Cookies and revolution!

Tonight I had cookies, gingerbread, nice cheese and crackers, chocolate, hot cider, a sweet present exchange, and REVOLUTION. It was a fiery passionate activist meeting about local politics. That’s why I love PTA meetings!

We heard more information about the school district’s proposed plan to implement No Child Left Behind. It’s completely insane. I hate NCLB and so does nearly everyone else that i can tell. It is, as one mom so eloquently put it, a matter of the state having a gun to the district’s head, and the district trying to get the state off their backs. That is one part of NCLB. The other part is that we as a district are not meeting all the students’ needs and we especially need better English Language Learner (ELL) help. (In other words… the dreaded “bilingual education” that the state stupidly dismantled years ago.) Our school is 48% Spanish speakers, I think, who are also ELL officially. And then some other fairly small percentage of other ELL students – South Pacific and Asian. That is the subgroup that is not passing the NCLB state tests.

Tonight I learned that the states set their own standards. So, for example, Texas set its grade-level standards super insanely low, and so it gets to report for NCLB that quite a lot of its students pass. California set their standards extremely high, somewhere in the top 5 as far as what is required of each grade level. I need to look up documentation for that. NCLB is even more insane than I had thought, to punish states for setting high standards for education.

One huge issue in our school is that we have most of the school in multi-age classrooms. This is complicated… I’m going to skip it for now… but the NCLB PI (Program Improvement) plan as proposed right now will change our whole curriculum in mid-year, starting this January, and includes 90 uninterrupted minutes of a canned and scripted “curriculum” in Language Arts, and 60 in math. That doesn’t leave much room for the multi-age stuff. For example, imagine Moomin spending 90 minutes a day on a 2nd grade reader. That thought alone makes me want to gnaw my fingernails.

But moving on… To me it seems inherently wrong to force the teachers in all our schools to change their books, methods, time spent, way they organize their day and their interactions with the kids, in mid-year. I can see taking over an hour, or something, to add in more ESL or ELL or ELD, whatever they are calling it, teaching, or pull the kids out of class more often for ESL, in other words, hire more bilingual teachers and specialists. (How stupid is it to have a school with half its kids Spanish-speakers, and not teach the teachers Spanish? Or hire bilingual teachers when the opportunity arises?)

Anyway I’ve seen the HM books and they are dumb and boring. I hear the other curriculum option … One Start? Something like that… is much worse.

This is all particularly sad because a bunch of teachers just went to a cool conference on Differentiated Instruction and came back all inspired with great ideas for creative classroom projects… It’s like they got a shot of John Dewey right in the ass… which is what pretty much all schools in this country need. So they were fired up, and now they’re ready to quit. Our teachers are good, and I respect them! They need more creative freedom, not less, to teach, and more resources… not a narrowing of what they’re allowed to do and use in the classroom.

Now for the revolution part. I promised revolution!

A bunch of people were talking not just about how people were going to start pulling their kids out to private school – but about staging or threatening walkouts, sickouts, home school days on Friday on some rotating cooperative schedule: hitting the district financially. I was amazed. Everyone ran home to write email and make phone calls. “We are the ones with the power,” I heard…. Just wow.

The PTA president spoke up in favor of fighting against the changes, but not destroying our school or our district. She was very eloquent in praise of unity. Other people said unity is all very well but we need to threaten and be hard-asses, and not give the message that we will stick to the school and to the public school system no matter what, or else our voices won’t be heard.

This from women who bake some mean cookies and can do all this activism shit while breastfeeding after a full day of wrangling multiple children and/or working a job.

I’ve talked to several teachers outside the meetings, who say that they are thinking about leaving the district, selling their houses, moving somewhere else, (where??) and that they would not want their own chldren coming to a school, any school, in our district if this plan gets implemented.

My opinion is that the district should do a massive push to get community feedback. They dropped the ball on educating us about NCLB and what it means. Actually, it is too complex for us to learn in many ways, which is part of its problem…. We barely got our heads wrapped around the scores and what they mean and now, this curriculum stuff. Anyway, the district needs to back off a bit, get input, respond faster than they have been, and throttle back their plan. They have to turn in a plan by early January; so they should make the plan a bit slower in how it comes into effect.

And also they are dumb to throw everyone into upheaval, when we are all hoping NCLB is going to be overturned next year anyway.

The real issue in this district is the lack of resources and money and time for teaching English, and teaching it mainly to Spanish speakers. I would say also their dealing with special ed students is not great. And that it is worse since NCLB because the testing setup gives the districts a huge incentive to try to drive special needs kids completely out of the public system. NCLB is a losing game. It guarantees that our public education system will be destroyed and will destroy itself. We’ll dick around fighting each other and our local government when we should be fighting Bush and the insane Republicans, the religious nuts, and the fake Democrats who voted NCLB into law. I need to figure out if there is some way for us to mobilize around that, while still doing everything else on the local level.

And if I could work in one more pet peeve: This sort of meeting is why I get boiling mad when I hear people – men and women, conservatives, moderates, and progressives – use “PTA” as a synonym for “idiots”. Using the PTA as a metaphor for all that is trivial, stupid, and meaningless, is blatant misogyny. The women (and the few men) who go to school meetings are activists and politicians. I get annoyed with specific tactics of fundraising, but I hugely respect parent and community involvement in schools. So shut up about how stupid the PTA is.

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