About Barbara Riverwoman

I taught pre-school for 14 years and then taught in the Early Childhood Education department of the local community college for 7 years. I have had a special interest in developing video materials on conflict resolution with young children. I am a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. I co-write a blog on the wildlife of the San Lorenzo River.

It’s Not About Education: An Advanced Placement Student Tells Her Story

Not just students with special needs are negatively affected by standardized testing. Here is a story by a white, middle class student who consistently took Advanced Placement classes in a high school near Stockton, California. For her, standardized tests were not only a burden in themselves, but signaled a more general failure to meet students’ real educational and counseling needs. She writes:

Megan Williamson

Megan Williamson

“I remember feeling so impatient, because every year we would have to take standardized testing. They’d spend an hour telling you where to write your name, be sure to fill in the bubble completely, if you color outside of the bubble your tests will blah blah blah. It would be a whole hour of instruction just about where to write your name. The teachers seemed so stressed. I had teachers who really enjoyed teaching, and standardized testing wasn’t teaching. It was something that they had to do, not something they wanted to do or thought was a valuable use of time in the classroom. But we were required to do it.”

“I wasn’t aware in the beginning of any threat of teachers being fired or schools getting shut down – but I wondered why there was more stress on standardized testing than on the regular tests of material we were learning in class. I learned later that a lot of school websites publish the school ratings on the standardized tests, including all the data on demographics and scores. Bad results could reflect badly on the schools – that’s why there is so much pressure. Teachers and schools are afraid they will look bad. It’s not about education.”   Continue reading


“I Wish All Schools Were Like Renaissance”

I think Jorge Martinez and Pasi Sahlberg would agree about some fundamental educational values.  Who are Jorge and Pasi and what are their values?  Jorge is an immigrant from Mexico and a junior at Renaissance High School, an alternative high school in Watsonville.  He is also a talented rap artist.  This blog features an essay he wrote about his educational experiences here in Santa Cruz County.  Pasi Sahlberg is currently a Finnish guest professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  He was a schoolteacher, teacher educator and policy advisor in Finland, the country that is usually cited as having the best school system in the world.

Jorge photoI know Jorge would appreciate the banner slogans at the top of Pasi Sahlberg’s blog, Pasi Sahlberg .  They capture Jorge’s personal experiences. The provocative banners say,  “The worst enemy of creativity is standardization” and  “To prepare young people for a more competitive economy, our school systems must have less competition.”   In the first banner, Sahlberg is pointedly referring to the controversial standardized tests in K-12 that are infecting our public education system, the newest version of which are the Common Core tests. In the second, he challenges the highly competitive environment that seems to characterize our schools more and more.

Jorge moved to Santa Cruz County from Mexico when he was five. He did well throughout elementary and middle school, working hard and making steady progress.  Key to his success were the English Language Development (ELD) classes available to him in the early years.  Nonetheless, he suffered under the regimen of standardized testing.  And in his sophomore year, when ELD classes were suddenly dropped, his steady progress was slowed.  Forced to go to an alternative school, he is now a passionate advocate of the school’s alternative approach.  According to Kim Sakamoto, one of Jorge’s teachers at Renaissance, the school emphasizes cooperation, exploration, dialogue, small groups, choice, trust and community. It de-emphasizes standardized tests.   Jorge says, “We are family here.  We help each other.”  Jorge might easily have been a drop out.  He  is now determined to realize his dream of  becoming a police officer.

You can read Jorge’s full essay below.  Here is what he has to say about standardized testing.

“The STAR tests were a big thing.  Every year we had to take them.  They would show how smart or dumb you were. My mom would tell me that in reality it doesn’t show how smart you are.  But each year my score was ‘below basic’.  I felt really sad, letting my mom see those scores.  You do all your homework.  You attend class every day.  And still you don’t do well.  It’s not that the teachers are not teaching me right.  But the tests didn’t test what I had learned.  Also, when you take the tests, everybody has to stay in the room for two hours.  Nobody can talk until the last student is finished.  Since I was usually the last one working on my test, it was very embarrassing.  All the other kids were just waiting for me to finish.  Sometimes it was so embarrassing that I just hurried to fill in all the bubbles without even reading the questions.  Lots of us in ELD, we would begin to think that school was not our thing.  People would say, ‘maybe the field is your thing’.  I had friends who felt that school was not their thing and they dropped out.”   Continue reading

Triple P – Problematic Parenting Program

The desire to be in control is such a common and understandable human tendency that we forget that human progress is generally measured by the gradual giving up of control along with the wise sharing of power.  Political progress, we generally agree, moves from totalitarianism to democracy, from slavery to freedom.


But, sadly, we forget.  We stumble.  Or maybe we just fall into the false belief that the means don’t affect the ends, i.e. that we can use top down decision making to achieve positive ends.  John Dewey, great American philosopher and educator,  wrote many pages on this fundamental fallacy in education.  It’s worth reading.

I’d like to talk here about how this universal drama between hierarchical and horizontal control is being played out in the world of parent education in Santa Cruz County. Continue reading

A Charter Chain in Santa Cruz County? It’s a 501(c)3 But Is It a Public Benefit?

In her new book, Reign of Error, just out last month, Diane Ravitch offers a stinging attack on Education Management Organizations (EMO’s), the charter school chains that are proliferating throughout this country. She compares them to Walmart or McDonalds, education organizations with many of the same goals and tactics as more typical corporations. Some are large chains, like the notorious Rocketship Schools in San Jose (who have recently hit the front pages of local newspapers due to the outrage that teachers and parents are feeling about their takeover of neighborhood schools.) And some, Ravitch says, are just small entrepreneurs, eyeing covetously the large pot of money in the public school system. I had thought that Santa Cruz was free of these chains, but learned from a friend that I was wrong. Santa Cruz County now seems to be hosting one of the small EMO’s. Continue reading