Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson wrote this challenge to Arne Duncan in response to his article in The Washington Post, where he salutes the cutback on testing for which he is responsible, where he simultaneously salutes high-stakes testing and warns of its overuse. He claims that other nations are leaving us in the dust, but neglects to mention that any shortfall occurred on his watch. The combination of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have left the U.S., in Duncan’s own words, in an era of “educational stagnation.” He promises more of the same.
Kilfoyle and Tomlinson urge him to listen to experienced teachers:
“BATs Lay Down a Challenge to Duncan”
By Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager Badass Teachers Association and Melissa Tomlinson, Asst. General Manager of the Badass Teachers Association
The Badass Teachers Association, an organization of over 52,000 teachers, has a bold challenge for Arne Duncan. Duncan released an opinion piece in the Washington Post last night titled “Standardized Tests Must Measure Up” . In this piece he attempts to respond to parent outcry against the current education culture of toxic standardized testing. He continues to not see the real problems and issues that teachers and parents face. Therefore, BATs cordially invites the Secretary to conduct a Town Hall phone conference to hear the real concerns of parents, students, and teachers.
Arne Duncan fails to recognize a few important factors in his piece. He fails to acknowledge his role, in conjunction with the Department of Education, for paving the way for states to become test taking laboratories that are experimenting on children and teachers. He states that “the Education Department has provided $360 million to two consortia of states to support that work.” Duncan’s Race to the Top, defined by the educators in this nation as No Child Left Behind on steroids, has perpetuated a testing culture in our schools that is focused on punishing children, blaming teachers, and closing schools.
The money that is being spent to develop and implement these new tests could have far better use. Money should be used to provide safe school environments through financing construction and renovation of school buildings, to implement before and after school programs, and to support wrap around services in schools for our communities in need. Secretary Duncan does not see his role in creating the test mania we see in our schools today. He does not see that funding used to pay for tests is the main contributor to the funding pitfalls that schools are currently facing. He claims to want to help his own children “build upon their strengths and interests and work on their weaknesses” but what his children get and what public school children get are NOT the same. Duncan shows no understanding for the position that children, other than his own, have been placed in. Schools that are facing budgetary crises are forced to starve in order to have money to implement new standardized tests, which are forced upon districts as an “unfunded” mandate.
His statement, “A focus on measuring student learning has had real benefits, especially for our most vulnerable students, ensuring that they are being held to the same rigorous standards as their well-off peers and shining a light on achievement gaps.” Duncan, once again, perpetuates the false narrative of blaming schools and teachers for the achievement gap (which continues to widen). He continues, once again, to NOT acknowledge that poverty and inequality are direct indicators of the widening achievement gap. Standards of learning should not be set until all children, regardless of zip code, have access to the resources they need to be successful in school. Until that is achieved, the Secretary of Education, and the people within the Department of Education, should be charged with the task of finding ways to make that possible. The standards that they should be discussing should be a standard of equal resources for all children. The Secretary should NOT be discussing a standard of learning that will never be achieved until other societal issues are faced and dealt with, namely poverty and inequality.
Sec. Duncan fails to realize that yearly snapshot testing is not indicative of how a child is progressing in their educational journey. It is constant communication and attention of parents and educators to daily classroom interactions that drive this journey. A yearly assessment that is based upon the presumption that all children start off on an even playing field serves no purpose other than to put a spotlight on children living in poverty and the fact that they cannot compete with students that have been given more opportunities and have access to more resources.
Sec. Duncan mentions the waiver that he has offered during this first year of transition to provide flexibility on connecting teacher evaluation to test results. The allowance of such practices by the Secretary speaks volumes about his concern for the future of our educational system. As test results get tied to decision-making with regards to schools, the potential for a great disservice directed toward our children looms ahead. Teacher performance ratings tied to test scores will result in the loss of many excellent teachers and future educators. There are too many other factors that impact the educational performance of a child which, sadly, the Secretary continues to ignore this.
Throughout this whole process, the lack of communication with actual teachers by the Secretary has been apparent. Arne Duncan speaks to communicating with his children’s schools and teachers to create a collaborative team that is working towards the end goal of providing for a better future. We feel that it is time that Arne Duncan applies this to the country as well. As an association that represents over 52,000 educators, and interested parties, the Badass Teachers Association is extending a direct invitation to Arne Duncan to communicate with teachers who will give him a direct vision of what is really happening in our schools.
We invite you, Secretary Duncan, to participate in a Town Hall phone conference to speak with those that really care, those that have real experience, and real knowledge about education; America’ s teachers.
Consider this your formal invitation to get informed!
We await your call!
Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson