Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dear Friends,

I apologize for being a little slow in bringing this news to you. I am tardy in getting around to sharing the latest MetLife Survey on the American Teacher. It will not be "news" to anyone who is paying attention or anyone who is living the life of an overwhelmed, underpaid and under-appreciated teacher or principal, but it should be (if only) a wake up call to the politicians and bureaucrats who are busy ruining our schools while they complain about the continuing lack of student achievement.

For those of you who are too busy to read the full Metlife report, I invite you to read at least the "Executive Summary." I would urge you to share the news of it with your colleagues. Start a conversation with your principal, even. You have much in common, it seems, especially if you are working in a high needs school and you have experienced continuing dwindling resources in recent years.

It will be absolutely no surprise to anyone of my friends who are also readers of this post that the survey finds, "A majority of teachers...feel under great stress at least several days a week." Moreover, the survey indicates the following unsurprising fact:  "Teacher satisfaction continues to decline and is at the lowest level in 25 years" (bold emphasis added).

Needless to say, the logic of those who see fit to continue to cut resources to public education while complaining that our students are not achieving enough and are not competitive enough with students in other countries continues to escape me. But I digress. The main purpose of this post today is to make sure that you know about the report.

Until next time.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dear Friends:

Those who have followed my writing for the past five years or so and those who agree with me that we as education professionals have been subject to a movement that has been a huge disservice to us as practitioners and to the children we teach will take heart by reading an article that is posted here.

Much to my surprise and delight, I learned this morning that the federal Commission on Equity and Excellence has issued a report which has roundly dismissed the reforms of the Bush-Obama era and has called for a fresh approach. The commission report has been issued by members who were appointed by Secretary Duncan, but I imagine that much to his surprise, instead of supporting the efforts he has been making the past four years, the report sides with those of us who have expressed deep and profound frustration with the reform efforts that have been taking place ever since the 1983 "Nation at Risk" report came out 30 years ago. In spite of the millions of dollars and the dozens of ill-fated and flimsy reform efforts mostly done without consultation with real-world teachers, this new report says that we have been doing the wrong things to the detriment of the very students everyone says they want to help.

I had to share this with those of you who might not otherwise hear about it. Please read the article and share it widely. I hope it makes your day like it just made mine.

Until next time.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Dear Friends,

More good news on the anti-testing front. In addition to the rally that students in Providence, Rhode Island held last week and the on-going protest in Washington State where teachers are saying "no" to giving a test that they say is not only not valid but is truly a waste of time for them to give and for students to take, a local New York State school board has taken action to put the brakes on the over use of testing. See the link here.

I am tracking these movements because it is my wish to offer my colleagues hope that the pendulum of insanity is about to start swinging back toward a more sane approach to assessment. I need to give them hope. I talk to too many every day who are planning to leave the current high pressure environment that currently makes up our school system in general. I understand their instinct. But it breaks my heart when I hear exemplary teachers who have many years left to contribute to the learning of their children talk about their exhaustion, their sense of overwhelm and the fact that they have given up hope of it ever getting better.

Efforts like the ones I have pointed out in Rhode Island, Washington state, Texas, and New York tell me that we are not alone in our frustration, and a real movement has begun. I wait for it to take hold and start to be seen in every state--not just a few.

Until next time.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Dear Friends,

I have been wondering for a long time why more teachers haven't risen up in protest to the high-stakes program that they have been forced to subject students to over the last two decades. I understand that some actually believe that the tests are okay while others grit their teeth every time they have to administer yet another in the endless battery of pre-tests, post-tests, diagnostic tests, and state-mandated tests or tests required by the federal government. I have been heartened by what has been happening in recent weeks with regard to the Garfield High School teachers in Seattle, Washington. They have joined together and said "enough is enough," and they are refusing to give a mandated test for which they see no value and believe is a waste of time and effort on their part to administer and on the part of their students to take.

This morning, I have learned that students in Providence, Rhode Island are planning to stage a protest against high stakes testing this week. On Wednesday afternoon, they plan to hold a rally protesting the inordinate amount of testing to which they are being subjected. Information about their movement may be found here.

The winds of change are beginning to indicate, I believe, that more and more people are questioning the "wisdom" of those who have mandated high-stakes testing as the way to improve education in our country. Everyone disdains the notion that teaching has been reduced to "teaching to the test," while everyone is also aware that the only way to make sure students do well on the tests they are subjected to is to make sure they have been prepared thoroughly and well. "Drill and kill" has become the order of the day. Teachers are held hostage as to how well their students do, and the only variable that anyone "in charge" wishes to take a serious look at is the "quality" of the individual teacher with no concern or attention to childhood poverty, the lack of general health care for a large number of children entering our classrooms every day and other circumstances over which the teacher has absolutely no control.

I follow Diane Ravitch's blog carefully. She is in a position because of her professional integrity, her international reputation and her ability to sift through tons of information and distill it in a way that people can easily grasp to offer hope to those of us who are waiting for a major shift in the current climate. She feels it...I feel it. I believe that we are fast approaching a tipping point where those who are aware of the harm being doing to children are finally being heard.

I have hope, and I wish the students in Providence, Rhode Island and the teachers at Garfield High School well. I want them to succeed in their protests, and I want others to follow suit...and quickly. Before it is too late.

Until next time,


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dear Friends,

There has been a lot of talk—and activity—around education “reform” over the course of the last two decades, but little of it has had any meaningful impact on student achievement or graduation rates. College tuition soars, and poverty—especially poverty among our nation’s urban and rural children--continues ignored. Everyone seems to be in agreement that something should be done, but clearly, what we are doing now is not working.

One of the major problems with the reforms that have been put into place from the federal government down to local school boards including the myriad of private corporations that are cropping up daily in order to profit off the financial resources that are allocated annually for schools is that the reformers are constantly ignoring the very group of people who could actually help. Indeed, not only are K-12 practitioners ignored in the major debates that are taking place around the country, but they have been vilified and demeaned in such a way that the entire profession is in crisis. Veteran teachers with decades of experience are burnt out and ready to retire while the teaching profession has become a turnstile business proposition with a growing number of young people teaching for a only few years as a stop gap measure before beginning their “real” careers.

None of this bodes well for the children in our nation’s public schools. In fact, public education itself is under siege. Legislators in state after state are backing away from their constitutional duty and their moral obligation to provide a free and appropriate public education for every child. Charter schools, the vouchers for private schools, the dramatic increase in home schooling in recent years, and the current fascination with online education and virtual classes erodes the integrity of the neighborhood school in a way that is actually dangerous, I believe, for the future of our country. Democracy itself is threatened by the continual downgrading of public education as a true civil right for every child.

Wrong-headed remedies for the very real problems that face our schools today continue. Teacher evaluation with teachers’ performance tied to student test scores based on faulty and flawed mathematic algorithms are being used improperly and for the wrong purposes. The suggestions that all “bad teachers” should just be fired and the teacher unions should be eliminated are misguided at best and deliberately harmful at worst. Common Core Curriculum is being pushed by some and resisted by others while teachers are for the most part being left out of the conversation—again.

As Virginia prepares itself for yet another election season, Virginia voters need to consider what we need in our next Governor. Here are some of the things I believe we need:

We need a Governor who has a clear vision and a firm understanding of the state’s responsibility to the children of the Commonwealth. We need a Governor who is willing to include teachers in the conversation, is adamant about questioning the assumptions and assertions made by corporate leaders looking to profit by bringing in more charter schools when the research does not support the premise that charters do a significantly better job than neighborhood schools that receive adequate support and have adequate resources. We need a Governor whose only agenda is what is in the best interest of children and not what is included in the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) playbook.

We need a Governor who respects the experience of veteran teachers who have spent their careers in the classroom tending to the needs of the children they teach. We do NOT need to leave teachers out of the conversation simply because what they have to say does not necessarily comport with the current political trend of privatization at all costs. We need a Governor who understands what the state Constitution means when it talks about the state’s responsibility for providing “a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.” (Article VIII, Section 1 of the Virginia Constitution).

We need a Governor who can articulate clearly for all to hear that Virginia is not about to turn its schools over to corporate moguls who care nothing about children but only about making a quick dollar. The examples of corporate greed, fraud, and general wrongdoing are to be found everywhere that they have been allowed to set up shop. They turn their backs on the neediest children while they drain away not only the top students who need their services the least, but they also drain valuable resources away from the neighborhood schools that are quite literally falling apart from a lack of resources and long-term investment.

It is time for Virginia’s parents, teachers, and members of the community at large—those who care about the health, wellbeing and education of our state’s young people—to line up behind the next Governor who is going to set a new course for education innovation and achievement based on what teachers agree are best practices rather than on the latest fad. That’s what Virginia needs. It is what our students deserve. And I plan to do what I can to make sure we elect the best person for the job.

Until next time.