Archives for category: Standardized Testing

I did not realize that my review of Yong Zhao’s book (“Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best [and the Worst] Schools in the World) was behind a paywall on the website of the New York Review of Books. I have no control over that decision. In time, soon hopefully, it will be available in full, and I will post it. I really enjoyed the book, and I wish that President Obama, Secretary Duncan, members of Congress, and all our governors and legislators would read it. As Secretary Duncan would say, “It’s a game-changer.”

I hope you will read the book.

This is my review of Yong Zhao’s wonderful new book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China has the Best (and the Worst) Schools in the World.

Zhao describes how test-driven the schools of China are and how this focus produces high scores but crushes creativity and individualism. Chinese educators want to free children of this oppressive system, he says, but their “success” on tests like PISA keeps them trapped.

There is an important warning here for us. We are trying to be like China. Yong Zhao says: Don’t.

There is no state that has invested as much time, money, and belief in standardized testing as Texas. The deep belief that regular measurement will produce great results has been a dogma in that state. Its testing regime was the model for No Child Left Behind, which is now viewed as a failed law that set impossible targets and real punishments.

But that confidence has been shaken, as this special report in the Dallas Morning News shows, because test scores foremost districts have been stagnant for three years. Instead of blaming teachers and students, pictmakersare casting a skeptical eye at the tests–and maybe even at their dogmatic commitment to testing as a cure all. This is a state where the legislature it billions out of the school budget, expected schools to do better with larger classes and fewer resources, and counted on testing to make everything right.

Reporters Jeffrey Weiss and Holly K. Hacker write:

“For Texas school districts high-achieving and low, affluent and not, urban and suburban, the lack of progress on STAAR is consistent.

“Three years of stagnant statewide average test scores were matched by flat results in the districts where most Texas students attend, according to an analysis by The Dallas Morning News.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

“When STAAR debuted, state education leaders assumed scores would climb as they did with STAAR’s predecessor, TAKS. But no district larger than a Class 5A high school has shown significant progress on most STAAR tests compared with the state. Even for the smallest districts, about as many have lost ground as gained.

“And that feeds into questions being asked with increasing urgency by parents and politicians: Do these scores mean students aren’t learning? Or are the tests bad at measuring what kids know?”

And the elected officials are turning against the test mania:

“As a practical and political matter, Texas’ standardized tests are in trouble.

“Last year, lawmakers killed 10 of the 15 planned end-of-course exams for secondary schools. More pullback may be in the offing for next year’s session. The Texas Education Agency is even asking for $30 million to develop accountability measures that don’t depend so much on testing.

“Republican and Democratic candidates have all campaigned on cutting the number and use of the tests. Legislators peppered state education officials with tough questions during recent hearings. And many of those questions had to do with the gap between predictions and reality for STAAR scores.”

The reporters note that the tests are defended by the state education comissioner, but he was never an educator. Before Governor Rick Perry appointed him, he headedanagrncy charged with regulating the energy industry. We can assume that in Texas under a Republican governor, the energy industry is a lot less regulated than the public schools.

Weiss and Hacker ask a great question:

“Imagine putting a pot of food on the stove, putting a thermometer in the pot and walking away for a while. When you come back, the thermometer reading hasn’t changed. Is the problem with the stove, something unexpected in the pot or a busted thermometer?”

Mor and more parents, educators, and elected officials are saying that the thermometer is broken.

Those who long to see teachers fired based on student test scores must have been happy last week in Tennessee. Four teachers were fired based on the state’s evaluation system. Is it valid? Is it reliable? Were they fired for teaching in high poverty schools? Did the state or the district provide them with support?

Audrey Amrein Beardsley blogged about this termination process in Tennessee here. (The number fired went from five to four after she wrote about it.)

Beardsley wrote:

“It’s not to say these teachers were not were indeed the lowest performing; maybe they were. But I for one would love to talk to these teachers and take a look at their actual data, EVAAS and observational data included. Based on prior experiences working with such individuals, there may be more to this than what it seems. Hence, if anybody knows these folks, do let them know I’d like to better understand their stories.

“Otherwise, all of this effort to ultimately attempt to terminate five of a total 5,685 certified teachers in the district (0.09%) seems awfully inefficient, and costly, and quite frankly absurd given this is a “new and improved” system meant to be much better than a prior system that likely yielded a similar termination rate, not including, however, those who left voluntarily prior.”

A lawsuit seems inevitable.

Two board members were outspokenly critical:

“If the firings are approved then [after independent review], the group of teachers will become the first to lose their jobs under Metro’s new system that relies on state teacher evaluation to dismiss teachers deemed low-performing.

[Superintendent Jesse] Register, in pushing firings that state law authorizes, has said that all students deserve excellent teachers. But evaluations continue to be debated in Tennessee four years after their implementation

“If we have bad teachers in the classroom, I fully agree that we need to get them out of the classroom,” said board member Amy Frogge, who voted against certifying the teachers of each. “The problem is, I’m not sure we’re using a fair measure to do that.”

“Two of the teachers who face termination are at Neely’s Bend Middle School, another is at Madison Middle School and the fourth is at Bellshire Elementary School.

“Teacher evaluations in Tennessee, known as the Tennessee Education Acceleration model, have faced criticism particularly for their use of student gains on tests measured through value-added data. This compares student scores to projections and comprises 35 percent of an overall evaluation score. Qualitative in-class observations by principals account for an additional 50 percent. The remaining 15 percent is based on other student achievement metrics.

“The board’s Will Pinkston, a frequent critic of Register, objected to the board being asked to take up the votes after receiving details about the situations of each teacher only days before.

“I do not trust this process or the people behind it,” said Pinkston, who made four unsuccessful motions to defer voting on the charges.

“If mass teacher dismissals are going to be the new normal, then let’s do it right, not scramble to get information to meet some arbitrary deadline.”

John Thompson, teacher and historian, explains here why teachers are beating up reformers. Shocking but true. Charters don’t outperform public schools unless they exclude low performers. Vouchers are sending kids to church schools that do not perform as well as public schools. Teacher evaluation by test scores is a disaster. The testing culture has demoralized teachers. The reformers have no idea how to “fix” schools.

He writes:

“During the high tide of corporate reform in 2010, their scorched earth public relations campaign against teachers and unions was doubly effective because they all sang from the same hymnal. Since then, however, reformers’ failures to improve schools have been accompanied by political defeat after defeat. Now they are on the same page with a kinder, gentler message.

“Now, the most public message is that a toxic testing culture has mysteriously appeared in schools. As the Center for American Progress, in Testing Overload in America’s Schools, recently admitted “a culture has arisen in some states and districts that places a premium on testing over learning.” So, the reformers who made that culture of test prep inevitable now want to listen to teachers, and create a humane testing culture.

“As Alexander Russo recently reported, in Why Think Tankers Hate the Vergara Strategy, some indicate that the Vergara campaign against teachers’ legal rights is a dubious approach. I’m also struck by the number of reformers, who complain about unions’ financial and political power, and who seem to by crying that We Reformers Are Being Beaten Up by Teachers.

“Yes! Reformers Are Being Beaten Up by Teachers!

“I communicate with a lot of individual reformers who agree that test-driven accountability has failed, but they can’t yet visualize an accountability system that could satisfy their reform coalition and teachers. I repeatedly hear the pained protest that, Testing Isn’t Going Away.

“So, what alternative do we have?

“Talk about Low Expectations! Are they saying that a democracy can’t prosper without test and punish imposed from on high? Do they believe that families and students are just as feckless as teachers, and none of us will teach and learn without reward and punish regimes that toughen us up for economic combat in the global marketplace?”

Alice G. Walton has written an important article in Forbes about the controversy over Common Core. (She is a Forbes contributor with a Ph.D., no relation to the Arkansas Waltons.)

She addresses three questions? Are the standards developmentally appropriate? Is the problem with the standards caused by standardized testing, and would the standards be fine if the testing were eliminated? What is the science behind the standards?

She interviewed several eminent experts in the field of early childhood education who agreed that the standards are NOT developmentally appropriate for young children. She interviewed one of the writers of the standards, Sue Pimentel, who insisted that nothing is wrong with the standards and blames the schools for poor implementation.

But this is what the leading experts said about pushing little kids to learn more faster and earlier:

“It’s not clear exactly where the current trend – of pushing more information on kids earlier – came from, but it seems to be a response to the idea that the U.S. needs to catch up to other countries’ education systems. The problem with this strategy is that there doesn’t appear to be much evidence that “more sooner” is the most effective strategy. “The real school starting age is 7,” says Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, faculty at Weill/Cornell Medical School and author of Hyper-Parenting and The Over-Scheduled Child. “It may be 8 or 6, depending on the child. This is all based on what we know about child development, starting from Piaget. Your brain isn’t sufficiently wired to do it before then. And you also have to keep in mind, all kids are different, and it’s very hard to predict what will happen with age. Some kids who were reading Harry Potter at 4 end up as career baristas. Others can’t read till they’re much older, and they turn out to be highly successful as adults.”

David Elkind, long-time child development expert at Tufts University and author of The Hurried Child, says that a related problem with the Common Core standards is that “children are not standardized.” Between ages 4 to 7, he says, kids are undergoing especially rapid changes in cognitive ability, but this neurological and psychological development occurs at all different rates. “Some children attain these abilities—which enable them to learn verbal rules, the essence of formal instruction—at different ages. With the exception of those with special needs, all children attain them eventually. That is why many Scandinavian countries do not introduce formal instruction, the three R’s until the age of seven. In these countries children encounter few learning difficulties. Basically, you cannot standardize growth, particularly in young children and young adolescents. When growth is most rapid, standardization is the most destructive of motivation to learn. To use a biological analogy, you don’t prune during the growing season.”

Could the standards be acceptable if they were decoupled from standardized testing? No, the standards and tests go together. There is considerable doubt among the experts she interviewed about whether standardized tests are good predictors of life success:

Gene Beresin, Executive Director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, adds that the link between standardized tests and life success isn’t particularly clear. “The powers that be need to realize that there is not always a great correlation between high achievement on standardized tests and brilliant achievement in the workforce, in academics and in life,” says Beresin. “Some people, myself included, are notoriously bad multiple choice test takers… Good test takers know what is expected for an answer and give the test what it is looking for. But the most successful individuals may well do better on other measures of achievement, for example, writing, journaling, verbal expression, creative productivity, and group interaction. I can tell you as a medical educator there is notoriously poor correlation between results on standardized multiple choice tests and being a good doctor!”

By the time you finish the article, you realize that there is no science behind the Common Core. It is a cultural product, written by a small number of people who believe strongly in rigor and who see no problem either with standardization of children, as if they were widgets, or with setting cognitive demands beyond the reach of many–or most–young children.

This is an excellent article, not only because the author interviewed experts in child development and approached the subject with balance, but because it was published in Forbes and will reach people in the business world who need to hear these informed views.

Jeff Bryant writes that we are stuck in stale thinking about education. Our leaders think that there is a new or better way to do testing and accountability, which is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We have been stuck in the testing and accountability paradigm for at least a dozen years, in fact, for more than a generation. Governors and Congressmen think that “reform” means more and better tests.

But there comes a time to say, “that doesn’t work. We have been testing and holding people accountable since the passage of NCLB and even earlier.” It failed. It is time to think anew before we “reform” our teachers to distraction and our schools to extinction.

Bryant writes:

“Since the passage of No Child Left Behind legislation in 2002, the nation’s schools have been dominated by a regime of standardized testing that started in two grade levels – 4th and 8th – but eventually rolled out to every level for the vast majority of school children. Then, the Obama administration took the policy obsession with testing to extremes. Race to the Top grants and other incentives encouraged school districts to test multiple times throughout the year, and waivers to help states avoid the consequences of NCLB demanded even more testing for the purpose of evaluating teachers, principals, and schools. The latest fad is to test four year olds for their “readiness” to attend kindergarten.

“An increasingly loud backlash to the over-emphasis on testing has been growing and spreading among parents, teachers, and students for some time, resulting in mass public rallies, school walkouts, and lawsuits. There are clear signs those voices are starting to have an effect on people responsible for education policy…..

“What if instead of just getting rid of NCLB, we got rid of the thinking that created it? That was a question I asked three years ago when the failed legislation was gasping toward its tenth birthday. At that time, I likened the thinking behind NCLB to an econometric approach to problem solving, which is unsuitable for a pursuit like education that is values driven.

“Now there’s a new book arguing that we can’t change the way we think about education policy until we change the way we talk about education. The book is Dumb Ideas Won’t Create Smart Kids: Straight Talk About Bad School Reform, Good Teaching, and Better Learning by Eric M. Hass, Gustavo E. Fischman, and Joe Brewer.

“The book queries why federal and state policymakers put so much energy into “reforms” – such as raising standards and standardized testing – that have very little to no evidence of effectiveness. What the authors contend is that policymakers continue down the same never-ending path to policy failure because they operate from a failed “prototype” for education – a way of thinking about teaching and learning that leads to conclusions that sound good but are built on false beliefs (what the authors call “rightly wrong thinking”). And rather than looking for genuine results, policy makers tend to adhere to a “confirmation bias” that dismisses contrary evidence and reinforces the prototype.

“The authors observe that we tend to talk about schools – and indeed the whole nation – through the metaphor of the “family.” And whenever we think about family, we tend to think about two kinds: the “strict, authority-based” kind and the “caring nurturance-based” kind. It’s the authors’ belief that current education policy is dominated by the former and needs lots more of the latter.

“Policy adhering mostly to strict authoritarian ideals, they contend, promotes a faulty approach to education…..

“What’s needed instead of this failed strict, authority-based approach is a shift to the caring nurturance-based approach, the authors believe. This shift, they argue, would replace the metaphors we use to talk about education with metaphors that are more compatible with how students actually learn.

“Because the conduit-to-empty vessel approaches to education – too much step-by-step instruction, over-testing, and “delivery of lots of right answers” – lead to policies and practices that actually hinder learning, the authors call for a “learning as growth” metaphor.

“The learning as growth metaphor would reinforce thinking about students’ minds as “soil” and ideas and understandings as “plants.”

“The logic of learning as growth metaphor is based on two key ideas,” the authors write. “First, people develop or construct their ideas and understandings … Second, people need support to help them construct accurate understandings.”

“In this metaphorical description, the teacher’s role is more akin to a gardener and the education process more aligned to cultivation. “It says that teaching and learning are cooperative activities,” the authors write. “Like a plant, a student’s understanding will thrive when he or she gets attention tailored to his or her individual needs.”

“The authors also call for replacing the freedom as the lack of constraints metaphor with a “freedom as support” metaphor, which equates freedom to providing the resources teachers need to teach and the students with more opportunities to learn.

“Schools, for example should act as community centers that provide tutoring and library materials, and possibly food and health services,” the authors maintain. “Students need the inputs of basic resources to survive and thrive.”….

“Calls for “better testing” and evermore complicated “accountability” metrics are pruning around the edges of a dead shrub. With a new way to think about education, with the language of learning as growth, we can get beyond today’s failed remedies. Let’s talk it up.”

Here is Fairtest’s weekly report on the anti-testing movement, which grows daily. Major national organizations recognized the resistance and proclaimed they want to reduce the overdose of testing. Hmmm.

 

 

Bob Schaeffer of Fairtest writes:

Top national policy-makers finally took notice of the growing testing resistance and reform movement this week. The Council of Chief State School Officers (aka state superintendents) and the Council of the Great City Schools (urban supers) published a report admitting that standardized exam overkill was rampant across the country. In response, both U.S. Secretary of Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama issued statements of concern.

But none of these long-time defenders of test misuse and overuse has spelled out how to address what they concede are serious problems. That’s why grassroots activists — parents, students, teachers, administrators, community leaders, school board members, etc. — need to keep ratcheting up the pressure !

School Standardized Testing Is Under Growing Attack: Leaders Pledge Changes

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/school-standardized-testing-is-under-growing-attack-leaders-pledge-changes/2014/10/15/bd1201b8-549b-11e4-ba4b-f6333e2c0453_story.html

As Over-Testing Outcry Grows, Exam Promoters Pull Back Slightly

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2014/1016/As-overtesting-outcry-grows-education-leaders-pull-back-on-standardized-tests

Poll Finds Coloradans Concerned About Too Much Testing

http://co.chalkbeat.org/2014/10/20/union-poll-finds-negative-public-attitudes-on-testing/#.VEZxCnvvdBw

Pearson Scoring Error Delays Release of New Test Results

http://www.9news.com/story/news/education/2014/10/16/state-delays-release-new-tests/17356299/

Delaware School Board Will Support Families Who Opt Out of Tests

http://delaware.newszap.com/centraldelaware/135877-70/standardized-test-opt-out-gets-show-of-support-from-capital-board

Florida Teachers Fed Up With Volume of Testing

http://www.wftv.com/news/news/local/marion-county-teachers-fed-amount-testing-kinderga/nhjHs/

Revolt Against Testing Spreads Across Florida

http://www.tallahassee.com/story/opinion/columnists/2014/10/15/kathleen-oropeza-revolt-testing-begun/17326837/

Florida Fights With Feds Over Testing English Language Learners

http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/testing/state-federal-government-wrestle-over-testing-for-students-learning-english/2202760

Time for Georgians to Rise Up Against Student Testing Regime

http://onlineathens.com/opinion/2014-10-18/blackmon-time-rise-against-student-testing-regimen

Indiana School Grade Gaming Earns Failing Results

http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20141017/EDIT07/310179995/1147/EDIT07

Maryland Educators Seek Delay in Common Core Testing Requirements

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/education/blog/bs-md-graduation-requirements-20141016-story.html#page=1

Mississippi School Grading Change Leaves Schools Confused, Frustrated

http://www.sunherald.com/2014/10/16/5859825/districts-caught-in-transition.html

Suspend New Jersey Exit Exam Requirement During Transition to PARCC

http://www.courierpostonline.com/story/opinion/columnists/2014/10/14/commentary-make-exit-exam-optional-parcc-changes/17247379/

New Mexico State Senator Seeks Moratorium on Test Score Consequences

http://www.abqjournal.com/480653/news/nm-senator-calls-for-moratorium-on-using-test-scores.html

Testing Policy A Contentious Issue in New Mexico Race for Governor

http://www.abqjournal.com/482493/news/gov-candidates-offer-different-policy-visions.html

New York Rethinks Rush to Computerized Testing: Plans Multi-Year Phase-In

http://www.nyssba.org/news/2014/10/10/on-board-online-october-13-2014/sed-rethinks-computerized-testing-plans-phase-in-over-several-years/

Opt-Out Movement Builds Across New York State

http://www.recordonline.com/article/20141019/NEWS/141019385

Ohio School Superintendents Label Added Common Core Testing an “Abomination”

http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2014/10/test_mania_local_superintenden.html

Grades From Spring 2015 Ohio Common Core Tests May Not Be Available Until 2016

http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2014/10/grades_from_spring_common_core_tests_may_not_be_available_until_2016.html

Ohio School Board Candidate: Test-Centric Education Cannot Replace for Effective Learning

http://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/2014/10/14/column-test-centric-education-replacement-effective-learning/17278543/

Oklahoma Plays Test Vendor “Musical Chairs” Firing One Company and Hiring Another

http://oklahomawatch.org/2014/10/17/oklahoma-to-consider-new-testing-contract-replacing-mcgraw-hill/

Portland Oregon Schools Refuse to Be Judged By Common Core Tests

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/10/portland_public_schools_wont_f.html

Too Much Testing in Texas Schools

http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/latest-columns/20141017-failing-grade-for-testing.ece

Former Utah Teacher of the Year, Now NEA President, Says Don’t Punish Educators With Test Scores

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58530434-78/eskelsen-utah-garcia-education.html.csp

Powerful Video Short: “Refuse the Tests”

Testing Mania and Uncle Sam’s Clumsy (Over)Reach

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2014/10/testing_mania_and_uncle_sams_clumsy_reach.html

New Research: Grade Retention, Even in Kindergarten, Is Harmful to Children

http://educationbythenumbers.org/content/new-research-failing-students_2034/

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office- (239) 395-6773 fax- (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468
web- http://www.fairtest.org

Rick Bobrick is a veteran teacher in New York. He is sick of the punitive high-stakes testing that he is compelled to administer. This regime is child abuse. He is a conscientious objector. He thinks that teachers should have the same right to opt out that parents and children have. He knows if he refuses to give the tests, he puts at risk his job, his income, and his pension. He asks a simple question: why not a law protecting the rights of teachers to refuse to do what they know is wrong? Why not give teachers the right to be conscientious objectors?

Here is his letter:

I teach 8th grade science in a small city school district located in the Mid-Hudson Valley. I am in my 35th year in the classroom, the last 13 of which I have been required to administer punitive, high-stakes tests in math, ELA, and science. Last spring I hit the wall and I have decided that, in all good conscience, I no longer want to participate in this detrimental practice. However, like most teachers, I am unwilling to risk losing my income, or my pension, or my even my reputation, in order to take a principled stand against this new wave of failed reform. On the other hand, why should I have to risk anything in order to stand against what I know is wrong?

No teacher or administrator should be required to ignore their moral and professional compass out of fear of violating NY state law. No teacher or administrator should have to comply with educational policies more harmful than helpful to children. No teacher or administrator should be forced to remain complicit to policies that are tantamount to educational malpractice at best – and child abuse at their worst. No public school educator should ever submit to inaction out of fear of jeopardizing their professional standing, personal well-being, or their family security. The fear, the veiled threats, and the de-facto intimidation are all very real concerns for many NY public school professionals. There is something deeply wrong with a system in which teachers and principals are afraid to act in the best interest of children.

My proposed solution to this professional dilemma is to try to establish legal protections for any NY educator who no longer wishes to comply with New York’s RTTT commitment. Following the advice of my local NYSUT representative, I have drafted a resolution that would establish a ‘Conscientious Objector’ status for any NY teacher or administrator who wants to abstain from the malpractice of high-stakes testing. I have never been politically connected, nor a particularly strong supporter of our union. All I ever wanted to do was to teach science and provide my students with the best learning opportunities possible.

I will be working with a group of like-minded citizens to convince lawmakers to support this initiative. If this proposal is submitted as a bill and passed into law it would provide legal protection for any teacher or administrator who wants to opt out of the testing debacle. As has been seen over the past two years, parents can ‘refuse the test’ without fear of legal consequences. Nearly 60,000 students across New York State sat out the 2014 round of Pearson testing, supported by parents who wanted nothing to do with tests designed to fail students and intimidate their teachers. It is my strong belief that teachers and administrators should have the same right of refusal, a legally protected right to, ‘refuse to test’. Passage of this resolution into law may be viewed by some as a long shot; if successful it would open a very messy can of worms for Governor Cuomo, the Board of Regents, John King, and the State Education Department.

Regardless of the end result, the message this sends to our political leaders could open some eyes and help bring this federal testing regime to an end, sooner rather than later; one more nail in the coffin of New York’s Regents Reform Agenda. At the very least it would let parents, boards of education, and the media get a better handle on just how much opposition there is from the educators who are being forced by the power of state and federal law to pursue education policies and practices that we know are inflicting harm to our students. Teachers whose voices are being silenced by fear of professional retribution, would be muzzled no longer. To sit back and continue to be a part of this testing madness, in my view, makes us part of the problem – ‘refusing to test’ makes us part of the solution.

If we do nothing, this whole mess will eventually die a slow death by a thousand cuts, collapsing under its own weight – but not after a generation of students has been short-changed by the educational blinders of the Common Core and damaged by the pressures of punitive, test-based reform and all the negative labels that come with it. Parents, college professors, and others will be pointing fingers and asking very serious questions as they try to make sense of what happened to our collective professional voice if the majority of us remain complicit through inaction. The ‘Nuremburg Defense’ doesn’t cut it for me. Burris, Farley, Naison, Lee and a small handful of other strong voices from within the trenches of New York’s schools are not enough. We have a choice to make, nearly half a million strong: defiance or compliance?

If adopted, the Conscientious Objector legislation will make it possible for the majority of NY educators to speak out against the misguided attempts of reformers; changing fearful whispers into strong and meaningful action. By granting the right of refusal, this proposed resolution would also help to restore our status as professional educators whose judgment and trust are valued by the communities we serve. Teachers, coaches, supervisors, principals, and parents, please keep your ears to the legislative track and when the time comes lend your support at the local and state level. Together we can make this happen and bring the joy of learning back to our children’s classrooms.

Rick Bobrick

Steven Singer, teacher, describes the accumulating series of insults and indignities heaped upon teachers by the federal and state governments and by politicians who wouldn’t last five minutes in a classroom.

He writes, in indignation and fury:

“You can’t do that.

“All the fear, frustration and mounting rage of public school teachers amounts to that short declarative sentence.

“You can’t take away our autonomy in the classroom.

“You can’t take away our input into academic decisions.

“You can’t take away our job protections and collective bargaining rights.

“You can’t do that.

“But the state and federal government has repeatedly replied in the affirmative – oh, yes, we can.

“For at least two decades, federal and state education policy has been a sometimes slow and incremental chipping away at teachers’ power and authority – or at others a blitzkrieg wiping away decades of long-standing best practices.

“The latest and greatest of these has been in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“Earlier this week, the state-led School Reform Commission simply refused to continue bargaining with teachers over a new labor agreement. Instead, members unilaterally cancelled Philadelphia teachers contract and dictated their own terms – take them or get out.

“The move was made at a meeting called with minimal notice to hide the action from the public. Moreover, the legality of the decision is deeply in doubt. The courts will have to decide if the SRC even has the legal authority to bypass negotiations and impose terms.

“One doesn’t have to live or work in the City of Brotherly Love to feel the sting of the state SRC. For many educators across the nation this may be the last straw.

“For a long time now, we have watched in stunned silence as all the problems of society are heaped at our feet…..”

“Teachers dedicate their lives to fight the ignorance and poverty of the next generation and are found guilty of the very problem they came to help alleviate. It’s like blaming a doctor when a patient gets sick, blaming a lawyer because his client committed a crime or blaming a firefighter because an arsonist threw a match.

“The Philadelphia decision makes clear the paranoid conspiracy theories about school privatization are neither paranoid nor mere theories. We see them enacted in our local newspapers and media in the full light of day.

Step 1: Poor schools lose state and federal funding.

Step 2: Schools can’t cope with the loss, further reduce services, quality of education suffers.

Step 3: Blame teachers, privatize, cancel union contracts, reduce quality of education further.

“Ask yourself this: why does this only happen at poor schools?…”

“Poverty has been the driving factor behind the Philadelphia Schools tragedy for decades. Approximately 70% of district students are at or near the poverty line.

“To meet this need, the state has bravely chipped away at its share of public school funding. In 1975, Pennsylvania provided 55% of school funding statewide; in 2014 it provides only 36%. Nationally, Pennsylvania is 45th out of 50 for lowest state funding for public education.”

“Since the schools were in distress (read: poor), the state decided it could do the following: put the district under the control of a School Reform Commission; hire a CEO; enable the CEO to hire non-certified staff, reassign or fire staff; allow the commission to hire for-profit firms to manage some schools; convert others to charters; and move around district resources.

“And now after 13 years of state management with little to no improvement, the problem is once again the teachers. It’s not mismanagement by the SRC. It’s not the chronic underfunding. It’s not crippling, generational poverty. It’s these greedy people who volunteer to work with the children most in need.

“We could try increasing services for those students. We could give management of the district back to the people who care most: the citizens of Philadelphia. We could increase the districts portion of the budget so students could get more arts and humanities, tutoring, wraparound services, etc. That might actually improve the educational quality those children receive.

“Nah! It’s the teachers! Let’s rip up their labor contract!

“Take my word for it. Educators have had it.”

Don’t be a scapegoat any longer, Singer says.

Here is his clarion call, his war cry: Refuse to give the tests they use to label you and call you a failure.

“It follows then that educators should refuse to administer standardized tests across the country – especially at poor schools.

“What do we have to lose? The state already is using these deeply flawed scores to label our districts a failure, take us over and then do with us as they please.

“Refuse to give them the tools to make that determination. Refuse to give the tests. How else will they decide if a school is succeeding or failing? They can’t come out and blame the lack of funding. That would place the blame where it belongs – on the same politicians, bureaucrats and billionaire philanthropists who pushed for these factory school reforms in the first place.

“This would have happened much sooner if not for fear teachers would lose their jobs. The Philadelphia decision shows that this may be inevitable. The state is committed to giving us the option of working under sweatshop conditions or finding employment elsewhere. By unanimously dissolving the union contract for teachers working in the 8th largest district in the country, they have removed the last obstacle to massive resistance.

“Teachers want to opt out. They’ve been chomping at the bit to do this for years. We know how destructive this is to our students. But we’ve tried to compromise – I’ll do a little test prep here and try to balance it with a real lesson the next day. Testing is an unfortunate part of life and I’m helping my students by teaching them to jump through these useless hoops.

“But now we no longer need to engage in these half measures. In fact, continuing as before would go against our interests.

“Any Title 1 district – any school that serves a largely impoverished population – would be best served now if teachers refused to give the powers that be the tools needed to demoralize kids, degrade teachers and dissolve their work contracts. And as the poorer districts go, more affluent schools should follow suit to reclaim the ability to do what’s best for their students. The standardized testing machine would ground to a halt offering an opportunity for real school reform. The only option left would be real, substantial work to relieve the poverty holding back our nation’s school children.

“In short, teachers need to engage in a mass refusal to administer standardized tests.

“But you can’t do that,” say the politicians, bureaucrats and billionaire philanthropists.

“Oh, yes, we can.”

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