The Testing Logjam Dynamited Teacher-style

How Standardization, Race to the Bottom (sic-Top) and Most Children Left Behind (NCLB – sic) frame how we talk about education

Can culture-civilization-the world-with-us survive as schools privatize, turn into pipelines to prison and fall prey to charter schools for the rich & broken windows and computers for the poor?

Preface —  Thanks to DV for providing teachers, et al. this column-writing space. It’s absolutely important to emphasize the School Yard Fights our culture and the globe are fomenting. As a call to others out there – theorists, higher education teachers, PK12 educators, cognitive behaviorists, creative artists, planners, anyone with a point or points to make around E-D-U-C-A-T-I-O-N – I want your stuff sent to me, at gro.eciovtnedissid.wennull@luap. It’s a great big topic. Lots of leeway. So bring it on:  Poems, photographs, personal narratives, wonky stuff, and just good old opinion writing and creative non-fiction. Hell, fiction is accepted to. Capiche? And, yes, adjunct faculty writers rule, too.    [ph]


From Seattle to Chicago down to Los Angeles, teachers are getting the soul of Martin Luther King, Jr., of unionists, of the Occupy Movement by revolting … and possibly re-occupying the schools.

Anarchy now in the school yard, as teachers and students rebel against the “teach and tout to the test” mentality that has infected American society for, oh, 40 years, or more – remember all those IQ tests, Baby Boomers – and especially since the Nickel-B  pogrom was passed – No Child (sic) Left Behind (sic).

Education journalist Valerie Strauss, writing at her Answer Sheet blog, puts this most recent revolt – the week of Jan. 13-20th, 2013 – well:

The boycotts are part of a growing grass-roots revolt against the excessive use of  standardized tests to evaluate students, teachers, schools, districts and states. The high-stakes testing era began a decade under No Child Left Behind, and critics say that the  exams are being inappropriately used and don’t measure a big part of what students learn.

Parents have started to opt out of having their children take the exams; school boards have approved resolutions calling for an end to test-based accountability systems; thousands of people have signed a national resolution protesting high-stakes tests;   superintendents have spoken out, and so have teachers. It has been building momentum in the last year, since Robert Scott, then the commissioner of education in Texas, said  publicly that the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be- all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be.

It’s another  mishmash acronym under direct assault — Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) tests. Teachers and students “get” that the MAP isn’t important to students’ final grade or graduation requirement, and most of the material on these tests have anything to do with classes and curriculum.

“I know when I took the test, it didn’t seem relevant to what we were studying in class – and we have great classes here at Garfield. I know students who just go through the motions when taking the test, just did it as quickly as possible so they could do something more useful with their time,” said Seattle’s Garfield High School student body president Obadiah Stephens-Terry.

These students need teachers who will step it up for them, and the students need to coalesce around their teachers. Parents, however, need to come together and face down out of touch, overpaid administrators. Parents need to require that their bosses and co-workers lead the fight for saving the bricks and mortar of the community schools (and libraries and yards as part of the schools), enhancing the activities at school, ripping up concrete and planting gardens, and teaching community assets to be at the school as eyes, ears and noses for the protection of youth, teachers, staff.

No more school to prison pipeline. But first, rebuffing the MAP – Here is a reading expert’s blog, and he is selling teaching materials for reading and language arts teachers – but he also gives us a look at what MAP is all about, among other things. Hit

Boycotting teaching to the test

This is a boycott, spreading from Garfield HS across the Seattle metroplex to Ballard High School.

Their letter – Ballard’s — spread all over town and the local and national media picked up the story. Here’s their main point of solidarity with Garfield and against MAP:

Specifically the MAP test program throughout Seattle Public Schools ought to be shut down immediately. It has been and continues to be an embarrassing mistake. Continuing it even another day, let alone another month or year or decade, will not turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.

It’s a grassroots groundswell against the use of standardized tests to evaluate, intimidate and confine students, teachers, schools, districts and states. They don’t measure what students really learn and what they should be learning.

Learning Across Communities

Our education system is broken in many places, but not busted completely, and the teachers, students, parents and communities within those realms should be the force behind the schools’ destinies and the value behind how those educational frameworks function. We the people have to be a larger part of education that counts, that is relevant, that catches a whole lot of variety, and deals with so many challenges a society with more than 300 million citizens has to face.

We need learning across curricula and learning across skills and professions. We have to incentivize businesses, big and small, to get into the schools as partners, as listeners, and as facilitators to connect the value of those businesses to the value of those students who may be future workers in those businesses.

Repeat: Education and schools and community linkages to the schools in way more forms than are currently practiced should be the new “church” in a sense – community center, cultural hinge, arts incubator, literary hub, and think tank for innovation. Young, active forming minds – minds that are not hitched to old thinking, and minds that have to be unhitched from a consumer addiction mode – should be a larger part of community-municipal-regional-state planning. Youth involved in transportation, buildings, public commons, food systems, recreation, and industries, and in governance.

The MAP is not an indicator of any of those skills necessary to work in a democracy run and controlled by militarists and corporations; nor is MAP helping with facilitation strategies to develop anything close to community-directed educational principles and schooling. What should youth and their parents and all those non-parents need from their government, their businesses, the corporations in their communities and the public sphere and commons the people are in charge of?  This is complex but easily deliverable if and only if we begin to put education – like we should put the environment – front and center in our culture. Without air, water, soil, well, we die and other species die. Without tools, knowledge, critical thinking, skills, history, love of learning, doing, building, creating, well, then we have dirty water, dead soil and no more water. Both erosions equal death.

Trolls on the Internet Are Ruling the Narrative

So, Diane Ravitch also weighed in on the Garfield teachers striking against giving the MAP test. From  Seattle’s KUOW Radio, Ravitch said, “This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the entire staff of a school has said ‘no, we will not do this. It’s not good for the students, and it’s a waste of time and money.’”

Sure, mainstream media clamored around the 19 teachers at Garfield, from TV broadcasters to reporters from such news outlets like the Christian Science Monitor.

But, really, what the teachers are saying and how they are framing their anti-MAP impetus is huge:

“I’m teaching by example. If I don’t step up now, who will?” asked Mario Shauvette, Garfield High math teacher.

Ironically, though, the comments on many of the news sites that have covered this story are made up of a minority —  but a big one —  of folk who blame Johnny-Jane-and-Teacher-Jones/Garcia for everything going wrong in society; blame the Civil Rights movement for the fall of man (white) and the death of good schools (busing did it, they yell); and who believe the market and corporations and a  job are the only definers of humanity, and the lead role of how education should look.

Of course, the large majority of critics of the teachers – dedicated instructors who are not just rebelling but creating a movement toward gaining back the curriculum and the narrative — are anti-worker, anti-collective action, AKA, anti-union. Here’s an example, one that is less bombastic than most, but it’s on Commondreams, and this poster below just goes on and on in the thread, a stream of back and forth yakking, up to 168 total comments as of Friday, January 18, 2013:

However, I think that what is lost in this article/comments is the question of what  started the whole debacle in the first place. This was a long-time adamant  resistance by the teachers union against bad teachers ever being fired for poor performance, a position which finally became untenable with both parents and taxpayers.

In short, it was the teachers themselves who created this situation, so most of them have no one to blame but themselves for what is now being done to their students.  (Excluded from this blame, in my mind, are all of those teachers who were forced against their will to be part of their union.) So, while this action is commendable, I don’t see the majority of the teachers involved in this as the nights (sic) in shining white  armor for true educational reform that others might.

Adjunct Faculty, Speak Up, Please!

This sort of alludes to my first post here at School Yard Fights – where I use the adjunct piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education as an example of those reporters, trolls and triumphant folk who want to weigh in on why higher education is going to hell in a hand basket. The reality is that those with axes to grind, who think the public commons is not public but for private use; those who think public education is indoctrination; those who think fair taxation is letting CEOs, millionaires and corporations get away with no or little contribution to our society, well, they have a lot of steam to write their discord on these sites. Additionally, unfortunately, many on the “right” side of education or any topic for that matter end up in on-line mano-y-mano contests with these he-men:

I did get three likes, on my comment … and I did post my comment last,  10 days after the story went live on the Chronicle’s  site … just to see, just to see what might happen. It’s clear this media ends up sort of just in limbo after a week. In the digital rabbit hole.

I’ve also tried this experiment at Alternet, on the Garfield teachers’ story and on other pieces around education.  Some hefty screamers of the corporate empire kind coming back at me.

A Bar Exam to become a Teacher? WTF?

Here’s one on the new AFT (American Federation of Teachers union) proposal to have a national bar exam type thing for teachers, which is absurd – one comment, mine, and that’s it. It was a busy Jodie Foster and Golden Globes Award and Norte Dame football kind of day, but still, one comment? Says a lot about education as an interesting topic for Americans to grapple with.

To make it clear, I respect much of Diane Ravitch’s educational vision and her own background as a historian and reformed co-former of NCLB. However, I disagree with her agreeing with AFT president Randi Weingarten’s proposal to create the Mother of All Teacher Tests. Luckily, there are some profoundly clear and conscious retorts to a teacher bar exam. Here are two:


Please reconsider your position. We cannot test our way out of this box we’ve been placed in. We need to bolster our teacher ed programs in our universities.

The other component of Randi’s proposal was a full year of student teaching. Again an untenable situation. How many teacher recruits can afford to pay tuition while working for an entire year for free, then have to take a bar type of exam to gain entry?

The risks are too high while the reward is being labeled a failure in the American public’s eye. Why would anyone support their child’s venture into the teaching profession ever again? Hopes that a ‘bar type’ of exam will bring respect to our profession are unfounded in reality.

Let’s require more experience teaching kids as a requirement for administrative positions. Let’s require extensive classroom experience before we will even listen to the reform wonks.

Let’s continue to expose the flaws and hidden agendas of the barbarians at our classroom doors who proposed deforms rather than real reforms.

Let’s stop blaming ourselves.

Bar exams, indentured status for new teachers? No way. Not when we lead the world in so many ways, not when grad rates are at all time highs, not when we’ve been closing the achievement gaps, not when college degrees awarded are at historic highs, not when the so called reformers refuse to address the real underlying issues of poverty, healthcare, single  parent households, children having children, and races to nowhere.

Randi’s proposal is off base. Exams should be required to gain entry into an education program a big difference than a final exam to screen others out. Next they’ll be developing a ‘bell curve’ for potential teachers.

Unfortunately the bell is cracked.

… and then this one.

How would having a “bar” exam through NBPTS , which Pearson now  scores, give teachers control? Doesn’t Teacher Ed already have the same issue with the edTPA and Pearson?

Also, how do you propose that “policing entry” into the ranks be taken away from state  legislatures and Congress? (Shouldn’t we add corporations and ALEC to that?) State legislatures have long had a legal hold on establishing certification requirements and many states are already permitting completely online teacher certification programs.

A case in point is the totally online teacher prep program at Western Governors University,  which was established by 19 governors, has NCATE accreditation (as well as big name corporate sponsors), and Duncan has called for more programs like this. How can we un-ring the bell?

BTW, I turned down several opportunities to prepare people for initial certification in strictly online programs, because I didn’t think it an appropriate medium for that. The vast majority of people whom I have been training online the last several years work at private schools, are already teaching children in classrooms and, due to minimal state requirements in most locations for such settings, few have had ANY teacher training whatsoever. (And they will not become state certified.)

and, finally, this last one on the Ravitch site …

Barbara MadeloniDecember 14, 2012 at 8:32 am

Et tu, Brute? I clicked on the post from Ravitch in which she writes of her support for Weingarten’s call for a ‘bar exam’ for teachers, felt a tightness in my chest, and immediately clicked out. I had to wait until this morning to go back to it, when I could hope (and be pleased to see) that there would be voices of dissent to ease the deep sense of betrayal and hopelessness. Katie Osgood, among others, posted that we need to refuse the meme of the ‘bad teacher’ as it fits neatly within the education de-formers’ playbook. How is it that Ravitch and Linda Darling Hammond, who seem to understand the devastating impact of high stakes testing on children, deny that the same processes are at work in any high stakes environment? How is it that the deeper knowledge of community building; of challenging each other within the context of loving relationships; of exploring teaching and learning from positions of humility, uncertainty, integrity and love; of believing in and supporting the knowledge of our students, of their courage and their capacity to dig deep and venture into new possibilities, is abandoned when it comes to teacher education? Why do our teacher educator leaders so readily accept that we are doing a bad job, and then accept ‘reforms’ that are impersonal and technocratic when teaching is deeply personal, relationship based, and uncertain?

When I entered graduate school in middle age to become a teacher, after practicing in psychology for many years, I was shocked that my adviser suggested that I might be ‘too smart’ to be a teacher. For a long time I understood that statement to reflect that person’s elitism. But I am coming to think about how teaching, especially as women’s work, has always been disparaged within the academy. Teacher educators are on the lowest rungs of the academic hierarchy. Mostly women, many who gained access to the middle class through teaching, teacher educators face the double barreled insecurity of gender and class in the halls of the academy.

How much do we internalize these negative ideas about ourselves and our work? What do we do to prove our worth and who are we proving it to? I fear that, once again, the corporate deformers are skilled at accessing our insecurities, creating a false crisis and narrative about the crisis from these insecurities, and then exploiting our fears and self-loathing.

More concretely, Ravitch and Darling Hammond extol the virtues of Finland’s teacher education programs, but then take the wrong lessons from them. How do we go from paid graduate work with intense focus on collaboration, on examining the intersection between theory and practice, on a deep respect for the complexities and subtleties of the work, to a bar exam? Why not the lesson of: we need to put more money, time and resources into giving teacher educators, k12 teachers, and students time to explore this complex work? Why not, we need to trust educators that, when given the resources, they know what to do with them?

Education deformers have been successful at controlling the narrative about k12 education because they access our secret-even to ourselves-sense that black, brown and poor children are really not quite as capable as white children from wealthy homes, that they need ‘character work’ (see Jim Horn’s post in Schools Matter for more on this). Similarly, the ongoing juggernaut looking to demand high stakes accountability from teacher education grow from a secret-even to ourselves-belief that people who become teachers, and people who become teacher educators, are really ‘not smart’ and need some extra oversight, need to prove themselves.

As a classroom teacher, as a university faculty, I have to attend very carefully to any inclinations I have to decide that any child or student is not capable, or not quite worth the struggle. My practice, I learn over and over again, and have to relearn with each new group of students, must be predicated on a deep trust in the students and in myself, to explore the unknowns, to challenge each other, to enter the ongoing uncertainty of this work. Each semester I relearn that the cores of teaching are trust and the capacity to listen. Discourses of bar exams, accountability, and gaining respect for the profession deny this work, seek to please and appease while silencing the centrality of these values. I refuse that discourse. I wish more of us would.

PS: And any lawyer will tell you that the bar exam is just a huge hurdle, but not a particularly meaningful one for practice.

Bright Comments Should Be Reported On, Troll Drool Chucked

So these three posts are so-so bright, so passionate, so well-laid out, and so-so necessary to be heard on mainstream media, in the mainline stories’ bodies, not just left for the blogsphere comments section. Unfortunately, we are not plumbing the comments section enough for these smart positions and frames. Instead, they get lost in this attack venue of trolls and bullies just going on and on with what they see as their master – capitalism and private power. This world of on-line debates and roiling arguments and the constant need to out-gun and out-type is an interesting phenomenon, for sure. It’s  even debated as part of a new proposal to out on-line bullies. Take a listen here on National Propaganda Radio – or, The Q from Canada – “The Troll Debate”:

So, while the school yard fight in this column is all about national testing for teacher qualifications, and the endless tests given to students at the expense of all those critical learning and acting and doing and connecting “things” that have to go on in schools, it’s clear that this public discourse is creating a new type of thinking and framing.

Back to the Garfield High School protest piece —  a retort to the above message in Commondreams decrying unions and unionized teachers for all the problems that Amerika faces:

I’m a public school guy, and I’ve read John Taylor Gatto and agree with almost everything he has to say. I attribute the condemnable in public education, however, mostly to policy-makers and not to teachers (or, that more expedient, less personal teacher substitute, the teacher’s union). The reason I say that is because all the horrors of standardized education are in place here in my right-to-work state, out here in the sticks where I live, where teacher’s unions have zero clout, no bargaining power at all.

That’s why I read this article and cheer the teachers. They are taking a very John Taylor Gatto position here, in saying no to standardization. They are fighting to make their school more like the charter school you praise here and below.

In your comments somewhere, you are fairly critical of the average American public school kid because of his and his parents’ values being skewed toward tv and video games, and because of Ritalin. Believe me, many public school teachers share your frustration with these values and their corrosive effects on education and the nation’s well-being. That said, I don’t know what to do about it in my school. Those children still need an education. If every school were to raise its standards to the levels of the charter school in VT that you describe (and which I would love to send my oldest son to), what would happen to those little mouth-breathers? I’m not being facetious. In your vision of a nationwide system that educates all American children, what happens with the lower-performing, less motivated students? Someone gets to educate them. (I’m afraid I know who.)

Maybe when school choice is the law of the land, charters and privates will automatically become magnets not only for the best students, but also for the most academically-committed teachers.

I say that from a point of complete neutrality, able to appreciate the uplifting possibilities of a two-tiered system, where the best of the best are concentrated in certain schools, and the dud students and the dud teachers are all pooled together in their own inferior schools. Sounds great for the advanced kids and the committed parents and the teachers who value a rigorous, serious education. And it sounds like it might help America out of its doldrums by letting its best and brightest soar to ever greater heights, unchained from the low-performers that hold them back in their mixed-ability group public school classes.

But then there’s this nagging voice inside me that says, “Democracy.” There’s this thing where I care about those little mouth-breathers, even though they aren’t nerds like me and my little Einstein geek of a son. I don’t just want to write them off, and I assume you’ll assure me that the two-tiered system will elevate all ships because the public schools will be competing for students, in order to survive. But it won’t really be a competition if the public schools have no choice but to take the students rejected by all the other schools, will it? And so the two-tiered system will settle in and calcify…or that’s my fear.

And I’m thinking, that would be great for my son. I know my son would soar in an elite private school. He’s really super smart and a little awkward and highly creative and motivated. Maybe I’m harming him because I’m a public school administrator and he’s stuck in public schools due to me. But I also feel a great deal of pride that he’s getting immersed in real community. He is making friends with rednecks and jocks and experiencing cultures that aren’t really his.

How does choice account for the Island of Misfit Toys effect? I am afraid it just wants to dust off its hands of those kids and families.

Also, when we start sorting kids into schools, I am familiar enough with American history to dread that instead of the “best and the brightest” getting into the voucher and quality charter schools, we’ll see de facto segregation occur, and it will be the “best and the whitest” in those schools. School choice, in my opinion, will spur white flight in our schools, which I assume are our most integrated institutions.

Fascinating conversation here …

Wrap up – Themes to Come

Great points listed above – and I’ll get to some of the stuff he puts out for future School Yard Fights columns, including John Gatto, unions, TV and video games and drugs like Ritalin; lower performing students;  private charter schools taking the best teachers away and the highest performing students ; the privatizers’ path to ghettoized school curriculum; these two-tiered (think more than two, however) system of teaching, employment, culture, society;  The Island of Misfit Toys effect –

The writer brings up the ideas espoused by Aspies – those with some level of reality on the Asperger  spectrum —

The Island of Misfit Toys is like aspie heaven–a place where no one measures up to conventional expectations and you’re not even allowed to stay if you might be the least bit “normal.” A place where it’s okay to be a bird that swims or a cowboy who rides an ostrich.

Because that’s the real issue with living in a neurotypical world, isn’t it? Conventional expectations. If 99% of people had aspie brains instead of neurotypical brains, then aspies would be the baseline. Imagine a world where making small talk was considered dysfunctional and hugging someone you’ve just met was frowned upon.

But we aspies live in a world filled with norms and expectations that we often don’t understand or that we find ridiculous. A world that isn’t going to conform to our standards. So the question becomes: move to the island of misfit toys or give up swimming and learn to fly like the other birds?

The Right to Learn – Universal Declaration Against Ignorance

Absolutely compelling topics coming up in the School Yards Fights columns, largely spring-boarding from the cogent and well-informed, well-researched and empathetic comments from those who do see that Charter 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights compels us to understand that human rights and dignity and the rights of nature must include education –

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

There are 30 articles, and it’s great reading to be discussed with youth before they get infected with the only rights the corporatized society they are entering seem to blare 24-7 torture scene from Zero Dark 30 – the market rules, and marketing all junk, from goods, services and education, rules. Bow to the masters of consumption – empire and neoliberalism. God forbid we question the Walmart-Koch Brothers-Monsanto-Exxon narrative.

Finally, a history teacher’s own words quoted in mainstream news on why he and others are rebelling against MAP at Garfield High:

“To use this (MAP) as a tool to evaluate our teaching makes no sense,” said Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher at Garfield High. “They’re setting us up for failure. And Garfield High School is  not a failure. We’re the home of (former students) Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee, and Quincy Jones.”


Are there three distinct learning styles? Should we teach to auditory, visual, kinetic styles to differentiated student types?

Here’s a cognitive psychologist’s take on that, via You Tube

See you at the playground – err, well, they have been ripped up. Okay, see you at the Pepsi dispenser!!!

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.