On the first day of school, my wife's superintendent got choked up.
He was delivering the usual kick-off speech, and she said he started to talk about testing and numbers and the students. He reminded his staff that students were not just test scores, not just a number, and that the work they did as teachers was so much more than could be measured by numbers. It looked, she said, as if he was on the verge of tears.
My wife's superintendent is my former principal. He's a good man and a fine educator. And apparently he's done pretending that chasing test scores is a good way to run a school district.
This may well be the fall we remember for the number of school district leaders who have finally had enough and begin to speak up.
Examples abound. In Peru, Illinois, Superintendent Mark Cross sent out a letter that said in part
Unfortunately, there are many federal and state education initiatives that can very much be a distraction from what matters most. These initiatives are based on good intentions and are cloaked in the concept of accountability, but unfortunately most do little to actually improve teaching and learning. Most are designed to assess, measure, rank and otherwise place some largely meaningless number on a child or a school or a teacher or a district. That is not to say that student growth data is not important. It is very critical, and it is exactly why we have our own local assessment system in place. It is what our principals and teachers use to help guide instruction and meet the needs of your kids on a daily basis. In other words, it is meaningful data to help us teach your child.
He makes this commitment
This is why I wanted to let you know that we will not be talking to you that much about the PARCC assessment or Common Core or other initiatives that have some importance, but they are not what matters most to us. YOUR CHILDREN are what matter most, and we believe that kids should be well-rounded, with an emphasis on a solid foundation for learning across all subjects by the time they get to high school and later college. We believe that kids need to be creative and learn to solve problems. We believe that exposure to music and art, science and social studies, physical education and technology and a wide variety of curricular and extracurricular activities will serve them very well as they grow into young adults.
And he delivers this pointed (if grammatically suspect) indictment
The state and federal government have failed epically in their misguided attempts at “reforming” public education. Public education does not need reformed.
Superintendent Cross is, of course, not alone. In Washington State, the education system has lost its waiver from Arne Duncan because the state legislature would not implement the federal Department of Education's preferred method of teacher evaluation. So Washington schools are operating under No Child Left Behind, which means that all schools not meeting requirements that 100% of students be above average (aka "all schools") are failing. You may recall that one of the punishments for failing schools under NCLB is that they must send out a "We Are Failing" letter to the public.
Superintendents in WA have sent their letter. However, 28 superintendents wrote a letter which includes the observation that the label under NCLB is "regressive and punitive." The basic layout of the letter is "The feds say we have to tell you this, which we are now doing, however you should know that the feds are full of it, their policies are stupid, and we are educating your students pretty well, thank you very much."
And as I noted here yesterday, the Board of Education for the entire State of Vermont has adopted a resolution calling out the feds on their stinky testing requirements.
The tone in administrative offices is continuing to shift. Ten years ago there was a lot of kool-aid drinking. Then we had "Well, it's the law." Then we had fatalism and resignation, "Well, let's just do our best work and hope that these tests take care of themselves and somehow things work out." What we have always needed are administrators to stand up and say clearly, "This is not right. It's not right for us, and it's not right for our students."
I know there are still districts and entire states where the school leaders have not only drunk the kool-aid, but are selling it themselves out of the back of a van. But it's heartening to see and hear more who are willing to speak out in a meaningful and public way. Duncan is clearly trying to stem the tide with his waiver-waiver, the offer of "Look, we'll just wait a year and then we'll punch you in the face." But postponing a stupid thing does not make it any less stupid, and in the meantime, more and more people are starting to point out that the emperor's clothes (which are no longer new) are woven out of air and empty promises.