Children Psychologically Imprisoned?: Whistleblower Reveals High-Stakes Testing Preparation

I’ll admit it. When A Terrifying Report about Child Abuse in Texas Schools–and in Your State Too first ran about a month ago on Diane Ravitch’s blog— it flew under my radar. The post detailed the allegations of child abuse for the purposes of high-stakes testing at a high-minority, Title I East Austin elementary school near downtown. Then Angela Valenzuela, a UT-Austin Professor and longtime crusader against the abuses of high-stakes testing, brought it back into the public discourse via an public email recently (Check out her blog Educational Equity, Politics & Policy in Texas). So what has Austin ISD promoted as test preparation in many of its high-minority, Title I elementary schools? Here are some excerpts from Ravitch’s original blog:

Re: Report of Psychological Abuse in An AISD Elementary School

Dear Senator Nelson & HHS Committee,

I am writing to report my observations of psychological abuse in a public elementary school in AISD. I am providing this report to your committee as my professional responsibility and according to the Texas Family Code. The conditions and methods described in this report can be confirmed by mental health experts as factors which are known to contribute to mental illness and criminality when used for conditioning and shaping behavior in young children…

The New 3 R’s System was designed by a former structural engineer who became a principal in AISD. He designed his own program of behavioral engineering and experimented on the general elementary school population of minority students ages 4 – 11. It was a successful and efficient method of getting high performance on tests, and led to his school receiving an Exemplary performance rating on statewide testing and national recognition for his school. This high performance recognition led to the Austin ISD allowing another Title I school principal to implement the same New 3 R’s System. After the 2nd school implemented the program over three years and received an Exemplary rating on statewide testing, AISD allowed the principal to train other principals in Title I schools. AISD allowed this program to be implemented into Title I schools without adequate review by mental health experts who would have recognized the potential for psychological harm to young children…

What the New 3 R’s System calls good discipline, is actually punitive ABA. The signs of psychological abuse that I have observed from chronic stress in this system usually begin by age 6 – 8. The most common symptoms begin with signs of desensitization, anxiety, loss of imagination, loss of spontaneity, loss of humor, regression, irritability, self injury, inability to concentrate, and dissociation…

Any child with unfinished homework on any given day is singled out in the cafeteria during their lunch, in front of their school community, as punishment for not having completed their work. This method of shaming and humiliating a child during their lunch, in front of their peers, teachers, mentors, school staff, parents, and others, is a method known to cause psychological harm to children. It causes scapegoating and social isolation, and causes a child to become labeled as an “offender”. Many of the younger children cry when forced to sit in isolation by themselves in front of everyone in the cafeteria. Some of their peers show signs of sympathy, while others make sarcastic comments or looks, and others fear the same could happen to them. Most of the children see the injustice, and feel helpless and sad for the victims. This method of humiliating children causes strong emotions of shame, anger, and resentment for both the victim and the bystanders. By using this method, teachers are modeling negative behavior of “bullying”, while presenting it to the child as “good discipline”…

The child who suffered the most punishment with this method last year due to chronic homework problems, was also a victim of impoverished family circumstances. Her name is XXXX, and she is the oldest of five siblings. Her mother is intellectually handicapped. As a forth grader, XXXXX had assumed the role of parenting her younger siblings. They were a homeless family and had slept on the floor of a friend’s two room shed for two years. XXXXX spent time in cafeteria isolation on a regular basis. She was the victim of a cruel method which only increased her social isolation and distrust for her teacher/caregiver, and enhanced her feelings of helplessness and worthlessness…

The discipline called Friday Assessments is a marathon of weekly testing sessions lasting up to four hours every Friday. This non stop testing begins at the start of the school day on Friday and lasts until lunch and up to four hours. This weekly four hour test is said to be a need to check student progress; however, it has all the characteristics of a simulated STAAR test, which last four hours. The children work in isolation behind triboards as they do during the STAAR for security. This disguised Simulated STAAR is mentally and physically exhausting for young children. It causes them to become desensitized and lethargic…

Each child’s daily behavior report from the teacher is posted on the board for peers and others in the school to see. This is a punitive method of ABA for motivating children with fear and intimidation. This causes a child shame, anger, and resentment, as well as fear of additional punishment from home. This method serves as a threat throughout the day, and causes chronic stress and loss of trust in the teacher/caregiver. This method singles out a child for scapegoating by peers, and it conflicts with a child’s need for healthy attachment to the teacher/caregiver. This method of the New 3 R’s is a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)…

The New 3 R’s uses a selective process for teachers and staff in order to
implement the program effectively into a school. There is a process of weeding out all teachers and staff who have objections to the methods of the system or who have recognition of the potential for psychological harm. The Right People means that everyone on the faculty must agree with the principal and not express any opposition or disagreement to the methods…

The gradual selective process of the Right People begins with flight, fight, or freeze, which are the normal reactions to a threat of abuse of power…

FLIGHT: Those teachers who were not indoctrinated into the system by the end of the second year, either transferred, retired, or were terminated…

FIGHT: The school counselor is the only one left on the faculty at present who has continued to point out the psychological abuse in the system. The counselor filed two formal grievances of child mistreatment to AISD Human Resources last school year, but no changes were made in the system. At this time the counselor has experienced the full victimization of bullying by the principal and AISD higher administration: Threats, scapegoating, alienation of faculty, and retaliation continued until the counselor was forced to take leave on 17 September. The counselor filed an EEOC grievance against AISD for retaliation on 17 September 2013, and is continuing to advocate for the children who are being exploited in an environment of psychological abuse…

FREEZE: Teachers who remained in the school are desensitized and loyal to the principal and the New 3 R’s System. They do not object to any of the punitive harmful methods nor do they empathize with the students. Teachers who function in chronic stress have similar symptoms as the students. They function in a “survive” mode rather than a “thrive” mode. They are robotic and scripted, emotionless, lack spontaneity and imagination, lack humor and flexibility. They are rigid and controlled. Their performance is measured by the test scores of their students, so they are dedicated to programming their students according to administrative directives. They obey orders without question. Many walk on eggshells for fear of making mistakes or displeasing the principal. They work very hard to keep up with the principal’s expectations and focus on their own performance. They are stern and demanding. They have lost the ability for imaginative play…


The New 3 R’s System is a rigid system of behavioral engineering that uses punitive methods of ABA which are known to cause psychological harm to young children. Some of the methods are known to cause mental illness and criminality. The New 3 R’s is a sophisticated system of bullying.

AISD administrators allowed the New 3 R’s System to be used in elementary schools for the purpose of obtaining high performance ratings on statewide tests, but without adequate oversight of mental health experts who would have recognized the potential for psychological abuse.

AISD has allowed administrators to use punitive methods of ABA in violation of certification requirements and with methods known to cause psychological damage to young children.

AISD administrators ignored the counselor’s reports of the New 3 R’s methods as being psychologically abusive to children, and retaliated against the counselor.

Children in Texas public elementary schools are entitled to have their mental and physical health protected by state law. There are currently no agencies with adequate laws in place to protect the rights of these children.

Has high-stakes testing has segued from equity to psychological imprisonment in Austin? Would you send your child to a school that uses these psychological tactics developed by an engineer?

p.s. To be honest. This post made me want to cry. So I did.

Update 11/14/13 1:13 p.m. I am receiving some heat for this post. Which is understandable. My number one priority is the children in our public schools— not my personal circumstance. If you are an AISD person reading this blog, I am 100% open to a response from the district as I am hearing this afternoon that they conducted an investigation. Email me the report from the investigation and I will post it immediately. Everything in this post has been in the public record for a month. Perhaps you take issue with the counselor’s professional opinion or with the facts presented. Also, if you are or were a teacher at this elementary school, I am also willing to publish your thoughts about 3Rs anonymously.

Update 11/14/13 4:38 p.m.  Joyce Feilke, the school counselor, sent the following photos and captions via email this afternoon to substantiate her narrative. I have never been inside the elementary school in question, so I cannot confirm they are from that location. They purportedly show the 4-hour testing isolation on Fridays and the lunch punishment tables. I obscured the faces of students and parents to protect their privacy.

Update 11/22/13 8:03 p.m. Mel Waxler, AISD attorney, contacted via email and stated (I only use the middle of his request to protect school personnel that he mentioned):

…Although the pictures do not expose faces, the identification of some of the students remains possible,  Also, employees of the campus who appear in the pictures and who have nothing to do with the allegations feel unfairly implicated…

To address AISD’s concern, I have concealed the persons in the photos with brush strokes in addition to face coverage so that neither students nor staff may be identified in the photos.

friday-assessments Ferpa protect

lunch-punishment ferpa

For all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on high-stakes testing go here.

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Please blame Siri for any typos.


  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    My last Post on this topic & thank you Julian:

    He/she-AISD said – They/she “whistle blower” said and the issue of CONFIDENTIALITY and POLICY RESEARCH.

    Many of the posts on this Blog have been about “truth” and ultimately bracketed within a “traditional” “JUSTICE” model as the AISD has effectively, I think, covered all of its bases and provided answers with respect to the concerns within the Texas school(s) where (some of this) Blog began.

    Within the context of the bracketed “traditional justice” model; issues of confidentiality were raised early and used effectively in my opinion to limit harm to students and in my opinion, to limit liability from many directions as well.

    Thus, the “whistle blower” is now left with nowhere to turn as she does not have the institutional authority to pursue this or follow up as the AISD has answered the concerns with its internal investigation. Unless someone- “a parent” in this case, were to come forward with a complaint, then from a legal point of view, e.g., traditional justice point of view, this situation is concluded! Moreover, even if a parent came forward, from the perspective of this Blog, the AISD case is still concluded to protect the children. Who wants their children to attend a school labeled abusive?

    But, in the beginning I didn’t understand this Blog to be about one school case. From a research perspective there are likely thousands of individual cases in America that might be contested as to effects on psychological health.

    Within the narrow and “traditional JUSTICE” model there are laws also with respect to ABUSE (including psychological abuse) and educators and counselors are equally responsible to respond when they perceive ABUSE – physical, mental/psychological, sexual, & neglect- to have occurred. In CA teachers and other educators are “mandated reporters” to the state/county offices of child protective services. CONFIDENTIALITY is paramount and those filing complaints are rarely even informed as to the outcomes of child protective services investigations. Serious cases of abuse end up in Superior Court and initial mandated reporters are rarely called as witnesses.

    As just one of thousands and thousands, as a (former) administrator in Alternative Education, who has dealt with hundreds and hundreds of discipline cases and where alleged abuse was part of the issue the larger “ethical” issues: “caring” “justice” and “critique” (Starratt, 1999) was always on the back of one’s mind. However, there’s a panel of educators who decide “cases” and they must do so within a strict due process manner. Also, given the circumstances in each case, questions of propriety with respect to “discipline treatment” was at times an issue, CONFIDENTIALITY is paramount. From a traditional justice, point of view, lost CONFIDENTIALITY not only puts the child and family at risk, but the school, the personnel, and the district at risk from a liability standpoint.

    It’s extremely difficult, therefore, to raise legitimate concerns from a POLICY RESEARCH point of view, because of CONFIDENTIALITY concerns. In the beginning, the concerns on this BLOG tended toward POLICY as I understood it, as “MOMMIES” (plural) and in New York and elsewhere, were protesting the “negative psychological effects” of test prep. Sandy S. of New York, for example, put up a public UTube post: “Mommies aren’t going to allow this anymore!” which incidentally, was what drew me into this discussion, not the TX case per se.

    Larger POLICY discussions and larger ethical issues from a critical, or CRITIQUE (Starratt, 1999) e.g.,“Who controls? Who legitimates? Who defines?” – point of view- was lost to the narrow JUSTICE issues of the single AISD Texas case in my opinion. I think everyone will agree that all professionals concerned from their own point of view CARE about the students; if not each other.


  • AISD has continued to investigate the allegations against Blackshear Elementary School.

    The district has provided an update on its investigation, which includes an overview of each allegation, the source and methodology used to investigate the allegation, the findings and the conclusion.

    AISD Investigation into Allegations

    Click to access Investigation_-_Allegations_Regarding_Blackshear_Matrix.pdf

    For more information, please visit:


    • Lack of Transparency causes Distrust

      Hello Austin ISD,

      The primary question throughout this blog that was not addressed by your glowing self generated survey is accountability for the New 3 R’s System of social engineering. Many of us who have worked in Title I Schools of AISD and experienced it have cause to be concerned that it is used with the most vulnerable community. AISD is skillful at creating media productions and surveys to promote their image, and this survey is an example.

      The New 3 R’s System was designed by an engineer turned principal and registered as the New 3 R’s Educational Consulting LLC. The AISD principal was then enlisted to train other Title I principals to implement the system, which has been described in newspaper articles as taking three years to five years to implement. Now AISD has no information about it ?

      It has been described as a boot camp system, or in the words of clinical social worker, Stephen Rosenbaum, “Skinner-Nazi Management”. It is a regimented system of non stop test related low level thinking rote drill. The children who are forced to function in this environment become desensitized and perform like robots. There is evidence to link this system to the “pipeline to prison” studies that are ongoing across the country. There is concern that this system causes children to lose imagination and not think for themselves.

      Until such time that AISD or the state of Texas can follow the example of “progressive” Cali and pass legislation that prevents social engineering and use of punitive methods in school systems, it would be advisable to hire outside specialists to monitor these Title I schools and examine their system dynamics for punitive methods that are difficult to recognize by those not trained in behavior dynamics. The high performance ratings on test and outward physical appearance of the school can easily mask the underlying psychological damage to children.

      AISD’s lack of transparency and disclosure about the New 3 R’s System is less than satisfactory.


      • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

        Hello: Lack – Transparency – Distrust:

        While I’d intended not to respond anymore to this POST I think it important to clarify.

        My comment on the CA Safe Schools Constitutional Amendment was not intended to suggest that we in CA are doing any better over here West of the Sierra.

        Also, it just happened a few minutes ago that on the SJS, Blog the issue of “Child Protective Services” and ethical practice just arrived- See my post below.

        Professionals in many, many areas of public service face ethical issues such as Joyce Murdock Feilke. Many are under attack as attempts to privatize and reduce government continues- (a public policy issue).

        The Social Justice post is copied below so you can see that things aren’t so wonderful in CA either. Social Workers and Counselors are facing continued ethical dilemmas as the changes toward “privatization” and “privatized partnerships” continue in my opinion.

        Copied below from (SJS) Social Justice Solutions Blog.

        Yesterday, SJS was approached about a potential Child Protective Service(CPS) workers strike in Los Angeles County, CA..The tension between The Department of Children and Family Services(DCFS) and the local county have reached a critical point as the workers are demanding reduced caseloads over concerns that the increased load will make it more difficult to conduct ethical practice.

        These concerns where echoed on a comment on our Facebook page:

        “Social workers of DCFS have a great responsibility CHILD SAFETY which we cannot ensure due to the high caseloads we are given.”

        Social Workers at DCFS are angered as the safety and well-being of a child in the system often depends on the availability and contact of assigned workers, something that has become increasingly difficult as caseloads rise. Currently, the Services Employees International Union local 721 has been identified as the coordinating agency for a potential strike. The DCFS workers face a catch-22 with a strike because it could be potentially harmful to clients who will be left without services, and yet , if they do not strike the workers have no leverage to negotiate with a county system that is disregarding ethical practice. Considering the long term impact of the problem, and the county’s unwillingness to compromise, they might be left with no choice.

        If you or someone you know is involved in this story, or would like to update the community, please reach out to Stay tuned as we continue to cover this developing story.

        By: Courtney Kidd, LMSW
        Staff Writer


  • Here is the latest information from Austin ISD on this matter:

    Recently, Blackshear Elementary School has been responding to allegations of “child abuse” and “hostile work environment”. It matters not from whom the allegations come, but rather whether there is any truth in or to them. The District takes all such allegations seriously and so far has determined the following:

    1) The principal, teachers, and staff members at Blackshear care about the academic performance and social emotional well-being of their students;

    2) Students at Blackshear reported higher levels of adult fairness and respect, student engagement, and appreciation of their learning environment than the average of Austin ISD elementary schools (2012-2013 Student Climate Survey campus results);

    3) While not the only indicator of school quality, once a struggling school, Blackshear is now experiencing notable academic success for its students, including exceptional academic performance by its English Language Learners.

    4) No parents/guardians submitted any complaints related to the allegations;

    5) A legal review of the matter, an investigation by Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, another investigation by an AISD Police Detective specializing in child treatment as recently as November 26, 2013, and other inquiries and campus visits have not produced any evidence to substantiate or to support the allegations; and

    6) Neither Austin Partners in Education (APIE) nor other organizations with mentors on the Blackshear campus have reported, either last year or this, any concerns of which they or their mentors were or are aware.

    We continue to investigate any allegations that come to our attention. To date, we have no concrete evidence to substantiate the allegations that have been made.


    • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

      Dear Austin ISD: Thanks for the glowing report. From a distance with only information here to go on, it seems that I’ve been “hoodwinked” and the “New 3Rs System” never existed or was never used to initiate the “punishments” described elsewhere. Since your report fails to even mention the “New 3Rs System” am I to understand that it doesn’t or didn’t exist?


      • Things Must Change

        I noticed AISD glossed over that, too. I believe the 3R’s was mentioned in an article in the Statesman a few months ago when they interviewed the principal. Also, what allegations are they denying? I worked there and they DID have the homework detention.


    • Joyce Murdock Feilke

      To: AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and General Counsel Melvin Waxler

      It is a serious issue when the lead attorney for a school district gives a false statement publicly. It is a violation of the public trust. It is also a violation of the public trust for AISD to invest great efforts into concealing the previous abuses that were described in the report rather than taking accountability and putting measures in place to see that they are not continued in the future. The AISD investigation of this report is fraudulent.

      AISD’s faux investigation of this report only causes more questions and greater need for a legitimate investigation:

      AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen met with the faculty on Nov 11th and said not to discuss the New 3 R’s?

      Area 2 Superintendent Maria Hohenstein met with “select” faculty members recommended by the principal to gather false statements, while others who would have been truthful were not questioned?

      Area 2 Assistant Superintendent spent time almost daily on campus for a month doing damage control?

      It was not possible for CPS or an AISD detective to observe evidence that was concealed. The visible punitive methods that were described in the report were abruptly stopped when it became public. AISD made no legitimate effort to uncover the history of those methods, how they came into use through the New 3 R’s System, or what other Title I Schools have been using the same punitive methods. The responsibility of protecting children has appeared to be the least of AISD worries. Instead, AISD conducted an extensive “cover up” that does not look pretty. The extensive efforts of AISD higher administration to use deceitful means to conceal information and protect themselves from scrutiny in this situation can only cause one to think this is the tip of an iceberg. When this truth does come out, it will reveal a level of corrosion, mismanagement, and abuse in the AISD system that will not be tolerated by the taxpayers of Travis County.


  • Cici Rodriguez, LCSW EMDR

    This is my open letter to AISD Communications Director, Alex Sanchez, after his response to my inquiry about support services for students following the 2nd suicide of an AISD student (with modifications to protect identities). His response directed me to the new AISD website on Bullying:

    Mr Sanchez,

    Thank you for your recommendation and I have seen the AISD Bullying website.
    It looks very chic, but unfortunately, the bullying website information that is promoted to the public is not in practice within AISD. It is this ambivalence that causes the problem. The bullying in AISD comes from higher administration, and is filtered down the chain to the teachers, with the children being the most vulnerable victims of this toxic environment. Children actually learn behaviors from modeling their teachers & caregivers, not from reading about it on a website. The punitive behavior of bullying that is modeled by teachers and caregivers for young children will be “hard wired” into their personality.

    What I observed during my work with a nonprofit that serves AISD Title I Schools is a punitive culture that is systemic and perpetuates bullying. The vast amounts of money spent on CASEL contractors has been for political promotional purposes, while the internal culture of bullying in AISD has actually intensified.

    Bullying always involves entrapment and abuse of power. In a school system, it is usually the result of a leader who abuses his/her power in order to promote his/her own agenda, without being aware of how the weakest in the chain are being impacted. If his/her agenda is focused primarily on “performance ratings”, including her own, he/she may use whatever means necessary to achieve his/her goal. Sometimes there is a gradual corrosion of ethics throughout the system in that process, since obedient subordinates will promote their leader’s agenda. This system of bullying works the same, whether it is created by the CEO of a corporation, the dictator of a country, or the head of a family. When it becomes systemic, the toxic stress from the punitive environment that is created will shape everyone’s behavior in that system. Bullying is on a spectrum. As the demand for higher performance ratings in Title I Schools in the AISD has intensified, so has the bullying.

    Bullying education is promoted on the AISD website, but it is not in practice in the AISD administration. AISD higher administration appears to promote their own image and need to win awards and celebrity through a hollywood media format to the public, but with a mafia management style internally. This style of management has forced many employees of AISD, especially teachers, to function in fear and paranoia, which has a detrimental impact on their work and creates an environment of toxic stress for the children. The children are not only helpless victims of punitive treatment, they are being taught this behavior is normal.

    With current research to show how young children in these punitive school environments are impacted by toxic stress, develop anxiety disorders, self harming behaviors and addictions, drop out of school, do not finish college, or take revenge on greater society and end up in prison, it is time that we take a good look at our Texas statistics. Children’s mental and physical health is being permanently damaged by the punitive systems like this described in the report. We Texans need to propose new legislation to prevent this in the future. We need to examine the legislative model of California’s Constitutional Amendment Article 1, Section 18C, as described on this blog by Dr Monty Thornburg. It is time for our Texas schools to create a healthy environment that can inspire all children to love learning and become strong leaders and independent thinkers, not “slave” workers who fear their “master”.

    We need to start by helping AISD recognize and disclose what punitive methods have been used, in which Title I Schools, and for how long. Then we need to help those children recover by nurturing them back to health through mental health intervention and community involvement. Those of us who are educational child development specialists and mental health professionals are not trying to attack AISD, we are trying to help them for the benefit of our children. I will be one of the first community volunteers to get in the queue.


    Cici Rodriguez


  • I am appalled at all these blogs that have been written. Has any one of you been to Blackshear or these other schools? What is more appalling is to compare this systems to Black Slavery, and even to Sandy Hooks and Columbine! There is a huge difference> No child at any of the schools mentioned had been MURDERED! YES I SAID MURDRED. This is hurtful and hurtful for those parents who lost their children to a senseless crime. What I don’t understand, if the problem is with the testing, that is nationwide, so why go after this school? Seems to me there is something personal going on here. Why not go after the people who enforce these testing? Take your fight to National Board of education. After reading all these blogs, I’m starting to wonder if some of these blog are written by the same person, but changing the name. They seem to be similar to each other. There is always two sides to a story. And it’s a shame that each and every one of you, have jump on the band wagon, without hearing the other side of the story. If only you all really knew the truth. But I wish the comparing of these schools to those innocent children that were killed would stop. It’s really appalling.


    • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

      Dear Sadie:

      Please read more carefully. I mentioned Columbine and Sandy Hook. But, not in reference to the schools in TX being discussed but rather in reference to CASEL that I and Karen Anderson believe is nothing more than a weak approach, or “Window Dressing” to deal with the 3R’s system. Alleged psychological damage is the issue. In no way did I intend to implicate the schools in TX to be “murdering children” as you characterized the totality of these responses of the Cloaking Inequity Blog.

      What is being discussed the implementation of the 3R’s system and the “silencing” of a trained professional’s concerns as she critiqued and severely scrutinized the 3 Rs system in the schools mentioned. In my particulare case, I readily acknowledged that I do not have any direct knowledge about the particular schools. I do, however, have knowledge about private contractors like CASEL, however, that built their reputations on the idea that they had solutions to inner city violence prevention. Some who have written on this Blog seem to have direct knowledge of the schools and others don’t.


    • To Sadie’s question, “Have any of you been to Blackshear or any of these other Title I Schools?”

      Yes, several of us were university volunteers who observed children being punished in the cafeteria on a regular basis all of last year. We went to the school once a week, and there were always one or two kids in cafeteria punishment every time we were there. One day we saw a 3rd grade boy in isolation with his head down crying during his entire lunch. We saw the little homeless girl there almost every time we visited. It was upsetting and we talked to our supervisor about it. Has the school denied that this was going on?


    • Things Must Change

      Hello Sadie:

      Yes, I have been to Blackshear. These systems were in place during the time I worked there. I know both sides of the story. What is odd is that the administration is denying it. There are a lot of great things going on at this school but the homework detention is not one of them. I have worked in Title I schools my entire career and I can tell you that this system is not in all of those schools. I think you need to reread the comments that mentioned Sandy Hook because I think you misunderstood.


  • Just Tell the Truth

    It is a fact that the current principal was the principal at Becker for one year. The following school year she was an assistant principal at Zavala before accepting the position at Blackshear. What was the reason for that change in positions? Was it a demotion or a choice? Why would someone leave a school after one year if the implementation of their programs was as successful as it’s been stated by previous commenters?
    It is a fact that lunch detention was used at Blackshear. What is odd is that administration is denying it took place. Why not just own up to it? Wouldn’t it be better to just say,”Yes, that is a system we had in place. These are the reasons why we did this, etc.,” than to lie about it? Just admit it happened, take the metaphorical slap on the wrist, then CHANGE IT. If the same students are constantly in lunch detention for not doing their homework that should have been a sign that something is wrong with this system.


  • Gabi Garza, Early Childhood Specialist

    Those of us who have worked in AISD know how severe and abusive the bullying has become. The superintendent and her staff invest an enormous amount of time promoting themselves with media and PR; however, the teachers and children in Title I Schools are especially vulnerable to the abusive system since the parents in those areas are often intimidated by school authority. They are either afraid to speak up or unaware that the punitive methods are psychologically harmful to their children.

    The children of the Title I Schools have been victims of psychological abuse that has been
    ongoing in AISD for at least the past 5 years. The New 3 R’s System that has been used is
    the direct link to the “pipeline to prison”. It is also called the “Skinner Nazi Management Style”. It uses punitive methods that are recognized as psychologically harmful to children.

    The parents and community of AISD’s Title I Schools are waiting for a full accounting from AISD to explain exactly what punitive methods have been used, and who are the AISD administrators who will be held accountable for this treatment to their children. There needs to be mental health assessment for these children.

    The deception, misrepresentation, and lack of transparency from AISD about the use of these punitive methods and which schools have used them is appalling. The City of Austin needs to investigate AISD.

    Gabbi Garza, Early Childhood Specialist


  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    Hello Everyone:

    We now have someone naming himself, “Malcolm X” being reprimanded by someone without any name or identification who claims to have the “facts” about a principal who reportedly is part of this dispute: Children Psychologically Imprisoned?

    This all seems to be escalating and needs a rest.

    Ms. Joyce Murdock Feilke is a stand up professional, in my opinion, who’s unafraid to put her name out there. She makes the claim that Children have been psychologically “harmed” by practices highlighted on this Blog.

    The “theme” of my recently published research: “A Search for Social Justice” concludes that in the current political atmosphere, -writ large- there’s a “silencing” that goes on in public education.

    In my research, which is totally separate from anything in this Texas case, I found that even some of the highest officials and many down the bureaucratic chain in public education are silenced. They are silenced that is, with respect to any legitimate “Critique” on the system.

    Ms. Feilke’s experience seems from a distance to confirm my thesis.

    My research method investigated “attitudes” with respect to an “Ethical School Model” proposed by Professor Robert Starratt of Boston University. Starratt’s model suggests that an “Ethical School” needs voice in three areas: Caring, Justice and Critique. As discussed by Starratt’s (1994): Caring is defined by asking the question: What do our relationships ask of us? Justice is defined by asking the question: How shall we govern ourselves? And, critique is defined by asking the questions: Who controls? Who legitimates? Who defines?

    My analysis from reading the responses on this Blog and using Starratt’s Ethical definitions above are as follows.

    One: Some in the Texas system are accused of being “uncaring” -justly or unjustly- and, mommies (and others) are upset. In my research I found that everyone in that context (In CA) made claims to being “caring” and thus being accused of not being caring, I can see, is a hot button “values” issue that leads to conflict escalation.

    Two: In return some are being accused of stepping outside “justice” or “due process” mechanisms and lawyers are now engaged. My guess is that all the way around it’s a big concern and coming from many directions.

    Three: In my view, Ms. Feilke courageously tried to use “legitimate critique” from her professional point of view. As I understand it, this dispute grew after an attempt to “silence” her began. She was attacked for even raising the “critical” issues when she felt an ethical need to do so.

    The attempt to “silence” legitimate voices is falling on deaf ears- so to speak- in these times of a new multifaceted information age and well it should.


  • Get your Facts Straight

    Before you slander someone’s reputation, get your facts straight! The principal that you speak of was not removed from the principal position at Becker. From someone that worked there at the time, I can stand by this fact. This principal later chose to accept the principal position at Blackshear Elementary. Her reputation and outstanding success at Becker, led to her being considered for the principalship position at Blackshear mid-year. Since she accepted the position at Blackshear, she has led the student body to success and built a climate of pride, culture, and art that teachers and parents are proud of.


  • What action has AISD taken to reprimand this principal for using such punitive methods with young students?

    AISD has concealed information that shows this principal was removed from Becker Elementary School in AISD following protests from parents after she attempted to use the same punitive methods there. Following that episode, the principal was demoted to assistant principal at another school on the eastside until the opening came available at Blackshear Elementary.

    Explain this failure to communicate with the public AISD!


    • Let's Get Back to Work

      Malcolm X,

      Do you really have to rely on nonfactual information to get attention? Everything you mentioned about the principal that worked at Becker is not accurate information and it is detestable to see that you have to slander an individual to get the publicity you want. For those reading…. look at the facts before you allow yourself to get caught up in a fictitious story. I have looked at the facts and I can prove that the person initiating this storytelling is misusing our tax dollars.


    • Factual Information

      I have seen the principal at Blackshear treat every students, staff, and community member with respect. She has brought many wonderful things to Blackshear such as enrichment, drama for schools, and extended the door to numerous volunteers that work with our students. Speaking to her former staff at Becker, they have nothing but wonderful things to say about her and the allegations that she was removed are untrue. I also know that the former counselor at Blackshear created problems amongst staff and has not worked at Blackshear for almost a year to experience the wonderful changes that have occurred at Blackshear and the positive climate that staff, students, and community members share at this amazing school.


      • To Factual Information (Name?)

        The issue here is that psychologically harmful punitive methods have been used and were continued even after mental health and several concerned staff attempted to point them out to administration. Do you deny those punitive methods described in the report have been used?

        The “cafeteria punishment” that had been in effect now into the second year was abruptly stopped only after the counselor’s report was made public Oct 16th? However, the four hour “Friday Assessments” are still discretely being continued in a number of Title I Schools. The “Friday Assessments” were implemented into Title I Schools about five years ago as a result of the success of the New 3 R’s System winning awards. This weekly “simulated” STAAR test material has been developed and promoted through AISD central office instructional specialists. Those specialists are paid to develop the “Friday Assessments” (i.e: Simulated STAAR) and benchmarks.

        Four hour weekly tests for elementary children are considered punitive, since they are mentally and physically exhausting and cause psychological desensitization.


  • Speak for the Eastside

    The taxpayers of Travis County are paying the bill for a 200K+ annual salary lawyer to cover up AISD’s punitive system of behavioral engineering that’s been used on minority children in Title I schools? This is a travesty to us on the Eastside but it is no surprise.

    TCTU is only one of a number of lawsuits lining up for mismanagement and malpractice.


  • This request was sent to Cloaking Inequity asking for the photos to be concealed:

    “employees of the campus who appear in the pictures and who have nothing to do with the allegations feel unfairly implicated….”

    The AISD attorney writes, using premises that are incorrect. Using those false arguments he attempts to use his position as AISD Chief of Staff to give an authoritative voice:

    Incorrect premise one: There is only one AISD employee shown in the photographs.

    Incorrect premise two: The employee is not unfairly implicated. The employee is the cafeteria monitor who supervised the children in cafeteria isolation daily throughout all of last school year and this school year until the counselor’s report was made public on Oct 16th. As each teacher brought his/her class to the cafeteria, any student who was to be punished in isolation that day was handed over to the cafeteria monitor before the teacher left. There were on average one or two students in isolation daily during each lunch period for grades 1 – 5.

    Incorrect premise three: This cafeteria punishment is not an allegation. It is a factual statement that can be proven by questioning community mentors who observed it taking place throughout all of last school year and this year until it was abruptly stopped following publication of the counselor’s report. It can also be confirmed by any Blackshear Elementary School employee who is not afraid to provide a truthful statement.

    This statement from Melvin Waxler, and the AISD’s lack of transparency in investigating the punitive methods of the New 3 R’s System in Title I Schools, gives credence to the TCTU lawsuit that is currently investigating AISD mismanagement.


  • Cici Rodriguez, LCSW EMDR

    Should we listen to mental health experts who are recognizing and observing the impact that toxic stress is having on children, or should we listen to the the school administrators who are creating this toxic stress from their increasing obsession with high stakes testing?

    Psychologists recognize that a focus on intrinsic rewards results in reduced anxiety and better life outcomes. However, as Boston College psychology professor Peter Gray has observed, “our system of constant testing and evaluation in school — which becomes increasingly intense with every passing year– … very clearly substitutes extrinsic rewards and goals for intrinsic ones. (It) is almost designed to produce anxiety and depression.” Indeed, the National Institute of Health finds that childhood anxiety is on the rise and is now the most prevalent psychological disorder in children and adolescents.

    Mental health professionals report an alarming rise in anxiety-related symptoms, including self-mutilation, coinciding with New York’s Common Core. Psychologists have designated a new diagnosis for this self punishing disorder called the “common core syndrome”.

    Core implementation

    ¿Hay que escuchar a los expertos en salud mental que están reconociendo y observando los efectos del estrés tóxico está teniendo en los niños, o deberíamos escuchar a los de los administradores de las escuelas que están creando este estrés tóxico de su obsesión inquietante con las pruebas de altas apuestas?


  • Hola Ronnie Burt, You said:

    “How do you completely ignore the fact that the New 3 R System has brought significant success to so many students?”

    When i sent an FOIA request to AISD for information about the New 3 R’s System I was told there was no information about it? Dr Carstarphen advised the Blackshear Elementary School faculty on Nov 11th not to respond to questions about the New 3 R’s System and not to discuss it with anyone. Your comments seem to have confirmed what AISD denies?

    Your acknowledgement that the New 3 R’s System has brought “success” to so many students is misleading. What it has actually brought is high test scores, but at a price. The New 3 R’s is a regimented system of test focused brain washing that will get high scores, but will destroy the children’s imagination and individuality in the process. Have you observed that the New 3 R’s System is only used in Title I Schools? It is a system that produces submissive workers, not thinkers and leaders. Is that success or oppression?


  • Your post made me want to cry too, but I fear not for the same reasons.

    The rhetoric and tone here disgustingly treats teachers and administrators like they are common criminals and child abusers. I would hope that you have spent enough time in schools interacting with educators to know that 99.9999% truly love kids and always have their best interest at heart.

    How do you completely ignore the fact that the New 3 R system has brought significant success to so many students? Compare the awful test scores and student achievement at Graham elementary before and after the New 3 R’s system was implemented? See 2008.

    And it goes way beyond test scores. Reading levels and critical thinking skills are improved. These students, for the first time, actually have a fighting chance.

    There’s no greater turnaround story of a failing school in the entire state. Maybe country.

    But, too bad this post (and the original) throws all of the hard work of the principals, teachers, and most importantly the students under the bus. It treats what is being done as if it is purposefully malicious, instead of what it is, educators acting in what they believe is the best interest of their students. For sure, if real harm is being done to students, something should be done. But the entire system and individuals involved shouldn’t be thrown out or discredited.

    I’d argue real abuse would be if these principals and teachers kept allowing the students to fail, and didn’t take risks by trying new things.

    Typical though – AISD actually turns around a few schools and the public (and a so called education policy expert?) still finds major issues to complain about…

    Don’t hate the player, hate the game. These educators are doing the best they can in the accountability system that our well-meaning but incompetent government setup. Sure, the methods need to be constantly evaluated and improved upon, but blog posts like these do nothing of value for real debate around real change. They only foster hate, distrust, and ignorance.


    • Allyson Aynesworth

      This “whatever it takes” attitude that you expressed so well illustrates why AISD has allowed and perpetuated these punitive methods in the New 3 R’s System for so long….because this system was winning Exemplary prizes! It was bringing fame and status to the AISD Superintendent and the school district. AISD might not have recognized in the beginning the potential for psychological harm to children; however, when the counselor did recognize the punitive methods as they were being implemented into the second school, which is Blackshear Elementary, and she attempted to go through the proper channels of pointing them out to the principal and higher administration, her professional opinion and assessment was ignored. When she continued to speak up, she was retalliated against and bullied. When she complained to AISD higher administration that she was being bullied, the AISD General Counsel assigned a staff attorney to investigate her complaint of bullying and reverse the roles so that Ms Feilke became the “offender”. The AISD staff attorney attempted to discredit the counselor by reporting that Ms Feilke had used “unprofessional communication”. Ms Feilke’s original complaint of being bullied resulted in the AISD staff attorney recommending that the counselor be “terminated” because she was “unmanageable”. AISD’s shameful and illegal practice of protecting their unethical methods by bullying staff and children needs to be exposed. The taxpayers of Travis County need an explanation from the AISD Superintendent as to why she allowed and perpetuated a cover up of this situation rather than taking accountability and responsibility for correcting it and putting measures in place that would prevent it in the future.

      When AISD places more value on winning Exemplary Awards and National Blue Ribbons than they do protecting the mental health of children, it is professional malpractice. The counselor wrote a professional report to Senator Jane Nelson and the Health & Human Services Committee because she is an advocate for children, and she cares about the welfare of those children. She had to take extreme measures to bring this to public attention because AISD administration failed to do their job. The counselor gave a careful report of what she actually observed and how she knew those methods to be psychologically harmful to children. Her report was professional and unbiased. AISD cannot be allowed to dismiss this miscarriage of justice by excusing it with “the end justifies the means” because they were winning “prizes”. Children have been psychologically harmed and their rights trampled on by this Superintendent’s need for fame and status. The taxpayers of Travis Country are waiting to hear justice.


    • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

      Touched a nerve!

      Hello Ronnie Burt: I see that you have an EduBlog of your own. I see that your “assumption” or is it “direct knowledge” that teachers/administrators are “hated” by comments on this blog. This has touched a nerve with you.

      I was fascinated to see your comment elsewhere on your blog about “On Line Education” and your reasons for leaving that endeavor as an adjunct college teacher.

      You wrote: “But, I just can’t shake the feeling that my students would have been much better served in a more traditional face-to-face setting. So, sadly, I know that it is now time for me to put down my grading mouse and walk away from the keyboard” … “and online distance learning, is travelling down a dangerously slippery slope.”

      Please believe me when I say, as a k-12 classroom teacher in CA that the “policy reformers” who you derisively characterize as “so called” are also working in student’s best interests- as I believe you are. I assume you are correct that most teachers and administrators at Graham elementary in Austin, TX, and elsewhere are caring, and I’ll take your word that Graham Elementary had a “great turnaround story.”

      As you said, we shouldn’t “hate the players, but, hate the game. These educators are doing the best they can in the accountability system that our well-meaning but incompetent government setup.” That statement suggests to me that you do see the problems from a policy perspective.

      My reading from these blogs on the psychological toxicity in many schools is different than yours, as I’ve experienced it as both a teacher and alternative education administrator over the past decade.

      I haven’t felt hated but, rather supported by many statements here. Maybe you have knowledge that teachers at Graham or elsewhere feel hated! Is that the basis of your statement or is it an assumption on your part? I will admit, I’m not part of the more personal aspects of the disputes going on in Texas.

      I’m also convinced, as you said on your blog regarding on-line teaching, that: “It really is an education system foisted on teachers and administrators.” I would say that’s the case with NCLB too.

      One of my concerns, from a policy perspective is that over the past many years we have wasted $billions of dollars that should have been spent on public schools. The money instead was spent on the mass testing and privatization schemes created through NCLB. The follow-up Blog post on “civil rights” appropriately continues the Cloaking Inequity themes in my opinion.


  • Texas Parents Opt Out

    Joyce Feilke is not anti-testing, and neither is our organization. We fervently believe in formative classroom assessments, teacher observations and student work portfolios. But that’s NOT what is happening in Blackshear Elementary. Every single Friday, all students in grades 1-5 are subjected to 4 hours of standardized testing. Students are regularly placed at isolation tables in the cafeteria for not completing homework. There are no hands-on, play-based activity centers in the kindergarten classrooms; they have been replaced with literacy (worksheet) activities. I would NEVER allow my own children to be abused by school personnel in such a manner.

    Furthermore, Hearty, in response to your statement that America’s educational system has resulted in “generations of Americans ill-equipped to handle the rigors of life, unable to perform the basic tasks of literacy and numeracy; thus many were condemned to a life of struggle, joblessness or underemployment, and poverty”; are you suggesting that increased high-stakes/standardized testing is the answer to this problem? We’ve already tried that. Ten years of NCLB has not solved these problems.


    • To everyone:

      It is time, has been for a long time – to choose.

      To choose working together in community for all children and to not making it all about choosing one school over another.

      A choice that each of us, individually and collectively, must make to honor our pledge to be one and indivisible, made many times with and in front of children and students. This choice and the associated action to fulfill it, honors those who have sacrificed for our opportunity for democracy, being one, and for our liberty. No time for hypocrisy.

      It is about stakeholders connecting, including businesses and neighbors with neighbors, in collaborative working relationships that are intentional in serving the needs of all children, in the neighborhood and across town.

      Reading that Austin mental health professional and elementary school counselor Joyce Feilke is standing up, striving to be heard and respected as a professional and desiring to work with others to serve the developmental needs of children, is inspiring and an example of fulfilling the pledge to be one.

      The circumstance in Austin is an opportunity for Ms. Feilke, teachers, principal, central administrators and school board members, along with parents and the community, to all work together to contribute to the well-being of children.


      Should you be an Austin school board member or a friend of an Austin school board member, be encouraged and challenged to have the school board stand up and provide leadership to convene stakeholders in a collaborative process to search for understanding of the developmental needs of children and for solutions that are in the best interest of children.

      We look forward to hearing the success story of mental health and education professionals, along with others in the Austin community, truly working together to serve children and students.


    • Have you been to Blackshear Elementary to observe these allegations?


    • Texas Parents Opt Out-Have you been to Blackshear Elementary to observe these allegations?


  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    To Hearty, Re: Legislative Director

    Leg. Director writes, using premises that are incorrect as researched by numerous university level persons qualified to do so. Using those false arguments he/she attempts to give an authoritative voice, and a voice like Arne Duncan’s that is at best, misleading.

    Incorrect premise one: NCLB testing measures whether adults are doing their jobs. It does not!

    Incorrect premise two: Pop quizzes and final exams given by teachers on subject matter taught are equivalent to NCLB tests. They are not.

    Incorrect premise three: NCLB tests were created by psychometricians. They were not.

    Incorrect premise four: NCLB testing has improved conditions for African American and ELL students. They have not.

    Incorrect premise five: Teachers, on average, are against accountability for students and accountability in their profession. This assumption on Legislative Director’s part is an insult.

    Incorrect premise six: Arne Duncan and his disciples such as the Legislative Director are “reformers’ when another characterization is better, I think!

    I’d prefer: Expensive Bureaucratic Obstructionists, who waste tax money to enrich the rich. Who have taken dollars out of public education to enrich corporations; testing companies, educational consulting companies, publishing companies, etc. And, for example, Wm. Bennett, the first Sec. of Education was one of the first to get rich on his “for profit” K-12 education, on-line, charter schools. Talk about a scam! That is just one. Read through the entire “Cloaking Inequity” blog to understand the full impact of NCLB.


  • Read below:
    Children Turned Into Human Shields on Testing Debate
    June 6, 2013

    By Domenic Giandomenico, Legislative Director

    Many people have recently come out of the woodwork in opposition to the notion that we should actually measure how well our students are learning and hold adults responsible when they are not. Leading the charge are those like Diane Ravitch who, instead of writing about the ways in which testing can be improved, has turned into an anti-testing propagandist and demagogue who lets no fact get in the way of her opinions.

    We’re also seeing ridiculous hyperbole by those not seeking sainthood, fervent worshipers, or ever-increasing twitter followers. Joyce Murdock Feilke, an elementary school counselor in Austin, Texas recently called testing “child abuse” in an op-ed published by the Austin American-Statesman. Elsewhere, Feilke associates testing with the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings. Then there’s former middle school teacher Phil Bildner who, in a recent article he wrote for Education Week, slings the “abuse” term at those who support student testing and piles it on by calling testing advocates “bullies.”

    What I’d like to know is this: What precisely do you call it when certain members of society turn a blind eye to the indisputable fact that a great many of our students haven’t been imparted the ability to read, write, and do math with any semblance of proficiency? I’d call it “neglect.” And what exactly is it when those aforementioned kids are disproportionately African-American or Hispanic? I’d say it’s “institutionalized racism.”

    I guess it’s pretty easy to toss out ad hominems. I can certainly appreciate the cathartic value, but really, where is this all getting us?

    I don’t know either Ms. Feilke or Mr. Bildner, but I doubt that they were neglectful of their students or their own children—if either has them. Nor do I believe that they’re racists. However, they are effectively calling every education reform advocate a child abuser and a bully, which really has no place in any legitimate policy debate. (Unfortunately, it seems like a common practice for those supporting the status quo to bash the messenger when they can’t debate on merits.)

    What each of these misguided commentators fails to acknowledge is that if all of us reformers walked away, there would still be plenty of testing in education. I seem to remember final exams counting for a rather substantial portion of my grades. Millions of students over the years have either passed or failed their courses because of their performance on one day—to put it in a terminology frequently used by testing opponents. Yet few are advocating the removal of final exams from education.

    Leaving aside final exams, students get pop quizzes, interim quizzes, and examinations nearly every day of their academic lives apart from state or federal assessments. Moreover, as a counselor, Feilke—or at the very least those researchers whose work she cites—surely administer tests as part of their assessments of psychological disorders (ADHD, anxiety, depression, mood disorders, conduct disorders) about which, rightly, she so passionately cares about. Are either Ms. Feilke or Mr. Bildner suggesting we should do away with those too?

    Put another way, testing is fine for students, but bad when those results can be tracked back to adults. Testing is fine when teachers—not psychometricians and not experts on education standards—create the test. It’s all fun and games when you can’t compare how students perform from one classroom, school, or state to another, but once you can, testing suddenly becomes the equivalent of the most heinous of felonies imaginable. Seems vaguely absurd, doesn’t it?

    The issue really isn’t that kids can’t handle testing. It’s that adults can’t handle it.

    What Feilke, Bildner, and other anti-testing folks are saying—in no uncertain terms—is that someone assessing whether or not these adults are doing their own jobs as educators and leaders is unacceptable. Worse, they are using these kids as human shields to protect their own inadequacy.

    The truth is, we had an education system for quite a long time where we didn’t pay attention to what happened in our schools, and we know how that turned out. It resulted in neglect. It resulted in institutionalized racism. And it resulted in generations of Americans ill-equipped to handle the rigors of life, unable to perform the basic tasks of literacy and numeracy; thus many were condemned to a life of struggle, joblessness or underemployment, and poverty.

    So, I ask those with similar views to Feilke and Bildner: Isn’t that abuse, too?


    • Joyce Murdock Feilke

      To: Domenic Giandomenico

      The toxic school environment that has resulted from the obsession with performance ratings on high stakes testing is not a political issue or an academic issue. It is a mental health issue. In many Texas elementary schools, it is a children’s mental health crisis. It is unrealistic to think that a “reformer” with a B.A. in Political Science and promoting his own political agenda would be qualified to speak to the issues of chronic stress in Texas elementary schools. Those of us who are educators with mental health training and who work with children, who understand how children learn, and who can empathize with their suffering, see this current state of “toxicity” as having high potential for psychological harm to children. We are observing the impact of this environment on children’s mental and physical health. We speak for the children who have become helpless victims to systemic bullying from arrogant politicians and overly ambitious school administrators. I am not a “misguided commentator”. I am a professional counselor who will continue this advocacy.

      I recently gave a report to the Texas Health & Human Services Committee to point out the Draconian methods that have resulted from overly ambitious school administrators who do not recognize the impact their obsession with testing has on children. Children in elementary schools who are captive in an environment of test focused low level thinking rote memory boring drill are not learning, they are simply “surviving”. Young children have not developed coping mechanisms to function in this environment of chronic stress. For highly sensitive children (HSC) who have predisposition to autism or other neurological sensory disorders or developmental delays, it is an environment of chronic traumatic stress. This toxic environment of anxiety, boredom, and rigidity will repress a child’s imagination and opportunity for original thinking. It stifles a child’s individuality and independence, and does not inspire a love of learning or a strong sense of identity. This environment teaches children NOT to think for themselves and to become codependent.

      An “invalidating” environment in childhood is the environmental factor now recognized by research that leads to personality disorders, especially Borderline PD. (Ref: University of Washington and other leading research universities in US and UK.) Scientists have observed that children in Texas schools have difficulty with scientific thinking and higher level thinking skills because they have lost imagination. We are seeing children in many schools by third grade who look more like prisoners of war than typical healthy children. When children lose spontaneity, humor, and the ability for imaginative play, it is a dangerous sign. The disturbing obsession with testing and the delusional thinking of politicians and ‘reformers” has led to schools doing the exact opposite of everything that research and experience tells us about how children learn and develop.

      The carrot and stick method of rewarding school performance has caused children in elementary schools to be experimented on as if they were mice in a science lab, and without oversight from mental health or child developmental specialists, as my report to Senator Jane Nelson and the Health and Human Services Committee illustrates. Corrosive school politics, ignorance, and greed has led politicians and school administrators to make age inappropriate policy that is unrealistic and harmful to children. It is more punitive than positive. My report to HHSC was intended to be educational and expositional rather than accusatory; however, it is the responsibility of elected leaders to recognize their ethical and moral responsibility by addressing this environmental mental health crisis for children in schools where “performance” has become a cancer. Child abuse should not be a “political” issue. If the politicians choose not to correct this, the Mommies certainly will.

      Joyce Murdock Feilke, Counselor Austin Independent School District Austin Texas


  • “Dr. Samuel Meisels, director of the University of Nebraska’s Buffett Early Childhood Institute, agrees that a school culture focused on high-stakes tests is exactly the type of environment that causes toxic stress. Dr. Marcy Guddemi, head of the Gesell Institute of Child Development maintains that for children under 8, current policies combining an age-inappropriate curriculum with standardized testing are nothing short of child abuse.”


  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    The acknowledgement that:
    • “First, many of the alleged behaviors in this report raise great concern, and if they are true, they should be addressed so they never happen again. For example it is horrifying to think that “any child with unfinished homework on any given day is singled out in the cafeteria during their lunch, in front of the school community, as punishment for not having completed their work.”

    I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg and I believe it to be most necessary to address the fact that when we simply look at the statistics on the “school to jail” pipeline, we learn this to be so. I’ll spare everyone my own research and anecdotal examples. However, the final “recommendation” using an “authoritative voice” backed by CASEL: the Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning, does sound impressive- but, is it true?

    Let’s be clear. CASEL is a consulting firm that works on behalf of school districts, and earns big dollars in the process. I think those dollars could be better spent, elsewhere. I think those dollars need not be spent, for example on the “authoritative voice” you offer, as I believe that CASEL is but a symptom of how “EQUITY” is “CLOAKED” in the current marketplace of education in my opinion.

    I’m quite familiar with CASEL and its “authoritative voice” as I was, for years, a co-coordinator with ESR’s, RCCP in New Orleans when it “went national” and received an endorsement from Daniel Goldman. Initially ESR/RCCP was a “peace education organization/program” and I watched in amazement and horror as Daniel Goldman and others build their reputations on (a portion) of Howard Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligence” research from Harvard University. Remember the book, “Waging Peace” and Goldman’s endorsement of its “violence prevention programs” – programs that targeted poor and black students in NYC and New Orleans. Then, it was AS IF they were the only ones experiencing violence! That is until Columbine, that is! Now we have Sandy Hook! Then the meme turned to bullying. I believe that attitudes formed by the public in the 90s when the Safe and Drug Free and Community Schools act was passed helped lead to the “school to jail pipeline” as Zero Tolerance policies soon followed. -research supports this view-

    I can see that CASEL is now following the latest “selling point” for educational contractors in that its recommendation through Dr. Weissberg is nothing more than a reiteration of the latest U.S. Department of Education try to support the Common Core Standards being promoted across America, i.e., I’m referring to his statement: “and academic competence do the best job of education students’ to be college, career, and community ready.”

    That statement simply panders to those who might contract with CASEL in my opinion. There are hundreds if not thousands of other educational contractors who are now out pandering too. That is, pandering for money that should, in my opinion, simply go directly to the public schools.

    Incidentally, I once asked Howard Gardner personally, at an AERA Fireside Chat session about the efficacy of “his” two identified intelligence’s, “Intra-personal and Inter-personal” as touted by CASEL. My question was asked in excitement, me thinking that attention to teaching of these “intelligence’s” might lead to a more peaceful, safer and more just world.

    Howard Gardner’s answer to me was disheartening. On the contrary, he said, “My theory simply identifies those intelligence’s and unfortunately there have been many successful persons in history with superior inter-personal intelligence who have created great harm. Think for moment, about the demagogues in Germany during WWII, and those without “Intra-personal” backbone to stand up to them,” he said.


  • Glynn Kirkham, Independent Education Consultant

    I read all above and shared with my partner, who is Czech. She was instantly reminded of the behaviour of teachers and the systematic humiliation and ultimate removal from classes and schools of those who did not conform under Communism. Does this mean that there is no difference between the right and the left when it comes to ensuring that everyone follows the same path?

    If fear of failure is the only outcome from the practice described above then stress ensues for all and becomes counter-productive for the child and the state.

    The systematic bullying comes from the top if such practice was approved and the misconceptions and misunderstandings of how to achieve good results and self-discipline from each child without a punitive approach, without humiliation and without scapegoating.


  • Pingback: When is enough? « How my heart speaks

  • Roger Weissberg, PhD

    I have two sets of contrasting reactions to this blog, and a general recommendation to offer.

    First, many of the alleged behaviors in this report raise great concern, and if they are true, they should be addressed so they never happen again. For example it is horrifying to think that “any child with unfinished homework on any given day is singled out in the cafeteria during their lunch, in front of the school community, as punishment for not having completed their work.”

    Second, having said that, the descriptions in the memo to Senator Nelson and the HHS committee dramatically differ from the attitudes and behaviors of hundreds of Austin educators that my CASEL colleagues and I have worked with for the past three years to enhance the social-emotional development and academic performance of all Austin students. We have worked with central office staff, school teams, and teachers on effective strategies to educate the whole child. Austin educators have broadly and consistently shown great skill and commitment to educate students who are knowledgeable, responsible, caring, and contributing citizens.

    Based on more than three decades of collaborating with schools, here is my general recommendation for educators, families, and policymakers across the United States. Effective educational practices should be evaluated on two key criteria: (1) Do they promote students’ academic learning? and (2) Do they promote students’ social and emotional learning? Schools successfully promote students’ social, emotional, and academic competence do the best job of educating students’ to be college, career, and community ready.


    • To Roger Weissberg:

      Social Emotional Learning (SEL) appears to be window dressing in many AISD Title I Schools that have been using punitive methods of the New 3 R’s System to obtain high performance ratings. SEL is not in practice in this school environment, except for a 20 minute SEL lesson when the SEL supervisor announces in advance that she will visit, and then it is an Academy Award performance with photo op. This ambivalence is characteristic of AISD promoting SEL to the public, while internally continuing to use punitive methods that work to enhance test performance.

      Your opinion may be based on some AISD schools that have benefited from your work with CASEL, but without specific knowledge of this particular school or other Title I Schools that have used the New 3 R’s System for some time. Therefore, your opinion helps perpetuate AISD’s use of these punitive methods, rather than exposing what has been taking place for several years. AISD needs to take accountability so that measures can be put in place that do not allow this to happen in the future.

      My recommendations would be: (1) conduct an outside audit of this school’s use of punitive methods in the New 3 R’s System for the past two years. Expose it and demand accountability to taxpayers for wasting taxpayer money for a cover up, as well as bullying staff who tried to expose it.

      (2) create school policy that prevents school administrators from using behavioral engineering or punitive methods, and require that structure be based on ethical
      educational philosophy.

      (3) include the work of MHASP with CASEL to educate teachers, school administrators, and the public about how to recognize “invalidating” environments in schools, and how to “validate” children.

      We have current research to show that “invalidating” environments in childhood lead to mental illness. We need to focus on the mental health issues that school environments like this in the report are causing and not defend them, but prevent them.


      • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

        Yes, SEL does appear to be window dressing.

        Dear Karen Anderson:

        I really like your recommendations. I don’t know about Texas but I can tell you from “progressive” CA, that School Board Policy that “prevents school administrators from using behavioral engineering or punitive methods and require the structure be based on ethical educational philosophy” is sound. In CA we even have a Constitutional Amendment, Article 1, Section 18 C that was passed overwhelmingly by voters In 1984.

        The California Right to Safe Schools Constitutional Amendment reads:
        All students and staff of primary, elementary, junior high and senior high schools have the inalienable right to attend campuses which are safe, secure and peaceful.

        Yet, I can tell you, too, as a former administrator responsible for district level discipline and as a district level administrator responsible for alternative education discipline, that the “attitudes” found in your new 3 R’s System, “restructured” may come from a discipline system that has been in use in schools for decades.

        If that is true, then the “attitudes” used in the 3 R’s system are likely “culturally embedded” in the schools. That is, this 3 R’s system may be built on “Assertive Discipline” ideas re-worked to include “school-wide” similar discipline methods, -used in classrooms for years- re-worked to achieve NCLB goals.

        Again, the Lee and Marlene Canter “Assertive Discipline” systems at the classroom level, at a distance, seem similar to the 3R’s system at the school-wide level. The “Assertive Discipline” system has existed for decades and school-wide staff development happened in many school districts in the past. These “trainings” particularly go back to the 80s-90s and to into the new century as President “W” Bush came into office with NCLB. At the same time, President Clinton’s “Safe and Drug Free Schools Act” money was flush in school district in full force, and the Canter’s made their “system” available across many, many districts, possibly in TX as well as CA.

        If this is the case, I can tell you that it’s likely that the administrative staff would be from that “generation” where “Assertive Discipline” had been heavily promoted and used. If that is the case, the 3-Rs System may not seem your current administrators responsible for the AISD schools to be much of a departure from past practices.

        The controversies regarding “behavioral engineering” or “punitive methods” as you’ve described them have been researched and written about extensively. Curwin and Mendler, the “Discipline with Dignity” advocates, for example, have written extensively about the “toxic” effects of the Canter’s “Assertive Discipline” methods – and, charges and counter “intellectual” charges have gone back and forth.

        In my own dissertation (2001): “School-wide Discipline in Urban High Schools: Perceptions of violence prevention strategies” I researched the above controversies and many others such as Zero Tolerance practices.


  • Perhaps this why the USA can congratulate itself on being one of only two countries not be a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the other being Somalia).


  • When I read this, I was apalled. It makes me wonder if my son’s teacher isn’t like this. I’ve already called it to his teacher’s attention a few times about how she “punishes” my son. Most of the time it’s for insignificant things. She’s tried to keep him from going to GT, which is a pull out program in our district because he didn’t finish all of his assignments when there was a substitute. She’s picked up his test and not let him finish because she “thought” he was cheating, when the boys around him were the ones talking. This was confirmed by the boys that we’re talking around him. The latest punishment was writing the multiplication tables from 1-12 2x each because his friend was talking and he was trying to get her to be quiet. She gives ridiculous amounts of homework, 2 hours or more. I mean they’re 5th graders not students in AP classes in high school. I should know, I’ve taught an AP class before.
    I’ve been a high school teacher for 15 years and even though my students have had to take “state tests”, I still have high expectations for them and challenge them. I don’t “water down” the curriculum, hence why my students always score well on high-stakes tests, no matter what science class I teach.


  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    Speaking from an Alternative Education perspective, and having worked with upper grades for years in Mental Health school programs and Alternative Education programs, these revelations have been evident for years; and particularly since the toxicity began with the psychological effects of NCLB. We’ve needed to patch broken hearts to patch broken learners! Thank you, Joyce Murdock Feilke, Allyson Aynesworth, Sandy Stenoff and others here for bringing this to the heart.

    This is, from a policy perspective, now well researched and documented thanks to Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig and others. The psychologically toxic effects only grow when allowed to fester beyond the elementary schools. And, “cthebean” made an excellent point … “some of the students need all of us to be mommies”… as these psychologically toxic environments tend to target some children more than others- ultimately adding to the “school to jail pipeline.”


  • AISD is starting to look like the Armstrong Lie. Might have thought they would have learned something from that story.


  • Julian, your photo at the top illustrates this so well. The AISD Title I schools have the Skinner Nazi Management Style which I have observed on numerous visits with my social work interns. The children in these schools are trapped in an environment of boring regimented chronic stress and become desensitized, lose their imagination and ability for higher thinking skills. Children in these schools look more like prisoners of war than typical children. This is a mental health issue. There is no agency in Texas monitoring psychological abuse of children in schools. CPS is not even equipped to monitor the overwhelming volume of battered children, much less recognize the gradual process of psychological abuse that works like erosion over time and is so damaging to a child’s mental health and future. I am interested in hearing the response from HHSC. Even if AISD tries to whitewash this they cannot ignore those photos and people who have observed this over a long time. I am depressed and angry after reading this article.


  • Everything’s bigger in Texas…including the a$$holes. Shameful behavior AISD!


  • Thank you Julian for shedding some light on this problem. My grandson came here to live with me this summer and was excited about starting kinder at this school. After the first month he refused to go, and now seems depressed and has chronic stomach aches. These 5 year old children sit in desks all day and do work for their two standardized reading tests and only have a 15 minute recess. When I talked to his teacher she said they were no longer allowed to have centers and creative play, so their blocks, doll houses, kitchens, and other creative play materials were taken away. They no longer play?

    Einstein said: Creativity is Intellect having fun. He also said: Play is exercise for the imagination. I trust Einstein to know more about what children need than a school principal who gets a bonus check for the kids test scores. I don’t think the people making these policies understand anything about what children need or how they learsn. I don’t think they even like children or they wouldn’t punish them with such a harsh system.


  • Why does AISD need an army of Communications and Media people to prop themselves up? Good work should speak for itself, instead of needing obsessive self promotion. That is my tax money being wasting!


  • Where are the Mommies of AISD like those in NY?

    If Molly Ivins were still here and read this she would say,

    “Get out in the street and bang on pots and pans!”


  • Thank you Julian for shedding some light on this punitive culture of AISD. What is AISD thinking by giving kindergartners literacy curriculum all day and removing “centers” and imaginative creative play? And only a 15 minute recess in the entire school day? If this isn’t punitive, then what is?

    My kinder grandson was excited about this school after he came here to live during the summer, but after the first month, it was a battle to get him to go. He is having chronic stomach aches. These 5 year olds sit in desks all day and work on test prep for their two standardized reading tests. Any time the principal passes them in the hall the only thing she can ask is “What is your Reading Score”? When I expressed my shock about this rigid system with his teacher, she said they are no longer allowed to use the blocks, doll houses, kitchens, and other creative play materials. There is no more play. There is only rigor. (Isn’t that for dead people?)

    Einstein said: Creativity is Intellect having fun! He also said: Play is exercise for the imagination! I would trust Einstein to know more about child development than a school administrator who gets a bonus check based on how the kids score. No more imaginative play for 5 year olds sounds like a violation of human rights? I think the SPCA does a better job of recognizing cruelty to animals than a school principal who has no empathy for children and punishes them by taking away what they need most.


  • This is beyond disgusting. I would like to ask questions like, “How could…?” But, those are pointless. They’ve already done it, and no one (not even parents!?) questioned it. The school can conduct all the investigations they want the damage has been done. Even if the abuse stops this minute those poor kids will likely never learn to love learning, trust their parents, or anyone in authority. We will have no idea how serious this is until these kids grow up. My heart just breaks for them.


  • Texas Parents Opt Out

    School counselor Joyce Feilke voiced her concerns about the punitive school environment last year. Her criticisms were ignored and she was labeled a trouble maker. AISD administration is working diligently to have her removed from her position.


  • Joyce Murdock Feilke

    The report I gave to Senator Jane Nelson and the HHSC accurately reported my observations as counselor in the school. Those punitive methods have been in place for the past two years. When I pointed them out as punitive to the principal, my assessment was discounted and she said they were “disciplines” which made her system so successful.

    I can send photo documentation of two of the punitive methods, Cafeteria Punishments & Friday Assessments, which have been used for two years. My report was reviewed by a nationally recognized mental health expert who is willing to testify these are punitive methods which are known to be psychologically harmful to children.

    When I filed two formal grievances with AISD last year about mistreatment to children, then allowed an article to be published in the Austin American Statesman, I became the target.

    Bullying of staff and children in AISD is systemic, and my case is just one example. Most of the cases are not reported; however, there are a number of people willing to come forward. There would be more except they still work in AISD and fear for their jobs. I expected to be retaliated against when I allowed Diane Ravitch to post my report on her blog; however, this dysfunctional system needs to be exposed and AISD needs to be held accountable.

    I have worked in Texas schools for 30 years, and the last 20 in AISD. I have an excellent record and have always been a strong advocate for students, which sometimes has not been popular with higher administrators.

    Please feel free to contact me if you would like more information:


    Joyce Murdock Feilke


  • Similar to what happened to my child in GA. We now homeschool. This practice ruins children!


  • Thank you for sharing this. After homeschooling my oldest children though elementary school we decided to put them in middle school in Austin and continue homeschooling our youngest. This is so scary to hear about. Whee are the parents at? Have we really become such sheep that we accept cruelty on our children as policy if we are told that’s what it is? Just sad.


    • Chani—it is possible that many are not aware-and it is also possible that some are aware but do not know how to challenge these things-or they are fearful of doing so.

      But this is not the fault of parents. This is strictly in the hands of administrators. And Race to the Top Common Core standards created by business people.



  • yes ..I look forward to a public release of the AISD investigation as well. thanks for keeping us informed of this.


  • Sounds like Scientology to me…


  • As a parent who pulled her child from a Texas school for precisely the issues stated in this article and more I applaud you for bringing light to this. My child was not in a Austin school or even in a title one school, but in a school 6 hours away from there. This practice is becoming more prevalent nationwide. It is disgusting and repulsive. I cannot say enough how people who should know better are damaging and hurting these kids, far beyond what they choose to think or acknowledge. Keep up the good work.


  • Per my post earlier about several east side AISD Schools:
    I just recieved a call from AISD as I forwarded this blog to the Board of Trustees. They are aware of the allegations, they have already completed a “full investigation of the allegations and they have found them to be pattently untrue”. They were not aware that it was still being circulated as fact and will be releasing a response to these allegations quickly. Dr. Carstarphen is involved directly and is “hugely dissapointed that these allegations are being repeated as fact”.


    • I look forward to the public release of the AISD investigation. I will adjust the post accordingly.


      • If AISD higher administrators cannot recognize “punitive” methods from “positive” methods, do you really think they are capable of investigating “themselves”?

        If these higher administrators who make school policy cannot look at the photo of children being singled out, isolated, and humiliated in the school cafeteria in front of their school community, and recognize the impact it would have on a child, why are they being retained on the taxpayer dollar?


    • Allyson Aynesworth

      AISD is conducting a major cover up:

      Superintendent Meria Carstarphen met with the Blackshear Faculty on Monday Nov 11th and advised them not to discuss the New 3 R’s System. Blaine Helwig, the former structural engineer who designed the 3 R’s System and registered it as an educational consulting business on July 1st, has recently deactivated it.

      Blaine Helwig & Betty Jenkins were paid to train AISD principals in the summer to implement the New 3 R’s System, but now AISD is declining to provide FOIA requests about the New 3 R’s System.

      The counselor has supporting documents and photographs of the punitive methods described in the report, as well as witnesses to those punitive methods which have been used at the school for two years.

      This 30 year veteran counselor with an excellent record is one of a long list of people that AISD has tried to trash in order to protect their abusive system. This AISD cover up is helping to unite all those who can stand up and support what has taken place as a result of the systemic bullying in AISD as well as the New 3 R’s system (which has mysteriously disappeared from the planet?)

      AISD has had their propaganda machine working overtime on this since the counselor’s report went public Oct 15th. It’s time for the Travis Co Taxpayers to see through this faux front and make AISD accountable for their treatment to students and staff.


    • Here is my issue with that. They completed an investigation into allegations of their own wrong doings. From what I’ve heard the very people who approved it program are the people who were doing the investigating. I would put more credence into it if they had an outside source that was impartial , educated, and degreed in child psychology and behavior do the investigating.


    • What “allegations” are they calling “untrue”?

      They are not aware that “it” was still being circulated? Why is AISD so evasive with the facts? Are they getting caught in their own web.


    • AISD Area 2 Superintendent Maria Hohenstein spent the day at Blackshear Elementary on Nov 15th, openly discussing (with select staff) the Cafeteria Punishment and the Friday Assessments and other New 3 R’s punitive methods that have been in effect for the 2nd year, but were immediately scrubbed after the report was posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog Oct 15th. How is it that the Area 2 Supt is aware, but AISD Supt Carstarphen is “hugely disappointed that these allegations are being repeated as fact?”


  • FYI:
    I just recieved a call from AISD as I forwarded this blog post to the Board of Trustees. They are aware of the allegations, they have already completed a “full investigation of the allegations and they have found them to be pattently untrue”. They were not aware that it was still being circulated as fact and will be releasing a response to these allegations quickly. Dr. Carstarphen is involved directly and is “hugely dissapointed that these allegations are being repeated as fact”.


    • Which investigation is AISD calling ” pattently untrue”?

      Is it the AISD investigation of the counselor’s complaint of retaliation against her?
      Is it the AISD investigation of the counselor’s report of the New 3 R’s punitive methods to Senator Jane Nelson and HHSC?
      Is it the CPS investigation of the principal for mistreatment to a child?
      Is it the AISD investigation of the New 3 R’s Ed Consulting Business hired by AISD?

      AISD needs to be specific about which investigation they are talking about and be prepared for the backlash. If AISD denies the 3 R’s methods as described in the counselor’s report to Senator Jane Nelson, there are too many people in Austin who have been in and out of the Blackshear Cafeteria who can validate seeing those children in isolation as a standard punishment, as well as witnesses who will validate the “Simulated STAAR” Friday Assessments, and the other methods described in the report. These 3 R’s methods are not exclusive to Blackshear, but have become standard in some of the other Title I Schools of AISD that were trained on the New 3 R’s. Are those schools being investigated?


      • You are correct. Other schools that should be investigated are Zavala, Guerrero-Thompson, and Graham. By the way, did you know that the principal at Graham and the principal at Blackshear are living partners.


  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    Wow! Go Mommies! I hope this GOES viral!


  • The video I was thinking about, is here. Thanks. I was wondering about this kind of thing a short while back, and all of a sudden, it surfaces. I expected it to. Great job reporting this!


  • Pingback: | La Pluma Poderosa

  • Thank you for shining a light on this issue.

    At the recent public forum in NY, for the select public allowed to enter and submit questions, Beth Dimino, President of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association raises this exact problem, and brilliantly. NY Commissioner of Education, John King and Chancellor Meryl Tisch sat emotionless and silent.

    The Mommies aren’t going to allow this anymore.


    • I love the spirit of the mommies. However I am concerned about populations of children who will need all of us to be mommies. Mommies and daddies no matter the family culture or flavor of the children we protect and nurture.
      To experiment with harsh models on certain sections of society goes too far. It makes the skin crawl. I would say that dissertations and peer reviewed work, refusal to take the tests can contribute to pushing this back, but not convinced those things will be enough to tip this thing over. And it needs tipping over..


  • Typo in first paragraph: “an high-minority.” Should be “a high-minority.”


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