Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

Teacher Nora De La Cour writes on her blog that it is time to restore the joy of teaching and learning by abolishing high-stakes testing. She writes that candidate Joe Biden forcefully promised to get rid of standardized testing and restore teacher autonomy, but Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona seems unwilling to commit to granting states a waiver from the mandated federal testing. He did not seek a waiver for Connecticut when he was state commissioner there, and he was noncommittal at his Senate hearings.

She writes:

While NCLB and RTT were marketed as efforts to strengthen public education for disadvantaged students, the overwhelming action of these reforms has been to redirect funding away from normal school operations in under-resourced districts, impose state takeovers and other dehumanizing restructuring plans, and replace community schools with privately run charters. The rampant school closures precipitated by NCLB and RTT have mainly impacted schools attended by the poor black and brown students who are used as mascots by those pushing these neoliberal “equity and accountability” measures. Researchers have documented links between high-stakes testing and high incarceration rates. Test scores have been used to limit opportunitiesfor students with disabilities, another group hailed as primary beneficiaries of test-based reforms.  


The obsession with standardized testing has drained K-12 public education of the vibrant, joyful things that make kids want to be in school. Districts have been forced to cut art, music, extracurriculars, and recess in order to save time and money for tests and test prep. 

The Bill Gates-funded Common Core Standards that drive the current tests have undermined teachers’ creative autonomy, stripping us of our ability to shape instruction around what motivates our students. Instead of teaching whole novels and plays, language arts teachers are pushed into teaching mainly “informational texts” (as though fiction doesn’t contain information) and decontextualized literary excerpts. My students experienced Frankenstein, for example, not as a gripping monster story that prompts questions about what it means to be human, but as a lifeless fragment on a practice test, from which they were required to extract and regurgitate specific information that corporate test-makers deem important. 

She adds, quite accurately:

Standardized tests do not measure teaching. Indeed, the premise that poor children struggle because their teachers are lazy is both racist (teachers of color are more likely to have low-income students) and illogical (why on earth would lazy people pursue positions in underfunded schools?). Contrary to claims, standardized tests don’t measure the skills needed for fulfilling jobs requiring complex problem-solving (although the curiosity- and criticality-punishing accountability system unquestionably prepares kids for drudgery under capitalism). Standardized tests cannot account for the myriad forms meaningful learning can take. The only thing these assessments reliably measure is poverty.

Despite Biden’s promise to get rid of the test-driven policies of the past 20 years, the jury is out on whether he will follow through and he is being pressured by Gates-funded groups to hold fast to the testing regime.

It’s true that some high-profile civil rights groups continue to push for standardized testing–a fact that is reported everywhere privatizers have clout. These civil rights organizations use the same “guideposts for equity” logic Cardona invoked in his statement on 2021 testing for Connecticut students. Unfortunately, many of these groups rely on funding from Gates and other pro-privatization philanthropists and corporations. This funding can mean a variety of things, but it’s reasonable to surmise that some degree of political alignment occurs. 

If standardized tests were actually about ensuring equity, they would not have triggered the closure of schools attended by low-income students of color. If the reforms that spawned these tests were actually about increasing accountability, they would not have occasioned the transfer of power over classroom learning from teachers and publicly accountable officials to hedge fund-backed charter-boosters and profit-hungry edu-businesses

Nora De La Cour has some smart observations about testing and equity, as well as the political forces compelling teachers to do what they know is not in the best interests of their students. This post is well worth a read!

Like everyone else, Jan Resseger has seen the repeated pleas for Big Data to measure “learning loss.” She knowscth

I have been writing for many years about the low quality “education” that virtual charter schools provide their students. They make fabulous promises in their marketing materials, but the results for their schools are awful. Their students have low test scores, low graduation rates, and high attrition rates. Their teachers often have huge classes. Study after study has demonstrated that those who attend these virtual charters get a very poor quality education. One CREDO study found that it was equivalent to not going to school at all. K12 Inc. is fabulously profitable, but not for its students.

A teacher responded to this post by writing the following comment on this blog:

Indeed, “It IS worth pondering why and how the Democratic Party abandoned its longstanding belief in equitable, well-resourced public schools as a common good.” As a newly credentialed secondary school teacher in California, my first (and, to date, last) full-time “public school” employment occurred at CA Virtual Academies, a subsidiary of K12, inc. (now a.k.a. Stride).

Little did I know when I began that the challenges of public school teaching would extend far beyond meeting with students and striving to my utmost ability to connect them with subject matter discipline in authentic and invigorating ways, especially via remote learning in the “virtual” world of computer technology. Most challenging and ultimately most responsible for my having to leave teaching (hopefully temporarily) was the for-profit, private publicly traded corporation’s administrators’ demands not only that I perform an inhuman amount of work but that I do it without thought for the quality of education my students received and for less money than my brick-and-mortar school teacher counterparts.

When my human system (body, heart, and mental health) broke under the strain of their inhuman work schedule, CAVA’s corporate policy to prohibit supervisors from writing professional letters of recommendation for their former teachers sounded the death knell for my up-until-then promising teaching career.

Now, heart-broken and soul-sick from losing a job I loved while I WAS able to perform it and a career I relied upon for survival, I am struggling to muster the strength and humility necessary to begin substitute or part-time teaching again, essentially starting my career all over again as no school will hire me without professional letters of recommendation written within the past one to three years.

I am incredulous, especially in light of COVID-19’s inevitable effect on public education, that the federal government allowed for-profit corporations K12, inc. and Pearson Education to develop and mass distribute their Virtual Academies and Connections Academies across the nation over the past decade or so primarily at the tax-payers’ expense without at least also developing a state-sponsored and US Education Department “owned” Virtual School program as well.

Though it seems nauseatingly naive in retrospect, I had hoped and at one time believed that “free and fair education for all” could and logically should include our nation’s public schools having efficient access to the technologies and mass deployment systems for online education which our tax dollars have paid for.

Instead, I now realize that an otherwise logical process of voting tax payers receiving the public education they deserve has been perhaps irrevocably hijacked and perverted by the “double-speak” of “school choice” proponents and the contemporary scourge of insatiably greedy corporations.

You have my profoundest albeit bitter-sweet Gratitude, Ms. Ravitch, for your having the courage, tenacity, and strong stomach to share the truth about public education in this nation: If I did not have you and a few others like you to read and learn from, I would be hopelessly lost in despair and disbelief. Thank you and please keep searching out the truth behind lies.

A teacher in California, who must remain anonymous to protect her job, wrote this post. CAASP testing is the Common Core test produced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

“We are 100% virtual, and teachers just had to sign an affidavit regarding CAASPP testing. I cannot believe they are STILL going forward with this. They expect that kids will 1) be in a quiet place with no distractions, 2) have their cameras on at all times, 3) not be using any other materials except pencil/paper, 4) that kids will have earbuds/headphones so they can hear the audio portion, 5) that kids won’t talk about the test content with ANYBODY.

And then, teachers are 1) supposed to simultaneously monitor 20+ students’ cameras and computer screens, 2) write down every time a student looks away or commits some other infraction, 3) keep every kid from unmuting their microphones (impossible).

I have students who stagger their time on chromebooks because of limited Wi-Fi, students who are self-conscious and terrified to have their cameras on, students who have multiple siblings all trying to do virtual meetings at once, students who literally hide in the bathroom so they can concentrate on my teaching (until they are kicked out 10 minutes later), students who are home alone at 8-10 years old, and I could go on. How is this EQUITABLE? How will the results be ACCURATE? I just cannot understand the rationale behind going forward with CAASPP testing. Oh, and 99% of our student body has to take the CAASPP in order for our results to be valid. Do you think that is going to happen? I am not being negative; I’m being realistic. I am praying that the decision makers will come to realize how ridiculous it is to try and do this test virtually.”

The teacher who forwarded this post added this thought:

This is where we are in CA right now despite CTA’s push to cancel the test, everything is moving forward. I just finished two weeks of MAP testing, 200 students from my school of 1200 did not finish and yet they think we are going to do the SBAC test which is four times longer.

Bob Shepherd returned to teaching after many years in the education publishing industry, where he developed curriculum and assessments. He writes about what changed while he was away. Thanks to State and federal mandates, he found himself ensnared by stand

I taught at the beginning of my career, had a successful career in educational publishing, and then returned to teaching at the end of my career. What a difference these years made!!!!

At the beginning of my career, I had English Department Chairpeople who were highly experienced teachers. The general attitude of administrators was that English teachers were the experts on English, History teachers the experts on History and the teaching of History, etc., and they pretty much stayed out of stuff that wasn’t their business. We in the English Department would hold regular meetings and discuss what was and wasn’t working in our classes, choose curricula, share tips and lesson plans and materials (many of which we had developed), and set policies and procedures. Once a year, the English Department chairperson would do evaluations of the teachers in his or her department. We made our own tests. There was enormous opportunity for innovation because we could actually discuss with one another various pedagogical approaches and curricular materials and make our own decisions. Our discussions/debates about pedagogy and curricula were vigorous and spirited. Many of the teachers were older women who had been doing the job for years. They were, almost to a person, scholarly and highly knowledgeable. The kids learned a lot.

I loved teaching. The only reason I left was that the pay wasn’t great. I started a family, and the year I left, I almost tripled my salary.

Flash forward 25 years. When I returned to teaching, everything was micromanaged. We still had department meetings, but these had devolved into sessions in which the Department chairperson read to us the latest mandates from our administration or from the state. Curriculum materials were chosen for us and were HORRIBLE, test-preppy crap. We were expected to follow a day-by-day script from the state. Formal evaluations were done four times a year by APs or the Principal, using mandated checklists, and in addition, there were four other informal evaluations and a system of demerits for not completing an enormous list of requirements (if, for example, an AP came into one’s classroom and the standard, bellwork, essential question, daily vocabulary, and homework for the hour’s lesson weren’t posted on the board; if one’s Data Wall or lesson plan book (each class had to have a two-page lesson plan in a folder) were not completed and up to date; and so on (there were hundreds of such requirements–far too many for anyone to keep track of them). In short, the Department Chairperson and the teachers had lost all autonomy. We were expected to do enormous amounts of test prep because what mattered–to the evaluations of the students, of us, of the administrators, and the school–were the scores on the invalid, sloppy, ridiculous state tests. My pay depended upon the school’s state rating based upon those demonstrably invalid tests.

And the teachers had changed. They were mostly young. They were not scholarly and not knowledgeable. “What’s a gerund?” the 26-year-old English Department Chairperson asked me, looking at the month’s required grammar topics. “Oh, what’s that book?” a fellow English teacher asked me about a volume I was carrying. Never heard of this guy. YEETS?”

“Yeats,” I said. “His collected poems.”

“Oh, I don’t read poetry,” she said.

The Reading Coordinator informed us that our 9th graders had to read ALL of the Odyssey, in her words, “the ENTIRE NOVEL.” She freaking thought that The Odyssey was a novel!!! When we met to discuss a classical literature unit, she had no idea that the term referred to the literature of ancient Greece and Rome.

And there was enormous churn. Between a quarter and a third of the teaching staff every year.

To teach at all sanely, I had to pretend to be following the rules while secretly making my own curricular materials in the form of handouts.

I spent most of my time carrying out required tasks that were of ZERO value to my students, most of the related, in one way or another, to supposed “accountability.”

The profession had been utterly ruined in the name of “reform.”

Mercedes Schneider penned a plea to President-Elect Joe Biden, urging him to appoint a career teacher as his Secretary of Education.

She writes:

It is about time for someone with seasoned K12 classroom experience to hold that position. Not someone with ladder-climbing, token K12 classroom experience. Not someone who is a basketball playing pal of his buddy, the president (aka Arne Duncan). And not someone who is an activist for private schools and who admitted publicly to “not intentionally visiting schools that are underperforming” (that, of course, would be DeVos).

I am tired of being tossed to and fro by ill-conceived education platforms that chain America’s education be-all, end-all to standardized test scores. And that is why I believe a seasoned K12 classroom teacher needs to be the next US ed sec: A seasoned K12 classroom teacher knows the sting of the idiocy of standardized testing firsthand. The foolishness of trying to gauge the value of American education via test score is not an intellectual exercise to a seasoned K12 classroom teacher. It is not theoretical. It is not removed. It is a frustrating reality stretching across school years and decades.

The genuine, career K12 classroom teacher knows firsthand the stupidity of wasting time, money, and personnel pretending that grading schools and teachers using standardized tests somehow informs teachers, parents, and the public about the quality of the multifaceted educational life of a school and its students.

We need to break free of this testing prison, and we need an experienced K12 classroom advocate in our US secretary of education. Not an ideologue. Not a dictator. Not a politician. Not even a higher-ed academic.

An advocate. With. Career. K12. Experience.

The Network for Public Education is allied with Pastors for Texas Children. PTC has been a courageous leader in the fight for our public schools and against privatization.

The leader of PTC wrote the following statement:

Statement from Reverend Charles Foster Johnson on the 2020 Elections
Pastors for Texas Children extends a hearty congratulations to all those elected and re-elected to serve our children in the 87th Texas Legislature! Both incumbents and challengers fought hard and often confrontational, contentious campaigns that produced untold stress on them and their families. This is the messy price we pay for open and free elections, and we honor all candidates for serving the public in this important and sacrificial way. We have held every candidate in our prayers, and will continue to do so. We note with profound gratification the emphasis on public education in this electoral cycle. Virtually every incumbent and challenger ran on a strong public education platform. It is clear that the people of Texas want their House of Representatives to be fully affirming of great public schools for all 5.4 million Texas children, promote policies that protect and provide for them, and oppose policies that harm them.  It is crystal clear what public education support means:

*Opposition to any voucher proposal, regardless of its name, that diverts funding away from our neighborhood public schools to underwrite private and home schools.

 Support for budget plans that adequately fund our children’s public education, for a comprehensive study that determines what that education actually costs in current dollars, and for new sources of state revenue to sustain HB3.  

Opposition to charter school expansion that drains money away from public schools.

Support for charter school transparency and accountability.

Opposition to burdensome standardized testing that teachers and parents clearly abhor.

Support for teacher authority and compensation.  

We will be working closely with all 150 House members and 31 Senate members to make sure these promises are put into action in the 87th Legislature. 

Universal education, provided and protected by the public, is an expression of God’s Common Good as well as a Texas constitutional mandate.  Our children are counting on us all to advocate for it.

Today is World Teachers Day. It’s a day we honor teachers around the world and thank them for their dedication and hard work, building our future.

Andy Hargreaves poses a thought experiment: Imagine a world without teachers!

He begins:

Never has there been a more important time than this moment, right now, to think about and appreciate what great teachers have done for our children and also for us. We have seen what the world looks like when its teachers are taken away from our children. We have witnessed online how teachers have struggled mightily to master complex digital platforms and to try and make virtual class interactions with children as enriching as possible. Plunged into virtual learning at very short notice, our own grandchild’s teacher has posted materials as early as 4am. We have also learned about all the teachers who delivered curriculum materials, workbooks, pens and paper to poor working class homes when many children were unable to access online learning. We’ve been experiencing a world without teachers. So it’s time to reflect on why teachers truly matter.

Andy remembers a teacher who changed his life, Mrs. Waring.

This is what so many teachers do. They inspire our children with new interests, develop their curiosity about learning, give them the chance to undertake protracted projects that enable them to explore their interests, and, to some extent, themselves in depth. And they engage with the totality of their children’s development as human beings. Even when you’re not perfect and have let yourself down, teachers like this still stand by you and help put you back on the right path again.

So it’s a disgrace and a shame that for more than 20 years, in many countries, politicians thought they could lower the cost of government spending by disinvesting in public education, and by demeaning and discouraging its teachers. They thought they could privatize schools and deregulate teaching so that teachers would be less qualified, less unionized, and less well supported, and therefore move on quickly before their salaries started to climb. And they thought and still sometimes think that teachers were expendable and could be substituted with digital devices. They claimed that education could take place anytime, anywhere, with teachers or without them. And they believed that impersonal algorithms could replace teachers’ professional judgments. Government leaders, media and business critics, and more than a few thought leaders, promulgated crude stereotypes of bad teaching that was allegedly ruining children’s lives. In-person teaching was portrayed as being teaching from the front, in the boring classes of factory age schools. These portrayals, as fictitious as the US voter ballots allegedly dumped into unnamed rivers, have then been used to try and replace teachers with online learning.

Then, all of a sudden, the biggest natural educational experiment in human history – taking nearly 2 billion children out of school – has made everyone think again. What is a world like without teachers?  

It’s a place without an economy because parents can’t go to work if their children aren’t in school.

It’s a place where teenagers can’t be with their peers, developing their senses of identity and responsibility away from their parents.

It’s a place that can’t protect young people from being bullied, or prevent many others from turning into bullies.

It’s a place that builds no sense of community or of how to participate in society.

It’s a place where teachers can’t be the high water mark that separates order from chaos, where they can’t intervene calmly when there’s trouble, and where there’s no-one to help children focus, when they are otherwise easily distracted.

A world without teachers is also a place where children have no way to learn how to express their own ideas and listen to others, to take their turn, and to value differences.

Teachers ignite new interests, show you the difference between your first effort and your best effort, and help you achieve things you never would have thought possible if you had been left to yourself.

Teachers help young people learn about racism, prejudice, climate change and the Holocaust, even and especially when youngsters’ parents don’t.

A world without teachers is a world deprived of learning and with a lot less love.  Appreciate your children’s teachers, and reflect back on the teachers who made a difference for you.

It’s time to bring our teachers back, not just physically in our schools, but also morally, at the very center of our societies. Please celebrate World Teachers Day.


Victoria Theisen Homer writes in Salon about the ways that remote learning distorts and devalues human relationships.

She writes:

Think of your favorite teacher. Whenever I ask people to do this, they usually tell me about a teacher who saw them: the one who took them aside and encouraged them to pursue art or computer science, who helped counsel them through a personal issue, who attended their Quinceañera — who, ultimately, just cared. By connecting with us in meaningful ways, these teachers not only earned a permanent place in our memories, they also engaged, challenged, and inspired us. Today, our nation’s 56.6 million elementary and secondary students could all use teachers like this, to help shepherd them through the pandemic and into a better future. But even in the best of times, school structures are more conducive to punitive discipline than meaningful teacher-student relationships, especially in our least-resourced schools. Today, with the challenges of virtual learning and the urgent messaging around “COVID slide” – the learning loss students may have suffered while they were out of school – relationships in schools are under further threat, just when students need them most.

Across the U.S., the pandemic has put a strain on families and children, many of whom continue to suffer from food insecurity, job loss, or the death of loved ones to COVID-19. So as kids begin school this year, they require connection, understanding, and nurturance from their teachers. While positive relationships with significant adult figures like teachers help children cope with trauma, such relationships also facilitate better learning. When students have meaningful relationships with their teachers, they are more likely to engage in class, more likely to feel like they can complete their school work, more likely to grow and achieve academically and personally. This is because learning is profoundly social.

But the pandemic has turned everything upside down.

Homer has prepared teachers. She studied some that entered affluent progressive schools where encouragement was the norm, and another group that taught in “no excuses” public school where conformity and obedience were customary.

The pandemic has extended “no-excuses” discipline into many schools that rely on remote learning.

She writes:

Schools across the country that primarily serve students of color and those from low-income backgrounds often adopt an approach to learning that centers on standardized test scores and control. For example, the other teacher education program in my study was situated in a “no excuses” charter school, the most prominent type of urban charter school (think KIPP or Success Academy), which aim to efficiently improve the academic achievement of children of color from low income backgrounds by eliminating anything they feel might distract students from learning (e.g. colorful socks, poor posture, indirect eye contact, talking in hallways).

At schools like this, educators maintain that there is no valid excuse for children’s failure to learn or behave. The teacher education program grounded in this context approached relationships like a formula: applying a series of discrete moves to accumulate “professional relationship capital” with students to increase their behavioral compliance and academic achievement. The director explained, “I think the foundation of the relationship is that my job is to try to generate maximum effort in thinking from you. That’s my job. It’s not to be your friend.”

Again, I followed graduates of this program into their first year of teaching at no excuses middle schools that primarily served students of color. These teachers also began the year by faithfully applying what they had learned about connecting with and disciplining students. They walked around their classrooms with timers in hand, smoothly assigned merits and demerits for behavior, integrated “little nuggets” they had recalled about students into brief interactions with them, and conducted “rebuilding conversations” after removing students from their class for infractions. It was all very efficient and controlled. Students were often silent, and hoped this approach would help them “succeed.” But they did not feel truly seen or understood as human beings by their teachers. One student explained, “I don’t think any of the teachers [know us].” And by the end of the year, one of these teachers admitted, “I think a lot of the kids sort of feel like it’s run like a jail…They’re very smart kids, and they understand that some of our rules are unnecessary, and overly strict, and un-empathetic.” The urgent insistence on academic achievement and behavioral conformity in these schools not only eroded opportunities for nurturing teacher-student relationships, it also conditioned students for subservience. This might be why some research indicates no excuses schools improve student test scores, but not life outcomes.

No excuses schools are not alone in this approach, though, and it now seems to be extending to virtual school. Desperate to counteract COVID-slide, educators are implementing plans to monitor and control student behavior during virtual class, including their attire, location, camera-use, attentiveness, and snacking. This is unfortunate but not surprising, because whenever the focus of schooling turns to quantifiable educational outcomes like standardized test scores or budgetary efficiencies, students are treated like products that must be regulated. Of course, humans are not products, and we all have very good excuses not to be performing as others may want us to right now, but the forces that govern schools don’t seem to get that. Because affluent and white students are more likely to attend schools with the resources to support meaningful relationships and less likely to be penalized for virtual or in-person violations, students of color will bear the brunt of this coming “discipline crisis,” which is really a crisis for relationships. For while relationships connect children to teachers and schools, harsh discipline severs ties.

Efforts to close the academic “gaps” that grew wider during COVID have facilitated the worst kinds of teaching.

Melanie Sirof is a teacher in the Bellmore-Merrick School District on Long Island innNew York.


“Let’s start rowing in the same direction”.

“Posting this now, before I walk into the first day of meetings that signal the start of school. I’m sure by three o’clock I will feel overwhelmed & frustrated, so I write this now, while I am still clear-eyed:

Know this, parents, we teachers are going to make the most of this lemon of a situation. We want your students to have a great year & not just “a great year, all things considered.” We are aware of our place in the story of your child’s life, understand that they only get one “senior English teacher” (or Math, or Chem, or Gov), one sixth grade experience. So we are going to do our best to live up to that mythology. We want your children to discover things about the world & themselves they had not known before our time together & our time starts now.

Can you help? Can you stop talking about what a disaster this is going to be? (Perhaps it will be, but let’s not lose the game before we get on the court.) Can you help your kids to respectfully reach out to us when they are struggling? Can you set them up for success with a mindset that says “yeah, this is the hand we were dealt, & look how everyone is doing the best they can with it.” Can you give them some agency in this, help them understand the buy-in? Can you stop calling out teachers you feel did your students wrong on social media? Give them the benefit of the doubt (a rough day, an honest but not malicious mistake) or the professional courtesy of handling the issue privately?

This will not be a lost year, it will not be a year of treading water, this will be a year in the story of your child’s life & you & I & they have the power to create some true greatness here. That is how we would like to be remembered when they come together in 10 and 20 years for reunions, when their own children (should they choose that path) start school & they are sitting around the dinner table swapping stories. We want your kid to say “Oh yeah, I remember my __th grade teacher…” & then start to tell funny stories about class or remember something they learned that year & never forgot, a new way to look at the world, a new part of themselves.

It’s a big ask, to want be remembered that way, maybe selfish and a bit self-aggrandizing to want to seize the opportunity given every teacher every September. But so many of us are in front of the classroom for exactly that reason, we had teachers we still talk about, people we met at 15 who continue to influence us at 45.

Let us do that -in person, or remotely, or some combination of both- we want the best for your children. Yes, we are all in the same boat, let’s start rowing in the same direction.”

Melanie Sirof
English Teacher
Mepham High School