Monday, March 16, 2015

Students Advocate Novel Civil Disobedience During PARCC Tests & Pearson Enlists Governments in Retaliation

*Tweet, baby, tweet -- Students share absurd PARCC question responses & Big Brother Pearson enlists local governments to act as Big Brother *NM districts into overdrive, bullying parents who opt their children out
News media have covered the test opt-out movement as the Common Core-based Pearson-owned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests have been rolled out: students walked out of school en masse in various locales in New Mexico; elsewhere students quietly or not so quietly opted out. And students and parents have engaged in many public demonstrations: In Colorado, in Illinois; today in Mississippi parents advised students to skip the test, today in Rhode Island protesting in defense of a teacher that spoke to students about the controversial PARCC test.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan ventured into a Chicago school recently, only to encounter people protesting the PARCC tests. See video at this site. (Was this part of a thinly veiled effort by Duncan to shore up mayor Rahm Emanuel's fledgling reelection campaign in the face of Chuy Garcia's increasingly formidable challenge?) This week Chicago activists sent this public letter to Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools CEO, telling them to stop the bullying and deceptions towards parents seeking to opt their children out of the tests.   He was challenged on Common Core, high-stakes tests and funding priorities. Ravitch's blog reported that outrageously, he flat-out lied when he denied that the federal government imposed Common Core and its attendant unfunded mandates.
Save Our Schools helped the discussion process by offering "The 12 Reasons We Oppose the PARCC Test."
Florida has withdrawn from a national consortium, but it still has a Common Core-based high stakes test. There a mother met with such district resistance to allowing her to pick up her own daughter that she had to call 911 to get her daughter released. The district said that parents picking up their children was disruptive of tests and therefor was not allowed.
A Colorado student cut to the central point: this is a test owned, controlled and promoted by a private entity: "We want a test where it is not owned by a private company but owned by the state and that way we actually have the people that know about the subject, that know bout what students need to know."

School districts, under the influence of state dictates for the Common Core tests, have resorted to 'bribing' students to take the test. For example, as Valerie Strauss reported in the Washington Post, the Morris Hills Regional New Jersey district is offering an American Express gift card to the grade with the highest PARCC participation.
Several districts are aggressively bullying and stretching the truth to get students to give in to the tests. One New Mexico district claimed that compliance with the tests was dictated by federal, state and local law. Read this report on administrator pressure on parents to comply, "Naming names: These school districts are bullying parents into PARCC testing they can actually opt students out of."

In the Diane Ravitch a post read "Time for Civil Disobedience." The article said, in part, “I would encourage all of my students to post pics of the questions or tweet the questions as they remember them. I did this several years ago when Indiana had just one graduation qualifying exam. I got reprimanded and transferred to a terrible inner city school, but the action did have some impact because the state had to admit that a great deal of the exam questions were wrong or too poorly worded to make sense. I realize that in today’s testing-mania culture I would probably have been fired, lost my license or maybe even jailed, but this stuff is so terrible we need to start some civil disobedience.”

Recent blog postings have mentioned some outrageous and creative responses. Actually, Twitter lit up with these irreverent suggested responses to test questions in the April 2014 round of tests.
"12 more ways students sabotaged the PARCC field tests" opened,

So, I think its unanimous. Everyone hates the PARCC test, except for those who made it, or can make money off of it.
Cornelius Bayler (@CorneliusBayler) April 12, 2014

Students have recognized that the tests are one absurd, sick joke and have advised their fellow test takers to give silly, absurdist responses to test sections involving written statements.
Spongebob Squarepants seemed to be a popular way to answer PARCC essay questions:

Just gonna click some f***ing answers and bull**** this PARCC test today. Not in the f***ing mood for this s***.

One student adopted thug typing style:
Guys remember the answer to number 4 on the PARCC is A$VP Trill Fo Lyfe
Another recommended using texting shorthand:
tbh I just wrote "idk" "wtf" and "huh?" in all the boxes on the parcc test
* * *
Students have reportedly shared test questions and answer choices over social media. Tweeting of actual questions, rather than snarky comments were what really sent Pearson and their enablers ballistic.
Pearson assuming authority over students; social media monitoring
After a student tweeted about a test question, the Britain-based multinational education and media mammoth Pearson announced that it was monitoring social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
But worse, beyond the fact that the organization is spying (albeit on a public activity) on students' online communication, is the fact that this is a private organization that has succeeded in leaning on public entities, state departments of education and local school districts, for the mission of disciplining those students. The Living in Dialogue blog has gone as far as to suggest that surveillance is a natural trajectory of high-stakes tests.
Surely, this is the corporatization, the privatization of the disciplinary role of government. First we saw the corporations initiate the privatization of education, now with Pearson telling governments to monitor and discipline students, it is assuming disciplinary authority over students. This is an ugly moment in American democracy.
Following Pearson's statement that it is monitoring students' behavior on the issue of test questions, a New Jersey local district superintendent sent an email to peer superintendents on the issue of student social media statements. After Bob Braun's blog exposed this (and his blog was temporarily hit by a denial of service attack --was Pearson leaning on the blog service hosting his blog?) the superintendent admitted that she indeed sent the email, and today the New Jersey State Education department issued a statement echoing some of the talking points.

Breaking news: the New Jersey Assembly Committee Chair has issued a call for Pearson to appear and explain its student surveillance policies.
Pearson, PARCC, SBAC in the Brave New World of high-stakes tests enlists in government to join them in playing the Big Brother role
Now, the critiques have been raised that tweeting on the tests disturbs the integrity of the tests. But the problem is that these tests have taken a life of their own, evincing a government juggernaut that is not backed by popular will. The tests have gigantic implications for students' own academic lives and but on teachers' professional lives and schools' institutional lives. Democratic activism has not led to the Democratic/Republicans' lessening of the testing onslaught. Furthermore, any contractual obligation upon students that might exist is an invalid contract. If there are such statements that students must assent to the students are not signing these on their free accord.
Furthermore, one child psychologist has argued that with the test-taker's alienation from the process the tests are alienating to students, and that ominously, in the process are committing "soul murder."
Joyce Murdock Feilke, a child psychologist, warns of the harm our society is doing to children by subjecting them to 10-12 hours of high-stakes testing. This stress does nothing positive for them. By the time the scores are returned, the children have a new teacher. The teacher is not allowed to see what they got wrong. The tests have no diagnostic value. The only beneficiaries are the testing corporations.
Thus, this weekend we saw a teacher posting on Diane Ravitch's blog a comment, which led to a full blogpost, "Teachers: Time for Civil Disobedience."

The Common Core test consortium pressuring upon districts to be vigilant about how students use their free speech does not end with Pearson and its PARCC tests. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) has made similar statement, but has gone a step beyond, in its one page memo, "Social Media Monitoring during the Field Test." Mercedes Schneider noted in her blog, "Smarter Balanced Offers Tips for Monitoring Students on Social Media." the SBAC suggested modus operandi:
The SBAC-suggested keys to successful social media “test security trolling”?
1) Set up a school social media site, and encourage students to join.
2) Search social media sites by keyword.
A sinister, deceptive aspect of this is that under this plan, schools would be pre-emptively work against students' free communication, using a school social networking site to monitor students without students' knowing of this.

More correctly, civil disobedience traditionally involves resistance to unjust laws and government policies. We should not grant the veneer of public legitimacy to Pearson, et al by calling opposition to their test rules "civil disobedience." Such resistance is resistance to corporate authority over our lives.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

As More Details Emerge About Emanuel's Police's 'Blake Site' WBEZ Story Tries to Dampen Fire

*More scandalous, ugly details emerge about Homan Square 'black site' of the Chicago Police Department
*WBEZ Critiques label 'black site'; Some discussion around why the story has had limited exposure
*Activists now protesting the detention and interrogation site, use hashtag,#Gitmo2Chicago

A detailed description of the conditions at the former Sears Roebuck warehouse, now Chicago Police Department facility, has emerged. That there is such a site in and of itself is disturbing. The arrested and detained are just powerless youths of color, in for accusations of criminal behavior; but they are treated as suspected terrorists. At least one appears to have died at the site, while in detention. From DailyKos, February 24, "(MAJOR UPDATE) Chicago Police Have Their Own Black Site to Disappear People - Homan Square":

UPDATE:  Just read this story in Salon The Atlantic which gives further details regarding the Homan Square site in an interview of Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project who also wrote a story about this for The Guardian.  Excerpts from the Salon interview follow:
Tanya Basu: Why was Homan Square unknown for so long?Tracy Siska: I think it’s because under the law, people have a right to get counsel when arrested or when held but you’re not provided free counsel like a public defender. Mostly who they take to Homan Square are black and brown and poor kids who can’t afford to hire private counsel while they’re in custody. That’s a little nuance in the law that few know about. [...]
Basu: Why wasn't the press covering it?
Siska: I think that many crime reporters in Chicago have political views that are right in line with the police. They tend to agree about the tactics needed by the police. They tend to have by one extent or the other the same racist views of the police—a lot of urban police (not all of them by any stretch, but a lot of them) embody racism. [...]
Basu: Going back to the Guantanamo interrogation techniques associated with Homan Square, and just to be clear: These warehouses aren’t interrogating suspected terrorists, correct?
Siska: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. 99 percent of the people from this site are involved in some form of street crime: gang activities, drugs—urban violent crime. That’s what makes the site even worse. It takes Guantanamo-style tactics on urban street criminals and shreds the Bill of Rights.
Basu: To clarify: What do “Guantanamo-style” tactics entail?
Siska: Isolation, deprivation of food, other outside contact. It’s meant to be a lot of touchless torture. So they’re not touching you, which in the human-rights field is more powerful and scary because it doesn’t leave marks but leaves huge internal wounds. Most of the time, people aren't physically abused. They’re cut off from society, not allowed phone calls, not fed as much. These are just tactics that are more sophisticated in urban-policing tactics.
Siska claims the Homan square site opened around 2006 - 2007 and there may be other, similar sites in Chicago or elsewhere.  She argues that local media in Chicago failed to cover this story, despite it being common knowledge in the "police accountability community," because most of the people detained there are minorities, African-Americas and Latinos who were picked up by units specializing in street crime, gang and drug related activities.  As always, please go and read the entire interview.  
It seems that none of this would have become a national story except for the fact that three young white males - including Jacob Church who spoke on the record  to Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian - were  were  taken to Homan Square. Undercover cops infiltrated groups planning to protest the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, and brought a case against Church and two others for terrorism that the defense attorneys of those men claim amounted to entrapment. At trial the defendants were found not guilty of the terrorism charge but convicted of lesser offenses, as noted below.
Unbelievable as it may seem, The Guardian is reporting today that the Chicago Police Department operates its own "Black Site" where people are taken, tortured and held in shackles without notification of family or the ability to have a lawyer present.  One man is alleged to have died there after having been beaten.  Shades of the "Disappeared" from the days a military junta ruled Argentina, but its happening here and now in a major city in the United States, and the place is known as "Homan Square."
The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights. [...]
At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.
Activities alleged to have occurred there include the following:
  1. Detainees are kept out of the official police booking system.
  2. Persons in custody are often shackled for long periods of time.
  3. Attorneys are denied access to their clients
  4. Frequent beatings, causing head injuries
  5. Juveniles as young as 15 have been housed there
The facility also houses military-style vehicles.  Defense attorneys, however are well aware of its existence:
Witnesses, suspects or other Chicagoans who end up inside do not appear to have a public, searchable record entered into a database indicating where they are, as happens when someone is booked at a precinct. Lawyers and relatives insist there is no way of finding their whereabouts. Those lawyers who have attempted to gain access to Homan Square are most often turned away, even as their clients remain in custody inside.“It’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits, this place – if you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there,” said Chicago lawyer Julia Bartmes.
Chicago civil-rights attorney Flint Taylor said Homan Square represented a routinization of a notorious practice in local police work that violates the fifth and sixth amendments of the constitution.
And just being a protestor can get you arrested and sent there, as Jacob Church, an activist who opposed the NATO Summit in 2012, discovered when he was arrested by police and "disappeared" there:
Jacob Church learned about Homan Square the hard way. On May 16 2012, he and 11 others were taken there after police infiltrated their protest against the Nato summit. Church says officers cuffed him to a bench for an estimated 17 hours, intermittently interrogating him without reading his Miranda rights to remain silent. It would take another three hours – and an unusual lawyer visit through a wire cage – before he was finally charged with terrorism-related offenses at the nearby 11th district station, where he was made to sign papers, fingerprinted and photographed.
Church is now on parole.  He and two other co-defendants were found not guilty of  terrorism charges at their trial, but were convicted on two lesser offenses:   "possessing an incendiary device and the misdemeanor of “mob action”."  Church was the only one of the three willing to talk to the Guardian's reporters. The others refused fearing retaliation from police if they spoke about their experiences at Homan Square.

It is outrageous that the federal government operates such "black sites" around the world.  That one would exist in a major American city, however, run by that City's own police department is more than outrageous to me.  It's downright terrifying.  Who knows if other police departments around the country have their own Homan Squares where anyone of us could be deprived of our constitutional rights with impunity for any reason, or no reason at all.

Please read the Guardian's article about this domestic black site run by the Chicago PD in its entirety.  I assure you, it is well worth the time and effort.  Then ask yourself, if it is happening there, where else in our country might also be operating such sinister and illegal detention sites?

                                                                                    * * *
Just as New York City National Public Radio affiliate WNYC ran slanted education news coverage, sympathetic with the neo-liberal line, pursuing anti-teacher "education reform" (witness this appearance by Merryl Tisch --read the transcript and commentary at "Tisch Blames Adults for Kids' Test Stress"), WBEZ ran enabling cover of the growing scandal with the title, "Chicago Police's so-called 'black site' mischaracterized."
But WBEZ's chastising of the critics puts WBEZ in a very small cohort. It claimed that the site was known to journalists and so it couldn't be considered a secret. But this misses the point: the site has been cited as a place of many violations against the accused. Besides, why would Spencer Ackerman, Guardian reporter, jeopardy his career with a story built on dubious claims? There is commentary in at least the Atlantic article that reporters went easy because many are pro-police. There is another problem: critical reporters run the risk of alienating their police stories should they cover volatile stories. These are problems of principle. If reporters are practicing a cover-up then they are abrogating principles of covering the truth and are suffering from entrapment.
While WBEZ dismissed the story, other outlets acknowledge the story:

Salon - "'I was in a black site': Chicago's policing nightmare -- and assault on people of color: As Rahm Emanuel fights for his political life, let's talk about the detention and abuse of black people in Chicago" 
The Atlantic
Democracy Now
NY Daily News

Coverage of protests over the site:
Chicago Tribune
USA Today
WBBM - CBS TV Chicago

IMPORTANT UPDATES, from the Guardian:
As the days progress, more individuals and attorneys come forward about their experience in or knowledge of the facility.

Six people and multiple Chicago attorneys came forward to the Guardian
 this week with detailed accounts of police holding suspects and witnesses for sustained periods of detention inside Homan Square, without public records, access to attorneys or being read their most basic rights – involving what they said included shackling, physical abuse and being “disappeared” from legal counsel and family. The Guardian’s recent investigation into Chicago police brutality began the week before, with a two-part account of the tactics of Detective Richard Zuley, who went from Chicago homicide investigator to Guantánamo Bay torturer.
The Chicago police department, in its only official statement on the swirling allegations, denied the Guardian’s reporting on Tuesday, without giving specifics. In a report on the Guardian’s reporting published on Friday night, the Chicago Tribune characterized local attorneys’ perception of the statement as “laughable”.

Police reform has appeared in Chuy Garcia's campaign to oust Emanuel from office.

Federal legislation has become a loophole through which such abuse has been sanctioned:
Travis McDermott, one of the other lead organizers of Saturday’s protest, spoke about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows for the military detention of persons the government suspects of involvement with terrorism. McDermott said the NDAA was the primary reason sites like Homan Square remained in operation.
“The main issue,” he said, “is that when individuals are empowered by a contract” – the NDAA – “they have no threat of accountability, they can’t be expected to exercise self-restraint. They can deny and then it’s a battle of confidence between the people who have witnessed it and those protecting it.”
McDermott said he wanted real answers to the allegations about Homan Square, not quick dismissals [as mayor Emanuel has done].
Examples of protesters speaking up at Saturday's protest over the Chicago Police Department's black site facility:

Vetress Boyce, a candidate for alderman in Chicago’s 24th ward, said communities in the city had long been aware of the threat of violent treatment by police.
She said she stood “wholeheartedly” with protesters and supported a public investigation into what she called “torture” at Homan Square. “We hear a lot of what goes on in our neighborhood and in some cases we have stopped marching, we have stopped fighting for those that matter,” she said.
Reverend Gregg Greer, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, called on more people who had spent time inside the facility to come forward. “If the Chicago police department hasn’t gotten anything to hide,” he said, “then open up the doors!”
And Brian Jacob Church, one of the NATO 3 that first came forward to the Guardian early last week, spoke by via McDermott:
CPD officer, filming protesters, Feb. 28, 2015
Brian Jacob Church, the first arrestee to come forward to the Guardian regarding his time inside Homan Square, could not attend the protest but requested McDermott read a statement on his behalf. One of the so called “Nato Three” who travelled to the city to protest a 2012 Nato summit, Church says he was arrested and held for 17 hours at Homan Square in 2012, before being charged and convicted and spending two and a half years in prison.
The NATO 3, detained at Homan Square

“Today you are standing here because basic humanity has been disregarded in the grossest fashion,” McDermott read. “We hear about things like this happening in other countries … but we never expect them to hit so close to home.”
Social media and memes, from the Guardian:
On Friday night, campaigners associated with the Occupy and Anonymous collectives took to TwitterInstagram and other social-media platforms with the hashtag #Gitmo2Chicago to decry allegations of what users alternatively labeled as a “secret prison” and “torture soon coming to a city near you”.

Rahm Emanuel and some establishment media figures are content to let this story die; but activists will not let this happen.