Not long ago, I published a post by Carol Jago, a former president of the National Council of Teachers of English, about how to teach the Common Core in English.

The discussion that followed her post was disturbing. Several teachers said that in their school or district there was a strong mandate to cut back on the teaching of literature. This is absurd, and nothing in the Common Core says there should be less literature. Indeed, if you look at reading across all subject areas, the amount of time devoted to teaching literature in the English class should be untouched.

But even more disturbing were several comments by a teacher in Arkansas named Jamie Highfill. Jamie is in her 11th year of teaching in the schools of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Her students have achieved outstanding results. According to her profile on the district home page, her students consistently outperform district and state averages, and 77% scored advanced in 2011-2012.

In 2011, she was selected as Arkansas’ Outstanding Middle Level English Language Arts Teacher by the Arkansas Council of Teachers of ELA.

Read her resume. The plaudits and commendations go on and on. She is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy in the Gulf War of 1991, where she won many medals for her achievements. She is a leader.

But here is the kicker, which I learned from the comments: This remarkably accomplished teacher has been placed on an “improvement plan.”

How is this possible?

Offline, I emailed Jamie and asked her why she was put in the doghouse. She replied:

I was told that I “failed to properly administer the first quarter writing assessment.” 
 
The “assessment” spanned eight class days, and was to coincide with the lengthy paper the students were required to write under the PARCC Content Model Frameworks.  My principal told me that my students’ papers were “unscoreable,” but I was never given the papers back, nor did anyone explain to me what “unscoreable” meant.  My principal also told me that she would have the district’s ELA facilitator meet with me to explain it.  She never did, but she said she told me that “this cannot happen again.”
 
For the second quarter’s writing “assessment” (which lasted twelve days), my students papers were flagged because they were “too similar,” and “too good.”  My principal told me during the meeting where she put me on improvement status that she was afraid my students were “going to finish the year behind.”
I guess it “happened again.”
 
I have Co-Directed the Northwest Arkansas Writing Project since my own Fellowship in 2004, and have taught writing workshops to my students every year, with the result that my students consistently score among the top students in my state, but standardized testing scores aside, I TEACH my students to write.  Now I’m being told that I cannot teach them to write during joint workshop-assessments.

We live in mean times. We live with laws and policies that are meant to break the spirit of students and teachers.

We must not comply with injustice. When a teacher like Jamie Highfill is told that she needs to be on an “improvement plan,” you know that her school, her district, her state is on the wrong track.