Thursday, August 11, 2016

Part 1
Missing Molly Ivins

When the Texas legislature in its 84th legislative session passed new laws permitting the “open carry” of hand guns and “campus carry” of guns on university campuses, my first thought was “Where is Molly Ivins when we need her?”

I could just picture the lead sentence in her next day’s column:  “Why are all those guys in the lege eager to make their masculine insecurities so public?”  

Molly Ivins’ wit skewered the pompous and the fear-mongering alike.  She made us laugh at the absurdities of our politicians’ ignorance, the often petty and equally as often overtness of their corruption, and the cruel impact many of their actions had on the most vulnerable Texans.

In my next few blog posts, I’ll be reflecting on what it means to live in a state where a majority of legislators think carrying a gun around is good public policy. And I’ll be inviting readers to situate this whole guns on campus thing in the context of teaching and learning, the increasing diversity of the students on our campuses, and the seeming ubiquity of violence as a commonplace in our communities --- violence against young unarmed Black men and boys, violence as domestic or international terrorism, violence as public policy, and violence as the product of fear more even than a cause of fear.  And I’ll write about the emerging pushback against official violence, including actions that students and professors are taking to resist or overturn these “carry laws.”

A rumor going around Austin claims that at least one member of the legislature requires everyone on his staff to apply for an “open carry” permit.  Some versions of the rumor add that the staffers have to own and carry a gun; another version is that they just have to go through the training to get one and bring their “carry” license in as proof.  A litmus test for staffers:  no pacifists need apply?  no freedom of expression in this office?   My mental picture is of an NRA official making regular rounds to our legislators’ offices with a suitcase of campaign cash to be handed over only after inspecting each staffer’s gun “carry” license.  (I mention this rumor here in the hopes that one of you who knows the legislature will write to tell me this is absolutely NOT true! Surely, if true, it’s not legal…..)

If you live in Texas, you’ll want to know who voted for these laws.  Check the lists to see how your legislator voted, and if you don’t want the moms in the carpool lane or the check out clerk at the grocery store, or the folks next to your kids at the movie theater to be “carrying” a gun, ask the candidates in your district what they are going to do about it:  Ask “do you favor open carry gun laws in our neighborhoods and on our campuses?”  and “if elected, will you work hard to rescind these laws?”  We do, after all, have an election in a few months and  the 2017 legislative session coming up in January.

And if you want to know what Molly Ivins did say about “our infatuation with guns,” read her 1993 column so titled. She ends with this discussion of the Second Amendment:

“’A well-regulated militia’ surely implies both long training and long discipline. That is the least, the very least, that should be required of those who are permitted to have guns, because a gun is literally the power to kill.  For years, I used to enjoy taunting my gun-nut friends about their psycho-sexual hang-ups – always in a spirit of good cheer, you understand. But letting the noisy minority in the National Rifle Association force us to allow this carnage to continue is just plain insane….I do think gun-nuts have a power hang-up.  I don’t know what is missing in their psyches that they need to feel they have the power to kill.  But no sane society would allow this to continue. 

“Ban the damn things. Ban them all.  You want protection? Get a dog.”

Where is Molly Ivins when we need her?

Monday, July 18, 2016


Diane's latest post is about a teacher using her own voice against reducing children to data and for honoring children's privacy, not only in the legal sense, but in care for the many ways children learn and grow -- almost none of them linear or precisely measurable.  I encourage you to visit her blog and read the entire thing.

Friday, July 15, 2016

For those of you too young to remember, Richard Nixon chose the unqualified and reputedly corrupt governor of Maryland, Spiro T. Agnew, to be his vice president, purportedly to "impeachment-proof" his presidency.

It didn't work.

Let's hope the choice of  Indiana governor Mike Pence as a national candidate to be second in line for the presidency of our democracy never comes that close.

A cynical choice just when our nation, our children, the public's schools, our health care system, our need to end wars, our hunger for racial and economic justice, -- and our very planet -- deserve wisdom, not mean-spirited mediocrity -- at the top of the ticket, or in second place.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Anyone who grew up in the oil patch of West Texas or eastern New Mexico, as I did, can only find all this talk about "grit" hilarious!  Grit as the key to students' learning? Grit as the cure for the "achievement" gap?  Oh, my!  When I hear "grit," I feel tiny grains of sand in my teeth, I smell a dust storm sandblasting my cheeks (I was in my twenties before I found out some people pay to have their skin evened out by sandblasting -- we got smooth skin by walking across the playground), and I see the tenacious line of grit coming in around windows -- seeping through weather-stripping and the ugly, added seals of masking tape.

Stinging eyes, sandy eye lashes, having to dust the furniture every day -- sometimes more than once and always with a wet cloth, not a fancy polish:  grit everywhere everyday.

"Grit" as the latest "cure" to what ails US education is silly at best, tragic at worst when it diverts our attention -- and, as Politico reports below, our dollars and our policies away from what we really need to be doing for kids:  addressing poverty, investing in teachers' salaries and on-going education, and dismantling the harmful testing systems and corporate "reforms" that are sucking the life out of learning.

And as for measuring grit, easy:  brooms full, buckets full, hands full, windowsills full, eyes full.  Instead of romanticizing grit, let's call it for what is is: "Grit:  what you need when you don't have a trust fund."

Thanks to Diane Ravitch for sharing this from

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Data files
Data walls
TweedleDee and 

Data are indicators, signifiers, proxies.  Representations.  What is being represented?  A test score is not a child. A test score is not a child’s knowledge or growth.  A child’s test score is no signifier of a teacher’s caring or guiding of the intellect or openness to curiosity and questions.

Then why are these headlines not entirely good news?


Citing “glitches” in the computerized administration of the test for some children in some grades, in the loss (seriously, the loss!) of scores for students in one entire district, and other “reporting” issues, the Texas Commissioner of Education, Michael Morath, declared that scores on the STAAR test, a product of the Educational Testing System, would not be used this year to determine grade retention or promotion for students in 5th and 8th grades – a waiver from this legislated state requirement.
 The Commissioner promises to “hold the Educational Testing Service accountable.”  Does that mean the failure to fulfill contractual obligations will require ETS to refund our tax dollars?  Does the contract, in fact, have a penalty clause for non-performance?  And if not, does “accountable” mean that everyone in the Texas Education Agency or other state offices who had anything to do with negotiating and authorizing the contract will be fired?  What is “accountable” when children’s education is at stake?

We wish the headline had read “Commissioner Admits STAAR Useless, Apologizes to Teachers and Children.”  We wish the story explained that the Commissioner called a press conference to admit that the “emperor of standardized testing wears no clothes.”  He would go on to say that for more than 20 years the test scores had been indicators of not much (family wealth as an exception), that the school ratings they produced were proxies for a real investment in our children’s education.  

Good news that this year’s scores will not have “high stakes” for 5th and 8th graders.   Bad news that the reasons given are superficial, themselves poor substitutes for admitting it’s time to move beyond “data-driven” schooling and get back to educating all our children.


The Houston Independent School District’s board voted earlier this month not to renew its $680,000 contract with SAS Institute Inc for the EVAAS system of teacher evaluation based in large part on the students’ scores on the state-mandated standardized tests.  Teachers and parents, and many principals have known for years the system is a hoax, its claims completely phony, and its entire logic flawed: there has never been a test of children’s learning designed to measure teacher “performance” nor the “impact” of a teacher on a child’s learning.   It is, in fact, unethical to use a test for a purpose it was not designed, piloted and validated for – thus even using children’s test scores to determine the “value” a teacher “adds” to even one child’s learning, is unethical.   

Here's what SAS says it can do with your kids' data:

Did the HISD board reject the test because the district faces huge budget shortfalls left by the prior superintendent as well as requirements to share tax revenue with poorer districts?  Is the HISD board trying to get out ahead of the lawsuit brought by a group of Houston teachers challenging its validity and citing its harmful effects on many of our best teachers?  Is there another vendor lurking, circling, lobbying with even grander claims for improving learning through their system of measuring teachers?

SAS Institute Inc markets its expertise in “analytics,” tracking and analyzing corporate data, from shipping logistics, to health care data, to casinos and the military, to “education.” (Be sure to click on their "Industries" tab for a sense of how education appears as one among many industries they serve.) Our children aren’t shipping containers and their learning can’t be captured by “metrics” and “analytics.”  

When will they ever learn?

See Audrey Amrein-Beardsley’s analysis of EVAAs, including her study of its use in Houston.
see Diane Ravitch’s comments on this decision by her hometown school board. 

Monday, June 27, 2016


“Using in one tongue the word for a thing in the other makes the attributes of both resound:  if you say Give me fire when they say Give me a light, what is not to be learned about fire, light and the act of giving?  It’s not another way of saying things:  these are new things.” 
Makina, in Signs

How do we learn the new things we need to live with each other in a world of increasingly harsh divisions, of rigidifying claims of “us” and “other,” of rising barriers physical and metaphorical?

I find power – if not always answers – in story.  And for this series on teaching the US border with Mexico as more than a line, as more than a contested territory or symbolic conflict zone, I can recommend no more compelling story than this new novel by Yuri Herrera:  Signs Preceding the End of the World.

Signs is a slim book, almost minimalist. Yet even the most spare sentence is, as one critic said, both “poetic and defamiliarizing.” Makina, a young Mexican woman, journeys north to carry two messages:  one from her mother to her brother who has preceded her in crossing the border and one from a character almost mythically representative of violence and shadows and unanswered questions.

I just discovered this book (thank goodness for Brazos, our neighborhood independent bookstore!) and got lost in the poetry of the words, the perils of unknowns, the insights of this courageous and perceptive young woman.  I’m planning to re-read it this summer just for the beauty of it. And I want to see how I might use it with my students who are preparing to teach in our urban schools, schools where many of the students will know a Makina or who will see something of their family’s story in hers.   

Teach this book in your US history class, your world studies or cultures courses, your literature classes in English or in Spanish (how interesting it would be for students to compare this masterful translation with the original Spanish), or save it for your teacher book group.  As Makina notes how even slight shifts in word choice can say “new things,” Herrera gives us fire, gives us light, shows us new things we could not have known without Signs.

Friday, June 24, 2016


David Cameron put his credibility behind keeping the UK in the European Union.  He lost the vote: he has announced he will resign. 

When will Commissioner Morath resign? Will he be fired? What about the other TEA officials who approved the ETS contract? 

Congratulations to Patrick Michels for another strong piece of reportage on behalf of Texas children and their education.  We've had more than 20 years of standardized-test-based "accountability," and many of us have documented its harmful effects on children, teachers, the quality of instruction, the possibilities for children's learning and the very survival of the public's schools -- with no academic improvement or equity to show for the billions spent on testing.  After reading Patrick Michels' listing of fraud, failures and folly in this year's test fiascos, Texas taxpayers will say, Enough! It's time to "exit" this system!

Michels' next article needs to be a list of the names and faces of everyone involved in this scam, along with the dollar amount ETS has to refund to Texas taxpayers. ETS also needs to compensate local school districts -- with interest -- for their additional costs in staff time and dollars.

Then Texas must scrap the "accountability" system. It cannot be justified. Period.