Uniting to Ensure Best Options for Students, Parents and Teachers

This post was also shared at Cooperative Catalyst.  If you'd like to read it there go here.  There are some really good comments!

Social media has become a mobilizing force in bringing together students, educators, and parents who are frustrated with the data-driven, standardized, one-size-fits all learning taking place in publicly funded schools today. Many of these groups have popped up with members joining and uniting against a system designed to reduce children to nothing more than standardized, easily measurable data to appear on a future chart that can bolster the ratings and egos of policy makers and business leaders.  Despite the fact that many educational leaders, educators, parents, and students know this is wrong parents like Gretchen Herrera are being forced to engage in practices that hurt children with threats of school closures and students being left behind or kicked out for failure to comply.

One of the biggest movements gaining momentum is the opt out of state testing with social media sites being created in the form Facebook groups, Facebook pages, and Yahoo groups which are connecting parents, educators, and students who are frustrated with forced government schooling policies.  In the past there was little information available to the public when it came to opting out of tests. Not surprisingly this information was hard to access and inconsistent.  This is, in part what the government agencies are banking on.

Fortunately with the advent of social media and Web 2.0 tools, concerned individuals are able to unite to find, share, and collect information.  One such effort to collect this information is The Opt Out of State Standardized Tests – Site.  Upon joining, group members can contribute relevant information from their state.  The beauty of this site is that the information is created and owned by anyone concerned about this issue.  The site is open to all concerned individuals who can find general and state by state information as well as a number of social media groups and pages to join.

I strive for a public system that welcomes everyone and helps to create learning communities that support both personal and communal growth through access to life long learning opportunities be them through schools, homes, community centers, libraries, parks, or any place that people young and old can gather to share in the co-creation of learning. I believe that for a healthy democracy and community that the system should be publicly funded and reject the ideas that we can standardized learning or teaching. We should look to support the well being of all humans not just those who can afford it!
While opting out is a step in the right direction to achieve the above vision, there is a deeper conversation that must happen to address what some have called the rapid deterioration of public schools. However, rapid deterioration is misleading as we also need not fool ourselves about restoring our system to “the good old days.”  Remember in the good old days we implemented a factory model of learning, where schools were segregated, there were limited or no options for females to participate in sports, and it mostly only filtered men into subjects like math and science.  The outdated education system of today needs not only an update, but a transformation requiring a paradigm shift. To do that we must not be afraid to engage in difficult conversations that challenge traditional ideas of education.

This is because even if some parents earn and exercise the right for their children not to take standardized tests, there are many other issues that will still exist and will need to be addressed and discussed which include:
We need to explore alternatives, give parents choice for how education dollars can be spent, and instead of demanding a one-size-fits all school model, allow parents and students to decide a learning environment that they feel is ideal for their families. This may mean alternative school settings such as a Democracy school like Summerhill or Sudbury where there are no grades or grade levels. It could mean a passion driven model like Big Picture Schools.  It could mean supporting home education options. It might mean investing in learning centers rather than schools as explained here by Connie Coyle and Linda Dobson in their visions for radical school reform. To do this we must act and engage in the often challenging work and conversations.  Ones that will lead to giving choice to parents to ensure they have opportunities to provide the best possible learning options for their children without the control and imposition of government mandates which they do not support.

Okay, so now that the test is gone! Are we ready for some fun? Imagine it’s the next day…
What type of learning community will your family be joining? What does it look like and value…?  Think big, nothing is off limits! I mean really have some fun with it!  When you are done, share it below, join our vibrant online learning group here and let’s start making it happen!
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More Parent Involvement with Less Stress this Back-to-School

Online Signup Sheets by VolunteerSpot Save Time {and Sanity} 
Guest Post by Karen Bantuveris

Inviting parents to participate in the elementary classroom builds positive rapport and sets the foundation for a successful school year for all.  Parents feel involved and engaged, kids see that their parents value their education and are on the same ‘team’ as their teacher, and teachers get much needed help and an opportunity to begin natural conversations with parents about student success.

Parent participation is good, even great....right?! But one busy teacher coordinating the parents of 20-30+ kids as class helpers or for parent-teacher conferences can be a daunting and stressful proposition, even for the most seasoned teacher. On the busy parent side of the equation, juggling multiple requests from multiple teachers and school committees can seem overwhelming and cause some parents to opt-out of volunteering all together.

Skip “Reply-All” email chains and clipboards this year!

Simplify communication and make it easy for more parents to pitch-in and support your class activities with VolunteerSpot.com ‒ FREE online sign-up sheets save time and boost parent participation. Simply set the schedule of needs and invite parents to sign up with a link {on your class website or facebook page} or with an email invitation. Parents click to choose when to help or what to bring —even from their smartphones. The site keeps the signup calendar up-to-date in real time, and sends automated confirmation and reminder messages that help parents keep their commitments. Parents without email can be given assignments manually and VolunteerSpot sends you a reminder alert {so you can then call the parent or send a note home}.

Kris W., a 1st grade teacher in the Washington, DC area had this to say about VolunteerSpot, “That was so easy! I set up my class ‘table time’ schedule, sent out the link, and in 48 hours, I had the whole semester filled…like magic! The best part is, VolunteerSpot sends reminders so I don’t have to stress about parents forgetting!”

And David C. of San Jose commented on VolunteerSpot’s facebook page, “VolunteerSpot rocks- I use it to coordinate Parent Teacher conferences for my 120 7th and 8th graders!”


VolunteerSpot was designed with simplicity in mind – if you can shop online, you can use VolunteerSpot. Use it to organize anything - classroom readers and parties, parent-teacher conferences, recess and lunch volunteers, supplies and snacks, field trip chaperones, exam proctors and more. Teachers who use VolunteerSpot report that 20% more parents show up to help, more working parents participate, and most importantly, that they save up to 2 hours a week in administrative busy-work.  More parents helping are good for teachers, for parents, and for our kids!

You can take a live demo today at www.VolunteerSpot.com  and check out VolunteerSpot on Facebook – we’re giving away $500 in school supplies this back-to-school season!

Karen Bantuveris is the founder & CEO of VolunteerSpot, a time and sanity-saving online coordination tool that empowers busy teachers, parents and grassroots community leaders by making it easier get involved. Karen is passionate about helping more parents get involved at school and funding education technology. She lives in Austin, Texas with her daughter and husband. @VolunteerSpot @VSpotMom
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4 Ideas to Transform Learning

In her piece School would be ideal… if it weren’t school, provides four key points that help illustrate the ideal “Learning Center.”

  1. It should never be called “School”.
    School is for training and indoctrinating, not learning.  Let us go with Learning Center or something similar.

  2. It should never ever be compulsory.
    We should not be forcing people into pseudo academic situations that may not agree with personal desires and/or beliefs. Yes everyone has the “right” to education, and as such learning is something that is always freely available everywhere, all the time and can even be made more available – but having the right to do something does not in any way validate that it should be forced upon anyone - especially by any prescribed or predetermined means.

  3. It should not be standardized or federalized.
    By allowing for one golden mean or ‘standard’ of education, we completely violate individual freedom by blatantly ignoring personal desires and restricting true freedom to learn (the right that everyone has, remember?).   Furthermore, who gets to decide what this ‘standard’ should be and why?  Why does a board get to represent me and what I want or need to learn to fulfill my personal aspirations? 

  4. No Federal Funding.
    I’ve been known to say that such establishments should not be publicly funded, but funded by those who use it and perhaps philanthropic donation.   I will concede however, that learning centers can be reasonably publicly funded if they operated similarly to libraries and community centers.   Ideally these would be funded by local taxes in the county or city that they serve…. for the sake of those who depend on the existence of a safe place for their children to be during the day while society learns to transition to a more human educational system.

Lynn suggests we imagine county run,  independent learning centers that are not compulsory and are available to use by anyone who wishes to use them. Centers would have learning facilitators who were teachers,  parents, teenagers, industry leaders and other community members who use the facility.   Funding would come partially from local taxes (perhaps) as well as private donations and/or paid extra courses that are offered. Much in the same way community centers operate now. Lynn suggests this would be the ideal replacement for what we now know as school system that is outdated, dysfunctional and damaging to children.

What do you think?

You can visit Laurette Lynn's whole post and read more about these ideas here.
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Back to School Dos and Don’ts

In his blog, SpeEdChange, Ira Socol provides smart advice about back to school dos and don’ts and I provide my thoughts on each below.


  1. Offer multiple media versions of information to students so they can read it, hear it, understand it in their native language, etc.  

    • You may want to consider partnering with students and parents to do this.

  2. Offer a wide range of places and ways for students to be comfortable because there is no reason to make kids feel trapped or uncomfortable

    • Craigslist and social media are great places to secure donations.  When I had my library we had a comfy couch, bean bags, pillows, animal chairs and more that were all donated.

  3. Let them eat and drink because people should be able to do that if they’re hungry or thirsty.  

    • When I was a librarian I jumped through hoops and fought unnecessary policies to allow food/drink in the library.  We learned to clean up after ourselves.

  4. Offer a Tool Crib for your students.

    • I just love this! We do not need to standardize the devices students use.  Let them use what they have or what you have. Choice is good and allowing students to use different tools or software helps kids build their toolbelts.

  5. Connect to social media

    • Creating globally connected students shouldn’t be a shallow piece of a school’s mission statement.  Teachers should bring this to life using social media tools by creating classroom accounts with Twittert, Skype, Google, and UStream.

  6. Let kids declare "time outs."

    • Students don’t need you to tell them they need a “time out,” empower them to tell you.  Adults take a break and back away when they need to. Children should be afforded the same opportunity.

  1. Don’t assign seating or expect students to sit on the same type of chair.

    • This is important when you have students like me who or Donald Rumsfeld who just hate sitting on a chair or working at a standard desk  and that’s okay.  I have not had a desk in seven years.  

  2. Don’t force your students to stay in your room.
    If they need to leave for a bit you’re accomplishing nothing by keeping them in.

    • When I was a library media specialist people were amazed at how wonderful the “difficult” students were in my center.  That is because sometimes people need a break and that’s okay.

  3. Don’t ban mobile phones.

    • Couldn’t agree more.  Teach responsibility and ability to harness the technology students own for learning.  

  4. Don’t insist on handwriting

    • Thank you for this.  I haven’t used a paper/pen in nearly 10 years except when forced at outdated, inefficient medical offices where I write the same thing unnecessarily 500 times.  Other than that, never!  Socol advises, “Let kids enter text and data any way that works for them.” Socol has some smart suggestions for doing this. Such common sense.  

  5. Don’t... give kids a "second shift" of work when they leave school.

    • I couldn’t agree more.  You’ve controlled what students do all day.  Let them have freedom to live and apply knowledge in the real world at night.  Let them run around and get exercise.  Allow them to discover, explore, and develop their passions. Let them rest, relax, or be alone.  In short, they’ve put in their day.  Let them be who they want to be and do what they want to do when they leave.  Socol says it this way, allow them the opportunity to extend their world, rather than extending yours.

  6. Don’t sweat "due dates."

    • What a novel concept!  Perhaps kids work at different rates or have other life factors that may impact when they have completed their work.  Socol gives examples of all sorts of high level positions and deadlines that are rarely met in the real world and reminds teachers to ask themselves, if the work assigned is really of any real value.  As I said in a recent speech, “When is the last time you read a book you loved and thought, ‘I can’t wait to write a book report about this.’ If we’re not keeping it real with students, why should they bother to do the work?

To see full reasons and resources visit the original post here
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What's Popular This Week on The Innovative Educator

Here’s the roundup of what's been popular on The Innovative Educator blog this week. Below you’ll see my top weekly posts along with the number of pageviews in the past 7 days. I hope there's something that looks of interest to you.  If it does, check it out. If you’re so inspired leave a comment.

Aug 19, 2011, 1 comment
  2,120 Pageviews

Aug 15, 2011, 3 comments  1
916 Pageviews

Aug 21, 2011, 7 comments
  1696 Pageviews

Aug 23, 2011, 31 comments   1
580 Pageviews

Aug 26, 2011   1
431 Pageviews

Aug 22, 2011, 1 comment   1
382 Pageviews

Aug 24, 2011   1
380 Pageviews

Aug 23, 2011, 1 comment
    1359 Pageviews

Apr 15, 2008, 7 comments
   940 Pageviews

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Geometer Sketchpad Available as iPad App for Exploring Dynamic Math

Sketchpad Explorer Logo.pngIf you’re a fan of Geometer Sketchpad and you own an iPad, you’ll be thrilled to know that Sketchpad Explorer is available here for free to educators until September 1st. It will be $3.99 after that. Sketchpad Explorer provides an intuitive environment for exploring Dynamic Geometry mathematics. It offers users access to the vast library of The Geometer’s Sketchpad mathematics content on the Web – including Sketch Exchange, the Sketchpad Resource Center and dozens of teacher-published websites – where users can view and share sketches across a range of mathematics topics and levels.

When I provided professional development for teachers in a couple dozen schools where we launched one-to-one laptop programs I found that Geometer’s Sketchpad was popular among math teachers because it offers students a tangible, visual way to learn mathematics while increasing their engagement, understanding and achievement. Students are able to create mathematical models in multiple ways to explore principles, test conjectures and illustrate myriad concepts. 

The Geometer’s Sketchpad has been used successfully in elementary and middle school math, algebra, geometry, precalculus, calculus and higher education applications. In addition to supporting the Standards for Mathematical Practice, The Geometer’s Sketchpad addresses concepts in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Content, guiding educators to successfully implement the standards as their students benefit from hands-on learning.
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A Fundamental Principle: No Unnecessary Testing (NUT)

By Stephen Krashen | Original PDF

Summary: Do not invest 4.5 billion on new standards and tests. Instead, work on
improving the NAEP to get a picture of how our students are performing, and
continue to use teacher evaluation to evaluate individual student performance. We
should begin by cutting back testing, not adding testing.

No Unnecessary Testing (NUT) is the principle that school should include only those
tests and parts of tests that are necessary, that contribute to essential evaluation and
learning. Every minute testing and doing “test preparation” (activities to boost scores on
tests that do not involve genuine learning) is stolen from students’ lives, in addition to
costing money that we cannot afford these days.

If we accept the NUT principle, it leads to this question: Do we need yearly standardized
tests closely linked to the curriculum? Do they tell us more than teacher evaluation does?
This issue must be looked at scientifically. If, for example, standardized tests given in
every stage are shortened, given less frequently or abandoned, will student performance
be affected? Would NAEP scores be affected, or high school graduation rates, or life

My prediction is that teacher evaluation does a better job of evaluating students than
standardized testing: The repeated judgments of professionals who are with children
every day is more valid that a test created by distant strangers. Moreover, teacher
evaluations are “multiple measures,” are closely aligned to the curriculum, and cover a
variety of subjects.

There is evidence supporting this view for high school students: In a study published in
2007, UC Berkeley scholars Saul Geiser and Maria Veronica Saltelices found that adding
SAT scores to high school students grades in college prep courses did not provide much
more information than grades alone, which suggests that we may not need standardized
tests at all. More recently, Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson (2009) reached similar

For those who argue that we need national standardized tests in order to compare student
achievement over time and to compare subgroups of students, we already have an
instrument for this, the NAEP.

The NAEP is administered to small groups of children who each take a portion of the test
every few years. Results are extrapolated to estimate how the larger groups would score.
No test prep is done, as the tests are zero stakes: There are no (or should be no)
consequences for low or high scores. Our efforts should be to improve the NAEP, not
start all over again, and go through years of fine-tuning with new instruments.

Gradually improving the NAEP will also solve the "standards" problem, as the NAEP is
adjusted to reflect competencies experts in education consider to be important.

If we are interested in a general picture of how children are doing, this is the way to do it.
If we are interested in finding out about a patient’s health, we only need to look at a small
sample of their blood, not all of it.

My predictions, however, need to be put to the empirical test. A conservative path is to
start to cut back on standardized tests, both in length and frequency, and determine if this
has any negative consequences.

A radical path is to throw everything we have out, without any evidence that it is
inadequate, and waste $4.5 billion on new standards and new tests, tests for all subjects
and to be given to every child every year.

The conservative path is the only rational option, when funds are so scarce, and it is an
essential exercise of our responsibility to students. It is also the solution to those who are
calling for a longer school year and a longer school day: less time testing and doing testprep
means more time for instruction and learning.

Bowen, W., Chingos, M., and McPherson, M. 2009. Crossing the Finish Line:
Completing College at America's Universities. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Geiser, S. and Santelices, M.V., 2007. Validity of high-school grades in predicting
student success beyond the freshman year: High-school record vs. standardized tests as
indicators of four-year college outcomes. Research and Occasional Papers Series: CSHE
6.07, University of California, Berkeley. http://cshe.berkeley.edu
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The State of Digital Education

The State of Digital Education

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

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Opting Out of Standardized Testing - A National Movement for All

I have been an ardent supporter of all parents, students, and educators interested in opting out of state tests.  They usually want to know two things:
  1. What are the laws in my state?

  2. How do I find others who are in my state?

In response to this, I have created a site where anyone can share state by state information and use the discussion board on each page to connect with those from their area. 

Please add information about your state by clicking on the picture below.

If you are on Facebook, you can connect with others interested in opting out in these groups.

Parents & Kids Against Standardized Testing (Opt Out of State Testing)
  • Page for parents, teachers, students of all beliefs and backgrounds.

Parents & Kids Against Standardized Testing ( Opt Out of State Testing )
  • Group for parents, teachers, students of all beliefs and backgrounds.

OPT OUT OF THE STATE TEST : The National Movement

  • Group for parents, teachers, students whose primary focus is the preservation of public schools through the opting out of state tests. Members supporting alternatives to public education are not welcome in this group.

OPT OUT of State Tests: Parent/Student Support against Standardized Testing

  • Group where parents frustrated by public school policies and mandates like standardized tests can feel comfortable to explore and share ideas about non public education alternatives.

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Opt Out of State Tests Facebook Group Tells “Certain” Parents/Students/Teachers - You’re Not Welcome Round Here

This was supposed to be a post about encouraging you to join the “Opt Out of the State Tests” group on Facebook. Some of you may remember last week when I excitedly shared with thousands of my followers on Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook that there was a new group in town that was created for the purpose of supporting parents, educators, and students interested in opting out of standardized testing. What I didn’t know is that they didn’t have interest in supporting “ALL” parents. You see, the group leaders made it very clear that folks like me weren’t wanted around those parts.

I wish I had known of their bias before I invited thousands of people to the group. I would never knowingly invite members of my personal learning network to a group that discriminates against those who do not share the group leader's approved religious beliefs, political affiliation, or learning methods. Because of their bias, I deeply apologize to those who I unintentionally mislead. Before I was aware that this was a group bound by intolerance, I was thrilled as more and more esteemed peers from my personal learning network joined the group. Parents, students, and educators had a platform to talk, discuss and share ideas. There were rich conversations from people of varied backgrounds. 

In the group, there were stories of parents who shared their frustration about the test results being misused for all sorts of things. In many cases, the tests were being used as a primary determinant in holding their children back a year. In some cases, like that of parent Gretchen Herrera, the test was literally making her son ill and her school handed down the threat that any child who opted out would be kicked out if they choose not to take the test. For parents who felt they had nowhere else to turn because they did not want to subject their children to this abuse, some members shared non-public education options, such as home schooling. It wasn’t long after that group moderators and some of their buddies (the worst coward doing so anonymously) went on the attack. 

Parents and teachers were chastised for their political and religious beliefs. They were called things like religious nutters, and there were many untruths published about those whose views were different than some of those who moderated the group. Next, group members were informed that this group would be censored for anyone sharing non-public options for parents as now this group had a new mission - it was no longer all about the children. Now, first and foremost, it was about saving the public school system. Those whose interests also included exploring learning alternatives were told to "go away" and leave the group.

When I had invited thousands of others to join, I had no idea this group was only for members who had a certain belief system. I first discovered this when one of the group moderators criticized the views of Linda Dobson’s popular blog, which focuses on home education and natural learning. The group moderator, stated that as a “professional educator,” he does not condone homeschooling. 

To really drive the point home, he explained why he believed parents were not qualified to take student learning into their own hands.

“Parents, by the virtue of being parents, are NOT by default "experts" on education, curriculum, pedagogy, and so forth. I happen to respect the fact that I've spent many years honing my craft and reading numerous pages of text that I should know a bit more than someone who has children.”

Then another moderator frustrated with parents who were entertaining the idea of learning alternatives had this to say. 

“We don't want to homeschool or bow out of the public system. I don't care if you're a parent, teacher, teacher educator or school crossing guard, if your end game does not include a thriving public school system situated in neighborhoods that stimulate democratic communities go start your movement somewhere else--no hard feelings. We are just on different missions. It's pretty simple.”

A particular kind of home educator was also singled out by a moderator who said this:

I really do think these unschool folks need to leave.

As a point of clarity, I am not a home educator. I am an educator who supports ALL parents, educators, and children: public, non-public, all religions, races, and political backgrounds. Honoring and respecting ALL parents, educators, and children does not mean we want to bring the public school system down. I advise parents on how to work within the system. However, when parents are at a point where their children are bullied, beaten down, sick, and suicidal, and the parents feel helpless (as many members of that board expressed) some of us share that there are other educational options. The board moderators wanted these alternatives censored and silenced. 

While it would be convenient to take opting out as an issue onto itself, no matter how much these moderators want to stick their fingers into the ears of its members, it is more complex as Teresa McCloskey in Standardized Tests: Merely A Symptom of the Disease points out. It is a shame that the Opt Out of State Testing group wants to sequester the thoughts and ideas shared. It is a shame that parents and educators passionate about helping children were made to feel like outcasts by intolerant group moderators who told them to leave. Many of us were not willing to do that. We believe in tolerance and acceptance and that we can work together. 

This was not an option. The moderators spread lies and untruths about home education and learning alternatives. Then they made sure there was no more talk or input from non-public parents and educators by banning those who had publicly expressed they were open to such options. Without conversation or notification many group members who were supportive of all parents were removed. In an instant this opt out group badly burned a bridge and sent a loud and clear message to non-public parents and educators, “You are not wanted here.“

The word spread like wild fire around the civilized education communities, disappointed that a public education group was formed that decided authority and control should dominate over freedom and expression of ideas. They demanded compliance, and made it crystal clear to remaining members that this was not a place for the questioning and sharing of ideas outside their own.
As a result, several parents and educators wrote privately to those who openly shared independent education options. They asked how they could find out more. Christeil Figueroa Gota, who was one of the concerned parents that was forced to discuss alternatives behind the scenes, created this group to help these parents: OPT OUT! Parent/Student Support Group: You've Decided to Opt Out. NOW WHAT?. This is a safe, non-discriminatory place for ALL parents and students interested in exploring alternative options for their children. There are also two other non-discriminatory opt out Facebook pages. One is Kids are More than Test Scores and another Parents and Kids Against Standardized Testing which also has a newly created corresponding Facebook group named Parents and Kids Against Standardized Testing. If you don’t believe in discrimination and want to be able to share new ideas, we invite you to join us on these pages and groups.
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