Free to Be Me

November 30, 2009 at 10:06 am | Posted in AERO, Democratic Education | Leave a comment
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At “free schools,” kids take ownership over their learning, deciding what they want to learn and when they want to learn it. They move and learn in a way that’s natural to them. Gia Rae Winsryg-Ulmer knew she found her place to teach when she walked through the doors of Brooklyn Free School three years ago. See how Gia and BFS honor children’s rights to be themselves and become the happy, healthy, and independent thinking people they are meant to be. This is Gia’s Story.

by Gia Rae Winsryg-Ulmer

When you walk into Brooklyn Free School, you are first drawn to the “Big Room.”  Most mornings, you’ll see kids and staff serving themselves breakfast, reading the newspaper, having conversations about current events, movies, and books, and playing chess or card games. Twice a month, we gather here for our all-school democratic meeting.  Downstairs of the church building we lease, rooms are transformed into playhouses, fort villages, jam sessions, and dance parties. There’s also a snuggle corner with a feather bed and pillows for curling up to read, and a writing area known as “the office.” The sanctuary of the church is where many of the teen classes take place.  Morning classes include philosophy and math. Following our family style lunch, are afternoon classes, like Intro to Chinese, Black Studies, Art, Spanish, and Revolution. Welcome to our school.

My work in education began ten years ago as a teaching artist in New York City. At the time, I was working with students who had been labeled as emotionally and behaviorally disturbed, but who were all highly intelligent and creative young people. Much of the energy of the schools I was exposed to was spent getting students to sit quietly. Later, as an 8th grade teacher in a Harlem charter school, I began to feel as a teacher, like a soldier in a war I didn’t want to fight, a war against kids.

While working towards my master’s degree, I visited Brooklyn Free School, a K-12 independent school of 60 students in the South Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. BFS is located in the midst of a working class neighborhood peppered with bakeries, 99-cent stores, hipster cafes, and laundromats. I knew after that first visit that this was a different kind of school, that this was the kind of school where I could work.

Brooklyn Free School is one of the most diverse communities I’ve encountered—not just in terms of race and ethnicity, but in terms of class, political views, and kids with different learning styles. There are students who in a conventional school might be labeled as school-phobic and kids who would be labeled as geniuses. There are families who come here because they love the philosophy. Others connect because their kid couldn’t imagine being in a school that makes them sit down all day. But all of our students and families have the sense that they are somehow not entirely part of the mainstream.


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Education News

November 21, 2009 at 8:15 pm | Posted in AERO, Education News | Leave a comment
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Learning to Teach to Bridge the Achievement Gap

Sex Education Looms in Health-Care Overhaul

Sats could be scrapped by 2012, hints Ed Balls

Hispanics Ignored in Texas Standards, Board Told

Schools ‘toughest’ Gates challenge

Programs to Certify Teachers May Grow

When Suspicion of Teachers Ran Unchecked

Five Major Child Advocates: Children’s Rights Are Everybody’s Responsibility

November 20, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Posted in AERO, Education News | Leave a comment
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On the anniversary of twentieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child — the most ratified human rights treaty in human history — the leaders of five major organizations focusing on children make a joint plea to put children’s best interests at the heart of human activity.

By Anne Lynam Goddard President and CEO, ChildFund International, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Secretary General, Save the Children Alliance, Kevin J. Jenkins, President and Chief Executive Officer, World Vision International, Richard Pichler, Secretary General, SOS Kinderdorf International, and Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director, UNICEF

Twenty years ago this week, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a far-reaching and idealistic treaty that would dramatically alter the way the world looks at children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, developed after years of intricate negotiations, offered a vision of a world in which all children survive and develop, and are protected, respected and encouraged to participate in the decisions that affect them.

Based on four core principles — non-discrimination; the best interest of the child; right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child — the Convention made it not just wise and just, but legally imperative for governments to recognize and uphold children’s rights to such basic things as education, adequate healthcare, shelter and access to safe water and sanitation.



Children’s Rights Still Violated 20 Years After Convention

November 20, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Posted in AERO, Education News | Leave a comment
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Nations are staging special events to mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which came into force on November 20, 1989.


Nations are staging special events to mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which came into force on November 20, 1989.  It is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty.  Every country in the world, with the exception of the United States and Somalia, has ratified it. In pre-Convention days, most of the world thought children should be seen and not heard.  Now, 20 years later, some children are making their voices heard.  But most remain silent and their human rights continue to be violated.

“I want to have my rights and I want to defend those who don’t have a voice to say no,” says 12 year old Tracy from Lebanon.  She is one of 23 children chosen from 16 countries to come to Geneva to participate in workshops, debates and other events to mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention.  Tracy is an active member of the Children’s Council of World Vision in Lebanon and understands the problems children face in her country.

“One of these problems is children’s physical abuse.  In schools,” she says, “they hit children, in their houses.  And, the other is the sexual abuse.”



One-Third of U.S. Colleges/Universities Now Test-Optional

November 19, 2009 at 5:48 pm | Posted in AERO, Education News | 2 Comments
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Nov 2009

The number of test-optional institutions in the U.S. has soared past the 830 mark, as five more schools – Agnes Scott, Assumption, Sacred Heart, SUNY Pottsdam, and Washington & Jefferson – have announced they are dropping ACT/SAT requirements.  About one-third of all accredited colleges and universities in the country now do not require all or many applicants to submit test scores before admissions decisions are made.


The faculty of Agnes Scott College, a selective women’s school in Decatur Georgia, voted last spring to launch the new test-optional policy. Associate Professor of Mathematics Jim Wiseman explained, “We find that for many of our students, standardized test scores aren’t the best predictors of success… We want high school students to focus on their classes and personal growth, not on their test-taking ability.” English Professor Christine Cozzens added, “Going test optional is evidence of our confidence in our highly individualized admission process and our desire to see every applicant as a whole, complex person with many gifts and qualities and not as numbers.” Applicants who do not submit test scores must either have an interview with an Agnes Scott representative or submit a graded writing sample from a high school class.


Assumption College joins the College of the Holy Cross and Worcester Polytechnic Institute in a “cluster” of highly selective, test-optional schools located in the central Massachusetts city of Worcester. Evan Lipp, Assumption Vice President for Enrollment Management, said, “In 2008, our enrollment management division, in conjunction with Eduventures, a research and consulting firm, analyzed four years of Assumption’s admissions data and academic records to examine standardized testing’s ability to predict academic success specifically for the students we admit. The study found that high school GPA (cumulative grade point average) is, in fact, a better predictor of academic success at Assumption.”


After several years of study, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, has adopted a test-optional admissions policy. In a letter to the community, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Karen Guastelle wrote, “Our comprehensive research on this topic supports that the SAT/ACT are no longer valid predictors of first-year college student GPA, and that high school GPA combined with the strength of students’ college preparatory coursework are of the utmost importance in predicting student success in the first year of college.” All applicants will now be required to submit a discipline-specific essay. Test scores will be collected after students enroll for use in ongoing research.


The State University of New York (SUNY) Potsdam is the first campus in the state’s higher education system to make submission of admissions test scores optional. According to college President John Schwaller, “We did a study about student success at SUNY Potsdam and the utility of standardized tests in predicting student success, and the results corroborated what the national literature said, which is quite simply that standardized tests are not a good predictor of student success.” Director Admissions Tom Nesbitt explained, “At Potsdam student success is our first priority. Test scores are not always effective measurements of a student’s potential at SUNY Potsdam, and it doesn’t really fit the creative and interdisciplinary culture here.”


At Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, the new test-optional policy reflects a view that “Academic success is driven by engagement with distinguished faculty, involvement in the classroom, diligent study habits and a strong desire to excel. “Testing is only one of many measures of potential academic success and often not the strongest,” according to the school’s website. Director of Admissions Robert Adkins added, “If an applicant feels his or her test score is not an accurate reflection of his or her ability, this is an option. It gives an applicant the opportunity to come to campus and shine.”


A regularly updated list of test-optional schools is available free online at:  Many more colleges and universities are reexamining their admissions requirements, often using FairTest resources, including the landmark report Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit: Enhancing Equity & Excellence in College Admissions by Deemphasizing SAT and ACT Results:

FairTest critical comments on US Education Department’s “Race to the Top Fund” guidelines

November 17, 2009 at 3:44 am | Posted in AERO, Education News | Leave a comment
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During his campaign for the Presidency, Barack Obama said, “We should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests.” Candidate Obama added that the nation needs to use “a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas.” Just this June, President Obama explained that assessments could include “one standardized test, plus portfolios of work that kids are doing, plus observing the classroom. There can be a whole range of assessments.”

Unfortunately, many of the “Race to the Top” (RTTT) draft guidelines issued by the Department of Education represent a step backwards from the President’s goals. The proposals would actually make high-stakes testing problems worse without providing sufficient support for “a broader range of assessments.” The guidelines are not rooted in evidence of how to improve schools. By focusing on new national standards and tests, they distract attention from necessary reforms, such as overhauling state assessment systems and supporting collaborative efforts to improve schools. They also overemphasize the value of test scores in data systems.

RTTT’s focus on high-stakes testing goes well beyond what even the test-centric No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law now requires. The Department of Education must overhaul its draft guidelines. Here’s what’s wrong with the current draft and how to improve it:

Read more at:

Little Rascals and Alternative Education

November 15, 2009 at 8:54 pm | Posted in AERO, Education Events, Education News | 1 Comment
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by Jerry Mintz
Very rarely do television sitcoms about children talk about any kind of alternative education or homeschooling. Usually the kids go to public school and hate it, and nobody seems to question that. There is a big need for a TV show that presents educational alternatives and presents children as natural learners. Producer John Demers has created a new show that is supposed to come under the category of “edutainment.” It takes place in a real town, Apex, North Carolina, where Demers lives, and is called “The Rusty Bucket Kids Club,” and even stars two of his children. Among other things, the kids in this show have a chance to go back in time, and in one episode they meet a 15-year-old Abraham Lincoln who is a real life 17 year old homeschooler, Fayetteville’s Scott Taylor. These episodes will be shown at the first Peak City Film Festival – which starts Friday. It is a festival of family friendly films. They hope the show will be picked up by a major TV channel. The festival will premiere 20 new family-friendly films and shorts over three days at two sites. It attracted entries from all over the U.S. as well as Australia, Germany and South America. Jerry Mathers, who played the title character in the 1950s sitcom “Leave it to Beaver,” will receive a lifetime achievement award at the festival’s opening gala at Apex’s Halle Cultural Center. Demers also served as acting coach on feature films such as “Kindergarten Cop,” “Free Willy” and “Little Rascals.”

For more information see: and

John Taylor Gatto 2006 Keynote Address (free video

November 15, 2009 at 8:35 pm | Posted in AERO, AERO Conference, AERO Online Video Series | Leave a comment
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2006 John Taylor Gatto Keynote Address


Find out more and order online at:

2005 AERO Conference: Panel of Graduates

November 12, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Posted in AERO | Leave a comment
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2005 AERO Conference: Ann Cook Keynote

November 12, 2009 at 3:55 pm | Posted in AERO, AERO Conference, AERO Online Video Series | Leave a comment
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Part 1/2:


Part 2/2:


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