Monday, February 15, 2010

The Rise of the Niggoisie
The Congressional Black Carcass 
and The Obama Presidency

Asante sana, Sam, for all of these sage insights into the current situation.
In a sense, none of this reveals anything that the majority of us don't already know, but it does confirm how bad the situation is, which is very useful info.  And, if we thought it was bad, it will only get worse, much, much worse in the aftermath of this last Supreme Court ruling that pretty much put the final nail into the coffin of what once pretended to be democracy (much like this Caucus that has pretended to be "Black," but is only pimping and trading on the legitimate consciousness of America's Black population, at the people's expense; with such representation we cannot even make the effective coalitions we need to make with other groups.)
The CBC is just one more example of that problem we have worldwide, and it will be our problem until WE solve it.  The fact is that we still glorify individual egos too much.  We like "playaz" and what they represent, which is usually -- but does not have to be -- contrary to any kind of collective sense of purpose and struggle. 
I talk to some of our folk who are connected up in the political process and it is deeply rooted in that culture that the people are just a constituency to be played on, mollified, distracted, manipulated, etc. as need be -- in other words, suckers.  So much conversation -- and status -- is centered around who knows best how to party.  It makes me wonder how people like the late Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan, with their very genuine commitment, could have fit in at all. 
I suppose the bottom line to all of this is the old adage, "Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne."  It is easy to believe that evil just rules this planet, based on the evidence.  Yes, it is necessary and courageous to "speak truth to power," but it is even more important to give the power to truth, as in that heady demand of not so long ago for "All power to the people."  Making THAT happen is the struggle.  And the struggle is even more against the enemies within out own souls than against the enemy. (Dr. King knew this -- a violent struggle against violent racists, as he understood, even if victorious, would only replace one violent regime with another, and what we learn is that the violent factions have much more in common with each other than they have with the majority of the people.  In recent time it was easy to see that Bush & Co. were no different from the "terrorists" that they claimed to be fighting -- no matter what they call themselves, or claim as their differences, they are enemies of life and of humanity -- exactly like that Fox and Wolf quote from Malcolm that Bro. Pinkney cites.)  Dr. MLK looked at religion and spirituality as the force that could make a change.  I tend to see "art and culture," in the broadest sense, taking that role.  Chinua Achebe was once asked about his ability to produce honest and truthful literature in the face of a repressive government regime.  His response was that "the artist and the emperor have always had a very interesting relationship..."  He basically said that as long as the two parties understand that relationship, they can more or less coexist.  There was something very mature, deep and insightful about that, but it seems to me to overlook the fact that cultural consciousness in more than just an alternative understanding; it is actually only the beginning, it seems to me, of the path back to healing and health, so that the sickness that brings about emperors at all is cured, at least while the revolution is in progress. 
By "art" I am not just thinking of paintings, poetry or music, but, rather, of creative thinking, that replaces the old and dysfunctional with the new and definitely functional.  We somehow need to recapture that energy and consciousness of the late '60s and early '70s, like when the Black Panther Party was establishing free clinics and breakfast programs. 
The beauty of these articles, including your intro, is that they are reminders of how complicit so many of us -- and not just the most pampered collaborators -- have become in our own destruction.  One small-but-real step at a time, we need to establish the new.  There is work to do.  The CBC and Obama are all but irrelevant to that, by their choice.
Thanks again for getting the word out.
DGT (Brother Dinizulu)
Sun, Feb 14, 2010

NOTE: The late Black sociologist, E. Franklin Frazier, is turning over his grave everyday. When he published "The Black Bourgeoisie," he hoped that Blackfolk would take heed and struggle not to become sucked up into the capitalist vortex of individualism, greed and false patriotism. Following him shortly thereafter was his student, Dr Nathan Hare with a scathing book: "The Black Anglo Saxons". It further warned us of the dangers of a rising negro middleclass full of itself and pampered by those white capitalist rulers of the 60's and 70's. It is clear now, some 40 to 50 years later that many of us did not take a serious listen to either of the Brothers!

Now we are stuck with a Congressional Black Carcass hellbent on sucking up to the worst of Big Corporate America for some chumpchange in their individual pockets and nanoprestige while 95% of Black America worsens under depression conditions.

To make matters worse, we have a negro president who not only ignores the CBC, but ignores the worsening plight of Black America. And rationalizes this dismissal of our particular plight by harking back to that other "charismatic" prez- JFK. Obama believes- as John F Kennedy said back in 1963- "The rising tide (of economic recovery) lifts all boats (including Blackfolks' boat)." Prez Obama is using this concept as his centerpiece for quelling Black anger/dissent among his more concerned niggoisie elements-- including, ironically, Jesse Jackson.

For it was the young Jesse Jackson who responded to JFK by saying that Blackfolk's boat was full of holes at the bottom of the economic sea.

It is clear that we have no option but to continue to fight for Reparations, Liberation and the death of Capitalism- no matter how Black its face.

S. E. Anderson
February 14, 2010
In Black Caucus, a Fund-Raising Powerhouse
WASHINGTON — When the Congressional Black Caucus wanted to pay off the mortgage on its foundation’s stately 1930s redbrick headquarters on Embassy Row, it turned to a familiar roster of friends: corporate backers like Wal-Mart, AT&T, General Motors, Coca-Cola and Altria, the nation’s largest tobacco company.

Soon enough, in 2008, a jazz band was playing at what amounted to a mortgage-burning party for the $4 million town house.

Most political groups in Washington would have been barred by law from accepting that kind of direct aid from corporations. But by taking advantage of political finance laws, the caucus has built a fund-raising juggernaut unlike anything else in town.

It has a traditional political fund-raising arm subject to federal rules. But it also has a network of nonprofit groups and charities that allow it to collect unlimited amounts of money from corporations and labor unions.

From 2004 to 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus’s political and charitable wings took in at least $55 million in corporate and union contributions, according to an analysis by The New York Times, an impressive amount even by the standards of a Washington awash in cash. Only $1 million of that went to the caucus’s political action committee; the rest poured into the largely unregulated nonprofit network. (Data for 2009 is not available.)

The caucus says its nonprofit groups are intended to help disadvantaged African-Americans by providing scholarships and internships to students, researching policy and holding seminars on topics like healthy living.

But the bulk of the money has been spent on elaborate conventions that have become a high point of the Washington social season, as well as the headquarters building, golf outings by members of Congress and an annual visit to a Mississippi casino resort.

In 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation spent more on the caterer for its signature legislative dinner and conference — nearly $700,000 for an event one organizer called “Hollywood on the Potomac” — than it gave out in scholarships, federal tax records show.

At the galas, lobbyists and executives who give to caucus charities get to mingle with lawmakers. They also get seats on committees the caucus has set up to help members of Congress decide what positions to take on the issues of the day. Indeed, the nonprofit groups and the political wing are so deeply connected it is sometimes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Even as it has used its status as a civil rights organization to become a fund-raising power in Washington, the caucus has had to fend off criticism of ties to companies whose business is seen by some as detrimental to its black constituents.

These include cigarette companies, Internet poker operators, beer brewers and the rent-to-own industry, which has become a particular focus of consumer advocates for its practice of charging high monthly fees for appliances, televisions and computers.

Caucus leaders said the giving had not influenced them.

“We’re unbossed and unbought,” said Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the caucus. “Historically, we’ve been known as the conscience of the Congress, and we’re the ones bringing up issues that often go unnoticed or just aren’t on the table.”

But many campaign finance experts question the unusual structure.

“The claim that this is a truly philanthropic motive is bogus — it’s beyond credulity,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, a nonpartisan group that monitors campaign finance and ethics issues. “Members of Congress should not be allowed to have these links. They provide another pocket, and a very deep pocket, for special-interest money that is intended to benefit and influence officeholders.”

Not all caucus members support the donors’ goals, and some issues, like a debate last year over whether to ban menthol cigarettes, have produced divisions.

But caucus members have attracted increasing scrutiny from ethics investigators. All eight open House investigations involve caucus members, and most center on accusations of improper ties to private businesses.
And an examination by The Times shows what can happen when companies offer financial support to caucus members.

For instance, Representative Danny K. Davis, Democrat of Illinois, once backed legislation that would have severely curtailed the rent-to-own industry, criticized in urban districts like his on the West Side of Chicago. But Mr. Davis last year co-sponsored legislation supported by the stores after they led a well-financed campaign to sway the caucus, including a promise to provide computers to a jobs program in Chicago named for him. He denies any connection between the industry’s generosity and his shift.

Growing Influence
The caucus started out 40 years ago as a political club of a handful of black members of Congress. Now it is at the apex of its power: President Obama is a former member, though he was never very active.

Its members, all Democrats, include the third-ranking House member, Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina; 4 House committee chairmen; and 18 subcommittee leaders. Among those are Representative Charles E. Rangel, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and Representative John Conyers Jr., chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

There are hundreds of caucuses in Congress, representing groups as disparate as Hispanic lawmakers and those with an interest in Scotland. And other members of Congress have nonprofit organizations.

But the Congressional Black Caucus stands alone for its money-raising prowess. As it has gained power, its nonprofit groups — one an outright charity, the other a sort of research group — have seen a surge in contributions, nearly doubling from 2001 to 2008.

Besides the caucus charities, many members — including Mr. Clyburn and Representative William Lacy Clay Jr. of Missouri — also have personal or family charities, which often solicit donations from companies that give to the caucus. And spouses have their own group that sponsors a golf and tennis fund-raiser.

The board of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation includes executives and lobbyists from Boeing, Wal-Mart, Dell, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Verizon, Heineken, Anheuser-Busch and the drug makers Amgen and GlaxoSmithKline. All are hefty donors to the caucus.

Some of the biggest donors also have seats on the second caucus nonprofit organization — one that can help their businesses. This group, the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute, drafts positions on issues before Congress, including health care and climate change.

This means, for example, that the lobbyists and executives from coal, nuclear and power giants like Peabody Energy and Entergy helped draft a report in the caucus’s name that includes their positions on controversial issues. One policy document issued by the Black Caucus Institute last year asserted that the financial impact of climate change legislation should be weighed before it is passed, a major industry stand.

Officials from the Association of American Railroads, another major donor, used their board positions to urge the inclusion of language recommending increased spending on the national freight rail system. A lobbyist for Verizon oversaw a debate on a section that advocated increased federal grants to expand broadband Internet service.

And Larry Duncan, a Lockheed Martin lobbyist, served on a caucus institute panel that recommended that the United States form closer ties with Liberia, even as his company was negotiating a huge airport contract there.
The companies say their service to the caucus is philanthropic.

“Our charitable donations are charitable donations,” said David Sylvia, a spokesman for Altria, which has given caucus charities as much as $1.3 million since 2004, the Times analysis shows, including a donation to a capital fund used to pay off the mortgage of the caucus headquarters.

Elsie L. Scott, chief executive of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, acknowledged that the companies want to influence members. In fact, the fund-raising brochures make clear that the bigger the donation, the greater the access, like a private reception that includes members of Congress for those who give more than $100,000.

“They are trying to get the attention of the C.B.C. members,” Ms. Scott said. “And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. They’re in business, and they want to deal with people who have influence and power.”

She also acknowledged that if her charity did not have “Congressional Black Caucus” in its name, it would gather far less money. “If it were just the Institute for the Advancement of Black People — you already have the N.A.A.C.P.,” she said.

Ms. Scott said she, too, had heard criticism that the caucus foundation takes too much from companies seen as hurting blacks . But she said she was still willing to take their money.

“Black people gamble. Black people smoke. Black people drink,” she said in an interview. “And so if these companies want to take some of the money they’ve earned off of our people and give it to us to support good causes, then we take it.”

Big Parties, Big Money
The biggest caucus event of the year is held each September in Washington.
The 2009 event began with a rooftop party at the new W Hotel, with the names of the biggest sponsors, the pharmaceutical companies Amgen and Eli Lilly, beamed in giant letters onto the walls, next to the logo of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. A separate dinner party and ceremony, sponsored by Disney at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, featured the jazz pianist Marcus Johnson.

The next night, AT&T sponsored a dinner reception at the Willard InterContinental Washington, honoring Representative Bobby L. Rush, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees consumer protection issues.

The Southern Company, the dominant electric utility in four Southeastern states, spent more than $300,000 to host an awards ceremony the next night honoring Ms. Lee, the black caucus chairwoman, with Shaun Robinson, a TV personality from “Access Hollywood,” as a co-host. The bill for limousine services — paid by Southern — exceeded $11,000.

A separate party, sponsored by Macy’s, featured a fashion show and wax models of historic African-American leaders.

All of this was just a buildup for the final night and the biggest event — a black-tie dinner for 4,000, which included President Obama, the actor Danny Glover and the musician Wyclef Jean.

Annual spending on the events, including an annual prayer breakfast that Coca-Cola sponsors and several dozen policy workshops typically sponsored by other corporations, has more than doubled since 2001, costing $3.9 million in 2008. More than $350,000 went to the official decorator and nearly $400,000 to contractors for lighting and show production, according to tax records. (By comparison, the caucus spent $372,000 on internships in 2008, tax records show.)

The sponsorship of these parties by big business is usually counted as a donation in the caucus books. But sometimes the corporations pay vendors directly and simply name the caucus or an individual caucus member as an “honoree” in disclosure records filed with the Senate.

(The New York Times Company is listed as having paid the foundation $5,000 to $15,000 in 2008. It was the cost of renting a booth to sell newspapers at the annual conference.)

Foundation officials say profit from the event is enough to finance programs like seminars on investments, home ownership and healthy living; housing for Washington interns; and about $600,000 in scholarships.
Interns and students interviewed praised the caucus.

“The internship for me came at a very critical moment in my life,” said Ervin Johnson, 24, an intern in 2007, placed by the Justice Department. “Most people don’t have that opportunity.”

Still, Ms. Scott, the foundation’s chief executive, said that members of the caucus’s board had complained about the ballooning bills for the annual conference. And some donors have asked that their money go only toward programs like scholarships. She blamed the high prices charged by vendors mandated by the Washington Convention Center.

Legislative Interests
The companies that host events at the annual conference are engaged in some of the hottest battles in Washington, and they frequently turn to caucus members for help.

Internet poker companies have been big donors, fighting moves to restrict their growth. Caucus members have been among their biggest backers.

Amgen and DaVita, which dominate the kidney treatment and dialysis business nationwide, have donated as much as $1.5 million over the last five years to caucus charities, and the caucus has been one of their strongest allies in a bid to win broader federal reimbursements.

AT&T and Verizon, sponsors of the caucus charities for years, have turned to the caucus in their effort to prevent new federal rules governing how cellphone carriers operate Internet services on their wireless networks.

But few of these alliances have paid off like the caucus’s connection to rent-to-own stores.

Some Democrats in Congress have tried to limit fees charged to consumers who rent televisions or appliances, with critics saying the industry’s advertisements prey on low-income consumers, offering the short-term promise of walking away with a big-screen TV while hiding big long-term fees. Faced with rules that could destroy their business, the industry called on the caucus.

In 2007, it retained Zehra Buck, a former aide to Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and a caucus member, to help expand a lobbying campaign. Its trade association in 2008 became the exclusive sponsor of an annual caucus foundation charity event where its donated televisions, computers and other equipment were auctioned, with the proceeds going to scholarships. It donated to the campaigns of at least 10 caucus members, and to political action committees run by the caucus and its individual members.

It also encouraged member stores to donate to personal charities run by caucus members or to public schools in their districts. Mr. Clay, the Missourian, received $14,000 in industry contributions in 2008 for the annual golf tournament his family runs in St. Louis. The trade association also held a fund-raising event for him in Reno, Nev.

“I’ll always do my best to protect what really matters to you,” Mr. Clay told rent-to-own executives, who agreed to hold their 2008 annual convention in St. Louis, his home district. Mr. Clay declined a request for an interview.

On a visit to Washington, Larry Carrico, then president of the rent-to-own trade association, offered to donate computers and other equipment to a nonprofit job-training group in Chicago named in honor of Mr. Davis, the Illinois congressman who in 2002 voted in favor of tough restrictions on the industry.

Mr. Davis switched sides. Mr. Carrico traveled to Chicago to hand over the donations, including a van with “Congressman Danny K. Davis Job Training Program” painted on its side, all of which helped jump-start a charity run by Lowry Taylor, who also works as a campaign aide to Mr. Davis.

In an interview, Mr. Carrico said support from caucus members came because they understood that his industry had been unfairly criticized and that it provided an important service to consumers in their districts.

While some caucus members still oppose the industry, 13 are co-sponsors of the industry-backed legislation that would ward off tough regulatory restrictions — an alliance that has infuriated consumer advocates.

“It is unfortunate that the members of the black caucus who are supporting this bill did not check with us first,” said Margot Saunders, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center. “Because the legislation they are supporting would simply pre-empt state laws that are designed to protect consumers against an industry that rips them off.”

The industry’s own bill, introduced by a caucus member, has not been taken up, but it does not really matter because the move to pass stricter legislation has ground to a halt.

“Without the support of the C.B.C.,” John Cleek, the president of the rent-to-own association, acknowledged in an industry newsletter in 2008, “our mission in Washington would fail.”

Ron Nixon and Griffin Palmer contributed reporting.
DEADLY POLITICAL ENEMIES: The Foxes and the Wolves of the 21st Century

By Larry Pinkney
Hard Lesson for Obama by Carlos Latuff
“The wolf and the fox are both enemies of humanity; both are canine; both humiliate and mutilate their victims. Both have the same objectives, but differ only in methods.”
---Malcolm X (el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, Addis Ababa, July 17, 1964---

The single most deadly calamity to have befallen black people throughout the globe in this 21st century can be found in the person of Barack Obama, that rhetorical and deadly fox in sheep’s clothing. Indeed, humanity as a whole is the unsuspecting prey of this current black-faced head of the bloody, avaricious, corporate U.S. Empire.

Long before the devastating physical earthquake struck the tiny black nation Haiti, the debilitating earthquake of slavery, colonization, and revised 21st century neo-colonization was unleashed upon the peoples of Haiti (and the world wide African Diaspora) by the United States, France, Canada, and its additional concomitant partners in deceit, greed, and economic, political, and social / cultural subjugation. It is this ongoing earthquake which we must forthrightly and uncompromisingly also address. It is this ongoing earthquake that is shattering the very psychological, physical, and political existence of black people around the world.

In less than a historical heart beat the very meaning of the word blackness has been distorted into definitively supporting the economic greed and bloodlust of the 1% of humankind that exploits the needs, hopes, and human rights of the rest of humanity. Nothing could be more despicable or dangerous to this planet collectively and black people in particular.

Peace is now defined as unending war and economic exploitation. Hope is now defined as the endless pimping of the legitimate aspirations of the many, in service to the interests of the greedy few. The new watch word for the “terrorism” and exploitation by nation-states (particularly that of ‘America’ and her allies) is cloaked in the false rhetoric of “national security” and “change.” As bloody, capitalist, imperialistic wars and military occupations are waged against the peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Haiti (to name but a few)--all in the hypocritical and fleeting name of so called ‘democracy’ and freedom--the many continue to die for the few.

The economic, political, and cultural exploitation of Africa has been intensified under the rhetorical veneer of some fake “progress” in the 21st century. Thanks to the subterfuge and greed of the filthy rich and their pawns, the masses of humanity have taken giant steps backwards. Much of the so-called black intelligentsia, in the United States and around the world, have cynically joined the ranks of those who consciously and callously exploit humankind. This is wholly unacceptable.

Like a grinning Cheshire cat, U. S. President Barack Obama, on behalf of his corporate / military puppet masters, spins his political and rhetorical sorcery via a web of unending deceit and certain death against the every day people of the United States and the world.

The time is upon us to, without compromise or quarter, organize and speak truth to power. The time is at hand when the corporate / military elite must be exposed and confronted. We’ve nothing to lose but our political and economic chains, as our lives---whether we realize or acknowledge it or not---are already on the line. The question to be answered is whether we will give those lives as cannon fodder on behalf of the systemic gate keepers or stand up as humans to put an end to this capitalist debauchery.

Capitalism is nothing more than systemic terrorism against the poor. We must actively choose to stand with humanity, not against it.

Onward sisters and brothers, for our tasks are at hand!

Larry Pinkney is an editorial board member and author of the ‘Keeping It Real’ column in The Black Commentator,, and a former university instructor of political science and international relations. He is also a veteran of the Black Panther Party; the former Minister of Interior of the Republic of New Africa, a former political prisoner and the only American to have successfully self-authored his civil/political rights case to the United Nations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Additional information on Mr. Pinkney can be found in the book, SAYING NO TO POWER by William Mandel [Introduction by Howard Zinn], and in the archives of Dr. Huey P. Newton [co-founder of the Black Panther Party] at Stanford University, U.S.A.  

This article may be re-printed in its entirety as long as full tribute is given to the author and and a link back to the original article is provided.

---------------------------------------s. e. anderson is author of "The Black Holocaust for Beginners"
Social Activism is not a hobby: it's a Lifelong Commitment.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010



High-Stakes Testing Slights Multiculturalsim

Matthew Henson is out, Christopher Columbus is in.

By Makani Themba-Nixon
Spring 2000-

As a parent active on a local school council, I've watched with apprehension as Virginia's high-stakes testing program has unfolded. But it was not until the day my third grade son, usually an enthusiastic student, came home sad and dejected that I realized my worst fears about the test were true.

My son's class was studying explorers - his favorite subject - and he wanted to write a report on Matthew Henson, his favorite explorer. Henson, an African American, was the first man to set foot on the North Pole. He was a self-taught sailor and astronome rwho rose above the racism and prejudice of his day to become one of the most important explorers of the 20th century.

Imagine my thrill as my son, without any urging on my part, went to the computer to do research on Henson. I was particularly pleased because after a tough first grade and difficulty reading throughout second grade, in third grade my son was at last learning that school could be fun.

While researching on the computer, my son took great delight in finding obscure facts about Henson. He fantasized out loud about how impressed his teachers and classmates would be once they saw his great report.

I had never seen him so excited about school work. He really identified with Henson, not only because he and Henson are both African Americans, which was clearly important to him, but also because he was excited about the opportunity to be an explorer himself. What excited him most was the novelty of the information and the fact that Henson wasn't one of the explorers the class as a whole was studying. As he said to me, "Mom, I'm being an explorer in social studies!"

When he turned in his report, he got a much different reaction than he expected. His teacher patiently explained that although his hard work was obvious and it was a great report, he would have to do another report on Christopher Columbus instead.

It turns out that Matthew Henson isn't on Virginia's high-stakes test, known as the Standards of Learning (SOL).

Like any mother, I called the teacher. I tried hard to be understanding. She said she felt bad about her decision and admitted that she knew what it meant to my son to be so excited about school. But, she rationalized, it wasn't her fault. She was trying to make sure he passed the Virginia test. After all, so much was on the line.

In that regard, she is right. The SOLs are high-stakes with winners and many more losers.

The tests, and the curriculum acrobatics schools undertake to adapt to them, literally determine what's important to know and what's not. Books, methods, and coursework that don't support test standards are thrown by the wayside. For example, students at my children's elementary school who do not meet SOLs in math must forego art classes for extra tutoring. And, of course, any historical figures that don't fit within the mostly white framework of the state standards are lost as well.

I worry about my children in this brave new world of high-stakes testing. How will they remain creative or sustain an interest in lifelong learning? Further, if the tests are to ensure that our students are better prepared, it's completely confounding that multicultural education is ignored in the development of learning standards.
The standards, in fact, are becoming quite standard - like a fast food franchise where everyone knows what to expect. And, like fast food, SOLs don't offer much in the way of nutrition or variety.

Makani Themba-Nixon is Executive Director of The Praxis Project, a nonprofit organization helping communities use media and policy advocacy to advance health equity and justice. Current projects include Policy Advocacy on Tobacco and Health (PATH)— a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Initiative to build tobacco control policy advocacy in communities of color; as well as numerous tools and resources that help people translate local problems into progressive, effective policy initiatives.
Testing Kindergarten: Young Children Produce Data—Lots of Data

Winter 2009-10--

By Kelly McMahon

You may not believe how many tests kindergartners take—and what they are missing as a result.

I remember my kindergarten experience from 25 years ago. Way back then, kindergarten focused on letters, sounds, counting, coloring inside the lines, cutting straight along the solid black line, and learning how to get along with others. I remember looking forward to rest time, recess, snack, and show and tell. That was kindergarten before the days of No Child Left Behind. Kindergarten post-No Child Left Behind is being turned into a school experience that results in many children disliking school and feeling like failures.

I have spent the last six years teaching 5-year-old kindergarten for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) in Milwaukee, Wis. During this time, I have seen a decrease in district initiatives that are developmentally appropriate, and an increase in the amount of testing and data collection for 5-year-olds. Just when I thought the district couldn’t ask for any more test scores or drills or practice, a new initiative and data system pops up for my school to complete. My school has not met our Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the past three years. Due to our failure to meet AYP, we are now a School Identified for Improvement (SIFI), with Level Two status.

The students in my classroom during the 2008-09 school year completed more assessments than during any of my prior years of teaching kindergarten:

    * Milwaukee Public Schools’ 5-Year-Old Kindergarten Assessment (completed three times a year)
    * On the Mark Reading Verification Assessment (completed three times a year)
    * A monthly writing prompt focused on different strands of the Six Traits of Writing
    * 28 assessments measuring key early reading and spelling skills
    * Chapter pre- and post-tests for all nine math chapters completed
    * Three additional assessments for each math chapter completed
    * A monthly math prompt
    * Four Classroom Assessments Based on Standards (CABS) per social studies chapter (20 total)
    * Four CABS assessments per science chapter (20 total)
    * Four CABS assessments per health chapter (20 total)

I recently learned that my students will also be expected to complete four benchmark assessments beginning in the 2010-11 school year.

This list does not include the pre- and post-Marzano vocabulary tests (which I refuse to have my students complete because the assessment design is entirely developmentally inappropriate) or the writing and math portfolios we are required to keep.

Last spring, the literacy coach at my school handed us a copy of the new MPS Student Reading Portfolio, which includes a list of 10 academic vocabulary words per semester that kindergartners are expected to know. My students will once more have to complete pre- and post-tests each semester. When I brought the MPS Student Reading Portfolio to the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association’s (MTEA) Early Childhood Committee, the members were surprised and disgusted. This new reading portfolio asks kindergarten students to define terms like Venn diagram, sound out, understand, poetry, tracking, sight word, expression, and describe; it also expects kindergartners to produce 20 different sounds, including the blending and digraph sounds ch, qu, sh, th, and ing at a proficient level. This developmentally inappropriate assessment tool was designed without the input of early childhood educators. The MTEA Early Childhood Committee submitted our comments and recommendations for proposed changes to both the MPS Reading and Early Childhood Departments. We have yet to hear a response.

Kindergartners Need to Play

One negative impact of continued assessment-crazy data collection on my school has been the total disregard for the importance of children’s social and emotional development. As more and more of my students spend less time interacting with their peers outside of school, I am forced to severely limit the amount of time dedicated to play centers in my classroom. Without the opportunity to interact with their peers in structured and unstructured play, my students are losing out on situations that allow them to learn to problem-solve, share, explore, and deepen their learning.

As Edward Almon and Joan Miller point out in their book Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School, “Research shows that children who engage in complex forms of socio-dramatic play have greater language skills than nonplayers, better social skills, more empathy, more imagination, and more of the subtle capacity to know what others mean. They are less aggressive and show more self-control and higher levels of thinking.”

Apparently young children stopped learning through play the moment the bipartisan No Child Left Behind bill passed Congress and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

Sleepless in Milwaukee

The issue of allowing young children in kindergarten to rest has now become a battle all across MPS. Last year MPS issued a guideline for rest time for early childhood programs. The district guidelines proposed a maximum 45-minute rest time in the fall for all day 4-year-old kindergarten, followed by a maximum of 30 minutes’ rest in the spring. The guidelines suggested a maximum of 30 minutes to be used for rest in the fall in 5-year-old kindergarten classrooms, and for rest to be entirely phased out in the spring.

These policies fly in the face of brain research, which suggests that sleep allows the brain to cement the learning that has taken place. As Merilee Sprenger writes in her book Learning and Memory: The Brain in Action:

Through prior knowledge or interest, the new information may be added to the old and form more long-term memory. The process may have to be repeated several times before long-term memory is formed. The brain will process some of this information during sleep. Studies have shown that while rats are in the sleep stage called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, their brains reproduce the same patterns used for learning while awake.

But MPS insists that I wake up a sleeping child who might have only gotten five or six hours of sleep each night.

My administrators have allotted my students 20 minutes of rest time each day for the 2009-10 school year. However, by the time my students finish using the restroom and get a drink of water after their one and only recess for the day, they will have roughly 10 minutes to rest. Every year I have at least one child in my classroom who is not getting adequate sleep every night.

There was a young boy in my classroom last year who went to daycare directly from school and stayed there until 11 p.m. By the time his mother picked him up, drove home, and gave him a snack, it would be 1 a.m. before he finally got to bed. This child would then be up roughly five hours later to start his day all over again. He entered my classroom exhausted and in need of additional sleep. When he allowed himself to fall asleep at rest time, it was nearly impossible to wake him.

When district officials came into my classroom, I had to defend my professional judgment in allowing this child to continue to sleep after I began afternoon instruction. I have multiple students in my classroom this year with similar sleeping schedules at home, yet they are allowed only 10 minutes for rest. I am experiencing far more behavioral problems in the afternoon this school year due to the decrease in time my students are allowed to rest.

As I enter my eighth year of teaching in Milwaukee, I’m left wondering how much more testing and data collection I might be expected to do, and how many more developmentally inappropriate initiatives I will be asked to implement. I also wonder exactly how much longer I can continue to “teach” under these circumstances.

Works Cited

Miller, Edward & Joan Almon. Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School. College Park, MD: Alliance for Childhood, 2009.

Sprenger, Merilee. Learning and Memory: The Brain in Action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1999.

Kelly McMahon teaches 5-year-old kindergarten for Milwaukee Public Schools. She served as co-chair of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association Early Childhood Committee.