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Chicago Teachers Letter to Arne Duncan

February 16, 2013

I have made my opinion about Arne Duncan known in these digital pages over, and over, and over again.  I feel that Arne Duncan is detrimental to the progress and fairness of our public school system.  Arne has NEVER been an educator in his life, so I don’t feel that he understands the challenges that teachers face in their day to day job educating students.

One of my major disappointments with President Obama has been his handling of the public education system.  The continued deification of the disastrous No Child Left Behind legislation has been a travesty, but to add insult to injury, Duncan and Obama heaped a fresh helping of insult onto teachers and students by moving forward with the equally ludicrous Race To The Top – RTTT is essentially  blackmail, really…it is!  In order to win one of Arne’s coveted ‘waivers’ from the onerous NCLB laws – teachers must be subjected to tying their performance to student test scores…if that isn’t blackmail, I don’t know what is!

Fast forward to today.  If you have been reading my posts for any length of time you have been privy to information about the growing trend of anti-high-stakes testing that has been spreading throughout our country.  Teachers, parents, superintendents, students, and school boards have all been voicing concern over the MINDLESS regime of bubble-in test quantification of data!  A group of educators has issued an Open Letter to Arne Duncan which is posted below.  Thank you to the always excellent Answer Sheet blog of Valerie Strauss over at the Washington Post for calling my attention to this.

If you are a teacher, or a concerned parent, it is time to get involved in this slow moving, but steam-gathering movement which is pushing back against the testing companies and their powerful vice-grip like hold on education policy in our country.  Read the letter below and share it with who you think may be interested.  The letter makes some excellent points, I especially liked how lobbyists and their actions are highlighted towards the end (in bold).  I agree with the authors’ sentiment – Put your faith in teachers rather than corporate interests to assess reading, writing, and speaking. Do not allow corporations to control American education.”

Here’s the Letter:

Dear Mr. Duncan,

As primary, secondary, and university educators who are passionate about the importance of a liberal arts education in building and maintaining a democratic society, we are very concerned with the impact of standardized testing on humanities curricula. The widespread trend of teaching to the test is undermining primary and secondary education. Social studies, history, the fine arts, the study of literatures and languages, drama and music; these and other subjects not assessed in the standardized tests of “No Child Left Behind” are subjects that are themselves being left behind as administrators pressure teachers to raise narrowly conceived test scores in a few core areas.

We seek to build respect for the democratic process, critical thinking skills, writing skills, and understanding that is not accurately measured in multiple-choice tests.  (see the Fair Test website for a review of the literature: http://www.fairtest.org/k-12/high%20stakes). While we see the Common Core Curriculum as a step in the right direction, we steadfastly reject attempts pushed by testing companies to devise standardized assessments to measure progress in reading, writing, and speaking. Nor do we believe that computer programs currently being developed by major assessment corporations, or any form of outsourcing of essay assessments, are viable solutions.

Instead of relying on standardized tests, we believe that the best way to pursue higher standards in reading, writing, and speaking skills is to develop standardized and widely accepted rubrics for assessment and allow teachers to assess their students with these rubrics.

We are very concerned with the extent to which current educational policies have embraced what John Dewey would call “instrumental rationality” in seeking solutions that can be statistically measured. We are currently seeing a national backlash against such measurements from parents, teachers, and administrators. These statistical measures merely confirm the very real social gaps between the haves and the have-nots in American education.  (For a review of the literature seehttp://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/reardon%20whither%20opportunity%20-%20chapter%205.pdf).

University administrators have known for some time that high SAT scores correlate closely with socioeconomic class. Students who do well on them may succeed more frequently in college than those who do not, but this correlation may be telling us more about the test than about the students. Secondary teachers often see students who are terrific at taking tests, but who choose to avoid tasks requiring difficult thinking.

University educators want students who can write, research, and think: students who are open minded, passionate, and curious. These qualities are snuffed out under the drive for high scores on standardized multiple-choice tests under “No Child Left Behind.”

Secondary educators want to prepare students for the challenges that they will face at colleges and universities. This is difficult to do when an overemphasis on discrete item standardized testing prevents them from engaging their students in the meaningful work that best prepares them for the next level.

We know that your office is bombarded with lobbyists from major testing companies, textbook companies, and big donors with big money who seek to shape education reform. State Boards of Education are faced with similar pressures. We feel strongly that big money is far too invested in the current debate, and we are concerned that their influence is determining much of what passes for “reform.” Put your faith in teachers rather than corporate interests to assess reading, writing, and speaking. Do not allow corporations to control American education.

We invite further discussion at your convenience. A delegation from among the signees below will be happy to meet you for hoops and a discussion.

Sincerely yours,

New Trier High School:
Lindsey Arado
Mike Baeb
Kerry Brennan
Ian Duell
David Hjelmgren
Tim Kajfez
Tom Kucharski
Debbie Johnson
Todd Maxman
Dean Pinos
John O’Connor
Alex Zilka

 Northern Illinois University:
Jerome D. Bowers, History Dept.

 University of Illinois-Chicago:
Robert Johnston, History Dept.

 Concord Review:
Will Fitzhugh, Editor and Publisher

 The Report Card:
William Korach, Editor and Publisher

 University of Chicago Laboratory Schools:
Luicija Ambrosini
Allen Ambrosini
Suzanne Baum
Charles Branham
Wayne Brasler
Brad Brickner
David Derbes
Steve Granzyk
Lee Gustafson
Paul Horton
Chris Janus
Bob Kass
Mark Krewatch
Andrea Martonffy
Lisa Miller
Rachel Nielsen
Diane Puklin, Emeritus
Susan Shapiro
Kelly Storm
Brian Wildeman

Ariel Community Academy
Allie Griffin
Shirley Knox
Jake Sklarsky
Willis Niederfrank

 Chicago Teachers Union

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