A Tennessee Teacher on Diane Ravitch’s Nashville Visit

Franklin County teacher Lucianna Sanson writes about her take on Diane Ravitch’s speech in Nashville last week:

This week, Nashville was honored when Diane Ravitch spoke at an event hosted by a group of local grassroots education activists: TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Education Excellence), Momma Bears (a blog run by some fierce parent activists), and the TnBATs (BadAss Teachers Association) at Vanderbilt University at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 19, 2014. Diane was in town to speak at a CTE conference, but she graciously spent her night speaking with, and to, a room full of approximately 400 teachers, parents, administrators, students, reporters, and concerned citizens.


Diane spoke at length about education reform and the venture capitalist agenda that is behind the movement. In the interest of selling this agenda, which includes privatizing public education, education reformers are fond of calling education “the civil rights issue of our time.” Ironically, they cast themselves in the mold of great civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King and the Freedom Riders. Diane Ravitch pointed out the hypocrisy of this by stating that rather than uplifting African Americans and other People of Color through community schools with wrap-around services, the Reformers promote Charters and Vouchers, which re-segregates schools rather than bringing, or keeping, diverse communities together.


Dr. Ravitch spoke about Charter schools, an issue that is particularly troubling for Tennessee because Memphis City/Shelby County has been taken over by the Achievement School District, or ASD, which is modeled after the Recovery School District, or RSD, in New Orleans. This is very troubling because New Orleans only has five public schools remaining in the city. The communities of New Orleans no longer have any ownership or say-so about their own schools. Memphis residents are aware that their schools are being taken over, not to help their students and communities, but to make corporations richer. Residents are fighting back and speaking out against Charter school takeovers.


Teachers, parents, and other invested stakeholders are attending neighborhood meetings, holding signs, and speaking to the ASD, local boards, and local leaders. They are asking for their schools to be funded, not sold to the highest bidder. While Memphis is in the eye of the storm, the ASD has reached out to Nashville and is now attempting to take over schools there. The citizens of Nashville are resisting as well, and part of that resistance has taken the form of grassroots organizations holding ed reform awareness workshops, talking with lawmakers, speaking out at BOE meetings, blogging about the truth of ed reform, and working with the local state teacher’s association to raise awareness regarding these issues.


Diane encouraged Tennesseans to continue to work together in solidarity to fight ed reform. She encouraged us, as teachers, parents, students, community leaders, and citizens, to be pro-active in speaking up and speaking out. As a teacher, and a parent, a citizen, and a local education activist, I am encouraged by her words, emboldened by them, and inspired by them. I, as well as many others in Tennessee, have become an outspoken advocate for our public schools. In that spirit, I have included the short speech I gave from the TREE, BEARs, and BATs event. It is a call to action, a call to work in solidarity, and a call for all local activists to stay strong, stay focused, and continue to work together. As Diane reminded us, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi


Here’s my report on the Ravitch event.

And here’s an article Sanson wrote earlier this year about the ASD.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


A TN Teacher Talks ASD

A Tennessee teacher has some questions about the Achievement School District:

Why is the ASD in Tennessee?

Submitted by Lucianna Sanson, President of the Franklin County Education Association

Why is the ASD, modeled after the RSD in New Orleans, here in Tennessee in the first place? What is the true rationale for bringing Charters to our state? We don’t need the ASD. We need strong community schools with wrap around services. We know how to run our schools. We need money to support our public schools, not Charter Authorizers that make money off of them.

Teachers, students, parents, and vested community stakeholders don’t want their community schools sold, they want them funded. If the ASD were truly transparent the Charter Authorizer would admit they are in TN to take our tax dollars to turn a profit, not turn our under-funded, under-staffed, under-paid, under-appreciated public schools around.

Who benefits from the ASD? Who pays for the ASD? Why are the majority, if not ALL of the schools selected in the “matching” process located in low-income communities, namely communities where the majority of students are black or brown? Why are experienced teachers pushed out and replaced with Teach for America recruits, green from college with no experience in the classroom?

Tennesseans, don’t be fooled into thinking these Charters are good neighborhood investments. As Anthony Cody points out in his new book, The Educator and the Oligarch, parent “choice” is simply a “charm offensive.” Parents and teachers are lured into believing that ed reform and Charters are a good use of our tax dollars. They are not. They are a good investment for the venture capitalists who make money off our students and public schools.

Do you have thoughts on the ASD or other education policy issues in Tennessee? Let us know, propose an article, and share your thoughts here.

For more on education policy and politics in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport



A TN Teacher Takes on Arne Duncan

Tennessee teacher Lucianna Sanson has something to say to Arne Duncan as Duncan backs off the testing bandwagon.

Sanson writes in the LA Progressive:

Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, is changing his tune regarding the importance of standardized testing in American Public Schools. In a piece published in the Washington Post, entitled, “Standardized Tests Must Measure Up,” Secretary Duncan claims that “parents and educators know that tests are not the only indicator “ in student performance. I find this an ironic statement coming from a man, who mere months before, was bemoaning the fact that soccer moms were finding out their children weren’t as smart as they thought they were — based on test scores. These two statements are in direct contrast with each other. What then, led to Secretary Duncan’s abrupt about-face?

Sanson challenges the idea that we need reliance on the very tests Duncan has pushed relentlessly until now in order to measure teachers and students. She also notes that the tide is turning against excessive testing and toward new models. Perhaps the new models will look like this experiment in Kentucky.

Read more of what Sanson has to say to the U.S. Secretary of Education.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

TN Teacher Attends Public Ed Nation Event

On October 11th, the Network for Public Education hosted the first Public Education Nation event in Brooklyn, New York.

The event focused on “Changing the Conversation” and allowed critics of the current education reform agenda a platform to discuss ways to improve public schools. The event was chaired by edu-blogging celebrity Anthony Cody.

Tennessee was represented at the event by teacher and President of the Franklin County Education Association Lucianna Sanson. She previously answered some questions for us about her trip to DC with the Badass Teachers Association.

Sanson provided this report from the Public Education Nation event:


Overall impression
I attended the Public Education Nation Event, in Brooklyn on Saturday, October 11, 2014 to listen, learn, make connections, and build relationships with other education activists across the country. I was honored to be asked by Anthony Cody, author of The Educator and the Oligarch, and award-winning edu-blogger at “Living in Dialogue,” to take part in the event as a social media moderator.
What I took away from the NPE event was that we all have to work together and become community activists in order to, as Jitu Brown said, “kill” corporate ed reform.
On the current climate in Tennessee
Memphis, Shelby County, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, are all feeling the pressure applied by the heavy hand of the Achievement School District as it lays chains of Charters across the state. Teachers in Tennessee are stressed, demoralized, over-worked, and under-paid in many districts.
Tennessee teachers should all watch the archived videos of the NPE event. The panels featured students, administrators, college administrators, parents, and classroom teachers. The panelists are passionate and determined to save our public schools. Watching the panels will give TN teachers the knowledge that we are not alone in the battle here in the Volunteer state. TN teachers can learn how to band together and speak about the attrocities happening in our public schools. Tennessee teachers, I encourage you to speak the truth about toxic testing, developmentally inappropriate standards, loss of arts and recess, and the systematic removal of experienced teachers replaced by green Teach for America recruits.
TN teachers need to realize that they have a voice and they can use it to speak truth to power and stand up to the Corporate Bully of Ed Reform because we do have allies across the Nation that are watching and are willing to help us fight back corporate ed reform.
On how parents and teachers can fight back against institutional ed reform in TN
We begin by having honest dialogue with parents about what the testing is like in our schools. We educate parents on what is happening. We discuss with our students the affects that the testing is having on them. We inform our parents that they can refuse certain tests for their child. We can listen to the voices of our students when they have a concern about being tested. We can encourage our students to speak up about testing and the effects it is having on their educational experience.
These videos and discussions should be shared again and again and again with community leaders and policy makers, county commissioners, board of education members, lawyers, civil rights groups, and citizens who help fund our public schools. These are the grassroots experts discussing the “in the trenches” reality of ed reform, not astroturf faux educators discussing “rigor and grit.”
A message to TN policymakers
My message for Tennessee policymakers is to stop listening to the corporate millionaries, especially the Koch brothers (yes, Williamson County, I am talking to you)  and start listening to the teachers before our state loses our most valuable asset, our public school system, to venture capitalist vultures who grow fat while starving our students.
Tennessee Politicians- Here are my questions for you:  Are you willing to sacrifice our children and our public schools to corporate America? A corporate America that knows nothing about education, or education practice? Or will you choose to embrace community schools, listen to experienced educators, and allow our tax  dollars to support our public schools?
A final observation
One last tidbit from the forum. At the end of the finale, when Diane Ravitch and Jitu Brown were taking questions, I stood up and spoke to them about the ed reform situation in TN. I spoke about Memphis and Shelby County being merged and excessing veteran teachers. I spoke about TFA staffing the schools. I spoke about Nashville struggling to fight back the ASD invasion. I also mentioned our brave advocy groups here in Tennessee: the TN BATs, BEARs, TREE, and SPEAK, and how we network across the state to keep each other informed on the shenanigans going on in our state. I wanted people to know that Tennessee needs to be on the radar as a targeted state.
When I was through speaking, Diane Ravitch gave a positive shout out to our activist groups by saying ” Well, one thing I know for sure about Tennessee is that they have BATs, BEARS and TREEs!!”
Sanson with Diane Ravitch at the Public Education Nation event:
Luci and Diane
For more on the event, see Russ Walsh’s take.
Follow Lucianna Sanson @Lucianna_Sanson

Tennessee BATs Attend DC Rally

The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) is a nationwide group of teachers who aggressively argue against the status quo in education — that is, the current education reform agenda. Recently, the BATs held a national rally in Washington, DC and even had a chance to meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. A group of BATs from Tennessee joined the national event and TN Ed Report interviewed two of them about the experience.

Lauren Hopson is a teacher in Knox County and Lucianna Sanson is a teacher in Franklin County.  Here’s what they had to say:

1)      Why do you choose to affiliate with the BATs?

Hopson: I discovered the BATS purely by accident when I was checking to see who was posting the video of my October 2013 school board speech. I have always been a bit of a rebel, so the name fit me. At the time, I had no idea how seriously BATs took advocating for our students. Realizing that only solidifies my desire to be part of this group.

Sanson: BATs is a grassroots organization that is a support network for public schools across the nation. In TN, teachers from all areas of the state are able to network and communicate with each other about reforms that are taking place in the state of TN. This is a difficult time for public schools, teachers and students. BATs not only discuss the injustices taking place on the state level, BATs also address these issues and actively seek for positive ways to problem solve and make our public schools better for all students.


2)      What was the purpose of the DC BAT Rally?

Hopson: There were several purposes for the rally. Of course, the main purpose was to get the attention of the Department of Education and draw national attention to the destructive nature of current educational reform efforts. However, it also set up a place and time for educators across the country to network and share the experiences with ed reform in their own states.

Sanson: The purpose was multi-faceted. The National BATs Association wrote and delivered specific demands to the DOE and Secretary Arne Duncan- chief among them were demands to stop the over-use of Standardized testing and to halt the privatization and spread of Charter Schools across the United States.

3)      What did you learn from other BATs around the country while you were in DC?

Hopson: Surprisingly, I learned what an appreciation and admiration teachers in other states have for the TN BATs. Along with the Washington, Chicago and New York groups, we have been some of the most vocal and active BATs in the entire country during the last year. I think our own Secretary of Education’s close relationship with Arne Duncan has caused us to feel the effects of education reform more immediately than other states. However, I also think we just have a strong group of vocal teachers who have the Southern backbone to fight these destructive policies.

Sanson:  I learned that TN is not the only state that is going through these same types of reforms. I also learned that racism and socioeconomics play a large role in the take-over of our urban school systems. Basically, the suspicion that re-segregation is happening via Charter school take-overs, “parent trigger laws,” “school choice,” and “Vouchers,” was confirmed by speaking with other BATs across the country. Memphis, and the takeover of their schools by the Achievement School District (ASD), is especially troubling since it is patterned after the New Orleans Recovery School District. I learned that there are only five Public Schools left in the city of New Orleans, and, according to the Fordham Institute, Memphis is directly patterned after New Orleans.


4) What were the highlights of your trip to the rally?

Hopson: Singing “Lean on Me” with hundreds of teachers arm in arm in the DOE courtyard was an emotional experience. However, getting to watch my friend and our own legislator, Representative Gloria Johnson, speak during the rally about the positive effects of the “community schools” initiative was a seminal moment. She was able to share the details of a bill she is sponsoring dealing with this concept with educators from across the country who were excited to take this idea back to their home states. It even received interest during the meeting our delegation had with DOE officials at the end of the day.

Sanson: The highlight, for me, was finally meeting all of the people I have been collaborating with on a daily basis for over a year and watching our plans unfold. The Rally on Monday was a true celebration of our students and our public schools, complete with music and dancing, student performance, and spoken word. It was a visual representation of what BATs symbolizes: a holistic approach to learning and the assertion that school should be student-centered and FUN, not testing-centered and a CHORE.


5) Do you feel the rally and associated events accomplished anything for teachers? If so, what?

Hopson:  We did get to send in a small delegation to meet with officials in the DOE, and even briefly with Arne Duncan himself. It remains to be seen whether the ideas shared in that meeting will be taken seriously, although TN Teacher Larry Proffitt who was a part of the delegation, seemed optimistic. I do think we drew attention to the plight of students and teachers in America, and at least in my community, I heard from lots of teachers who wish they had been a part of it. Hopefully, this will lead to greater numbers at the next rally. For those of us that did go, we got to feel a sense of connection to a larger power which instilled a new sense of commitment and determination in us all.

Sanson: Yes. On Monday, the all-day celebration for public education ended with a committee meeting inside the U.S. DOE with Secretary Arne Duncan and his team. Our BATs team- which consisted of six members- one of them Larry Proffitt from TN, outlined our concerns and were heard by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and his team. The BATs have another meeting at the U.S. DOE scheduled for later this fall. We look forward to continued dialogue and discourse with the U.S.DOE.


6) What do you see as the future for BATs in Tennessee and nationally?

Hopson:  I hope to see BATs become a driving force in changing the direction of education reform. I want to be part of a group that politicians have to take seriously if they want to get elected. BATs should also be a group they will go to for information. With TN being in the Bible Belt, I know it will be hard for the public to get past the name Badass Teachers. Hopefully, however, they will come to see the mission behind the name and realize these Brave Activist Teachers are fighting to protect their children.

Sanson: TNBATs will continue to be the state branch of the National Group. We will continue to network and align ourselves with other parent and citizen groups across the state and nation. We will continue to work with local legislators and policy makers to bring about change. We will continue to work with the Tennessee Education Association to support equality for our teachers, support staff and students.  We will continue to educate and speak truth to power about the reality of Ed Reform and the Privatization movement; we will continue to take a stand for our students and public schools. After all, BATs exists to fight for our students and public schools.

7) How would you describe the current education climate in TN?

Hopson: Toxic. We have toxic levels of testing. We have toxic levels of stress on our students and teachers. Students and teachers have been dehumanized and reduced to nothing more than numbers and data points. There is a complete lack of trust between teachers, administrators, and politicians. Using our students as pawns to further the interests of big money, big power groups is NOT the way to improve our schools.

Sanson: Current ed climate in TN: war zone

Teachers in TN are, in the words of Lauren Hopson, “tired” of not being heard and taken seriously. We are tired of being told how to do our jobs by people who have never taught and who know nothing about teaching. We are tired of seeing our students over-tested. We are tired of teaching to a test. We are tired of being treated like second-class citizens instead of highly trained professionals. We are tired of being “excessed” and replaced by inexperienced TFA green recruits who are ill-equipped with only five weeks of training. We are tired of groups like Micheel Rhee’s Students First giving money to people running for office. We are tired of Governor Haslam and his Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman, who have done nothing to help our public schools, but who have done much to sell them to the highest bidder. Most of all, we are tired of being afraid and being bullied into compliance by people threatening our livelihoods. Tired we may be, but being on the front lines and in the trenches means that you get up and go to battle every day. That is what we will continue to do for our Public Schools and our Students: Fight for Them.


8) Why should other teachers affiliate with BATs?

Hopson: BATs will provide a sense of community for them and a structure around which they can organize and regain their power.

While I was touring the Civil Rights section of the American History Museum in DC, I saw a quote from A. Phillip Randolph which said, “Nobody expects ten thousand Negroes to get together and march anywhere for anything at any time….In common parlance, they are supposed to be just scared and unorganizable. Is this true? I contend it is not.”

Nobody expects that of teachers either, but I think BATs will change that!

Sanson: TNBATs is a group that helps and supports teachers, parents, and public schools so that we can be better teachers for our students. We are invested in our students and schools and we are determined to bring positive change back into the TN public school systems. BATs are tough, resilient, trustworthy, caring, and willing to go the distance for our students and our profession. I think the better question should be “Why wouldn’t other teachers affiliate with BATs?”


For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

A Tennessee Teacher Shares Her Concerns About Common Core

This article was submitted by Lucianna Sanson, a Franklin County native, who has been teaching English Language Arts for the Franklin County public school system since graduating from Sewanee. Currently, she teaches British Literature and AP Literature at Franklin County High School. The views expressed are hers alone and do not represent the views of her employer.

I was contacted and asked to write an article about why I am not a fan of Common Core – or – more specifically, the “TN Core Standards.” As I was trying to decide what to say, I ran across an interview with Diane Ravitch in Salon. As I read the interview, I realized that her reasons for disliking the Common Core are the same as my reasons. So, without further ado, here are the wise words of Diane Ravitch- edited down to focus specifically on the Common Core bit.

“The fact is, we have no evidence that the Common Core standards are what we say they are until we’ve tried them. They haven’t been tried anywhere, they’ve been tested — and we know that where they’re tested, they cause massive failure. So I would say we need to have more time before we can reach any judgment that they have some miracle cure embedded in them.

I know, and a lot of teachers know, they’re totally inappropriate for children in kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade, because when they were written there was no one on various writing committees who was an expert in early childhood education… They’re also totally inappropriate for children who have disabilities — they can’t keep up. There’s an assumption in the Common Core that if you teach everybody the same thing, everybody will progress at the same speed. And that’s not human nature. It doesn’t work that way.

“… Common Core standards should be decoupled from the testing …the standards need to be reviewed by expert teachers, and wherever a fix is needed, fix them. That’s my position. I’m not opposed to them, I’m opposed to them in their current form, and I’m opposed to the standardized testing that’s linked to them.


I couldn’t have said it better myself. Make sure you click the link, read the article, and share Diane’s words of wisdom.

For more from Lucianna Sanson, follow her on Twitter @Lucianna_Sanson