Monday, April 21, 2008

GET OUT YOUR POM-POMS: PREP ASSEMBLY

As a retired NEA member, I get their monthly Works4Me e-newsletter, a cheery little number usually dedicated to small, homey tips and tricks for making a classroom run more smoothly—items on the order of inexpensive (but cute!) bulletins boards and what to do when those darned kids forget their pencils.

I skim W4M because I want to know what’s important to teachers, what they care deeply about—enough to share with a million of their colleagues. The well-established gap between practice and policy is usually on full display, but I hold out hope, every month, that Works4Me will feature a hard-hitting column on six ways to retain promising novice colleagues, or a creative lesson on inspiring civic awareness and responsibility in high school juniors. But no.

This month’s Works4Me left me slack-jawed, however. The lead article was titled “Peppy Test Prep.” Quoting:

"We have a pep assembly for the third and fourth graders a couple of days before standardized testing starts. Two teachers pretend they are cheerleaders and shake pompoms as they give a ‘pep’ talk about doing a good job on the tests, getting a good night's rest, etc. We have three teachers sit in desks and pretend to be examples of how not to take the test. One keeps turning around and bothering his neighbor, one cries, and one is not paying attention to directions.”

If I had any doubt about the piece being legitimate, the use of the phrase “bothering his neighbor” was pure teacher-speak. This was the real deal, sent from a teacher in South Dakota, who felt that a good dose of, unh, pep was the ticket to raising student achievement, and was generously sharing some bright ideas on effective ways to boost those all-important scores:

“Another teacher is showing the ‘right’ way to take the test. Breakfast is provided for the students and the teachers/helpers on testing mornings. We also borrow an archway from the local hardware store and put Christmas lights on it with a sign that says, ‘Entering Testing Zone’. We set it up in the hallway that leads to the third and fourth grade rooms. The lights are on whenever we are testing."

There’s a disclaimer from the NEA printed on the page—they’re just providing space for their members to “share” (and soliciting advertisers to pay for that space). Still—showcasing a member who feels that putting up the third grade equivalent of prom decorations and offering a special full breakfast on testing days is the right way to prepare kids for the rigors of standardized testing seems more than a little schizophrenic to me.

I live in union country. And I know that many—maybe most—of my teaching colleagues are marginally interested in the state and federal policies that shape their work. I understand--they’re busy. But blanket testing of kids beginning in the third grade has a major impact on the instructional cycle, curriculum development and resource distribution. We need a more thoughtful response than a pep assembly.

How about organizing members to demand that tests mandated by NCLB be spaced throughout the school year to minimize disruption to the instructional flow and actually assess progress? Why not lobby for teams of third grade teachers to write the tests, to ensure their alignment to reasonable but challenging third-grade skills and knowledge? And if a good breakfast makes such a difference in academic success, why isn’t the NEA sending out articles on rallying the community to feed kids every morning?

16 comments:

philip said...

1. Test prep parties and rallies go on in my district as well...

2. How about organizing NEA members to get rid of NCLB period? What, exactly, is worth saving? And why, do you suppose, the NEA rolled over for NCLB in the first place?

3. Why is it that the union has not come out against the privatization initiatives within the legislation?

4. I would love to see teachers involved in assessment, but I'm not sure they should be limited to making tests. Aren't good teachers assessing all of the time?

5. I'd like to see instruments that measure resilience, metacognition, prescience, creativity, listening with empathy, impulse control, persistence, flexible thinking, problem posing, applying the past to the future, and general democratic engagement.

For that to happen, we'll need policy makers and teachers to reconsider what it means to be intelligent, and we'll have to move beyond simple tests to determine whether or not we're headed towards a more intelligent future.

Welcome aboard!

Jim Horn said...

Welcome, Nancy--and thanks for posting this piece that is so close to my own spleen.

The NEA's non-advocacy for children, schools, teachers, and parents--and their tiptoeing, tepid protestations against the damaging and unethical use of testing against children--have made the organization irrelevant to those concerned with upholding NEA's own Code of Ethics while working to end the educational genocide in the public schools of America.

The pep assembly piece in "Works4Me" is the perfect example of the complicity, kowtowing, and neglect of NEA's avowed mission. The disclaimer, JUST PROVIDING A SPACE FOR MEMBERS TO SHARE (AND SOLICITING ADVERTISERS TO PAY FOR THE SPACE) should have been placed on a banner in 30 inch letters above door of the NEA Headquarters in Washington back in 2001.

Nancy Flanagan said...

Hi, Philip and Jim.

Thanks for commenting. This is going to be fun...

While I agree with/see merit in all of your suggestions, #1-5, I am trying to think like a traditional teacher here. Every now and then, someone posts a survey on teachers, expressing surprise that many of them are politically conservative and personally unadventurous. Well, duh, as my students say. There aren't many Carl Chews out there--most teachers are resigned to testing (then, of course, whining in the teachers' lounge afterward).

I would like to think that teachers embrace useful, aligned assessments, and know the difference between finding out what your kids know to help guide your teaching and their subsequent learning --and the use of standardized test data to punish, humiliate and buttress political and economic agendas.

I would also like to think that their associations know the difference, as well. Again--it struck me as schizophrenic for Reg to be out there rhetorically decrying Test World, while allowing a house organ to be printing little articles on Spirit Week for Testing. A kind of mindless, consorting-with-the-enemy thing.

So--while we are living under NCLB, there are certainly modest, intermediate approaches to doing the right thing at test time. Things like NOT giving statewide assessments star billing or scaring the daylights out of little kids.

NCLB will go away when there is sufficient evidence that incessant testing isn't getting us where we want to go--and speaking personally, I suspect that it will be parents who lead that fight, because teachers (who let their unions speak for them) have not articulated a comprehensive case for the correct role of assessments in a good education.

What I wish is that the NEA would be at the forefront of a corresponding movement to reshape public education around the points in Philip's #5. But that's way too much to ask for. Neglecting the Code of Ethics, indeed.

Jim Horn said...

I am nodding at many of your points, but I am more than a bit wary of your sentiment that "NCLB will go away when there is sufficient evidence that incessant testing isn't getting us where we want to go." This assumes that we all have the same destination in mind and that we would be in agreement in how to get there even if we did. I see little in history or the present to suggest this is an accurate read.

The majority of Americans, for instance, still believe in public education, but that strong preference has not stopped the design and implementation of a cynical school privatization plan that will be realized by willfully demonstrating how the public schools are gross failures--all in the name, by the way, of helping the poor, the disabled, the immigrant, and the brown--the same constituencies who are being ground up in the testing crucible, while many of their teachers are squeezed into the role of rigid production workers and testing guards with moral compasses gone haywire.

So please consider that those who designed this NCLB template to privatize schools see very little about NCLB that is not working. It is working quite according to plan. That is why the goal of 100% proficiency is not negotiable by this Adminstration, even though no one remotely believes that it is an achievable goal--by 2014 or 2114. That fact, however, does not stop the sanctions.

In fact, unless we see a bunch more Carl Chews willing to do what is right rather than what is convenient, and a bunch more teacher educators willing educate future teachers on their roles as informed leaders rather than as technocratic lemmings, and a bunch more politicians with a stronger commitment to the Constitution than to the Corpoation, I don't think there is much reason to hope that a parental uprising will change the testocracy. When parents and teachers and academics start speaking with one voice, however, a voice aimed at advocating for children's rights to real schools rather than to test factories, then the politicians will begin to listen.

This last point is a favorite one made by Commissioner Peter McWalters, the education leader in Rhode Island who just lost his job after 21 years because he wasn't raising test scores fast enough to suit Governor Carcieri (R).

Finally, a "comprehensive case for the correct role of assessments" won't be made by parents, I'm afraid. We cannot and should not expect parents to know or to do what those within the university and the professional associations might have already done for them had they, too, not put their conscience on the back burner in favor of job security or the protection of some favorite federal contracts that might have been jeopardized by speaking up for justice, social or otherwise.

Nancy Flanagan said...

Well. I like a good right-wing conspiracy as much as the next guy, but I am of the mind that NCLB, a profoundly dumb package of legislation, got passed because it was long and complex and seemed, on the face of it, to address a whole passel of things that Congress felt guilty about, like what to do about kids in abysmal public schools.

There may have been some carefully orchestrated and concealed malfeasance, but I think there was also a corresponding sense that getting tough and demanding "accountability" would work--that attention would finally be paid to underserved kids with few options, and that the law was a more useful and civic-minded response than vouchers. The law is egregiously bad on a policy level--but I'm not at all convinced that its early proponents had taking down the American common school in mind when they crafted it, and voted for it. The problem now is what to do with the beast, once it revealed its nasty side effects.

I agree wholeheartedly with this:

"When parents and teachers and academics start speaking with one voice, however, a voice aimed at advocating for children's rights to real schools rather than to test factories, then the politicians will begin to listen."

This is a better description of what I was thinking when I suggested that we weren't going to get any movement on NCLB without parent support. Teachers have been marginalized as excuse-makers, and even folks like the estimable Richard Rothstein have been labeled apologists for bad schools. It will take parent (read: voter) engagement (and an administration turnover) to effect a move on NCLB.

What scares me as much or more than NCLB is the sea change over the past decades in our national perception about the purpose of schooling. I agree with David Labaree-- schools have become credentialing factories operating under the illusion of meritocracy, with "job training" being the fallback purpose, prescribed for the disenfranchised folks you mention--the poor, the disabled, etc. We've almost lost the idea of schools as laboratories for democracy; all that's left is some hollow rhetoric about equity and opportunity. NCLB could go away entirely in 2009, and we'd still be left with massive problems to solve and no vision for public schools.

I didn't say that parents would be able to articulate a case for good use of assessments--I said that *teachers* needed to be able to explain the process of productive assessment to parents (many of whom still think assessment = test). Parents want their children to be assessed. They don't want one-size, lockstep, high-stakes test results used to sort or punish their children, though.

I am as disappointed as you in the passivity of teachers in the face of what they surely know to be bad practice instigated by bad policy. Dramatic moves--like refusing to administer statewide tests--get the headlines, but refocus attention on individual actors, rather than systemic damage. Godspeed to Carl Chew and others willing to lay down their careers, but persistence and a flair for the dramatic didn't get Cindy Sheehan (also on the right side of the issues) very far, either.

We need to change minds, beginning with teachers themselves, who must believe that they do have agency and influence.

We're singing from the same hymnbook, Jim. You may have been singing longer than me.

Nancy Flanagan said...

Oops. Longer than I.

Jim Horn said...

I find it odd that thoughtful people find it hard to believe that the same Administration that brought you private armies in Iraq, the new corporate welfare charter school system of New Orleans, the continued and unwavering support for vouchers (going all the back to Barry Goldwater), a plan to privatize Social Security, and a domestic policy playbook written by Karl Rove and Grover Norquist, would somehow NOT be in favor of privatizing public schools.

Let me say something to this part of your response:

“There may have been some carefully orchestrated and concealed malfeasance, but I think there was also a corresponding sense that getting tough and demanding "accountability" would work--that attention would finally be paid to underserved kids with few options, and that the law was a more useful and civic-minded response than vouchers.”

Here is what happened, based on Elizabeth Debray’s legislative history, "Politics, Ideology & Education: Federal Policy During the Clinton and Bush Administrations" (2006). See also McGuinn’s" No Child Left Behind And the Transformation of Federal Education Policy, 1965-2005."

Sandy Kress, Margaret Lamontagne (Spellings), and the handful of sludge tankers worked behind closed doors in the early summer of 2001 on the final draft of the Bill, while Congress and others waited outside. These Bush insiders were clearly aware of recent research presented to them on AYP projections that showed a majority of North Carolina schools, for instance, would fail to make the cut. So while there were and are some who believe in reform by wishful thinking, those who put NCLB together knew that widespread failure was inevitable.

Which brings us to the second point on vouchers. A voucher provision for children in “failing schools” was a part of the original NCLB offering, and it was overridden more than once, the final time in the Spring of 2001—causing great gnashing of teeth among Republicans who threatened to withdraw their support of the Bill. Only assurances that privatization would be achieved by other means brought them back in line.

You see, the Republican Congress had been most receptive when Bush came to town with his testing plan that would offer school vouchers to children in schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress. It was the same Bush plan that would redirect Title I money into block grants that governors could carve up as they saw fit. When it finally became apparent in 2001, however, that a school voucher provision as well as the block grant provision would not be included in NCLB (due to Dem protestations), the Bush team's inside man and chief water carrier in the Senate, Sen. Judd Gregg, rallied support among disappointed Republicans. In doing so, he offered this glimpse into the Rovian education strategy to bring down public schools and, in the process, dump billions into the laps of tutoring concerns run by supporters within the ed industry. From Elizabeth Debray's book, quoting Senator Judd Gregg:.

“Well, the supplemental services [tutoring] are a foot under the door for vouchers. They’re going to show that these schools aren’t working properly, and we’ll finally be able to show that the schools aren’t doing well. The assessments are going to prove the same thing” (Debray, 2006, p. 96).

So it did take some cheerleading by Bush loyalists like Gregg to revive the disappointed Republicans, but in the end the corporate tutoring provision and the charter school sanctioning provisions that would result from impossible performance targets were enough to assure NCLB passage.

Too, by the Fall of 2001, Congress was eager to end debate and get something done domestically before the agenda shifted to war full time. If 9-11 had happened in the Spring of 2001, we would probably be well into solidifying a national voucher program, or “opportunity scholarships” or “Pell Grants for kids,” whichever you choose, if you will.

Nancy Flanagan said...

Gee, Jim. I'm usually the person on the anti-NCLB side of any given argument. But thanks for saying that I'm thoughtful (laughing).

In fact, I distinctly remember explaining to my local EA Bd of Directors, c. 2003, precisely how the Highly Qualified Teacher language was going to force some of our better teachers out of their jobs, and protect other, lesser-light teachers, who happened to pick up some graduate hours that had no discernible impact on their practice. The BOD teachers kept saying "but NCLB won't do that--we have a contract!" But I'm digressing.

While I am not naive enough to think that there weren't high hopes by the Rove-Norquist crowd that NCLB would be another stealth cannon aimed at the great ship called public schooling, there were a lot of principled folks who voted for the darned thing--like 90% of Congress, including some smart and right-thinking politicos. Whether they did so out of political expediency or because they genuinely thought it would improve the worst schools--well, they don't tell you that in the voting records. The whole Education Trust-esque movement to Do Something About Schools (and even those who understand failing schools as 100% symptom, rather than cause)--took their chances on a monster package of legislation that satisfied nobody.

I'm not arguing with any of your facts here--I learn from all of your posts. I'm just not convinced that painting the law's early supporters as co-conspirators gets us where we need to go, at this point in time. In today's Detroit News, Susan Neuman herself, now returned to her professorial role at the University of Michigan, calls NCLB "unwieldy" and "poorly conceived." And she oughta know.

That's where civic discussions on NCLB should begin: The law doesn't work. So what now?

Jim Horn said...

I am reminded of those who say, let's stop arguing about how we got into Iraq and figure out how to get out. Which is exactly the kind of ahistorical, nay, anti-historical thinking that contributed to, otherwise, savvy folks being duped by lies about WMD and A-Q in Iraq. There was something called the Gulf of Tonkin, had it not been forgotten by those who spend all their time looking forward on the sunny side of the street.

The sad truth is the Dems, led by Kennedy and Miller, and the unions rolled over (see Debray again) for the big promise of big bucks for Title I and a big commitment to the profession (2 more lies)--and, of course, Bush ratings in 90s following 9-11 contributed hugely to the Dem cave-in.

There were a few, including Paul Wellstone, who dared speak the truth, which was known by millions of other educators inside and outside AERA and NEA who chose to remain silently intimidated:
“Far from improving education, high-stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, from accuracy, from quality and from equity.”

So, no, not at all do I see the Dems as co-conspirators--their leadership simply capitulated for political reasons that they felt were too important to stand in the way of the Bush war on the public schools. There was and is something appealing, too, to many neo-libs about the idea of running charter schools for the poor at a 20% savings over their crumbling public schools. Witness Bill Clinton's testimonials for Green Dot Public School, Inc. And there was plenty of corporate money to be passed around for support of that idea, which, by the way, would be recouped by tax credits for all the capital ventured to support the corporate welfare charters. Sweet deal, indeed.

Nancy Flanagan said...

[JH] "...exactly the kind of ahistorical, nay, anti-historical thinking that contributed to, otherwise, savvy folks being duped by lies..."

The surrounding text of Santayana's famous "cannot remember the past, condemned to repeat it" quote:

"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence."

Or--to quote another contemporary political orator:

"Fool me once... shame on... shame on you... get fooled, won't get fooled again."

We can focus attention on the concealed evil intentions of drafters of NCLB--or we can try to build a civic consensus on what should happen next, setting direction for improvement on the demonstrated failures of the current law to solve the identified problems. I don't see that as caving in and letting those who conceived NCLB off the hook. I see it as consecutiveness and persistence, very much what Santayana was endorsing.

I have been distracted from this conversation in the past day by a rich dialogue on the Teacher Leaders Network (a closed listserv) on Carl Chew. Posts range from "Carl is a genuine American hero" to "rash actions aren't helpful if we want to make thoughtful change." It's been a great balm to read passionate arguments across the spectrum, because not one person has said "there's nothing we can do"--the core of the discussion has been around how teachers can influence change.

In my original post--the one about the NEA printing guidelines for test prep galas--I was hoping that teachers would simply have an epiphany about the inconsistency of testing their students into a stupor while simultaneously throwing a party to celebrate the tests.

The most conservative and circumspect teachers can refuse to star in such assemblies, without losing their jobs (and their consecutiveness and persistence). They can explain the nature of testing to their students in ways that do not frighten students or threaten their personal integrity. They can speak out, in their neighborhoods and to their congressional reps, against test mania, using powerful personal experience. And they can tell their unions that they are angry that their dues dollars are used to distribute valueless junk.

And when re-auth discussions start, they can refuse to be fooled again.

john in nc said...

While Jim Horn's historical perspective is useful, it's certainly a mistake to write off all support by progressives of NCLB as political capitulation. Many school reformers outside the beltway (yes, there are reformers outside the beltway) with long track records as advocates for "disadvantaged students" -- some going back to the 1960s and the birth of ESEA -- supported NCLB because they were convinced, after many years of pushing reforms at the school and district level, that the barrier of low expectations would never be diminished without putting pressure on teachers who harbored such attitudes. Their goal was to force schools to achieve more with students in poverty. Thus the subgroup accountability strategy. These progressive reformers were naive, of course, to think we will ever engineer better teaching and schools by simply issuing top-down edicts (the highway of history is strewn with that roadkill) but they were not capitulators.

Jim Horn said...

john in nc said...
While Jim Horn's historical perspective is useful, it's certainly a mistake to write off all support by progressives of NCLB as political capitulation. Many school reformers outside the beltway (yes, there are reformers outside the beltway) with long track records as advocates for "disadvantaged students" -- some going back to the 1960s and the birth of ESEA -- supported NCLB because they were convinced, after many years of pushing reforms at the school and district level, that the barrier of low expectations would never be diminished without putting pressure on teachers who harbored such attitudes. Their goal was to force schools to achieve more with students in poverty. Thus the subgroup accountability strategy. These progressive reformers were naive, of course, to think we will ever engineer better teaching and schools by simply issuing top-down edicts (the highway of history is strewn with that roadkill) but they were not capitulators.
__________________________

Thank you, John, for making an important point about progressives, those not-so-long-ago liberals who have self-inflicted a new label to disguise the visible liberal traits that are ridiculed regularly, along with their fearlessness, by the Right. And in this era of “change,” who doesn’t want to be seen as a progressive, especially if the tag can be helpful in avoiding the political flak that usually follows from taking positions of conscience against those without any?

You must know, John, that it was not my intent to paint all progressives, or liberal progressives (which is it?) as capitulators. Not everyone knew of the Bush/Rove plan to use testing to get to privatization. In the Congress, this includes those who, because of more pressing priorities, didn’t care to know. The bliss of ignorance.

More numerous, though, were those, inside and outside of Congress, swept away by the liberal, er, progressive school of reform based on wishful thinking and self-imposed blindness, which, in combination, yields a most dangerous form of self-delusion. It is the kind of thinking that allows, otherwise, caring individuals to set aside the bigotry of low expectations in favor of the callous and cynical racism of impossible demands (see NCLB proficiency goals).

It is the kind of thinking that ennobles the hapless hope of those who come to ignore the devastation that NCLB has wrought to focus, instead, on the visible-if-you-look-hard narrowing of the achievement chasm between the poor and the privileged.

It is the kind of thinking that allows, otherwise, sensible humanitarians to focus on the handful of poor schools that are surviving the educational genocide, while entirely ignoring the fact that the teachers and students in those lighthouse schools are starved for real education (see Linda Perlstein’s TESTED . . . (2007)).

It is the kind of thinking that encourages its proponents to turn their backs on those children rejected because they can’t hack the 60-hour school work week or because they won’t bow to the philosophy of the KIPP schools, the philosophy that begins and ends with “WORK HARD, BE NICE,” the mantra that is emblazoned on the identical t-shirts that children wear in these model reform schools for the poor.

And finally, it is the kind of dangerous delusional thinking that allows people to come to believe that schools and teachers, top down or bottom up—whichever way you prefer to organize them—can get done what poverty has disallowed for much longer than the brief span of time that we have had tests to tell us what we already knew—had we bothered to adjust our “progressive” blinders in order to see around us.

If all the education reformers were to shift their focus and their influence and their efforts to ending poverty and discrimination, rather than putting band-aids on school books, then the achievement gap, which mirrors the family income gap, would not constitute the economic divide that we must yell across while pretending it doesn’t exist. To extend your own road kill metaphor, John, some of those reformers never even saw the truck coming—they simply thought that bright light was the dawning of yet another beautiful day (see Wilkins and Haycock at Education Trust).

Marsha said...

Jim Horn said…..
In fact, unless we see a bunch more Carl Chews willing to do what is right rather than what is convenient, and a bunch more teacher educators willing educate future teachers on their roles as informed leaders rather than as technocratic lemmings…..When parents and teachers and academics start speaking with one voice, however, a voice aimed at advocating for children's rights to real schools rather than to test factories, then the politicians will begin to listen.”

First let me tell you upfront that I am one of people you have defined as a lemming. I assure that I am not despite the fact that I have not taken the Carl Chew approach to protesting NCLB.

Let me go so far as to say that when NCLB first came on the scene, I thought it could be a good thing. Had I known then what I now know, I would have behaved differently. Back then, though, I saw the possibilities of more professional discussions on alignment, vertical accountability and more cohesive work between grade levels, and real attention being paid to subgroups that had previously been masked by overall performance. I still see those benefits because I, almost daily, enter into those kinds of discussions with my colleagues about our curriculums. We are far more knowledgeable about our curriculums and have honed our abilities to teach that material.

Do these benefits outweigh the negatives that I also see? No way. I won’t even begin to list them because others have much more articulately spoken about them…but I see the weariness in my students’ eyes and the weeks on end of block scheduling to do the state tests and on and on. It is one of the cruelest things we could have done to our children and it certainly takes the love for learning out of the equation.

So why haven’t I acted more like Carl Chew? For a couple of reasons, I believe that parents have a much stronger voice in my community than teachers. Our school board listens with intent ears to what parents have to say and go to great lengths to keep them happy. So I agree that my best path to change is through persuading parents.

Here’s what Nancy said…”I said that *teachers* needed to be able to explain the process of productive assessment to parents (many of whom still think assessment = test). Parents want their children to be assessed. They don't want one-size, lockstep, high-stakes test results used to sort or punish their children, though.”

I agree with you Nancy and it’s why I’ve done what I’ve done. I have chosen to engage in conversations with parents about how they have seen their child’s learning environment change. I ask them how they feel about the weeks of test prep and suspension of teaching curriculum??? Parents ask me…what can I do? To which I tell them to call their school board member or the state board members….and to boldly tell them that they are want to leave NCLB out of the equation…maybe demand that we see what it would cost in dollars and then measure the cost/benefit to their student. I’m not sure many of these calls are made, but I can tell you that the backyard conversations are starting up. I think these are seeds of change.

What are other reasons I’m not likely to be a Carl Chew? Well, in my community our curriculum is still in tack. It has unofficially been replaced with test prep stuff. So my way of standing up for what is right is to continue to teach the curriculum. I teach math and I am assessed every year…so I have great reason to be worried. You bet every year I freak out with worry that I have taught my curriculum and concentrated on empowering them with math concepts despite the fact the state test is factoids. And yet, for the past 3 years my kids have done great on the test despite the fact that I don’t abandon curriculum for test prep or that I teach conceptually and we talk big ideas. I still work some test prep into everyday and it does infringe on the usual warm-up practice that I offer…but I have spent the time to figure out how to do both.

I also have lived the lesson of speaking up for something that is “right” and almost losing my job. I did was a rebel 5 years ago when I worked in a district office and I am still paying the price for that. I naively thought that you could speak your mind and your years of excellent service would mean something…well, “it don’t mean a thing”. You are nothing more than a gnat to be swatted down to size. If I were independently wealthy maybe I’d be bolder. I’d sure like to think so. But I am a single parent, I have worked 2 jobs for the last 8 years to put my own children through college and I cannot afford to lose my job.

Just because you don’t see me on the front page of the paper doesn’t mean that I’m not fighting something that I see is flawed and bad for my students. I think there are many ways to protest and to try and change the system. It’s why I’ve become much more involved in learning how to raise teacher voice and how to find our place at the policy making table. It’s why I listen and learn from hundreds of colleagues from across our country within the Teacher Leader Network. I figured out the very hard way that I needed more learning, more breadth to what I knew, a means to finding commonalities with other constituencies and to better articulate what I knew before I stepped out again. Many of us think that same way and we will have our day….and I’m thinking it’s coming sooner rather than later.

The Tablet PC In Education Blog said...

Good provocation, Nancy. Two thoughts come to mind reading through the post and comments.

1. No link exists between public policy and practice without imposing value judgments. As we all know, no policy maker expects agreement on judgments, but policy makers do expect debate in the spirit of comity and practical compromises to accomplish a common goal. How do teachers think this post and its comments contribute to such expectations?

2. NCLB expectations exist as thresholds for eligibility for receiving Federal funding. Kudos to Marsha for saying how she teaches beyond that threshold and to her students who demonstrate the wisdom of Marsha's tactic. She says much that community members can find encouraging to include teachers in education policy discussions.

susan said...

"How do teachers think this post and its comments contribute to such expectations?"

Thank you for asking a question that many policy experts never consider. Nancy began with a legitimate question about NEA priorities. Her starting point and her focus remains, "Yes, but how does this impact children?"

Teachers don't understand the mindset of some policy folks who seem to see education as a sort of fantasy football contest in which "teams" identify their prime players and score points against each other with policy completions and policy fumbles.

Teachers do understand that policy theories and politics are played out on the turf of real schools and that real children must bear the brunt of the untested theories and poltical maneuvering of people who spend little or no time at "the retail level" of the classroom. We also have begun to notice that too often schools with the most limited resources, the least experienced teachers, and the most fragile populations are the least insulated from these experiments.

Teachers are pragmatists. They care about what might yield long term benefits for education in the future, but their professional responsiblity and primary focus is what will help and do no harm to the children in their classroom today. We are less concerned about who came up with the idea than we do about whether or not it works. When theories go bad in practice, we are likely to be more focused on cleaning up the spilt milk than establishing who is to blame.

Do we think that there is a plot to destroy schools? I'd say that most of us don't, but I do believe that many teachers eventually become discouraged and eventually distrustful. That's why it's so important to bring practicing teachers to the policy table. We haven't forgotten that it's about the children.

James Johnson said...

Great, I was just thinking about High Stacked Poker which is a bit similar term.