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A group of teachers at a progressive public school in Néw York City have formed “Teachers of Conscience” and written the Chancellor of the school system to say that they could no longer administer the state tests to their students.

For their willingness to act on the demands of their conscience rather than serve as compliant enforcers of actions intended to rank and rate their students, I place them on the honor roll of this blog. They are indeed Teachers of Conscience. They are resisters and conscientious objectors. From small acts of conscience, multiplied, grow revolutions.

They were inspired to act by the Seattle teachers’ boycott of MAP testing, but also by their conviction that the tests distort the purpose of education. They act in opposition to market-based reform and the Common Core.

Here is their letter to the chancellor from Teachers of Conscience:

Teachers of Conscience

A Letter to Chancellor Carmen Fariña

“The ongoing wars, the distortions of truth we have witnessed, the widening gaps between rich and poor disturb us more than we can say; but we have had so many reminders of powerlessness that we have retreated before the challenge of bringing such issues into our classrooms. At once, we cannot but realize that one of our primary obligations is to try to provide equal opportunities for the young. And we realize full that this cannot happen if our students are not equipped with what are thought to be survival skills, not to speak of a more or less equal range of literacies. And yet the tendency to describe the young as “human resources,” with the implication that they are mainly grist for the mills of globalized business is offensive not merely to educators, but to anyone committed to resist dehumanization of any kind.”

- Maxine Greene, In Search of a Pedagogy

Dear Chancellor Carmen Fariña,

We are teachers of public education in the City of New York. We are writing to distance ourselves from a set of policies that have come to be known as market-based education reform. We recognize that there has been a persistent and troubling gulf between the vision of individuals in policymaking and the work of educators, but we see you as someone who has known both positions and might therefore be understanding of our position. We find ourselves at a point in the progress of education reform in which clear acts of conscience will be necessary to preserve the integrity of public education. We can no longer implement policies that seek to transform the broad promises of public education into a narrow obsession with the ranking and sorting of children. We will not distort curriculum in order to encourage students to comply with bubble test thinking. We can no longer, in good conscience, push aside months of instruction to compete in a city-wide ritual of meaningless and academically bankrupt test preparation. We have seen clearly how these reforms undermine teachers’ love for their profession and undermine students’ intrinsic love of learning.

As an act of conscience, we are declining the role of test administrators for the 2014 New York State Common Core Tests. We are acting in solidarity with countless public school teachers who have paved their own paths of resistance and spoken truthfully about the decay of their profession under market-based reforms. These acts of conscience have been necessary because we are accountable to the children we teach and our pedagogy, both of which are dishonored daily by current policies.

The policies of Common Core have been misguided, unworkable, and a serious failure of implementation. At no time in the history of education reform have we witnessed the ideological ambitions of policymakers result in such a profound disconnect with the experiences of parents, teachers, and children. There is a growing movement of dissatisfied parents who are refusing high-stakes Common Core testing for their children and we are acting in solidarity with those parents. Reformers in the State Department of Education are now making gestures to slow down implementation and reform their reforms. Their efforts represent a failure of imagination — an inability to envision an education system based on human development and democratic ideals rather than an allegiance to standardization, ranking, and sorting. State policies have placed haphazard and burdensome mandates on schools that are profoundly out of touch with what we know to be inspired teaching and learning. Although the case against market-based education reform has been thoroughly written about, we feel obliged to outline our position at length to address critics who may see our choice of action as overstepping or unwarranted. You will find a position paper attached to this letter. We are urging you, Chancellor Fariña, to articulate your own position in this critical and defining moment in the history of public education. What will you stand for? What public school legacy will we forge together?

Sincerely,

Colin Schumacher, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School

Emmy Matias, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School

Jia Lee, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School

If you have written a letter or statement regarding market-based education reform and the Common Core state standards, please consider submitting it for publication on our blog.

The Providence Student Union Is an inspirational group of high school students who have shaken up Rhode Island. Due to their creative protests against high-stakes testing, especially the use of a normed, standardized test for graduation, they won the support of the Boston Globe and then the state legislature, which declared a moratorium on using tests for high stakes purposes.

Take a moment and help PSU organize other high school groups.

This is a letter from Aaron Regunberg, one of the PSU leaders who just won the Democratic primary for a seat in the State Senate:

“PSU was nominated for an award from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation for $100,000 dollars. Here’s all the information:

http://www.rifuture.org/help-the-providence-student-union-win-100000.html

And here is the award site:

http://www.nmefoundation.org/grants/larry-o-toole-award.aspx

As you can imagine, $100,000 would be game-changer – not just for our organization, but really for the fight for public education across our state. Everything we’ve been able to do has been on a shoestring budget; with that level of resources, we could create a student union in every urban district in Rhode Island and really change the power balance for public ed in RI.

In order to win, we need to get more online votes than the 5 other nominated groups. We’ve had a really late start – as we’ve been working on the actual state elections until this last Tuesday – and now need to kick into high gear.

If you could encourage your loyal readers and fans to vote (takes 10 seconds) and spread the word, it truly could make a radical difference here in RI. You can use the language from the post on RIFuture above.

–Aaron”

Jeannie Kaplan says that the best reform would be a later start to school. Why? Because teenagers biologically need to sleep later, and she has the research to prove it.

She writes:

“American teenagers suffer from a lack of sleep. Middle and high school students are chronically affected by this health risk. Obesity, depression, absenteeism and tardiness rise, academic performance and public safety fall due to sleepiness. Last month The American Association of Pediatricians (AAP) released a study documenting the severity of this epidemic. And to its credit, the AAP has proposed a solution: start middle and high school later in the morning. While most secondary schools start between 7:15 and 8:15, the AAP recommends a start time of no earlier than 8:30 for middle and high school. No surprise to those who have experienced and/or studied teenagers’ sleep patterns. Some secondary schools even offer classes during something called “zero” period which is an even earlier start to the school day and occurs before first period which as we have seen is often too early for students to be alert and “ready to learn.” One unintended ironic consequence of “zero” period is the actual amount of learning that goes on – close to zero because the students are so sleepy and tired. The optimal level of sleep necessary to be high functioning teenagers? Eight and a half to nine and a half hours per night. Where the later start time has been implemented, behavior and atmosphere at school improves.

Bob Braun has been writing about the abusiveness and insensitivity of Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” plan. He has written that it has disrupted the lives of children and families, with no goal other than to sweep away neighborhood schools and impose charter schools. Newark has been under state control for nearly 20 years. In short, the people of Newark have had no say in the governance of their city’s schools, and now Chris Christie and Cami Anderson have decided to turn them over to private management.

Braun reports that the real heroes in this struggle for democracy are the high school students of Newark. While most of the adults seemed resigned and ready to bow to authority, the high school students went into the streets to protest. A group of them chained themselves together, sat down in the city’s main thoroughfare, and blocked traffic. The newly elected Mayor Ras Baraka tried to protect the students. He ran for office as an opponent of Cami and “One Newark,” but he has no power to stop her.

Braun wrote:

“Newark’s public schools will be saved from privatization only if supporters are willing to take risks. Yesterday, Newark finally saw some risk takers–the high school students and handful of adults who blocked Broad Street for eight hours, refusing in a very adult way to give up their lines despite an effort by police to plow through, and a mayor who risked criticism for not arresting the students.

“The children are doing what the adults are not doing because the adults are too scared to do it,” said Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson about the siege of board headquarters at 2 Cedar Street organized by the Newark Students Union. The school board member spent most of the day monitoring the protest.

“But did it make a difference? Will the risks taken by the students and Mayor Ras Baraka–the courageous actions taken yesterday by both –hasten the end of Anderson’s tenure? Will it quickly end the “One Newark” plan that has brought so much pain to so many city families?

“Maybe not. But this is what they will do: They will keep the fight alive, keep the light shining, in the face of the inertial forces that would try to gloss over the pain Anderson is causing and bring on a complacent, apathetic business-as-usual attitude that will allow Anderson to continue her plans unimpeded. Without the students, Anderson would be free to act without, not just restraint, but even without notice.”

Braun wrote:

“They’re coming for you.

“They’re coming for you in Wisconsin. In California. In New York–and, yes, in New Jersey. In places like Newark and Paterson–ask Paterson teachers about the great contract they “won” from the state-operated district. And. remember, the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), the people who almost made Shavar Jeffries mayor, believe tenure and other protections are the dam that “must be burst” to reform education.

“Think about it. Those are Democrats. They might eat your rights elegantly with some fava beans and a little Malbec–but they will do it every bit as effectively as the Koch Brothers who would just as soon have public employee union leaders jailed and shot.”

The kids were heroes. It is a very small gesture on my part to add them to the honor roll as heroes of American education. They are standing up for public education. They are standing up for democracy.

Inda Schaenen is an eighth grade English language arts teacher at Normandy Middle School in Ferguson, Missouri. She writes in Education Week about how students were affected by the death of Michael Brown and how she as a teacher was affected.

School started nine days after the shooting.

“Even before the shooting and the dramatic aftermath broadcast around the world, our district was accustomed to being and bearing bad news. Normandy is a poor, predominantly African-American community beset by challenges in housing, employment, and access to social, emotional, and physical health care.

“In January 2013, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education stripped the Normandy school system of its accreditation. The district consequently lost close to 25 percent of its students (and related education funding) to a transfer program that was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court. Then, on July 1 of this year, the state board of education officially took over the Normandy district; meanwhile, the transfer program’s fate continues to play out in the state courts….

“I was assigned to teach 8th grade language arts; I now work in circumstances that daily, even hourly, challenge the most seasoned of the seasoned veterans. Middle school teaching is a new experience for me, and my learning curve is beyond steep; it’s a cliff. In rock-climbing terms, I am “crack climbing”-locating available seams, trying any grip, using all of who I am to gain purchase during my ascent. I am working 18 hours a day.”

The tragedy is the background and often in the foreground of school.

She writes:

“Will I be able to make what happens in my classroom so compelling that these children will feel it’s worth their time to come in and take a seat alongside the 32 others in my classroom?

“Now, factor in the shooting, followed by the protests, the looting, the hyper-militarized reaction to the protests and looting, and the local reaction to the reaction. Many of our students showed up at school traumatized; teachers, too. The granddaughter of one of my colleagues was related to Michael Brown. Another staff member was his great-aunt. In many ways, north St. Louis County is one community….

“Since Aug. 9, there is the unspoken but ever-present awareness, especially among the boys, that life can end in a flash, even for the kids-like Michael Brown-who manage to navigate the system and graduate…..

“Over and over, I assure my students that I will not leave. That I am here for them. That principals and teachers are working together to figure out how to get our school right, or at least more right…..

Are we as a society willing to address the needs of these children, these communities? The answer seems to be no. We want them to have higher scores, and the state will punish their teachers if they don’t get higher scores. But we refuse to address or acknowledge the conditions in which they live, or our obligation to change them.”

This is a must-see. Peter Greene here presents and discusses comedian John Oliver on student debt.

Most students will leave college with heavy debts; some will spend years trying to pay it off. The arrangement was created by the federal government and state governments, which have steadily decreased their responsibility for subsidizing the cost of higher education, transferring the burden to students. There once was a time when community colleges were tuition-free. No longer. For-profit institutions and online “universities” have moved in to fill their place. These institutions have terrible completion rates. Despite repeated calls to regulate the for-profits, Congress and the U.S. Department of Education have failed to do so. The for-profit industry hires top lobbyists from both parties to protect their interests. Who protects the students?

When one of the worst for-profit institutions (Corinthian) teetered near bankruptcy, the US DOE extended a bail-out instead of closing it down.

Dawn Neely-Randall is a teacher in Ohio. She is in her 25th year in the classroom. For a long while, she watched in silence as the testing mania absorbed more and more instructional time. And then she decided she had to speak out. She had to defend her students. She had to defend her professional ethics. She could not remain silent. And speak she did. Here is an article that she wrote that appeared on Valerie Strauss’s blog.

If every state had 1,000 teachers as brave, bold, and outspoken as Dawn Neely-Randall, we could stop the insanity that is destroying children’s lives and debasing education. For her courage in speaking out, for her refusal to remain docile and silent, I add Dawn Neely-Randall to the honor roll.

Here are a few choice excerpts from her impassioned article.

“Last spring, you wouldn’t find the fifth-graders in my Language Arts class reading as many rich, engaging pieces of literature as they had in the past or huddled over the same number of authentic projects as before. Why? Because I had to stop teaching to give them a Common Core Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) online sample test that would prepare them for the upcoming PARCC pilot pre-test which would then prepare them for the PARCC pilot post test – all while taking the official Ohio Achievement Tests. This amounted to three tests, each 2 ½ hours, in a single week, the scores of which would determine the academic track students would be placed on in middle school the following year.”

“In addition to all of that, I had to stop their test prep lessons (also a load of fun) to take each class three floors down to our computer lab so they could take the Standardized Testing and Reporting (“STAR”) tests so graphs and charts could be made of their Student Growth Percentile (SGP) which would then provide quantitative evidence to suggest how these 10-year-olds would do on the “real” tests and also surmise the teacher’s (my) affect on their learning.

“Tests, tests, and more freakin’ tests.

“And this is how I truly feel in my teacher’s heart: the state is destroying the cherished seven hours I have been given to teach my students reading and writing each week, and these children will never be able to get those foundational moments back. Add to that the hours of testing they have already endured in years past, as well as all the hours of testing they still have facing them in the years to come. I consider this an unconscionable a theft of precious childhood time……”

“And most disconcerting of all, in my entire 24-year career, not one graded standardized test has EVER been returned to the students, their parents, or to me, the teacher. Also, for the past three years here in Ohio, released test questions have no longer been posted online. In addition, teachers have had to sign a “gag order” before administering tests putting their careers on the line ensuring they will not divulge any content or questions they might happen to oversee as they walk around monitoring the test.”

An article in Education Week reports on research about “grit” or perseverance at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. Scholars reported that it had more bearing on academic outcomes than on creativity.

“Magdalena G. Grohman, the associate director of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology at the University of Texas at Dallas, argues that grittiness is not the end-all, be-all for student success. “When you look at it, these [areas studied by Ms. Duckworth] are well-defined areas and the rules for achievement are well-defined in those areas,” she said. “We know what to do to get good grades, what to do to stay in military school, and what to do to win in contests such as spelling bees. The rules are pretty clear on what the achievement is and what success is in these domains. But what about creative achievement?”

“In two separate analyses of college undergraduates by Ms. Grohman and her colleagues, students filled out detailed questionnaires on personality, extracurricular activities, and grades, as well as data on prior creative activities and accomplishments. Students’ ratings on field surveys of grit and openness to experience were compared to their academic and extracurricular records.

“Ms. Grohman found that neither grit nor two related characteristics of consistency and perseverance predicted a student’s success in various types of creative endeavors, including visual and performing art, writing, scientific ingenuity, or even creativeness in everyday problem-solving.”These are ‘no results’ that we are actually excited about,” Ms. Grohman said during a presentation on creativity. “Creative achievement and grit, intellectual creativity and grit, everyday creativity and grit: no effects whatsoever.”
Rather, a student’s openness to new experiences was most closely associated with his or her likelihood of accomplishing creative works, she found.”

“In a separate study, Zorana Ivcevic Pringle, an associate research scientist at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., compared the academic records and the reports of high school students, their peers, and teachers….

“Ms. Pringle found that neither students’ individual scores on tests of grit nor their teachers’ ratings of high persistence were related to how creative they were on group projects….

“However, as in the previous study, individual ratings of students’ openness to new experiences and teachers’ ratings of students with passion for their work did predict who would be the most creative.”

The purpose of testing is for students and teachers to learn about students’ strengths and weaknesses. Teachers can look at student performance and learn what they taught well and what they didn’t teach well.

When states, in collaboration with testing companies, keep tests confidential, reeves long nothing to students and teachers but test scores, they vitiate the value of the test. It’s akin to going to your doctor for a checkup and learning nothing but a score, with no context or interpretation of what you should do now.

A reader from Pennsylvania writes:

“What’s worse are the Pennsylvania Keystone Exams. They have not published a single question from any exam given nor any questions from the Classroom Diagnostic tests, practice tests for the Keystone. Instead they have only published a few sample questions some of which are poorly written. When asked about this, an official said that the sample questions were reject questions that would never be used on the exams. Basically students and teachers are being kept in the dark about these high stakes exams which will be used to determine if a student can graduate or not, how a school district is rated and how a teacher is evaluated.”

This may be the most important article you read this week, this month, or this year. It was published last year, and I missed it. But, wow, Bruce Baker nails what is wrong with “education reform.”

Basically, the public has been sold a bill of goods. We have been told that charters, vouchers, tuition tax credits, and other means of removing governance from the public sector to the private sector will produce schools that are more transparent and more accountable. We are also told–though Baker doesn’t explore it here–that these choices will produce education miracles for poor and minority students (that’s not true either).

What Baker demonstrates in detail is that charter schools and voucher schools are less transparent and less accountable than public schools. Furthermore, in these alternative settings, students forego their constitutional rights. In truly private schools, like voucher schools, we can’t expect accountability or transparency. The charters, however, constantly call themselves “public” schools, yet refuse to be audited, refuse to disclose their finances, and shun the accountability and transparency they promise.

As we have seen again and again, whether in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Indiana, or other states, charter management organizations claim that their charters are public, but organization running them is private and has no obligation to open its books to anyone. In some states–although Baker doesn’t go into this– the legislature makes sure that charters are not held accountable because of adroit lobbying by the charter industry or generous campaign contributions to key legislators.

Baker writes: “Whatever problems do exist with the design of our public bureaucracies, I would argue that we should exercise extreme caution in accepting uncritically the belief that we could not possibly do worse, and that large scale privatization and contracting of private entities to provide the public good is necessarily a better and more responsive, more efficient, transparent and accountable option.”

Baker avers that the issue of students’ rights is not trivial. He writes:

“Rather, day after day, week after week, we are subjected to more and more vacuous punditry by self-proclaimed “expert” pundits displaying an astounding ignorance of education law and callous disregard for our system of government and the U.S. Constitution.

“For example, it would appear that charter schools that are not “state actors” (which may include most that are governed by boards of private citizens and especially those managed by private companies/EMOs or CMOs) may require students to abide by disciplinary/conduct codes which involve compelling those students to recite belief statements about the school (mottos, pledges, loyalty oaths), obligatory participation in indoctrination activities and imposition of financial penalties for disciplinary infractions, none of which would be permissible in traditional public schools. Government entities – state actors – may not compel speech and especially may not compel statements of belief.

“So then, what is a family to do when no traditional public schools are available to them (as is practically the case in many areas of New Orleans and increasingly the case in other higher charter market share cities)? Should parents have to choose which rights to forgo? [picking the school with the financial penalties over the one requiring daily recitation of a loyalty oath?]

“Can (as some belligerent civic illiterate, pundits believe) entire urban school systems be replaced with charter schools – or the traditional public schools adopt the lessons of “chartering” which involve infringement of constitutional rights? Is it reasonable to assume that the entire student population of a city would be placed in a position of necessarily forgoing their rights to free expression, free exercise?

“I hear those reformy pundits cry… “but who cares about a little constitutional protection here and there if we can squeeze out an extra point or two on state assessments [via selective attrition of low performing peers]? They’ll be better for it in the long run!”

“Yeah… sure… that’s all well and good for someone else’s kids. I for one believe the constitution continues to have a purpose and that constitutional rights should be equally available to all people’s children. I believe that constitutional protections are a key element of an accountable education system available to all – not just some.

“This is a big freakin’ deal. An important policy trade-off to consider, if you will. This is a critically important tradeoff to consider when adopting policies that expand non-state-actor charter schooling, even if some marginal academic gain can be achieved….Poor and minority children should not be disproportionately required to forgo constitutional protections (and a variety of statutory protections) to gain access to those few additional test score points. Further, no-one is telling them that they even have rights to begin with – especially those pitching the charter expansion policies (constantly spewing the rhetoric of the “publicness” of charter schooling).”

Baker is appalled that some state education agencies now play an advocacy role for charters, forgetting tat their first obligation is to the public. He writes:

“Taken to the extremes, State Education Agency and public media flaunting of chartery miracles has created a distorted market for those charters that are least proven on the market (perhaps in some cases, lemons), with those charters that are most proven already over-subscribed and not needing to compete openly. So, those most available on the market are those whose actual performance/quality is far lower than that which is capturing the headlines and receiving accolades from state officials. [not quite a true market for lemons since the price - education "credit" is fixed ... though perhaps I can expand on this at a later point].”

Baker was once an advocate for charters. What turned him off? Boasting, miracle claims, disregard for evidence by the charter industry and its enthusiastic flacks in the media:

“It is the absurd punditry, intentional obfuscation and complete disregard for legitimate data/analysis on charter schooling that have perhaps soured my taste for the movement more than anything else (bearing in mind that I was a founding member of the AERA special interest group on Charter School research and, at the time, was largely an advocate myself).”

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