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June 26, Rethinking Schools editor Wayne Au spoke at a Seattle rally protesting the role of the Gates Foundation in public education: “Educating the Gates Foundation.” The rally was sponsored by Washington BATS (Bad-Ass Teachers) and Washington Save Our Schools. This is the speech he delivered at the rally. 

Educating the Gates Foundation Rally Remarks

by Wayne AuWayne Au

Good evening. I’m here tonight because I am deeply concerned. I’m concerned that public education is rapidly becoming privatized. I’m concerned that we are all part of a grand experiment, one that is hurting kids and communities. I’m concerned that we are losing democratic, public accountability in public education. I’m concerned with the state of public education reform and the role of Bill Gates and his foundation.

 

You see, right now Gates and his foundation are pushing an entire set of public education reforms like charter schools and vouchers, high-stakes, standardized testing, and using tests for teacher evaluation. We are getting this set of reforms purely because he and his foundation have leveraged vast financial resources to influence and negotiate politics. They are doing this despite all countervailing evidence, and they are doing this with no democratic accountability.

 

And that is just the thing. While Gates and his foundation tinker around with charter schools, high-stakes testing, the Common Core, and the junk science of using tests to evaluate teachers, they avoid the central and most important issue that impacts educational achievement: poverty.

 

But Gates and the Gates Foundation aren’t hearing that. As far as I can see, they are not about actual educational equality and equity. Instead they seem to be about opening up public education to the marketplace.

 

In fact, Gates has said as much. Back in 2009 in the run up to the Common Core, Gates said the following:

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.

 

I find this ironic. It seems to me that Gates wants to fix inequality in public education by relying on the same market forces responsible for the crisis in housing, the crisis in medical care, the climate crisis, the massive wealth gap, and the increase in the schools-to-prisons pipeline for youth of color, amongst other national travesties.

 

And all of this has me concerned because in many ways you and I and our children are unwillingly part of a grand experiment in education reform. Back in September of 2013, Gates himself said, “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.” These folks pushing these reforms do not know if they will work, but they are willing to experiment on an entire generation of children.

 

And this raises another issue that we must contend with: institutionalized racism. We know that the system of public education does not serve low-income black and brown kids like it should. Unfortunately, here in Seattle we are a great example of this given the low achievement and disproportionate discipline rates for students of color. But the question we have to ask ourselves is this: “Have these corporate styled reforms like charter schools and high-stakes testing actually improved the conditions of education for the least served?”

 

On the whole the answer is “no.” Low-income students of color have had their curriculum gutted because of the tests. They are far more likely to experience scripted instruction and rote learning purely to prepare for the tests. They are far more likely to have art, recess, music, physical education, and even science and social studies cut in preparation for the tests.

 

And despite their never ending promises, the charter school sector has continued to find ways to keep out English Language Learners and students with disabilities, expel or counsel away low performing kids of color, maintain intense racial segregation, and NOT, I repeat, NOT out perform regular public schools in terms of overall achievement.

 

Given that both failure on high-stakes tests as well as expulsion and suspension from school greatly increase the chances of students to get caught up in the criminal justice system, I would argue that these reforms contribute directly to the racism of the schools-to-prisons pipeline.

 

In this way low-income black and brown students of color are the ultimate guinea pigs for the Gates experiment in public education reform, and I think it is ethically, morally, and politically reprehensible that wealthy elites feel so free to experiment on our kids.

 

This is especially true given that Gates’ own children have not had to face any of his own reforms. In fact, I want all of our children in public schools to have what Gates’ children have had.

 

Take Lakeside Schools, where his kids have attended. They had small class sizes, a large, well endowed library, top notch facilities, and a rich curriculum. These things seem to work for children of the elite. Don’t the rest of our children deserve them as well?

 

Lakeside students also don’t have to take 5, 6, 7, or 8 high-stakes, standardized tests a year. As my dear friend and education activist Jesse Hagopian says, we could say the boycott of high-stakes testing in Seattle really started at schools like Lakeside because the rich have rejected having their children take these tests for years: They just sent them to elite private schools.

 

I also want all of our kids to have some other things those Lakeside students have, like food security, a stable home to live in, jobs for their parents that pay livable wages, access to free or affordable healthcare…You know, all the basic human rights that the rich can afford and, increasingly, the poor cannot.

 

If Gates and the Gates Foundation really want to start increasing the achievement of low income and students of color, and if they are unwilling to have the real conversation about growing race and class inequality in this country, then I’ve got a suggestion: Fund a nationwide campaign for the implementation of Ethnic Studies. We’ve got research that shows that Ethnic Studies, like the program that was banned by conservatives in Tucson, Arizona, contributed greatly to positive educational outcomes and college attainment of students of color there. In that program students learned about their cultural histories and identities, and they learned about institutional racism in this country.

 

But I doubt we’ll see any Gates-funded campaign for Ethnic Studies because it doesn’t have the right kind of politics.

 

Speaking of politics, as the Seattle Times reported, Bill Gates recently said that, “These are not political things,” and that he’s merely supporting research about making education more effective. I’d like to close my speech tonight by pointing out how this statement rings hollow in so many ways.

 

For instance, we have ample research on the critical impact of smaller class sizes, the importance of culturally relevant practices, the fallacy of using test scores to evaluate teachers, the increased inequity produced by charter schools, the harmful effects of high-stakes, standardized testing, and the central role poverty plays in educational achievement. But Gates and his foundation don’t care to listen to any of this. They have their own agenda for public education, and they are wielding their mighty resources to advance this agenda with disregard of sound critiques or public deliberation.

 

Gates’ statement also rings hollow because these are all political things. Poverty is a political thing. Institutionalized racism is a political thing. High-stakes testing is a political thing. Charter school policy is a political thing. Private school vouchers is a political thing. All curriculum, especially the Common Core, is a political thing. Teachers’ rights to due process and protections provided by union contracts are political things.

 

When you attack public education and try to reshape it along the lines of private industry, and you do it with no democratic accountability to the public, THAT is a political thing. Every aspect of education policy is a political thing, and it is ignorant of Gates to think or say otherwise.

 

But that is why I am standing here tonight. That is why you are here as well. We all know better. We all know that public education is a political thing, and we all know that public education is a political thing worth fighting for. We can win this fight. Together we can remake our schools in ways that actually meet the social, cultural, and academic needs of ALL of our children. We can resist the privatizers like Gates. We can put the Public back into public education.

 

Thank you.

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by David Morris

Editor’s note:  This news has been making the rounds in education activist circles, and we wanted to further amplify this important message. Turns out corporate style reform isn’t just bad for schools, it’s bad for corporations.

Schools have a lot to learn from business about how to improve performance, declared Bill Gates in an Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2011. He pointed to his own company as a worthy model for public schools.

BillGatesBill Gates foisted a big business model of employee evaluation onto public schools, which his own company has since abandoned. “At Microsoft, we believed in giving our employees the best chance to succeed, and then we insisted on success. We measured excellence, rewarded those who achieved it and were candid with those who did not.”

Adopting the Microsoft model means public schools grading teachers, rewarding the best and being “candid,” that is, firing those who are deemed ineffective. “If you do that,” Gates promised Oprah Winfrey, “then we go from being basically at the bottom of the rich countries [in education performance] to being back at the top.”

The Microsoft model, called “stack ranking” forced every work unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, certain groups as good performers, then average, then below average, then poor.

Using hundreds of millions of dollars in philanthropic largesse Bill Gates persuaded state and federal policymakers that what was good for Microsoft would be good for public schools (to be sure, he was pushing against an open door). To be eligible for large grants from President Obama’s Race to the Top program, for example, states had to adopt Gates’ Darwinian approach to improving public education. Today more than 36 states have altered their teacher evaluations systems with the aim of weeding out the worst and rewarding the best.

Some states grade on a curve. Others do not. But all embrace the principle that continuing employment for teachers will depend on improvement in student test scores, and teachers who are graded “ineffective” two or three years in a row face termination.

Needless to say, the whole process of what has come to be called “high stakes testing” of both students and teachers has proven devastatingly dispiriting. According to the 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, over half of public school teachers say they experience great stress several days a week and are so demoralized that their level of satisfaction has plummeted from 62 percent in 2008 to 39 percent last year.

And now, just as public school systems have widely adopted the Microsoft model in order to win the Race to the Top, it turns out that Microsoft now realizes that this model has pushed Microsoft itself into a Race to the Bottom.

In a widely circulated 2012 article in Vanity, award-winning reporter Fair Kurt Eichenwald concluded that stack ranking “effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stacked ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

This month Microsoft abandoned the hated system.

On November 12 all Microsoft employees received a memo from Lisa Brummel, Executive Vice President for Human Resources announcing the company will be adopting “a fundamentally new approach to performance and development designed to promote new levels of teamwork and agility for breakthrough business impact.”

Ms. Brummel listed four key elements in the company’s new policy.

  • More emphasis on teamwork and collaboration.
  • More emphasis on employee growth and development.
  • No more use of a Bell curve for evaluating employees.
  • No more ratings of employees.

Sue Altman at EduShyster vividly sums up the frustration of a nation of educators at this new development. “So let me get this straight. The big business method of evaluation that now rules our schools is no longer the big business method of evaluation? And collaboration and teamwork, which have been abandoned by our schools in favor of the big business method of evaluation, is in?”

Big business can turn on a dime when the CEO orders it to do so. But changing policies embraced and internalized by dozens of states and thousands of public school districts will take far, far longer. Which means the legacy of Bill Gates will continue to handicap millions of students and hundreds of thousands of teachers even as the company Gates founded along with many other businesses, have thrown his pernicious performance model in the dustbin of history.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Related Resources

Taking Teacher Quality Seriously: A Collaborative Approach to Teacher Evaluation, by Stan Karp

Neither Fair, Nor Accurate:  Research-based reasons why high-stakes tests should not be used to evaluate teachers, by Wayne Au

Professional Development: New terrain for big business? by Rachael Gabriel and Jessica N. Lester

Special collection from Rethinking Schools: Keeping Quality Teachers Teaching

CovrPencilsDown120229.3_42Pencils Down:  Rethinking High-Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schoolsedited by Wayne Au and Melissa Bollow Tempel

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On Friday, Rethinking Schools editor Stan Karp delivered a speech “The Trouble with Common Core” to Portland area parents, educators, administrators, elected officials, among others.  (See our summer editorial with the same title.)

Watch and share.

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By Ann Berlak

For the first time since I can remember some members of the American Educational Research Association (AERA)—the largest association of educators and educational researchers in the world—are taking a public stand at AERA’s annual meeting in San Francisco against the corporatization, standardization and privatization of education.

reclaimaera-thumbnailSadly, the leadership of AERA has invited Arne Duncan, who represents and supports the technocratic, dehumanizing forces of privatization to speak on Tuesday, April 30, 3:45 p.m. at the Hilton Hotel. This and other actions by the AERA serve to support the dismantling of education as a public good, narrow the possibilities of what it means to research, know, learn and share our understandings, and marginalize and silence voices of dissent.

We are inviting teachers, administrators, students, parents and concerned community members to join those of us at AERA as we make visible our support for public education and democratic empowerment

Here’s how you can get involved:

In person. 

Contact your friends and colleagues in the Bay area and join our protest.  We especially are looking for Oakland and San Francisco parents and teachers to join us in the on-the-ground protest.

Virtually. 

Read the statement from AERA members:

As members of the American Educational Research Association we are committed to:

  • free and equal public education for all as a cornerstone of democracy.
  • research, scholarship and policy making that grows from and with communities  that are impacted by these.
  • knowledge production as varied, multiple and contextual.
  • research, scholarship and policy free from the interests of corporations and venture philanthropists.
  • public education-at every level-as a space for social imagination and the practice of freedom.

AERA has failed to take a public stance in support of these commitments and has not provided space for meaningful dialogue about how we can enact these commitments. Instead, AERA supports: 

  • narrowing of ‘acceptable’ research to demands of quantification and standardization.
  • affiliation with corporate sponsors like Pearson, Inc.
  • denial of the impact of corporate influences when it accepts for publication articles authored by writers from corporate sponsored think tanks.
  • complacency in the face of the ongoing assault on education and incursions of corporations into research and practice led by such actors as: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and Rupert Murdoch’s Wireless Generation

Case in point: invited “education researcher’ Secretary Duncan whose policies have led to:

  • school closings; increased testing; narrowing of curriculum; undermining of collective bargaining; increasing of for profit charter schools; increased corporate influence in education.
  • students, teachers, parents, and scholars threatened, silenced, and abandoned.

We invite our colleagues, students, and parents to refuse the corporatization of education, build alliances to resist its policies, and join the conversation as we imagine education as the practice of freedom.

Ann Berlak is a regular contributor to Rethinking Schools and most recently wrote  “Coming Soon to Your Favorite Credential Program: National Exit Exams” on the early California version of edTPA in our summer 2010 issue.

Related Resources:

V23-3Spring 2009:  The Duncan Myth

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In a public statement released today, more than sixty educators and researchers [UPDATE: now 130+], including some of the most well-respected figures in the field of education, pledged support for the boycott of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test initiated by the teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle, calling the action a “blow against the overuse and misuse of standardized tests.” Among the signers of the statement are former US Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, author Jonathan Kozol and professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige. While the MAP test is used exclusively for rating teachers, “the test’s developers (the Northwest Evaluation Association) have noted the inappropriateness of using tests for such evaluations” the educators wrote.

“We’ve had more than a decade of standardized testing,” Ravitch said, “and now we need to admit that it’s not helping.” She added: “By signing this statement, I hope to amplify the voices of teachers who are saying ‘enough is enough’.”

“On Martin Luther King Day, we celebrate people who are willing to take personal risks to act according to their conscience,” Lewis said. “The teachers at Garfield High School are taking a stand for all of us.”

New York City public school teacher and doctoral student Brian Jones drafted the statement last week and received help with revisions and outreach from University of Washington professor Wayne Au. “I’m overwhelmed by the response to this statement,” Jones said, “I feel like this is the beginning of a real movement to challenge high stakes standardized testing.”

“We contacted leading scholars in the field of education,” Au said, “and nearly every single one said ‘Yes, I’ll sign.’ The emerging consensus among researchers is clear: high stakes standardized tests are highly problematic, to say the least.”

“When I look at this list of names, I see the people whose work helped to make me the teacher I am today,” Jesse Hagopian, a teacher at Garfield High School said. “Their support really means a lot to me, and I know that many teachers at Garfield High School feel the same way.”

The Statement: 

We Support the Teachers of Garfield High School

High-Stakes Standardized Tests are Overused and Overrated

The Use of Standardized Tests is Spreading

To fulfill the requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation, schools in all 50 states administer standardized tests to students, often beginning in third grade, in reading and math. Now, in response to the demands of Race to the Top and the trend toward greater “accountability” in education, states are developing even more tests for more subjects. Standardized tests, once used primarily to assess student learning, have now become the main instrument for the high-stakes evaluation of teachers, administrators, and even entire schools and school systems.

Tests Consume a Great Deal of Time and Money

Standardized testing is consuming an-ever growing proportion of education budgets nationwide. The total price tag may be nearly two billion dollars (1). Texas alone spent, last year, $90 million (2) on standardized testing. These tests are not a one hour or one day affair, but now can swallow up whole weeks of classroom time (3). In Chicago, some students must complete 13 standardized tests each year (4).

Testing Hurts Students

In the name of “raising standards” the growth of high stakes standardized testing has effectively lowered them. As the stakes for standardized tests are raised higher and higher, administrators and teachers have been forced to spend less time on arts, sciences, social studies, and physical education, and more time on tested subjects. The pressure to prepare students for standardized exams forces teachers to narrow instruction to only that material which will be tested (5). With the fate of whole schools and school systems at stake, cheating scandals have flourished, exposing many reform “miracles” in the process (6). Worse, focusing so much energy on testing undermines the intrinsic value of teaching and learning, and makes it more difficult for teachers and students to pursue authentic teaching and learning experiences.

Research does not Support Using Tests to Evaluate Teachers

As a means of assessing student learning, standardized tests are limited. No student’s intellectual process can be reduced to a single number. As a means of assessing teachers, these results are even more problematic. Research suggests that much of the variability in standardized test results are attributable to factors OTHER than the teacher (7). So-called “value-added” models for teacher evaluation have a large margin of error, and are not reliable measures of teacher performance (8).

Educators Are Taking a Stand for Authentic Teaching and Learning

In a nearly unanimous vote, the staff at Garfield High school in Seattle decided to refuse to administer the district’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. Research has shown that this test has no significant impact on reading scores (9). While serving other low-stakes district purposes in the Seattle Public Schools, it is only used as a high-stakes measure for teachers, even though the test’s developers (the Northwest Evaluation Association) have noted the inappropriateness of using tests for such evaluations. In taking this action, the educators at Garfield High School have struck a blow against the overuse and misuse of standardized tests, and deserve support. We, the undersigned (10), stand with these brave teachers and against the growing standardized testing industrial complex.
Signed*,

Curtis Acosta
Chican@/Latin@ Literature Teacher, Tucson

Lauren Anderson
University of Southern California

Sam Anderson
National Black Education Agenda

Taiwanna Anthony
Prairie View A&M University

Jean Anyon
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Michael W. Apple
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Fadhilika Atiba-Weza
Retired Superintendent

Wayne Au, University of Washington, Bothell
Rethinking Schools

Ann Aviles de Bradley
Northeastern Illinois University

Bill Ayers
University of Illinois, Chicago

Rick Ayers
University of San Francisco

Jeff Bale
Michigan State University

Johanna Barnhart
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Ann Berlak
San Francisco State University

Kenneth Bernstein
Maya Angelou Public Charter Middle School

Bill Bigelow
Rethinking Schools

Elizabeth Bissell
Putney Central School

Steve Brier
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Maureen T. Boler
PS17K, New York

Steve Brier
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Jacqueline Grennon Brooks
Hofstra University

Anthony Brown
University of Texas, Austin

Jim Burns
South Dakota State University

Kristen Lynn Buras
Urban South Grassroots Research Collective

Carol Burris
Keith Middle School, New Bedford

Keith Campbell
Saint Mary’s College of California

Kenneth Carano
Western Oregon University

Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Lesley University

Elizabeth Carroll
Appalachian State University

Cynthia Carvalho
Keith Middle School, New Bedford

Noam Chomsky
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Linda Christensen
Rethinking Schools

Anthony Cody
Education Week Teacher Magazine

Ross Collin
Manhattanville College

Kevin Cordeiro
Social Studies educator

Kim Cosier
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Keith Danner
University of California, Irvine

Antonia Darder
Loyola Marymount University

Noah DeLissovoy
University of Texas, Austin

Susan DuFresne
Teacher, Washington State

Susan Huddleston Edgerton
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Jeff Edmundson
University of Oregon

Shanti Elliott
Francis Parker School, Chicago

Christopher Erickson
Great Neck South High School

Pete Farruggio
University of Texas Pan American

Joseph Featherstone
Michigan State University

Anita Fernandez
Prescott College

Donna Fielding
Plainview–Old Bethpage  John F. Kennedy High School

Michelle Fine
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

B L Buddy Fish
Jackson State University

Nancy Flanagan
Education Week Teacher Magazine

Esther Fusco
Hoftstra University

Ofelia Garcia
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Ruth Wilson Gilmore
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Alice Ginsburg
Author

Gene Glass
University of Colorado, Boulder

Noah Asher Golden
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Joanna Goode
University of Oregon

Avery F. Gordon
University of California, Santa Barbara

Julie Gorlewski
State University of New York, New Paltz

Paul Gorski
George Mason University

Tim Goulet
Pipefitters Local Union 274

Karen Gourd
University of Washington, Bothell

Judith Gouwens
Roosevelt University

Sandy Grande
Connecticut College

Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs
Seattle University

Rico Gutstein
University of Illinois, Chicago

Helen Gym
Asian American United
Rethinking Schools

Leonie Haimson
Class Size Matters

Zoe Hammer
Prescott College

Nicholas D. Hartlep
Illinois State University

Barbara Hawkins
Teachers College,  Columbia University

Nick Henning
California State University, Fullerton

Jane Hirschmann
Time Out From Testing

Brian R. Horn
Illinois State University

James Horn
Cambridge College

Diane Horwitz
DePaul University

Nora Hyland
Rutgers

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality Public Education, Atlanta

Shaun Johnson
At the Chalk Face

Brian Jones
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Denisha Jones
Howard University

Marc Kagan
New York City School

Richard Kahn
Antioch University Los Angeles

Stan Karp
Rethinking Schools

Judith S. Kaufman
Hofstra University

Kenneth Kaufman
NYC High School Teacher

Bill Kennedy
University of Chicago

Joyce E. King
Georgia State University

Jonie Kipling
Hofstra University

Sid Kivanoski
Brooklyn Technical High School

Rachel Knoll
Mother, Educator
Madison, WI

Pamela J. Konkol
Concordia University Chicago

Jodi (Sacks) Kostbar
Professional Performing Arts School

Jonathan Kozol
Author

Steven Krashen
University of Southern California

Kevin Kumashiro
University of Illinois, Chicago
National Association for Multicultural Education

Raina J. Leon
St Mary’s College of California

Zeus Leonardo
California State University, Long Beach

Karen Lewis
Chicago Teachers Union

Pauline Lipman
University of Illinois, Chicago

Barbara Madeloni
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Tim Mahoney
Millersville University

Sallie A. Marston
University of Arizona

Victoria J. Maslow
New  York City Department of Education

Kavita Kapadia Matsko
University of Chicago

Morna McDermott
United Opt Out National

Kathleen McInerney
Saint Xavier University

Elizabeth Meadows
Roosevelt University

Erica R. Meiners
Northeastern Illinois University

Deborah  Meier
Coalition of Essential Schools

Nicholas Michelli
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Gregory Michie
Chicago Public School teacher
Concordia University Chicago

Alexandra Miletta
Mercy College

Alex Molnar
University of Colorado, Boulder
National Education Policy Center

Steevenson Mondelus
HOFSTRA graduate, Social Studies

Terry Moore
Save Our Schools

Mark Naison
Fordham University

National Association for Multicultural Education

Monty Neill
FairTest

Donna Nevel
New York University

Sonia Nieto
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Pedro Noguera
New York University

Isabel Nuñez
Concordia University Chicago

Dr. Tema Okun
National L0uis University

Edward Olivos
University of Oregon

Celia Oyler
Teachers College, Columbia University

Lisa (Leigh) Patel
Boston College

Thomas Pedroni
Wayne State University

Emery Petchauer
Oakland University

Bob Peterson
Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association
Rethinking Schools

Anthony Picciano
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Bree Picower
Montclair State University

Irene Plonczak
Hofstra University

Theresa Plue
Easton Secondary School

Thomas S. Poetter
Miami University

Anthony Pravin

Courtney Prusmack
Adams 14 Schools, Denver

Therese Quinn
Teacher

Annette Quintero
United Teachers of Dade

Rachel Radina
Miami University

Jessie Ramey
University of Pittsburgh

Diane Ravitch
New York University

Kristen A. Renn
Michigan State University

Rethinking Schools

Yolette Rios
Hesperia Teachers Association
California Association of Bilingual Educators

Peggy Roberston
United Opt Out National

Georgiena C. Robinson
John F. Kennedy High School
Plainview, NY

John Rogers
University of California, Los Angeles

Jerry Rosiek
University of Oregon

Leilani Sabzalian
University of Oregon

Kenneth J. Saltman
DePaul University, Chicago

Lily Sanabria-Hernandez
Hofstra University

Karyn Sandlos
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Mara Sapon-Shevin
Syracuse University

Karen Saunders
Spark Teacher Education Institute
Brattleboro, Vermont

Al Schademan
California State University, Chico

Eric Schmitt
Teacher, New York

Nancy Schniedewind
State University of New York, New Paltz

William Schubert
University of Illinois, Chicago

Ann Schulte
California State University, Chico

Tim Scott
Education Radio

Brad Seidman
John F. Kennedy High School
Bellmore, NY

Doug Selwyn
Plattsburgh State University

Susan Semel
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Carla Shalaby
Wellesley College

Jessica T. Shiller
Towson University

Ira Shor
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Alan Singer
Hofstra University

Elizabeth A. Skinner
Illinois State University

Timothy D. Slekar
Penn State University, Altoona

Christine Sleeter
California State University, Monterey Bay

Ceresta Smith
United Teachers of Dade Phoenix Rising MORE Caucus

Jody Sokolower
Rethinking Schools

Jim Sommerville
Cudahy Middle School

The Southeast Massachusetts & Rhode Island Coalition to Save Our Schools

Mariana Souto-Manning
Teachers College, Columbia University

Joi Spencer
University of San Diego

Joel Spring
Queens College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Sandra L. Stacki
Hofstra University

Lester Stasey
Alvarez High School, Providence

David W. Stinson
Georgia State University

David Stovall
University of Illinois, Chicago

Simeon Stumme
Concordia University Chicago

Katy Swalwell
George Mason University

Cathryn Teasley
Universidade da Coruña

Melissa Bollow Tempel
Milwaukee Public Schools
Rethinking Schools

Chris Thinnes
Curtis School, Los Angeles

Paul Thomas
Furman University

Maris Thompson
California State University, Chico

Carol L. Tieso
College of William and Mary

Joe Tonan
Claremont Faculty Association

Victoria F. Trinder
University of Illinois, Chicago

Eve Tuck
State University of New York, New Paltz

Jesse Turner
Children Are More Than Test Scores

Wayne Urban
University of Alabama

Angela Valenzuela
University of Texas, Austin

Bob Valiant
Dump Duncan

Jane Van Galen
University of Washington, Bothell

Manka Varghese
University of Washington

Michael Vavrus
The Evergreen State College

Sofia Villenas
Cornell University

Shirin Vossoughi
Stanford University School of Education

Federico R. Waitoller
University of Illinois at Chicago

John Walcott
Calvin College

Stephanie Walters
Rethinking Schools

William Watkins
University of Illinois, Chicago

Kathleen Weiler
Tufts University

Lois Weiner
New Jersey City University

Matthew Weinstein
Teacher Educator
Tacoma, WA

Kevin Welner
University of Colorado, Boulder
National Education Policy Center

Angela Wheat
Freeport High School

Barbara Winslow
Brooklyn College

Kathy Xiong
Milwaukee Public Schools
Rethinking Schools

Diana Zavala
Change the Stakes

Yong Zhao
Author and Scholar

Al Zucker
New Day Academy, Bronx

NOTES
  1. Chingos, M. M. (2012). Strength in Numbers: State Spending on K-12 Assessment Systems. Brookings Institution.
  2. Cargile, E. (May 3, 2012). “Tests’ price tag $90 million this year”. Kxan Investigates, Kxan.com (NBC).
  3. Dawer, D. (December 29, 2012) “Standardized Testing is Completely Out of Control”. PolicyMic.com.
  4. Vevea, B. (November 26, 2012) “More standardized tests, more Chicago parents looking for ways out”. WBEZ.org.
  5. Au, W. (2007). High-stakes testing and curricular control: A qualitative metasynthesis. Educational Researcher, 36(5), 258-267.
  6. Pell, M.B. (September 30, 2012). “More cheating scandals inevitable, as states can’t ensure test integrity”. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  7. Baker, E. L., Barton, P. E., Darling-Hammond, L., Haertel, E., Ladd, H. F., Linn, R. L., … & Shepard, L. A. (2010). Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute. See also: DiCarlo, M. (July 14, 2010). “Teachers Matter, But So Do Words”. Shanker Blog, The Voice of the Albert Shanker Institute.
  8. Schafer, W. D., Lissitz, R. W., Zhu, X., Zhang, Y., Hou, X., & Li, Y. Evaluating Teachers and Schools Using Student Growth Models. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 17(17), 2.
  9. Cordray, D., Pion, G., Brandt, C., Molefe, A., & Toby, M. (2012). The Impact of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Program on Student Reading Achievement. Final Report. NCEE 2013-4000. National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.
  10. All signatures represent individual opinions, not institutional endorsements, unless specified. To add your signature to this statement, send an email with your name and affiliation(s) to: GHSstatement@gmail.com.
*  The last update was Jan. 23, 2013, 5:32 p.m. CST.

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by Stan Karp

Last summer, the Save Our Schools march brought thousands of teachers, parents, and supporters of public education to Washington, D.C. The march and rally were hopeful signs of pushback against corporate ed reform. A school year that began with the media blitz around the pro-charter propaganda film Waiting for Superman ended with the voices of grassroots resistance in the nation’s capital.

From August 3 to 5, Save Our Schools supporters will gather again in D.C., this time for a “peoples convention” focused on giving more shape and substance to the SOS effort.

Rethinking Schools will be there, joining longtime friends and advocates for educational justice like Jonathan Kozol, Deborah Meier, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, and many others. We hope you will join us. More info here.

Rethinking Schools editor and parent activist Helen Gym and I will host a workshop session Saturday morning on education activism. We’ll share some lessons from Rethinking Schools’ 25-year history as a voice for social justice inside classrooms and communities. We’ll also share our experience with efforts to create local, state, and national coalitions to defend and improve public education, and we’ll invite discussion about how SOS might move that effort forward amidst the strongest corporate counterattack on public schooling we have seen in our lifetimes.

One topic will be strategies for countering the current mainstream narrative about education reform. That narrative is based on fundamentally inaccurate descriptions of the central problems public schools face and disastrous policy prescriptions misframed as the solutions our schools need.

For corporate reformers, the main problems in public education are low test scores, “bad teachers,” and union contracts. Their “solutions” are more standards and tests; creation of a less secure, less experienced, and less expensive professional staff; and more privatized, corporate management of schools, districts, and education policy.

But in the real world, the core problems facing public education are poverty, inadequate resources, systemic inequality and racism, and the misuse of standards and tests. The real solutions are fair and sustainable school funding, poverty reduction, curricula that reflects the real world our students live in and engages them in improving it, better preparation and support for educators, and stronger partnerships with parents and communities.

Solutions like these will only emerge from broad social movements that challenge the lack of democracy and equity both inside our schools and in the society around them.

Rethinking Schools has been addressing these issues since it was founded in 1986—partly in response to an earlier wave of top-down, business-led ed reform. We have tried to provide both critiques of bad policy and concrete examples of better practice. We have highlighted the kinds of stories and voices of educators, students, and parents that are crucial to replacing the current narrative of failure and privatization with one of hope and collective democratic vision.

At the end of last year’s SOS march and conference, participants were invited to submit a short vision of “what next.” In response we wrote:

“As we build on the SOS march and rally, we invite activists to use, support, and contribute to Rethinking Schools in a variety of ways: as a starting point for discussion, a venue for telling our stories of struggle and success in schools and classrooms, as a place to discuss ideas for building our movement, and as an accessible way to reach new audiences with our hopes for what our schools could and should be.”

As SOS regathers, we’re happy to repeat the invitation and look forward to working with other activists to realize the potential of a grassroots national movement for educational and social justice.

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by Terry Burant

Recently, a friend told me that a former high school student of mine named his car “Terry” after me. When she asked him why, he explained, “She’s a little older, she’s strong and tough, and she can handle anything, just like my old car; watching her as my teacher made me realize that I can be strong and accomplish things too.”

This former student of mine struggled mightily with sophomore chemistry and, before every test, he spent hours in my classroom after school working problems on the board with other students and taking periodic breaks for making jokes, watching a silly YouTube video, or writing with the dry erase markers on the arms of his friends. I thought I was teaching him chemistry; turns out, he learned how to stay strong and succeed. His comment, and the picture in my mind of an old beater car with my name cruising the streets of Milwaukee make me think about the unintended lessons teachers teach, about the things we leave with our students of which we might not be aware.

An all-night-long Glee-watching marathon over winter break also made me think about our legacies as teachers. While I realize that Glee isn’t free from criticism, particularly for its lackluster, individualistic treatment of the many forms of bullying going on in the school (see “TV Bullies: How Glee and Anti-Bullying Programs Miss the Mark,” by Gerald Walton, p. 216, Rethinking Popular Culture and Media), the last ten minutes of the final episode made me think about the kinds of impressions we leave with our students and the unintended lessons we teach, so much so that I decided to use a segment of the episode on the first day of the spring semester in an undergraduate teacher education course I teach.

For those not well-versed in Glee, the show centers on a high school singing club in Ohio. Resurrected by a former Glee Club member and current Spanish teacher at the school, Mr. Schuster, the club is often on shaky ground with the administration and always in danger of having its funding cut. The first season ends with the club convinced that after not placing at the Regional competition, the club is history.

The last ten minutes of the season begins with the Glee club members inviting Mr. Schuster into the auditorium where the students are on stage ready to say goodbye to their teacher, in song of course. Yet they begin, one by one, describing the ways in which he and Glee club made an impact on their lives.

Santana, a bit of a badass cheerleader, always ready with a cutting remark for her fellow Glee club members, states that as the year started, “she hated everyone in the club.” Michael Chang, one of the best dancers in the group, says that before Glee club, “he only danced in his room.” Kurt, a young man who comes out as gay during the school year, points out that he “wasn’t honest with who [he] was” until the camaraderie within the group helped him realize that he could be himself. Finn, a young man whose father died when Finn was a young boy, tells Mr. Schuster that he was a like a father to him, showing him a model of “how to be a man.” Finally, Rachel, the quirky diva of the group, tells Mr. Schuster that “no matter what the judges said, we won. We had you as a teacher.”

After their statements, the group sings “To Sir with Love” to Mr. Schuster, and seasoned Glee fans will completely understand the looks between members as well as the appropriate lines of the song as sung by specific members.

As I listened to the students’ comments and the lyrics of the song, I noticed that not one student mentioned meeting standards, using a packaged music curriculum (for Mr. Schuster’s curriculum often came from student interests and concerns), getting a good ACT score, or mastering a specific objective that was listed every day on their classroom board. While I realize that this is an after-school club on a television show in which people burst into song in school hallways, the stark contrast between the students’ statements and official school goals made an impression on me.

In my class, towards the end of the first day, after showing this clip, I asked my students to think about and write from the following prompt and return with their writing for the next class:

Imagine yourself as a teacher, about 5-8 years from now, in a situation similar to the one in which Will Schuster finds himself in this clip from the Season 1 final episode of Glee. What would your students say if they were expressing some thoughts about what you’ve given them? In other words, what do you hope your legacy might be as a teacher?

My students wrote things like “I want my students to think for themselves, to be advocates for justice and equity, to realize that I cared about them as people, to be critical readers and thinkers, to know that I wasn’t just a teacher of math or science, but a person who noticed and cared about them.” Similar to the Glee episode, not one mentioned hoping that his students would remember meeting math standard 1.11.12 about linear equations, about being a teacher who recorded grades in the electronic grading program on time, about following the Success for All reading scripts to perfection, or about only using the district-approved curriculum. All of the future teachers in my class, most of them juniors or seniors in their teacher education program, want far more for their students than teaching them what’s on a test.

I worry about my students, just a little over a year away from their first teaching positions. Will the craziness of testing, of school district officials entering their classrooms to take away materials, of control of their curriculum from outside sources, lead them away from realizing their dreams as teachers? Will their students have the kinds of experiences in school that lead them to sing in gratitude for the larger life lessons they learned in school?

As an in-class follow-up activity, I asked my students to re-read their responses and to write an additional paragraph stating one specific way in which they would work this semester to make their desired-for legacy come true. They shared those paragraphs with a partner in class, making commitments to one another to stay true to their larger goals.

In these times, perhaps now more than ever, all of us who teach might remind ourselves of why we do what we do. If the conditions are making it harder and harder to be the kind of teachers we want to be, we might make the extra effort to commit to act in and beyond our classrooms to realize the legacies that mean the most to us and to our students.

Terry Burant is a Rethinking Schools editor and an instructor in the department of Educational Studies at the University of Wyoming.

Related Resources

Rethinking Schools has long been attentive to the messages in popular culture and media that saturate our lives.  We devoted an entire book to it, and carved out a section on “Minding Media” in our upcoming Rethinking Elementary Education.

Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, edited by Elizabeth Marshall and Özlem Sensoy. This anthology includes outstanding articles by elementary and secondary public school teachers, scholars, and activists who examine how and what popular toys, books, films, music, and other media “teach.” The essays offer strong conceptual critiques and practical pedagogical strategies for educators at every level to engage with the popular.

Rethinking Elementary Education, edited by Linda Christensen, Mark Hansen, Bob Peterson, Elizabeth Schlessman, and Dyan Watson.The articles in this volume offer practical insights about how to integrate the teaching of content with a social justice lens, how to seek wisdom from students and their families, and how to navigate stifling tests and mandates. Teachers and parents will find both inspiration and hope in these pages.

Pencils Down: Rethinking High Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schools, edited by Wayne Au and Melissa Bollow Tempel. Through articles that provide thoughtful and emotional critiques from the frontlines of education, Pencils Down deconstructs the damage that standardized tests wreak on our education system and the human beings that populate it. Better yet, it offers visionary forms of assessment that are not only more authentic, but also more democratic, fair, and accurate.

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