Defies Measurement is Finally Complete

Defies Measurement is a documentary about what our nation’s test obsession has done to our public schools and students over the last 20 years.  Shannon Puckett is a great film maker and former teacher at Chipman Middle school, around which the story centers as the school is impacted by No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and eventually ends up as a charter school with an entirely different name.

Crawfish Nation, some of you may remember that I helped promote and fund this masterpiece – and I also do my best to spoil the magic with a cameo appearance of myself.  (Thankfully it is only one.  There is a reason I am a blogger and not a movie star. )  Also appearing are Diane Ravitch, and Louisiana locals Mercedes Schneider and Karran Harper Royal. 

This tackles the issues of NCLB, over testing and opting out, charter schools, Race to the Top, Common Core, poverty, Gates, TFA, Broad, the Walton Foundation, International Test scores, Eugenics,  the New Orleans “Miracle”,the School Reform Movement in general and number of other interesting connections.  If you are interested in presidential candidate Jeb Bush, you will also want to hear what he has to say in this film.

You can go the

or directly to the film here:

There is an opportunity to download of organize a viewing around this film if you have a community event coming up or would like to sponsor to screen this film.  It is an hour long, and I knew most of the material, but I still found it very engaging and presented in a way that really sticks with you and brings everything together.  You can tell there is a real synergy between being a teacher and a documentary maker.

Congratulations Shannon!

For those of you going to the second annual NPE conference in Chicago April 25th and 26th, this film will be screened there as well.  Many of the guests in this film will also be at the conference for you to get their autographs.  Smile


Defies Measurement Update

Defies Measurement Update

About a month ago I was lucky to receive a visit from the blog’s favorite videographer, Shannon Puckett.

Here’s one of my last posts about her documentary project:

In addition to the interview she did with me about my time at LDOE I got to chat with her about other cool issues while she was getting her tire replaced. She managed to make it to the Albertson’s on Airline Hwy Hammond before her tire gave out from a log she hit on I 10. She was lucky to make it that far with an inch long tear in the sidewall (personally I think she has magic powers or a guardian angel.) That was only a few miles from my house so I dropped by the check on her and then I escorted her the rest of the way to my house.

Update from Kickstarter project
Hi all –

I am very excited to report that I’m wrapping up filming and will head into post-production soon. I have interviewed some amazing individuals across the country and can hardly wait to begin piecing the footage together.

The interviews exceeded expectations. Everyone was magnificent: passionate, eloquent, thoughtful and concise. I am grateful.

Interviewing and reconnecting with former colleagues and students from Chipman has filled my heart. When I feel overwhelmed by all of the issues I’d like to include in the film and when I feel an urgency to speed up production, I think of Chipman and it centers me. I am thankful.

I still plan on having a Final Cut completed by Fall of 2014. I will keep you posted.

Continued thanks to all of you. You’ve been with me throughout it all. You were there when I shared a pot of tea and talked for an hour and a half after interviewing a fierce child advocate in Pennsylvania. You were there when I listened to a mother and parent activist speak so thoughtfully and passionately about how the reform efforts in New Orleans schools have been failing their children. You were even with me when I got a flat tire in Baton Rouge after running over a log on hwy 10. It has been an adventure.

As always, thanks so much for your support.


ps – Another way to keep updated is by visiting and “liking” the Defies Measurement Facebook page.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about the issues that will be addressed in the film, check out

I’ve never been interviewed for a documentary before, but I had a good time, and Shannon’s questions had me thinking more about what it is I’m doing and what I’m hoping to accomplish.  (I’m not sure I was in a position to do much before, but now…?) Her questions made me recall the good times I had at LDOE, and all the good people I worked with at the department and in the LEAs (School Districts) before the education reformers came her to discard us all like so much used toilet paper. Now that I am out, looking in, I see a lot of opportunities we missed, a lot more collaboration we could have done, and lack of focus and public engagement. I think it’s true many of us accepted a certain level of corruption, squabbling, and failure of and within out public school system and the various stakeholders that made us vulnerable to the faux school reform being offered by John White and his ilk. From talking to parents, kids, educators and superintendents I can see that what is going on is very disruptive, very harmful in many cases and aimed to destroy public education and drive out experienced educators. But what we had in the past had its share of problems as well.

Reform is designed to make education profitable, but it is not meant to actually improve the lots of the majority of our children, to improve our schools or to make education less expensive for tax payers. I think LDOE could have taken a more active roll working directly with our school districts and communities to improve our education systems. By not doing more, we allowed Reformers the room to write a narrative where the status quo was to blame for the lack of success in our school systems. In their narrative, by sweeping us out, great gains could be make and children would prosper. We became the enemy, the uncaring adults standing in the way of poor children getting a proper education, caring to much about our pensions and job titles and too little about those in our charge. However once we were gone, no one was left to watch the candy store, and success could be written however Reformers pleased, and they have. Having used our data and the media against us, Reformers learned all too well the value and danger of data and clamped down on the free flow of information that was our downfall.

You see, what we reported was not pretty, it was real. The roll poverty plays in impacting children’s education levels and opportunities is also very real. We knew this before we knew reform and reformers. We talked about it as an indisputable given, and it is. Just as it was true then, it is true now. Even knowing this we did too little to address this issue because it was not polite, it was not politically savvy, it was not pretty considering how very poor our state is, and the solution was not going to be cheap. By not addressing this problem ourselves, by not facing this harsh reality and actually trying to do something significant about it, we made ourselves and our state vulnerable to the snake oil salesmen of reform with their soothing lies that poverty is just an excuse made by lazy people or people that have low expectations. This is an appealing story in a country founded by hard working immigrants, tenacious inventors and shrewd entrepreneurs. Unfortunately it’s just that, a story, a fairytale, a ruse. Poverty does matter. And this is where data, and understanding data comes in.

Poverty is not an absolute, and our measure for this is crude and flawed.


Today we have laser guided missiles that can pinpoint targets accurately within inches from many miles away, from planes traveling at supersonic speeds. This allows us to discriminate among friendly targets and use more precise ordinance to accomplish a goal of eliminating an enemy combatant. Thousands of engineers and scientists running millions of simulations and expending millions or rounds went into that precise calculation. Many calculations are factored into how that missile flies and how accurate it can be, from wind speed, to precipitation and visibility.

The way we determine poverty is, for the most part, is just free and reduced lunch eligibility based on whether they applied and qualified for food stamps at some point in the last year. We don’t know how long children have qualified; we don’t know which kids were “poor” last year and no longer “poor” by this single metric. We don’t know which kids are “poor” but their parents refuse to allow school districts to label their kids this way, refuse the free lunches. Many parents do. This metric is very sloppy. We do not have relative poverty, there are no levels. Every student is classified as either “rich” or “poor”, and that difference may be only a few dollars a year in income or whether your parents applied for free lunches. Many high school students prefer to refuse lunch than be classified as free lunch, but doing so makes them “rich” to data folks even if they have no place to sleep on a regular basis and no regular meals, no stable parental influence at home. Reformers understand this, but most of you don’t.

Within this very flawed metric is where reformers, like Leslie Jacobs, work their magic. They tout high performing, high poverty schools.

New Orleans Gains Continue!

I am amazed and awed by the continued academic improvement of our schools and students. In 8 years:

We have more high performing, high poverty schools than anywhere else in Louisiana.

This is a grand achievement! (Even though they simultaneously refuse to recognize poverty is a factor in performance.)

School Performance Scores would factor in poverty if they really believed it was a factor. As things stand now, wealthier districts have very little chance of being taken over by the state while virtually every poor district in the state will be taken over as things are progressing now.

What is actually happening in New Orleans, where 90-95% of the children in the public school system are classified as “poor” by Louisiana’s definition, is that an additional “sorting” is taking place. Charter schools like KIPP are placing additional burdens on families to weed out those families with fewer hours to dedicate to service (because they are working two jobs to get by or because the kids are being raised by their grandparents, or a single parent who can’t afford child care.) Charter schools are weeding out children with discipline problems (student’s with numerous discipline problems usually have less stable lives and are often even poorer, than the one size fits all definition of “poor” kids the state recognizes.)

Data can be a valuable tool, for good and for ill. Sometimes it’s what we don’t measure, or can’t measure, that really matters.

Reformers have learned what metrics work best for their narrative and they have shrewdly learned not to measure or explain things that they can exploit because the measure is so crude. Just as we knew poverty was an issue that needed to be addressed, reformers know they are not really addressing the issue of educating poor kids. They are allowing charter schools to strategically filter out the poorest children to traditional schools, so they can claim success. To people just looking at the data they provide, those children are all the same, rich and poor. However reformers know and charter schools know there are poor kids, and then there are the poorest kids which they can shuttle off to traditional public schools. These organizations have invested heavily in R&D, and they have their own laser targeting systems they use behind the scenes to cherry pick the students they want and to eliminate the students they don’t want.



The Crawfish Bump!

The Crawfish Bump!

Congratulations Crawfish patriots!

In the last 48 hours after making this post we helped Shannon Puckett increase her funding for her Kickstarter Documentary Defies Measurement by more than 23% and contributors by almost 40%!

Since this is my first endorsement, and since I can plausibly say I had something to do with it (ok maybe Shannon’s excellent pitch had more to do with it, but still. . .) I’ve decided to call this effect the “Crawfish Bump”.

But we have much more bumping to do. If you haven’t contributed or bugged your dying rich and senile uncle that nobody likes into contributing, now’s your chance! Shannon needs your money and we need her film and story. If you donate, we can both win! If you were listening to NPR last week in Baton Rouge you heard a very extensive pledge drive. If you’re like me it probably drove you crazy! If you procrastinated and missed out, now is your chance to mend your conscience! Donate to this equally good cause and I will forgive you for your tardiness.

Note: You might still get a phone call from Ira Glass for not contributing, I can’t help you there, but at least I can tell Ira your dollars did not go to waste on all those cups of coffee he asks you to do without! I won’t even ask you to do without your morning coffee, espresso, or even your sissy mocha latte cappuccino spritzer with extra whip. That can be our little secret. All you have to do is donate, or cajole someone else into giving. Simple right!?!?!

So what are you waiting for?

Here’s the link to Shannon’s Kickstarter page:

Here’s the link to her youtube video:

Now let’s get that bump growing!


Did I mention the largest crawfish contributor gets an autographed crawfish? To win, just post your amount as a comment. I will notify the winner by the e-mail linked to the comment…


This goes for previous Crazy Crawfish directed contributors.

Please help Shannon Puckett produce her documentary “Defies Measurement” on the devastation wrought by the Corporate Reform Movement

Please help Shannon Puckett produce her documentary “Defies Measurement” on the devastation wrought by the Corporate Reform Movement

I got an interesting e-mail today from Shannon Puckett, a former middle school teacher in California seeking to produce a film about the horrors and truth behind all the hype of the corporately sponsored Education Reform Movement.

Shannon was a teacher for 7 years at Chipman middle school in California. I was going to explain how Shannon decided to make this film, Defies Measurement, but I don’t think I could do it better than she has. . .

As a middle school teacher of seven years, I witnessed the damaging effects of high-stakes testing on my students and the quality of education they were receiving. In the beginning of my teaching career, I was proud to teach in a school where teachers were encouraged to grow as educators and students were inspired to be life-long learners through empirical learning, hands-on learning projects, being there experiences, community building activities, and brain compatible curriculum . We (Chipman Middle School) were a model school for our dedication to the social, emotional and intellectual growth of our students and were visited frequently by educators from around the world. But, our test scores were low. As test scores do, they matched the socioeconomic status of our students and for that, the state threatened to take over the school if we didn’t raise our scores in the following year. We were under tight surveillance and state representatives came through our school weekly. The mood of the school quickly changed from a creative, dynamic workplace inspiring life-long learners to a test-taking factory. Teachers were trained in test taking strategies and money was put toward test prep materials. Community building activities, “being there experiences”, “extra curricular activities” and subjects were all cut back to make room for learning test-taking strategies. The following year, our test scores went up, some teachers received $5,000, but our students graduated knowing less than the previous class and they missed out on quality, meaningful units of study.

It was at that point that No Child Left Behind was introduced and I left teaching.

This was over ten years ago.

Since then, the teachers and staff of Chipman struggled to preserve the culture we had worked so hard to create. But, as the years passed and the stakes grew higher and higher, teachers left, the school was closed and a charter reopened in its place. The story of Chipman Middle School and its demise is a typical story of what is happening to public schools across the country. The story about the people and organizations who are behind the demise of the public schools is a shocking one and it needs to be told.

Please visit Shannon’s Kickstart page and consider making a donation to get her started producing a film that can act as an honest and authentic counterpoint to Reform pimp pieces such as NBC’s Education Nation, Waiting for Superman, and Won’t Stand Down. Many of you have asked if you can donate to me and my work, but until I start my own non-profit foundation or either run for political office or endorse a candidate in the next election, this is easily one of the best ways you can help me and our cause out. Based on what Shannon has produced so far, I think this could be quite a remarkable and genuine refutation of everything that is exactly wrong with the direction of public education in the United States today. But don’t take my words for it, here are some more of Shannon’s. . .


The American public school system hangs in the balance. High-stakes testing has tipped the scales toward a culture of learning that favors standardization over inspiration. Schools are being closed, teachers are being fired, and curriculum is being stripped of depth and mastery of content. Meanwhile, students are denied a culture of learning that is needed for their social, emotional and intellectual growth. 

Shannon has already raised well over 4000 dollars of the 25,000 she has estimated it will cost to produce this film. Currently she has 28 more days to reach her goal and activate the donations. To reach her goal she will need about 750 dollars every day until her deadline. If you are interested in her work, consider helping her out, or consider forwarding this link to your Facebook or Twitter friends and family. J

We can fight the millions of dollars with mere thousands because we have the truth on our side. We don’t need to buy politicians; we just need to share our message.

This is Shannon’s message:

This is Shannon’s Kickstarter page where you can find much of this information and make a donation:

If you can help her share our message by helping her produce Defies Measurement please check out her Kickstarter page and forward onto your wealthy generous friends with a glowing recommendation about how much you love this idea. J

Defies Measurement will expose the limitations of high-stakes testing and its damaging effects on our children, teachers, schools and society. It will inform parents, educators, politicians and the voting public how the high-stakes testing culture is effecting our public schools and interfering with the real work that needs to be done in classrooms. The story of the school where I began my teaching career will serve as the thread that weaves through the film and ties the larger issues together. Through interviews with former students, teachers and parents, we will learn how Chipman Middle School and its focus on brain compatible education changed the lives of the students, teachers and community. We will also see how Chipman has changed since the introduction of No Child Left Behind. Because the story of Chipman is similar to so many other stories of schools throughout the U.S., we will also hear from educators, politicians and experts in the fields of psychology, education, economics, mathematics, public policy, cognitive development and neuroscience, who will shed light on how high-stakes testing and its ripple effect is destroying our public schools.

Defies Measurement will explore:

  • the sacrifices being made in schools across the county as a result of high-stakes testing.
  • the Corporate Reform agenda and how it is effecting our public schools.
  • how individuals, organizations and companies are capitalizing on the privatization of public schools and test-based assessments.
  • the relationship between poverty and student performance.
  • the role of testing in other countries and what’s being done in the US to address the issue.

As an added bonus, I’ve even agreed to a cameo appearance if Shannon gets the funding and determines she needs it. She’s also mentioned a portion of this film will be dedicated to what’s going on (and what’s not) in New Orleans. Who knows, we might even be able to work in a crawfish in the credits if we get enough Louisiana donations. J