Saturday, January 17, 2015

Time To Speak Up

This week the Big Noise About NCLB kicks off in DC with a hearing on Wednesday, Jan 21 entitled "Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability." Heaven only knows who will be speaking at it-- the featured guest list will be one more set of tea leaves we can look at to see which way this new wind is blowing. But of course, we already know whose voices will not be prominently featured at the hearings.


So why we're all busy doing the actual work of educating America's children, a bunch of folks in DC will talk about how we ought to be doing that job.

However, that doesn't mean we can't put our voices out there.

Sen. Lamar Alexander has issued a press release that gives you all the tools you need. There's a link to the draft version of the legislation and an email address to send your comments to.

Send an email. Send an email. Send. An. Email.

You do not have to be brilliant or super-articulate. Just speak from the heart. Don't write Moby Dick in email form. Keep it brief (aka "readable") and if you have a lot more to say, send several emails. If you just have a sentence or two and can't figure out how to add to that, just send that. If you've read something that really said it for you, email a link to the piece and write "Read this. I believe it's true."

But whatever you do, don't sit silently hoping that Congress does the right thing. You can bet the farm that DC is swarming with lobbyists and "activists" who are making certain that their point of view is heard up close and personal. We know that the unions that are supposed to represent the teacher point of view are unlikely to do so.

It's on us. It's time to speak up. It's time to speak your truth. Will they hear us and listen to us? Who knows, But I do know this-- there is no possibility that they will hear us if we don't speak.

I am going to spend a little less time blogging this weekend and divert my torrent of words into emails to the committee. I implore you, beg you, to do the same.

Send an email.

Speak up.

This is the biggest opportunity we've had to be heard in the education debates since the federal government first stuck their nose in. We have no excuse not to use it, and shame on us if we don't.


  1. Senators,

    Please think very carefully about your conception of the purpose of public education. Even if you never speak the words aloud, be honest with yourselves.

    Do you believe that public education is a source of funding for corporations or entrepreneurs? That the opportunities for leaders are more important than the outcomes for students? That the great unwashed masses should be turned into working drones who follow orders but don't have, or need, the analytical skill to question, challenge, or resist? That children are interchangeable, able to master the same skills at the same pace? That testing equals teaching? That only what happens during the school day affects what and how children learn?

    Or do you believe that human beings may have commonalities but are individuals? That brains, minds, experiences, altitudes, and needs are unique? That the needs of individuals should be met? That American children should grow into adults who question, who challenge, who invent, and who are capable of participating effectively and knowledgeably in a democratic republic? That our country thrives when student learning is both authentic and appropriate?

    If the former, then we are on the right track. Laws that demand that all children perform at a certain level at the same time are appropriate; laws that wrest control from "failing" community schools and grant it to governments that then bestow it on charters are ideal; weeks spend testing rather than teaching are critical. By all means renew NCLB. And congratulate yourselves for a job well done destroying the American Dream and any genuine democracy.

    If, however, the latter is what you value, what you want, then negate NCLB. Defund Race to the Top and the time bomb that is Common Core. Years of these programs have failed to show effectiveness. There has been no improvement. In fact, educational experts around the country, professionals with advanced educations and years of experience, believe that things are worse now than they were before these abusive policies were put into place. Experienced teachers are leaving the field in droves, heartbroken about what is being done to our future. Educated citizens look on in fear as the core of our system, a thinking educated populace, is gutted because only those rich enough to afford the creative, experience-rich environments of private schools will be capable of participating. In which the racial and economic divide grow ever wider and the principles on which this country was founded and grew to prosperity turn to ashes.

    NCLB, Race to the Top, and CC are built on testing, not on people. Children are not standardized. Teachers are not fungible. Please, if you care about America and not just its rich, repeal the laws that make NCLB/RttT, and CC "appropriate".

    Rachel G. Piven-Kehrle, Esq., MSEd.

  2. We can mount a fierce opposition to renewal. Drop any "deals" you've made to mitigate their domination, right now, and defeat the axis of corporate education reform. Lock them out. Scrap the monstrous thing, and start over with a statement that guarantees the federal role is only to extend real opportunity and guarantee equity of opportunity

  3. The idea that standardized tests can rank and rate schools, principals, teachers, and students is ludicrous. I am a retired teacher and I can tell you that even when working with a gifted child, performance on one measurement can vary from one experience to the next. Did the student have a fight with their parent that morning? Are they coming down will an illness, or even possibly sick? Did they just have a fight with their best friend? My own daughter (now a successful attorney) freaked out before the SAT because she had "lost her lucky pencil" and she therefore got abysmal scores that day, in spite of the fact that she was identified gifted/talented. That is what happens on a daily basis when you are working with youth who are taking a test. To tie school funding and teacher assessment to these tests is at best, not well thought out and most certainly is an idea put forth by someone who is very out of touch with reality in the classroom.
    As if that was not bad enough, discrepancies like this brought forth the Value-Added Methodology (VAM) that is supposed to be the magic wand that alleviates all the things that go wrong with using the standardized test as a measurement tool. Let's just figure out the effect of poverty, and add a mathematical formula to alleviate that variable -- this has been called junk science by those who are much more steeped in statistics than I am. Yet people like New York's Governor Cuomo want to tie a teacher's entire professional career on these measurements. Cuomo believes that if a teacher receives an ineffective on the rankings for two years in a row (with the State test governing all of that criteria because it overrides the other local measurements) then a teacher should lose his/her job. This is going to lead to a critical era in education. Any democracy needs great educators and a thriving public education system in order to survive.
    Assessment should occur. But it should be multiple measures (not just tests, but authentic assessment, portfolios, etc.), and the results of the assessment should be available to teachers to inform instruction, as well as students, and parents. The assessment should also be under local control so that individualization can occur. One size fits all does not fit, and we are harming a generation of students and teachers by force-fitting this system.

  4. Here's my email:
    Dear Chairman Alexander and Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee:
    I am a retired English Language Arts teacher from the RI School for the Deaf, a parent of two young adults who successfully graduated from Cranston, RI public schools and now have college degrees, and a concerned citizen. I have an extensive background in linguistics, early language development, and literacy development, as well as more than 25 years of experience working with struggling readers and writers at the RI School for the Deaf. I also administered English, reading, and writing evaluations one-on-one to middle school and high school students there in preparation for their IEPs. In addition, I had worked as a sign language interpreter at the Community College of Rhode Island in the early 1980’s, so I understand the demands of post-secondary instruction.

    I have spent the more than three years since my retirement researching the so-called education reform efforts of the federal and RI state Departments of Education. I am particularly disturbed by the lack of professionalism and the lack of transparency that resulted in the development, promotion, and implementation of the Common Core State (sic) Standards and the accompanying PARCC testing.

    During these years of researching I have made contact with many parents, teachers, and concerned citizens across RI and the country. I am writing today because I want to be sure that you and the other Senators on the HELP committee are aware of the negative impact that Secretary Duncan's policies are having on the most vulnerable students, those with special learning needs. As a retired teacher of the deaf, I wholeheartedly agree with the concerns expressed in the letter that the special education teachers and parents submitted to Secretary Duncan and Mr. Michael Yudin (which I am attaching here), and with the urgency required to address them. Everyone wants each special needs student to be challenged to their potential. No one wants these students to languish in resource rooms with inappropriate goals. Yet Secretary Duncan's policies and pronouncements are totally counter-productive to providing the free and APPROPRIATE education that these students, with their enormous variability in cognitive, perceptual, sensory, and neurological conditions, deserve.
    I graduated from Gallaudet University with a Master's degree in Education of the Deaf in 1975. This coincided with the passing of PL 94-142, which was intended "to assure that all children with disabilities have available to them … a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs." ( This groundbreaking law was strengthened in 2004 by The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The path that Secretary Duncan is taking, while claiming to benefit the students, does the opposite, by holding them to the same artificial timelines of achievement, in the same artificial formats, that students without special needs are held to. This is a recipe for disaster. Please work with your colleagues on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to thoroughly investigate Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education for their tampering with federal laws and creating havoc for the professionals and families that have the expertise to work with special needs students to provide the appropriate educational strategies to foster the blossoming of the unique potential of each student. Thank you. Sincerely,
    Sheila Resseger, M. A.

  5. After nearly 20 years in public school classrooms and after having received numerous awards and accolades for my teaching, I feel confident in saying that public education in America has been nearly ruined during the past decade. Three things have ruined it: Focus on Testing, Teacher Accountability Initiatives, and Failure to Make Parents Partners in Educating their Children. Money is being drained from school districts to pay for technology and training to administer tests. Instructional time is being wasted on worthless test prep and teachers are being robbed of their autonomy while being judged by how well their students perform on tests with absolutely no validity. Parents have never been asked what they want for their children. Parents with money take their children out of public school and enroll them in private schools where kids are free to create, invent and dream without an onslaught of bubble tests that prove nothing. I used to teach like a private school teacher. Now I teach my kids strategies to pass tests I don't even believe in. I used to help them invent, create and dream. Now I teach them how to write formulaic crap to appease the testing gods. I used to have 180 days to inspire. Now I fight to be inspired myself. Bring back creative learning, teacher autonomy and let's get the parents onboard and involved. America was always best at innovation. Put it back into the classroom where it belongs and let me teach the next Einstein, Hemingway or Dr. Ben Carson.
    S.O.S. (Save our Schools)
    Michelle M. Hammond
    2007 MD Teacher of the Year
    (Google me- You'll see me standing with the president who started this insanity)

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Dear Senator Alexander:

    If you truly want to fix the deficits in No Child Left Behind, first and foremost, you have to know what it is that needs fixing.

    ASK TEACHERS. Ask parents, ask administrators, ask people who work with kids day in and day out. Ask teachers what they need to get the job done, to teach the kids, to reach the hard-to-reach ones.

    And then, when you're done listening, actually DO SOMETHING that addresses those things.

    Hint: Standardized testing, while it shone a light on the achievement gap, is not FIXING the achievement gap. The biggest problem now is the FUNDING gap. Can you fix that? Can resources be targeted to fix glaring problems in funding equity? Then DO THAT. Can you do better at providing educational equity to kids even before they enter Kindergarten? Can you provide MORE places in Head Start programs? Then DO THAT. Can you fund smaller class sizes, which have been proven to be effective at helping teachers reach students and meet their needs? Then DO THAT. Can you help schools find time and money to give teachers time for (useful) professional development, time to collaborate, time to mentor new teachers or be mentored by experienced teachers? Then DO THAT. What else do TEACHERS need to help their kids, to do their jobs? You won't know if you don't ask.

    When you're done ASKING teachers, how about inviting them to be part of the Solution, instead of, as the Department of Education seems to believe, assuming that they're (part of) the Problem. I live a stone's throw from DC, and I've left what I consider to be the ruins of my calling in public education for the time being; I'm happy to put my money where my mouth is.

    Ask. The. TEACHERS.

    1. This is my favorite letter of the bunch and my new mantra: DO THAT. Kudos!

  8. Witnesses, location and time of hearing can be found here: Could anyone add information on these witnesses?

  9. Dear sir:

    When I learned leadership in the Marine Corps, there were some fundamental things I learned about how to get it right: don't micromanage, get people the resources they need to do their job, know your people, ask a lot of good questions and listen carefully to the answers, do the hard work of finding out what really motivates the people you lead, etc.

    I also learned "verify that the mission is being accomplished." However, it seems that within education people keep saying that that part of the job is much easier than reality tells us it is. They say, "buy my big standardized test that will measure EVERYTHING," and you won't have to do the hard part of the job: leadership.

    That said, please ask the following questions when examining your witnesses with regard to how to "fix NCLB":

    (1). What is the purpose of compulsory public schooling? Is it to empower students or is it to provide employees to drive the economy or is it something else?

    (2). Who really has a stake in public education? Why do we pay taxes into this system?

    (3). What motivates teachers?

    (4). What do standardized tests really measure when they are implemented in the real world?

    (5). How is standardization not a step backward towards industrial-era schooling?

    (6). What motivates people who are pushing for "reform"?

    (7). What do students and parents think? Why?

    (8). Who stands to make the really big money here? At what cost to kids?

    (9). Why are so few people with real teaching experience being listened to?

    (10). Should schools really operate like the cut-throat business world?

    (11). When deciding policy, why aren't more education researchers being asked to explain and give input on the science behind how people learn?

    (12). Do we really know how people learn? Or is it just guesses? Do people all learn the same way? Should they?

    (13). What do teachers think? Why?

    (14). Why don't people trust teachers? Why don't people seem to trust many of our subordinate leaders in education (administrators, counselors, etc.)?

    (15). If learning looks like play, is it rigorous enough? Why or why not?

    (16). If we replace play with academic rigor, are we harming kids by derailing real child development?

    (17). How are we encouraging things like creativity and critical thinking? Does standardization and a narrow focus on reading and math do that?

    (18). Why aren't we doing more to develop and take care of (and lead) the adults who develop and take care of the kids? Why is the rhetoric always about punishing teachers and administrators?

    I have many more questions, but I'll stop here because you've got a difficult task ahead and limited time and resources. Please do well, for the sake of the kids. I don't envy you this difficult job.

    Respectfully and sincerely,
    Andrew P. Evans...

  10. Text of my e-mail:

    As you review NCLB and ESEA, please keep in mind the pitfalls of perverse incentives. In the past decade I've seen a direction of energies in ways that don't best serve the needs of students because of incentives (many of them unintended) in our current testing culture. Namely, three come to mind:

    1) an excessive amount of classtime lost taking exams (and not just with students thoughtfully completing exams, but also with the administrative details) and preparing for those exams

    2) a disinclination by schools to classify students as special education: if students classify as special education, they become part of a cohort that is tracked more carefully; districts want to minimize number of students who qualify for services because they fear being penalized when some of those students don't perform well

    3) a general watering-down of graduation standards; graduation rates affect AYP, so there's every reason to maximize the percentage of students who do graduate, even if those students don't have competitive skills for college or the marketplace

    As you craft expectations geared around percentages, please be wary of the incentive you create for manipulating statistics. Education, when it is excellent, goes beyond percentages and scores.

  11. Dear Senator Alexander,
    I believe that teachers' voices should be heard at the Wednesday, January 21 hearing titled, "Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability."

    I teach Fifth Grade in Foster City, CA and, in my opinion, the yearly standardized testing and accountability demands have damaged our education system and my efficiency in teaching. I see no value in comparing students. Especially the young ones. I see no value in publishing testing data. Legislators need to ask serious questions about why this has become such a focus of educational administration and look to the research and experiences of teachers in the field that show these NCLB mandates are hurting our school systems.

    Teachers do see the value in assessing children with classroom/subject tests/projects/observations. These are necessary to help guide students in learning. But yearly standardized testing has taken away the joy of learning and teaching and turned it into a stressful, unreasonable, useless ranking competition, a ranking competition between students (and parents), schools, teachers, districts, states and even countries.

    Please reconsider the NCLB demands for testing and accountability in schools.

  12. Dear Senator Alexander,

    As you consider the future of the federal testing mandate, I hope that you will consider not just the voices of those who oppose testing, but also listen carefully to those who support it.

    The strongest argument you will hear is accountability. We need annual testing to hold states accountable to the federal government for money that they are getting. You will hear that we need testing to hold teachers accountable for delivering curriculum. On the surface this seems to make sense. Of course states should be accountable for money they receive, and of course teachers should be accountable for doing their jobs. But look closely, and the speciousness of this argument becomes clear.

    First, how did we get to the point in our society where the bulk of the actual work of accountability falls on the shoulders of children? Rather than having adults monitoring how funds are spent and what teachers are doing in their classrooms, we are robbing students of instructional time, narrowing the curriculum, and creating obscene levels of stress by giving them tests that have no direct benefit to them and which, according to experts in the field (the American Statistical Association), are not valid in the way they are being used.

    Second, the ultimate irony of the accountability argument is that it fails on its own merits. Annual testing has been federally mandated since 2003 and in that time there has been absolutely no progress in closing the achievement gap. The idea that if something isn't working we should keep doing it until it does is ludicrous, wasteful, and, most importantly, harmful to the children we have been entrusted to educate.

    Annual testing is not only harmful, it also fails to accomplish the very issues it is supposed to address, and even worse, distracts us from an honest exploration of alternatives. I urge you and your committee to eliminate this mandate.


    Robert Verbeck
    Parent, Taxpayer, & Teacher

  13. Dear Senator Alexander,

    In response to your call for comments on the revision of ESEA (NCLB), I have a modest proposal. Given that Secretary Duncan has repeatedly praised the new Common Core standards, and the annual tests that accompany those standards, it seems unfair that only public school students are the beneficiaries of David Coleman’s chef d’oevre.

    Therefore, I would like to propose that the CCSS and tests like the PARCC and SBAC be made mandatory for all students across this great nation of ours. When I say all students, I mean ALL students, no exceptions. This would include students in private, parochial, online or home schools, all of whom would be required to meet these college and career-ready standards for the 21st century, and to present themselves for annual testing.

    We cannot afford to leave the education of non-public school students to chance or the expertise of their teachers. After all, what do mere teachers know in comparison to the brilliant CCSS writers, none of whom were tainted by actual classroom experience?

    Parents of these children may complain that one size does not fit all, but they are just over-privileged whiners. After all, one size has been deemed by Secretary Duncan to be appropriate for all public school students; therefore, logic dictates that the CCSS would also be appropriate for all other students. Not one can be permitted to evade accountability. We must have data on all our young people, lest we fall behind!

    The type, philosophy and teaching methods of the private, parochial, online or home schools are irrelevant. If adherence to CCSS and the accompanying high-stakes testing causes these schools to scale back or eliminate science, social studies, PE, and arts classes, that is a tiny price to pay for making sure that all students are college and career-ready, and that they can prove that readiness through testing.

    Thank you for your attention to this matter.

    Glenna Dumey
    National Board Certified Teacher, AYA/ELA
    Santa Monica, CA