Archives for category: Honor Roll

Nancy Flanagan is a veteran NBCT teacher in Michigan, now retired an blogging. She shared the following posts about what is happening in Detroit. Let me add that in my view the public school teachers of Detroit are heroes. Despite the vilification heaped on them by politicians and the media, despite being blamed for the poverty of the children and the state’s persistent neglect, they serve. They are first responders. I name them heroes of American education and add them to the blog’s honor roll.

Flanagan writes:
“Here’s some commentary directly from Detroit PS teachers–the situation is much more complex than crumbling buildings and overstuffed classrooms. The entire system has been taken over by an Emergency Manager:
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<br />http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teacher_in_a_strange_land/2016/01/teacher_protests_unethical_and_union-led–or_evidence_of_professional_courage.html
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<br />ANd here are more teacher voices–both from those who were protesting via sickout and those who went in to work:
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<br />http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teacher_in_a_strange_land/2016/01/whats_going_down_in_detroit_today.html
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<br />What has happened in Detroit is now a template for the rest of the nation–witness the IL governor’s call for an Emergency Manager system there.”

Superintendent Steven Cohen addresses parents on Long Island and explains what a great education is. It is the kind of education available to the children of Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama, Merryl Tisch (the chancellor of the New York State Regents), and other leaders of the “reform” movement. Cohen reads what children do at the University of Chicago Lab School, at the Dalton School in New York, and other excellent private schools, and contrasts them with the punitive mandates imposed on public schools. He denounces the Common Core standards and high-stakes testing. In the elite private schools, children have the opportunity to study subjects in depth, to explore ideas, and to have full programs in the arts and other non-tested subjects. The “reformers” know what is best for their children, but they treat the public’s children as “losers.” They don’t want the public’s children to have what they demand for their own children. In short, he lacerates the “reformers.”

 

Dr. Cohen is one of a group of superintendents in Long Island who are traveling to school districts to explain why Long Island parents should reject the current “reforms” of high-stakes testing and Common Core standards. The others are David Gamberg of Southold-Greenport, Joe Rella of Comsewogue, and Michael Hynes of Patchogue-Medford. They have inspired parents and educators across the Island.

 

He faults Bill Gates for foisting the Common Core standards on the nation with Arne Duncan’s help, without ever having testing the standards anywhere to see what effects they have. “Just trust me,” the salesmen of Common Core say. Would you buy a used car without evidence that it actually runs?

 

He explains how the Common Core was intended to drive the curriculum and testing, for the benefit of vendors and profit-seekers. The claim that it is “just standards, not curriculum,” is nonsense.

 

He describes the excellent results of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which does not use high-stakes testing, and wonders why the state refuses to allow other high schools to join it. It works, but admission is closed. Why?

 

This is an excellent presentation and well worth your time to watch it. Be sure to hear him reading from the MIT catalogue about what MIT considers “college-readiness.”

 

Dr. Cohen is part of a group of thoughtful and courageous superintendents in Long Island who have been traveling school districts across the Island to explain what good education is–and what it is not.

 

Dr. Steven Cohen is a hero of public education and of students. He richly deserves to be on the honor roll of the blog.

 

 

Michael Hynes, superintendent of schools in Patchogue, Long Island, in New York, has a new idea: Let’s forget about the politicians and do what we know is best for students. Hynes is hereby declared a hero of public education for truly putting children first.

 

The Greater Patchogue website reports that Superintendent Hynes is working with the school board and a committee of 65 to forge a better path for the Patchogue-Medford schools. Hynes’ motto is “leave no stone unturned.”

 

Hynes, who has been an outspoken supporter of the opt out movement, said:

 

 

“If we want to stay on the same road and be average and settle for mediocrity, then we’re not going to turn over every stone,” Hynes said in his first in-depth media interview about the plan. “But if you really want to bring this place to another level for our kids, then what you need to do is make sure you look at everything humanly possible that’s going to benefit all of our students.”

 

“He looks to the positive growth of Patchogue Village as inspiration, explaining how the village’s leaders had a clear goal of what they wanted to accomplish, and though there was some pushback, once people started seeing real results, then even doubters began to buy in.

 

“Hynes indicated some drastic changes will be explored, and with that, there could be pushback.

 

“The hardest part will be holding onto our old mental models, or thoughts and feelings of how schools should be,” he said. “Because the one common experience we all have is we all went to school, and there are a lot of emotions attached to that. Many people think that it should stay the same.

 

“I think some things should remain the same, but with some things, because of time and because of the way things are, we need to think differently, and we need to be progressive. And that’s what I’m hoping this plan becomes. But it also needs to be inclusive and collaborative.”

 

“Pressed for details, Hynes mentioned the possibility of reconfiguring the district elementary schools so that they’re no longer K-5 schools drawing students from the immediate neighborhoods. The schools would instead be grouped by grade through what’s called a Princeton Plan, or Princeton Model.

 

“He noted that Princeton Plans are often proposed in districts that are looking to close a school.

 

“If its sole purpose is to save money, I don’t believe in it,” he said. “If you move to a different construct because it’s best for kids, and allows teachers to meet more often, to collaborate, to serve kids in a higher and more efficient way, then that’s a model we need to look at. That doesn’t meant adopt, but at least investigate and research it.”

“The district could examine freeing up a building for vocational opportunities, he said.

 

Hynes explained that, currently, students who might be looking toward the trades or the military, as opposed to college, aren’t offered resources within the district to pursue those interests until the twelfth grade.

 

“For us, we want to start providing those opportunities in ninth grade,” he said. “Right now we’re missing out on three extremely vital years.”

 

“A vocational school would allow Patchogue-Medford to offer trade skills from plumbing to hairdressing to paralegal work, he said.

 

“These are professions where people are making a good living,” Hynes said. “The caveat is, it would have to include a one-year internship program through the Patchogue and Medford areas, and that’s where a relationship with the larger community comes into play.”

 

“As for the district’s higher-achievers, Hynes said there are opportunities for them to be challenged even further, such as through a Geneva-based International Baccalaureate program.

 

“We’re already looking at the feasibility of that,” he said. “It’s an investment, not only in resources but it’s actually an investment in our educators, because they have to be trained as well.”

 

With special education and English language-learners, Hynes said there could be more of an emphasis on before and after school opportunities, outside of the students’ core academic work, that could help them socialize within the wider communities more effectively.

 

 

“Asked about whether spending would need to increase under the strategic plan, and if the district would consider bonding, Hynes replied as follows:

 

“You want to do whatever is necessary to accomplish what needs to be done. When we look at cost, we’re going to look at investment and return on the investment, and if the return on the investment is worth it, then anything is possible as far as I’m concerned…..

 

“Asked how the plan could operate within the state’s mandates, including its across-the-board educational standards, Hynes — an outspoken critic of recent education reform efforts in Albany — said he must do now whatever he believes is in the long-term interests of Patchogue-Medford students — not wait for Albany to figure its own policies out.

 

“If this plan comes to the place where I think it can, I would like the state to exempt us from 3 through 8 testing, and allow us to evaluate teachers on our own accord, based on our professional judgements, and assess students in a much better way,” Hynes said.

 

“Then we can possibly use this as a case study for other districts in New York State, to see if this is a possibility for them to — I don’t want to say emulate, but to look into and make it their own.

 

“Nothing like this has ever been done before.”

 

Superintendent Michael Hynes is already a member of the blog’s honor roll.

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, professor emerita at Lesley College and eminent defender of childhood, recently was honored with the Deborah Meier award by Fairtest. She is a founding member of Defending the Early Years, which commissions research about early childhood education and advocates for sane, kind, loving policies for young children.

 

It may be superfluous, but I would like to take this opportunity to name Nancy as a hero of American education for her fearlessness, integrity, and deep understanding of children.

 

Nancy was honored along with Lani Guinier, professor if law at Harvard Law School.

 

This is Nancy’s speech, accepting the award:

 

“Thank you FairTest for this Deborah Meier Hero in Education Award. FairTest does such great advocacy and education around fair and just testing practices. This award carries the name of one of my heroes in education, Deborah Meier—she’s a force for justice and democracy in education. I hope that every time this award is given, it will allow us to once again pay tribute to Deb. Also, I feel privileged to be accepting this honor alongside Lani Guinier.

 

“When I was invited to be here tonight, I thought about the many people who work for justice and equity in education who could also be standing here. So I am thinking of all of them now and I accept this award on their behalf—all the educators dedicated to children and what’s fair and best for them.

 

“It’s wonderful to see all of you here—so many family and friends, comrades in this struggle to reclaim excellent public education for all– not just some–of our children.

 

“I have loved my life’s work– teaching teachers about how young children think, how they learn, how they develop socially, emotionally, morally. I’ve been fascinated with the theories and science of my field and seeing it expressed in the actions and the play of children.

 

“So never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today.

 

“Where education policies that do not reflect what we know about how young children learn could be mandated and followed. We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively—they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public Pre-K at the age of four are expected to learn through “rigorous instruction.”

 

“And never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play.

 

“Play is the primary engine of human growth; it’s universal–as much as walking and talking. Play is the way children build ideas and how they make sense of their experience and feel safe. Just look at all the math concepts at work in the intricate buildings of kindergartners. Or watch a 4-year old put on a cape and pretend to be a superhero after witnessing some scary event.

 

“But play is disappearing from classrooms. Even though we know play is learning for young kids, we are seeing it shoved aside to make room for academic instruction and “rigor.”

 

“I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would have to fight for classrooms for young kids that are developmentally appropriate. Instead of active, hands-on learning, children now sit in chairs for far too much time getting drilled on letters and numbers. Stress levels are up among young kids. Parents and teachers tell me: children worry that they don’t know the right answers; they have nightmares, they pull out their eyelashes, they cry because they don’t want to go to school. Some people call this child abuse and I can’t disagree.

 

“I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would be up against pressure to test and assess young kids throughout the year often in great excess—often administering multiple tests to children in kindergarten and even Pre-K. Now, when young children start school, they often spend their first days not getting to know their classroom and making friends. They spend their first days getting tested. Here are words from one mother as this school year began:

 

“My daughter’s first day of kindergarten — her very first introduction to elementary school — consisted almost entirely of assessment. She was due at school at 9:30, and I picked her up at 11:45. In between, she was assessed by five different teachers, each a stranger, asking her to perform some task.

 

“By the time I picked her up, she did not want to talk about what she had done in school, but she did say that she did not want to go back. She did not know the teachers’ names. She did not make any friends. Later that afternoon, as she played with her animals in her room, I overheard her drilling them on their numbers and letters.

 

“The most important competencies in young children can’t be tested—we all know this. Naming letters and numbers is superficial and almost irrelevant in relation to the capacities we want to help children develop: self-regulation, problem solving ability, social and emotional competence, imagination, initiative, curiosity, original thinking—these capacities make or break success in school and life and they can’t be reduced to numbers.

 

“Yet these days, all the money and resources, the time dedicated to professional development, they go to tooling teachers up to use the required assessments. Somehow the data gleaned from these tests is supposed to be more valid than a teacher’s own ability to observe children and understand their skills in the context of their whole development in the classroom.

 

“The first time I saw for myself what was becoming of many of the nation’s early childhood classrooms was when I visited a program in a low income community in north Miami. Most of the children were on free and reduced lunch.

 

“There were ten classrooms–kindergarten and Pre-K. The program’s funding depended on test scores, so—no surprise—teachers taught to the test. Kids who got low scores, I was told, got extra drills in reading and math and didn’t get to go to art. They used a computer program to teach 4 and 5 year olds how to Bubble. One teacher complained to me that some children go outside the lines.

 

“In one of the kindergartens I visited, the walls were barren and so was the whole room. The teacher was testing one little boy at a computer at the side of the room. There was no classroom aide. The other children were sitting at tables copying words from the chalk board. The words were: “No talking. Sit in your seat. Hands to Yourself.”

 

“The teacher kept shouting at them from her testing corner: Be quiet! No talking!

 

“Most of the children looked scared or disengaged, and one little boy was sitting alone. He was quietly crying. I will never forget how these children looked or how it felt to watch them, I would say, suffering in this context that was such a profound mismatch with their needs.

 

“It’s in low-income, under-resourced communities like this one where children are most subjected to heavy doses of teacher-led drills and tests. Not like in wealthier suburbs where kids have the opportunity to go to early childhood programs that have play, the arts, and project-based learning. It’s poverty—the elephant in the room—that is the root cause of this disparity.

 

“A few months ago, I was alarmed to read a report from the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights showing that more than 8,000 children from public preschools across the country were suspended at least once in a school year, many more than once. First of all, who suspends a preschooler? Why and for what? The very concept is bizarre and awful. But 8,000? And then to keep reading the report to see that a disproportionate number of those suspended preschoolers were low income, black boys.

 

“There is a connection, I know, between these suspensions and ed reform policies: Children in low income communities are enduring play deficient classrooms where they get heavy doses of direct teaching and testing. They have to sit still, be quiet in their seats and comply. Many young children can’t do this and none should have to.

 

“I came home from that visit to the classrooms in North Miami in despair. But fortunately, the despair turned quickly to organizing. With other educators we started our nonprofit Defending the Early Years. We have terrific early childhood leaders with us (some are here tonight: Deb Meier, Geralyn McLaughlin, Diane Levin and Ayla Gavins). We speak in a unified voice for young children.

 

“We publish reports, write op eds, make videos and send them out on YouTube, we speak and do interviews every chance we get.

 

“We’ve done it all on a shoestring. It’s almost comical: The Gates Foundation has spent more than $200 million dollars just to promote the Common Core. Our budget at Defending the Early Years is .006% of that.

 

“We collaborate with other organizations. FairTest has been so helpful to us. And we also collaborate with –Network for Public Education, United Opt Out, many parent groups, Citizens for Public Schools, Bad Ass Teachers, Busted Pencils Radio, Save Our Schools, Alliance for Childhood and ECE PolicyWorks —There’s a powerful network out there– of educators, parents and students—and we see the difference we are making.

 

“We all share a common vision: Education is a human right and every child deserves one. An excellent, free education where learning is meaningful– with arts, play, engaging projects, and the chance to learn citizenship skills so that children can one day participate—actively and consciously–in this increasingly fragile democracy.

 

Bonnie Cunard Margolin in Florida reminds us of the brief rebellion in Lee County, Florida, when the school board voted to opt out of a crushing burden of state tests. One member rescinded her vote and the rebellion was crushed. But the fight goes on, led by Don Armstrong, a hero for children.

Bonnie writes:

As you remember, last Fall, Lee School Board Member, Don Armstrong, stood up in a bold move and opted his twin children out of testing. The entire county followed immediately after, setting off a storm of discussion about testing in Florida. His voice helped many but cost him his re-election here in Lee Cty.

The fight in Lee rages on. Armstrong is a large part of it. In fact, our superintendent, Dr. Nancy Graham (the super who gave us so much resistance during the opt out), just resigned amid sanctions for intimidation and bullying from the US Dept of Ed, Office of Civil Rights.

It stays hot down south here ;) I thought you might be interested in Armstrong’s Sunday letter this week. He mentions BAT and Bob Schaeffer (also a Lee Cty, FL resident). Here is his letter:

Happy Sunday. As always I woke up Sunday morning, drank my coffee, and pondered the issues that we are facing in the Lee County School District. This upcoming week, we have some testing issues that we need to address at Tuesday’s 6 pm Board Meeting. Let’s dive right in and look at the issues, as well as some of the solutions.

Let’s start with a look at the new testing calendar. The Lee County School Board is required to approve the testing calendar by each October. This calendar was placed on last week’s agenda, page 99, for public review. When it became public, the proposed calendar really startled parents and teachers to see that the amount of testing has increased in Lee County this year, despite efforts by the community and our state representatives to reduce testing last spring.

So, why so much concern with this new Lee County testing calendar? Well, let’s see. Starting in the kindergarten, we have ridiculous amounts of testing. Our young kindergarten students must complete 240 minutes of testing (district and state). And, you can follow the testing all the way to high school, with older students facing over 30 hours of state and district tests in one school year.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard that right. 30 HOURS of testing in one school year. Yes, and up to 240 minutes of testing in kindergarten, alone. WOW. Kindergarten testing – and, I don’t mean Fun Friday Spelling Tests. I mean, 240 minutes of grueling multiple choice tests, some on advanced software platforms, and all with high stakes consequences for our 5 year olds.

Can you imagine? I remember when I was in kindergarten, the only thing we were tested on was on how not to eat the glue and whether or not we could sing the ABC’s. Now, all their time is being spent on multiple choice testing. This insanity is taking away from our children’s’ education. Our children should be blowing bubbles, not filling them in.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I fully understand that we need some type of testing to measure our students’ education, but this has completely spun out of control. As local resident, Bob Schaeffer, also National Director of FAIRTEST, pleaded at the school board microphone last Tuesday, “Enough is enough.” Lee County residents must stand up and put a stop to this nonsense.

So, let’s look at why there is so much testing. First, you have testing companies which make money. Then, you have lobbyists which make money and, of course, you have politicians who are pushing the testing because those same lobbyists are donating money to their campaigns. It is one big profitable scheme.

You see folks, there is one crucial piece to all that I just said that is missing: Teachers. Yes, you heard me right: TEACHERS. Why aren’t the teachers involved in the choice of tests? Wouldn’t you think that they are the ones who understand the children they teach? Wouldn’t you be confident that a professional, holding a college degree and licensed by state of Florida, would be the best choice to measure the needs of our students? Wouldn’t a teacher know best about where students need to be, academically, and how to get them there?

These questions bring me to the solution, and you know me: I am all about solutions.

I recommend we form a Testing Coalition across the state of Florida. This coalition is to be made up of teachers from Elementary, Middle and High School. Each of these teachers will be appointed by their peers. At the beginning of the year, they will collect data and at the end of the school year, they will work with the other 67 school districts in the state to analyze the data and recommend programs, professional development, and other needs. Yes, we would have to pay the members of the coalition and, yes, it would absolutely be well worth the money spent. The missing element in today’s crazy world of school accountability is the teacher’s voice. Let’s return teachers to the table of decisionmaking.

It’s simple. Their job would be to look at all the tests and decide which ones are working and which ones are not working. Then, they would go to the education committee in Tallahassee with recommendations.

Teachers have a voice and it is time we listened. Our Florida teachers are well educated on their craft and extremely well educated on the failures of recent reform efforts. Think about it, if you put a large group of teachers, especially intelligent, brave teachers willing to stand up to corporate, education reform, like BATS ( BadAss Teachers Association – 55,000 strong )In front of the education committee with recommendations, our leaders would have to be silly not to listen to them. The teacher’s are screaming for a voice. Let’s give it to them.

Remember, kids first not politics. Don’t put a $ sign on our kids’ education.

– Don Armstrong, Parent and Candidate for Lee County School Board

Here is a hero. Dr. Randy Weick, a high school history teacher in Kentucky with a degree from the London School of Economics, has filed a class action suit against some of the nation’s largest investment firms for the danger they have inflicted on the pensions of Kentucky teachers.

A columnist in Forbes writes that Wieck has taken on “the titans of private equity”:

Wieck has filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court of the Western District of Kentucky claiming that mismanagement of the investments of the Kentucky Teachers Retirement Systems (KTRS) has resulted in the worst-funded state teacher plan in the U.S—forcing teachers to contribute more of their salaries (up from 9% to 13%).

Wieck has no lawyer—he’s representing himself—in a Herculean effort to save his own and other Kentucky teachers’ retirement.

You might expect that powerful, well-funded national and local public unions would rally behind Wieck to hold Wall Street accountable for undermining teachers’ retirement security. To date, in Kentucky and nationally, public sector labor organizations have been mighty reluctant—even when pressed—to recognize that how the money in a pension is managed is at least as important as how much goes into it and is paid out in benefits.

Labor should be embracing a new role—providing meaningful independent oversight of pension investments. Every public pension needs an outside Inspector General, in my opinion. Organized labor could and should make it happen.

Private Equity firms mentioned in the Wieck complaint include Blackstone, Carlyle and KKR. Excerpts from the case referring to Private Equity investments include:

“As late as 2007 KTRS had no alternative investment managers listed in their Comprehensive Annual Financial Report; by 2013 there were 31 alternative managers listed and KTRS continued to add alternative investments in 2014 and 2015—despite the filing of a lawsuit against another Kentucky State Pension plan challenging the legality of purchasing alternatives.”


“KTRS has failed in their fiduciary duty by selecting investments and investment managers not permitted by statute of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. KTRS has invested in high-risk alternative investments not appropriate for fiduciaries under the common law. Many of these alternative investment entities have not documented in their contracts that they adhere to investment ethics and disclosure rules as required by statute. KTRS Trustees have allowed numerous alternative investment managers to violate Kentucky state law on ethics and disclosure – which also constitutes violations of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. KTRS (in Fiscal Year 2014) admitted to paying $9.2 million to alternative investment managers in secret no-bid contracts. KTRS managers who have hired lobbyists in Frankfort include KKR, JP Morgan (Highbridge) and Blackstone – which has 16 listings on the executive branch lobbyist list (all affiliates and placement agents combined).”

Dr. Randy Weick joins this blog’s honor roll, fighting for all teachers in Kentucky.

The following letter was sent to teachers in Patchogue-Medford, Long Island, in New York state by the superintendent, Dr. Michael J. Hynes. Hynes is a hero of public education. He joins the honor roll of this blog for his thoughtfulness, his care for his staff and students, and his willingness to stand up and speak out. When State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia met with Long Island superintendents to help them understand why they must take a firm position against opt outs, Superintendent Hynes of Patchogue-Medford, Superintendent David Gamberg of Greenport-Southold, Superintendent Steven Cohen of Shoreham-Wading River, and Superintendents Joe Rella of Comsewogue, were not invited. All have been outspoken against the state’s misuse of standardized testing. Gamberg and Cohen did not encourage opt outs, but they both sent letters home to parents explaining that there was no penalty for opting out.

August 28, 2015

Dear Ms. ——-,

The purpose of this letter is to let you know that I DO NOT CARE what your state growth score is. Let me be clear … I DO NOT CARE. It does not define you. Please know that I understand nobody likes to be reduced to a number.

The fact is, you are much more than a number; not only to me, but most important to the children and parents you serve. Keep your head up and your eye on what is more important … your students and your teaching craft. The Patchogue-Medford School District fully supports you as an educator, regardless of what this meaningless, invalid and inhumane score states. Let me know what you need and it is my sincere hope you have a great year.

With warm regards,

Signature
Michael J. Hynes, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Celeste Richter, a highly rated Florida teacher, does not want a bonus for a test she took nearly 25 years ago.

The legislature passed a plan to award $10,000 to teachers who had high SAT scores in high school. The bonus is also available to currents teachers who are rated “highly effective” but only if they had high SAT scores. Veteran teachers may not be able to obtain their SAT scores, or learn whether they were in top 20%, as the law requires.

“I refuse,” said Richter, a highly-effective rated AP government teacher at Wesley Chapel High School. “A test I took in 1991 is not valid to say what a quality educator I am.”

“Richter, who’s entering her 19th year of teaching, isn’t looking up her SAT scores, though she recalls doing well. She doesn’t want the state’s award of up to $10,000, though she really could use it.

“As a moral principle, I don’t believe this is an effective way to reward teachers for a good job,” she said, further noting that the final amount will likely be far less than the maximum. “I’m not going to run after crumbs.”

For standing on principle, for courage and candor, Celeste Richter joins the blog’s honor roll.

Many people think the law is a giveaway to Teach for America, who will earn more than 10-year veterans and leave in two or three years. Its author, Erik Fresen, is a member of a family that owns a large charter chain, Academica.

Here is a teacher worthy of joining the blog’s honor roll. She is willing to risk her career to do what is right for her students, her colleagues, and her profession. Let’s hope that speaking out protects her from vindictive retaliation.

From Kim Irvine, English teacher, Utah

To Whom It May Concern: The decision to write this has been a difficult one. I am the breadwinner for my family. I have an adult handicapped daughter who needs her seizure medication to survive. Without my insurance, her pills would cost over $750 a month, which I cannot afford. I put all of this in jeopardy by voicing my concerns. Many teachers feel the same as I, but are too afraid to speak. You must understand that teachers who speak out are labeled, targeted, and either forced to retire or resign. This may come as a surprise, but I have watched this happen to colleagues over and over. I know that I will now be a target, but the risk is something I have accepted because I must speak out for the sake of my students and my profession.

My philosophy of education and learning is simple. I believe that all students can learn. I believe that student learning is incumbent upon me, the teacher. I believe that authentic learning can only occur in an informed, stimulating, and safe environment, and I believe that the creation of that environment is my responsibility. I believe that the future of the quality of life for each of my students is directly related to whether or not they learn what I have to teach them. In short, I believe that my job is the most important job in the world because we desperately need the future innovations and ingenuity my students are capable of.

This is why I love my job, and all of my eighth graders. I like the way the adolescent mind approaches life. They are positive, creative, brilliant, and fearless, and I often end up on the other end of the teaching as their horizons expand and carry me with them. Every day is different and challenging, poignant and heartbreaking, but thoroughly exhilarating. I spend my days looking at life through the lens of an eighth grader, always looking for stimulating ways to teach. I’m fortunate because anything beautiful, noteworthy, or of good report, fits neatly into the English curriculum.

I have been teaching for 16 years and have always felt a special thrill when a former student contacts me saying they want to be a teacher just like me. But, lately, I hesitate because I am not sure what to say. Teaching is not the same profession it was, and many of my dear colleagues are leaving. It is not surprising to see that many of the states, that are paying attention to this exodus, are predicting a looming teacher shortage like we have never seen before. For example, in Indiana, the data show an alarming decrease in teaching licenses issued from nearly 7,500 six years ago to a measly 934 for 2013-14 school year.1 These figures are the canary in the coalmine and the culminating disaster in education will have rippling effects for a long time to come.

So why are we facing such a decline? Ask any veteran teacher and you will hear the same story. We can’t keep this up. The thirst for data is killing my profession and becoming the supreme focus above all else. Currently, we sacrifice over 30 teaching days a year currently with all of the mandated testing, and the fact that the data is used to discredit teachers is insulting. I will tell you right now that if I am unable to articulate where a student’s skill level was when they started my class, what specific skills we (the student and I) have targeted for the year, their current progress, and where we expect to be by the end of the year, I should be fired. That is my job. I am the professional. I have spent years perfecting and honing my craft of teaching. I collect my own data and drive my instruction based on that data. The data I get from the testing is nice, but frankly redundant and expensive and time consuming. I can teach reading to over 30 students at a time with reading levels ranging from 3rd to 11th grade in the same room at the same time and not only keep them all on task, but I can make it an exhilarating, successful experience for all involved. That’s what a professional teacher can do. That is the “art” part in the art of teaching.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. There is much at stake. Utah has many dedicated, passionate teachers who are working nothing less than miracles for our students. But, we are weary, and gun shy, and frustrated as we watch our class sizes increase, our pay and benefits decrease, and the mandated data-driven paperwork increase exponentially, while our state superintendent constantly reminds us that we are whiney, ineffective, and not worth our salaries. No wonder our numbers are dwindling. In sum, it is obvious why this next generation of college graduates is not choosing education. Why would they?

My father was a seminary teacher for over 36 years, and taught all over the world for the LDS Church Education System. He taught me an important precept, “Faith without works is dead.” The current state superintendent, Mr. Smith, recently explained that the thing our Utah students need most is faith, not necessarily more funding. 2 I disagree. I believe we need work; a lot of work, but we need to be careful to look closely because everything is not always as presented. Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of money on risky, unproven products created by vendors, we need to address the real issues that determine success or failure of our students. We need support for our students living in poverty and support for students struggling with language barriers. We need to insist on best practices for not only from Utah teachers, but our Utah legislature and Utah public servants as well. We need transparency and candor. We need authentic exploration into policy based on sound educational research, not propaganda produced by greedy vendors with intentions of using school funding and taxpayers’ dollars to line their pockets and increase their profit margins.

Education is not a business. Business is motivated by profit. Doing what is best for our students should be our motivation. We cannot serve two masters.

Sincerely, Kim Irvine

Utah State Democratic Education Caucus Chair

1 http://www.ibj.com/articles/53976-indiana-facing-chronic-teacher-shortage r

2 http://www.sltrib.com/news/2563101-155/state-superintendent-asks-for-faith- in Page 2 of 2

Hawaii applied for and won a Race to the Top grant. So, of course, Hawaii was required to create a new teacher evaluation system that incorporated student test scores. Many teachers objected. Mireille Ellsworth was one of them. She especially opposed the use of “Student Learning Objectives.” She said the measures were invalid and unreliable. Because she refused to complete the “SLOs,” she got a subpar rating. She challenged the rating, and she won.

 

 

When the Hawaii Department of Education released the details of its new teacher evaluation system three years ago, veteran teacher Mireille Ellsworth made a radical decision: She would simply refuse to do part of it.

 

Like many teachers in the state, Ellsworth felt that linking teacher pay — even partially — to student test scores was unfair. But there were other portions of the complex and multi-tiered system that she objected to as well, including the use of Student Learning Objectives as a measure of teacher success.

 

“I could tell it was something that could be easily manipulated by any teacher,” Ellsworth said. “Essentially it would be a dog and pony show.”

 

The new evaluation system was put into place over the past five years, at a cost of millions of dollars, teacher demoralization, and untold hours of work. When the results were tallied, 97% of the state’s teachers were found to be highly effective or effective. The search for “bad” teachers was very expensive and ultimately a failure.

 

Ellsworth said no to the whole process.

 

Ellsworth, who teaches English and drama at Waiakea High School in Hilo, has a slew of objections regarding the EES. The 18-year teacher’s biggest beef though is with the Student Learning Objectives or SLOs, which she refused to complete two years in a row.

 

For the SLOs, teachers are asked to predict the growth or achievement of each student — something they can then come back and revise mid-semester. Ellsworth felt it was a student privacy violation for this student data to go into her personnel file, and said the data could easily be manipulated by teachers.

“It’s just an exercise in trying to justify your existence and pass it no matter what,” Ellsworth said.

 

She had philosophical objections to the SLOs as well.

 

“If a teacher has low expectations for a student, research has shown that student will perform at a lower rate,” Ellsworth said. “For me to put on paper and then in my professional portfolio online that I expect anything short of success is completely wrong and is against everything I’ve been taught.”
It is, she said, like committing “educator malpractice.”

 

The strongest support for test-based teacher evaluation comes from the conservative National Council of Teacher Quality, which defends the process that Ellsworth and other teachers find objectionable. NCTQ seems certain that the schools are overloaded with ineffective teachers, but does not attempt to explain why the new RTTT-mandated systems in almost every state find that 95-99% of teachers are rated effective or highly effective. All those billions spent, for what?

 

For her courage in resisting the government’s attempt to force her to violate her professional ethics, Mireille Ellsworth joins the blog’s honor roll of champions of public education.

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