. Schools, along with parents and communities, need to contribute wisely to this goal. Unfortunately, the WASL creates panic, insecurity, low self esteem, and sadness for our children.

o It is written in the language of White, middle and upper class students, leaving all others behind.

o It is presented to children in a secretive, cold, sterile, and inhumane fashion.

o There is no middle ground—children either pass or fail—which leaves them confused, guilty, and frustrated.

o Numerous questions on the test are unclear, misleading, or lacking in creativity.

o It tests a very narrow definition of what educators know children need to become well-rounded human beings.

o The WASL is given at a prescribed time regardless of a child’s emotional or physical health.

The WASL is bad for teachers.

For meager pay teachers are asked to work in extremely challenging situations, keep absurdly long hours, and, when it comes to the WASL, function in an atmosphere of fear.

o A majority of teachers loath the WASL but feel unable to speak out freely against it due to their fears of negative consequences for doing so.

o Because administrators are constantly pushing to meet federal guidelines for yearly score improvements, their relationships with teachers can become strained and unpleasant.

o Administrators and teachers suffer under the knowledge that if they do not achieve improvement goals (measured by WASL passage alone) they can be sent to retraining classes, lose their students to other schools, or have their “failing” school handed over to a private company.

o Before administering the WASL teachers mandatorily sign a “loyalty” oath promising they will not read any of the test questions.

o Teachers feel devalued by the amount of time most of them have to devote to test practice and proctoring—upwards of four weeks for actual testing and many more weeks for WASL prep in many cases.

o Teachers feel used and depressed when, half a year after the test is given, they are presented with dubious WASL results—amateurish and misleading Power Point charts and graphs telling them next to nothing about their students’ real knowledge and talents.

o Teachers’ relationships with parents are compromised because they cannot talk freely with them about opting their child out or other WASL concerns.

The WASL is bad for parents and families.

o Parents have been shut out of this costly process.

o Most of them are misled by official statements about what the purpose of the WASL is.

o Many of them do not realize that they have the right to opt their children out of testing with no consequences, though in practice schools have illegally put inappropriate pressure on parents and children who have opted out.

o Many of them do not realize that teachers are, in many cases, not allowed to discuss any reasons why they might want to opt their child out. (Teachers in California went to court to secure the right to inform parents of their right to opt their children out of that state’s testing.)

o Like children, parents suffer from the same feelings of guilt and unhappiness when their children fail.

o Parents are not informed that the test is biased, culturally insensitive and irrelevant, and not a real measure of anything.

o The WASL graduation requirement has kept thousands of families from knowing whether or not their students will be allowed to take part in graduation ceremonies and celebrations—the culminating reward for 13 years of public school attendance and achievement-- with friends and families.

The WASL is bad for schools.

Even in the best of times purse strings are rarely opened adequately to public education. Where a private school needs to charge $20,000-$30,000 to educate a child well, public schools are given a third or less of that for each student. Simply, schools are strapped for cash, many of them struggling each year to fund their needs with an ever shrinking pot of money.

o While schools are generally underfunded, Washington will spend a projected $56 million in 2009 to have a private corporation grade WASL tests. These tax dollars are needed right in our schools providing more teachers, smaller classes, tutors, and diverse educational experiences for our students.

o While the federal government requires that school districts use high stakes testing to qualify for federal dollars, tests are not fully funded by the federal government.

o WASL is one of the most difficult tests used to fulfill the federal requirements, with one of the highest failure rates.

o Instead of safe, exciting, and meaningful places for our children to spend half of their waking hours, schools have become WASL or test mills bent on churning out students who are trained to answer state-approved questions in a state-approved manner.

The WASL is just bad.

o Most, if not all, teachers will agree that assessment is vital. Wise teachers know that assessments which are also learning experiences for students and teachers are the best. The WASL categorically is not a learning experience.

o I believe that individual students are entitled to their own learning plans, tailored to their own needs, strengths, and interests. Teachers know it is definitely possible to do this in the context of a public school. The WASL categorically treats all children alike and requires that they each fit into the same precise mold, and state-mandated learning plans based on WASL scores fail to recognize individual strengths of students.

o Passing the WASL does not guarantee success in college, placement in a job, a living wage, or adequate health care.

o WASL will decrease the high school graduation rate. Thousands of students who have completed all other requirements and passed all required classes will be denied diplomas because of WASL failure.

o High-stakes testing has not proven beneficial to students, teachers, schools, or communities.

In the real lives of students, teachers, and parents the WASL is an ongoing disaster.

o When I was a teacher at Graham Hill Elementary in Seattle, a number of my students received their WASL scores to find that they had “failed”. When I looked at the notices being sent to their parents I saw that each student had come to within just a few points of actually passing and that their scores were well within the grey area, or “margin of error,” for the test. The “test scientists” aren’t sure whether the student passed or failed, yet the school tells the student he or she failed. These students cried when they saw the results.

o When I first started teaching, Graham Hill could afford Americorps tutors, numerous classroom aides, and had money for fieldtrip busses and ample supplies. By the time I stopped teaching there, Americorps was gone, there were no classroom aides except for parent volunteers, and everything else was in short supply.

o Teaching and testing during my last year at Graham Hill was challenging. I was on my own in a room with 29 students, 10% did not speak English, 50 % of them spoke another language at home, several of them were homeless, and many of them had severe emotional challenges due to parental pre-natal drug use, violence, and abuse.

o No one ever asked me or any of the teachers I know whether high stakes testing was a good idea. In fact, we teachers are made to jump through seemingly endless hoops to prove our worthiness to be professional, certificated educators. Public school teachers are responsible for the educational lives of over a million students in Washington State, yet, in the end, no one actually wants to listen to what teachers have to say about what is best for the students in our care

Parent Empowerment Network Update 4/27/08

(Disclaimer for the length of this post: WASL Season, Big News Week!)

It has been a great week for the High Stakes Resistance! A sincere and hearty “Thank You!!” to teacher Carl Chew, who took the courageous and moral step of refusing to give the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to his 6th grade students. The press release by PEN, sent to all of you and to media contacts one week ago, brought a flood of phone calls to Mr. Chew, and to me, by Monday morning. Through the week, I hope you read some of the well written accounts of Carl’s refusal, his reasons for taking the steps he did and the positive reaction of the public in general. Our cause of educational justice could not ask for a more humble, reasonable, articulate and credible spokesperson.

Please take time, if you haven’t already, to visit some of the following links to news accounts and the great political cartoon depiction of Carl’s stand, by David Horsey . Carl’s civil disobedience is a national and international story. Carl has interviewed with ABC News, National Public Radio and just about every major local television, radio, and newspaper outlet. And the interest continues in all areas of the country and world. Thank you, again, Carl, for being the right person at the right time and for being willing to set aside your own comforts and privacy to enter the “media circus” that has ensued.

The abbreviated list:

Front Page Seattle Times

Front Page Seattle PI

ABC News

AP Article- Tri-Cities Herald, Tacoma Tribune and others



Type “Carl Chew WASL” into Google for lots more!

In the aftermath of local media coverage, several local commentators found it appropriate to personally attack Carl and question his motives and his right to take an action of civil disobedience. Please find the time to let these commentators know they are off base.

Robert Jamieson, Seattle PI

Lynne Varner, Seattle Times

Peter Callaghan, The News Tribune (Tacoma)

Below, I have pasted Carl’s eloquent response to these personal attacks.

As for your PEN director, I am just returning home from Vermont and New York, where I spend a few days visiting with my good friend, activist and author Susan Ohanian. I had the privilege of visiting a meeting of the Vermont Society for the Study of Education on Friday. Susan and NY educator and activist Dr. Bill Cala (Type “Bill Cala” and “Military” into a Google search and you’ll find another act of courage) and I spent Saturday working with teachers, administrators, pre-service teachers, and parents--and one member of the NY State Board of Regents-- at Suny Plattsburgh University. Subject: Resisting High Stakes Testing and NCLB.

Meanwhile… back in the state, WASL madness continues. Please check out one of many snafus of the season, front page, Olympian, . How many of these inconsistencies and outright unfair conditions exist during Washington’s high stakes testing? Our students’ diplomas should not hinge on a high stakes testing system so susceptible to local human error and OSPI folly!

The lack of seriousness with which state testing department head Joe Willhoft takes the future of our children can be read in the ABC news piece:

But Joe Willhoft, the state's assistant superintendent for assessment and student information, told that the WASL is a good tool for measuring student achievement.

Only half the questions on the test require a written response, and experts make sure they have no "unfair and biasing features," Willhoft said. "For example, we don't use the words 'tennis' or 'golf.'"

And just which experts let that Strawberry story slip through last year, Joe? Ever heard of “stereotype threat”? The same type of frustration and fear is experienced by the student who is given the wrong type of calculator for a math test and told he or she is not to ask questions. That student’s entire testing experience is in jeopardy, regardless of whether a question requires use of the calculator or not.

For those of you in the Spokane area, PEN board members Rachel DeBellis, Marysville, and Carol Carpenter, Yakima, and I will be attending a table at the WEA Representative Assembly, April 15-17. We would like to get together Thursday or Friday evening with anyone in the area who is interested in meeting. Please contact me, if you are interested or have an idea for a good place (restaurant with a meeting room, for instance) to hold a PEN get together. We will set the time, day and place and get it out to you next week.

While visiting Susan Ohanian, I picked up 20 more copies of her new book, When Childhood Collides with NCLB, which she was kind enough to autograph. PEN is offering these autographed copies as a premium to anyone who contributes $100 to PEN, either as a onetime contribution or through a pledge for a set monthly amount to equal $100.

If you believe that PEN is a valuable voice for students, parents, teachers and administrators of Washington State—and the nation— please help fund us by making a tax deductible contribution today. Activism has a monetary price tag, whether it’s the cost of websites, postage, travel, information booths at conferences, cell phones to provide 24 hour counseling access for parents opting out of the WASL and reporters wanting interviews—even while in Vermont— or the opportunity cost of no time to hold a position with an actual paycheck.

Please send contributions to:

Parent Empowerment Network

PO Box 494

Spanaway, WA 98387

Or visit to contribute through PayPal.

And finally…. A response to critics of Carl and his civil disobedience:

*Attention Students **

By Carl Chew

1) Remember there is no name calling in class. (Somehow my 6th graders can do this and still have stimulating and important conversations at the same time. When did adults forget the rules?)
2) Each of us has a right to be civilly disobedient whenever we feel inspired or forced to do so. Period.
3) I did not ask to be removed from my class. In fact I recommended to the principal that she simply reassign me during testing times. It was the school district who ultimately levied my punishment and by so doing brought this to the attention of the public.
4) My students did not know what I was doing. In no way was my class disrupted. I wrote on my blackboard, "I have something important to do and you probably will have a guest teacher. Treat them with respect. Do your best on the WASL." The students only learned of my act a week later when the media splashed it all over town.
5) I did not plan at the beginning of the year to refuse to give the WASL. I think it is a normal human reaction to want to forget painful events quickly. I would always tell myself, I won't do this again, but then forget about my discomfort. Then every spring I would wimp out and just get the WASL or other big test I had to administer over with. This year I simply decided not to be a woose (sp?). (I guess it's okay to call myself names.)
6) And yes, I have been to Olympia to protest the WASL. And I am a member of a number of organizations that are working to change or eliminate the WASL. Educators have been protesting the inequities of the WASL for years in all the appropriate places. Guess what? We can no more count on our leaders to change the WASL than we can convince them to follow the law and fully fund education in this state.
7) The Ebonic issue is interesting. It sure brings a lot of folks out into the open. Look, KVI's John Carlson will move heaven and earth to get someone he doesn't believe in to put their foot in their mouth. He asked me about my contention that the WASL was writ ten in White middle and upper class language. It is, read it. This fact alone puts a huge percentage of our children at risk of not passing. Imagine if your children had to take the test in Spanish. Would you feel that was fair? The kids in our schools speak in many different languages. Actually, I am a teacher who believes they must learn White middle and upper class English to navigate the world successfully, but I respect and value their home languages, too. To not do so would be unconscionable, immoral, and a slap at the faces of the students, their parents and communities. When I brought up Ebonic, Mr. Carlson immediately began hammering at me. He said something to the effect, you mean we should give the test in Ebonic--slang! His words, not mine. I clarified that I had used the word Ebonic because he asked for an example of another kind of English. And, I stand by my words. Next a caller said I sickened him. And then Carlson said, what would Obama say about this. He is darn good at attacking from every conceivable angle, whew! I think I did pretty well considering.
8) Okay, let's consider Ebonic or Black English or what every you want to call it. If you are brave enough, paste this link into your browser. It is a wonderful defense of my position by one of my heroes, James Baldwin. You know who he is, right? Good, you get full credit.

There have been a lot of cheap shots taken at my character and value as a teacher. Don't worry, I know who I am and what a great job I do with my students.

Enough said.

The Gothic Politics of Hillary Clinton

Courting Jim Crow

The Gothic Politics of Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton famously found her voice in New Hampshire, but it took the senator until West Virginia to relocate her inner child. Yes, she’s once again embraced the Goldwater Girl of her youth.
Once upon a time while she was still the front-runner, Hillary chastised Barack Obama for his naïve pledge to take unilateral action to assassinate by cruise missile Osama Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda leadership if their hideaway in the mountains of Pakistan could ever be located. She said such a strike would be destabilizing and in contravention of international law. Now Mrs. Clinton, following in the footsteps of her hero Goldwater, is vowing to take unilateral nuclear action to obliterate an entire nation: Iran.
In Clinton’s mind, this political regression has been validated by her wins in the Wal-Mart Belt of Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky, states where her terms on the union-busting board of Wal-Mart are viewed as a political asset.
Hillary’s neo-populism seems to have been grafted from the virulent stock of Orval Faubus and George Wallace, which fused anti-bank and anti-corporate oratory with rancid segregationist rants. (For more on the origins of the southern populist Dixiecrats read Robert Sherrill’s The Gothic Politics of the Deep South, one of the most instructive books ever written on American politics.) But whereas Faubus and Wallace actually delivered some economic crumbs to poor southern whites, Hillary offers mainly hollow and strained rhetoric. Clinton is constitutionally wedded to a stern neoliberalism, a disposition she can’t fully camouflage.
Long ago, the states of Kentucky and West Virginia entered into an economic suicide pact with Big Coal. The bill for this grim Faustian bargain has finally come due with chronic unemployment, busted unions, poisoned water, pulverized mountains, rampant environmental illnesses and chronic privation. Yet, all Clinton had to offer this desolate region was a vow to fund clean coal technologies. Clean coal is the biggest con job since energy deregulation, another fraudulent scheme unleashed in Clinton time. Low-sulfur coal isn’t clean and the latest method for extracting those black seams constitutes the most devastating form of mining yet invented: mountaintop removal. Using this barbaric method, Big Coal is steadily decapitating Appalachia and burying its valleys and hollows under mounds of toxic detritus. Communities and watersheds be damned.
Another example. Hillary came to Oregon last week. She didn’t draw 75,000 people for a speech on the banks of the Willamette River in Portland, as Obama did. Instead she headed to Beaverton, the posh suburb of Portland that is home to Nike, where she held a press conference in an empty subdivision of new upscale homes that had sat unsold for the past year. Most of the people who voted for her in West Virginia don’t earn enough in ten years of hard labor to pay for one of these houses. She communed with the developer, commiserating over the hard times of the real estate industry.
In recent weeks, the growing ranks of the homeless had camped out in front of the Portland mayor Tom Potter’s office, demanding more humane treatment. It apparently didn’t occur to Hillary to ask her developer pals to open up those vacant houses to shelter the economic refugees of the Bush era.
With his solid win in Oregon, Obama has now earned a majority of pledged delegates. He has also surpassed Clinton in super delegates. But the finality of this mathematical threshold hasn’t deterred Hillary, who vows to fight on until "we have a nominee--whoever she may be." Indeed, Clinton is now claiming incredulously that she is the popular vote leader, a number that can only be achieved if ballots cast by blacks only count as half a vote. (Obama currently leads Clinton by nearly 500,000 votes.)
Increasingly, Clinton is operating in a virtual reality programmed by her pollster Mark Penn during his downtime from working for the butchers of Colombia. Adhering to Penn’s fatal calculus, Clinton has endeavored to re-segregate the Democratic Party electorate into demographic segments and then pitted them against each other. The Clinton campaign has intentionally inflamed these simmering antagonisms: black versus Hispanic, black versus white, black versus older women, white collar versus blue collar, young versus old, under-educated versus college grad.
Back in the 1980s, Lee Atwater constructed an illusory Big Tent for Republicans, welcoming inside the Reagan Democrats—if only to soon betray their core interests. This was called the politics of expansion. In contrast, Clinton and Penn are cynically attempting to contract the Democratic base by provoking an internal Hobbesian free-for-all—total warfare of the factions.
What was once coded is now explicit. Clinton openly talks about her appeal among “working, hard working, white voters.” The implication here is that blacks are lazy, shiftless and on the welfare dole and that perhaps only half of their votes should count. But shouldn’t someone remind her that her husband dismantled welfare? Perhaps her former mentor Marian Wright Edelman should make the call.
Coming from a Wellesley grad who just loaned her own campaign nearly $12 million, Hillary’s attempts to peg Obama as an elitist requires a degree of chutzpah that might make Alan Dershowitz tingle with envy. But when the Clintons tag Obama as an elitist, they don’t mean primarily that he is rich (which he is) but that he’s an “uppity nigger.”
The Clinton camp has become so entrenched in their racial rhetoric that I’ve begun to wonder if they begin their morning strategy sessions with a screening of the Rodney King beating tape as a motivational tool.
For the dull-witted, Clinton’s surrogates are sent out spell it out in capital letters. Obama used cocaine (Bob Johnson). Obama’s middle name is “Hussein” (Bob Kerrey). Obama is a master of “shuck and jive” (Andrew Cuomo). Obama is another Jesse Jackson (Bill Clinton). Obama’s story is a fairy tale (ditto). And, most recently, Geraldine Ferraro told the Los Angeles Times that Obama is a “sexist” (most black men are, right?) and she won’t vote for him if he is the nominee.
To sum up: Obama is a drug abuser, a huckster, a secret Muslim, a con artist and a misogynist. And that’s without dragging Jeremiah Wright into the scenario.
Numerically, Obama sewed up the nomination back in March. Since then the Clinton campaign has been running largely on the fumes of her own ego, at a cost of a million dollars a day. How then can she justify persisting, especially with a campiagn freighted with such malignant themes?
Her campaign now resembles a political neutron bomb that wipes out all living contenders and leaves only the super-structure of her own aspiration standing. Apparently, the idea is to crush the interloper Obama, either in Denver, through some deus ex machina of spineless super-delegates stampeding her way, or to have McCain do her work for her so that she can challenge the septuagenarian in 2012. If so, her motto will be the familiar taunt of the schoolhouse tattletale: “I told you so.”
If Obama survives the primaries and falls to McCain in November, Hillary will attempt to remake the Democratic Party in her own image. It will replay of the origin of the conservative DLC, designed by her husband and Lieberman to keep the party from falling into the hands of Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition. This time the C will stand for Clinton.
The Clintons have always been graceless and petulant in defeat. They seek to destroy any defectors from their camp (c.f., Bill “Judas” Richardson). Now that NARAL has jilted Clinton for Obama, Hillary is probably contemplating coming out in favor parental notification for teenage abortions and joining the next senate filibuster against stem cell research.
Meanwhile, Obama is daily being drained of any vestigial progressive instinct. In order to prove he’s not an appeaser of Hezbollah, Obama is pledging to beef up funding of the Lebanese army and paramilitaries, a disastrous scheme that will only exacerbate a fractious situation. If this keeps up, there will soon be demands that Obama annul his marriage to the seditious Michelle, the last affirmative reason to vote for him in my view.
With the walls closing in around her, Hillary unveiled a final argument: Karl Rove, the man John Conyers wants to put in leg-irons in the crypt of the Capitol, says she’s the better candidate against McCain. Rove also swore there were weapons of mass destruction. Clinton fell for that one, too.
Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is just out from AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at: