A note about changes on the blog

To our readers:

You might have noticed that this site has been quiet for a while.

Carolyn, my co-editor and good friend, discovered she had a medical condition that needed to be treated immediately. Carolyn is recovering but is on continued medical care and will not be able to write her wonderful articles and keep everyone updated on issues affecting students and teachers in Seattle and beyond.

She wants to extend a huge thank-you to those in our community who have supported her through the last few months. Your food donations, cards, balloons, chocolates, visits, texts, emails and well wishes have gone a long way in helping her stay upbeat and positive.

The site will remain relatively quiet for now. I will continue to post on issues as they are brought to my attention but not as I used to do.

If you have an article or opinion related to education you would like to submit for publication, please let me know. All articles will be considered except for those that have anything to do with commercial enterprises promoting a product, an online service or a charter school.

I can be reached at dora.taylor@icloud.com.



The powerful voice of Emma Gonzalez, a student at the Parkland, Florida high school where the shooting occurred last week


Emma Gonzalez, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and staff members were killed, gave the following powerful speech.

It begins at 1:35.

Here are the faces and names of the victims with a description of their lives up until last Wednesday.

Dora Taylor

The #MeToo Movement and What It Means for Public Schools



This article was originally published in The Progressive.


What Does the #MeToo Movement Mean for Schools After the Rollback of Title IX?

An historic avalanche of sexual assault allegations, fueled by the growing online #MeToo movement, are toppling influential men across the U.S. workforce. Last week another powerful man accused of sexual assault by multiple women met his comeuppance when Alabama Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore lost a key election he had been favored to win.

But they have yet to take out perhaps the most powerful of them all: President Donald Trump. In fact, admitted sexual predator Trump seems to do everything in his authority to enable harassment, from endorsing candidate Moore to reversing a rule that forbid federal contractors from keeping cases of sexual harassment secret.

The Trump Administration’s promise to rollback of Title IX provisions for campus sexual assault victims fits right in line. This first comprehensive federal law to prohibit sex discrimination in schools protected not only college students but their younger peers in public K-12 schools too. Which is why in this moment of urgency around sexual assault, these schools must step up to the fill the gap. Now more than ever, it’s important that these young students receive comprehensive education about sexual harassment and assault.

President Barack Obama’s “Dear Colleague” letter to universities back in 2011 formalized a process for how sexual harassment should be handled on college campuses. It encouraged those institutions to punish sexual assault as swiftly and harshly as possible, describing such abuse as a form of discrimination that denies the victim an equal education. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice show only 20 percent of all sexual assaults on college campuses are reported. It is projected, based on existing numbers, that one in five women are a victim of sexual assault in college.

But terrifyingly, 40 percent of rape victims are under 18 years of age. According to a 2011 study issued by the American Association of University women, 48 percent of junior high school and high school students surveyed experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010-11 school year and 87 percent said it had a negative effect on them.

In other words, what happens to women in college also occurs in high school and middle school, as the above studies, numerous lawsuits, and Roy Moore’s own alleged history of assaulting teen girls attest. But administrators often remain ill equipped to handle these situations.

Some children and teens engage in coercive, damaging and criminal activity without understanding it as such. Much of this is due to socialization by way of video games, movies, TV shows and advertisements that show women not only as sex objects but also as victims of horrific acts of violence. Sexual assault has become so pervasive that it is often viewed as commonplace, even mundane.

Title IX is one of several federal and state anti-discrimination laws that define and ensure equality in education. These are standards we must maintain.

This calls for health and sex education in all junior high and high schools that covers not just the basics of reproduction, but the topics of abuse, rape, and what consent means. Education on the subject of sex is an effective way to end risky and abusive behavior.

Schools must also develop district-wide policy on handling sexual assault, educating school administrators and staff on how to handle those situations, and establishing a process where student grievances can be heard.

In my daughter’s Southern California elementary school, children were taught to say in the most defiant manner possible, “No me gusto! I don’t like it!” if an adult or older child did something that made them uncomfortable.

In January 2016, California adopted the California Healthy Youth Act, covering sexual health education in public schools. The law requires health education classes that cover LGBT inclusiveness, human trafficking, contraception, HIV/AIDS intervention, “yes-means-yes” consent, slut bashing, street harassment, revenge porn, rape and prevention of shaming.

It can be difficult to face the harsh reality of sexual assault—particularly when it’s done to a child. But as the moment of #MeToo makes increasingly clear, it’s past time public school administrators and teachers to come to terms with the issue—especially as federal protections come under attack.

Taking classes and knowing school staff is competent in handling these difficult situations empowers students. They more fully understand their right to say “no” and the boundaries of what is appropriate and what isn’t.

Comprehensive sex education is not only essential to gender equality and school safety, but is foundational to an equal education for all.

Recommended reading:

C-SPAN: Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal on Trump Administration Campus Sexual Assault Policy

Related articles:

Title IX and Sexual Harassment in K-12 Public Schools: Key Steps to Compliance

The Journal of the America Medical Association: Prevalence Rates of Male and Female Sexual Violence Perpetrators in a National Sample of Adolescents

American Association of University Women: Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School

The Atlantic: The Younger Victims of Sexual Violence in School

Dora Taylor

Congress Suspending the Rules to Rush through Bill for National Citizen Data System: HR4174.

Reposted with permission from  Missouri Education Watchdog.

No on National Data Base

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) have companion FEPA bills (HR4174 and S2046: Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act) that will create a national student data warehouse. Parents will not be able to opt their child out of this national database that will expand access to researchers, private companies, nonprofits and government agencies.


Congress is rushing through bill HR4174 THIS WEEK.  Yes, there are lots of bills in play but #THIS is the one to watch.

The US House is scheduled to vote this week on a bill to make a massive federal data system -merging information from all federal agencies, all citizens- much like China.  See here and here.  This bill is the result of the CEP commission which would include data on school children, creating a “pinterest of student data” and an NSA-like national database of student information.  We  wrote about the  CEP commission, with posted transcripts and video here.  Tell Congress NO on this bill to create a national data system.

The House Oversight Committee **already passed** this bill on a *voice vote* and HR4174 is going to be voted under *Suspended Rules* this week.
Let Reps Trey Gowdy (bill co-sponsor), Jim Jordan, Jody Hice, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, William Hurd, Ron DeSantis, and members of the House Oversight Comm. know that you don’t want this bill, don’t like that they passed it on voice vote. Tell them to vote NO when HR4174 is in the House.  (scheduled this week) and request that a ROLL CALL VOTE be held on House Floor.   We want to know who votes for this bill.


suspend rules

HR4174 Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (FEPA) would create a national data system; it has BI-PARTISAN support but it changes and repeals existing law.

HR4174 repeals E-Govt act of 2002  44 USC 3501,  which contains the Computer Security Act of 1987.  Then amends Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002– whose purpose was to limit federals agencies that collect data for statistical purposes from using the data for any other purpose.

This massive federal overhaul certainly sounds like the massive Department of Talent that the Lumina Foundation has been proposing.

Let Paul Ryan (House Speaker and bill sponsor) know that this bill HR4174 SHOULD NOT BE RUSHED THROUGH, WITH RULES SUSPENDED. *We oppose this very controversial bill, want it re-calendared, with rules and roll call vote.* We oppose a national database, especially for studentsThis national data system threatens individuals’ privacy

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) have companion FEPA bills (HR4174 and S2046: Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act) that will create a national student data warehouse. Parents will not be able to opt their child out of this national database that will expand access to researchers, private companies, nonprofits and government agencies.

  • Tell Speaker Ryan and Senator Murray and members of Congress NO National Student Database. NO to HR4174 and S2046: Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act.  Parents should have consent before their child’s personal information is shared. This open access to information should exclude personal student information. 202-225-3031 @SpeakerRyan ; (202) 224-2621  @PattyMurray

Instead, Congress should restore FERPA to its pre-2011 status and restore parental consent before sharing students’ personal data. Researchers would still have open access to aggregate data; if they need personal information, they would have to get parent consent and approval. Ask your legislator: Whose data is it-the student’s, the corporations’, or the government’s? Data should belong to the student who generated it.

Parents should have consent before data is shared. School databases are already being hacked by cyber terrorists.  The safest way to protect data is to not collect it in the first place. Imagine the cost and security risks of a national database.

Tell Congress NO on HR4174, the bill to create a national data system; tell Congress no more data.

-Cheri Kiesecker

The New “Jack”: Trading Justice for Grit

Reposted with permission from Educationalchemy.

Statue of Liberty in Disgust

What reformers are able to do is to distract schools and communities from engaging in the more radical systemic work that RJ was intended to do…and places (again…) our best initiatives, the ones we believe in, into the hands of the reformers and privatizers who are experts at selling us back our ideas as watered down, declawed, defanged versions of their original selves. We’ve taken the equivalent of a revolutionary treatise and reduced it to a Hallmark card.

Is Restorative Justice being “jacked?”

Restorative Justice (RJ) has a lengthy (centuries-old) global history too lengthy and complex to elucidate here. It  thankfully has become the recent focus of school disciplinary and judicial systems at a time when the school- to- prison pipeline is booming (thanks, private prisons), policy brutality is soaring, there is a rise in hate crimes (thanks, 2016 elections), and the inequitable rates of imprisonment and suspensions between white students and students of color have now continued unabated for decades.

However, despite its powerful and positive effects, and future potential to radically re envision our approach to peace, justice and sustainable communities, I am beginning to witness the emergence of something else calling itself “restorative justice,” but is perhaps offering us something else.

In schools across the United States, RJ being presented as group circle discussions on just about anything (so … nice democratic classroom practice… but not justice focused…) and the language being blended into what is being touted as “justice” frameworks are beginning to smack of something else reformy….GRIT.

Speaking to the GRIT narrative,  Pedro Noguera says “I’m not hearing in the conversation acknowledgments of the effect poverty, income inequality and the opportunity gap has on student achievement …All the grit in the world can’t compensate for the obstacles that face so many students in low income communities.” So, when RJ is synonymous with “grit” what happens to the focus on systemic injustice? It becomes  … something else.

RJ has its (contemporary) roots in 1970’s work in challenging systems of inequality by placing the tools for change and healing in the hands of children and communities themselves, and reducing the school- to- prison pipeline. RJ was (is) a practice intended to, “protect individuals, social stability and the integrity of the group.” (“Utu”Ministry of Justice, New Zealand. Retrieved 17 September 2013).

But more and more, what is being called RJ is in fact a focus on “character building” or “grit”—these terms attend to individual character, not on addressing systematic inequality. They place the narrative back in the neoliberal lap of individualism. While restorative justice is definitely personal (i.e perpetrator and victim), the focus is more on community building/healing than it is on strengthening personality traits. It is a process that commits people to one another in a rebalancing of the power distribution in society and shared behaviors. “Restorative justice views violence, community decline, and fear-based responses as indicators of broken relationships. It offers a different response, namely the use of restorative solutions to repair the harm related to conflict, crime, and victimization.” (Zehr, Howard. Changing Lenses – A New Focus for Crime and Justice. Scottdale PA: 2005, 268–69).

Now that RJ is the new “in” thing (everyone’s doing it) it has a following, and examples abound everywhere of teachers modeling this practice. Some of these classrooms are focused on “vocabulary” which includes teaching kids to focus on words like: orderliness, perseverance, and rigor. Not sure what any of that has to do with justice. What I am beginning to sense is that RJ is being carefully and quietly hijacked by the GRIT narrative that has recently gained traction as the vehicle for teaching (tracking? training?) social emotional learning. Yet, ironically they are at their core very different things. Grit and Duckworth’s study have been linked to racist practices and research.

Concepts such as “social-emotional or non-cognitive learning, or character education, or habits of success”  are NOT synonymous with restorative justice, much less equality, any more than Gardner’s learning styles are! Neither is “positive behavior support.”

Those are buzz words that have been developed and embraced by the same organizations that have contributed to decades of inequality through failed policies….now climbing aboard the RJ train. See the Face Book site sharing posts from Angela Duckworth and other practices that are justice “light”

While narratives of grit or habits of mind attempts to (re)colonize attitude and behaviors of students of color, RJ “represents a validation of values and practices that were characteristic of many indigenous groups,” whose traditions were “often discounted and repressed by western colonial powers.” source

Another article argues, “It is based on the principle that crime affects people, their families and communities (Strang, 2001).” And that RJ has, “an intention to reduce the violence inherent to the State’s apparatus

What reformers are able to do is to distract schools and communities from engaging in the more radical systemic work that RJ was intended to do…and places (again…) our best initiatives, the ones we believe in, into the hands of the reformers and privatizers who are experts at selling us back our ideas as watered down, declawed, defanged versions of their original selves. We’ve taken the equivalent of a revolutionary treatise and reduced it to a Hallmark card.

Notice the deft pivot at where the focus is on: “Making sure that students aren’t punished or jailed for actions stemming directly from their own years as victims of crimes and poor upbringing,” but nothing is said about transforming a violent and oppressive system of racialized policing and punishment. The focus is no longer on transforming the system, it is on children as victims of “poor upbringing” (not sure what that means…) or developing better “character.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that schools must have quality infrastructure in place to support children who are surviving trauma, children with behavioral challenges, and create nurturing non-punitive classroom communities. There is a place for classroom conversations, circles, and support for individual learning.

I just do not wish to confuse that with restorative justice, or to have the latter subsumed by the former, a process by which the system would (yet again) cease to be the focus of our collective attention, and we instead turn attention to children as isolated agents of “good choice” or “character.”

It is also being blended with social expectations that seem to have little to do with violence or justice:

One school site says “We aren’t interested in ‘punishment.’ Rather, we want to inculcate the values of empathy, orderliness, and manners in students – lifelong lessons which they will use in future arenas.” This almost sounds like the “good behavior” narratives promulgated by charter schools aiming to “civilize” urban black youth.

Orderliness and manners? There are even some resources for versions of “restorative” practices that focus on Habits of Mind traits like “persistence,” “striving for accuracy,” and “impulsivity control.”

Compare an original/earlier definition of RJ:

“(I)n these communities relationships and victim-offender interaction were personal, and usually led to strong bonds and sometimes even to reduction in deviant behaviour. Most importantly, deviance was seen as a community problem, and a community failure not simply as a matter for the offender to pay or restore.” source

With this more recent (watered down) version:

“Restorative justice is about understanding the role trauma plays on the brain and developing teaching methods that actually are based on the needs of the students.” Note the word “personalized” here which reminds me of “personalized learning” now code for “students staring at a screen” learning. Both seem to be trending.

The difference may seem slight…but it’s significant. The emphasis on “the brain” here gestures toward developing a role for the use of psychometrics for predictive analytics (can we predict who might become deviant or commit anti social behavior?) rather than systemic restoration or healing.

There are already links between the Five Factors personality test (used in predictive analytics and data miners in psy ops) and the Grit narrative. As I have posted in earlier blogs:

There is a growing emphasis on the “affective” learning of students.  Some examples include: “ETS’ SuccessNavigator assessment and ACT’s Engage College Domains and Scales Overview … the broader domains in these models are tied to those areas of the big five personality theory.” Also see Empirical identification of the major facets of Conscientiousness

Paul Thomas notes, “grit narratives are also often masks for race and class biases in the same way IQ was embraced throughout much of the twentieth century.”

Bridging grit and personality to restorative justice is merely one more link the in the passage of selling out progressive narratives (justice, peace or restoration for examples) into data profiteering and social corporate engineering. Education reform history is steeped in using such tactics.

See titles like “Justice and personality: Using integrative theories to derive moderators of justice effects” and “The Importance of Perceptions in Restorative Justice Conferences: The Influence of Offender Personality Traits on Procedural Justice and Shaming” to see where RJ language is being blended with new forms of personality testing.

Even Teach for America is on the Restorative Justice ticket.      #Hashtag irony.

Who else might you ask could be leading this hijacking effort? Maybe Chiefs for Change?  who are passing out information using a finely tuned blurring instrument that seamlessly takes you from thinking your focusing on justice, when the shell game in fact is pulling a bait and switch. Note the article entitled: “The connection between grit, resilience, and equity”

What is their agenda? Read on:

“Wilson points out that leading businesses have found ways to diminish hierarchy, to create flatter organizations, and to reinvent work spaces and climates with the needs of real human beings in mind — and have profited as a result. Schools should learn lessons, he says. And they should invest in helping everyone come to a deeper understanding of behaviors that can quickly be classified as insubordination or disrespect, in ways that decrease conflict and punishment.”

With a nudge from researcher and blogger Alison Mcdowell I also did a search on relationships between RJ and social impact bonds. It appears to have been emerging in the U.K.  back in 2015. The article says: “Work with offenders is already delivered on a payment by results basis by the new community rehabilitation companies(CRCs). If an offender who had gone through restorative justice delivered by an independent provider as well as other CRC-funded activities does not go on to commit a further crime, who gets the credit?”

I guess justice is for sale.

-Morna McDermott


The Interregnum Mile: Chapter One

Reposted with permission from Educationalchemy.

Educationalchemy-Chapter One

NOTE: This is a full-length book, being published chapter by chapter with a new chapter posted every two weeks. Readers will have to stay tuned for “what’s next.” The story is copyrighted by the author (Morna McDermott) but may be freely shared and re-blogged/posted (with citation to the author). The purpose of the story was to create a thought experiment. What will happen if/when the corporate destruction of public education and society is complete? Can we begin to imagine/enact a different set of societal structures that are more equitable, anti-racist, sustainable, and democratic? Do we have the collective will to manifest such a future? What can we learn from good examples in the past? Can we take some cues from the world of fiction to begin the conversation? This is a story of hope.

Please join us and enjoy the story! Feedback/comments welcome in the comment box. 

Story Summary

Ryder, Keesha, and Deacon, three lifelong friends, now in their teens have been named the leader-futures for Interregnum City, the first city to decolonize itself from the script of corporate enslavement. The city has gone “off-script.” They, along with their friends and families take the reader into a hopeful landscape of what might yet be possible if, and when, communities embrace the revolutionary power of the collective will, imagination and love. It is fiction of hope; representing any city in America and set in an unknown future time. This is a tale of what could be. Ryder, Deacon and Keesha confront obstacles such as the looming data pods built along the Interregnum Mile, and their secret discovery of the terror that lies waiting for their community if they cannot stop the colonizers secret mission in time. With the help of Ryder’s Uncle Kelley, Deacons grandfather Pops, and Keesha’s mother Susan, these three youth lead their city on a mission for reclamation, resurrection, and resurgence.


The bloated data pods heaved and groaned with the weight of their burden. Like fat over fed cows they seemed sleepy, rested with a deadening stillness. Even though the pipelines had been dismantled years ago, after the explosions the original cache of intellectual oil still lay inside-billions of dollars of untapped financial fuel. The people called it the compost of rotted imagination and fetid possibility.

Ryder, mature for his fourteen years, liked letting that image roll around in his mind. Ryder liked to be contrary to common assumptions. Where others saw destruction he saw creation. Words like rotted and fetid reminded him of the garden his neighborhood quad had started. Every morning he stood at his bedroom window on the tenth floor of his housing project dressing for his community engagement, or perhaps the recreational trip if it was Friday. No matter what lay ahead for the day, he’d stand at the window and look down. Today he could see his friends Jacob and Chloe kneeling down in the soil along the rows of early tomatoes. They were laughing about something, perhaps a joke Jacob was making but even with the window open to let in the warm June breeze, Ryder couldn’t make out what they were saying.

Looking farther beyond the garden and down the city block, dotted with brightly colored row houses: orange, blue, pink and yellow, like a checkerboard of brick squares lining up on both sides of the street, he could see the data pods. High along the city skyline they were an ever present visible reminder to the people just how low they had gone in the name of “progress.” Then, scanning his eyes over the shaded parks, crowded storefronts, cafes, and thick over grown garden jungles (the keystone of every block), Ryder thought about how far they had come since “the interregnum”- when they fought to go off script and decolonize their city.  That’s why they replaced their colonized name with a new nickname: Interregnum City, in honor of the infamous Interregnum Mile which the Blacker Hatters (known for their illegal hacking skills) had dismantled. Ryder would try and conjure images of a world before they broke free. At least, he thought what he could of it using his imagination. Their community was re-created decades before Ryder was even born, but he enjoyed re hearing of it from his grandfather and his uncle Kelly, one of the original Blacker Hatters, the rouge hacking group. His father, he assumed would have been full of stories too, if he were here now. Unlike the innumerable details he had been given about the history of the movement, all he knew of his father’s fate was “whereabouts unknown.” It was all anyone, even his mother, knew.

The sky was a light overcast grey and Ryder knew that if he was working with Mrs. Johnson today, for his Legacy Contribution project, she’d want to take a walk through the park and sit on the bench to feed pigeons like she did every week. He’d be chilly if the wind picked up so he pulled a plain forest green sweatshirt from his middle dresser drawer and slid it over his tall thin frame. In his mind, he could hear his Uncle Kelley, using that booming dramatic tone he liked to use when he was talking about the movement to unscript themselves. If history only relied on his uncle Kelley for the retelling one would think he had single handedly dismantled the data mining pods and chased the corporations out of every city in America. He smiled to himself with affection. Kelley was short on stature, but he wasn’t short on bravado. Or courage, if the five inch knife scar going up the right side of his torso, was any indication. Decades since the injury, the scar still rippled up along his rib cage like the San Andrea’s fault.  Ryder thought of Kelley’s low voicem rising and falling with each piece of the story. He’d always begin the same way:

“There was a time, Ryder, when public schools were actual buildings where you went and sat all day in a classroom. Each classroom had a teacher. And you would read books, and fill out worksheets and take tests to show what you had learned.”

“Learned about what?” Ryder would ask. He tried to imagine what these buildings would look like. His mind could not quite determine what a “work sheet” could be. There was “work”… that’s the part he got. Everyone he knew worked. But what was a sheet? Like a bed sheet?

Kelley would say, “Whatever it was the government, well… really the corporate overlords using the government, wanted you to learn. We went from slavery to segregation to the promise of education. But once we got the right to attend public schools with white kids, they started coming up with all sorts of tests and regulations that put us right back where we were….” He stopped briefly to think carefully. “There were lots of folks, of all races tryin’ to create changes that would support what our kids and our communities needed. Parents, teachers, members of the communities. Even students were fighting for their own rights. But the corporate class with all their money and power just rolled over any resistance. They used the tests in schools to sort and track us into low paying jobs, and to close our schools and to push us out of an education before we had completed a diploma. But even that wasn’t enough for them!”

Ryder had heard the story a million times. This was where Uncle Kelley’s voice would rise to a roiled pitch. “They decided to hand over our schools and our children to private businesses for a profit! They turned public schools into charter school runs by companies who treated our kids like prisoners or investments for their portfolios. And the schools they couldn’t close, well, they let the corporations in through the back door. They outsourced everything from the tests, to the curriculum, and the classroom, the teachers, and finally even our kids’ private data, all handed over to these companies.”

“You mean all the information jammed up in the data pods, Uncle Kelley?”

Whenever Ryder looked out his bedroom window at the rusted machines slumped along Interregnum Mile, in his childish imagination they resembled iron dinosaurs. Something from a dystopic fairy tale. Well, even if they weren’t dinosaurs, that last part was accurate. The world had been living in a dystopic fairy tale.

“What did they do with the data, Uncle Kelley?”

“They used it to control our minds and our bodies. The electronic whip, we called it. With all that information, they could manipulate the choices we made. When Net neutrality was abolished the whole world around each of us was manufactured in a way to make us see what they wanted is to see, and to believe what they wanted us to believe. They controlled the access we had to the world. Worse yet, the data was used against us so prisons were built based on 3rd grade test scores of children of color. Employers decided whether to hire you based on a discipline record that went all the way back into kindergarten, Health care centers decided whether or not to provide you services based on the data they got from what you bought at the grocery store. If you ate foods that weren’t on the approved list, they could refuse to give you health care.  In schools they tracked kid’s pulses and eye movements to be sure they were paying attention. If the computer told the corporate masters you weren’t working hard enough, you could be severely punished.” Ryder did not bother to ask how.

Kelley’s voice dropped low and slow for emphasis. “That data… they just sucked right out of us… made themselves so wealthy and powerful that the people lost all hope of ever being able to have access to a free mind or clean food, clean water, or clean land ever again.”

Ryder tried to picture all that data, all that information like sewage flowing through clogged pipes churning and bubbling up on large screens as psychometric profiles and predictive behaviors. Even at the age of 14 he vaguely understood that in the wrong hands this would have brought his people back to a time of slavery and colonization. But this time, all people, black white or brown were going to be for sale. They had fought it back once. And the people woke up.

But the war wasn’t over. It had just gone underground. While Kelley was always eager to talk about the past with anyone willing to listen, neither he, nor any of the other adults, in Ryder’s world, would talk about the future. That was the cold chill of paralysis that kept up Ryder each night. Lying awake knowing that he, and Deacon and Keesha and the others were left with amorphous task of “re-imaging their future.”

Since they were toddlers, it seemed as if the three of them operated as one organic body: Keesha had the brains, Deacon had the courage, and Ryder had the heart. Best friends. Inseparable since their learning experiences in the Young Peoples Learning Center (YPLC). Deacon and Keesha were convinced that Ryder’s ability to feel so deeply for others came from spending his youth helping his mom who ran the YPLC on their street. Each apartment building, or city block of row homes, had its own YPLC to care for and educate the young children until the age of nine. In these small brightly painted rooms filled with music, paint, building blocks, books and outdoors spaces, the little ones from birth to nine years of age learned the basics: how to read, write, do math, sing, draw, speak multiple languages, cook, build and grow. Then they were graduated to city centers where they chartered their own learning agendas. Of course, parents and family members had influence on what the youth might learn, especially if there was a family business involved. But their contributions, which were places of learning, also contributed back to and within their community. All learning had purpose. And students chose their course. Back before going off script, the colonizers had tried to camouflage their corporate interests in the cloak of community efforts. But the people learned quickly that billions of dollars from outside sources were never intended to grow their community but to drain it. Double speaking in words of equality, freedom and choice, disguised social impact bonds and vulture philanthropy only worked for so long. Shortly after, they were driven out.

“Too much time with all those babies!” Deacon would sneer, using a tone of disgust underlining the word “babies.” Deacon couldn’t sit still long enough to listen to long drawn out stories strung together by small children with runny noses. He wanted round- the- clock action.

“Nu uh. It’s cause of his daddy. Ryder’s got preacher’s blood in him” Keesha would counter. The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Ryder’s father when he was still a small infant was usually a hands-off topic no one could brooch with Ryder without winding up facing his fists in their face. But Keesha- she just knew how to say things just right so that the words were not unkind, or taunting. They were simply true. There wasn’t much Keesha could say or do that angered Ryder. With her, more so than with any of the others, his patience was endless. Whenever he saw her smile, or laugh, or simply draw a breath, Ryder’s whole body would light up with electricity. Simply being in her space created an invisible ripple effect from her to him. No one else could see it. But he could feel it. He wasn’t quite sure if she ever noticed this. But what folks did notice was how there was an unspoken orchestra of unity between the three of them. As young children they had simply revolved like planets into one another’s orbits and now they rotated around each other’s fields of gravity, inexplicably drawn together- even though their worlds at home were so markedly different. All they really had in common was their community, their age, and each other.

By the time they were twelve years old the Council of Elders had made it clear that very soon, the fate of their community, the growing success of the decolonized zone, rested with them. “Nothing thrills a teenager like getting the power he’s been yammering for” Kelley would say with an “I told you so” tone of voice. The he’d laugh. Ryder didn’t find it funny. None of them did. Sure they had the Council of Community Elders to lean on.  But it was really on them. And Ryder, not a huge risk taker, clung to Deacon and Keesha for their courage.

“Ryder!” his mom called from the kitchen downstairs. His mind was back to full attention of the present. He looked at the clock next to his bed. “Oh crap, I’m late! Coming mom! Be right there.”

As his foot hit the first stair he heard a low rumble from outside. The rumble grew into a roar. The house vibrated for a moment and he clutched the railing.

“Mom!” he called.

“Ryder, get down here. Quickly!”

He raced down skipping steps as he went. “What was that?

“I don’t know.”

“Call Uncle Kelley.”

She reached for the phone by the kitchen sink. Then a calm settled over the area. Ryder could hear neighbors outside on the street murmuring and asking questions. His mom hung up. “No answer.”

“I’ll go and find out, Mom. Don’t worry” Ryder said as he pushed open the front door to their row house and out onto the stoop. First thing he had to do was find Deacon.

-Morna McDermott

To continue click here for chapter two.




Presentation for Advocacy 101: My Personal Journey


On March 5th, my friend Shawna Murphy, co-hosted a roundtable discussion on advocacy. I was invited to participate on the panel. These are my opening remarks. 

My name is Carolyn Leith and I write for the Seattle Education blog. However, I think the real reason why I’m sitting at this table is because I’m a gifted trouble maker. 

I want to share with you what I believe are the three ingredients to advocacy.

First, by being here, you’re demonstrated the first ingredient: A willingness to act on your passion to make a difference.

I started out sitting in the same place you are now. I wanted to do something, but couldn’t see how I could fit into the organizations that were doing the work.

One day, it hit me.

I didn’t need to join a group to work on the things I cared about. I could do it myself, with friends who were worried about the same things.

That’s when I started to write for the blog.

Writing led to making a connection with other people who were concerned about the brand new Smarter Balanced Assessment. Together we formed the Seattle Opt Out Facebook Group.


Through Seattle Opt Out, I met Shawna Murphy and we decided to create the tongue-in-cheek group, Teacher Retention Advocate Parents or TRAP.

Together we threw a half-baked bake sale at district headquarters to protest school level staff cuts and draw attention to the absurdity of trying to fund basic education with bake sales.


After that, we asked parents in the district the Thirteen Thousand Dollar Question when Seattle Public Schools Superintendent, Dr Larry Nyland, said his scheduled $13,000 dollar raise couldn’t solve any of the district’s problems.

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We also held the McCleary Crime Scene Coloring Contest to bring attention to the state’s criminal underfunding of our public school system.

So back to the ingredients of activism. We have the first ingredient: action combined with the second ingredient: fearless friends.

The third ingredient, which I think is essential, is framing your advocacy in a way that’s both funny and leaves a mark.


Humor is the twist that disarms your audience and allows the more serious information the opportunity to seep in.

But how do you do this?

This question led to my latest advocacy project: The Typist Union.

Why a union?  Because I always wanted to be in a union and I thought it would be funny if I started my own.

Once a month we meet and do art together based on an artist or group which blended politics and art.

We’ve made union cards based on the Wobblies. Masks inspired by Bread and Puppets and protest posters inspired by Act Up’s design arm Grand Fury.

In closing, I’m not waiting for any leader to save me or the public school system that I love. I’m doing it myself. I hope you do the same.

-Carolyn Leith, card carrying member of the Typist Union


In response to Charlottesville


Being African American, I have seen and heard many things in my life, many times because most people don’t know my heritage and speak freely of others who are different.

Early in my life there were Ku Klux Klan rallies in the south. No one stirred, protested, or decried the racism. It was expected and as a family we mourned the ignorance of others.

When I heard about the actions in Charlottesville I was horrified. The deadly violence towards others in this circumstance is beyond my comprehension. An innocent woman killed while protesting racism and bigotry is unforgivable.

My second thought though, was that fifty years ago you would not have seen protesters decrying this display of bigotry and ignorance or hundreds of vigils around the country in response to the violence perpetrated by those who hate others simply for looking different.

As we remain shocked by this incident in Charlottesville, I think about how far we have come in my lifetime. People actively showing their disagreement with racism, standing toe to toe with others in the streets, marches, vigils, the public outcry…this didn’t happen decades ago but it is happening now and for that I am grateful.

Know that I and many others feel deeply appreciative of the support by so many from every walk of life.

There are at least 400 gatherings held around the country today, you can find one in your area and show your support and mourn the death of an innocent victim.

Dora Taylor




We stand with Andre Helmstetter for Seattle School Board Director


I met Andre when former Broad trained Seattle Public School Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson began her short-lived tenure in Seattle. One of her first edicts was to close schools, disrupt successful programs and rif teachers.

Along with many other parents, teachers and students, Andre advocated to keep schools open and then continued his advocacy, remaining active in public education in Seattle.

Because of his ongoing involvement with public school education and knowing the kind of person he is, we fully support Andre Helmstetter’s candidacy for School Board Director.

-Dora Taylor

To follow is his op-ed written for Seattle Education.

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A voice for all in a changing city: Why I’m running for School Board

Why would someone run for school board?

It’s a question I hear fairly often, especially now that I am running.   The short answer is:  I’m committed to public service, have 10 years of experience with Seattle Public Schools, a personal story of success supported by great educators, and a professional background and skill set that will bring value to the School Board, families and the broader community.

Here’s the longer answer:

I grew up in a very diverse set of circumstances. I was born right after the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, in Watts to a white mother and a black father. I dropped out of high school in my sophomore year to work to help support my family. Luckily, teachers were looking out for me. Teachers helped me graduate with my class by staying in touch with me and making sure I had the extra courses I needed when I returned. I owe a great deal to them.  I personally understand the challenges that our less advantaged students face. I understand the power of education to help a person rise through those challenges. I was fortunate enough to stay on track, get a good education, graduate from college and develop a professional career. I would like to ensure that all students in Seattle’s public schools also have such positive opportunities.

I’m a firm believer in public service. I joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school.  I served as a mentor at the King County Youth Detention Center, where I spent time with really great kids — and learned some very sad stories. I believe mentors are especially important for youth of color who may feel they have fewer positive options.  I volunteered on my local community council (Squire Park) and as a precinct committee officer (PCO) for my legislative district (37th). I have coached chess for kindergartners at Leschi Elementary in South Seattle. I would like to extend my service to the families of Seattle Public Schools.  As a biracial parent of three multiracial children, I understand the importance of racial equity and of providing an engaging education for all students. I also know firsthand the manner in which School District policy impacts schools and families, for better — or for worse.

In 2009 the Seattle School Board voted to close my daughter’s neighborhood school, T.T. Minor Elementary. In the fall of 2008, I had helped organize a citywide effort to stop the misguided school closures that targeted not only my daughter’s school, but those of hundreds of other students districtwide. We rallied, we marched, we petitioned, we tried to reason with them.

Though our group was not successful, our predictions were proven correct when the District realized enrollment was in fact going up. It had to reopen the schools the following years, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. There were other costs too: the closures caused huge disruptions to students and families who were moved to other buildings and saw their communities broken apart.’

I have witnessed poor decision making by the district, most negatively impacting our least advantaged students and students of color. I want to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

My family has also benefited from the strengths of the district, such as the Montessori program and great teachers. This fall, my wife and I are excited to enroll our youngest in Bailey Gatzert Elementary, where he will join one of the most diverse communities of learners in the district.  Though it has challenges, it is a school with great supports and a great learning environment. According to OSPI, 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch and about 96 percent are students of color.

The district report said Gatzert was a failing school, according to its test scores. But that is in contrast with the great educational environment I found when I visited. A lot of children who enroll at Bailey Gatzert are already 18-24 months behind academically. To try to evaluate these children based on test scores is really a misuse of data. Instead, we need to see where they are starting off, what their environments look like outside of school, and then tailor learning experiences to them – just as Bailey Gatzert looks to be doing.

I believe the best way we can help kids is to create great learning environments in school where they feel included, responsible for their learning, and engaged. I’ve seen over-discipline, especially applied to low-income and minority students, that makes children feel like they are not part of the school community.  Anything we can do to engage them and make them feel like they’re a part of, instead of a problem, in the community, will make a difference.

To that end, as a School Board Director, I will address disproportionate discipline of students of color and those with special needs. The moratorium on K-5 suspensions passed by the board in 2015 was a good start – but we need to do more. When I was in kindergarten I needed extra help with reading, but by fourth grade I was placed in the gifted program. Students of color are too often overrepresented in special education services and underrepresented in advanced learning.

I am interested in meaningful strategies for closing opportunity gaps. The district needs to attract and retain a more diverse teaching corps to reflect and understand our diverse students (127 nationalities are represented, 143 languages spoken, 34 percent of students face food and housing insecurity). We need robust cultural competency training so we can eliminate disproportionate representation of students of color and low income students in discipline, special education and advanced learning.

Capacity also continues to be a challenge. Just as we saw in 2008, the district is growing and needs more building capacity. The Seattle School District is expected to have 54,000 students enrolled in 2017-18. I have witnessed poor decision-making by the district, most negatively impacting our least advantaged students and students of color. I want to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

I would also like to ensure adequate lunch and recess times, adding more arts, music and civics to the school day, and reducing the time spent on testing. I’m particularly committed to ensuring all families have a voice in Seattle Public Schools.

As a lean consultant by profession, I understand the challenges large, public organizations face. I have worked with government officials and administrators to streamline organizations for greater efficiency using current resources.  This approach is crucial for Seattle Public schools at this time when state funding for public education is still insufficient (despite recent efforts by the state legislature to address McCleary) and when ours is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. We need to do more with less. We need to be smart about our resources. We owe it to our families, our teachers and taxpayers. And that is what I am trained to help organizations do.

I would apply my professional management and operations skills to help direct the $1 billion budget to greater efficiencies and accountability.  In 2018, the current Strategic Plan expires and the Board will have the opportunity to select a new superintendent. I would like to help shape the vision and direction of the district that will attract inspired new candidates.

We live in a beautiful city full of smart people and with a strong economy. I believe our school district can do a better for our students and their families by working to be a national example for the true promise and value of public education.

But our city is also changing have seen my own neighborhood transform dramatically in the 18 years I have lived here. As a former owner of a coffee shop and restaurant in the heart of the CD, I watched my neighborhood change both demographically and economically.   Disparities are becoming more pronounced. It is becoming more difficult for all families to thrive in an increasingly gentrified and costly city.  It’s more important than ever that all the voices of all our communities are represented and heard. Now more than ever, public education matters.

I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t believe that the School Board has an important role to play in shaping our school district to provide a better, more inclusive, learning environment to prepare our current students to be the future leaders, innovators and civically engaged citizens of our great city.  I would be honored to serve the communities of Seattle Public Schools and help other students like myself who struggled at times and faced challenges. I understand their story, and I have the skills and the will to support policy and practices that will better serve them. I am committed to making our district a place where every child is valued and supported on their own path to success.  Just as I was.

-Andre Helmstetter

It’s time for a Human Rights Act


I wrote the following letter today to the Mayor and City Council in Portland, Oregon where I live at this time.

To the Mayor of Portland and the City Council,

The actions of one person this weekend who killed two men who were protecting two young women from the angry and racist remarks and actions of that individual made me begin to think seriously about what is free speech and what is termed “hate speech”.

I consider “hate speech” words that suggest or incite harmful actions against others  whether the suggestion is covert or overt. I do not consider that kind of speech “free speech”.

Everyone who lives in our city, state and country has the right to feel safe. Would you feel safe if someone called out you or someone in your family as different and therefore a person who should be eradicated or removed from this country?

If someone who is mentally unstable yells out bigoted and negative comments in public about someone based on how they look, their skin color, apparent religion or sexual orientation, with an overt or covert implication of violence, is that freedom of speech?

Our regulations and laws, are created to provide guidelines in how we are to interact with each other so that all in our society can have a relatively peaceful and productive existence. Therefore, actions such as murder, theft, bodily harm to others and rape have been out-lawed.

It appears that we need another guideline now in how to treat all with dignity and respect and provide a safe environment for everyone to live in with a ban on words spoken in public that focus on one group and is hateful and suggestive of harming members of that group.

Racists hide behind the term “free speech” to freely espouse their negative views of other who are different from themselves and ultimately to take action against those individuals or groups. 

Canada has a Human Rights Act that forbids hate propaganda. The laws based on this act prohibit advocating or promoting genocide and prohibit inciting hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace.  

 “Hate propaganda” is defined as “any writing, sign or visible representation that advocates or promotes genocide or the communication of which by any person would constitute an offence under section 319.”

Section 319 prescribes penalties from a fine to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years for anyone who incites hatred against any identifiable group.

Section 318 prescribes imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years for anyone who advocates genocide. The Code defines genocide as the destruction of an “identifiable group.” The Code defines an “identifiable group” as “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”

Then the provinces and Canadian Territories have similar provisions. For example, for Prince Edward Island:

No person shall publish, display or broadcast, or permit to be published, displayed or broadcast on lands or premises, or in a newspaper or through a radio or television broadcasting station or by means of any other medium, any notice, sign, symbol, implement or other representation indicating discrimination or an intention to discriminate against any person or class of persons.

It’s time to put an end to this type of hateful behavior which many times devolves into violence and it should begin here, in Portland, where this aggressive act based on bigotry and hate has brought attention to this issue here and around the world.

It is now in your hands to create provisions in the City of Portland that protect all of us from actions that come from words based on bigotry and hate.

Dora Taylor

Why Delinking Graduation from the Smarter Balanced Assessment & Other Tests is the Right Thing to Do.

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I am writing to encourage everyone who values the 13 years of hard work completed by students as they reach their senior year to call their state legislators. My request is simple: ask your legislator to pass HB 1046. This bill will serve to delink all high stakes testing requirements in all subjects from high school graduation.

While this bill does not eliminate the state tests, it DOES eliminate the high stakes attached to these tests, which is a big step forward in supporting students whose futures have been severely damaged by high stakes testing.

In 2013, Seattle Times writer Donna Blankenship notified her readers about some stark facts tied to the state’s End of Course Math tests:

“But that doesn’t make life any easier for the nearly 7,000 students in the Class of 2013 who have yet to pass the newly required math test and didn’t get their diplomas last month.”

2013 was the first year the state required students to pass an end of course math test in order to graduate and earn their diploma.

This got me thinking. Since 2013, how many students in Washington State have been denied a diploma for failing a high stakes tests required for graduation? I don’t see the numbers posted clearly anywhere, despite the state’s creation of these high stakes.

It gets worst. In 2017-18, students will  be required to pass three high stakes tests in order to receive their diplomas, per OSPI:

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I wrote OSPI and asked them about the number of students who will be denied a diploma because of end of course tests required by the state. After all, we know approximately 7,000 students were denied graduation in 2013 because of one math test. What will happen when three tests are required?

Hello OSPI Communications and Community Outreach,

I have a question about SHB1046. Does OSPI have an estimate of how many students will fail to graduate if testing is not delinked from graduation, please?  How many failed to graduate last year due to testing?

Thank you kindly, Susan DuFresne

OSPI’s  response:

“As of late April, there were 15,645 students in the Class of 2017 who had not met the assessment graduation requirements.  Students are required to pass an assessment – or a graduation alternative – in each of the three subject areas ELA, math, and science.  The 15,645 number includes students who may have passed 0, 1, or 2 of the requirements, but haven’t met all 3.  Also note that these numbers only reflect their status with respect to the assessment grad requirements; it does not include information about whether the student has met other graduation requirements such as credits.”

15,645 students in Washington State are at risk of being denied graduation after investing 13 years of their lives in school.  In years past, a child attended 13 years of school, received passing or failing grades by their professional educators, earned their credits, and graduated with their diploma.

Shannon Ergun, ESL 9-12 Mt Tahoma High School, Tacoma Public Schools is highly concerned about the undue stress level these high stakes create for students and she states:

“I estimate based on there being 1.1 million students in WA that there are 70K-75K seniors that means that about 20% of current seniors are waiting on test scores to know if they can walk at graduation in 4-5 weeks. That is an inappropriate level of stress for a 17 or 28 year old to carry while still faced with AP exams, final exams, and final plans for beyond high school.

Until large numbers of kids are actually impacted everyone will continue to believe it will all be ok.”

I think Shannon makes a great point: What about the ordeal our kids experience just by taking these high stakes tests, knowing graduation is on the line? As adults, it’s sometimes easier to ignore rather than face the pressure these tests place on our kids.

For instance, did you know some students find these tests so stressful there’s an actual protocol for what to do should a student vomit on a test? That’s a lot of pressure. When was the last time you vomited at work over the pressure you felt to perform? I’m guessing this would be a highly unusual occurrence, not likely covered by a particular protocol in the employee handbook.

And what’s the message we’re sending to those kids born without the very particular gift of being a good test takers? You only have value if you can score high on a standardized test?

The State Board of Education is offering a compromise solution: delinking the biology end of course exam, while continuing to use the other end of year course exams as graduation requirements.

Why would it be acceptable to offer a deal to 3,302 students but leave 12,343 behind?

As an educator, I want ALL students who have otherwise completed their graduation requirements based on grades and credits earned to receive their diplomas – despite failing one or more of any of the three high stakes tests imposed by the state.

And what happens to the chances of bright futures for those left behind?

High school exit exams contribute greatly to the school-to-prison pipeline as noted here by FairTest:

“High school exit exams (FairTest, 2008) push many thousands of students out of school. As a result of these factors, urban graduation rates decreased. Some students see no realistic option other than dropping out; some are deliberately pushed out or fail the tests. Either way, these young people are much more likely to end up in trouble or in prison. One study found that high school exit exams increase incarceration rates by 12.5 percent (Baker & Lang, 2013).”

Sadly, youth who are unable to acquire a diploma are often relegated to minimum wage employment, live with state support through DSHS, or become homeless. In 2012, for example, DSHS reported that 69% of their “Opportunity Youth” did not have a high school diploma.

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And what about earnings for youth who do not receive a high school diploma?

“The average dropout can expect to earn an annual income of $20,241, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (PDF). That’s a full $10,386 less than the typical high school graduate, and $36,424 less than someone with a bachelor’s degree.

PBS Frontline reports in Dropout Nation by Jason Breslow and per the 2012 US Census here:

“The challenges hardly end there, particularly among young dropouts. Among those between the ages of 18 and 24, dropouts were more than twice as likely as college graduates to live in poverty according to the Department of Education. Dropouts experienced a poverty rate of 30.8 percent, while those with at least a bachelor’s degree had a poverty rate of 13.5 percent.

Among dropouts between the ages of 16 and 24, incarceration rates were a whopping 63 times higher than among college graduates, according to a study (PDF) by researchers at Northeastern University. “


Are we OK with throwing away the futures of kids who are unable to perform on high stakes tests – after they’ve devoted 13 years of hard work to their education? What message does this send to kids about hard work when it doesn’t payoff and they end up rejected by the system.

What if OSPI was required to report how many students have been denied graduation due to high stakes testing each year? What if our US Department of Education had to file a yearly report which focused on the living conditions of each state’s youth denied a diploma due to high stakes tests?

Perhaps outraged parents, educators, and students would rise up and stop the high stakes testing; the state’s means to punish children, educators, and schools would be lost forever.

By delinking ALL high stakes tests from graduation we can protect thousands of students in Washington from being denied their rightfully earned diploma for simply missing a few questions on a test.

Also by delinking these tests from graduation requirements, we will also save our state between $9-$11 million dollars. Money that could be better spent on actual teaching vs testing.

Call 1-800-562-6000 and ask your legislators to protect our students by delinking high stakes testing from graduation – vote YES on SHB1046! Delink them all! Give our youth the bright futures they deserve!

-Susan DuFresne – Integrated Kindergarten Teacher with General Education and Special Education endorsements – 7 years in the Renton School District, Teacher of Professional Conscience, Co-Owner of the Opt Out Bus, Social Equality Educator, Artist, progressive and social justice education activist, unionist, mother and grandmother – The views I express are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer. #FreeSpeech