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Teachers Begin Fighting Back

April 2, 2012

If you have been reading me for any length of time you know that one of my major themes on this blog centers around teachers getting mobilized and having their voice heard.

When I came across this article by Kay McSpadden in the Charlotte Observer it was pleasing.  The reason it was pleasing, and hopefully fortuitous of future events in public education, is that I think teachers, and even administrators have realized, or are realizing, that testing as well as an atmosphere of “open-season” on the teaching profession has really run to an extreme.

Look, teachers are not the enemy, teachers are not greedy, lazy, or out to harm public education and our millions of students.  Teachers want (more than anything) for our kids to succeed.  Our kids didn’t come to us perfect, and they aren’t going to leave perfect – we face drugs, violence in the home, gangs, lack of parental involvement and educational levels, students caring for younger siblings, poverty, crime ridden neighborhoods and apathy for education as a whole each and every day in our schools, but we do our best to overcome these obstacles.

Teachers are not miracle workers, what we are is caring, energetic and hopeful that we can contribute to those little lives who sit down in front of us each day and we try to make their world a little bit better by teaching them right from wrong, as well as how to solve a math problem.

Follow me below for a good article about teachers finally fighting back:

Don’t mess with Texas! At the “Save Texas Schools” rally last Saturday in Austin, thousands of Texans protested against standardized testing and other hallmarks of corporate-driven school reform. The rally is the latest in a series of volleys by concerned teachers, parents and administrators.

In the past year, more than 100 Texas school districts passed a resolution saying that standardized testing is having a serious negative impact on education. Robert Scott, the state education commissioner, has raised a red flag about the influence of test publishers. John Kuhn, the superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District, wrote a letter modeled on William Travis’ famous plea from the Alamo – except that Kuhn’s letter compared educators to the besieged.

John Kuhn’s rhetoric was the highlight of Saturday’s rally as well. This time, however, he looked to football as his inspiration.

‘It takes team effort’

In a speech excoriating state and national legislators, Kuhn said, “If the teacher is the quarterback, Congress is the offensive line. Their performance impacts our performance, but they keep letting us get sacked by poverty, broken homes, student mobility, hunger, health care. And they just say ‘Oops’ as that linebacker blows by them and buries his facemask in our chest. Then we go back to the huddle and they say, ‘You gotta complete your passes.’ We’re aware of that. Make your blocks, legislators. Give us time to stand in the pocket and throw good passes. Do your job. It doesn’t take a great quarterback rating to win games; it takes team effort.”

That my friends is a superb analogy.  Teachers are trying, trying hard each and every day, I see it in all the classes I am in and around each day.  But, we need a little blocking done by Congress!  We need it badly!  As teachers we need to elect politicians who will be willing to block hard for us, to provide us with what we need to help our students to the best of our abilities.

Listing the huge payments to testing companies despite severe cuts to education budgets, Kuhn concluded, “These and other grievances were patiently borne by the teachers of Texas, until they reached that point at which patience is no longer a virtue. We appealed to our government last spring in this very spot, called upon those in power to encourage and support the teachers who day by day struggle to educate the poorest children in the most neglected corners of our state. Yet they responded to our entreaties with new condemnations of the work we do. Our appeals have been made in vain.

I believe that the reason behind many of our appeals being made in vain is because of the absolutely business and reform movement friendly personage of one Arne Duncan.  I do believe that his empty platitudes about “respecting the teaching profession” but not backing them up with action have proven him to be the vacuous shirt that he is.

“We are forced to the melancholy conclusion that this government favors business interests that want a profit-based education system that would enrich investors, rather than a publicly-owned system that enriches our children…

YEP!

“Texas officials, you build your hateful machine that blames teachers for the failures of politicians; we’ll still be here teaching when your engine of shame is laid upon the scrapheap of history. For now, we’ll bravely take these lashes you give because we know that – no matter what you say – the only crime of the public school teacher in 2012 is his or her willingness to embrace and teach broken children. If that’s a crime, then find us guilty. If caring for the least of these makes us unacceptable, then bring on your label gun. We’re not afraid.”

Wow!  This guy is good, and remember, he is from Texas.  Speaking like this and being from Texas is akin to blasphemy.

This week the momentum shifts to Washington, D.C., where another group of public school advocates is protesting corporate-driven school reforms. On Friday, Occupy the Department of Education” began a four-day event including seminars, speeches, and marches against the Obama administration’s support for high-stakes testing and the promotion of charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools.

I will have more on this group and what is going on in the future, stay tuned.

The weekend protest is organized by United Opt Out, an advocacy group that encourages parents to keep children home from school during high-stakes standardized testing. Shaun Johnson, one of the coordinators, said, “It has been the contention of United Opt Out all along that a powerful weapon against corporatized reforms is noncompliance with the current testing regime. It’s that simple. Nothing needs to be done other than refusing to do something. Without the highly coveted quantitative information from which to discipline and punish students and their teachers, perhaps then those not part of the large foundations will get someone’s attention.”

Duncan’s welcome about-face

Is the administration paying attention to anyone other than the moneyed interests who promote more testing for students and tying those test results to teacher ratings? This week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan decried the publication of teacher ratings based on student scores.

“There’s not much of an upside there, and there’s a tremendous downside for teachers. We’re at a time when morale is at a record low…We need to be strengthening teachers, and elevating them, and supporting them.”

Duncan’s comment was a startling about-face that raised eyebrows among educators. When the Los Angeles Times published teacher ratings in 2010 despite concerns about their validity, Duncan approved. Some education bloggers have characterized Duncan’s apparent change of heart as an “evolving understanding” of the prevalent misuse of data. Others accuse him of saying whatever is politically expedient and of pandering to an audience.

I take hope in that latter view, actually. It means the administration might finally be paying attention to parents and teachers like those in Texas.

Guest columnist Kay McSpadden is a high school English teacher in York, S.C., and author of “Notes from a Classroom: Reflections on Teaching.” Write her at kmcspadden@comporium.net.

Thank you Kay for that article.  I am doing my part to spread the word.

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