Monday, May 21, 2018

The History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools


We are pleased to announce that Susan Dufresne's book - The History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools has been published and is available to all!!

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/History-Institutional-Racism-Public-Schools/dp/1942146728/
“The History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools is a book intended to challenge the authority of the policymakers and misanthropic funders who are wreaking havoc in public schools, closing schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods, and pushing segregated charter schools on communities that have every right to exceptional learning environments in fully funded public schools.
The book is in three parts. In Part One Susan DuFresne writes about the remarkable journey she took that resulted in the creation of the three 15 foot graphic panels that depict historically accurate pictures of racism in U.S. public schools. In Part Two the panels depicting racism and discrimination are transformed into a graphic novel in which the paintings Susan created tell the story of three hundred years of racial injustice that is still endemic today. In Part Three the information that Susan painted in the margins of the paintings is presented together with notes from Susan on suggested questions that could be asked and actions that could be taken.
At Garn Press we applaud Susan's activism and commitment to racial justice, and we are convinced that this book is transformational and destined to be a lightning rod for justice in U.S. society. Susan, who is a teacher and activist as well as an artist of exceptional talent, writes of the three fifteen foot panels she produced:
"I felt on my brush the weight of historical injustice as I depicted the findings of my research. But I also felt the tugging of my brush to depict the fight for justice, which was also there throughout history. There have always been activists, many of them teachers, ready to fight for justice in U.S. public schools. Teachers especially have always been courageous in their resistance to racism and oppression, and I wanted to share this history to inspire others through the images I was painting to take up that truth and join the resistance movement to end institutional racism in public schools."
The paintings Susan produced are truly works of art, which have already inspired strong reactions that could quite possibly result in policy makers recognizing the negative impact they are having on the lives of students and teachers in U.S. public schools.
But make no mistake this is a book of hope as well as condemnation, which is destined to be studied by teachers and parents who want a re-Visioning of the role of public education in their children's lives, for the emphasis is also on restorative justice and reconciliation. The graphic depictions of the history of racism and discrimination unite the struggles of resistance movements - including Black Lives Matter and the Badass Teachers Association. It is a call for the re-Imagining of public schools as places of racial justice that welcome every child - in a society that recognizes the nation has an ethical responsibility to honor the civil rights of every child and to ensure that each child has the very finest education U.S. public schools can provide.
At a time when the Southern Poverty Law Center is raising concerns about the inadequacy of teaching about slavery, both Susan and Garn hope that every teacher and school administrator who has an opportunity to read The History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools will consider using it as the foundational text in the curriculum on restorative justice and the history of racism in public schools and American society.
This book supports the activism of the Badass Teachers Association and the Network for Public Education. The author and Garn Press will donate part of net profits to Black Lives Matter and to the Lakota People's Law Project.”

Friday, May 18, 2018

Pennsylvania’s Broken Testing Promise – We Don’t Assess Students Less If We Demand Constant Diagnostic Tests by Steven Singer


Downcast faces, dropping eyes, desperate boredom.

That’s not what I’m used to seeing from my students.

But today they were all slumped over their iPads in misery taking their Classroom Diagnostics Tools (CDT) test.

It’s at times such as these that I’m reminded of the promise made by Pennsylvania’s Governor, Tom Wolf.


“Students, parents, teachers and others have told us that too much time in the classroom is used for test taking,” he said.

“We want to put the focus back on learning in the classroom, not teaching to a test. Standardized testing can provide a useful data point for a student’s performance, but our focus should be on teaching students for future success, not just the test in front of them.”

So at his urging we made slight cuts to our Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests – the assessment for grade 3-8 students.

We removed two sections of the PSSA – one in math, one in reading – and reduced the number of science questions.


And that’s good news.

But it’s not exactly the kind of sea change the state claims, given the Department of Education’s recommendations for additional tests on top of the PSSA.

That’s right. The state wants schools to give the CDT assessment an additional 3 to 5 times a year in reading, math and science.

Unlike the PSSA, this is a voluntary assessment. Districts can decide against it, but the department’s flunkies are crisscrossing the Commonwealth advising we all give the CDT as much as possible.

So that’s between 50-90 minutes for each assessment. A district that follows the state’s guidelines would be adding as much as 270 minutes of testing every seven weeks. In a given year, that’s 1,350 minutes (or 22.5 hours) of additional testing!

Pop quiz, Governor Wolf. Cutting testing by 115 minutes while adding 1,350 minutes results in a net loss or a net gain?

The answer is an increase of 1,235 minutes (or more than 20 hours) of standardized testing.

In my classroom, that means students coming in excited to learn, but being told to put away their books, pocket their pencils and put their curiosity on standby.

The folks who work at the Department of Education instead of in the classroom with living, breathing children, will tell you that these CDT tests are a vital tool to help students learn.

They provide detailed information about which skills individual students need remediation on.

But who teaches that way?

Billy, you are having trouble with this kind of multiple-choice question, so here are 100 of them.

We don’t do that. We read. We write. We think. We communicate.

And if somewhere along the way, we struggle, we work to improve that while involved in a larger project that has intrinsic value – such as a high interest book or a report on a hero of the civil rights movement.

When learning to walk, no one concentrates on just bending your knees. Even if you have stiff joints, you work them out while trying to get from point A to point B.

Otherwise, you reduce the exercise to boring tedium.

That’s what the state is suggesting we do.

Make something essentially interesting into humdrum monotony.

Teachers don’t need these diagnostics. We are deeply invested in the act of learning every day.

I know if my students can read by observing them in that act. I know if they can write by observing them doing it. I know if they can communicate by listening to them arguing in Socratic seminar. I read their poems, essays and short stories. I watch their iMovies and Keynote projects.

I’m a teacher. I am present in the classroom.

That tells me more than any standardized diagnostic test ever will.

It’s ironic that on a Department of Education “CDT Frequently Asked Questions” sheet, the assessment is described as “minimizing testing time.”

That’s just bad math.

And my student’s know it.

The district just sent out a letter telling parents and students they could take advantage of a school voucher to go to a local parochial school at public expense.

When presented with the prospect of another day of CDT testing in my room, one of my brightest students raised his hand and asked if kids in the local Catholic school took the test.

I told him I didn’t know – though I doubt it. They COULD take the test. It is available to nonpublic schools, but do you really think they’re going to waste that much instruction time?

Heck! They don’t even take the same MANDATORY standardized testing! Why would they bother with the optional kind!?

It is the public schools that are hopelessly tangled in the industrial testing complex. That’s how the moneyed interests “prove” the public schools are deficient and need to be replaced by privatized ones.

It’s an act of sabotage – and with the CDT it’s an act of self-sabotage.

School directors and administrators need to be smarter. The only way to beat a rigged game is not to play.

And the only way to reduce testing is to TAKE FEWER TESTS!


Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!
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Thursday, May 17, 2018

The State Penalized My School Because We Tried to Integrate by Steven Singer



Yet in Pennsylvania, taking steps to integrate can result in a penalty from the state legislature.

That’s what happened to my school this year.

After years of innovation and academic growth, my school added a new program to bring in struggling students from another institution – and the state rewarded us by putting us on a list of “failing” schools and forcing us into a voucher program.

I teach in a racially diverse, high poverty district in the western part of the state, just outside of Pittsburgh.


But today was the first day school vouchers sunk their teeth into us, too.

It’s called the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program (OSTCP) – a ridiculous bit of legislation that allows children in struggling public schools to use public tax dollars to pay for tuition at a private or parochial school.

I’d say they could use that money at a participating public school, too, but in Pennsylvania the public schools taking part in the program can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare.

And why does my school now qualify for this dubious distinction? Because of our standardized test scores.

Not our test scores from this year. They won’t be released until at least June – more likely August or September.

This is based on test scores from last year – 2016-17.

Moreover, it’s not district wide. It’s just the middle school and one elementary school.

In previous years, the middle school was the district powerhouse. We had the highest test scores and the most innovation. So what happened?

In short, we integrated.

From a state-wide standpoint, my district is hugely segregated.

About 60% of our students are poor and/or minorities. Yet if you go a few miles north, south, east or west, you’ll find schools serving every flavor of white privilege. Beautiful big buildings with the best of everything and a tax base to pay for it. My district, on the other hand, is made to do the best it can with what we’ve got, which isn’t much.


Though we only have one middle school and one high school where all our students rub shoulders, we have two elementary schools – one for the middle class white kids and one for the poorer black ones.

This has dramatic academic consequences. Kids at the better-resourced white school flourish scholastically more than kids from the crumbling black school. So the racial and economic skills gap becomes entrenched by the time kids move to the middle school in 6th grade.

If only we could integrate the elementaries.

However, we can’t bus kids from one neighborhood to the other because we can’t afford it. We have a walking district. Moreover, parents would revolt at the idea of elementary kids having to trudge long distances or take a city bus to school.

The only long-term solution is to create a new, centrally located elementary center serving both populations. However, that takes money we don’t have.

So last year we tried a partial solution – move the 5th grade up to the middle school. That way, we can at least integrate our students a year earlier.

Of course, this means taking kids from the black school with terrible test scores up to the middle school. This means adding more struggling students from the school that already is on the state’s bottom 15% list and making them the middle school’s responsibility. It means a new program, new trials and challenges.

You’d think we’d get praise or at least understanding for tackling such a problem. But no.

Taking on the 5th grade tipped the middle school’s test scores over the edge.

Now we’re in the bottom 15%, too. Now we have to let our students go to a private or parochial school with public tax dollars.

Why? Because we tried to right a wrong. We tried to correct a social and academic injustice. And the result was a kick in the gut.

Thanks, Harrisburg legislators! Way to support students of color!

This is just another way that school vouchers support white supremacy. They make it harder to battle segregation.

Why would anyone integrate if doing so could mean losing funding and looking like a failure in the press?

Moreover, forget all the junk you hear from the state about growth.

This penalty is based on whether we hit testing benchmarks – what percentage of students we have earning proficient or advanced on the tests. It doesn’t matter how much they’ve improved. It doesn’t matter if they’ve gone from the lowest of the low to scratching at the ceiling of proficient.

My 8th graders last year (the year we’re being penalized for) experienced tremendous growth just like my students this year are doing. From where they came in to where they’re leaving, the difference is phenomenal!

But apparently that doesn’t count in Pennsylvania.

poor school serving mostly underprivileged minorities needs to meet the same benchmarks as schools with Cadillac resources serving kids who have everything money can buy. There’s certainly no need for the state or federal government to do anything about equitable resources (At least, not until the result of a lawsuit is handed down where local districts are suing the state over just such strategic disinvestment).

Instead, we’ve got to offer our student the “opportunity” to go to a private school on the public dime.


The chance to send your child to a cooperating private or parochial school at public expense.

The opportunity to lose your duly-elected school board. The opportunity for decisions about how your money is spent being made behind closed doors with little to no input from you. The opportunity to send your child to a school with fewer resources and fewer certified teachers. The opportunity to send your child to (an often) religious school on the public dime.

Wow! I can’t imagine why so few parents take advantage of that opportunity! My district has had a few schools on the OSTCP list before, and families overwhelmingly opt to stay put.

Let’s not forget the justification for this “opportunity” is low test scores.

Wait a minute. These cooperating private and parochial schools don’t even take the same standardized tests, if they take any at all.

In our community, there is only one cooperating private school – a catholic school located right next door.

Students enrolled there don’t take the PSSA or Keystone Exams. I believe they take the Terra Nova test. And the school must do a great job because its Website is three years out of date about the results of those tests.

What a great way to improve test scores for our students – comparing apples-to-pears or, to be honest, actually making no comparison at all.

This OSTCP law is based on an unjustified assumption that private schools are always better than public ones. The reality is that if the resources both schools receive are similar, the public school usually greatly outperforms the private or parochial one.

I’ve seen this first hand. I’ve toured our next door Catholic institution. A few years ago, we relocated our students there temporarily during an emergency drill.

It’s a quaint school. Cobblestones and a shaded green campus.

But the buildings are crumbling – especially on the inside. Watermarks on the walls and dirt collecting in the corners.

It’s also much smaller than my school. They only have less than 300 students from K-8. We have about 1,500 from K-12.

I can see why parents who graduated from that school and have a history with it might want to send their kids there to continue that legacy. But anyone else would be giving up much better facilities, a much wider curriculum, much better trained and experienced teachers and even smaller classes!

The OSTCP bill has nothing to do with providing better opportunities for children and families.


The private/religious schools benefit and so do the businesses who “donate” their taxes to these programs.

In 17 states you can get substantial tax credits for contributing to this scam.

Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia, for example, all provide tax credits worth between $65 and $95 on every $100 donated. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Montana, and South Carolina go even further by reimbursing 100% of the donation. You read that right. Donate $100, get $100 back.

Oh, but it gets much worse. Since these are considered donations, you can also claim them as charitable deductions and get an additional 35% off your taxes. So you donate $100 and get back $135! Yes. You actually make money off this deal!

In Pennsylvania, investors can even “triple dip” receiving a state tax credit, a reduction in their state taxable income, and a reduction in their federal taxable income. And, yes, that means they sometimes get back more in tax breaks than they provide in contributions.

Meanwhile all of these “savings” come from money stolen from local public schools like mine. Businesses and individual investors are profiting off the industrial testing complex.

In the Keystone state, we have the OSTCP and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC).

This blatant swindle is championed on both sides of the political aisle.

We already waste $200 million in business taxes to these programs in the Commonwealth, yet both Democrats and Republicans keep trying to pass another bill to increase that sum by another $50 million.


Because of this bogus philanthropy, there will always be a bottom 15% of state schools – approximately 400 “failing schools” – that are ripe for the picking from private and parochial school vultures.

I’m sorry, but this just isn’t right.

That money should be going to public schools not private or religious institutions many of which espouse fundamentalist or racist teachings.


We could be using our resources to help solve our problems, alleviate segregation and increase equity.

Instead our lawmakers are too interested in giveaways to business and corporations even if that means stealing the money from our children.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Facebook is Censoring Your Favorite Bloggers by Steven Singer


Have you seen me?

Probably not.

In fact, you’re probably not even seeing this right now.

Though you may have read and enjoyed my articles in the past, though you may still want to have the opportunity to see and enjoy my posts in the future, you probably aren’t seeing them anymore.

The reason? Facebook has employed a new algorithm to determine exactly what you’re allowed to see on your news feed.

Like a parent or a government censor, they are scanning your content for certain words, judging your posts based on interactions, and otherwise making choices on your behalf without your consent.

Unless someone pays them to do otherwise. Then they’ll spam you with nonsense – fake news, lies, propaganda: it doesn’t matter so long as money is changing hands.

So homegrown blogs like this one are left in the dust while corporations and lobbyists get a megaphone to shout their ideas across social media.

Look, I don’t mean to minimize what Facebook does. There’s a ton of information that comes through the network that COULD be displayed on your screen. The company uses an algorithm – a complex set of steps – to determine exactly what to show you and when. But instead of basing that solely on who you’ve friended and what you’re interested in, they’ve prioritized businesses and shut down the little guy.

Since Facebook made the change in January, my blog only gets about 40% of the hits it did in years passed. And I’m not alone. Other edu-bloggers and organizationsdedicated to fighting school privatization and standardization are reporting the same problems – our voices are being silenced.

And all this is happening after a series of Facebook scandals.

After the whole Cambridge Analytica outrage where Facebook gave the data of 87 million users – without their consent – to a political analysis firm that used it to help elect Trump…

After Facebook sold more than $100,000 in advertisements to Russian bots in 2016 who used them to spread propaganda to help elect Trump…

After enabling the spread of hate speech in Myanmar which allowed the military to engage in “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya Muslim minority – which has forced 700,000 people from their homes and across the border into neighboring Bangladesh…


It’s not.

They are controlling information.


They are NOT cracking down on falsehoods and deception.

In fact, much of what they’re doing is completely devoid of ideology. It’s business – pure and simple.

They’re monetizing the platform. They’re finding new and creative ways to squeeze content providers to gain access to users’ news feeds.

This won’t stop propaganda and fabrications. It just charges a fee to propagate them.

It’s the same thing that allowed those Russian bots to spread Trump-friendly lies in 2016.

It’s pay-to-play. That’s all.

Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg characterized the change in January of 2018 as prioritizing content from “friends, family and groups.”

Zuckerberg admitted this means it will be harder for brands and publishers to reach an audience on the social media platform – unless they pay for the privilege. That’s significant because even though organic reach had been diminishing for some time, this is the first time the company admitted it.


“As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard—it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”


Apparently, what the company calls active interactions are more important than passive ones. So commenting and sharing is more important than just liking something.

In practice that means if you comment on someone’s post, you’re more likely to see things by that person in the future. And if they respond to your comment, their post gets seen by even more people.

Reactions matter, too, as does the intensity of those reactions. If people take the time to hit “Love” for a post, it will be seen by more people than if they hit “Like.” But whatever you do, don’t give a negative reaction like “Sad” or “Angry.” That hurts a post’s chances of being seen again.

I know it’s weird. If someone shares a sad story about their mother with cancer, the appropriate response is a negative reaction. But doing so will increase the chances the post will be hidden from other viewers. Facebook wants only happy little lab rats.

Sharing a post helps it be seen, but sharing it over messenger is even better. And just sharing it is not enough. It also needs to be engaged in by others once you share it.

Video is also prioritized over text – especially live video. So pop out those cell phone cameras, Fellini, because no one wants to read your reasoned argument against school privatization. Or they may want to, but won’t be given a chance. Better to clutter up your news feed with auto-playing videos about your trip to Disneyworld. I suppose us, social justice activists, need to become more comfortable with reading our stuff on camera.

And if you do happen to write something, be careful of the words you use to describe it. The algorithm is looking for negative words and click bait. For example, if you ask readers to like your posts or comment, that increases the chances of Facebook hiding it from others. And God forbid you say something negative even about injustice or civil rights violations. The algorithm will hide that faster than you can say “Eric Garner.” So I guess try to be positive when writing about inequality?

Do you happen to know someone famous or someone who has a lot of Facebook followers? If they engage in your posts, your writing gets seen by even more folks. It’s just like high school! Being seen with the cool kids counts.

One of the best things readers can do to make sure they see your content is having them follow you or your page. But even better is to click the “Following” tab and then select “See First.” That will guarantee they see your posts and they aren’t hidden by the algorithm.

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I know. I know.

This is all kind of silly, but Facebook is a private corporation. It should be allowed to control speech however it likes. Right?


The social media giant collects a ton of data about its users and sells that to advertisers. As a user, you have to make that Faustian bargain in order to gain free access to the platform. However, as we’ve seen, that data can be used by political organizations for nefarious ends. Private business cannot be trusted with it.

Moreover, there is the echo chamber effect. Facebook controls what users see. As such, the company has tremendous power to shape public opinion and even our conception of reality. This used to be the province of a free and independent press, but after media conglomeratization and shrinking advertising revenues, our press has become a shadow of its former self.

In order to maintain a democratic system that is not under the sway of any one party, faction or special interest group, it is essential that social media providers like Facebook become public utilities.

It must be regulated and free from manipulation by those who would use it for their own ends.

The way things are going, this seems more unlikely than ever.

Our democracy is a fading dream. Fascism is on the rise.

But if we want even a chance of representative government, we need to reclaim social media for ourselves. We need control over what we get to see on Facebook – whether that be a school teacher’s blog or your cousin’s muffin recipe.

In the meantime, do what you can to take back your own news feed.

If you want to keep seeing this blog, follow me on Facebook and click “See First.” Hit “Love” on my content. Comment and share.

The only thing standing in our way right now is a brainless computer algorithm. We can outsmart it, if we work together.

Hope to be seeing you again real soon.