Category Archives: education finance

Support Your Public Schools

She lived in a car with her mother, until her mother OD’d. She sat next to a student whose parents owned a private airplane.

He slept on friends’ couches all senior year. He sat next to a girl whose dad commanded troops in Iraq.

She was a single mom trying to make ends meet. She sat next to a girl whose parents had come to the US to start a new life. They sat next to a foreign exchange student from the Republic of Georgia. They all attended class with three debutants, two kids who lived in the projects, a teacher’s kid and a doctor’s child.

All of them, regardless of background, learned. 

That’s public school, and the strength of public school is essential to our communities, states and the nation.

Today Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick presided over the kick off to “choice” week. There they embraced and championed the idea that tax dollars should be used for private education and that charter schools could somehow fix what ails public schools.

Abbott and Patrick are wrong. That did not stop them from firing the shots that could destroy a system so essential to our democracy.

The best way to guarantee strong public schools is to vote for politicians who believe in strong public schools. Abbott used to, Patrick never did.

Neither of these men faced election this year. 

To contact Gov. Greg Abbott and tell him you support strong public schools not choice, click here.

To contact Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to say the same thing, click here.

To be clear, support for vouchers, tax credits or any other means of privatizing public school will kill the public school. Don’t let that happen.

And the next time Texas elections roll around, remember these men have every intention of destroying a true public school system. We can’t ignore this. 


The People Spoke, We Must Too


It’s no secret who I voted for, but I believe in The People. We live in a country where that means something. I know in 2011 educators met with Dewhurst and he listened. I know others did, too. I know when I wrote my blog post, A Plea from a Teacher that was viewed a bajillion times around the world politicians from all sides commented on it and sincerely wanted to hear back from me. The People spoke yesterday, and it was a resounding defeat for Democrats, but just like the R‘s don’t own Jesus, the D’s don’t own education. Don’t let an election stop you from fighting for the kids, the classroom and what we know is right. Education can not be a partisan issue now. If people let it become one, it gives the testing companies and their lobbyists more power. Most politicians are parents. They want what’s best for kids, too. They just don’t always know what’s best. They won’t ever know if we don’t speak up. Tell your classroom stories. Tell about how the cuts have challenged you as an educator (not just teachers), tell how testing affects your kids, educate the public. If we go around being angry teachers and parents all the time, those “reformers” sound like they’re on to something.

(Another cross posting from my Facebook wall. Sorry if you’re seeing this twice.)

Speak Up For Our Kids. They Deserve Better.

Educators, regardless who you voted for you have a responsibility to speak up about the travesty taking place in our public schools. The testing regime won, but they can change if we speak up for our kids. I know there were other issues than education driving this election. The Republicans were not always tied to Pearson and the billionaires funneling money into the state for for-profit charters. The Republicans don’t have to stay tied to Pearson, and they can thank the billionaires for their campaign contributions while standing up for public education. When Republicans joined forces with Pearson, they didn’t see the truth about testing. Teachers see it now. Teachers live it now. Students suffer through it now. If you are silent, you are saying this is okay. Do not be silent. Fight for our kids.

(Posted on my Facebook wall tonight. Some of you might see it twice because of that.)



Dear Texas Educators,

In March 2011 several thousand people gathered to protest the huge cuts to education. Wendy Davis fought for us then and lost. Will we fight for her now so she can win?

In March 2011 several thousand people gathered to protest the huge cuts to education. Wendy Davis fought for us then and lost. Will we fight for her now so she can win?

Maybe you don’t remember a different time. A time when we had enough full-time teachers in a department to teach classes effectively without feeling overwhelmed. A time when curriculum was built around learning instead of testing. A time when entire districts would have laughed at the idea of YEARS WITHOUT WRITING as part of the scheduled day (hello fifth grade, hello eighth grade).

Maybe you don’t remember those days, but I do.

I also remember 2011, the year a tough job got way more difficult.

(From my Facebook post earlier tonight) Dan Patrick said the $5.4 billion cuts to Texas public education he helped spearhead in 2011 didn’t kill anyone. I have no idea if he’s right, but I feel sure the stress teachers have been under since 2011 trying to do what we’ve always done with fewer people and more demands translates to shorter life expectancy. If you’re a rich white guy just hanging out making deals with your buddies to make their lives more lucrative, you probably aren’t hurting much from those cuts. If you’re a teacher voting for that guy, I hope you know why.

If you’re a teacher who hasn’t voted yet or wonders if they’ll even bother, stop it right now and go vote TOMORROW. If you’re in Wichita Falls, you can vote at Home Depot or Sikes Senter. (And we wonder why our kids can’t spell!)

Obviously, I voted for Davis and Van de Putte because I believe the Perry administration along with Abbott and Patrick have done their best to destroy public education in Texas, Texas public school teachers and OUR CHILDREN. Between the ridiculous testing requirements and the budget cuts, we are truly at an impasse.

Get educated on the issues–the REAL ISSUES not those stupid Patrick commercials where he claims to be pro teacher which is the funniest thing I’ve heard all year–AND VOTE. Because if you don’t, when you get another prep next year or a pay raise that’s barely visible because of insurance adjustments or you’re sitting in a class with a kid who’s crying because they think they have no chance of graduating because they can’t pass the 5-hour ELA test, you can look in the mirror and say you’re to blame.

I know you’re tired. I know you feel powerless. If you don’t vote you ARE powerless. If you do, if we all do, we will have a voice.

In 2011 I marched with thousand of others in the Save Texas Schools rally in Austin and I helped organize the local rally here, and everywhere I went I heard teachers say, enough is enough.

It’s time to prove it.

There’s only one way to truly Save our Schools.


A Snow Day That Changed the World

…okay, that’s probably a bit of an overstatement, but all day #evaluatethat has been trending on twitter, and that fact has me feeling a bit on the positive side. #evaluatethat is dedicated to stories  from teachers, students and parents about positive educational moments that can’t be measured on a test. I probably would’ve never seen the hashtag if not for Diane Ravitch’s blog. If you believe in public education, and you aren’t following Ravitch, stop now and go follow her!

In the midst of all these great tweets I’ve seen a few legitimate questions from naysayers. People, almost always non-educators, ask how can we rid our schools of bad teachers without tests and merit pay?

I have a couple answers.

1. A test doesn’t rid your schools of bad teachers. It doesn’t rid your school of bad teachers because a test doesn’t magically create good teachers. An AWFUL teacher can have a classroom of kids pass a test. And an amazing beyond belief teacher can see half her students pass a test and half fail and know those results are miraculous. The awful teacher with a classroom full of kids passing the test will go about the business of life without a care in the world but with a huge carbon footprint courtesy of his school’s copy machine, a curriculum provided complete with scripts and five bajillion practice tests. The great teacher will go home exhausted and horrified that students are missing out on amazing educational opportunities because of the test. A test 50 percent passed and that’s amazing and wonderful and rock star, but not rock star enough and it’s not worth the stress and anguish and constant treading water and trying to keep afloat because she’s going to have to go in and face the music for the 50 percent who didn’t pass even though those 50 percent might be special needs, might be hungry or beaten or homeless or their dad might’ve walked out on their mom last night or their brother got arrested for dealing drugs or they couldn’t sleep because it was cold and there wasn’t money to pay the electric bill and the heat from the candle didn’t quite reach the pallet she shares with her baby brother. AND NONE OF THAT MATTERS. Failure is failure is failure.
And she’s a teacher and failure is not an option and she was given the curriculum and she obviously sucks at this job and everyone knows anyone could teach and what’s so hard about reading some lines in front of a class and handing out some worksheets and hey, you get summers off so stop your whining, and people from the megabajillion corporate world know better than every just-waiting-for-their-public-handout classroom educator out there, so they’re right, you’re wrong and on top of being wrong about a test not actually showing anything, about how states like Texas have spent over a $1 billion on tests with no measurable increase in actual learning because  politicians still believe in Pearson’s Emperor’s New Clothes education policy, on top of being wrong about all that (despite the plethora of documentation showing the teacher is right), NOW the state’s going to give you a grade and make it public or let you know you need a growth plan because 50 percent is not cutting it and yep, you suck, you need to find something else to do because failure is not an option no way, no how.

Yeah. A test doesn’t measure quality education or quality educators.

2. ASK THE TEACHERS how you get rid of bad teachers. Master educators have those answers. Due process should be part of that answer. Growth plans and mentors should be part of that answer. Administrator and master teacher walk-throughs should be part of that answer. The answer changes from school to school, from state to state. But the answer is there, and, trust me, great teachers and administrators WANT the answer more than companies making billions and politicians and “reformers”. It’s not easy, but it is effective. EASY and quality education have never gone hand in hand.

I’m sick to death of hearing great teachers hurt over fear of test scores. I’m sick to death of hearing them say it’s not worth it to teach when they can make more with a lot less stress in the private sector. We’re killing our schools and politicians have turned teachers into public enemy number one. Something has to change. That’s what #evaluatethat is all about. And that’s why I love it.

If you have a story to share, head over to twitter and share. Don’t forget to add #evaluatethat.

Teacher Magic Rarely Planned


The best teacher I’ve ever worked with started one of her best lessons with the N-word on the board.

By the time the lesson was done, several other vile words were on the board. Words of hate and intolerance. Words that destroyed.

A master teacher, she engaged her students in discussion about the words they used daily with little thought. She taught about the power of hate speech, about how different cultures had embraced hate words and claimed them as their own under the belief that by doing so the speech would lose its power.

By the time she was done, every kid in the room took part in a lesson that would last a lifetime.

As the students made their way through my class that day they shared their shock at the honesty of the lesson, their excitement at its reality. They couldn’t believe how much they’d learned, and quite honestly, most felt guilty about the way they’d so easily thrown around the words she’d written on the board.

She was a master teacher who didn’t shy away from tough topics.

That was 1997.

I’ve talked to some of those students and they STILL remember that day, they still think before they speak.

I wonder if the same lesson could be taught today.

I hadn’t thought about that lesson until last week when I read a story on HuffPo about a teacher under fire for writing “You can’t be a democrat and go to heaven” on the board.

Her superintendent said the statement wasn’t part of the curriculum.

I don’t have a clue what the teacher was doing when she wrote those words on the board, but I know I certainly heard those words during this election cycle. I know those words could be a great starting point for a lesson on politics and the angry rhetoric that is so much a part of our political world today.

I don’t think the words would find their way onto one of the tests that run our curriculum these days, but I know real learning can take place in classrooms led by a fearless teachers who dare to engage in discussion about real world issues instead of how to choose the best answer: A, B, C or D. I know because I see those real life lessons every day conducted by fearless teachers across my campus.

The master teacher I worked with in 1997 didn’t PLAN her lesson. She heard the students dropping the words in the hall as if they were no big deal, and she decided in a moment to change what they were doing in her classroom that day.

Great teachers can do that.

It’s scary to think our current education culture could ruin those moments of spontaneity, those moments of teacher magic that can’t be measured and don’t have anything to do with objectives or TEKS or common core standards.

I don’t know what took place in the classroom in the linked story. I do know I want my students to think critically, problem solve and question the answers. Maybe I’ll start my day Monday with the words “You can’t be a democrat and go to heaven” on the board.

***Photo Link: used under creative commons license.


Books out now: Letting Go and Grace is Enough by Mary Beth Lee; Honor and Lies and Dead Girl Walking by Elizabeth Lee. Available in kindle format or from book stores everywhere.

I Don’t Have the Answers, But THIS Didn’t Work

The number of times I sat down to write post and hit delete instead: 30

Or maybe it was more.

The last weeks of school were spent doing almost anything other than educating students. From 7:45-12:30 students sat in rooms where they were supposed to take tests that showed whether or not they had learned anything. Or, if they were sophomores-seniors, they sat in rooms where they tested to show testing companies what questions should be used on a test and where cut scores should be set. Or they bubbled B (or if they were creative ABBA) for all their answers and put their heads down to sleep.

When we were told we’d test 45 days this school year, I don’t think the impact of that hit until we were in the midst of the test days. Then it was too late to plan a way to keep an afternoon class on task. Seat of the pants lessons to keep learners engaged became the name of my game. I’m still not sure how my kids made their final newspaper deadlines, but they did. Yearbook distribution without announcements…don’t even get me started.

By the time the year was done, I was exhausted and the students looked like they’d been through a war. I’m a student media adviser. I can’t imagine what my core teacher friends felt like.

At the end of testing I took two seniors to the State Academic meet. One won 6th in headlines. I love when the kids medal at State! State was moved to the end of the school year because of testing. Testing runs everything in our school system now. 10 years ago if you had told me our last six weeks would be built solely around tests, that nothing else would matter, I would have laughed. Joke’s on us, the educators, who sat quietly back and let this happen. Who became pawns to educationese like formative and summative and common core, rubrics, holistic grading, and data, data, data. I embraced those words. I believed in them.

I’m not sure what the answers are, but I know this testing monster we’ve created isn’t the answer we’re looking for.

On the bright side all this testing has pushed me to write like never before. I have a new young adult novel out this month. It’s my first contemporary YA, and I’m excited to hear what people think. I’m working on an inspirational romance and I’m revising a contemporary romance. Maybe I should send thank you notes to TEA and Pearson. They’ve inspired me.

I’ll be keeping up with education politics, and I’m sure I’ll blog about it over the summer. The last few weeks of school, I couldn’t. It made me want to cry.

Thank God for summer!

My new book: Dead Girl Walking by Elizabeth Lee. Get it here.

RIP The Week That Was Wasted

Dear students,The anti-education
I’m sorry. I’m sorry we wasted your time this week. Sorry you had to sit and wait and wait and wait while your peers finished the exam that takes everything else you do in school and belittles it. Sorry you’ve been brought up in the generation of test, test, test where teach, teach, teach means nothing unless it culminates in Commended.
I’m sorry I had to look at you and say “no talking, no questions, no, no, no” unless, of course, your question was could you read a book when you were done.
I’m sorry I had to break out the teacher look when the entire class was done within 90 minutes, and yet you had to sit silently for 4 hours in your perfect little rows of 5X5, facing forward in classrooms covered in butcher paper so you wouldn’t actually learn something.
I’m sorry the politicians we elected listened to business owners and testing companies instead of educators about how best to ensure you are learning.
I’m sorry I didn’t stand up earlier and say enough is enough.
I’m sorry I didn’t educate your parents on what the test-only culture was doing to our classrooms.
I’m afraid now I might be too late. But I won’t be silent, and neither will most of your other teachers.
Something has to change. I’m sorry it won’t change in time to make a difference for you.
And, yes, I realize the test is done. I realize that you’ve been brought up in a culture that says the test is all that matters. But, dear students, that is wrong. And while the test is done, class is not.
I’ll see you Monday. I might not be able to recapture a week of lost learning, but for the next four weeks, we’re going to learn without the pressures of the test. Hopefully, the teacher look can be put away until next year’s week of no, no, no. No learning, no questions, no real answers other than A, B, C, D.
If you’d like to bring a book for downtime, AWESOME. I have some suggestions for you, and our library is fantastic.
Perhaps we’ll have a wake for the week that was wasted.

I Just Thought Fahrenheit 451 Was Sci-Fi

The following CHILLING conversation between teachers, k-12 and higher ed, took place on my Facebook page last week. I’ve included my original post so readers understand what started the narrative. Read it all. It won’t take long.

My original post: From TCEA 2012 Dr. Howie DiBlasi
The skills today’s business leaders say we need to be teaching

•Communications skills
Information and communications skills
Effective Communication
Presentation skills
Use digital technology and communication tools to
Oral and written communication
•Inventive/Critical Thinking
Thinking and problem-solving skills;
Creative problem solving
Critical and analytical thinking
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
“Thinking outside of the box” – creativity and innovation
Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity
Creativity and Innovation
•21st Century tools
Use 21st Century tools to develop learning skills
Teach and learn in a 21st century context
Use 21st Century Assessments that measure 21st Century Skills
Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments
Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility
Digital Age Literacy
Technology Operations and Concepts
Ability to apply discipline knowledge and concepts
•Creating global citizens
“Knowing more about the world” – creating global citizens
“Developing good people skills” – teamwork
Learn academic content through real-world examples
Model Digital-Age Work and Learning
Productivity and Professional Practice
Collaboration skills and projects
•Information literacy
“Becoming smarter about new sources of information” – information literacy
Collect and/or retrieve information
Organize and manage information · Interpret and present information
Evaluate the quality, relevance, and usefulness of information
Generate accurate information through the use of existing resources
Information gathering, evaluation and synthesis
Research and Information Fluency
Identify trends and forecast possibilities.
Literacy and numeracy
•Personal attributes
Personal attributes such as ambition, self-awareness and an inquiring mind.
Time management and organization
Interpersonal and self-directional skills
Initiative and enterprise
High Productivity
Balanced lifestyle and capacity to manage stress levels
Emotional intelligence; interpersonal skills
Community involvement
Polly Wagner Birkhead A lot of things will have to change in the education world before this will happen!! But I pray the changes do come and soon!!
Thursday at 8:08pm
Mary Beth Lee Me too! Notice there’s one mention of assessment, and I don’t think it’s talking about TAKS or STAAR.
Thursday at 8:10pm
Polly Wagner Birkhead EXACTLY!!
Thursday at 8:19pm
Brittany Norman Even at the college level, we’re sacrificing communication classes. New curriculum regulations are cutting hours from the core, and the state has mandated that those cuts be made from composition and speech classes. Beginning in 2013, instead of 2 semesters of composition and 1 semester of speech, students will only be required to take one semester of composition and then choose between speech or comp for their second credit. That means that students who have trouble writing will probably opt for speech, and students who struggle with public speaking or are shy will choose to write, ensuring that they never have to face their weaknesses. (Also, without second semester comp, there’s no research component in the core ENglish curriculum… so how’s that for information literacy?) I don’t know how, but we have got to find a way to put people who understand education–who LIVE it every day and see what students need–in charge of crafting curricula and setting priorities. As long as a bunch of career politicians–whose primary concern is ensuring their own reelections–are in control, we’re never going to get back on course.
Thursday at 8:31pm
Mary Beth Lee That’s terrifying, Brittany. Who thought that was a good idea? It’s insane!
Thursday at 8:33pm
Brittany Norman According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (at least the last time I checked), the NUMBER ONE shortcoming of recent college grads–and this is according to some of the country’s major employers–is a lack of communication skills, both written and oral. So what does the Texas legislature do? Cuts down on the amount of written and oral communication training students have built into the core curriculum–and for students in some majors, that’s the only communication training that they get throughout their entire college careers (until/unless they fail the writing proficiency exam at MSU their senior year, in which case they have to take another composition skills course. The exam is given before students can start their “senior-level” hours. This year, the failure rate was absolutely staggering).
Thursday at 8:36pm
Mary Beth Lee The conspiracy theorist in me screams SEE, THEY WANT TO PRIVATIZE ALL EDUCATION. They’re destroying education on purpose. There’s an agenda. But then I shake my head and say, nope, they’re just idiots.
Thursday at 8:40pm
Peggy Browning I agree with the idiocy diagnosis.
Thursday at 8:44pm
Charlotte Wittel Dockery maybe they are idiots with an agenda
Thursday at 8:46pm
Peggy Browning That’s a possibility.
Thursday at 8:46pm
Brittany Norman I think the real problem is that things like communication skills, critical thinking, and creativity can’t be easily quantified, even though they’re very real. The education system in general (at least in the US) has a real problem with misplaced concreteness. If you can’t slap a (grossly inflated) grade on it, give it a percentile ranking, and compare it against “everyone else” (meaning, of course, only other schools in the state/country, because we don’t want to even consider how poorly we’re stacking up against the rest of the world right now) to somehow prove that everyone is “above average” even though that entire concept is ridiculous and impossible, no one wants to hear about it. And as long as the entire system is built around standardized test scores and students, parents, and educators are pressured into seeking “more-than-perfect” GPA’s just to make it into the top 10 percent and get into a state school…. nothing is going to change. You can’t assign a number to critical thinking or communication skills, which means… you can’t attach a corresponding dollar value to it.
And I know I’m rambling and going off on a major rant here, but the education system in the US hasn’t changed a whole lot (other than just becoming more and more grade and test-obsessed) since the 1950s, when a big goal of education, especially K-12, was to train students to become functional and successful cogs in the industrial machine. Our economy is no longer driven by factories. The US exports innovation–at least in theory–and the current system doesn’t provide any space in the curriculum to let students THINK. They learn how to take tests, but the real world isn’t a multiple choice exam–it’s open-ended.
Thursday at 8:53pm
Polly Wagner Birkhead I agree with Brittany! 100%. Well said!!
Thursday at 9:03pm
Brittany Norman This facebook discussion led me back to a paper I wrote in a sci-fi lit class back in undergrad because one paragraph of it fits in perfectly here. I remember re-reading Fahrenheit 451 in that class–I had read it at least a half dozen times already, but had never really focused in on the bleak future Bradbury had been forecasting for education. And… I’m afraid he was right. There are far too many situations these days where our classrooms eerily echo those in Bradbury’s dystopia. The first quote in the following paragraph is one that comes to mind far too often these days.

“Even education is prepackaged and directed toward a quantifiable goal – passing standardized tests. Multiple-choice examinations require no thought or analysis – only memorization. Clarisse’s description of education eerily echoes today’s uninspired classroom environments. “We never ask questions, or at least most don’t,” she laments. “They just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing…. It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not” (Bradbury 30). Class, homework, and sports combine with extra-curricular activities, community service, part-time jobs, and SAT-prep courses. High school graduates walk the stage at commencement with a mind full of facts and simplified answers they were never taught to question. No one learns to think because thought cannot be tested, measured, and ranked. Instead, education focuses on tangible skills. College students no longer crave knowledge; they build résumés. Bradbury’s antagonistic fire chief echoed the sentiments of many degree candidates: “Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?” (Bradbury 56). Enrollment in pre-professional programs skyrockets while the arts and humanities flounder. Graduates yearn for assured employment, functional cogs in the corporate consumer machine. Interchangeable parts require only efficiency, not imagination. When that machine inevitably succumbs to obsolescence, there might be no one left to re-invent it.”
Thursday at 9:44pm

Building on the Values of No Child Left Behind

Since NCLB took hold we’ve seen entire generations of children taught to bubble in answers like pros while losing the ability to problem solve and think critically. Our schools are earning “Exemplary” ratings, and yet, the only subjects students learn are those measured by a test. Testing companies and their lobbyists are earning billions while school districts try to balance budgets. Teachers and administrators across the nation are calling for change, but politicians and lobbyists–most of whom have never set foot in a public school–continue to beat the drum of test, test, test. The test in and of itself is not the problem. Having a tool to measure data is a good thing. The problem is politicians bought into testing company lies that the test was the salvation of education. And then they tied everything we do in education to that lie. Instead of investing in great teacher training and effective strategies for everything from classroom management to best learning practices, we invest in hour upon hour of “How to actively monitor a test” and “keeping the test secure.” (more)
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

(continued) The test has done nothing to improve teaching other than helping teachers learn to analyze data. While that’s not a bad thing, when it comes at the expense of actual student learning, it’s terrible.
Has their been some success in closing the achievement gap? Yes. Would that success happen without NCLB and its test driven theory that has created big business for Pearson, et al? Yes. We were already working on best practices before NCLB. True best practices, not best test taking practices. Reading this post, I have to wonder if the author has even looked at the exit-level tests we’re giving children today. If not, he should. And then he should take a released practice test, publish his results and then talk about how the test translates into real world learning and how NCLB saved education. Talk to professors and they’ll tell you the truth: today’s students aren’t prepared for post-secondary learning, but they are expert standardized test takers. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see standardized test taker as a great career path for any student, regardless of socioeconomic class.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost