Monday, August 15, 2011

How Rick Perry Can Split the Education Vote

Is it possible for Rick Perry to split the education vote?  Yes.

Yesterday in her blog The Answer Sheet at the Washington Post, Valerie Straus brought up an interesting issue for those who watch education issues: What is President Obama going to do about Rick Perry's anti-NCLB stance? And, I would add this question: How are activist teachers who resent EdSec Duncan's tone-deafness to education professionals going to respond to Perry?

Texas' Gov. Perry has been very busy over the last several years opposing the pro-NCLB stance of Duncan and the Education Dept.  Here is Straus' rundown:
Perry, who won election to his third term as Texas governor last year, trashed the administration’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top, and rejected the administration-backed Common Core State Standards effort (which all but six states, including Texas, have agreed to adopt). Perry also fought with the Obama administration over more than $800 million in federal funds that U.S. officials said could go to Texas if the money was spent on education; the Texas governor said he couldn't accept any conditions on use of the money.

In a Jan. 13, 2010 letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Perry wrote, “I will not commit Texas taxpayers to unfunded federal obligations or to the adoption of unproven, cost-prohibitive national curriculum standards and tests.... We believe that education policy, curriculum and standards should be determined in Texas, not in Washington D.C.”
For those of us who have been active in the Save-Our-Schools movement even in the slightest bit, it is easy to pick out quite a bit of Perry's stand on the EdSec's policies that would easily resonate within our ranks.  Most especially, teachers in those districts that have already started buying into the Race-To-The-Top demands that teachers be retained, promoted, or fired based heavily on test scores, would easily identify Perry as a type of ally.  That has certainly been the case in Texas:
Standing with Perry during a press conference on that same day was Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, and Jeri Stone , executive director of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, both union leaders who backed Perry’s decision on Race to the Top.
For those who have essentially given up on Obama/Duncan ever truly advocating for teachers and authentic teaching, Perry's stance creates a dilemma.  Are they going to continue to support Obama in the next election, sit it out, giving Perry or anyone else a stronger shot at Obama, or simply go over to Perry and hope that he is not as strange on other issues as he now appears.

Being in the next state from that former republic to our South, I can say that if we buy Perry's education stance, we are not only buying that; but, all of what Perry is about.  We would do well to remember that his biggest supporters are also the biggest, loudest, and meanest critics of public education.  Those teachers who are politically involved might be tempted to support Perry out of our own deep pain about the state of things in education; but, we should carefully weigh the whole package of Perry before making that leap.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why I Won't Support Teachers who Test-Cheat

 I fully agree with those who argue that it is past time for the current testing culture to be sacked and an entirely new approach to mass, public education be developed.  That’s why I attended the Save-Our-Schools March in Washington, D.C. this summer.

But, that is at the policy level.  On a professional level, as a professional teacher, I am very clear that there are no excuses for test-cheating among teachers or administrators.  I will not voice any support for those who are caught.  And, if I find out about fellow teachers or administrators test-cheating, I will gladly and quickly blow the whistle with no second thoughts.  Why?

1.  Test-cheating is profoundly cynical. 

In general, test-cheats represent a deep cynicism about our profession by those who should be the most passionate about guarding it.  They cheapen the profession of teaching and confirm what hostile critics are saying about teachers as a group.  Our students, parents, and public deserve better.

2.  In turn, this cynicism makes life harder for students, parents, and especially those teachers who produce and guard honest test scores. 

Skewed scores mislead everyone in the process and don’t provide the feedback needed for anyone to improve for the next year.  In districts where the re-hiring of teachers is based on those false test scores, the honest teachers are punished due to apparently low scores while the test-cheats are rewarded.  Eventually, the very cynics who should not be in the classroom influencing our children are the only ones left.  Comforting, isn’t it?

3.  If a testing regimen is wrong, it is our professional and political responsibility to organize and resist.

Test-cheating in places like Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. revealed a particular immediate lack of individual moral will and long-term group political laziness that is inexcusable.   Yes, many of us find ourselves in life situations that sometimes make it very hard to stand up and say “no”.  Yet, many teachers across the nation who are in equally-as-hard personal situations stand up, are counted, and sometimes are fired for it when they could not afford to be fired.  And, are you really going to argue how hard it is to take political stands to those Wisconsin teachers who marched in sub-freezing temperatures this past winter and occupied their state capital?  Yea…I didn’t think so.

Those are the reasons why I won’t support test-cheating and those who perpetrate it, no matter who they are.


In case you have not been following the controversies this summer there are many good resources out there for learning about them:

Just yesterday, Valerie Straus had another good post on her Washington Post blog, The Answer Sheet, about the ramifications of test-cheating.

Larry Ferlazzo has the most comprehensive listing of the strongest articles on his blog.

For those of you who like to read “top-five”-type articles this one, by Melanie Smollin,  is an especially good briefing on recent test cheating scandals.

And for those of you who buy into the reformy spin going on out there and believe that Teach for America’s golden kiddies are the answer, yes, even three TFA grads have confessed to participating in the Atlanta PS test cheating scandal.

All of these resources are good and offer good insights into the glaring problems that are created by a wooden-headed testing culture that reformy types have created.