Archives for category: Honor Roll

I previously commended Helen Gym for her activism as a parent advocate for public education in Philadelphia.

She is on the honor roll as a hero and an exemplar. And, boy, Philadelphia needs her now!

Philadelphia is Ground Zero for the fake reform movement.

The fake reformers are well on their way to obliterating public education in that great American city and proud of it.

With all the wealth and power concentrated in that city and state, the power brokers and financiers have decided to extinguish public education.

One person standing in their way is Helen Gym.

Read about what she has done these past few weeks.

She gave a TED talk (and look at that slide over her head: $26,000 per child in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, vs. $14,000 in Philadelphia).

She was named one of the most powerful people in Philadelphia.

She was selected by the White House as a “champion of change.” (Ha! fighting the Obama administration’s rightwing education policies.)

She helped other parents fight the parent trigger.

She joined me at AERA and chastised the nation’s education researchers for abandoning cities like Philadelphia.

Helen Gym is a hero and an inspiration for us all!


The Education Writers Assiciation awarded first prize to Anthony Cody for his series of posts questioning the Common Core.

This is a recognition of Anthony’s excellent research and writing. In addition, it is a recognition that criticism of the Common Core exists among thoughtful and reflective educators.

Anthony taught for more than 20 years in the high-poverty public schools of Oakland, California. He is a National Board-Certified Teacher of science. He is also a co-founder of the Network for Public Education. .

Congratulations, Anthony! I add you to this blog’s honor roll as a champion for kids, for equity, for teachers, and for public education

Greg Taranto, principal of Canonsburg Middle School, was named was named 2012 Middle Level Principal of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals.

He now joins our Honor Roll for his courage in speaking up for students and good education.


Taranto says that testing is out of control, it is absurdly expensive, draining resources from schools, and of course he is right. Everyone seems to know it except our legislators in the statehouses and Congress. Parents know it. Teachers and administrations like Taranto know it. Students know it.


We no longer have schools devoted to development of every child’s full human potential, but devoted instead to ever higher scores on standardized tests. How did the testing industry manage to capture the minds and hearts of our policymakers? Don’t they realize that tests are useful for diagnostic purposes, but they are not the goal of education. They are a measure, they are not a replacement for instruction.


Taranto writes:


Testing makes a lot of money for education companies. Here in Pennsylvania in 2013 we paid more than $200 million to the company responsible for the development of the Keystone exams — tests aligned with the Common Core curriculum (known as PA Core in Pennsylvania). Our state legislators just approved another five “optional” Keystones in the coming years. Can you imagine the cost to taxpayers?

Unfortunately, the many-headed hydra of standardized testing is not like the mythical creatures made by my seventh graders. It is real. And we need real heroes to slay the beast.

Parents and educators must start speaking out and talking to our school districts, school boards and state and federal legislators. State and federal legislators are especially important, because they are the ones mandating tests such as the PSSA and the Keystones and thus tying the hands of district officials and school boards.

Some groups already engaged in this fight include Education Voters PA, Yinzercation, PA Against the Common Core, the Network for Public Education and

Do you think testing has gotten out of control? Please become a hero in the fight against this many-headed hydra. We need more ordinary heroes — people like you and me — to wrest control of our kids’ education away from the testing beast and to restore educational agency to parents, teachers and principals.


Read more:


Todd Gazda, superintendent of schools in Ludlow, Massachusetts, posted a blog that expresses the outrage that so many educators feel today as a result of federal and state meddling in the work best left to educators.


Gazda writes: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

For his courage and wisdom, I am naming him to the honor roll as a champion of public education. If there were hundreds more Todd Gazda, no thousands more, we could reclaim this nation from the ignorant policymakers who seem determined to test children until they cry and to cripple public schools by overburdening them with mandates and demands while cutting their budgets. If our public schools manage to escape this era of austerity and chaos, it will be due to the leadership of educators like Todd Gazda.

Here is what he wrote:

We are at a pivotal juncture in this country with respect to education. Over the past decade, we have seen a dramatic escalation in the involvement of the Federal Government in education. There seems to be the belief in Washington that the alleged problems in public education in the U.S. can be corrected through national standards, increased regulations, standardized testing, and mandates regarding what and how our children should be taught. It seems that government at both the State and Federal levels want to take control of education away from locally elected officials and place that control in the hands of bureaucrats in the various state capitals and Washington. Nowhere is that practice more evident than here in Massachusetts.
We are drowning in initiatives. Even if they were all good ideas, there is no way we could effectively implement them all. They are getting in the way of each other and working to inhibit necessary change and progress. The number and pace of regulations to which we must respond and comply is increasing at an alarming rate. The following information is taken from the testimony of Tom Scott, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, presented to the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Education Committee on June 27, 2013. An examination of the regulations and documents requiring action by local districts on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website demonstrates that from the years 1996 -2008 (13 years) there were 4,055 (average of 312 each year) documents requiring action of local districts in response to regulations. The same examination conducted on the four year period of 2009-2013 reveals that there were 5,382 (an average of 1077 each year) multiple page documents requiring action by local school districts. How are we effectively supposed to implement local initiatives and meet the needs of our students when we are mired in this bureaucratic nightmare of a system?

Education is an inherently local pursuit. To view it otherwise is misguided and detrimental to the mission of educating our children. In order for schools to be effective they must be responsive to the culture of the community in which they reside. The culture of those individual communities differ greatly and mandates which dictate uniformity for schools across the state, and now even the nation, are in direct contravention to that reality. Educational historian, David Tyack, stated that “The search for the one best system has ill served the pluralistic character of American Society. Bureaucracy has often perpetuated positions and outworn practices rather than serving the clients, the children to be taught.”

Current education reform is not designed to truly change education it merely adds additional levels of bureaucracy to an already overburdened system. The extreme emphasis on standardized testing is an unproductive exercise in bureaucratic compliance. As educators, however, if we speak out against the standardized testing movement and the amount of time it takes away from instruction then we are not for accountability. If we point out that many of the standardized test questions are not developmentally appropriate for the age of the students to whom they are being given, then we are not for rigor.
Assessments are an essential part of education. They serve as diagnostic tools that afford teachers the opportunity to determine areas where students need extra assistance or demonstrate when a topic needs to be re-taught. However, standardized tests whose scores take months to arrive, often after the student has moved on to another teacher, have a limited utility for shaping the educational environment. I am concerned that we are creating students who will excel in taking multiple choice tests. Unfortunately, life is not a multiple choice test. Enough is enough!
It is time for educators to push back against the standardized, centralized, top-down mandate driven school reform environment. I agree with the need for standards, but those standards need to be broadly written. Local communities, school boards, administrators and teachers should then be afforded the flexibility to demonstrate how they have worked to creatively to implement local initiatives in order to meet those broadly construed standards. The problem is that it is difficult to boil down creativity to a data point and that makes bureaucrats uncomfortable to say the least.

Well, where does that leave us? Education in the United States is constantly being compared to the systems in countries around the world. One important characteristic of education in those countries, which is consistently linked to the success of their students, is the esteem with which they hold their educators. It is time to treat our teachers with respect. It is time that we involve teachers in the discussion to set the direction for education in this country. They are the ones with the training and expertise. They are on the front lines in this battle. It is time that as educators we let our representatives at the state and federal levels know that we are headed in the wrong direction. It is time that, rather than be influenced by special interests, we focus on the students and the skills they need to be successful in our modern society. I will do my part. Will You?

Helen Gym, one of our heroes of public education, will be honored by the White House as a “champion of change.”

“Gym has been named a Chesar Chavez Champion of Change – one of 10 community leaders nationally who have “committed themselves to improving the lives of others in their communities and across the country,” people who “represent the values and steadfast determination of Cesar Chavez to organize ourselves for a more just tomorrow.”

Gym and the other Champions will participate in a discussion about how to expand opportunities for all Americans, according to a White House news release.”

We have no doubt that Helen will tell President Obama about how Race to the Top, high-stakes testing, budget cuts, and privatization are hurting children and destroying public education in Philadelphia.

Helen and I will be on a panel at AERA on April 3.


On February 11 of this year, I met Vivian Connell. She was on a panel at the North Carolina Emerging Issues Forum moderated by John Merrow. Vivian was one of six people who explained why she left teaching. She described the disrespect in which the current leadership of North Carolina holds teachers and the deterioration of working conditions. She said she decided to go to law school, yet she missed teaching. She loved teaching; she misses her students. A few weeks later, I met Vivian at the Network for Public Education conference in Austin. She is beautiful, vibrant, thoughtful, filled with passion for life and service to others.

This morning I received a copy of a message that Vivian posted on Facebook. I am in awe of her spirit, her courage, her determination to make a difference and to help others. In facing life and in facing whatever happens to her, she is truly a hero, a champion of children, a champion for democracy, a woman of valor.

I will think of Vivian every time I hear the hireling of a plutocrat tell me that those of us who fight for free, high-quality public education are “on the wrong side of history.” I want to be on the side of history with Vivian.

She is the real thing. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Vivian is one of those people who are bending the arc of the moral universe. I want to be on her side. She gives all of us inspiration and hope.


This is what Vivian posted:



OK. Big news; long post. (Longest. Post. Ever.)

On March 12th, after months of investigating leg weakness that started just before I took (and passed, thank God!!) the NC bar exam, I was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is progressive and terminal. My likely life expectancy is 2-7 years, but more likely 3-5 years. 

And I am at absolute peace with this. Of course, it will be harder on friends and family I leave behind, and I want to inform you all. I have, of course, told family and closest friends, but many of you-

My delightful and beloved former students with whom I LOVE staying connected;

My law school friends and colleagues who participated in one of the most worthy experiences of my life;

My old friends with whom I’ve been able to reconnect and whom I’ve really enjoyed keeping up with through this crazy social media thing;

My newer but no less dear friends and associates whom I’ve met advocating for issues about which we are passionate: consumer protection, the preservation of free quality public education, and campaign finance reform – all issues serving the ideals of genuine liberty and justice for all; and

My family, friends, and neighbors from many seasons of life -

You are all important to me in diverse ways, and I do not have the energy to tell you all individually!

Everyone asks, “What can I do?”

What can you do, you ask?

Well, I made a handy dandy list of affirmative steps and invite you to consider doing one or more of them:

1) PLEASE Read this whole post and LIKE it. I will know that your LIKE does not mean that you are glad to hear that I am terminally ill. But I do want to know who knows!!

2) Do respond in any way you like through a Private Message or email, but please don’t post about it on my wall. ALS will win this war (unless I am 1 in 1700 or unless some miracle happens in clinical trials – and you can feel free to hope for that!) but I intend to win all the daily battles. I want to continue to work on issues I care about and interact here on Facebook as I always have. I am determined, as I write in my first blog post, not to have my life become “The ALS network: All ALS, All the time.” I have a LOT of living to do. I get to participate in the internationally known Duke ALS clinic and will likely have more months of quality life because of that, so I feel blessed among the cursed . There is no fighting this and no painful treatments or chemo to endure – I get to plan and enjoy the rest of my life for as long as I can, which is a genuine silver lining.

3) Help my two children know and remember their crazy mom. If you have a memory or story you’d be willing to write and share, that would be the greatest gift. Formers, some of you have written very touching and complimentary notes and messages of thanks. I have saved lots of these and will be collecting them for my kids. So any stories or comments anyone is willing to relate would be deeply appreciated by me and probably treasured by my kids after I experience my “early check out” from this big hotel where we are all staying! Leaving my children as much of me as I can is my #1 priority. I have created email accounts for each of them and I am trying to write them a message a day for the remainder of my life. If you snail mail something, I will put it in the photo and scrapbooks I am starting; alternatively, you can send your remembrance(s) it to their email accounts; message me for info about this if you are so inclined.

4) Help me do THIS: I want to raise about $15k to take our 32 students at the alternative high school here in Chapel Hill to the US. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Many of them have never even left the area, much less the state, but they are fascinated when we teach about the Holocaust. Many of them have also encountered racism and cultural hatred, and a full day at the USHMM would make a permanent positive impact in their lives. I probably cannot work another year; therefore, it is important to me to make this happen for these young people – “my kids.” I hope to have the crowdfunding site up within the week, and I will post the links in the comments here as well as in a separate post. (Many of you know that I was a world and American lit specialist. I was also a Belfer Teaching Fellow at the Holocaust Museum and taught the Holocaust for many years; therefore I am uniquely qualified to prepare our students, train chaperones, and take steps to maximize the benefits of this trip for my students.) So when I post it, you can make a small donation, then share it with friends and family; this will be my last major act as a teacher.

5) Follow my blog: Post comments there, and I will be both grateful and excited. I will be as prolific as I can after this academic year ends. I will blog primarily about the issues that drove me to law school and have become passions. After every quarterly visit to the ALS clinic, I will post an update on the progress of my disease, as well as an update on my family. Chances are I’ll feel pretty free to speak my mind on a number of issues, so you should feel free, but not obligated, to join me in this journey.

6) Make a donation to the Duke ALS clinic. The international ALS community is currently excited about a recent clinical trial that shows great promise, though it is in early stages, and, I should be frank, is unlikely to change my fate. It is a stem cell procedure that for the first time, actually reversed the progress/damage in mice. One of the 12 patients who participated in the first human trials has responded similarly. Only one. But this is one more than has ever improved in the history of the disease, so we’ll take it. Duke is trying to raise $2 million to run a trial on 5 patients. Yep. It’s $300k per patient. And there is no great lobby for ALS research: patients do not live very long, and only 1 in 100,000 people develop ALS. (See. I always knew I was special. You are supposed to laugh.)

7) If you benefited from my passion/efforts as a teacher and/or are so inclined, please support Public Schools First, NC. LIKE their Facebook page and pay attention to what is happening in this state. Resist market-based education reforms and fight to maintain in your communities and state the equitable access to quality education for EVERY CHILD that is ESSENTIAL to a just society and a healthy democracy. Like I said every time we “pledged allegiance” in my classroom: “ . . . with liberty and justice for all . . . SOMEDAY, IF WE ALL WORK AT IT.” 

8) Reach out or visit if you are inclined! We are selling our Charlotte home and putting down roots here in Chapel Hill, where we plan for the kids to finish school while I receive care at Duke. Call or visit. Things are pretty crazy now, but chances are, if you are someone who would want to visit, then you are someone we would love to see.

9) And finally, share and tell others so that I do not have to have this conversation ad infinitum!! To my wonderful new NPE friends from Austin: I took so many business cards from wonderful education advocates, but I may never get to contact everyone. Please make sure everyone knows why.

10) I have few regrets and feel very privileged to have lived the life I was given. Do not feel sorry for me or for my family; I am confident that the Maker of All Good Things will manufacture blessings from my experience. I certainly hope to walk this path in a manner with gratitude and grace.

I have enjoyed, and will continue (hopefully for several-many more years) to enjoy walking through this life with all of you. And I certainly plan to spend my time investing in my kids and advocating for a better North Carolina, a better nation, and a better world. That seems good practice, even if one does not have ALS, right?

As my students have heard me say, regardless of what we each believe about our ability to “Change the World,” we all DO change it: we each make it a little better or a little worse. I have tried to live with a determination to be on the right side of history and, when I could muster the strength, the generous side of kindness. I certainly have won some and lost some – I am not the gentlest or most patient soul – but I hope I have made the world a bit better, and I have a very short bucket list. I wish you all the courage to aspire to your highest ideals and the blessing of facing the end of your days with as few regrets as I have. 

THANKS for reading to the end, and please LIKE the post. 

Not my will, but God’s will be done. It’s really OK.


At the meeting in Austin of the Network for Public Education, I singled out a large number of people and groups who are turning the tide on behalf of the public good. One of them was Austin’s own Sara Stevenson, a librarian at a middle school. Sara reads the editorials in the Wall Street Journal and responds whenever they lash out at teachers or public schools. This keeps Sara very busy, because public education, teachers, and teachers’ unions are a favorite whipping boy/girl of the WSJ, which hates unions and anything that is not yet privately managed.

Sara was previously added to the honor roll for her courage and persistence on behalf of public education.

Today, Sara came to the defense of Mayor Bill de Blasio, responding to Peggy Noonan and the WSJ’s barrage of attacks on him for denying Eva Moskowitz the eight charters she wanted (she got five) and not allowing her to take public space away to grow a middle school (194 of her “scholars” were displaced); if she had gotten what she wanted, children with special needs would have been pushed out to make room for Eva.

One thing wrong in Sara’s letter: Eva’s salary is $475,000, not $400,000. Her 22 schools have fewer than 7,000 students.

Sara writes:

De Blasio’s Focus on the 96% Is Right

Bill de Blasio, is more concerned about the 96% of NYC school children who attend public schools than the 4% who attend charters.

March 14, 2014 6:19 p.m. ET

Regarding Peggy Noonan’s “The Ideologue vs. the Children” (Declarations, March 8): Bill de Blasio is more concerned about the 96% of New York City school children who attend public schools than the 4% who attend charters. And it’s true that charter schools benefit from Wall Street hedge-fund managers’ huge cash infusions. Eva Moskowitz, head of the Success Academy charter-school chain, makes around $400,000 annually to run 22 schools. In contrast, my superintendent in the Austin Independent School District, Meria Carstarphen, oversees 117 schools comprising 85,000 students and makes $283,000 annually. Furthermore, my superintendent is held accountable by a publicly elected school board of nine members who must approve her decisions. How about Success Academy pulling children out of school for a field trip to Albany for a political rally? Imagine what Ms. Noonan would be saying if those “evil” union teachers took their students out of learning opportunities for a day of demonstration. There is a lot more to this issue than she and the Journal are acknowledging. Dig deeper. See the larger picture.

Sara Stevenson

Austin, Texas

Jim O’Neill, interim superintendent of West Orange, New Jersey, did something remarkable, something we expect from retired educators, not those in the field. He spoke up. He denounced the failed reforms of the Christie administration whose purpose is not to improve education but to open up the school budget for privatization. For his courage and candor, based on experience and wisdom, he joins the honor roll as a hero of public education.

Time for an investigation, he writes:

“The Bridgegate investigation led from Fort Lee to Hoboken, the Hunterdon County Sheriff’s Office, Sandy ads, Sandy funds and the ARC tunnel. After four years of being intimidated by the crass talking intimidator-in-chief, our elected representatives and investigative journalists have their mojo back and should hurry to investigate the highly touted education reforms in NJ. Articulated and spearheaded by a private school advocate clothed in the powers of state education commissioner, the soon to be departed Chris Cerf leaves NJ teachers and students suffering from a debilitating hangover.

“Cerf learned from our governor that, if you say the same thing often enough, say it forcefully enough and demonize all those who raise a hand to disagree, you will attract attention and true believers. The naysayers were painted as out of date fat cat public employees only interested in themselves and not the health, welfare, or academic well-being of the students in our schools. Fortunately for the parents of over one million students in NJ public schools, nothing could be further from the truth.

“The reforms foisted on NJ and other states lack intellectual credibility because the advocates refuse to entertain alternate ideas or facts. The “we know we are right” attitude confirms an insular mentality and a deep-seated insecurity, which also blinded those in the governor’s circle of trust. Platitudes about closing failing schools and all children succeeding are the public catch phrases of a political agenda masquerading as education reforms.”

Read on.

Colleen Wood, parent leader in Florida, active in 50th No More, and board member of the Network for Public Education, here remembers a true champion of children and public education, Terry Stetson Wilson, who died suddenly a few days ago. Colleen asks that we all Tweet a comment to honor Terry’s good life and work for others. Write your words on Twitter, marked #ForTerry. For her dedication to our children and our society, I add her to our honor roll of heroes of American education.

Colleen writes:

“Relentless, persistent, and dedicated. That is what comes to mind when I think of Terry Stetson Wilson, a friend and fierce advocate for public school children in Florida. Terry unexpectedly passed away Monday evening leaving behind her husband, Tom, two adult children, Christopher and Linzy, dear friends, and countless beneficiaries of her advocacy.

Terry’s work began like many of us when she was first concerned with her own child’s school experience, and grew over time into what is now the Florida Gifted Network. If your child received gifted services in Florida, you can thank Terry Wilson.

When her own children graduated, Terry didn’t leave public education behind. The day she died a group of us were sitting together working on building a statewide coalition. We talked about needing to expand our group, and attract new supporters to public education when someone said we needed more people like Terry. People who stayed even after their own children were gone. She was a role model and inspiration to each of us.

Through her 30 years of advocacy, Terry fought for a high quality public education for every child, and became a staunch defender of teachers. She saw the onslaught against our public school teachers and knew it was not a battle they could win alone. When teacher merit pay was first proposed in Florida in a bill known as SB6, and many of us were upset, Terry wanted action. She always prodded us to do something.

And she did. Terry and a few others formed a Facebook group called Stop SB6. Within a month there were over 60,000 members. That group was a driving force behind the push for our Governor to veto the bill, but many people didn’t know Terry was behind it. She often flew under the radar, but her impact was far-reaching.

And if she met you, if she knew you cared about public education you were hooked. A day didn’t go by without an email, text or call about something you needed to do, and you needed to do it now. Funny thing is that after her death, we’re all learning that’s how Terry was in her whole life: from her family, to her friends, to her love of Florida and fishing. She wanted you to support you, help you, and get you to do something. Now.

In every fight in Florida, from parent trigger to school grades, her first question was, “What are we going to DO?”

We’ve been struggling with how to honor Terry, and then it occurred to us – what are we going to DO? What action are we going to take today to honor Terry and defend public education?

So that’s what we’re asking of you. #ForTerry what are you going to do today to support and defend public education? Share with all of us and #ForTerry who inspired you to this work.

In the words of our colleague, Ray Seaman, “That is perhaps one of the many things Terry taught all of us who had the pleasure of knowing and working with her. Tireless, impatient persistence is oftentimes the only way you get things done, and you never know who you’ll inspire by it.”

We will all have to be tireless, impatient, and persistent if we are to save our schools and our children. Terry inspired all of us to be just that, and we know she’ll inspire you to do something too. #ForTerry.

- Colleen Doherty Wood, parent advocate,

After the Michigan Department of Education ended its agreement to hand over low-performing schools to Governor Snyder’s controversial floundering Education Achievement Authority, Represenative Ellen Lipton called for stricter oversight of this entity.

She said:

““This is evidence of a governor, a state education department and an experimental educational entity flying off the rails,” Lipton said. “Why did Gov. Rick Snyder allow Superintendent Flanagan to give authority over school reform to an unproven entity – the EAA – managed by an individual with a track record of failure in his previous job in Kansas City? Why did Flanagan agree to give up his department’s authority for 15 years back in 2011? Why won’t Covington relinquish his control back to the state after being asked to do so by Flanagan? And why won’t the governor, through his control over the EAA Board of Directors that hired and can fire Covington, demand Covington to immediately return control to Flanagan or be removed from office?”


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