A Mother’s Story.

Aussie Friends of Treehorn

encouraging adults to think sensitively, to care for kids, to make wise choices….with their hearts in gear, their pens active and their votes available .

One Mother’s Story: How Overemphasis on Standardized Tests

Caused Her 9-Year-Old to Try to Hang Himself

There are major costs to corporate-driven “education reform.”

By Marion Brady / AlterNet  August 1, 2016

Washington Post

“…I received a note from my son’s teacher telling me he’d failed the FCAT [Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test] by one point. The note said he’d have to take a reading class over the summer and retest…We weren’t alarmed as he only had to score one more point to be promoted…

“…a few weeks later his teacher called. [My son] had failed the test, again by ONE point!

“…I didn’t tell him, but the next day [he] told me he knew he’d failed because if he had passed we’d have been told by the school and be celebrating. I lied—told him it takes several days and we’d know soon, but he insisted he’d failed.

“It was dinner time. I called down the hall and asked what he wanted to drink with dinner. No response. I figured he was watching television in his room and hadn’t heard. A few moments later I called again. Again, no response.

“I can’t tell you what it was that came over me, just that it was a sick feeling. I threw the hot pads I had in my hands on the counter and ran down the hall to [his] room, banged on the door and called his name. No response. I threw the door open. There was my perfect, nine-year-old freckled son with a belt around his neck hanging from a post on his bunk bed. His eyes were blank, his lips blue, his face emotionless. I don’t know how I had the strength to hoist him up and get the belt off but I did, then collapsed on the floor and held [him] as close to my heart as possible. There were no words. He didn’t speak and for the life of me I couldn’t either. I was physically unable to form words. I shook as I held him and felt his heart racing.

“I’d saved [him]! No, not really… I saved him physically, but mentally he was gone…The next 18 months were terrible. It took him six months to make eye contact with me. He secluded himself from friends and family. He didn’t laugh for almost a year…”

Her son had to repeat the third grade. That happened five years ago, and she says the damage continues: “Currently, [he] could be driving with a learner’s permit but he refuses. Why? Because ‘eighth grade kids don’t drive.’ If new friends saw him they’d know he’d failed a grade… Retention is repetitive and lasts a lifetime. It’s never far from his mind, just as seeing him blue and hanging from his bunk bed sticks in mine.”

For years, this story was a family secret. A mutual acquaintance, knowing from my Knight-Ridder/Tribune columns that I had repeatedly attacked the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test not just as a waste of time, money and human potential, but as child abuse, gave this mother my email address and suggested she write me. I met with the mother and child personally and can vouch for the fact that they do indeed exist.

If failing to reach the pass-fail cut score by just one point wasn’t within every standardized test’s margin of error; if research hadn’t established that for the young, retention in grade is as traumatic as fear of going blind or of a parent dying; if standardized tests provided timely, useful feedback that helped teachers decide what to do next; if billions of dollars that America’s chronically underfunded public schools need weren’t being diverted to the standardized testing industry and charter promotion; if a generation of test-and-punish schooling had moved the performance needle even a little; if today’s sneaky, corporately driven education “reform” effort wasn’t driven by blind faith in market ideology and an attempt to privatize public schooling; if test manufacturers didn’t publish guidelines for dealing with vomiting, pants-wetting and other evidences of test-taker trauma; if the Finns hadn’t demonstrated conclusively that fear-free schools, cooperation rather than competition, free play, a recess every hour in elementary school, and that letting educators alone could produce world-class test-takers—if, if, if—then I might cut business leaders and politicians responsible for the America’s current education train wreck a little slack.

But all of the above are demonstrably true. And yet we keep subjecting children to the same dangerous nonsense, year after year.

I’ve no doubt that at least some reformers sincerely believe that America’s schools should be privatized, that educators are unduly attached to the status quo, that unions are a serious problem, and that teachers resist change and must be pressured to perform. I’m sure some are sincere in their belief that the Common Core State Standards actually identify core knowledge, that standardized tests can evaluate complex thought processes, that the reforms they’re pushing, although painful, are essential and right, and that teachers can’t be trusted to judge learner performance.

But wilful ignorance from an unwillingness to talk to experienced educators is unacceptable.

Given the money and power behind current corporately driven education policy, few tools for resisting are available. Of those tools, refusal to go along is both the moral and most effective choice. Thoughtful, caring parents won’t be bullied by test manufacturer propaganda or threats from those in Washington or state capitols who cling to the quaint notion that test-taking ability is a useful, marketable skill.

Marion Brady


This is a sad story, but it is real.  It should not be dismissed lightly, even though it ‘happened in America’. It was still a real mother and a real child. It happens where the circumstances are conducive. Scaring kids is part of our education system. With the inbuilt intent that is part and parcel of NAPLAN testing – to frighten and stress children to get better scores on immoral, unreliable, useless tests – we can be pretty sure that this story has its counterpart here in Australia.  We Aussies don’t care much about kids, so there’s no sense in talking about it..  Australians have a casual attitude towards the mental health of our young; and our media would not be allowed to print a story such as this, in any case.  We all know that too many children feel ashamed when it comes to pressure on them to get better scores, but adults prefer not to talk about it, too much. Most schools and principals approve of  klein-type testing. Since a few million pupils have already been through the NAPLAN branding machine in Australia,  there are sure to have been; and we will have more casualties, such as this story portrays, as the years go on. Children can be very sensitive little people.

They can well do without the kind of child abuse and cruelty, now becoming endemic in Australia’s schooling system. For instance….

1. Testing of the data-collection kind is being introduced soon into Year 1 for Australian five-year-olds so that NAPLAN can have a starting point. Imagine being this age and having to undergo the test-stress that is imposed by order of the big masters. 2017 innovation!  Rotters. Only a maker of Don Dale chairs could have dreamed this up.  2. Stress tests already exists for Year 3 which contains mostly seven-years olds, the age that children start school in more sensible and advanced countries. We let it continue at this young and crucial age, even though we know it stinks.    3. NSW is going to attach the raw results of Year 9s to success or failure in the HSC, three years after. That’s a real doosy.The older the child, the bigger the chair. 4. NAPLAN is talked-about as if it was a part of school routine and always has been, whereas it was a dump–on,  an uncalled-for extra,  of elephantine proportions on an already over-crowded curriculum in 2008.    5. As unreliable and useless as they are, the scores are used by businesses and by private schools for admission purposes and judgemental opinions.  These groups, supposedly education- canny and knowing the value of a buck, reminds one  of Carson Robison : There’s sumpin cock-eyed somewhere.” 

Certainly the fear-based element of  kleinism used by the testucators,  is meant to cause stress and it is so unnecessary.  That’s what kleinism is.  As Ms. Gillard says in her autobiography, that’s why she …she and her pin-up boy….introduced it.  Sad Christopher Pyne thought it should be more ‘robust’ and gave over $30 million for Direct Instruction packages to selected schools!  Australia approves of the creation of stress in all places of detention [schools, gaols, migrant centres] as it did at the Don Dale Centre, where  our treatment of the young was brutally exposed. Physical abuse is easier to film. that’s the only difference.   We can cover-up NAPLAN effects even though the impact on the long-term  mental health of our youth is not much different from that used  at the Don Dale Centre.

You will have noted the increases in the  numbers of parents in New York [Klein’s legacy] who are opting-out of Standardised Blanket Testing in dramatic numbers, “…despite state attempts to pressure, brow-beat, threaten, cajole and distribute a huge case of PR-spin whirtles.” [Peter Greene]  More than one in five [ 20%] children in New York do not take the test. Real child-oriented Australians could make it 95% if they wished. [Kimberley College in Brisbane only tests 6 pupils out of a possible 200; and there are other schools around Australia whose almost all parents do not like the nasty thing anywhere near their school. Presumably, they talk to each others abut learning and evaluating and improving. ]

Far too many schools do not discuss evaluation or testing with their parents or distribute articles of an anti-NAPLAN educative kind.   They impose data gathering  on kids without reference. None seems to give parents the democratic right to chose whether they want their kids to do the tests or not.  No democracy involved. Have the parents at your school heard of Sir Ken Robinson, Gene Glass, Marion Brady, Diane Ravitch, Susan Obanian or read any of their articles?

We can beat NY,  All that Australian parents have to do is drop a note to their teacher “I do not want my child to undertake any standardised tests”. There are no legal no administrative complications if this simple action is taken. . That’s it.  Such an action will hasten the end of NAPLAN and schools will find some decent learning to do. For sure. If enough parents do this, our kids will learn a great deal more,  at a higher level;  and enjoy learning!

Please accept some serious advice :  OPT OUT NOW.  Don’t put it off. Don’t risk putting it off. OPT OUT.

Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  0   cphilcullen@bigpond.com             http://primaryschooling.net/                     http://qldprimaryprincipals.wordpress.com/

 Let’s think 

NAPLAN results


 Treehorn Everychild was the hero of a book by Florence Parry Heide: The Shrinking of Treehorn. When he was severely afflicted, worried and puzzled,  the adults closest to him – parents, bus-driver, teacher, principal – preferred to ignore him. They had other things to do. The conclusion to the book is dramatic. He lost faith in all adults. When his skin started to turn a violent green, he had adjudged by then that adults don’t care about school kids and the book concludes : “Treehorn sighed. ‘I don’t think I’ll tell anyone.’ he thought to himself. “If I don’t say anything, they won’t notice.’”


NAPLAN the WOMBAT disappoints

 The WOMBAT results are available. Simon Birmingham, Nick Baird, Robert Randell and others have their knickers in a twist over the results.  One wonders what they expected. If they had read The Treehorn Express and allied material over the past few years, they would have known,

 If they had applied a version of Rotary’s Four Way Test..

1. Is it useful?

2. Is it fair to all concerned?

3. Does it help children to learn better?

4. Does it help teachers to teach better?


they would have dumped it years ago.

 NAPLAN is a threat to decent schooling and an instrument of child abuse  that takes basic immorality, common sense, fiscal wisdom and professional ethics to their worst extremity.

Australia can do without it.

 While its local  propagators and supporters, testucators and politicians  sit glumly looking at the results, the corporate giants at the money-making end [ publishers, programmers, chemists, child-welfare institutions etc.] are rubbing their greedy hand together with glee.

 Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  0   cphilcullen@bigpond.com             http://primaryschooling.net/                     http://qldprimaryprincipals.wordpress.com/
 Let’s think 

Education Readings August 5th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

Seymour Papert – Logo, Lego and constructionism – RIP

Education lost one of its greatest people this week, with the death of Seymour Papert. His book “Mindstorms’ should be in every teacher’s library.

Donald Clark:

‘Seymour Papert was a constructionist (not to be confused with constructivist), who worked with Jean Piaget and built on his theories to redefine how education could function on a constructionist basis. The Logo programming language was a tool he wrote to support this approach to learning and he was been a stern critic of traditional schooling.’


Papert – in his own words

Steve Wheeler’s tribute:

‘He was a stern critic of instructional and didactic forms of education, and was a champion of student centred learning, active engagement and creativity. These ideas will continue to inspire generations of educators to come, and his influence will not be dimmed by his passing.’


Daily Papert: Words and wisdom of Dr Seymour Papert

Over the years Will Richardson and Gary Stager have compiled a comprehensive site honouring the work of Papert and that provides access to a long list of his quotes and writings.  It is well worth exploring!


One Mother’s Story: How Overemphasis on Standardized Tests Caused Her 9-Year-Old to Try to Hang Himself

This story by Marion Brady speaks for itself.

“…I received a note from my son’s teacher telling me he’d failed the FCAT [Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test] by one point. The note said he’d have to take a reading class over the summer and retest…We weren’t alarmed as he only had to score one more point to be promoted…’


Milton Friedman’s Vision

If you’re wondering where the current education ideology started, that led towards tragic stories like the one above, this will answer your questions.

‘Friedman’s vision certainly has guided lots of folks in the past decade-plus, but he has also been proven wrong about pretty much everything. A choice system isn’t cheaper, isn’t better, and hasn’t provided anything except profits for many of the privatizers. But at least he was absolutely clear about the goal– turn public education into a private business, one way or another, and let folks make a bundle doing it.


How to Bring ‘More Beautiful’ Questions Back to School

Everything starts with a great question… Einstein as a teenager wondered what it would be like to ride on a beam of light – 10 years or so later, he came up with the Theory of Relativity. He maintained he was just passionately curious – an ideal mindset to foster in children.

‘Curiosity is baked into the human experience. Between the ages of 2 and 5, kids ask on average 40,000 questions, said Warren Berger, author of  “A More Beautiful Question,” at the Innovative Learning Conference hosted at the Nueva School. Young kids encounter something new, learn a little bit about it, get curious and then continue to add on a little more information with each new discovery. Warren says that’s where curiosity happens, in the gap between learning something and being exposed to something new.’


Students published their book “Reflections”

This article about an e-book published by students in Texas and Vietnam isn’t strictly an education reading but then again it’s a very worthy cause.

‘This book is their labor of love. We facilitators have left their ideas, expression, and discoveries their own. The stories, the joy and sadness, the humor, the wonder, and the learning are their voices–a true Teenage Manifesto of the 21st century. We have learned much from them and hope you will, as well.’


Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

The 1 Lesson That Will Sharpen Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence – the difference between empathy and sympathy.

‘Although most of us consider empathy a valuable and basic human trait, it often goes missing in day-to-day life. Just think of the major disconnect between many managers and their teams. Or how it’s so easy to hurt those whom we love, simply because we can’t see things from their perspective.’


Ken Robinson: ‘You don’t want a caste system for creativity’

‘Schools’ drive for conformity is at odds with the rapidly changing world, where being flexible, curious and creative are more important qualities than ever. Engendering these qualities in future generations matters to adland and the wider creative industries because they rely on a steady stream of diverse thinkers who can creatively solve business problems. Robinson’s talk, delivered with his quiet wit and charm, made waves. A decade on, it is still the most popular TED talk of all time, last week surpassing 40 million views. Combined with his later talks, he has racked up almost 60 million views without any paid media spend.’


Schools ride new wave in writing

Teachers use games and new tech tools to produce powerful prose.

‘“If you want kids to write about something challenging, you really need to put them in a position to discuss it first in an active, open-ended sort of way, because then they have something to write about,” Roberts says. It introduces them to the language they might use and the ideas they need to be able to manipulate to write with sophistication, Roberts adds.When students understand that the purpose of writing is to share ideas, they perform better than do students who are asked to write just for the sake of writing.’


From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

A little bit of deja vu

‘It is all too easy to think what currently passes for new ideas are really new – just another version of ideas often lost when top down ‘experts’ ignore the reality of true learning.’


Does your classroom have the ‘wow’ factor?

‘The first sign of ‘wow’ is the overall first impression the room gives you. The feeling you get is that you are indeed in special place. There is a feeling of positive relationships between teacher and learners and often parents are to be seen quietly helping students. Other students seem to be working without supervision. A quick look around the walls, covered with students creativity gives an impression that this is a room dedicated to the students themselves.’


The killing of creativity by the technocrats.

The killing of creativity by technocrats like John Hattie

‘Be careful when using the latest jargon: ‘learning intentions’, ‘success criteria’, ‘WALTS’, ‘modelling’ and’guided practice’ or you will be leading your students to conformist learning and, in the process, limiting their innate individuality and creativity. As an antidote, at least, ensure that students appreciate the need for individual creativity and value their ‘voice’ in what they present.’


We need to think

The Need to Think

Aussie Friends of Treehorn

  encouraging adults to think sensitively, to care for kids, to make wise choices….with their hearts in gear, their pens active and their votes available .

Convention time is coming up.  How many educationists will be discussing schooling issues like NAPLAN, Accountability, LEARNING in CLASSROOMS, Schooling, PISA results, Quality, Testing, Appraisal, Evaluation?

What effects will their Conference outcomes have on our political masters and on their testing industry? 

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The belief that systems and practices should be organized according to principles of standardization, efficiency, practicality, and measurable utility (over and above philosophical, humanistic or ethical considerations) is neo-liberalism at its messiest. Such criteria have been used to legitimate empiricist and market driven forms of education that serve the interest of a closed and authoritarian order rather than an open and democratic society (Giroux, H. “Disposable youth, racialized memories and the culture of cruelty”, Routledge, 2012).

 Poor Australia. It’s sinking.


Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  07 5524 6443    cphilcullen@bigpond.com             http://primaryschooling.net/                     http://qldprimaryprincipals.wordpress.com/