I am really sorry to have to publish posts like this. I don’t want to see any teacher quit, especially the veteran teachers who are needed to help new teachers learn the ropes. And yet, there is a massive outflow of teaching talent from our public schools, caused by the soul-deadening testing regime that has throttled creativity and independent thought among teachers and students like. The spirit of standardization is alive in the land, and teachers feel they are under assault if they do not conform and comply. Some just can’t do it. I urge them to stay and fight, for the sake of the children, but for many teachers the conditions have become intolerable. I know that the modal year of teaching experience has dropped from 15 in 1988 to only one or two today; that is a frightening statistic. I have been in schools where no one had more than five or six years of experience. That is awful. Some education schools report a dramatic decline in enrollments. At some point, we must attribute the deliberate attacks on the teaching profession to the so-called reform movement that holds teachers “accountable” for everything wrong in the lives of children. Researchers state without question, even conservative researchers like Eric Hanushek, that the influence of family far exceeds that of the teacher, yet reformers have turned teachers into their targets while doing nothing to improve the lives of children or families.

This article was published on Valerie Strauss’s blog “The Answer Sheet” at the Washington Post. As Strauss writes, “Susan Sluyter is a veteran teacher of young children in the Cambridge Public Schools who has been connected to the district for nearly 20 years and teaching for more than 25 years. Last month she sent a resignation letter ( “with deep love and a broken heart”) explaining that she could no longer align her understanding of how young children learn best in safe, developmentally appropriate environments with the testing and data collection mandates imposed on teachers today.

Read Sluyter’s entire letter. It begins like this:

When I first began teaching more than 25 years ago, hands-on exploration, investigation, joy and love of learning characterized the early childhood classroom.  I’d describe our current period as a time of testing, data collection, competition and punishment. One would be hard put these days to find joy present in classrooms.

I think it started with No Child Left Behind years ago.  Over the years I’ve seen this climate of data fascination seep into our schools and slowly change the ability for educators to teach creatively and respond to children’s social and emotional needs.  But this was happening in the upper grades mostly.  Then it came to kindergarten and PreK, beginning a number of years ago with a literacy initiative that would have had us spending the better part of each day teaching literacy skills through various prescribed techniques.  ”What about math, science, creative expression and play?” we asked.  The kindergarten teachers fought back and kept this push for an overload of literacy instruction at bay for a number of years.

Next came additional mandated assessments.  Four and five year olds are screened regularly each year for glaring gaps in their development that would warrant a closer look and securing additional supports (such as O.T, P.T, and Speech Therapy) quickly.   Teachers were already assessing each child three times a year to understand their individual literacy development and growth.  A few years ago, we were instructed to add periodic math assessments after each unit of study in math.  Then last year we were told to include an additional math assessment on all Kindergarten students (which takes teachers out of the classroom with individual child testing, and intrudes on classroom teaching time.)

Every year, the mandates grew more academic and less child-friendly. The demand for standards and assessments grew more insistent, more detailed, more onerous:

There is a national push, related to the push for increased academics in Early Childhood classrooms, to cut play out of the kindergarten classroom.  Many kindergartens across the country no longer have sand tables, block areas, drama areas and arts and crafts centers.  This is a deeply ill-informed movement, as all early childhood experts continuously report that 4, 5 and 6 year olds learn largely through play.  Play is essential to healthy development and deep foundational learning at the kindergarten level.  We kindergarten teachers in Cambridge have found ourselves fighting to keep play alive in the kindergarten classroom.

Last year we heard that all kindergarten teachers across the state of Massachusetts were to adopt one of a couple of in-depth comprehensive assessments to perform with each kindergarten child three times a year.  This requires much training and an enormous amount of a teacher’s time to carry out for each child.  Cambridge adopted the Work Sampling System, which is arguably a fine tool for assessment, but it requires a teacher to leave the classroom and focus on assessment even more, and is in addition to other assessments already being done.  The negative impact of this extensive and detailed assessment system is that teachers are forced to learn yet another new and complicated tool, and are required to spend significantly less time in the classroom during the three assessment periods, as they assess, document evidence to back up their observations, and report on each child.  And it distracts teachers yet again from their teaching focus, fracturing their concentration on teaching goals, projects, units of study, and the flow of their classroom curriculum.

Conditions for teaching kindergarten children grew increasingly oppressive. Finally, on February 12, Susan Sluyter submitted her resignation letter. She concluded it in this way:

I was trying to survive in a community of colleagues who were struggling to do the same:  to adapt and survive, to continue to hold onto what we could, and to affirm what we believe to be quality teaching for an early childhood classroom.  I began to feel a deep sense of loss of integrity.  I felt my spirit, my passion as a teacher, slip away.  I felt anger rise inside me.  I felt I needed to survive by looking elsewhere and leaving the community I love so dearly.  I did not feel I was leaving my job.  I felt then and feel now that my job left me.

It is with deep love and a broken heart that I write this letter.

The so-called reform movement is destroying the lives of teachers and hurting children. It must be stopped. Soon, our classrooms will be filled with temps who come to teach for a few years, knowing only one thing: test scores matter most. None of the reformers would do this to their own children. Why do we let them do it to Other People’s Children–and to ours? This madness must end.