Wednesday, September 28, 2011

CANCELLED!! A Children's View of Gaza

September 21, 2011 Hilmon Sorey Chair, Board of Directors Museum of Children’s Art 538 Ninth Street, Suite 210 Oakland, CA 94607

Dear Mr. Sorey, I am writing on behalf of the Executive Board of the Oakland Education Association to express our deep disappointment over your decision to cancel “A Child’s View from Gaza” and deny the children of Gaza the right to share their experiences through artwork. As a long-time elementary teacher and current President of the OEA, I am well aware of the positive impact MOCHA has had in fostering creativity and artistic expression through children’s art. I have attended MOCHA trainings for teachers, worked with MOCHA in my own classroom, and observed your work in many other classrooms. Teachers have always been highly appreciative of the work that you do, especially in an era where test scores have unfortunately become a substitute for genuine learning and the creative arts are too often absent from our neediest students’ school experience. Especially in an urban district such as Oakland, it is critical that art continue to play a central role in allowing students to express their deepest fears, joys, and hopes for a different future. MOCHA has always been a place where all subjects are open to artistic expression. That is why it was logical that MOCHA would serve as the venue for the exhibition from Gaza. As past artwork has included many examples of the violence in children’s lives, the only conclusion we can draw to explain your decision to engage in such obvious censorship is the pressure being exerted by powerful organizations and individuals seeking to silence the voices of the Palestinian people. We are well aware of such pressure, having received our share of it when we condemned the murderous Israeli assault on Gaza several years ago. But we refused to allow that pressure to force a change in our core values, which include unreserved support for education around the issues facing children throughout the world. MOCHA has long been a place where the art of all children is valued and shared, not a place where some is censored. We urge you to abide by your own core values and mission. As stated in your Open Letter to the MOCHA Community of September 12, 2011, “The Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) was founded as a place where children from all backgrounds could come together to make and celebrate art. MOCHA provides a safe place for children to express themselves through art, and produces programs that are intended to foster insight and understanding.” That you have chosen not to allow a safe place for the often-ignored children of Gaza to share their art is a decision that will unfortunately scar your reputation and remain a deep disappointment to the many teachers who have supported you throughout your existence.

Sincerely and with deep regret,
Betty Olson-Jones President,
Oakland Education Association

Cc: Middle East Children’s Alliance
Mayor Jean Quan
Dean Vogel, CTA President
OEA Executive Board

Education News Roundup: A bet on No Child Left Behind

A bet on No Child Left Behind
Guest blog by Richard Rothstein/Washington Post

Diane Ravitch is a glass half-empty kind of gal, while I suffer from excessive Panglossian tendencies. In the spring of 2007, we made a bet. The payoff is dinner at the River Café, at the foot of Brooklyn Heights, overlooking New York harbor and the Manhattan skyline, tucked neatly under the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge. Four and a half years ago, we surveyed the damage being done to American education by NCLB, the No Child Left Behind iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: * conversion of struggling elementary schools into test-prep factories; * narrowing of curriculum so that disadvantaged children who most need enrichment would be denied lessons in social studies, the sciences, the arts and music, even recess and exercise, so that every available minute of the school day could be devoted to drill for tests of basic skills in math and reading; (more...)

Circular reasoning at the Gates: Education Nation off to a confusing start
Blog by Anthony Cody/Education Week

Last September NBC brought us the first Education Nation, developed in coordination with the release of the pro-charter documentary, Waiting For Superman. The network ran into a few bumps in the road, catching flak when it was pointed out that panels were loaded with "superheroes" like Michelle Rhee, and critical voices like Diane Ravitch, and those of classroom teachers, were largely absent. This year, NBC has made an effort to be a bit more balanced and inclusive of teachers voices, and the Teacher Town Hall yesterday made a start in that direction. On a stage dominated by the largest golden hood ornament I have ever seen, Brian Williams interviewed mostly teachers, while Tamron Hall roamed about the audience taking comments from the crowd. The comments from the teachers present are worth a listen, but my mind kept dwelling on the interview with Melinda Gates. (more...)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit If you wish to contact us, please e-mail
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Monday, September 19, 2011

Ten New Teaching Activities to Engage Students

Dear Rethinking Schools friends,

Several new developments for the Zinn Education Project, the online social justice teaching site that is a collaboration between Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change. First, we're delighted that we just passed 13,000 registrations. Over 13,000 educators are using resources at to "teach outside the textbook." This is very encouraging news as we enter the new school year, and as corporate-produced text materials more and more dominate the curriculum.

Not registered? It's free and gives you access to dozens of great teaching activities.

And we've just added ten new articles that describe numerous ways to engage students in rethinking history and society. All of these originally appeared in Rethinking Schools magazine or other Rethinking Schools publications. We've re-edited the pieces for the Zinn Education Project site, and they've been attractively laid out.

The new articles are described at and include:

-- Five Years After the Levees Broke: Bearing Witness Through Poetry
A teacher's reflection on the power of poetry to spark critical reflection on current issues of inequality surrounding disaster response in the United States.

-- Learning About the Unfairgrounds: A 4th-Grade Teacher Introduces Her Students to Executive Order 9066
Students hold a "tea party" and a mock trial to connect with a challenging novel.

-- Lewis Hine's Photographs
Students use photographs to spark creative writing and critical thinking about child labor issues and social justice.

-- Stenciling Dissent: A Student Project Draws on the Language of the Streets
Students connect protest art and history.

-- The Other Internment: Teaching the Hidden Story of Japanese Latin Americans During WW II
A unit combines poetry, photography, and role play to teach about the untold history of Japanese Latin American internment during WW II.

-- "Don't Take Our Voices Away": A Role Play on the Indigenous Peoples' Global Summit on Climate Change
A role play on the Indigenous Peoples' Global Summit on Climate Change asks students to develop a list of demands to present to the rest of the world.

-- The Coming of Pink Cheeks
A personal story of what happened to the Kikuyu people of Kenya when Europeans took control of their land.

-- Remembering Mahmoud Darwish
A teaching idea uses the famous Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish's work to inspire students.

-- Unleashing Sorrow and Joy: Writing Poetry from History and Literature
How to effectively incorporate poetry into history or literature classes.

-- "If There Is No Struggle...": Teaching a People's History of the Abolition Movement
A role play puts students in the position of abolitionists confronting difficult choices about how to end slavery.

Check these out at

Finally, if you will be in the Washington, DC area on September 21, join us for the dedication of the "Howard Zinn Room" at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville, MD. It's a benefit for the Zinn Education Project. The illustrious guests include Bernice Johnson Reagon, Amy Goodman, Dave Zirin, Laura Flanders, Medea Benjamin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Craig and Cindy Corrie (Rachel Corrie's parents), and Howard Zinn's son, Jeff Zinn. Details at

I hope to see you there.

As always, thanks for your support of Rethinking Schools.

Bill Bigelow
Curriculum Editor
Rethinking Schools
The Zinn Education Project

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why the need to resist testing?

Taken from NEA Public blog.

Richard Cottingham
Aug 30, 2011 04:38PM Actions ▼

This thread has been running now for over two years. There has been a scarcity
of answers to the question asked in the topic "How can the federal government
really help schools close achievement gaps and improve achievement?" I believe
that this is because most of us see little or no connection between NCLB (now
RTTT) and closing the achievement gap.

For this reason I am posting the following. It is taken almost verbatim from
work by Marion Barry. I hope many teachers will read it, think about it,
comment on it and check out more of Marion Barry's work.

Hey, Teacher! Listen up!

This you can know for sure: The future won't be the same as the past. And this
you can also know for sure: The future will be more complicated, unpredictable,
and dangerous than the present or the past. So the answers and solutions
you're teaching in school won't do the job. The students will have to be
prepared to come up with their own.

This means they will have to think - infer, make value judgments, relate,
generalize analyze - and so on, because these thought processes are the
CREATORS of new knowledge.

Fortunately, complex, "higher-order" thought processes can be taught, learned,
and improved.

Unfortunately, higher-order thought processes aren't going to be taught,
learned or improved as long as politicians set education policy and demand
standardized tests... standardized tests that force educators to emphasize just
one thought process: REMEMBERING.

Why do standardized tests mostly measure short-term memory instead of higher
-order thinking processes?

Because nobody has yet figured out how to test higher-order thought processes.

To do that a test would have to:

(a) trigger higher-order thoughts in students' brains; then
(b) a computer or stranger would have to be able to judge the quality of those
thoughts and assign them meaningful numbers.
Neither (a) nor (b) is possible.


Test-taker differences in background, interests, ability, language, attitude,
ethnicity, experience, situation, and so on, make it impossible to write a
test-item that will cause every test-taker to think predictably.

Even if test-item writers knew how to make students think predictably ... their
thoughts would be far too complex and abstract for a computer or stranger to
judge their quality and assign numbers that meant something

Einstein summarized the problem simply and clearly:

"Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can
be counted."

Evaluating higher-order thought processes requires higher-order thought.
Teachers do it all the time, but it's a subjective process that requires a lot
of dialog between teacher and learner.

(Note a standardized test item may SEEM to be testing students' higher-order
thought processes when it is just:

asking them to remember someone else's thought they read or heard about; or
asking them to guess what the test-item writer was thinking.)

What the students will most need in the years ahead, what America will need
most, is creativity, intuition, ingenuity, insight, imagination,
perceptiveness, discernment, judgment, vision. These are products of
higher-order thought processes and their quality can't be measured by tests of
how much textbook-type information students can remember.

The wrong idea: "Education is just learning facts" is THE problem messing up
teaching and learning in classrooms today. There's no middle ground on this

If Einstein was wrong, then education is mostly just learning lots of facts and
standardized tests to find out what students remember are all that's needed to
show how well students are educated. But if Einstein is right, American
education is headed in the wrong direction. You, your children, and their
children will suffer the consequences.

Personally, I'm with Einstein. I believe the standardized testing fad is a
misguided, simplistic, abusive, de-humanizing, expensive mistake.

So, for yourself and future generations, resist standardized testing. Start a

Edited: August 30, 2011 04:50PM

Why Are Finland's Schools Successful?

It was the end of term at Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School in Espoo, a sprawling suburb west of Helsinki, when Kari Louhivuori, a veteran teacher and the school’s principal, decided to try something extreme—by Finnish standards. One of his sixth-grade students, a Kosovo-Albanian boy, had drifted far off the learning grid, resisting his teacher’s best efforts. The school’s team of special educators—including a social worker, a nurse and a psychologist—convinced Louhivuori that laziness was not to blame. So he decided to hold the boy back a year, a measure so rare in Finland it’s practically obsolete.

Finland has vastly improved in reading, math and science literacy over the past decade in large part because its teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around. This 13-year-old, Besart Kabashi, received something akin to royal tutoring.

“I took Besart on that year as my private student,” Louhivuori told me in his office, which boasted a Beatles “Yellow Submarine” poster on the wall and an electric guitar in the closet. When Besart was not studying science, geography and math, he was parked next to Louhivuori’s desk at the front of his class of 9- and 10-year- olds, cracking open books from a tall stack, slowly reading one, then another, then devouring them by the dozens. By the end of the year, the son of Kosovo war refugees had conquered his adopted country’s vowel-rich language and arrived at the realization that he could, in fact, learn.

Years later, a 20-year-old Besart showed up at Kirkkojarvi’s Christmas party with a bottle of Cognac and a big grin. “You helped me,” he told his former teacher. Besart had opened his own car repair firm and a cleaning company. “No big fuss,” Louhivuori told me. “This is what we do every day, prepare kids for life.”

This tale of a single rescued child hints at some of the reasons for the tiny Nordic nation’s staggering record of education success, a phenomenon that has inspired, baffled and even irked many of America’s parents and educators. Finnish schooling became an unlikely hot topic after the 2010 documentary film Waiting for “Superman” contrasted it with America’s troubled public schools.

“Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives not just Kirkkojarvi’s 30 teachers, but most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku—professionals selected from the top 10 percent of the nation’s graduates to earn a required master’s degree in education. Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else. They seem to relish the challenges. Nearly 30 percent of Finland’s children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school. The school where Louhivuori teaches served 240 first through ninth graders last year; and in contrast with Finland’s reputation for ethnic homogeneity, more than half of its 150 elementary-level students are immigrants—from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia and Ethiopia, among other nations. “Children from wealthy families with lots of education can be taught by stupid teachers,” Louhivuori said, smiling. “We try to catch the weak students. It’s deep in our thinking.”

The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellent of the country’s economic recovery plan. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. “I’m still surprised,” said Arjariita Heikkinen, principal of a Helsinki comprehensive school. “I didn’t realize we were that good.”

In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on compe­tition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”

Read more:

What OEA can do to stop the violence?

Dear Betty and OEA Colleagues,

OEA can be an organization that encourages its members to view and treat Oakland's communities with respect.
There are many avenues to help these families and our greater community through contributions and political work.  As educators we can attempt to ameliorate this unacceptable, violent environment by keeping our core as educators for social justice.  We can and should offer a positive, safe, nurturing learning environment for all.  We can establish caring and trusting relationships with students and families, and advocate for educational, health, and social services that they need.  We can encourage students by being role models of civility, empathy, and respect for our diverse communities because children learn from what we do rather than from what we say. Our charge is to teach, so we have to offer well crafted and thoughtful learning opportunities.  These should cover the full range of subjects (including health and safety) so that our students can see that learning is both a mirror of their own worth and a window to the greater society.  A well rounded education can give children tools to forge productive lives that benefit themselves, their families, their communities and their world.  We should always ask ourselves what have we done each day to develop informed citizens of the world, not what skill or test taking trick was presented.  Young people with knowledge, skills, self-respect, goals, and hopes often make good choices.

OEA can continue to move the conversation back to learning and away from the relentless violence against children due to constant testing and silly programs.
Currently, schools are being turned into places of ignorance because there are some who want to produce, for the most part, young people who know nothing about science, civics, politics, languages, writing, health, current affairs, history, economics, geography, mathematics, or the arts so that they remain ignorant and powerless regarding the profound issues they will face as adults.  In our classrooms, among colleagues, across schools, and throughout the district teachers hold the key to pushing back against these forces that aim to make schools part of the cradle-to-prison pipeline.  The constant prodding, assessing and sorting of our children - while denying them knowledge, resources, healthy activities, and the arts - are pervasive, daily forms of violence against their humanity.  Only a few of Oakland's children, those who have managed to "prove" themselves worthy of education, have access to the base program which children in privileged communities receive just because they are children.

OEA can keep teaching and learning a high priority issue in the midst of all the mayhem.
When I began my career in the seventies there was a saying that "Teaching is a subversive activity" and that still remains the case. Those who interfere with schools attempt to keep educators distracted with structural issues as if form should not follow function - this year it's school closures.  Closures, class size, salaries, working conditions, and benefits are all of great importance.  However, addressing those issues should not mask the importance of our professional responsibilities toward students.  Perhaps OEA could be one of the organizations that would provide supportive fora for teachers to collaborate on restoring the pervasiveness of learning, not testing, to students in Oakland's classrooms.  That might be one contribution toward reducing the traumatic violence in Oakland.

I miss you all,

Muriel Hall Ayanaba, Retired

How we can counter the violence in our communities?

Dear OEA Member,

As we start a new school year, we have been reminded in tragic and painful ways about the violence in our community, a reflection of joblessness, racism, alienation, and loss of hope.

Ironically, the Oakland school named Hope (Esperanza) has been hardest hit recently. José Esparza, the man shot to death last Sunday in front of his six year old son, was a parent at Esperanza. His older son was with Site Rep Chaz Garcia for 4th and 5th grade. She wrote me last night: "He was set to begin middle school Monday, but because of this horrible event he's at home. As you can imagine we are all devastated. Jose was a great father, very positive and active. He lit up the room with his smile when he walked in the room. They had a great relationship. His dad was the sole provider. We do have an account for people to help; it'd be great if you could pass it on." Please donate what you can, and while you're at it, reach out to your colleagues at Esperanza. They need to know that we are all behind them.

Donations can be sent to:
Wells Fargo, any branch
José Manuel Esparza
# 1329796690

But it doesn't end there for Esperanza. It turns out that the 3 year old shot and killed over on 65th earlier this month (Carlos Nava) was from one of their families too. They had just moved there and planned to commute. As Chaz said, "It has been a rough start, but I'm more determined than ever to make this a better place for our students. I don't want any more to be victims of senseless violence."

On top of that, three East Oakland schools were locked down in the first two days of school - demonstrating again that schools are not safe islands in a violent society. This year, let's all come together in a myriad of ways to expose the hypocrisy of a society that values bank bailouts and saving corporations more than it does the health and safety of our young people. Enough is enough!

What are your thoughts and ideas on how we can counter the violence in our communities?

In hope,

Betty Olson-Jones
Oakland Education Association