The Governor's Baldspot: Has the Blame Game finally gone too far?

Scott Walker has been playing the blame game forever - most notably in blaming former governor Jim Doyle and/or President Obama for everything that happened, ever, either before, during, or after he took office.

But his latest, most bizarre claim, might be the tipping point for Wisconsinites who've had enough of his failure to take responsibility for his administration's many failures.

And it's all about The Baldspot.

Apparently, the governor is so insecure about this that he felt strangely compelled to compensate for it by drawing attention to its dominant appearance in the cartoons of Phil Hands.  However, rather than laugh it off in a self-depreciating way, as he apparently intended, Walker instinctively launched into an elaborate story about how the bald spot isn't his fault:
The bald spot, he said, was the result of a repair incident in the kitchen when he banged his head on an open kitchen cabinet door while making repairs requested by his wife, Tonette.
She kept telling him to go to the doctor to get the scar on his head looked at, he said. When he finally did, the doctor said his hair would never grow back in that spot, the governor explained.
Tonette still points to the bald spot as a reminder that he should always listen to his wife, he said.
Now, first of all, WHO CARES IF HE IS BALDING?!  Why are even talking about this totally inconsequential matter when half a million Wisconsinites are uninsured, our state is dead last in jobs growth, our public education system is under direct attack, and hundreds of thousands of families are barely making ends meet?

And yet...I can't help but fixate on this moment - not because I care about The Baldspot, but because I can't help but wonder:

How pathological a liar do you have to be to blame a cabinet,
and, in a passive-aggressive way, your wife - for your bald spot?  

If she hadn't made him fix that cabinet, he could be Fabio right now.  Or at least Paul Ryan.

And in case you're giving the Governor the benefit of the doubt here, I present Exhibit A:
The Baldspot

Blaming a cabinet - and by extension his wife for making him fix it - for this um, "scar," is outrageous.

But it's par for the course in Walker's blame game.

Governor Walker blames a cabinet for his bald spot like he blames workers for not being "skilled enough" to have jobs.  When the myth of the "skills gap" has been disproven time and time again.

Like he blames teachers for the failings of underfunded schools.  When his cuts to public education are the largest in history.

Like he blames students in poverty for not "performing" and says the only solution is to privatize public schools.  When his demands for "accountability" prevent educators from focusing on the students who need the most help, and his voucher expansion is destroying the very fabric of the social contract that provides an equal playing ground for all Wisconsinites.

Like he blames the uninsured and underemployed for not being enterprising enough to get "good jobs" that pay a living wage. When he laughs about the $144K salary he earns as governor not being "real money" and insists that the minimum wage "doesn't serve a purpose."  And the insurance companies who contributed to his campaign are seeing massive paybacks from his decision to reject OUR federal taxdollars in Medicaid funds to keep people off BadgerCare.

Scott Walker is not new to the blame game.  It comes very naturally to him.

But when you blame a cabinet for your bald spot, people have to stop to wonder.

If we can't trust him to be honest about such a trivial matter, how can we trust him on anything?
The short answer is: we don't.

At least half of us, who've been paying close attention for the past 4 years, have been calling out the governor's fabrications all along.  Even on the right-leaning Politifact, 68% of his statements that have been put to the test have not passed the lie-detector.  And yet: the governor's success in "dividing and conquering" this state during an already divisive national political climate has been enormous: people on Team Walker are now assumed to be so firmly entrenched in their belief in him that they won't question any of his prevarications.

But maybe, just maybe, a little white lie will be big enough to wake up "the believers" and plant some seeds of doubt.  And maybe, just maybe, people who haven't been paying much attention - or who've been dismissing the he said/she said as more partisan bickering will start to see the light. 

It's a matter of principle.

And Wisconsin deserves better.



What Democracy Looks Like: An Open Letter to JB Van Hollen

When the US Supreme Court ruled last night to block Wisconsin's Voter ID law from being implemented for the Nov. 4 election, I was thrilled.  My initial response was to thank the ACLU of Wisconsin for the work they do to advocate for voter rights and civil liberties for all. As an election official, I had thought this battle was lost and was so dreading the chaos and confusion of the November 4 election - and especially dreading knowing we'd be turning eligible voters away from the polls and effectively disenfranchising them from the right to vote. I was also excited that this decision has the power to restore some faith in the system and encourage people to really wake up to how important it is to exercise their right to vote.
Then I read this from Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen:
"I believe the voter ID law is constitutional, and nothing in the Court's order suggests otherwise. Instead, the Court may have been concerned that even with the extraordinary efforts of the clerks, absentee ballots that were distributed before the 7th Circuit declared the law valid might not be counted.
We will be exploring alternatives to address the Court's concern and have voter ID on election day."
I called Mr. Van Hollen's office (608 266-1221) first thing this morning, to ask a few questions about what he meant by "alternatives" (and how much that would cost us) and to beg him to respect the SCOTUS ruling.  And guess what?

J.B. Van Hollen - and the office of the Department of Justice - is not exactly "open" to the public.

Despite the fact that I was civil and very polite, I was treated with extreme rudeness and hostility by the person who answered the phone.  Worse, she never recorded my name or concerns and I was informed that the ONLY way I could get any of my questions answered would be to send a fax or snail mail request, in writing. They "don't have a public email" and won't answer any questions over the phone. 

So I wrote a letter.  And I call on you to do the same.  Feel free to copy/paste what you want, and let the Attorney General know that tampering with an election that is already in process (and has been in process since before the initial ruling - ballots had already been printed and mailed), is undemocratic and unacceptable.  You'll find his contact info below.

Office "policies" like this are intended to limit or stifle public input - a wholly undemocratic move - just like practices like Voter ID are intended to limit or stifle voting by specific groups of people.  That's not what democracy looks like.

Don't let them silence your voice.
Don't let them stop you from voting.


Let Mr. Van Hollen know what you think today.  And let the whole world know what you think on November 4.  Show them what democracy looks like.




Wisconsin Attorney General
PO Box 7857
Madison, WI 53707-7857
FAX: (608) 267-2779
10 October 2014

Dear Mr. Van Hollen:

As an election inspector and taxpayer, I was greatly relieved by the Supreme Court’s intervention into the Wisconsin Voter ID implementation and applauded their decision last night to block the law prior to the pending Nov. 4, 2014 election. 
Given the impossibly unrealistic timeline and prohibitive costs of notifying voters of the change to the law, it is obvious that implementation at this late stage (with no allocation of resources or a solid media campaign to educate voters) would effectively disenfranchise untold thousands of eligible voters on Election Day.  I have already seen for myself the impacts this law has had on our most vulnerable voting population – homebound seniors – and with 20% of the public unaware of the change, it was inevitable that we’d be turning voters away on Election Day.

Whether or not the law is overturned in the long-run, this decision means that these voters will have the opportunity to exercise their legal right to vote, and we will have ample time to educate the public for the next election if the law is ultimately upheld.

Needless to say, I was shocked and appalled when I read this morning that you intend to “explore alternatives” that would allow you to implement this law on November 4, and I ask you to please provide, immediately, and in writing, an explanation of what exactly you intend to do and what the cost and impact will be on Wisconsin voters and election officials and how you think it reasonable to tamper yet again with an election already in process.

I call on you to respect the decision of the highest court in the land and desist your efforts to find a way to implement this unrealistic requirement whose constitutionality is still in question nationwide and whose implementation on November 4th would be catastrophic for both those of us who work the polls and those eligible voters who will be turned away on election day because the politics of the few stood in the way of their right to vote.

I would also like to add that when I called your office today to get clarification on your statement and your plans, I was treated so rudely that I wondered for a moment if I’d actually called the Department of Justice – certainly no one on the public payroll should be allowed to treat constituents with such a tone of scorn and disdain.  Your office’s policy of refusing to record calls, collect contact information from callers, or answer any questions not submitted in writing by FAX or snail mail is not only out-of-date but yet another effort to disenfranchise people from participating in the democratic process by discouraging them from communicating with elected officials and forcing them to wait who-knows-how-long for a response.

The fall election is 25 days away.  Your antics in prolonging the “debate” over voter ID only sow confusion and chaos and serve to suppress voter turnout on Election Day.  If this is not your intent, you will respect the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States and resume your battle against democracy after the fall election.  And if this is your intent, the people of this state are being willfully disserved by their Attorney General.

Sincerely,
/s/ Heather DuBois Bourenane

PS. For those who live in the faxless modern age, you can send the e-fax equivalent of an email by saving your comments as a pdf and faxing them for free online. I use http://faxzero.com/

"Taking Advantage:" How High-Stakes Testing Guarantees Gaps

Why I Don't Care How My High-Scoring Kids Do on Standardized Tests, and Why I Do Care about How they Score with their Teachers

A couple of friends and I were talking about standardized testing when I shared a new Huff Post article by Dr. Yohuru Williams,  "Common Core Kills Curiosity," which I thought contained the zingiest of zings in its conclusion:
"[T]his is the real crime of the education reformers hell bent on quantifying success in the very limited confines of standardized test scores while tearing down schools, slashing budgets, and working feverishly to eviscerate the teaching profession. They are not only killing curiosity but slaughtering the dreams and prospects of millions of students nationwide -- whose very lives may soon be reduced to a test bubble."
A friend of mine followed up with a great question - one that I think bothers most parents when they think about this issue:
This is being asked in sincerity--do you have suggestions that would allow teachers the flexibility to teach in ways that nurture critical thinking, meet student needs AND provide accountability to show student progress? Other than having to make subjective grading of portfolios?
This was my response, with links to evidence supporting my position on high-stakes testing:
There are so many ways to do this [provide authentic assessments], and many of them are ALREADY being done by our teachers! The tests and inflexibility of one-size-fits-all standards just get in the way of those more accurate, more honest formative assessments. It's a total and disproven myth that standardized testing provides "accountability" with any accuracy - just as it's a total myth that standardized tests are a truly OBJECTIVE measure of progress or achievement. ALL grading is subjective. The tests have implicit biases and measure little more than relative affluence and/or the ability to test well. The time restraints, the external stressors, the lack of preparedness and the gap between what is being taught and how that is being tested are all variables that ensure the test cannot provide an objective measure of learning. But even worse, the tests don't measure knowledge. They don't measure critical thinking. They don't measure potential. But our teachers can and do measure those things every day - if we trusted their professionalism and objectivity as much as we trust the tests, our schools would be a much different place.

If we want to follow a model that works, we should look to Finland, where they ONLY do formative assessments and not high stakes testing, and as a result they have time to TEACH and their students are the top scorers on the PISA test they take every 4 years. Here's a great article I read recently on how they grade, and why it works: http://www.mwera.org/.../v25n1-2-Hendrickson-GRADUATE.

One of the main things teachers have told me in the years since my kids have been in school is that the tests NEVER tell them anything they don't already know about their students, and that the students' performance is predictable: they know what smart students will score low (or high) and what mediocre students will score high (or low). The tests just get in the way of the formative assessments they WANT to do to help them meet each kids' needs. And then they have to watch as the scores are then used to "track" the kids into programs, and that tracking is done largely along lines that just make the gaps wider and wider. The TESTS are the problem - these false assessments are what are actually cause the very gaps the reformers claim they can help us erase. I'm not buying any of it. All I want is the teacher's assessment: the teacher is the person trained to evaluate my child's learning and that is the only assessment I am interested in receiving as a parent. Period. I don't give two shits how my kids do on tests that will be used to sort, judge, penalize, and promote inequity in our schools. And it makes me furious that my kids' teachers pay & professionalism is being compromised by my kids' performance on those tests.

Also as a college English teacher, I am 100% in favor of portfolio grading for classes where it's appropriate and am curious as to why you dismiss it from your choices. It's the only way I grade and I have a very formal set of criteria for assessing student work from a holistic perspective that seeks to measure progress and critical thinking as well as the "finished product". I'm not how sure HS/MS teachers do portfolio grading, but in my own experience it's the only assessment that's fair or productive for students.
[end rant]

I'd like to provide some context for where my "rant" was coming from.

Fact.
This is a question that has been bothering me for many years, as I've seen first hand how kids break down under the pressures of high-stakes tests and I've heard so many stories from parents and teachers as been involved with so many groups and organization committed to supporting public schools.  But mostly, it's my experience as a parent, seeing my own kids go through this testing (and their teachers twist their educational lives around it), and my concerns about how teachers are forced to assess their work that troubles me the most.

Let me illustrate with one, terribly telling, example.  As a parent of a "high scoring" kid who's been placed in the so-called "Talented and Gifted" (TAG) program, these scores have been presented to me as if they are The One True Indicator of my child's success or potential. 

Which is a total joke.  Because here's how my kid measures "success" on his tests [actual conversation from 4th grade, 2013-14 school year]:
Me: How'd the test go?
Kid: Great!  I finished fast enough to read for 45 minutes!
Me: Do you think you got all the questions right?
Kid: [Shrugs, gives look that says "how is that relevant to your first question?"] I don't know. Maybe? Probably.
Me: Well, I'm glad you got some extra reading time. What were you reading?
Kid: Roots.
I don't even know how he scored because when they sent me the scores in the mail I didn't open the envelope.  It's probably around here somewhere.   But I do know that he did really well [Success is doubled! Bonus reading time AND a decent score!] because a couple of months later we got a letter in the mail from something called NUMATS (Northwestern University's Academic Talent Search).

Turns out the kids who score in top 5% all get this letter, which our district sends out to let high scoring kids know about the additional opportunities available to them.  So at first we were like "Yay! More challenge! More rigor! A fun extracurricular that's actually academic, which we love,  instead of sporty, which we hate!"  But it turns out that the "opportunities" being offered were just THE OPPORTUNITY FOR MORE TESTING, which would "prepare him" to take more tests later and provide a "more accurate" assessment of how "advanced" he is.  I kid you not.  The entire program is set up so that high-scoring kids go through this series of additional tests that they otherwise wouldn't take for years - EXPLORE, ACT and SAT - that will allow them to practice and prepare to be better and better at test-taking (and presumably, though this was not stated, to confirm and validate what everybody already knows about these kids: that they're smart good test takers). According to NUMATS, "After students test, parents receive comprehensive information about how their student measures up to other gifted students. This valuable feedback helps families plan for the future."

I cannot even begin to express to you how revolting this idea is to me. Let's break down the "offer" my child was presented:
  • You are a great test-taker, kid! Congratulations!  You are one of the smartest kids best test-takers in our district!
  • As a reward for being a good test-taker, we would like to offer you the opportunity to PAY to take more tests! (If you're poor, we might be able to help with fees).
  • If you do well on those tests, you can take even MORE tests (that are above your level and will test things you haven't been taught yet).
  • Taking these tests will give you an additional advantage so that when it's *really* time for you to take the test, you will do way better than all the kids who did not get this special offer because (1) you're probably so smart! and (2) you will have had a lot practice taking the test and other kids will be taking it for the first time.
In a nutshell:
The kid who is already pretty likely to do well on future tests is being solicited to participate (for pay) to receive a [totally unfair] advantage that will better prepare him to take those future tests than any of the other children in the school.
This advantage will put him in a position that will (much to the pleasure of his parents, I'm sure) guarantee or at least improve his "success" on future tests.  

Success means he scores as high as possible.  Success means he "outperforms" his peers.   Success means he was good at taking the test.  Success means his advantage paid off.
Why, I ask?  Why would we give this advantage to the kids who need it least instead of the kids who need it most 

Why would we not send letters home to the lowest scoring kids inviting them to join a learn-how-to-test camp or something to help raise their scores?

Why would we not invite kids who are doing really well on tests to get involved in a program of actual substance that actually involves teaching and learning?  I know our district does list such opportunities, but they're prohibitively expensive, and we've never been "invited" to participate in them.

Why are we investing in perpetuating the very system that ensures that we will never, ever overcome the gaps that confront our district, our state, our nation?

Why are we not taking seriously the professionalism of our teachers and their ability and expertise to assess and evaluate the performance of our children?

Why are any of us ok with this?

Needless to say we did not "reply now" to "take advantage" of that "opportunity" to further increase the achievement gaps in our district.

And here I was, so naive, thinking it was going to be an opportunity to learn or be challenged beyond the curriculum offered at school.   Not so much.  I'd also like to add that I never heard one word all year about how freaking amazing it was that my kid finished Roots in one week, at 9 years old, devouring it, and followed it up by reading all the slave narratives and historical fiction he could get his hands on.  That's the sort of stuff I wanted to hear about.  But his teacher didn't have time to discuss that with me, because his teacher wasn't assessing that.  And from what I could tell, it was all he could do to keep up with the stuff he "had to" assess.

My younger child is in 2nd grade this year, which is when the testing really begins, now now my worrying begins anew: will the tests be as "low-stakes" for her as they are for her brother, or will she be one of the kids throwing up in the bathroom on test day?  And my fingers are crossed that she won't give a crap, like we don't give a crap, if only to spare her the anxiety, and to remind her that she's worth so much more than a score on a test, no matter how low or how high that score might be.

That's where my perspective is coming from.

So when the question of assessments came up again today, I couldn't help but rant a little on my many reasons for opposing a system where "taking advantage" of opportunities means "taking advantage" of our most vulnerable students and perpetuating our already shameful (and growing) gaps.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction in Wisconsin, Dr. Tony Evers, has been talking a lot about these gaps lately.  He gave his State of Education address last week, calling for more attention to our gaps. He praised schools that take seriously the impacts of poverty and talk frankly about racial inequities.  He says he has a plan for addressing the gaps - "Promoting Excellence for All."  But the plan depends on the same old "accountability measures" that just measure how well kids take tests.  And nothing about how schools need to get creative about addressing the classroom impacts of the opportunity gaps facing our students. Our district calls constantly for the need for equity in our policies and practices - our new slogan is "Futures depend on us...every child, every day."  Every child.  Every day.  And yet: we continue to place our faith, our hopes and our decision-making on a system of high-stakes testing that we know only guarantees that the gaps between "high-performing" and "low-performing" students will widen.

Why?

300,000+ people united to fight for climate justice last week.
This was their slogan.
I love it.
And when do parents, students, and educators stand together and say: Enough!?



All over the country, people are starting to stand:

Parents are opting their kids out of standardized tests.
Teachers are refusing to administer tests on ethical grounds.
Students are walking out on a system that values how they score more than who they are, what they know, where they can go with their lives. In Seattle. In Long Island.
School boards are fighting back against political pressures and federal mandates that force our schools to fight for funding and status based on student performance on high stakes tests.

I have been on the "opt out" fence now for several years.  Because one person opting out two kids doesn't send much of a message, even if they are "high scoring" kids and even if I make a big noisy fuss about it. Because I'm afraid of potential backlash on my kids, their teachers, our schools.  Because I love our public schools and don't want to send mixed signals by being the only person waving the banner.

But it's a message we have to send.

It's a message that we have to send together: Parents. Teachers. Students. Community members.  School Board members. Politicians. And every administrator who is brave enough to say:

Enough.
Teaching matters more than testing. 
Students matter more than scores.

The value of an education cannot be measured in points.
The value of a child cannot be measured.

And every child deserves an excellent education.

It's a simple message.

And it's a message that needs to be sent.
Are we ready to send it?


I love this, too. It's the most coherent, simple, perfect summary I've seen of why we ALL need to join the fight to save public schools. It will only happen through the collaboration of parents, students, educators & community members.

Watch the video and get inspired to get involved. If we don't fight this now, we lose:

The Fight for Public Education: Coming to a School Near You! from Media Mobilizing Project TV on Vimeo.

Public schools are under attack!
What do we do?
Stand up!
Fight back!




Back to School checklist: notebooks, pencils, megaphone




It's that time of year again, and as we're making the most of our last few days of freedom, I've been thinking about what it's going to take to make this year a good one, and I wanted to share the best advice anyone ever gave me about being a parent of school-age kids:


Follow your instincts and stand up for your kids. 
If you do not advocate for them, no one else will. 

If you see your child struggling, if you sense something is "off", say something.  I you are concerned about academic progress or socialization, talk to her teacher.  If your kid is stressed about testing, or how much homework is coming home, send a note to the principal, or call your district's instructional coordinator and share your concerns.  If your child has special needs, know your rights and know what you need to do to make sure school is all it can be for your child. Talk to other parents.  Talk to educators.  Talk to the principal.

Just say something.

That's your job, and you need to do it - but do it respectfully, and value the fact that your child's teachers are professionals who have knowledge of your child that you do not see yourself, just as you have knowledge of your child that they will never know unless you share it with them.   Your kids' teachers want you to take on this role - they need you to share concerns that might otherwise get lost in the shuffle of the increasingly outrageous demands of their profession, that make it difficult for them to do everything they might want to help each student. In Wisconsin, as elsewhere, teachers are struggling, and many are even leaving the profession they love, often because they aren't sufficiently supported by their districts.  A strong showing of parent support can be a huge help in addressing this issue. 

Say something.

I was reminded again today that even though I hate "complaining" about things, I never regret it and I've always seen amazing results when I try to approach situations that concern me with respect for all parties and an open mind.  Being honest, open and fair creates a climate of respect and collaboration - this helps teachers, and it helps students.

And don't feel like you have to stop talking once you walk out the classroom door.  


Now, more than ever, we need parents to pay attention to legislation that threatens the funding for our public schools and dictates the curriculum used by our teachers.  We need parents who are watching school board agenda, following policy changes, making sure that the only "interests" that elected officials and administrators are putting first are the interests of our students. We need parents to unite and say ENOUGH to the standardized testing that is being used to pigeon-hole not just our kids, but their teachers and even their schools by "ranking" them according to "report cards" based on arbitrary scores that often reflect little more than the relative poverty of a given community.

So say something.

Go to PTO meetings. Go to school board meetings.  Join a committee or a parent group or volunteer in the school, if you can, to become better aware and better oriented with the needs of your district, and to take your commitment to your child's education to the next level. Go to legislative hearings to share the much-needed perspective of someone who actually knows what's going on in our schools, and what impacts policy has on our kids.  Look closely at candidate records on supporting public education when it comes time to vote (and it's time to vote very soon!).  Connect with groups and organizations that connect parents to information that helps us help our teachers & schools. Get informed and know what you need to know to feel confident speaking up and standing strong in support of your students.

Here's to a great year for our kids, our schools, and the teachers who make possible everything they'll learn and do!  Let's do our part, as parents, to support our kids and the public schools that fulfill the promise we make to each other: that we all deserve a fair shot at being the best we can be.

All you have to do is speak up.  For your kids, for your teachers, for your schools.

Because if you don't, who will?



Send MoD to Netroots Nation!

 Update 5.17.2014

THANK YOU to all who voted and shared this contest information! I was selected as one of the scholarship winners and hope I can make this work now with my summer schedule.  I so appreciate the support and kind words - and look forward to attending this exciting event if I can!  Click here to see all the winners.

- Heather




Dear friends of MoD,

Netroots Nation - a sort of progressive summer camp for bloggers, activists, and advocates -  just happens to be taking place in Detroit this summer.  And Detroit just happens to be in my home state of Michigan, where I just happen to have unlimited free childcare (thanks, Mom & Dad!).


And the featured guest speaker just happens to be Elizabeth Warren.

And I just happen to have wanted to attend this event for years (having heard rave reviews from others who've attended), but the timing/pricing/logistics have never been right.

This year I think I can do it. 

But not without a scholarship.


I humbly ask you to take 5 seconds to vote for me in this contest so that I have a chance to win a scholarship that would cover the registration fee and lodging.  Voting ends at 11:59pm (Pacific Time) on May 12, 2014.

It really does just take a second, and I promise that whatever I learn at this conference will be paid back in future writing, organizing, and general world-a-better-place-making!

And, if you're feeling extra votey, please take a minute to share some love with fellow grassroots organizers Chris McDonough (SPARC, Wisconsin Grassroots Network) and Marcia Riquelme (Deforest Area Progressives, Wisconsin Grassroots Network).

Thank you!  

- Heather




Lunch of Shame Update: From Waterloo to Sun Prairie

Lunch of Shame UPDATE : 4/13/2014. 

After I published a widely-read post on the "Lunch of Shame" policy in Waterloo, several people reached out to inform me that the policy in my own district, Sun Prairie, may not be as "soft-handed" in practice as I was told when interviewing administrators for that piece.  Disappointed, and bracing myself, I followed up.


I've since learned that we, too, have a practice (if not policy) of taking trays of food and throwing them into the trash, and that discretion is left to each school on how this is handled.  Like Waterloo, the Sun Prairie practice doesn't affect elementary schools (where the kids have their cards scanned before they go through the cafeteria line), but does affect older students, especially those who purchase "a la carte" items at the high school.  As in Waterloo, the tray of food is taken away and thrown in the garbage, and the student is offered an "alternative" lunch (PB&J) that is charged to the delinquent account at a reduced price.  I also learned that the school-by-school practices seem to vary widely - from being gentle and accommodating to harsh and intimidating.  One former lunchroom worker spoke of having repeatedly seen children at an elementary school crying, asking "why" they couldn't eat a hot lunch, not understanding (or knowing) that they had "insufficient funds."

We already knew that hunger is a major issue at our schools, including the high school, where social workers report that they cannot accomodate all the requests for snacks they receive during the day. One wonders if some of these hungry students are opting not to eat at lunch time for fear of being shamed.

I took my concerns to our school board and administration, and brought up the question at a school board candidate forum as well. At that forum, each of the candidates spoke in opposition to any policy that shames a student,  including re-elected board president Tom Weber and newly elected board member Carol Albright.  Our local advocacy and action team, SPARC, also asked that the board take up this issue and I'm pleased to say it's on the agenda for the April 21, 2014 meeting of the Performance and Operations Committee.  Sun Prairie residents and educators who care about this issue are encouraged to attend that meeting, and/or share their thoughts and concerns with the board and our superintendent. Emails can be sent to SPASD board president Tom Weber at tweber@spasd.k12.wi.us and District Superintendent Dr. Tim Culver at tculver@spasd.k12.wi.us.  The April 21st meeting will be held at the District Office, 501 S. Bird Street, at 6:30pm.  The committee will forward its recommendation to the board, who will take up the issue for voting at a future regular meeting of the school board, so now is the key time to share your ideas or concerns with board members on this important issue.


Given the equity-focused vision I've seen emerge from our recent Strategic Planning sessions here in Sun Prairie, I believe that Sun Prairie can and should be a model for what creative and responsible ways to improve practices to provide a safe, healthy, equitable learning environment for all students.  While Waterloo has chosen to respond to the petition by bemoaning the "bad publicity" and refusing to apologize to shamed students, Sun Prairie seems on track for providing an example of what can happen when we put students' needs first and take seriously recent reports that prove we have a long way to go in helping all of our students. In my last post on this topic, I pointed out that this issue is essentially one of equity, the principle that every child is afforded an equal opportunity to succeed in our schools, regardless of that child's family or financial status, or where that child falls on the continuum of "achievement":
In public education, we talk a lot about the need for equity and data-driven decision-making in our schools.  Let's put the data that matters most first: 
I began my original "lunch of shame" post with my starting assumption, and I'll close with it here:


We all want what's best for our kids and our schools.

There's no reason we can't provide that.

And it's remarkable what can happen when just a few people speak up and share their concerns.  Find out what's going on in your district.  Then find out how you can help do what's best for the kids there.



"There is no respectful way to throw away a child's lunch. This is at best a wasteful practice, and at worst school sanctioned humiliation of children. The Waterloo School System gets a lot of things right, one of which is the focus on character education. The adults set the tone for the school community, and I think they would be the first to agree that actions speak louder than words. I fail to see how we can set high character expectations for our students while demonstrating this kind of unnecessary, punitive behavior."
- Erin Forrest