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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Free Speech (for teachers) has been muzzled

I am grateful to live in a country where we have had First Amendment rights since 1791.  "This clause prohibits the government from banning speech because it does not agree with the message... James Madison pointed to freedom of speech as a vital aspect of a healthy republic. While originally written to apply to actions of the federal government, the Supreme Court incorporated it into state governments through the Fourteenth Amendment in the case Gitlow v. New York  (1925)." 




It seems that many teachers and administrators are scared to speak up about the national discourse on public education. In this opinion piece by children's author & freelance writing teacher, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, the silencing of teachers and administrators is brought into the light of day. The piece then focuses on the people who need to speak up: the parents. Of which I am one.




VanDerwater reports what she hears while working in the schools:

 "One special education teacher tells of watching a 9-year-old English language learner with special needs take last year’s ELA test. He colored in the circles, “A-B-C-D-C-B-A” until he reached the end."

"A fifth-grade teacher tells how her school has instituted “play therapy” for stressed-out kindergarteners. So now, instead of playing, they take tests. Then, they go to therapy."

"A local middle school has seen a great increase in students who need therapy, students who are worried, afraid about their numbers. Some primary children make “goodie bags” for upper-grade testers."

"One Western New York district has decided that first-graders no longer have time to put on class plays. There is too much testing to be done. Goodbye, tradition. Goodbye, arts."




She continues, "I never know what to say. But I listen. For these teachers and administrators cannot tell everyone their stories. To speak honestly on this issue places a public educator’s job on the line. Free speech has been muzzled."

As a teacher and a parent I see both sides, as do many teachers.

It can feel scary to speak up, and I can't pinpoint how or when that happened.



VanDerwater writes, "Therefore, it is parents’ voices we hear: parents who do not wish for their children to spend countless hours preparing for untested tests and untested standards, parents who believe in kindergarten play, in recess, in addressing childhood poverty before focusing on purchasing one-to-one computers (The Gates Foundation has invested millions in the CCSS) for testing. Some parents may not see or may not mind the educational shift toward data and away from children, may not wish to read about it in the paper or know that this spring, children whose families opt out of tests may be allowed to read books (except in districts with a “sit and stare” policy). Yet this is what makes a democracy powerful – the willingness of some individuals to speak with their actions, to make decisions others will notice, to attract attention to a concern."


Punch Drunk, By Todd Marrone

 Whether one is speaking up about standardized testing, the common core standards, philanthropic foundations & corporations dictating our children's educational experiences, or opting out, it is their right to speak out. My late colleague, the brilliant, sweet, and passionate, Todd Marrone, posted this on his blog last spring:




The greatest threat to the humanities is the ever increasing emphasis placed on high stakes, standardized test results, in spite of their decreasing relevance in the age of information. PSSAs were bad, Keystones will be worse. Why? Because they are going to be tied to graduation requirements AND teacher evaluations. I ask you, how can a district possibly justify committing dwindling resources to subjects that aren’t tested? Administrators’ and teachers’ livelihoods will be attached to these test results. If kids don’t do well, educators will lose their jobs and, families will eventually begin to sue the district for negligence.
How many years do you think it will take a high-stakes test-driven model to completely disenfranchise students, break quality educators and bankrupt districts? Maybe three? Then what? Voucher systems and private takeovers will seem like a great alternative, because privately run schools don’t need to play by state rules and regulations. They can make decisions based on what’s good for students instead of students’ test scores. Why would the state move in this direction? I don’t want to get too political but I will tell you that there are private individuals and organizations that stand to grab lots of local tax dollars if, and when, education is privatized. Coincidentally, they donated generously to our current governor’s campaign (and produced the documentary Waiting for Superman).
So, what can be done? As a taxpayer and parent, I’m standing up against high stakes test-centered legislation. Objective test data can certainly be one prong of assessment but there can, and should, be many others. I also intend to speak out publicly and vigilantly against, what I believe are, frivolous lawsuits which are, essentially, stealing resources from all children to benefit just a few (not to mention law firms).
- See more at: http://toddmarrone.com/2013/05/01/perturbed-mob/#sthash.7Uh5WJZi.dpuf
So, what can be done? As a taxpayer and parent, I’m standing up against high stakes test-centered legislation. Objective test data can certainly be one prong of assessment but there can, and should, be many others. I also intend to speak out publicly and vigilantly against, what I believe are, frivolous lawsuits which are, essentially, stealing resources from all children to benefit just a few (not to mention law firms). - See more at: http://toddmarrone.com/2013/05/01/perturbed-mob/#sthash.7Uh5WJZi.dpuf
So, what can be done? As a taxpayer and parent, I’m standing up against high stakes test-centered legislation. Objective test data can certainly be one prong of assessment but there can, and should, be many others. I also intend to speak out publicly and vigilantly against, what I believe are, frivolous lawsuits which are, essentially, stealing resources from all children to benefit just a few (not to mention law firms). - See more at: http://toddmarrone.com/2013/05/01/perturbed-mob/#sthash.7Uh5WJZi.dpuf
VanDerwater speaks the truth when she states, "It is the riskers who make change: the revolutionaries, the abolitionists, the suffragists, the school integrators, the marchers in parades, the ones who opt out. The riskers make changes for all of us; in order for change to happen, someone must be willing to go first."

Quote by Todd Marrone

Something is wrong when somewhere along the line a political decision is made to convince the public to distrust the very people charged with caring for and educating our children each day. We send our five and six year olds off on a bus and watch them wave at us through the back window, trusting that we would never put them in harms way. Though public schools are not perfect, they are vital. Not every teacher is a perfect match for each child; that holds true in private, parochial and charter schools, as well. Though the politicians and hedge fund managers want us to distrust the teachers, we should know better. I send my kids into the safe harbor of public school classrooms daily. I would never leave them under the charge of a politician for 180+ days a year. Absurd, right?


If you have friends, neighbors or relatives who are public school teachers,
ask them what they think. 
It is time.
















Saturday, April 12, 2014

Something is awry in our schools...

... but we can't quite put our finger on it.  Perhaps that is because the questionable ideas that are hurting our children and schools are hidden inside a buttery croissant to cloak the poor quality filler and junk.



I enjoy the perspective of Peter Greene, a teacher from central Pennsylvania. He puts bold ideas out there, which is important.  They get our wheels spinning.

They make us think.






A lot of Mr. Greene's ideas are worth considering, even if he uses the word "poop" to make
his point. I imagine he wanted to use a bolder synonym...

 In this post, Greene makes an unappetizing metaphor. "If you wanted to trick someone into eating poop, you would not just hand them a bowl of poop unless you also had a gun to point at the person's head. No, it would be easier to trick them by hiding the poop inside something yummy like soup or a casserole. Or you could make a poop sandwich. Just hide the poop between two perfectly good slices of tasty bread (white, rye, pumpernickel-- for purposes of this metaphor you can use whatever bread you like, as I have no idea which bread would go best with poop)."
There is power in illusions.

 Not a fan of the imagery here? Me neither, but it sure rings true. Just because an idea looks good without deeper inspection, does not mean it is a good idea. His examples include the latest love affair with grit, high standards (of course we all want high standards), high stakes testing, and using student test scores to evaluate teachers.


He continues:

"Pro-public school advocate: Do not eat that poop sandwich! It's a poop sandwich!!
Other guy: But the bread looks totally okay."

"People are coming around, slowly. They are lifting up the bread and declaring, "Hey! This is poop in here!" And reformers, getting greedy and sloppy, keep putting less and less bread with more and more poop, making their poopiness more and more obvious."





 If it looks like it, and it smells like it, and it kind of tastes like it, stop eating it!
Speak up to your school leaders and school board. They need to know you are on to the fact that something is awry in our schools, even if you can't quite put your finger on it.... yet.


 Read more by Peter Greene (poop-free) here and here.