We see growing protest on tests so why not add your voice too? And it’s coming from a wide variety of places. A group of famous children’s book authors, headed by Maya Angelou, has written to President Obama, pointing out that the tests are destroying kids’ love of reading. 6,000 Long Island students have opted out of the latest tests. PBS Newshour education reporter John Merrow published a letter from a teacher on the testing mania and reveals that his own daughter has quit teaching as a result of this atmosphere. Pennsylvania Middle School Principal of the Year, Greg Taranto, who leads a top-performing school blasts the growth of testing in a letter to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
And today, we find an op-ed piece by New York Principal Elizabeth Phillips in the NY Times on the crazy gag rules that surround the tests.
Who’s ready to stand up next?
We are seeing more and more ways teachers can use their voices to speak up on issues like testing. The website http://testingtalk.org just went up a few days ago and already has 174 posts by teachers and administrators as of this writing. You can post anonymously if you’re worried about getting punished for speaking out.
Then there’s the new New York Times “Room for Debate” site that presently features 4 writers’ points of view on the question, “Should Parents Opt Out of Testing?” There are presently 77 comments, many clearly by teachers.
And for your entertainment pleasure, here’s an Indiana parent who points up some of the silliness of the math instruction engendered by the Common Core (Indiana has recently dropped its endorsement of the Core, by the way).
Rochester teachers are getting slammed by new evaluations that fail to take account of widespread student poverty. 40% of the teachers across the city have been told they are below par and must prepare remediation plans. The Rochester Teachers Association has filed suit with the New York Supreme Court. In Syracuse, even high school gym teachers are finding their evaluations dinged when kids math scores are low. Read about this NOW! And read more on the Progressive magazine’s new website, Public School Shakedown (which we’re glad to see joining the fray).
So will you write to the Rochester newspapers and elsewhere to support these teachers? Or are you going to just wait and hope this doesn’t come to your school? Bystanders all too soon find that they too are in the cross-hairs.
The latest PISA international test score comparisons are out, and they portray US education is pretty mediocre. According to the charts, we ranked 20th among other countries in reading, 30th in math, and 23rd in science. As parents, community members, politicians, and education critics begin asking about these numbers, we teachers need to be well informed about them. So along with knowing about the report itself, it’s wise to understand some of their limitations. An excellent article on the Education Week “Curriculum Matters” webpage outlines these. For example, the difference between scores in many cases is not statistically significant, so the actual order in which countries are listed means very little. The best we can actually say about the ranking for US reading scores is that we’re somewhere between 19th and 31st. Rather, we’re grouped among a cluster of countries, with no clear difference among them.
But while we must acknowledge that American schools are not overall high flyers these days perhaps the biggest question is what we should be doing about it in schools that struggle, and this is where teachers’ voices need to be heard. Of course we’ll hear plenty from advocates of harder tests, blanket standards, more charter schools, and firing lots of teachers. But thoughtful educators should do all they can to inform the public and policy-makers about the factors that really can make a difference and that continue to be neglected in too many of the efforts presently called “school reform.” Read Sonia Nieto’s new book, Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds. Or study the role of student attitudes and the classroom contexts that influence them, in the Chicago Consortium on School Research study, Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Non-Cognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance. And then speak up about these things and what you do to address them in YOUR classroom.
I’ve gathered a group of articulate educators for a session on helping teachers connect with communities at NCTE next week.If you are attending the convention, we hope you attend — it’s session F55, Saturday, Nov. 23, 8:00-9:15 AM. Peter Smagorinsky will be our featured speaker. He has written portraits of many outstanding teachers and had them published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. and has strong ideas about the need for teacher voices. Then we’ll have discussion tables led by a selection of very smart educators. They’ll introduce various perspectives on this issue — and then invite participants to start writing, right at the tables.
Our illustrious table leaders:
- Leila Christenbury, Virginia Commonwealth U.
- Millie Davis, NCTE Outreach
- Cathy Fleischer, Prof. at Eastern Michigan U.
- Kevin Hodgson, teacher in Southampton, MA
- Penny Kittle, teacher in North Conway, NH
- Mindi Rench, teacher in Northbrook, IL
- Harry Ross, Prof. at National Louis U., Chicago
- Lauren Rubin, Prof. Development Coordinator, City University of NY
- Andrea Zellner, Graduate student, Michigan State U.
If you’re not attending, yourself, but know someone who is, do pass on this message. And think about conducting a similar session at a conference yourself. This is one way to actually help teachers to start writing.
The Courageous Teacher Responds to Governor Christie
OK, people! If you haven’t already seen it, here’s how the teacher herself — the one who had Governor Chris Christie yelling in her face — responded in a letter on her blog. (Incidentally, if he was one of her students, what would be the consequence of such behavior in her class? Actually, I’d hope he’d be sent to a peer jury for a restorative justice experience — perhaps it would help him rethink his relationships with the citizens of his state.)
To tempt you into reading the whole letter, here’s just one juicy highlight (in response to his remark that ‘You people always want more money’:
What do I want? What do ‘we people’ want? We want to be allowed to teach. Do you know that the past two months has been spent of our time preparing and completing paperwork for the Student Growth Objectives? Assessments were created and administered to our students on material that we have not even taught yet. Can you imagine how that made us feel? The students felt like they were worthless for not having any clue how to complete the assessments. The teachers felt like horrible monsters for having to make the students endure this. How is that helping the development of a child? How will that help them see the value in their own self-worth. This futile exercise took time away from planning and preparing meaningful lessons as well as the time spent in class actually completing the assessments.
Christie should receive HUNDREDS of such letters on his website. Of course, his staff will keep them from displaying — but they’ll know we are out there!
Watching the news lately? Seeing/hearing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie yell at a teacher and say all teachers want is more money? NJ school spending has increased, he argues. She then writes to him on a blog, “You have portrayed us as greedy, lazy, money-draining public servants that do nothing. I invite you to come do my job for one week, Governor Christie.” He had previously referred to some schools as “failure factories.”
So who else will respond to Governor Christie?
The facts themselves are in much dispute. Standardized test scores (if you think they mean anything) are, in New Jersey, some of the highest in the country, with some of the racial gaps narrowing — though of course scores are lower in poor areas. And spending? Christie’s administration lumps all education spending together, including construction, old debt, pensions, to get an extremely high number — $18,047 per pupil in 2011-12. But when the categories are separated, the 2012-13 classroom-focused amount was only $8,564. And the range of spending between districts was — like everywhere else in the nation — striking — $25,938 per child in the richest district vs $13,317 in the poorest (again, these totals include much beyond the classroom). Here’s the Wall St. Journal’s report on the controversy over how to count the funds.
So who else will respond to Governor Christie? And how do we help people understand the real story of our classrooms?
If your swamped with your own teaching responsibilities, you might not have followed some of the news — for example the latest chapter in how teacher voice has made a difference in New York, where new state tests have had a disastrous roll-out. First, check out some of the thousand responses that Lucy Calkins received from teachers when she set up a website to gather them. Smart kids crying and concluding they’re stupid, questions that could have various right answers, confusing multiple materials booklets, not enough time to do well, but too much time spent altogether, inappropriate reading levels, etc., etc.
Criticism rose from parents, teachers, principals, superintendents. The state education commissioner, John King was shouted down at a hearing and cancelled further sessions. But now he’s back-pedalling, reducing the testing somewhat, but not addressing the main issues –yet. Here’s one news account in a local Brooklyn paper.
It’s unfortunate, though, that the hue and cry came so late in the game, with teachers and kids really suffering before the voices grew strong and numerous enough. So are the rest of us going to wait until similar new tests arrive in our own states — and then try to overturn them after the fact?
Just trying to say why it is that teachers need to be speaking up NOW.
Lots of people saying it right now. Here’s blogger Beth Shaum saying it cogently in a post on her site, Use Your Outside Voice. Happily, she includes a brief portrait of an outstanding classroom for adults. Then there are a string of comments responding to the blog post, “Why Teachers Should Educate the Public About the Profession,” which we just featured in a post ourselves last week. A typical comment on this appeared on ASCD’s LinkedIn site . Here’s another on that site. And yet another essay, this one by Kevin Meuwissen, on Education Week’s site Oct. 15th saying that teachers have an important role to play politically, since education is inevitably political.
So more and more voices say teachers must speak out but we need the teachers. So I challenge every one of these commentators and bloggers to take steps themselves to actually make it happen, rather than just saying it’s a good idea. Get a teacher to write about his or her work and help get it published on the web or the print media. Write a portrait of a great teacher yourself and get it published on the web or in print.
I figure that I had better be doing the same myself, or I’ll be guilty of the same talking-the-talking-but-not walking-the-walk. So take a look at my latest effort — teacher Catherine Clarke’s lovely piece that I posted on my blog, “Teachers Speak Up,” on http://evanston.patch.com .
I’ve posted a lovely piece by special education teacher Catherine Clarke, a teacher who found a way to reach a struggling student when it seemed impossible. Instead of simply punishing negative behavior, she found a way to resolve it. Please read it on the Evanston website of Patch.com . Let’s celebrate wonderful tales like this, from teachers who are determined to make a difference for our children. And then let’s get more and more of them to tell the stories of their important moments in the classroom. Because every teacher has them — but few people out in the wider world know about them.