The value of the Arts and Flat Stanley.

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Jon Stewart and Flat Stanley.

Yesterday I posted a found poem based on a reader comment to my blog, 

Then Katherine Kampf, Visual Arts teacher from Chicago wrote a crazy good response in the form of a poem.

“A mic drop,” as a Facebook friend put it.

Then I received this from Kitty McGrath, a teacher I worked with for many years.

All night, this has popped back up in mind. All night I have been thinking back to the ignorance and misinformation out there warping and misguiding the original poster’s comment. These are people who do not know and understand children, nor how they learn.
Recently I was working with a student, a sweet 3rd grade girl, but with significant reading delays. She was reading Flat Stanley, not without difficulty, but was giving the text all she had. For those familiar with Flat Stanley, they know that one of the author’s message is about kindness, and treating those with differences with compassion, big ideas in a simple novel, and this was where this girl shined. She paused here to share what she had learned in art and music about the underground railroad, through song and spirituals, through quilting and drawing, she grasped the very real devastation of slavery as well as any 8 year old could.
I’m sure she had been exposed to such ideas in class, during social studies, or by reading certain texts, but these experiences were not what left their mark. Art and music are the language this girl speaks fluently, and for her, that is where meaningful learning actually takes place.
8 year olds are not miniature college students. They learn through play, music, drawing, moving, experiencing, and experimenting.
I’ve worked with some fragile kiddos through the years, and sometimes they did the most learning when the crayons were out or when we painted. Sometimes that is when their thoughts flowed the best, and where they were finally able to share what was troubling in their lives. My little 3rd grader is not always able to articulate her thoughts about what we are reading, but you should see her drawings.
They are windows to a bright, beautiful, and intelligent mind.

Texas judge shoots down the fiduciary rule rollback.


Texas’ hanging  Judge Roy Bean. “The Law west of the Pecos.”

Texas has produced some notable legal minds.

In the 1800s there was Judge Roy Bean, known as “the hanging judge.” He was basically a saloon keeper and when he got older he was known as a man who gave away his money to the poor and always made sure that the schoolhouse had free firewood in winter. He died peacefully in his bed on 16 March 1903 after a bout of heavy drinking.

More recently there was Antonin Scalia. He was born in New Jersey but he died in Texas at a dude ranch. He passed in his sleep after a day of quail hunting. I don’t know what Judge Bean would have thought of Scalia. I imagine he would not have thought much of him.

Then there is Texas judge, Chief Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn of the U.S. District Court for Northern Texas.

Judge Lynn ruled against the Trump administration’s attempt to rollback changes to the fiduciary rule which strengthens the rights of  those who depend on a fair deal when it comes to retirement earnings.

The great scandal in America is how few working people can even afford retirement savings. Those that do have them through their pension plans. Most retirement income comes from Social Security which was never intended to be much more than a safety net.

Naturally the Repugs and Trump are after Social Security too.

Unlike Judge Roy Bean, they could care less if there is wood in the school house in winter.

The fiduciary rule says simply that those who take your money to invest your retirement savings must act in your best interest.

Again, naturally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, and the Financial Services Institute Inc., filed a preliminary injunction earlier this month to stop the fiduciary rule change.

The Trump administration and the Department of Labor support the injunction and propose delaying implementation of the changes to the fiduciary rule and eventually killing it.

The Texas judge’s ruling will be appealed.

Bev Johns testimony before Illinois House Task Force on the future of special education.

-By Bev Johns

photo1In Illinois we are engaged in a great debate over the future education and also of special education.

It is nasty, as Illinois politics often are.

The special education administrators in Illinois (IAASE) are supporting moving away from direct and dedicated funding for special education teachers and instead move to funding based on the number of General education students and provide State funding for Response to Intervention.

I was one of only 3 people invited to present testimony on special education funding (one of the 3 represented private special ed schools).

Here is my testimony.   BHJ


Testimony of Bev Johns, March 21, 2017

Illinois House Education Task Force

Leader Currie, Spokesperson Pritchard, Members of the Task Force –

I am Bev Johns and while I serve as Chair of the Illinois Special Education Coalition, am Immediate Past President of the Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois, and now serve as Chair of Professional Development for the Illinois Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), this testimony is personal.

As you may know each student in special education has an Individualized Education Plan (an IEP). I have chaired over 8,000 IEP meetings over 20 years for 22 school districts in a special ed coop just west of here.

Then, I did something relatively rare – I started a public school – a public school for children with the most severe behavioral disorders.

It was so successful, that I was asked to write a book about it, and I have now written 18 books mostly about Learning Disabilities (LD) and Behavioral Disorders (BD) but also on Alternatives to Suspension, and on Adaptations for special ed students in General education classrooms.

I am most proud of this book, the first college textbook anywhere in the world on Learning Disabilities, which I became co-author with Janet Lerner on its 10th edition (this is its 13th edition). Many people do not know that the words Learning Disabilities were coined in Illinois, at the University of Illinois.

I now teach special education law and college courses on autism and the preparatory courses to become a special education teacher in Illinois.

What is wrong with the Evidence Based Model as now proposed in Illinois?

In my opinion, it is extreme local control.

EBM consists of 27 elements, some based on evidence, but some not.

And local school districts do NOT have to do any of the 27.

Illinois is saying to local school districts, “Here is the State money, and here are good things to do which will give you good results, but you do not have to actually do those good things.”

Hopefully we all agree that the most critical thing for students with disabilities is a specialized teacher.

House Bill 2808 would eliminate direct and dedicated funding for special education teachers.

Special Education Personnel Reimbursement is now directly tied to teachers – if a school district employs a special ed teacher, it receives $9,000 in State funds each year (in every school district except Chicago).

If it does NOT employ that special ed teacher, it receives nothing.

Money is now directly tied to specialized teaching.

Special Ed Personnel Reimbursement is an efficient, clear, and accountable way to spend State money, and has some equity. $9,000 is a greater percentage of a salary in a poor school district than it is in a rich district.

Giving $9,000 to a local school district is NOT going to cause local schools to go out and hire too many special ed teachers as it is from less than 10 percent to at most 30 percent of a teacher’s salary and benefits.

Under HB 2808, State money for special education would be based on one position for 141 GENERAL education students.

Each of you received an email on Friday detailing how this one position for 141 General education students was recommended for the State of Vermont.

Yes, the EBM for special education for Illinois relies on a study done for Vermont, a very rural State with very little diversity – a State nothing like Illinois.

Vermont calls itself a Full Inclusion State – placing every special education student in the regular, General education classroom, yet even Vermont REJECTED this one for 141 proposal.

Under HB 2808 as now written, a local school district receives the special education money no matter how many, or how few, special education teachers it hires.

What is wrong with this?

Just look at Chicago which has the special education Block Grant.

CPS can and does reduce the number of special education teachers almost every year partly because it loses ZERO state dollars by doing that.

There has been drafted an Amendment to HB 2808 that would restore Special Education Personnel Reimbursement on pages 234 to 237, and adjust the one for 141 on page 332.

A critical part of the special education proposal in HB 2808 is something called Response to Intervention (RTI).

On page 31 of the Evidence Based Model research given to you by Mike Jacoby it states that (quote) “The core features of RTI [are] a critical part of the [Evidence Based] approach…”

The email each of you received on Friday detailed what is wrong with Response to Intervention (RTI). It included a link to the paper The Concept of RTI: Billion Dollar Boondoggle, which detailed the only National study of the actual results of RTI done by the U.S. Department of Education.

That study showed how RTI harmed the academic results of students in RTI. An Illinois study showed the same thing.

An Illinois State Senator told the Rauner Commission that there was “drastic over-identification” for special education in Illinois.

That same unsupported claim was made in Texas, and Texas drastically reduced special education using Response to Intervention, in violation of Federal law.

Texas was forced to stop by an award-winning series late last year in the Houston Chronicle newspaper. The newspaper stated –

(quote) “the most harmful delay tactic, according to employees, has been Response to Intervention, a new set of regular-education teaching techniques in use across the country that have been championed in Houston.

“Federal officials have approved RTI, with one caveat: Schools cannot require teachers to try RTI before requesting a kid be evaluated for special ed.

“That is exactly what has happened in Houston, according to current and former staffers.

“’TI was a huge roadblock,’ said Renee Tappe, who retired in 2015 after 35 years in special education. ‘Every now and again, it would help a kid a little bit, but when you look at the number of kids denied, it’s not even close to being worth it.'” (end quote)

Each of you has received the link to a January, 2017, Better Government Association study that says the data indicate African-American and Hispanic students are UNDER-identified for special education in Chicago compared to White students.

Contrary to all previous research, recent National studies done by Dr. Paul Morgan and other prominent researchers state that due to concentrated poverty, environmental factors including lead poisoning, drug use, the stress of violence, family/guardian situations, premature births, etc. both African-American and Hispanic students Nationwide are UNDER identified, NOT over identified, for special education.

Please do NOT support House Bill 2808 as now written.


At the first hearing of this Task Force, a question was asked about the effects of early childhood education after it was stated that the work of economist James Heckman showed its great effects.

In Heckman’s words “It’s expensive.” He says the costs are about $18,000 a year for the very high quality (the words high quality often get lost in this discussion) programs that produce results – and that is the cost in a low to medium cost community.

The Perry Pre-school program is the most famous program that Heckman studied. He showed a $12 return for every $1 invested, but that was over a lifetime (50 years) of the participants, primarily in better health, lower costs for crime, and increased income.

It is sometimes claimed that the Perry Pre-school program drastically reduced the need for special education.

It did NOT.

Sixty percent of Perry Pre-school students were placed in special education versus 65 percent for students NOT in Perry Pre-school.

My pinko life. A a found poem from a comment to my blog from anonymous. And a response poem.


Non-toxic marker and pencil drawing by one of my first grade students. “Super-hero.” 18X22


oh come on Fred.
you made a good salary from teaching
you only worked 181 days
inservice days
a joke
you played in art class
bet that was hard to update every year
toxic markers
to non toxic
and you are going to get 3 percent
compounded for the rest of your
pinko life.
stop bitching.
pay up!!!



Oh come on Fred
You bought the brushes and the paper
Even before you made decent money
You wrote lesson plans and accommodations and
Modifications all weekend to satisfy the Philistines,
A joke
You educated the needy and the defiant and the goofy
whose parents wanted to know
why their kids got a “B” in coloring…when you knew
they were supposed to be researching Teotihuacan or
The Ancient Minoans…..
And the politicians want to take your 3 percent and your
And you continue to fight the corruption and the
Self-serving hypocrites…that is my poem,
For you and for me.

-Katherine Kampf, Visual Arts teacher


Illinois may be broke but these guys aren’t.

Illinois’ budget impasse continues and poor folks are getting hurt bad by the cuts in services. But even with a budget, Illinois couldn’t pay its bills because of a constitutional prohibition against a graduated, progressive income tax.

In simple English? The richest of the rich pay the same rate on their income as you do. And some pay less.

Who are we talking about?

Forbes’ Magazine published it list of international and Illinois billionaires. They mostly did better this year than last.

How did you do?

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Finger painting as fun, learning and an act of resistance.


An old photo appeared on my Facebook page this morning. It was a picture I took of my students finger painting in 2012.

I reposted the picture and wrote:

“Looking through some old pics of student art work I am reminded that one of the things that drove teacher-hating trolls the most nuts was that I, an elementary Art teacher, was paid a full teacher’s salary for “finger painting with kids.” So I always made sure that during the school year that is exactly what I did. And post it. Kids love to finger paint and it is messy! And I was paid in full.”

It is true that we finger painted as an act of resistance to teacher-bashing.

Well, at least I did.

I’m pretty sure that my kindergarten and first grade students did not follow the latest debates about standards and outcome-based instruction, PARCC testing or guided learning.

They cared less about where I was on the salary schedule.

My art room had large formica tables that sat four kids, two on each side. I would walk around with a bottle of laundry starch and pour a puddle in front of each student directly in front of them and then repeated the walk with colors of poster paint.

A piece of paper could be pressed against a final picture making a print. But I liked the fact that the image was temporary and changeable with the wipe of a hand.

An observation about art in elementary school Art curriculum:  We don’t have our students draw enough.

Sure. They draw what they are directed to draw: Flowers, landscapes, houses, people. That kind of thing.

What I found was that my students in kindergarten and first grade didn’t really draw from observation and less from direction. And no matter how often I would point out that eyes were not circles with dots in the middle of another, bigger circle, that was how they drew them except to satisfy me.  They drew from stuff that they saw in their heads and they did it as an act of story telling. My students would draw stories in real time, often telling their stories aloud as they drew one thing on top of another. If night came, they covered the entire picture with black crayon. If morning came, the sun would appear.

I don’t think we treat drawing as story telling in school seriously enough. Although I also fear treating anything in school too seriously as it may appear on the test.

Finger paints are a perfect medium for this.

And the clean up was the most fun of all.

I handed out soaking wet sponges to clean up all the laundry starch and paint. By the way, laundry starch dries fairly quickly but can be reconstituted with a spray water bottle.

Some students loved the dry colored starch that appeared on their hands like a pair of gloves.

Some hated the tactile sensation.

When we were done everything was gone. Nothing to hang up. Nothing to take home. Nothing to grade. Nothing to evaluate.

Nothing but the experience.