Passerby in downtown Providence jumped, startled, as a ghoulish-looking crowd of young people turned the corner of Kennedy Plaza. Green skin shined, sunken eyes stared, and torn, blood-spattered clothes dragged as they shuffled down Westminster Street. These dreadful-looking young men and women gathered at the entrance to the Rhode Island Department of Education, where, instead of battering down the door in search of brains, these zombies showed they had plenty already. One demonstrator stepped forward, megaphone in hand. “We are here to protest the use of high-stakes standardized testing, and the zombifying effects it is having on our state’s young people,” he proclaimed. This passage, which appears on page 135 of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, is one of many examples of the growing push back against high-stakes testing occurring throughout our nation. As a postscript to the story of this student protest, in June 2014, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed legislation placing a three-year moratorium on the use of standardized testing as a graduation requirement. During the debate prior to the voting, many legislators explained that the student activism had changed their thinking on the issue.
Mrs. Ortman had earned the reputation of being one of the strictest and most imposing teachers in our elementary school. When I learned that she would be my teacher, I began my fourth year of school with great trepidation. Fortunately, she became one of my most influential teachers and changed my life. Her high expectations for me set the tone for my entire educational career and continue to influence me to this day. Of course, I am not alone in telling my story. Most of us can point to one or more teachers who had a positive influence on our lives. According to a survey conducted by the global financial institution ING in conjunction with the National Teacher of the Year Award, 98 percent of adults believe that a good teacher can change the course of a student’s life and 80 percent can identify at least one teacher who had a significant, positive impact in their own lives. In fact, teachers are second only to immediate family as the group having the greatest, positive impact on their lives. Unfortunately, the current hyper focus by our nation’s education reformers on teacher accountability… Continue reading
A great irony is now taking place in education. While leaders of the education reform movement in our country are trying to model our education system after countries whose students have historically outperformed America’s students on high-stakes tests, some of those very same countries are trying to make their education system more like ours. Take, for example, China. Dr. Yong Zhao is an internationally known scholar who studies the impact of globalization and technology on education. He is also author of the book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China Has the World’s Best and Worst Education. Dr. Zhao explains that China has an effective system to prepare students to pass exams. It is a system that includes devoted parents and diligent students who are convinced that the only path to a worthy life is passing the exam and who are punished or rewarded according to their exam results. However, unless the Chinese only want obedient, compliant, and homogeneous workers, they know they have to shift the emphasis of their educational system. The West, according to Dr. Zhao, is where China is working to find the inspiration it desperately… Continue reading
If we tell the American people how the education reform movement is impacting them and their public schools, will it matter to them? This is a big unanswered question on the minds of many of our educational leaders. This past Sunday, I learned, once again, that it matters a lot. The setting was the meeting room of the public library in Green Valley, Arizona. Green Valley is a retirement community located 25 miles south of Tucson. The audience included about 30 senior citizens and the discussion which focused on the state of education in Arizona was led by a panel of educators that included two area school superintendents and an elementary building principal. Following overviews of the positive things that are happening in their school systems, the three educational leaders responded to the question: What major challenges are you and your schools facing? Since Arizona is at or near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to financial support of its public schools, initial responses not surprisingly centered around funding-related issues and concerns such as the difficulty of filling open teaching positions due to the state’s low teacher salaries. Then, the… Continue reading
With the Republicans poised to take control of the United States Senate for the next two years, the bleeding of tax dollars from our nation’s public schools to charter schools will likely increase. Unfortunately, most citizens have no idea this is happening. Not surprisingly, school choice and vouchers are a top priority for Republic leaders in the House and Senate. According to Education Week, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell have pledged a renewed effort to debate and vote on the many bills that passed the Republican-led House in recent years with bipartisan support, but were never even brought to a vote by the Democratic Senate majority. These bills include legislation to support innovative charter schools around the country. However, while the majority of Americans support the concept of charter schools, they do not support using their tax dollars to pay for them. In its 2014 poll of public attitudes toward our country’s public schools, Phi Delta Kappan and Gallup reported that while two out of three Americans like the idea that charter schools operate under a charter or contract that… Continue reading
It is official. My new book, America’s Schools at a Turning Point: And how we THE PEOPLE can help shape their future, is now available on Amazon. I hope it resonates with the American people and makes a difference for our nation’s public schools. I welcome any and all feedback. Thank you in advance for your support.
In 1831, the French government sent twenty-seven-year-old Alexis de Tocqueville to America to study and report on the American prison system. He traveled across our nation making notes not only on the prison systems but on all aspects of American society and government. From these notes Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America. In his final campaign address in Boston, Massachusetts, in November 3, 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower referred to one of Tocqueville’s most powerful and often-used quotes: “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers—and it was not there … in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there … in her rich mines and her vast world commerce—and it was not there … in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution—and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” Throughout my life, I have observed this goodness.… Continue reading
Resistance to test overuse and misuse has reached unprecedented heights across the nation. This year, resistance won notable victories, such as ending, lessening or postponing graduation exams in at least eight states and easing or ending grade promotion tests. The ultimate goals of the movement are to dramatically reduce the amount of testing, end high stakes uses, and implement educationally sound assessments. An in-depth look at the rise of anti-standardized testing movement recently appeared on the website of the Washington Post.
One of the major reasons why I wrote America’s Schools at a Turning Point: And how we THE PEOPLE can help shape their future is that our nation’s teachers are currently overwhelmed by the parade of education reforms being foisted upon them and their students. As a result, many of our teachers are worn out both physically and emotionally, and some are being stretched to their breaking point. An all-too common example of how waves of school reform efforts have negatively impacted teacher morale is contained in the heart-felt words of a twenty-four year veteran teacher in Ohio. Her letter describing why school isn’t for children anymore was published on the website of the Washington Post this past March.
To put it bluntly, the future of our nation’s public schools is now even more uncertain and the need to sit down with the American people and talk about it is even greater as a result of the elections last Tuesday. While much of the media coverage has focused on the Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate, for our nation’s public schools the most significant impact of Tuesday’s elections will occur at the state level. According to the National Journal, the governorships provided the biggest surprises of the night, with Republicans nearly running the table, mostly in Democratic states. They entered the night holding 30 governorships, a high-water mark given that most were elected in the 2010 wave. They could end the night controlling as many as 35. The prediction of a group of 50-75 influential leaders who are shaping federal education reform, including individuals who have served or are currently serving as key policy and political “insiders,” is that school choice and teacher tenure reform efforts will gain more traction while the Common Core standards will face a significant setback as a result of the outcome of the governors’ races across the country.… Continue reading