Reposting: Peg with Pen on the Harm of Incentives

Last week I wrote a blog post about the issue of using bribes to entice kids to do well of high-stakes standardized tests, such as the Maryland graduation required test, the PARCC. Here is Peggy Robertson’s blog post which gives even more insight into why this kind of systematized bribing is such a harmful and degrading practice, not only for students, but administrators, teachers, and public education as a whole.

Retweet to @aurorak12 please re: PARCC incentives at JewellElementary


If you read my post from last Sunday you will know that there is currently a PARCC incentive plan afoot in my former school, Jewell Elementary in the Aurora Public School District. The plan will reward students who show great effort on PARCC and who attend on all testing days. It will punish children who do not show great effort. It will punish students whose parents have opted them out.

As you can imagine, the children who don’t show great effort will be the children who are struggling in some shape or form, whether it be due to problems at home, stresses at school, lack of food, fatigue, emotional and behavioral needs that are not addressed, the list goes on. So, our neediest children who test will be punished for lack of effort. The opt out students will be punished because their parents are refusing to allow their children to participate.

This week has been a week of attempting to shut this PARCC incentive plan down. You can read more about it in these links:

Washington Post (Answer Sheet w/Valerie Strauss)

And Peter Greene did a nice piece about testing bribes here.

Currently there are lots of rumors running around so it’s hard to know how this will be resolved. These PARCC incentives are not in compliance with the House Bill 15-1323 which was passed in 2015. There is some indication that Aurora believes they have skirted the law successfully because the PARCC incentives occur during school hours (HB 15-1323 states you cannot deny opt out students “extracurricular” activities, which apparently is being translated as activities after school). Jewell is planning raffle prizes and a party during school hours.

So, does that mean it’s okay to punish children during school hours only? Not after school?

There are some rumors that Jewell might pull back from such a harsh stance and bend the policy a little. But the PARCC incentives will indeed remain.

This is not okay. Our children are not dogs to be given treats. Our children should not be taught that compliance is the best policy. Our children should not be taught that this test has any value whatsoever to a child’s life. As Stephen Krashen states regarding these tests, “The tests only serve to enrich the oligarchy. There is no evidence that they help students.”

There is plenty of evidence that they harm students.

Senator Holbert and Senator Kerr are looking into this – they both sponsored HB 15-1323. Hopefully we will hear more on this soon.

In the meantime, I would appreciate any help tweeting to @aurorak12 as well as media. You can find me on Twitter @PegwithPen. Feel free to retweet my tweets or simply create your own. We must continue to push back against policies which harm children.

Many many thanks to all of you.


About Peggy Robertson from her blog:

I am a writer, activist, gardener, stellar organizer, former public school teacher and current chicken herder. I like to cook incessantly and drink a lot of coffee. I write about education and have recently expanded my activist work into other spaces – stay tuned for more.

It’s Hard to Read on the Assembly Line

Every day when I taught in a high school, the front parking lot was full of long, yellow buses. The kids streamed out of the vehicles, talking, sharing jokes, and laughing as all of us squeezed through the open front doors. And I can remember thinking that the beginning of the school day had a lot in common with the shift change at a factory.  Everyone is on  a schedule. Bells signal the beginnings and ends of sessions. The timeline must be obeyed no matter what else is going.  And most of all, everyone needs to comply and do their work if they want to get a promotion….or in the case of high school students, if they want to graduate.

School buses
School buses

At the school where I worked, the graduation test was given four times per school year and once in the summer. I never could find a dollar cost in the budget, but I imagine all of that testing took a huge chunk out of our funding stream. But most of all, there was pressure to get everyone to pass the state graduation tests. One year my principal “offered” prom tickets to seniors if they would agree to take the test for the second time, even when they had previously passed. “Maybe the students can boost their scores so we’ll have better numbers,” she told us.

But saddest of all were the students who still struggled with reading and were denied  help for longer than one year. Instead, because many of them had a special education diagnosis, we could give them an accommodation–which means that we could read the test to them and hope that they would pass.  The goal–of the school system administrators, the principals, and some of the teachers– was simply to get kids to pass the test–there was no looking ahead to the students’ futures. That situation would be someone else’s problem.  But in the 21st century, with so much knowledge about how to teach people to read, I felt that we were doing our students a great disservice to graduate them when they were barely literate.

And when I think about many of the students who were in my high school English and reading classes, I wonder what they are doing and if they still need accommodations.

The poem below is part of my latest collection, No Barking in the Hallways: Poems From the Classroom and was also published in ArLiJo last year.

The Autoworker on the Radio Explains How the Factory Works

You never stopped the line,
no matter what mistakes you saw.
We worked a lot of overtime fixing mistakes
but we never stopped the line.
 “This American Life,” 2010

And I feel the same way about Ben,
my student determined to graduate from high school
still reading reading at the third- or fourth-grade level.

The administrators say,
Ben needs credits to graduate,
reading class doesn’t count
if kids take it more than once.

So administrators find ways
for teachers to push him along,
like the auto factory grinding out
a Ford Focus with Fiesta doors
held on by Explorer bolts.

Nothing fits, and you can’t drive the car,
but we don’t stop the line
for Ben who understands a lot about history
but he can’t read well enough to take the test.

So we give him an accommodation—special help—
and someone reads him the test,
which worked well when he was seven
but seems foolish when he’s 17—
and hoping to get a job, hoping to graduate.
So I ask, Will someone read to Ben at work?

The answer echoes back We can’t stop the line.
But when you peek under the hood—
like the car with the wrong bolts
Ben will need repairs.

Reading Aloud in Starbucks by Alonzo LaMont

I first met Alonzo LaMont when both of us were involved in a program call The New Day Campaign, a series of events to help de-stigmatize mental illness and addiction sponsored by  local artist Peter Brunn. Alonzo LaMont read part of his one-man show called B-Side Man which dealt with his musings over life, career and the tragic death of his son.  I was struck by Alonzo’s wit and his willingness to share his very moving story as part of the campaign. 

The other day in Starbucks I came upon a rare sight indeed. A mother (I assumed) was reading ALOUD to her young son. Everyone else had their laptops propped, and they were entranced. Full-blown hypnotics, caught in a cult of self-divinity. Drenched in — the look. You know that look. You’ve seen that look. It’s where someone’s face is ever-so-delicately lit by the glow from the gadget. One dare not speak. One dare not interrupt. It’s a life and death scenario. Chances are that illuminated face is more serious, more intent, more purposefully driven than all the other faces you may see on any given day. The glow from the gadget produces the Starbucks Rapture Face. Those faces and all that purpose must surely be engaged in some higher conflict, some deeply internal mystical adventure. If you’ve ventured into any Starbucks in the last — I don’t know how many years — you’ve probably also caught those same faces and busy-bee facades. How could you not see? They’re practically etched into our consciousness. Those faces say “Do Not Disturb. Can’t you see I’m exploring a higher realm?! I’ve a screenplay. Things for my calendar. Recipes. Flirtations. And all manner of correspondence to respond to!”

Alonzo Pic

And then there was the mother I saw reading aloud. She was breaking the code. I stopped by and complimented her on creating such a rare sight. She explained that her oldest had read this same book and didn’t like it. She wanted her youngest to have a more genuine connection to what the book had to offer. I told her that my mother used to read quietly to to me, and usually not in public. But I didn’t want to intrude any further so off I went. She started up right where she’d left off, and her child’s gaze went back to the pictures and the words his mother was illustrating.

I believe we’re conditioned to witness everyday scenes pass before us in a particular slideshow. It’s only when one of the slides goes off the rails that many of us ask, “What was that?”. For instance, if you’re a bicycle rider and during your commute someone pulls up next to you and actually speaks. More often than not, other riders wear the dour countenance of children forced to eat their asparagus before they can leave the dinner table. A supermarket shopper in the same aisle who says “Hello” makes us practically shout “What’s that all about?”. Expressions of greeting or warmth feel ancient and out of place. For most of us, our everyday life becomes a bunker that requires an ever-watchful mental sentry to fend off the slightest gesture of welcome. And to be extra vigilant for those who could be leaning towards conversation. At my job many folks devote their lunch hour to fitness. Fluorescent sneakers proliferate, gadgets are checked, and if they’re walking with a friend— apparently the act of smiling breaks some kind of unspoken treaty.

And yet, through all this….I found a woman reading aloud. It could be years before this occurrence re-appears. Civilizations may rise and fall. A tree may or may NOT grow in Brooklyn. Laws of Physics may be broken. But, perhaps another person will read aloud, and the glory of hearing language and storytelling will make someone else appreciate one of the “lost arts.” Perhaps another person will have their day filled with the brilliance of such a small but powerful moment. Books and reading continue to do that. Language and ideas and sharing have always existed in these kind of sacred ways.

We just have to keep an eye out.

Alonzo LaMont, Jr. is a Playwright who’s had his work produced in D.C., Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, New York, Amsterdam, written for network TV, won grants, gotten awards, been on the big stage, the little stage, and all points in-between. He’s taught college, served as an invited guest on arts & writing panels and workshops, but is happiest creating, directing & crafting freelance projects. His most produced plays include: “That Serious He-Man Ball,” & “Vivisections From The Blown Mind.” “He-Man Ball” was published by the Dramatist Play Service, and “Vivisections” was published by the Theatre Communications Group “Plays In Process” series. Alonzo performed his latest play “B-SideMan,” at The Tank in New York City this past November, and also performed “B-Side” at the Charm City Fringe Festival this past December in Baltimore, MD.

Alonzo directed and co-wrote “Telling: Baltimore” in 2014, (“Telling” is a national organization that presents the stories of Veterans who’ve participated in military service) and he continues to work with the Baltimore City Dept. of Health writing scripts for their “Waxter Wisdom series.

Find out more at

Reblogging: Julain Vasquez Helig: 10 Things to Know about the Charter School Debate

 10 Things to Know about the Charter School Debate

At separate conventions this summer, the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter Movement—the nation’s oldest and the youngest civil rights organizations—passed resolutions critical of charter schools and the privatization of education. We may have reached a watershed moment for market-based school choice.

This article appeared here first at the Progressive Magazine.

Here are 10 things to consider about the market-based charter schools debate:

  • Where did market-based school choice come from? Writing in the 1950s, the libertarian economist Milton Friedman, followed by John Chubb and Terry Moe in the 1990s, argued for a profit-based education system where resources are controlled by private entities rather than by democratically elected governments. They recommended a system of public education built around parent-student choice, school competition, and school autonomy as a solution to what they saw as the problem of direct democratic control of public schools.
  • School “choice” does not cure the inequality created by markets. Not surprisingly, the academics neglected to mention that market-based mechanisms are the very system that created the inequities in American public schools today. Along with other public policies, including redlining, market forces created racial and economic segregation. Instead of making this situation better, school choice made this situation worse. A group of Chilean economists mentored by Friedman, the Chicago Boys, took Friedman’s theories about education back to their home country and to push an education system with universal choice and relaxed regulation and oversight. Over the past several decades, Chile simultaneously became one of the richest countries in South America and the most unequal developed country in the world.
  • The position of the NAACP and Black Lives Matter on privatization is consistent with the views of past civil rights leaders. NAACP co-founder W.E.B. Du Bois, in his essay Negroes and the Crisis of Capitalism in the U.S., extolled the virtues of collaborative social and government action. He railed against the role of businesses and capitalistic control that “usurp government” and made the “throttling of democracy and distortion of education and failure of justice widespread.” Malcolm X characterized market-based public policy  as “vulturistic” and “bloodsucking.” He advocated for collaborative social systems to solve problems. Martin Luther King Jr. argued that we often have socialism in public policy for the rich and rugged free market capitalism for the poor. King and Malcolm X would have recognized the current patterns we see of charters located primarily in urban and poor areas rather than wealthy suburban enclaves. White academics pressing for market-based school choice in the name of “civil rights” ignore this history of African American civil rights leaders advocating for collaborative systems of social support and distrusting “free market” policies.
  • Is the NAACP and Black Lives Matter position on schools out of touch with civil rights? A barrage of criticism has come from market-based school choice proponents and charter operators about the NAACP and Black Lives Matter resolutions. However, the NAACP has for years been consistent in its critique of charters schools. At the 2010 convention, the NAACP national board and members supported an anti-charter resolution saying that state charter schools create “separate and unequal conditions.” A review of ten years of research supports their statement. More recently, in 2014, the NAACP connected school choice with the private control of public education. While the recent 2016 resolution has not yet been ratified as policy by the NAACP National Board, more than 2,000 NAACP delegates from across the nation did vote for a charter school moratorium based on a variety of civil rights-based critiques such as a lack of accountability, increased segregation, and disparate punitive and exclusionary discipline for African Americans.
  • Do families actually choose charter schools? Probably the most prominent argument heard from market-based education proponents is that school choice means that families can choose their own schools. Proponents of market-based school choicehave argued that charter schools were designed to have both more freedom and more accountability. Critics of privately-managed schools point out that charters are actually afforded less accountability. For example, a recent report released by the ACLU and Public Advocates found a variety of illegal exclusionary policies in more than 20 percent of charter schools they examined. In essence, charters schools doing the choosing. The New York Times has described the reality of school choice for parents in Detroit as “no good choice.”
  • Why is more oversight and accountability needed for charters? Proponents of more accountability for charter schools want parents to be able to choose from high-quality public schools. Instead, charter schools have the power to selectively choosestudents who will perform well. Charter supporters blame a few bad apple charters for expelling too many students. But charter school supporters and their lobbyists consistently support laws that promote lax oversight and regulation. For example, the California Charter School Association has actively lobbied against data collection and accountability for punitive and exclusionary school discipline and teacher turnover in charter schools.
  • Are teachers’ unions leading the opposition to school choice? Another common argument from supporters of privately-managed schools is that the teachers’ unions are the primary opponents of market-based school choice. But union leadership has been mostly sidelined on charters because of an apparent strategy to organize charter schools. The leadership of teachers’ unions could and should take a much greater role in this conversation since they represent millions of teachers nationwide. Ironically, Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers, first proposed the charter school idea in 1988. But he saw his idea misappropriated in the creation of anti-democratic, privately managed public schools. He realized that charters were going to a group of people who were “eager for public funds but could care less about public education.”
  • Who is supporting charters schools behind the scenes? The hundreds of millions of dollars spent to promote privately managed schools is coming from the non-democratic foundations of billionaires such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. Smaller organizations including the Black Alliance for Education Options and the Libre initiative and the Democrats for Education Reform have accepted tens of millions of dollars over the years from billionaires and their foundations to press for market-based school choice.
  • Do charters perform better than public schools? Charter proponents often cite studies produced by The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. CREDO studies are not peer reviewed. But charter school supporters and the media point to CREDO’s 2015 urban charter study to say that African American and Latino students have more success in charter schools. Leaving aside the integrity of the study for a moment, what charter proponents don’t mention is that the performance impact is .008 and .05 for Latinos and African Americans in charter schools, respectively. These numbers are larger than zero, but you need a magnifying glass to see them. Contrast that outcome with policies such as pre-K and class size reduction with far more unequivocal measures of success than charter schools. Also, CREDO doesn’t usually compare schools in their studies. Instead, researchers use statistics to compare a real charter school student to a virtual (imaginary) student based on many students attending traditional public schools. In spite of criticism of CREDO’s methods and lack of peer review, charter proponents and the media continue to cite the CREDO studies as important evidence demonstrating charter school success.
  • The news media reflects a very mixed assessment of charter schools. Charter schools have received very positive media treatment in the past. The 2010 documentary film Waiting For Superman was basically a long infomercial for charter schools. Recently, however, the New York Times, Mothers Jones and many other outlets have published more critical stories.  The 2015 education documentary Killing Ed portrays the second largest network of charters in the United States taking advantage of loopholes for construction, finance, immigration, and teacher quality. John Oliver recently took issue with charter wrongdoing in a scathing segment on his Last Week Tonight Show.

These are ten of the more contentious points in the debate about charter schools, but there is one major point of agreement: Poor students in the United States have less opportunity for a high quality education than students living in wealthy areas. That’s why civil-rights organizations are taking strong stands against market-based charters. The tide may be turning in the public debate as well. The public may be supporting community-based, democratically controlled education instead of privatization as the best course of action for families and communities.

For more on what’s going wrong with charters click here.


Twitter: @ProfessorJVH