Bob Shepherd: Why High-Stakes Testing is an Act of Violence Against Students

This post by Diane Ravitch, where she shared Bob Shepherd’s comments about standardized testing, really resonated with me.

Shepherd’s comments are spot on. What he said is the reason I quit in 2016. And they are the source of my frustration now that I am back in the classroom.

Until we realize this – “Standardized testing is a vampire that sucks the lifeblood out of education” – and do this – “Put a stake in it” – by upturning state legislation that requires us to use standardized test scores to make high-stakes decisions, THERE WILL BE NO IMPROVEMENT. Nothing will change, nothing will get better, nothing will improve – our attitudes about public education, our students’ performance and desire to learn, NOTHING – until we do this.

It IS that serious.

Testing is a disease that all our legislators are sick with, and the only cure is to TRUST TEACHERS and get rid of the tests.

And if we can’t get rid of the tests, then there is something we can do. We can put these tests in their place. To do that, we must remove ALL the high stakes that are attached to them. That means teacher evaluations, student grades, grading schools and districts according to them, judging real estate markets on “good school” defined by them… ALL OF IT. All of the high-stakes decisions that are made because of test scores. If we truly do that, we will be left with a test that students take each year that simply give us a snapshot of how they are doing and nothing more. We had that before NCLB took over and brought us to where we are today.

I also want to share some of the comments, which also really touched me. Here they are:

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Thank you for this, Bob! We need an army of us old war horses! Here’s a paragraph from my book: “Good Behavior and Audacity”:

Here is where I permit myself a tirade. Testing. I have the chops to say what I am going to say. I’ve spent years in the classroom, and I share my concern with tens of thousands of teachers who have observed classrooms numbed by incessant test preparation. I’ve witnessed the terror in seven-year-old faces, the tears, the vomiting, the quivering chins, and the shaking hands (as though today’s children did not have enough cause for stress in their innocence). I’ve seen teenagers wilt with boredom after hours of studying test-taking skills and simply disappear into daydreams or rebel with outrageous behaviors. I know brilliant adults who have internalized a “below average” assessment of their own intellect for their entire lives because of one totally irrelevant SAT or IQ score. I’ve attended days of professional development, with free lunch provided, teaching me how to legally boost test scores. I know all the tricks. It’s legal but it’s still cheating! None of it, not one second of it, constitutes what I consider education.

And Bob Shepherd’s response:

Beautifully said, Ms. Lithgow! And spot on. And yes, test prep improves test scores, up to a point. It familiarizes kids with the formats of the tests and gives them some tricks to apply to answering the questions. That’s why test prep companies can offer money-back guarantees if their test prep classes don’t result in point increases on tests like the SAT. But what a waste of dis’ time and emotional energy!!! People not in the classroom or in the educational publishing biz fail to understand the extent to which the test prep has metastasized throughout our curricula–pushing out quality instruction. The opportunity costs of this are breathtaking.

The federal standardized testing has had horrific effects on K-12 education, and it will not end until we see MASSIVE nonviolent resistance of the kind that could best be organized by our teachers’ unions. The union leaders need to understand that they have a moral obligation, an obligation to the next generation of kids, to lead this resistance, and the time is ripe. The kids and parents and teachers hate these tests, for good reason. And, a lot more teachers hate them than will admit to this because many live in fear of the Occupation forces in their schools. Teachers talk about this among themselves and then dutifully put up their “data walls” and conduct their “data chats” because otherwise, they will be fired.

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All this reliance on high-stakes testing and scores has led to this over emphasis on DATA. Teachers are stressed to the limits because of it. We can’t teach students because we have to focus so much on test data.

Every time I’m in a meeting where we are discussing test data and data walls and data chats and data points and on and on and on, my soul dies a little. And it’s those days I go home and question my decision to come back to the classroom.

Something has got to change. We must TRUST TEACHERS TO TEACH and get all the legislation OUT of our schools. Accountability has become something so twisted that it is ruining our children and their love of learning and forcing teachers to say goodbye to their passion of educating others. YES, IT IS THAT SERIOUS.

Tim Slekar, dean of the School of Education at Edgewood College, recently said this same thing and more – this is a great interview.

What I really want to do is SCREAM all this to our legislators because they are the ones holding the power on this issue.

Here’s the original post:

Diane Ravitch's blog

Bob Shepherd, our resident scholar, wrote this insightful comment:

Anyone who has taught high-school kids knows that they are extremely emotionally unstable. It’s a difficult time. It’s the time in which we all struggle with establishing an identity that will be acceptable to/accepted by the others around us. One way in which kids do that is by rebelling against their parents and teachers and older authorities in general. This rebellion can take forms both positive and negative.

On the positive side, many turn to resistance against how older people have messed things up for them–have given them human-caused climate change or dying oceans or Trump and his stupid wall. On the negative side, many turn to destructive behaviors of which older people disapprove–drinking and drugs and petty theft (shoplifting) and dangerous sexual experimentation for which they are not ready physically or emotionally. High-school kids tend to be extreme about everything–extremely…

View original post 623 more words

The fight for Nashville

Over the last couple of years, teachers have been growing a movement here in Nashville, our own Red for Ed movement. It’s been slow to build, but then again, these things take time if they are really going to make a difference.

We have a robust Facebook group, and we regularly move into action, from walk-ins at schools across Nashville to writing postcards to local and state legislators to speaking up at the school board and city council to canvassing for pro-public education candidates.

The bottom line is this: we want fully funded schools.

But one frustration in all of this is that we shouldn’t have to be doing all of this. We should have a city behind us, fully invested in the success of our public schools. Fully funding our school shouldn’t be something we have to constantly fight for. And so, we will continue fighting to change that paradigm.

Part of doing that means that we desperately need new leadership in Nashville. While current Mayor David Briley panders for votes from teachers, we must do better. Briley recently “found” money to put towards an additional 3% raise for teachers, giving us a total of 6%, which is really only a COLA and not a true raise. And there still are no step increases. And this newly-found money may not truly be sustainable. I can see right through this – it’s a trick to get more votes.

I’m not buying it. Which is why I am strongly endorsing John Ray Clemmons for the mayor of Nashville.

Here is an editorial I wrote for The Tennessean – including the names of over 130 citizens who agree that we need John Ray Clemmons:

Why Nashville needs John Ray Clemmons

After the recent disappointing budget vote by City Council, teachers are frustrated. That frustration stems from two years’ worth of work raising awareness of our underfunded schools and teacher shortage problems.

Quite frankly, Nashvillians are tired of feeling like the leadership of this city cares more about tourism and corporate dollars than they do about us.

We are long overdue for a leader who cares deeply about the people in this city, for someone who can balance the needs of a growing city with all the things that make Nashville great. For someone who has the impetus to make life better for all of us – teachers, police officers, fire fighters, bus drivers, city workers, and families.

That person is John Ray Clemmons.

He leads with heart and a conviction that our lives and our livelihoods matter. This conviction shows in his professional life as a lawyer and state legislator and in his personal life. He is the only mayoral candidate with children in our very own Metro Nashville Public Schools. This decision cannot be overstated; it shows a personal commitment to our public schools that many of our leaders lack.

John Ray Clemmons has a solid history of standing with teachers and community leaders for what we need in Nashville. He is genuine and humble, two qualities we have not seen for a long time. Clemmons has a true desire to be a public servant and has said that he will serve with less concern about being reelected than doing what is right.

As teachers, we know the role we play in children’s lives is deeply important, but truthfully, we all play a role – from teachers to parents to community members who don’t have children in schools. We can agree that our schools need to be fully funded, which means that teachers earn a fair salary and have the resources needed to help children, and doing this will require some difficult decisions. But more than that, we need the city behind us, supporting those services that have a direct impact on our children and our communities, like transportation, access to city services, strong libraries, and community centers. Clemmons will lead this charge.

Citizens see business booming and increased tourism. We see the shiny new buildings and expensive apartments being built. We know money is flowing in, but it hasn’t been accessible to fund the public services needed to keep our city running. As more residents realize that having a big event come here means more to city leaders than the people who live in and serve this city we love, more people are getting angry. We need a leader who understands the balance between how to handle growth while preserving all the things we love about Nashville. Clemmons is that leader.

Teachers are running out of patience for the support we need to be successful in teaching our city’s children. We are tired of empty words, support but no action, and it is time for true change to occur. This city council has had two years of stalled efforts to begin the process of fully funding our schools. We know it won’t happen overnight or even in one fiscal year, but that process has again failed to even begin! We are sick of it.

Nashville can’t continue to go down this road where its citizens do not feel respected. We have a lot of love for our city, and we want better for its future.

Join us on Saturday, July 13 from 1-3 PM at 3rd and Lindsley for a rally and then early voting. We need John Ray Clemmons as the mayor of Nashville. The very soul of our city is at stake.

Mary Holden, MNPS teacher and parent

Theresa Wagner, MNPS teacher

Amanda Kail, MNPS teacher

Michele Sheriff, MNPS teacher

Katherine Green, MNPS teacher

Erick Huth, MNPS teacher

Lyn Hoyt, MNPS parent

Kristin Dillard, MNPS parent

Amy Ryan, MNPS teacher

Beth Joslin Roth, MNPS parent

Anna Shepherd, MNPS grandparent and school board member

Jessica Sullivan, MNPS teacher

Lynne McDonald, MNPS teacher

Stephanie Montenegro, MNPS parent and parent outreach translator

Jen Simon, MNPS speech-language pathologist

Jodi Sheffield, MNPS teacher

Julie Kuchinski-Elliott, MNPS teacher

Samuel Elliott, MNPS paraprofessional

Shiloh Burns, MNPS teacher

Paige La Grone Babcock, MNPS teacher, parent, and teacher spouse

Eric Babcock, MNPS teacher, parent, and teacher spouse

Sharon Osborne, MNPS teacher

Patricia Wolford, MNPS teacher

Elizabeth Kyle, MNPS teacher

Sara Morrison, MNPS teacher

Michelle Bell, MNPS school psychologist

Ashley Morrow, MNPS teacher

Zerlinda Jessee, MNPS teacher and parent

Amy Flatt, MNPS teacher

Kimberley Jones, MNPS teacher

Carrie Danaher, MNPS teacher

Cami Weber, MNPS teacher

Alyssa James, MNPS teacher

Jennifer Kimball, retired MNPS teacher

Cindy Kleinrock, MNPS teacher

Debra Perry, MNPS teacher

Jessica Gleadall, MNPS teacher

Sherrie Martin, MNPS teacher

Terah Pring, MNPS teacher

Denise Sloan, MNPS teacher

Charlene Culbertson, MNPS teacher

Kristine Harrison, MNPS teacher and parent

Lisa Waynick, MNPS teacher

April Reynolds, MNPS teacher

Katie Karijolich, MNPS occupational therapist

Kelly Phipps, MNPS occupational therapist

Ann Lemon, MNPS teacher

Cindy Greer, MNPS teacher and parent

Jordan Chitwood, MNPS teacher

Jennifer Neal, MNPS teacher and parent

Abby Greenwood, MNPS teacher

April Lazarus, MNPS teacher

Kimberly Follis, MNPS teacher

Tara Johnson, MNPS counselor and parent

Mychelle MacKay, MNPS teacher

Briana Harris, MNPS teacher

Greg Smedley-Warren, MNPS teacher

Connie Hoover, MNPS teacher

Kevin Blades, MNPS teacher

Rene Jordan, MNPS teacher

Viki Cauthen, MNPS support staff

Lauren Fredericksen, MNPS teacher

Helen Conlee McMackin, retired MNPS teacher and grandparent

Janet Coke, MNPS teacher

Denielle Helton, MNPS teacher

Elizabeth Metts, MNPS teacher

Susan Saar, MNPS teacher and parent

Carol Burden, MNPS teacher and parent

Tamara Baxt Clemmons, MNPS parent

Rebecca Hickey, MNPS support staff

Ginny Cox, MNPS teacher

Patricia Miller, MNPS social worker

Jolie Cox, MNPS alumna

Sally Worsham, MNPS teacher and parent

Amanda Mgbodille, MNPS substitute teacher and parent

Chelsea Mangrum, MNPS teacher

Kristin Petrony, MNPS teacher and parent

Lillian Boeskool, MNPS substitute teacher and parent

Allie Sebastian, MNPS teacher

Camilla Spadafino, MNPS teacher

Mary Jo Tewes Cramb, MNPS teacher and parent

Abigail Tylor, MNPS parent and former teacher

Julie Trudel, MNPS teacher

Deborah Taliaferro, retired MNPS teacher

Aimee Hall, MNPS teacher

Amanda Baker, MNPS teacher and parent

Ashley King, MNPS parent

Julie Crowe, MNPS teacher and parent

Susan Norwood, MNPS teacher and grandparent

Cynthia Jones, MNPS teacher

Lisa Mingrone, MNPS parent

Rebecca Spencer, MNPS parent

Cecilia Bragg, MNPS support staff and parent

Coreen Havron, MNPS parent

Amanda Garner, MNPS parent

Jennifer Burnell, MNPS teacher and parent

Jeanne Harnishfeger Rowan, MNPS teacher

Eileen Hernandez, MNPS counselor and parent

Melissa Butler, MNPS parent

Brett Rackoff, MNPS teacher and parent

Genny Petschulat, MNPS teacher

Jennifer Broeder, MNPS teacher

Santana Clardy, MNPS paraprofessional and parent

Jayne Riand, MNPS teacher and parent

Julie Young, MNPS teacher

Kay Beard, MNPS teacher

Emily Bryan, MNPS teacher

Lynn Buchanan, MNPS grandparent

Becky Gore, MNPS parent and former paraprofessional

Logan Kelton, MNPS teacher

Alexandra Powell, MNPS teacher and parent

Brenda Lee Peery, MNPS teacher

Megan Baker, MNPS teacher and parent

Lauren Lane, MNPS teacher and parent

Carl Lane, MNPS teacher and parent

Pat Sanders, MNPS teacher

Patrick Flannery-Reilly, MNPS teacher

Kristi Bowling, MNPS teacher and parent

Codi Cummings, MNPS teacher

Kristin McLaughlin, MNPS teacher

Elizabeth Morton, MNPS teacher

Nicole Motzny, MNPS parent

Jessica Jarrett, MNPS teacher and parent

Rachel Roddick, MNPS parent

Chris Moth, MNPS parent

Lindsay Fa, MNPS parent

Brooke Hall, MNPS teacher and parent

Carol Bapty, MNPS parent

Donna Harris, MNPS teacher

Fran Clarke, retired MNPS teacher and parent

Keith Wilson, MNPS teacher

Christine Pulle, MNPS parent

Laureen Greathouse, MNPS teacher

Carrie Fanning, MNPS teacher and parent

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Y’all, we can change things for the better. We can reclaim the soul of this great city.

BUT WE HAVE GOT TO VOTE!

Let’s make it happen.

 

 

 

 

In the middle

I am in the middle.

For starters, I just spent the last year in middle school. As a 6th grade teacher. And having spent 15 years teaching in high schools, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wasn’t sure if I would like it.

But I loved it.

There are many weird things that happen in middle school that I never experienced as a high school teacher. Boogers. Penises drawn in weird places. Bad smells, especially after PE on a hot day. Excessive bottle flipping. Weird dance moves that kids break into constantly and at the most random times. Fortnite, Fornite, Fornite. Pokemon. K-Pop. More Fortnite. Do you play Fornite, Mrs. Holden? No?? Why not? Some unusually phrased graffiti in the bathroom because these kids think they know what they’re talking about when it comes to sex but really they have no idea (most of them, anyway).

Also, farts. I mean, audible farts during class. Oh, and burps, too. And lots of talking about farts and burps. Do these kids not realize the embarrassment it might cause them? No, not in 6th grade, they don’t. I’m teaching 7th grade next year – next summer, I’ll give a full report on whether or not they care about these things yet.

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In 6th grade, there are loose teeth and boo-boos healed with Band-Aids. Silly jokes. Random stories that go on and on about what they did over the weekend. And there are hugs. Hugs because they are happy and hugs because they are feeling sad. There are tears sometimes. Tantrums, even. I’ve been called Mom more than once. That doesn’t really happen in high school much. I mean, think back to your own experience in middle school. It’s a really strange and awkward time in life. It’s something we all have to get through. And so teaching middle school is full of unusual things that happen on a daily basis.

But I also experienced real joy. Kids who love to read. (YAY!!! This makes me so happy!!) Kids who still see the magic in things. (I may or may not have squashed a student’s belief in the Elf on the Shelf being real.) (Yes, in 6th grade!) (Also, I’m sorry about that, kiddo, I thought you knew!) When we were studying Ancient Egypt in Social Studies class and we mummified a chicken, they were really into it! And when we read The Giver, Freak the Mighty, and Refugee in English class, they were really moved. Like I could see the awe and fear and sadness and joy in their faces as we read and talked about each book. That kind of thing dwindles away as we get older and is much harder to detect in high school. Kids this age are creative and love to show it – they wrote creepy tales of their own and created ABC books about ancient civilizations. I feel like I really got to know my students this year and, as a result, really grew to care deeply about them in a way I didn’t always experience at the high school level. And as a bonus, most of my students really like school and learning new things! It was inspiring to see.

On rainy days when we had indoor recess, my students played Uno or some other game, or we watched Brain Games or Goosebumps or The Incredibles 2 or Spy Kids. They loved it. I liked that the simple things still made them happy. Oh, and recess! We don’t have that in high school. And having to supervise recess was interesting as well. Getting to watch kids play for the most part was nice to see. Yes, I also saw gossip and a LOT of drama, as these kids try to figure out how to navigate in the grown-up world that they are fast approaching. But I saw genuine innocence and the joy of childhood.

(And by the way, all students who have phones are required leave them untouched and turned off in their lockers during the day. I can’t even begin to express how much of a positive difference this makes! And don’t even get me started on why an 11-year-old needs a phone in the first place. Any drama we did see at school was usually caused by something happening online in a group text or on Snapchat or Instagram… anyhow, that’s a different topic for a different blog post. And yes, parents, your children who have phones are sending nudes and viewing things you’d flip out about if you only knew. PLEASE PAY MORE ATTENTION. MAKE IT STOP…. Okay, I’ll stop for now.)

I’m actually excited for the next school year to begin. Middle school – where daily adventures await!

**

I am also in the middle of my career.

Like smack dab in the middle. I taught for 15 years, but then I tried to get out of this career for a couple years. But ultimately, I was drawn back in. And at 45 years old, I’ve got another 15 years before I turn 60 – and hey, 60 sounds likes a good age to retire. Maybe. I don’t want to think too hard about that now.

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Teaching really is a calling. I love what I do. Even when I am exhausted like I’ve never been exhausted before. Case in point: when school ended, I told my husband I could sleep for three days straight and then, maybe I’d start to feel like my normal self again. There is just no exhaustion like end-of-the-year exhaustion for teachers.

Anyhow, I’ve been on summer break now for a week, and I’m feeling pretty relaxed. I’ve already started thinking ahead to the next school year.

imagesWhen I think ahead to what remains in my career, I feel excited. And I think that’s important. When I quit in 2016, it’s because I really thought I was done. I had lost the joy and the spark I had as a new teacher. But after some time off, I feel like my spark is back.

Teaching is still demanding and tiring, but I feel good about going to work each morning.

After caffeine, of course.

One thing that helped me maintain my spark was the amazing group of teachers I worked with this year. In high school, of course I worked with other teachers, and some are still great friends of mine. But generally speaking, teachers don’t have the chance to really bond like they do when teaching middle school.

In middle school, my grade level team worked together all year long. We ate lunch together every day. We bitched, we gossip, we laughed, we shared joys, sorrows, and hard times. We wore matching Sixth Grade Squad t-shirts. We wore #RedforEd on Tuesdays. We celebrated each other’s successes, birthdays, weddings, and a retirement with potlucks and parties during lunch time. And we had Chick-fil-A Fridays on paydays. We still have an ongoing text thread that will live on in infamy! We were there for each other in a way I have never experienced in my career. I have never felt that level of support.

We truly cared about each other and our well being, and we took care of each other through the ups and downs of the school year. Anyone who has ever taught with such a crew knows how important your teacher squad is to your well being! But I’d never truly had that before. So now, as a middle school teacher, this level of camaraderie and support is something I’m going to expect!

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I love y’all! #SixthGradeSquad
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We are #RedforEd! And we have perfected our sorority poses!

I’m transferring schools this coming year. New grade level, new school, new teacher squad. I’m excited. (But thank goodness for summer break!)

Middle school is a unique place – a weird place, but also a very special place.

I’m grateful to be in the middle.

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Gratitude

It is the night before Christmas.

As usual, time just flew by this year – especially once I started teaching again – and I can’t believe tomorrow is Christmas.

That feeling happens every year. When Christmas finally gets here, I always feel like it was Thanksgiving only yesterday.

Tonight, after all the errands have been run, groceries have been bought, presents have been wrapped, I am filled with gratitude. And exhaustion.

But mostly gratitude.

I am grateful to have a job teaching in a school where the staff is supportive and kind. It makes a world of difference walking into a building each morning where you feel cared about and appreciated.

I never thought I would teach middle school, but here I am, teaching (and loving) 6th grade English and social studies. I am grateful for this job.

I am grateful to work with the most caring team of teachers I’ve ever worked with. My sixth grade “squad” is wonderful! We eat lunch together every day, we celebrate each other’s birthdays, we are there for each other – to listen, to vent, to help. I have never worked with a more supportive group. And I actually like them, too! I’ve never experienced this level of professional camaraderie before, and I love it.

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#sixthgradesquad #hghillmiddle #pantherpride

I am grateful for my students. I’ve never taught 6th grade before (I’ll have to devote an entire post about what it’s like to move from high school into middle school because whoa! is it different!), and I was nervous about it. Would I like it? Would I be annoyed? Would I be able to deal with it? And I’m pleased to report I have made it through my first semester of middle school with flying colors!

Granted, I was dragging my butt into work each day from Thanksgiving until winter break… but I made it. There were days I thought my head would spin off and explode. There are days when I was nearly braindead and unable to form sentences after a day of teaching. There are weekends when all I wanted to do was sleep. I mean, this is a… fascinating… and crazy… but mostly awesome… age to teach.

My students are filled with wonder and hormones and silliness and compassion for the world around them. I feel grateful for the opportunity to spend time with them each day, hopefully teaching them a thing or two and inspiring them to want to learn new things. They have been a blessing. Even when they’re sometimes annoying and stressful, they are a blessing.

This Christmas, I experienced something I have never experienced in 15 years as a high school teacher… gifts from my students. As a high school teacher, this just doesn’t happen. I mean, sometimes, maybe, but not like this. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude and goodwill as I carted my bags of gifts home last Friday.

I feel gratitude for my daughter’s teachers. She is also in middle school, in her first year there as a fifth grader. She is having a (mostly) great year, playing the tuba in the beginning band, acting as a villager in the school’s upcoming production of Beauty and the Beast, and enjoying her studies of division, decimals, and the Civil War. She has been reading nonstop. She has been excited to go to school daily. I am so thankful for everyone at her school who has been there for her in this big transition into middle school.

I am grateful for my husband. Because of his support and the work he does, I was able to quit teaching in 2016 to take time to figure out what I wanted to do. Burnout is real, and I seriously needed a break. Along the way, I gained a new skill as a massage therapist and really allowed myself to relax. I completely understand not everyone can just quit their job and go do something else, which is why I am grateful.

Because of that time away from the classroom, when I returned to teaching this year, I felt renewed and ready for more – hopefully many more – years in the classroom.

There are so very many bad things happening in our world, in our country, in public education. There is no shortage of things to be outraged about. There are many things to be angry about and complain about. And I do my share of that.

But I am also grateful for the opportunity to be a teacher, and I never want to take that for granted. Teaching is a gift.

And yes, there is much work we, as teachers, need to continue doing – we need more respect and autonomy and pay and representation – and we will continue that in the year to come. Make no mistake – teachers will keep fighting for public education.

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But for now, I’ll take my two (unpaid) weeks off to relax and recharge for the second semester. And I’ll continue to reflect on all the things I am thankful for as a teacher.

Happy Holidays, everyone. May we all have something to be grateful for in the coming year.

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You don’t know what you don’t know

I’ve been a teacher for a while now. One thing I’ve noticed is how few teachers really know what’s going on in the state of public education.

They know what’s going on in their classrooms, of course, and at their schools. They may even have a vague sense of what’s happening at the district level. But beyond that – state legislation that affects public education, who said state legislators are and what their beliefs are, federal education guidelines like ESSA and how they affect things like testing and accountability, etc. – they don’t know.

And maybe worse, they don’t know what they don’t know.

They aren’t really aware of how what is happening at the state and federal level affects them in their classrooms.

I’m not necessarily laying blame here. Ignorance is bliss, so they say. But what I’m trying to understand is why. Why don’t they know what’s happening?

It could be because they are overwhelmed. Or complacent. Or uninterested.

But many are just unaware. I know teachers – and parents – who feel frustration about things but never do anything about it. I guess it just depends on the person and how much they want things to change.

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Who are we talking about here anyway?

John Merrow writes about people fitting into one of four categories when it comes to knowledge about public education: The “DeVosians,” “Education Reformers,” those who don’t know or who aren’t involved, and the Progressives. I, along, with Merrow, see myself as a progressive. Not just because I’m a teacher and a parent of a public school student, but because I truly believe in the importance of a strong public school system.

As Merrow writes:

How about you?  Deep down, are you a progressive?  Ask yourself these simple questions.

1) Do you want your child or grandchild to be in schools where the adults look at each kid and wonder “How Smart Is This Child?”—and then sort them accordingly?

2) Or would you choose a school where the adults ask a different question, “How Is This Child Smart?”

3) Do you want your children or grandchildren to repeat what they have been told, or would you like them to discover things on their own, guided by the teacher?

If you opted for discovery over sorting, then you are an education progressive.  Welcome!  Now let’s get to work on creating a genuine paradigm shift. For that to occur, at least three things have to happen.  One, we need to reject the language of ‘school reformers’ in favor of a more precise vocabulary.  Two, we need to change the conversation from hackneyed terms like “learning for all” to more dynamic language like “discovery” or “knowledge production.” And, three, we must get outside our own echo chamber and engage with the 75% of the population that does not have a direct stake in schooling.

We need to change the conversation; or rather, we need to expand it. We need to engage teachers in a way that has been done recently in West Virginia and Arizona. Part of that is organizing that takes place at the union level, but the more important part occurs at the school level, in conversations during lunch or in the hallway or the parking lot. It’s getting teachers to open up and share their concerns and then showing them that we can make changes. You just need to know where to put your energy to try to change things.

For example, at the national level, if you care about public education and want to fight against privatization and corporate reform, you can find “your people” over at the Network for Public Education. You can even attend their conference next week in Indiana (I’ll be there!). You can subscribe to Diane Ravitch’s blog, or Peter Greene’s, Steven Singer’s, or Julian Vasquez Heilig’s, or Mercedes Schneider’s. Check out the links they provide in their writings, and you’ll see there are many people out there who are fighting for public education. You can support groups like the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools. Pick an issue that you’re most frustrated about – school funding, social justice, standardized testing – and then start reading about it. If you’re a teacher, you can join the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) on Facebook and get involved in your state group.

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In Tennessee, if you’re frustrated with the amount of testing we have to do and the botched teacher evaluation system that is tied to it, you need to focus your energy on the State Legislature. Help get teachers like Gloria Johnson and Larry Proffitt elected. Visit Legislative Plaza to talk to state representatives – they need to hear from teachers about what it’s really like for us and our students.

Here in Nashville, if you’re frustrated about the lack of school funding, there are two places to focus your energy – the Metro council and the State Legislature. And there are parent groups (start here: Mid-TN CAPE) and teacher associations (join us at Tennessee Education Association) that can help.

If you’re frustrated about the way teachers are treated – the way we are overworked, stretched too thin in a million different directions with all that is asked of us, and then sorely underpaid for all of our hard work – then you need to focus your energy on the school district. Specifically, the Nashville Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph and the school board. And there are groups (message me for more info) that can help with this as well.

There are movements afoot at this very moment to try to unseat the Director of Schools because of multiple offenses. There are movements underway to bring about change within our teacher associations so we can grow our membership statewide and engage teachers to get involved in the fight for public education. There are movements building statewide to engage our religious brothers and sisters in the fight to support public education.

You just need to know where to look.

And that is where teachers who are engaged – those progressives Merrow spoke about – come in. We need to be talking to teachers and parents and community members. We need to spread the word – join the Tennessee Education Association, become active in your local association, attend a training on organizing for change. Or join the Parent Advisory Committee for the school where you live. Join a Facebook group focused on saving public education. Better yet – sign up to speak at a board meeting during public comment. Find the best way you can contribute – write an op-ed for the paper, deliver a speech, help organize an event.

And of course, vote for candidates that care about public schools!

It is so easy to become frustrated with politics and all that is happening at the national level. It can be depressing and dreadful. But caring about our public schools is something that we can – and should – all get behind, no matter your political party.

Ignorance is not bliss. Be aware of the issues that affect public education. Educate yourself. Get involved.

Your voice matters. Make it heard.

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Fed Up: Nashville Edition

Teachers have had it.

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Arizona

Too much testing. Low wages. Rising health care costs. Disappearing pensions.

Non-existent or battered textbooks, lead in the water, and buildings that are falling apart. Thousands of dollars of personal money spent on necessities.

The necessity for many to work a second and sometimes a third job to make ends meets.

No autonomy.

No respect.

It’s no wonder teachers all over the country – and in particular, in red states and right-to-work states – have had it and are finally doing something about it.

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#RedForEd

There is strength in numbers, and teachers are finally realizing that. In West Virginia, there were months and months of advance planning for the walkouts.

These walkouts have surprised a lot of people in red states. According to Thomas Frank in The Guardian:

“And in most cases, it was state governments that capitulated. It was hard-hearted believers in tax cuts and austerity and discipline who caved, lest they themselves get fired by voters at the next opportunity.

“That, folks, is the power of solidarity, and the wave of teacher walkouts is starting to look like our generation’s chance to learn the lesson our grandparents absorbed during the strike wave of the late 1930s: that given the right conditions and the right amount of organization, working people can rally the public and make social change all by themselves. Irresistibly. Organically. From the bottom up…

“It is with an observation about those red states that I want to conclude. However Republicans might appeal to the resentments and fears of white working-class people, they are still working-class people, dealing every day with the indignity of having to sell their labor in a system determined to bid them down and insult them in a thousand different ways.

“Yes, many of them went for Trump in 2016. But just look at them now, as so many rally around … teachers’ unions, a rightwing hate-object bigger than Hillary herself.”

That is where real change happens. From the ground up, when people come together.

Public education is not a partisan issue. It is something that every American should value and fight for.

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WHAT TEACHERS WANT

Diane Ravitch has a good summary here of what teachers want. Ravitch writes:

“America cannot retain its position as a global leader unless it educates its children well. Investing in our children is investing in our future. The states’ refusal to pay teachers appropriately, as professionals, is an admission by their leaders that they don’t care about tomorrow and they don’t care about the children of their constituents…

“Until now, we have been a world leader in science, medicine, technology, music, entertainment, the arts, sports and higher education. We can thank our teachers for that. Without the groundwork they provide, none of these achievements are possible.

“If we kill our future, it hurts everyone. Without well-supported, professional teachers, we are nowhere.”

Teacher Pay, Charleston, USA - 22 Feb 2018

WHAT WE NEED

Teachers need support.

Teachers need autonomy.

Teachers need to be trusted to do their jobs.

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Parents know that if they want to find out how their child is doing in school, what their child is learning, what their child is struggling with, how their child is excelling, all they need to do is ask their child’s teacher.

Now, parents, we are asking you for help: please speak out in support of teachers. Please write to legislators asking for full funding of public schools. Please speak up at school board meetings about trusting teachers to do their jobs.

WHAT NOW, TENNESSEE?

So the burning question for me is, will we have a teacher uprising, an “education spring,” here in Tennessee?

Well, let me say this: We are trying.

We are trying to garner public support for public education. Support for fully funding our schools. Because the funding is where it all begins.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE “IT CITY”

So Nashville’s been an “It City” for a while now. There was something like a hundred people a day moving here, though that number has decreased a bit now. So with that fancy title and the thousands of new residents, you’d think we’ve got a world-class city with world-class amenities and services here in Nashville.

But you’d be wrong.

Our city – and I say “our” though I’ve only lived here for five years myself, but I do consider this my home – is bursting at the seams. We’ve put on way too much weight way too quickly and now we can’t figure our why we can’t squeeze into a medium anymore. We didn’t realize we needed to slow down – or at the very least, buy a bigger size. But no, we were stuffing our faces and living it up. And now, we pay the price.

We’re not slimming down anytime soon. People are here to stay – maybe not all, but I’d say most – because Nashville really is a nice place to live. And this comes from someone who grew up in America’s Finest City, San Diego. I love it here (save for the humidity).

So since we are a larger city now, we need to deal with it accordingly.

To keep with this metaphor, we need to be buying clothes that fit the weight we are now. Which means that since we are a bigger city, we need more – more public services, better transportation, affordable housing, and yes, a more fully supported public education system.

Our school buildings should be gleaming, our textbooks up to date, our teachers well-paid.

It’s not a pipe dream. What I’m describing is what it’s like in Williamson County, our next door neighbor.

And yet, our city has failed us. We grew too quickly and now we’re paying for it.

Or rather, we’re not paying for it.

And that’s the problem.

SCHOOL FUNDING 101

In a nutshell, schools here in Tennessee are funded from two sources, state and local. First, the federal government gives money to the state government, and they divvy it up to each county according to some complicated formula they call the BEP (Basic Education Plan).

Andy Spears over at the Tennessee Education Report gives a good summary of the current state of the BEP here, as well as a history of it here.

For the record, the state has never fully funded the BEP.

That’s right – you read that correctly – they created a formula and they chose not to follow it. So from the start, school funding has been a problem. A huge part of this problem lies with the state government.

And we will continue to fight that fight. But the state legislature is out of session for the year.

The second source of school funding is local, from each county’s government. That means that here in Nashville, the Metro Council and the Mayor are responsible for setting the budget. And currently, approximately 40% of the Metro budget goes to public schools. And it isn’t enough.

In fact, it has never been enough. The state says that Nashville’s revenue is higher than other counties, so they decided that we would get less money from the state because the city can afford to pay more.

The problem with that, of course, is that the city is NOT paying more. It is not paying its fair share of funding for public education.

If you ask me, the whole system of school funding in this state is a crock of BS. It’s like a bad joke – one side is saying you can pay more, so pay more – and the other side is saying no, you need to pay more. But no side is actually paying more.

FUND #ITCITYSCHOOLS

And that’s where our fight begins. With the local funding for public education.

June 5

Tonight, the public gathers to speak out about the budget. I’m here now, in the Metro Council chambers. Hundreds more are here, too. Lots of red shirts for public education. #RedForEd

Happening now in Nashville #ItCitySchools

And lots of purple shirts too, with SEIU members here in support and to ask for more funding as well. #UnionStrong

Tonight’s council meeting has time on the agenda allotted for public comment, and so, I’m waiting in line, along with many others, to speak for two minutes. It should be my turn in about 30 minutes. I’ve already been here for two hours. (It’s a good thing I’m a teacher and know how to control my bladder!)

Here is my speech to the Metro council:

Good evening. My name is Mary Holden.

I am an MNPS teacher and parent. I care deeply about our public schools. My question is, do you?

It really is that simple. If you value public education, you will show it by fully funding our schools. The first step is to vote no on the current proposed budget and then correct the tax rate.

When I moved to Nashville five years ago from southern California, I had been teaching for 12 years, and I took a $40,000 pay cut to teach here. Now that we are an “It City,” we should be keeping up with the rising cost of living here in terms of teacher’s salaries. But we are not. We should be keeping up with capital demands and schools repairs and upgrades. But we are not. We should be doing a lot more to actually be an “It City.” But we are not.

Please stop selling out our city to corporations. There have been many incentives for them, but now we need to focus on taking care of our city and its needs, including our public schools and our teachers.

This is your chance to be the heroes! Be the ones who fixed the problem and paved the way for Nashville to truly be a world-class place to live.

And I don’t want a 1% raise. That’s basically a slap in the face and it will take away from someone else without really doing anything. It’s a hollow attempt to make things right.

As a teacher and parent, I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about how Dr. Joseph is choosing to spend money in the budget. But that is the school board’s job. And we will continue to hold Dr. Joseph and the board accountable for how the money is spent.

But that should not prevent this council from fully funding our public schools. They have been chronically underfunded for years. And that tells me that you do not actually value our children.

Nashville has the capacity to fully fund its public schools, but does it have the willingness? We may be the “It City,” but it is our city. Do your part and fund our schools.

I’m hoping from here, this number will continue to grow across the state, so that by the time the state legislature is back in session, we will be strong enough in numbers to make a real difference – just like they did in those other states.

UPDATE: Joey Garrison at the Tennessean wrote about our efforts at the council meeting here. I think we were successful, but time will tell.

Please help us out. Help make Tennessee grow in its support of public education. Let’s get into the Top 10 states when it comes to public education funding! That may be a lofty goal, but our children are worth it.

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TNNOTReady

Sometimes you just have to laugh, I guess. I mean, in order to keep from wanting to punch something.

I just took the teacher survey about the TNReady testing process for the 2017-2018 school year. I was honest. I wrote about how it was an extremely frustrating experience and gave specific information that I observed during my time proctoring the online exam.

I had to laugh at the end of the survey when I got this message:

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Am I supposed to actually believe that my voice will make a difference somehow? That the TN Department of Education will make a better choice next year?

I don’t have that faith at all. I, like many others, have had enough. I already know it will be yet another big mess, as it has been for several years now. And while lawmakers aren’t too happy either, our only hope is that they will take meaningful action to make it stop.

I thank our state lawmakers for “holding harmless” all schools, teachers, and students from this year’s test results. That is a good thing. I mean, everyone knew this testing season was a total disaster – especially the students.

Let me see if I can sum up this year’s TNReady experience:

  • Some students couldn’t log on at all because their login information was incorrect.
  • Some students couldn’t log on at all because their laptops were offline and we had to find the IT person to help. Or get another laptop and hope it worked.
  • Some students logged on, started their tests, and then got booted off the testing site in the middle of testing. Then they had trouble logging back on.
  • Some students logged back in after being booted off the site and their progress hadn’t been saved so they had to start all over again.
  • Some students completed their whole test, clicked on the “Submit test” button, and then got booted off the site. Then they couldn’t log back on. Then maybe, hours later, when they were called back, they logged back on the site and then, hopefully, their progress had been saved and they were finally able to submit their test.
  • Some students needed an extra password – a proctor password – to log back in, so we had to find the person who had that.

Through all this frustration and stress with the online testing platform and connectivity issues, students were told to do their best because this test was going to count for 20 percent of their class grade. They were stressed. They were angry. They felt they were being jerked around by the state of Tennessee. And they weren’t wrong. In the middle of the testing window, we learned that scores would not count. And they still had to continue testing! It was unreal.

And that is only what I personally experienced as a test proctor.

Statewide, we had even more ridiculous things happening – the testing platform was hacked (a “deliberate attack” was made on the site)(ummmm…. should we be more worried about this?), the testing site was down, a dump truck may or may not have been involved in a severed cable line – a line that just happened to be responsible for the testing site (for real?), and some students took the wrong test – and I could go on and on and on.

All this happened while our State Commissioner of Education stood by and basically said There’s nothing to look at here, folks! Our students are all successfully taking their tests and smiling all the way through! No problems at all! It was surreal.

But it really did happen. It really was a big mess that occurred at the expense of students actually learning and teachers actually teaching.

And for that, we should all be angry. Parents, you should know after hearing from your own children that everything about our state test – from the amount of time it takes away from learning to the frustrations of actually taking the test – this is not what education should be about.

It’s been like this for too long. Looking back to the 2016 test – the year that I decided I’d had it with the testing nonsense and actually quit teaching until recently – students took the tests in April and May, and scores weren’t released until December. We have to ask what is the purpose of it all? My friend and blogger at Dad Gone Wild TC Weber said it best back then:

“In looking at the tests, it isn’t clear at all exactly what these tests are really testing. Is it a student’s knowledge of the state standards? Is it their ability to decipher the test? Is it their ability to use technology? Who knows what the results even mean. Grace Tatter of Chalkbeat Tennessee does as a good job as anyone explaining it, but the bottom line remains: If less than 50% of students can be proficient, you are setting the bar wrong, and you open yourself to the question of whose benefit is this for? Is it administrators and lawmakers trying to build a resume or is it kid’s who are trying to attain skills in order to build a better life? If it’s for the kids, then it is imperative that we create accurate assesments of what teachers teach and what students learn not some hypothetical pipedreams of  those who never enter our classrooms or interact with our kids.

“Don’t think for a second that kids aren’t asking that question of who this is for. They can smell hustle a mile away. Talk to teachers, and they will tell you how hard it is to get kids to take the tests seriously. They’ll tell you of their frustrations at trying to get kids to understand the ramifications of these tests. But can you blame them? If I demanded you take a test that I couldn’t administer properly, and the odds were that you would fail it, would you take it seriously? Furthermore, as your teacher, would you take me seriously?”

We must do better.

But now, as we move forward, there is no clear path. The state’s testing task force did slightly lessen the testing requirements for next year, and that is a start. But ask teachers, and most would say we need to get rid of this stupid test entirely! Or at the very least, we need to completely remove all the legislative and legal requirements that are tied to it – school letter grades, teacher and administrative evaluations, student grades – and just give the test for the sole purpose it was created, which is to give us a snapshot of how students are doing.

I am hopeful for the end of TVAAS. I am hopeful we will get rid of letter grades being assigned to schools based on these scores. I am hopeful we will get rid of having to threaten students to do their best because their scores will factor into their grades (because it just doesn’t work like that anyway! We don’t get the scores back in time. And when we do, what do they even mean?!). I am hopeful we can return to actually teaching our students and not having to narrow our curriculum to what’s being tested.

But for now, these things only remain a hope.

All these problems I’ve mentioned occurred with the online administration of the test. And yet many of our lawmakers seem convinced we need to stick with giving the test online. Our State Commissioner may have been “devastated” with the problems that happened with the test, but her devastation is misplaced. The problem is with the test itself –  both the online and paper tests – and the woefully misguided emphasis that is placed on the test that takes away from the education of our children. She has lost site of the purpose of public education – it is not to be based on a single test! – and that is the real devastation here.

Our current governor is considering changing testing companies as a start to fixing this problem. That sounds great… until you realize that the other company being considered, ETS, owns the current company, Questar. So then it makes no sense. As Andy Spears writes in Tennessee Education Report:

“Let’s get this straight: Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen think no one in Tennessee understands Google? They are “firing” the company that messed up this year’s testing and hiring a new company that owns the old one and that also has a reputation for messing up statewide testing.”

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So…. there’s that. I guess I’ll try to have faith that we can elect some representatives who truly care about supporting our public schools and truly understand how much damage our laws on state testing and accountability have harmed our schools, teachers, and students.

For starters, I fully support Rep. Craig Fitzhugh for governor. He is a champion of our public schools and teachers. We also need fellow educators Larry Proffitt and Gloria Johnson to be in the State House, helping to write and pass legislation that gets rid of these problems and instead supports public education. And locally, here in Nashville, we need TC Weber on the MNPS School Board, helping to make decisions that help students and teachers.

Statewide, we have a big opportunity this year to make some positive changes. Let’s not waste it! Public education shouldn’t be a red or blue issue; it should be about what’s best for our children. They are our number one priority!

Come on, Tennessee!