The Obama administration’s recent, modest change in policy toward No Child Left Behind (NCLB), indicates some response to years of activism and a statistically-based critique of the inadequacies and injustices of NCLB. One recent critique is Diane Ravitch’s “School ‘Reform’: A Failing Grade.”
It appears that the momentum of the public relations campaign that has been waged against the “positive image” of the public school teacher may be changing. National Public Radio has started a StoryCorps project “National Teacher,” which will foreground the transformational impact of educators on their students. A new documentary “American Teacher” portrays the real lives of four teachers in the classroom. Forty-six percent of all teachers quit before the fifth year of teaching; many need to find a second or third job to survive. Meanwhile, nearly 15 million children in the United States live below the federal poverty level; one-third of all Hispanic children now live in poverty here. Shouldn’t the cultural focus of the Gates Foundation and friends be a war against poverty instead of a war against teachers and public education? In the meantime, it is the educator’s selfless act of conscience and integrity that makes a difference as we see in “Blood Money” below.
The damage done to the public education system through NCLB and the standardized test movement will take many years to repair. We now find the same failed standards-based management ideology, which fueled NCLB, making an impact on the rush to restructure public higher education. Perhaps, if we are able to articulate the lessons learned from K-12, we may better fight the transformation now underway to cheapen the quality of public higher education through assessment regimes and quick fixes such as charter universities and for-profit online education schemes. Texas is well on its way down this path of devolution with Florida racing to catch up. Texas’ Gov. Perry has cut $4 bil from the state’s health and education budget this year, leading to the potential firing of 49,000 teachers. Thom Hartmann reports that “43,00 students will lose at least part or all of their financial aid — including 28,000 low-income college hopefuls who will their entire scholarships” in a state that ranks dead last in the number of residents with college degrees. Moreover, Eugenie Reich reports in “Texas Holds Firm on Physics Closures” that Texas plans to phase out nearly half of its physics programs at state funded universities this year if they have failed to graduate at least 25 students every five years. This may seem reasonable but many low performing programs “are in areas with predominantly black, Hispanic or disadvantaged populations. Statistics provided to ‘Nature’ by the American Institute of Physics suggest that some 35% of the undergraduate physics degrees awarded in the United States go to students in programmes that would not meet the Texas board’s requirements for staying open.” I guess science and engineering degrees will be just for the children of wealthy Texans.
And as much as we want to support our president, his quote from the Department of Education’s latest report “Our Future, Our Teachers” gets it just plain wrong. He states, “From the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents, it’s the person standing at the front of the classroom… America’s future depends on its teachers”. According to physics professor Michael Marder, based on his extensive data analysis of students’ standardized text results in Texas, what matters most is not just the teacher, or whether the school is public or charter. What matters in improving higher student test scores is also the socioeconomic and ethnic status of the student. He invites EVERYONE to check his data.
“Joseph K. is a 24-year veteran of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), a former mentor teacher twice named a Johns Hopkins University Teaching Fellow, who now teaches poor, inner-city children who wake up every morning in their gang-ridden, drug-infested neighborhoods at five a.m. to catch the bus by six. He teachers the old-fashioned way —by ignoring standardized test scores. Instead of teaching bubbling, he tries to instill a love of knowledge and learning in his students and for this reason will probably be allowed to continue teaching for fifteen more minutes.” He blogs at The Trials of Joseph K. (http://thetrialsofjosephk.blogspot.com/)/
We are being asked (key word “asked”) to be trained (key word “trained”, like dogs) by Pearson “Learning” August 29th and 30th. Pearson is going to pay us. Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, the money they are going to pay us is blood money. And the blood money they are going to pay us with is our own blood. It is the blood we bled when the Los Angles Unified School District (LAUSD) cuts our pay. It is the blood we will bleed every day when we struggle with larger and larger class sizes. It is the blood Jenny, Isabel, Jared, River, Susan, Summer and all the rest are bleeding right now as they sit home BLEEDING because they no longer have jobs.
It is blood money.
Pearson “Learning” was once a nice publishing house. They printed books under names like Penguin and a number of textbooks primarily in England. They made a tidy profit in the millions of dollars each year. In 2000, as NCLB was being written and discussed, they bought their first testing company. That may or may not have been a coincidence. After passage of NCLB, they bought another testing company. Then they bought another and another and another and another. That was no coincidence. Today they are a conglomerate of testing companies, seven by my count. They have created a vast, powerful TESTING INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. Their profits are not a few million each year, but a few billion each year and they are growing exponentially.
They employ legions of well-paid lobbyists who infest Washington, D.C., every state capital, and many local school boards. I would love to know how much they contribute to reelection campaigns. They have infested LAUSD which I will explain in a minute. They have one agenda: Profits. Until recently, they had one means to their agenda: Testing. More standardized testing means more profits for Pearson. NCLB is Pearson’s business model. Teachers are laid off, their salaries cut, class size increased, and curriculum narrowed as Pearson lines its pockets with gold.
Consider this regarding standardized testing:
- high scores often signify relatively superficial thinking
- many of the leading tests were never intended to measure teaching or learning
- a school that improves its test results may well have lowered its standards to do so
- far from helping to “close the gap,” the use of standardized testing is most damaging for low-income and minority students
- as much as 90 percent of the variations in test scores among schools or states have nothing to do with the quality of instruction
- far more meaningful measures of student learning – or school quality – are available.
-Alfie Kohn’s The Case Against Standardized Testing
Standardized tests are DEMONIZING all of us in the inner city, demonizing our union, and being used by almost infinitely powerful economic and political forces in this country to dismantle public education.
And the situation is only going to get worse. [LAUSD Superintendent John] Deasy and [Secretary of Education Arne] Duncan both are pushing value-added standardized testing measures to evaluate teachers. The “LA Times” slanders all of us on a daily basis with its value-added measure on its website. Deasy calls it AGT.
Slander is slander. This year he is bribing teachers with $1,250 (after cutting their pay) to “volunteer” in a pilot project for AGT. “If you volunteer, we will pay you (after cutting your pay.)” To measure “improvement” you need baseline scores (pretests), probably at least one or two interim assessments, and a post test. These tests will be maximally time consuming and VERY expensive. All teachers need to be evaluated, so multiple tests will be given in every subject of every grade multiple times every year. You can bet that Pearson is using its vast influence to get to the front of the line to write (and sell) those tests. As far as I know, they may well have already elbowed out the competition. Their profits will be enormous. And guess where those profits will come from. They will come from you and our students. Your job, if you have one left, will rely on these tests, so you can be damn sure you are going to teach to them and probably teach little, if anything else.
Read this: The Test Generation.
Pearson “Learning” has now figured out a way to “double down” its billions in annual profits, its rape of public education. They are using their publishing arm to sell “Teaching Guides”, “Lesson Books”, etc. so teachers can “better” teach its own tests. Genius. They have created a mobius strip of profit production. We are pawns in their game and they are going to move you two spaces ahead August 29th and 30th. Don’t think you are getting paid very much for being a pawn. Pawns, if you don’t play chess, are the first things sacrificed.
I reject Pearson and their blood money. I reject everything that they stand for. I reject their endless bubbling. I reject their process of elimination universe. I refuse to be trained like a dog to teach my students how to bark like seals. So should you.
I am drawing my own line in the sand. Public education is going up in flames in this country because of profiteers like Pearson and teachers are going down. I intend at least to have a say in my own demise.
I may show up on August 29th. I will not sign in. I will not touch their food. I will go nowhere near their blood money. If I do show up, it will only be to stand up before everyone and publicly denounce Pearson in much the same way I am doing now. My fantasy is to walk out and have everyone follow; but, alas, that will never happen. It would be nice if some of you would follow, though.
If I do not show up, it will be because I chickened out. Fear is something I understand. In an age of perpetual layoffs and teacher transfers, fear is not without merit. We are surrounded by fear. We are immersed in it. You all will make your own decision regarding the Pearson “training”. You all have your own lives, your own families, your own personal situations. You have to decide what is right for you. I will respect whatever decision you make. Count on that. But consider what is being done to you and our profession by Pearson, companies like it, and politicians who exploit their malevolence. Consider. Consider Jared, Jenny, Isabel, River, Susan, Summer and all the rest. Consider that you are next. We are next.
original post, Friday, August 26, 2011; reposted with permission of the author on October 1, 2011.
So far, I have been disappointed with the national media coverage of the July 30 SOS Rally: there isn’t as much as I’d like to see (1). It’s as if 6,000 plus activist teachers, parents, and their allies never existed. I guess it takes 100,000 to interest CNN. In truth, it was a rowdy, impressive bunch with teacher and parent representatives from across the nation. Speaker highlights included Greg Gower, superintendent of Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District in Texas. His speech is not yet on YouTube, but he inspired a crowd in Texas recently with a similar speech. Matt Damon’s mom is a professor of early childhood education and a supporter of SOS. She introduced Matt, and he gave a very compelling speech about the significance of public education on the development of his creativity and talent; the kind of support now threatened by No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
After the march, I talked with Greg Gower, an activist singer who performed “Test Teacher” at the rally. He and his companion asked the same question I’d heard at my SOS conference workshop and in personal conversations with teachers and parents throughout the conference: “Can you see the influence of NCLB on your students?”
I’m sure that most college educators have heard about No Child Left Behind; but unless they currently have children in the public schools or happen to teach in a college of education, they probably do not know how NCLB has so successfully restructured K-12 curriculum and destroyed the “space” to teach creatively. I didn’t. Essentially K-12 teachers are under threat of their school being shut down. Just like a hostile corporate takeover, your school will be restructured and all teachers fired if test scores in English and Math do not meet Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) outcomes based upon standardized test scores. Your state could have opted out of NCLB by refusing Title 1 federal funds, but name a state that could afford this option? This is restructuring though bribery under duress. So you get teachers, principals, and supervisors cheating on the test results as we have seen lately in Philadelphia, New York and Georgia. NCLB has been devastating to teachers. The space to teach creatively has been replaced by scripted curriculum to improve test scores (fill in the bubble). At the same time, NCLB has generated a multi-billion dollar business in testing, test prep, scripted curriculum, take-over charter school companies, consultancies, and Teach for America. It has established a reign of terror on K-12, which is spreading into higher ed through the attack on colleges of education across the country, Lumina Foundation’s push for the national standard “Degree Qualifications Profile” in higher education, charter colleges and other forms of radical restructuring. Lumina has paid $1 mil. to WASC, the accrediting agency for higher ed in the west, to embed these degree qualification outcomes in its next cycle of accreditation standards. No one is going to declare that public education is perfect; but high-stakes testing and a canned curriculum based on data driven outcomes is not the answer for reform. After nine years of NCLB, there is data to show it has failed to improve student success.
So how are Freshmen different now and can these differences be attributed to their education under NCLB? Certainly there is still a significant number of Freshmen across the nation who need developmental English and Math courses to become ‘college ready.’ NCLB has not solved the ‘readiness gap’ between high school and college. I hesitate to say that the changes I have noticed in my students, especially over the past four years, are due just to NCLB. It is a busy, video-game generation of high consumer culture and reality-T.V., of infatuation with gadgets (ipods and smart phones); it is a generation with a multitasking consciousness. This is the cultural context in which NCLB is embedded. I also must compete with the necessity of work. Most of my students work 30-50 hours a week to support their college education, parents and siblings. These students often take five classes including mine. This is not the world of 1988 when I first started teaching at CSU Long Beach nor my world as an undergraduate at U.C. Santa Barbara in the 1960s. At the same time, I know that our students can overcome any knowledge or intellectual development gaps left by NCLB by the time they graduate in 4-6 years IF they do the work and put genuine effort into their own academic career. The current free market PR in higher education that touts the student as ‘consumer’ and ‘customer’ often fails to comprehend this point: real education requires depth of effort from both the teacher and the student. It is more than simple consumption like ordering a latte from the university library coffee shop.
(1) It is true that “Democracy Now” carried a short segment on the SOS today, Aug. 1. Media expert Alice Sunshine tells me that from her analysis of the SOS event that the coverage was pretty good, including articles in the Washington Post and Parade magazine, with possible CNN and AP coverage in some regional markets .
Recommended, Randy Traweek’s blog post on SOS:
Two other important grassroots alliances, beside the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE), were formed this past academic year in response to the rapid dismantling of public education across the nation. Both were inspired by Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010), who has become a tireless advocate for “meaningful” public education reform. These two new alliances are Save Our Schools (SOS), with its focus on K-12 but inclusive of all public education rights, and Parents Across America (PAA) a new activist group of powerful parents against the standardized test regime of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
The two-day conference at American University preceding the march on the White House in Washington D.C. today, has been packed with scores of panels and workshops focusing on successful action plans for change in public education. Along with the panels is the SOS film festival of new documentaries that debunk current myths about the “total” failure of public education (1). Author and educator Jonathan Kozol was keynote speaker on Thursday with education researcher Diane Ravitch following on Friday.
The strongest theme that has emerged from this event is the need for a new civil rights movement that focuses on equity in public education: equity in the real quality of a deep and comprehensive curriculum in every public school, and equity in access to quality public education for every youth. In his keynote address, Jonathan Kozol reminded the audience that teachers were “warriors for justice working on the front lines of the struggle for democracy.” The savage inequalities in public education that he wrote about decades ago are worse now, he said, as the charter and voucher movements have served to re-segregate the schools. No Child Left Behind has lead to a flight of “wonderful” principals and educators from the public school system, which has become punitive and oppressive as the administration of public schools has been taken over by a business model run by “dry dreary technocrats in worship of data,” who act as “drill sergeants of the state…discouraged from promoting curiosity and originality in their students.” Two-thirds of the school year has been consumed by a culture of exams. As the race gap grows wider, school systems are eliminating art, music, drama, science, social studies, geography and sports to focus on high-stakes testing out of fear of being shut down. And by the way, this testing industry has become a multi-billion-dollar-a-year business, lead by Pearson. Kozol called for a new civil rights movement that must depend on the “energy, participation and persistence of our youth.” And for the rest of us, a “passionate impatience” for change.
(To be continued…)
(1) Two recommendations from the SOS Film Festival: “August to June” tracks the intellectual and emotional development of third and fourth graders in a remarkable school “The Open Classroom” in the Lagunitas School District in northern California, which focuses on deep learning for the “whole child.” The second is “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman” which debunks the anti-public-school documentary “Waiting for Superman” that got so much press this past year. This documentary also illuminates the corruption behind the “co-location” charter movement that Mayor Bloomberg imposed upon the New York public school system after he abolished the local governance structure of the public schools and replaced it with a board of superintendents he could control through political appointments.