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SUPE’s Students Resisting Teach for America Campaign

As you may have already heard, my organization, Students United for Public Education, is preparing to launch our first national, student-led campaign:

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On October 1st, we will be announcing our official launch, but before then, we’ve decided to hold a fundraiser to support our campaign, since we are a completely grassroots, student-led org with little to no funds. In about 3 days, we’ve successfully raised over $1200 thanks to the generosity of so many justice-minded educators, parents, and students.

We are so grateful to everyone who is helping make this campaign happen, but we’re not done yet! We still need your help to reach our goal of $1650! So please, if you can and if you haven’t done so already, please donate to this campaign. I promise that we at SUPE are working tirelessly to make sure that your donations have a very large impact.

If you are a college student interested in starting this campaign at your school, or if you’re anyone who wants to stay up-to-date with the campaign, please fill out this form to receive regular updates and/or a comprehensive campaign tool-kit!

If you are a student or TFA alumni who wants to share your story on why YOU resist/oppose Teach for America’s actions and corporate interests, please fill out this form!

Here’s a breakdown of the campaign, straight from the donation website:

For years, college campuses across the country have been the core recruiting ground for Teach for America (TFA). For many soon-to-be graduates, concerned as they should be with the rampant inequality embedded in American public schools, TFA appears to be an opportunity to make a difference.

Using the rhetoric of civil rights and egalitarian politics, TFA promises ambitious college students that their hard work and good intentions are a crucial component of what it will take to fix the crisis within our education system. Yet, as numerous TFA alums and professionals have made it increasingly clear, rather than fighting inequality, TFA actually promotes it.

The high-need schools in which most TFA corps members teach demand the most experienced teachers, not the least. TFA’s five-week-long summer institute, insufficient to prepare any new teacher, is therefore not only inadequate preparation for corps member teachers, but also unjust for the public school students who deserve nothing less than a fully-qualified and experienced instructor.

In today’s political climate, however, where many urban school districts are conducting mass layoffs and cutting teacher benefit packages, such experienced teachers are becoming increasingly rare. Here too, TFA is partially to blame, as in many of the same school districts where experienced teachers have been laid off, TFA recruits have come in to replace them.

Since most TFA teachers do not stay in their schools beyond their two-year commitment, they are far less likely to demand the higher pay and benefits, and thus stand as an attractive alternative, from the districts’ perspective, to career teachers and their unions.

Increasingly across the country, college students are becoming aware of TFA’s role in perpetuating inequality in our schools.

Our task now is to challenge the legitimized recruiting position that TFA enjoys on many of our college campuses, both by raising awareness and taking direct action.

And we know we can’t do this alone.

That is why we–Students United for Public Education (SUPE)–will be launching the first national student-led campaign against Teach for America.

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Our campaign is planned to include:


*Example of flyering already being done by SUPE member*

  • Distribution of campaign tool-kits (via PDF) to students at different campuses interested in participating.These tool-kits will include flyers, different tactics to approach/bring awareness about TFA on their campus, etc.
  • Creating a website about our campaign along with different resources and articles in which students can learn more about the resistance against TFA from not only students, but TFA alum, teachers, and other professionals.
  • Providing prospective TFA corps members with testimonies (from students who oppose TFA/chose not to do TFA and TFA alumni who now oppose the organization) so they can make an informed decision.
  • Teach-Ins where students can learn more about TFA resistance
  • Panelists of TFA Alums, professionals, and students
  • Other ideas are still welcomed!

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What Do We Need Funding For?
In order to effectively run this 25-day long campaign (October 25th is their next application’s due date), we do need funds of some sort (after all, we are just college students!).

Below is listed where your funds will be used. We will be transparent on how each dollar is spent throughout the campaign, and the funds that aren’t used by the end of this campaign will be deposited into our SUPE General Funds.

We thank you all in advance for your support, and we look forward to our official launch date on October 1st.

Funds Will Be Used For:
– Color Flyers: 2,000 flyers (Staples) = $300
– Stickers: 2,000 stickers (StickerRobot.com) –> $200
– Website: Domain (WordPress.com) = $25
– Travel Expenses for Panelists: $1000
– GoFundMe Fee: (5% for each donation received) = ~$77.5

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Contact Us:
Facebook: facebook.com/StudentsUnitedForPublicEducation
Twitter: @SUPEnational
Website: http://studentsunitedforpubliced.org/
E-mail: SUPEcontact@gmail.com
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Additional Resources:
An Open Letter to New Teach for America Recruits
University of Minnesota Students Protest Teach for America
Teach for America Apostates: a Primer of Alumni Resistance
Why Teach for America Can’t Recruit in my Classroom
Student On Why She Doesn’t Support TFA
Teach For America Is Finally Getting the Scrutiny It Deserves
Teach For America’s Civil War
Reconsidering TFA

[We also want to emphasize that we are targeting Teach for America as an organization and not the individuals who are corps members or alumni (after all, many of our supporters are TFA alumni who now disagree with the organization’s role in education.)]

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Thanks for reading! If you made it this far, enjoy this flyer that I just made 🙂

Imagehttp://www.gofundme.com/4ar298

http://www.gofundme.com/4ar298

http://www.gofundme.com/4ar298

http://www.gofundme.com/4ar298

http://www.gofundme.com/4ar298

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Brave Alabama BAT speaks out at Michelle Rhee’s #RealEdTalk…Your move, Philadelphia!

Last Thursday, Michelle Rhee and her cronies, Steve Perry and George Parker, made their next stop on their three-city Teacher Town Hall tour in Birmingham, Alabama. I had a sliver (a minuscule sliver) of hope that this Teacher Town Hall would be less disastrous than the first that I experienced last week in LA. I was proved terribly wrong.

 

The video above was taped in secret by Terri Michal (@Free_2_B), a wonderful Alabama BAT who is committed to defending public education in her state and who bravely confronted Rhee & Co. last Thursday. She voices her concerns in the video at 3:34 but be sure to watch the whole video; as nauseating as it is to hear the panelists talk mindlessly about issues they know so little about, Terri adds amazingly helpful commentary that exposes the truth behind their propaganda.

Terri Michal's sign that she unfurled while the panelists "answered" her question. Go Terri!

Terri Michal’s sign that she unfurled while the panelists “answered” her question. Go Terri!

I had been in contact with Terri over the past week since she saw the video of my speech, and I had been helping her prepare for the Teacher Town Hall in Alabama, so that she could make sure that her voice was heard. I am very excited to read her full report on the protest both outside and inside the event. She was one of the few outside protestors who attended the event, and I am very glad that she did and that she fought to have her voice heard. I am, however, equally horrified at the panelists’ and moderator’s (who I believe is Rhee’s husband? correct me if I’m wrong) responses.

The bullying and intimidation tactics in this video on the part of the panelists is absolutely revolting. The tactics they used to silence the opposition is ridiculous (though not surprising). Their avoiding to answer the questions is utterly embarrassing. Almost everything the panelists said in this video were the same exact talking points that they used at the last event. Rhee even mentions me at 2:13, and completely twists her encounter with me, not-so-ironically while I am not there to defend myself (Terri’s commentary tells the TRUTH that I reported to Terri over twitter). Typical reformy tactics. They can dish but they can’t take.

This event was just as controlled, manipulative, and oppressive as the last. I can’t say I’m surprised at the reformers, but that doesn’t make me any less disgusted. Thank goodness for the brave people in this video who fought to have the true voices of those in the Birmingham educational community heard!

Tomorrow, Rhee’s next stop will be in Philadelphia. I am way too excited to see what will happen there. I’ve been in contact with the Philly Student Union and they have confirmed their attendance. Diane Ravitch might also attend since the event coincides with her book tour. With the recent state of public education in Philly amid drastic budget cuts… the event should be nothing less than interesting… Stay tuned!

Students, if you will be attending the event, I just want you to remember that NO ONE can tell you what’s best for you. You have the power to think for yourself and have a voice in your education, and you shouldn’t let ANYONE (no matter how much great-sounding propaganda they throw at you) take that away from you.

Everyone else, please spread this Terri’s video like fire! This is SUCH an important piece of the truth, especially with Terri’s amazing added commentary on the video. We cannot let Rhee and her cronies get away with the dangerous propaganda they spread!

Michelle Rhee’s Teacher Town Hall… Through A Student’s Eyes

Michelle and I after the event when she spoke directly to me. Taken by Alexis Estioko.

Last Thursday, I met Michelle Rhee for the first time. After months of writing about her, researching her, and reading her book (which I couldn’t finish out of boredom), I finally got to see in person the woman I once adored and now completely mistrust. Not only that, but I got to speak directly to her. Needless to say, it was quite an interesting encounter.

Thanks to my network of support on and off line you’ve probably already heard about the speech that I gave to Michelle Rhee, Steve Perry, and George Parker during the Los Angeles Teacher Town Hall. But a lot went on before and after that I would like to bring light to now, especially for the folks who plan to attend the Teacher Town Halls in Birmingham, Alabama on 9/12 or Philadelphia on 9/16. 

Please use my experience to help you plan some sort of resistance. We need our voices to be heard.

In summary, the event was a complete disappointment. I came in expecting a vibrant and balanced discussion with equal opportunity for both sides to speak. After all, the word “conversation” was on the screen behind the panelists the entire night. By the end of the night, I seriously wondered if they even understood the concept of a conversation at all. 

Here’s a bullet-point breakdown of what happened:

Before

  • In my apartment before the event, I made this poster:

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  • I also bought masking tape that I planned to put over my mouth during the event. I meant to allude to the incident where Michelle Rhee taped the mouths of her 1st grade students.
  • When I arrived, I was greeted by members of United Teachers Los Angeles (LA’s teachers’ union) who were passing out flyers and holding up signs outside the library where the event was held. One of them was my friend Noah, who I met a few weeks back and am currently working with on a campaign called Schools LA Students Deserve. I also met the one and only activist teacher Alex Caputo-Pearl, who was recently fired from Crenshaw High for leading an educational program that taught students to *gasp* think for themselves and learn through a social justice/civic engagement lens. His story and the stories of the students who fought to save their school are phenomenal.
  • Once inside, I registered at the table and stood in line waiting to enter the auditorium. Everyone was given a question card that looked like this:
  • 1242034_10201945743311048_742924142_nWhen I asked if the questions would be filtered, the lady told me that the questions would be grouped by topic and they would try to get through as many as they could.
  • As I was in line writing my question, my poster was on the ground next to me. A security guard came by and told me I could not bring it into the event. So I folded it up and stuck it in my backpack.

During

  • There were about 200+ people in the room.
  • I sat in the second row with tape over my mouth. The tape said, “Listen to STUDENTS!”
  • From what I could estimate from the applause after certain talking points, at least 80% of the room was pro-corporate reform.
  • Security guards lined the perimeter. I felt highly policed.

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  • The panelists were welcomed onto the stage. I have my opinions about each… but you can go research them for yourselves.
  • The moderator then laid out the ground rules for the event.
    • She would say the name of the person whose question card she was holding.
    • That person would be given exactly 2 minutes to speak to the panel and ask their question.
    • There was absolutely NO touching the microphone. (again… tons of paranoid policing that sent a clear message of, “Your voice is under our control.”)
    • The panelists then would be given unlimited time to answer.
  • The moderator also gave a very condescending speech about how we needed to “turn down the music of our own radios” and listen to “other people’s music.”
    • Later on, I realized that this only applied to people who disagreed with corporate reform because the music of the reform-opponents was barely even allowed to be played.
  • Only 16 question cards were in the moderator’s hand to be answered.
  • Only 8 questions were answered. My question was not chosen to be answered as I expected.
  • TWO of those 8 questions were considered “controversial” (by their standards).
  • The rest were in the “policy-related” category but for some reason all went back to the matter of teachers unions.
  • Panelists (who were all in general agreement on the issues) spoke for 95% of the time.
  • Those who asked questions were not allowed time for rebuttal.
  • The first “controversial” question asked what the panelists would say to the UTLA members protesting the event outside. Michelle said she wishes they would have come inside to speak, and then proceeded to speak for them by assuming they did not want to engage in a discussion that’s “good for students.”
  • The other controversial question was asked by a Los Angeles teacher who asked about the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations if poverty is one factor of student performance. The panelists did not answer the question at all and proceeded instead to throw around cute but meaningless slogans about how “poverty is not destiny” or “all kids can learn.”
    • Steve Perry even had the nerve to say that battling child poverty “isn’t even necessary!” and brush off a point about English language learners. I guess the only students that matter are those who can take tests.
  • The rest of the questions basically gave the panelists the opportunity to elaborate on their points of view.
  • Topics covered were: Waiting for Superman (lol), unions, tenure, testing, charters, and vouchers.
    • It was mostly a union-bashing party with little productive or balanced discussion of how we move forward or how we can work together.
  • Every panelist played victim and responded defensively to a question that was actually asked by someone who agreed with them. How did they do that? Three words:
    • Straw
    • Man
    • Arguments
  • The ONLY good point brought up by the panelists was that “bad” charters should be held accountable.
  • Absolutely no thorough discussion of concrete topics like Common Core, NCLB waivers, curriculum, teacher prep/training, student-centered learning, critical pedagogy, or alternatives to testing.
    • Steve Perry even had the nerve to ask “why don’t people who oppose testing ever provide alternatives?” without giving the audience a chance to speak (I have a great answer for that question) OR proposing any alternatives of his own. What a Grade A “educator”.
  • Actually… there was no thorough discussion with substantial data support whatsoever. Everything was vague and shallow (“success”, “all students”, “high expectations”, “accountability”), full of false dichotomies, sweeping generalizations, and logical fallacies. I gave up counting after about an hour of 37 total fallacies.

Now here’s the good part:

  • Near the end of the event, Steve Perry was making his last comment in response to an LAUSD teacher who screamed out earlier during the event in rage as the panelists did not answer the second “controversial” question.
  • When Perry said that “the students’ interests did not line up with the union’s interests”, I drew the line.
  • I pulled the poster out of my backpack and held up high right in the middle of Perry’s speech. It caught all the panelists’ eyes but Perry continued to speak.
  • A security guard came over and told me to give him the sign while simultaneously pulling it away from me.
  • I tugged back and caused a bit of noise that attracted some attention.
  • After Perry finished speaking, the moderator was about to close the event when George Parker interrupted her and insisted that I be given a chance to speak.
  • The moderator insisted that no one else would be given a chance to speak.
  • The woman next to me (who was shouting curses against unions the whole night and was the cause for my gigantic headache) ironically yelled that I should be given the chance to speak.
  • The whole room began to cheer and egg me on, and so the man with the microphone gave me the chance to speak.
  • Completely enraged, totally flustered, and quite honestly a little nervous, I gave my two-minute speech and was cut off before I could get to the good part. (Stay tuned for a post about what I WOULD HAVE said if I got more time.)

After

  • After I spoke, the moderator brought the event to a close, with no public response to my speech from the panelists.
  • Right after the event ended, as I was ready to cure my headache with a nice grilled cheese sandwich from my favorite food truck, Michelle Rhee approached me and wanted to speak to me personally.
  • She gave her response to my speech, only focusing on my point about charters.
  • She mainly talked about funding for charters and claimed that students in public schools are funded more than students in charters.
  • When I brought up the point about charters being funded by private billionaire donors and corporations, she questioned why public schools don’t ask for grants so they can be funded like charters.
  • My response:

  • I was then asked by StudentsFirst to do an interview.
  • In the interview I basically just expanded on the importance of listening to students.
  • The next day, I got an email from Michelle Rhee. Here’s her email and my reply:

reply to michelle rhee

That’s basically it! If you’re planning on the future Teacher Town Halls, I hope I’ve given you enough information so things won’t take you too much by surprise. I now am going to echo what I said in my previous post:

If you are going to the Teacher Town Hall in Birmingham on 9/12 or Philadelphia on 9/16, PLEASE invite students to come and tell their stories. Chants work well. Posters work well. Collective actions and gestures are most powerful. This is not the end; we still have a long way to go before education is put back into the hands of educators and students. This event does not have to be as one-sided and manipulated as it was for me. You can demand your right to have your voice heard. You can turn the discussion around. This is an opportunity for a meaningful action that will shine a national light on the opposition to the corporate education deform movement and could spur a discussion on alternatives to this movement that promote true educational justice and equity. Do not let them speak for your students and children. Do not let them play victim and use straw man arguments to promote their views. LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD! GO AND SPEAK OUT! 

Thank you for reading!

Love and solidarity,

Hannah Nguyen

My Speech at the Los Angeles Teacher Town Hall, AND a VERY Important Message

I’m just posting the video here so that people can connect the video to my blog and vice versa. I will be posting a lot of important things on here soon, so please stay tuned.

Here’s the main gist of my very important message (copied from my comments under the youtube video):

Unfortunately, our fight for public education does not end here. The fact that I got a chance to speak was a stroke of luck; there are millions of student voices across the country that are being silenced under corporate reform, most of which will never have the chance to be heard unless we ACT NOW. We cannot continue to let Rhee & Co. exploit and speak FOR students. LET STUDENTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES!

If you will be in Birmingham on 9/12 or Philadelphia on 9/16, I STRONGLY URGE you to come to the Teacher Town Hall and let your voices be heard. They will make sure you are silenced but you MUST do whatever it takes to speak truth to power. Also, invite students to come and speak. Youth engagement is VITAL if we are ever going to win this fight. Educators, continue to EMPOWER and ENCOURAGE your students to take charge of their education and rights. We are strongest if we fight WITH the students!

A few, well deserved thank you’s:

Thank you to Vincent Precht for taking this video (apologies once again for making you move every time I went in and out of our row) despite the tight security in the room.

Thank you to my sweetheart Alexis Estioko for coming to this event with me, sitting by my side supporting me, and always giving me the strength to do the right thing. I love you more than words can explain.

Thank you to my little brother, who I miss every day and who gives me the strength to fight for him even when it’s hard.

Thank you to Stephanie Rivera for her beautiful friendship and inspiring mentorship. Thank you for teaching me what it means to be a true organizer for educational justice and for giving me the opportunity to pursue my passions through SUPE (Students United for Public Education).

Thank you to EVERYONE who shared my video and sent me words of encouragement and support. Thank you for all that you do to celebrate your students and their humanity, and thank you for your steadfast dedication to justice and educational equity. I want to name you all, but that list would be endless. Expect to be featured on a page on my blog soon. I love you all.

And finally, thank you to my fellow students, whose stories and experiences have made my blood boil with passion to fight, organize, agitate, mobilize and WIN!

I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!

Why I Do What I Do – A Reflection After Student Power 2013

I believe that there are three key things you need to always do when leading a movement for social justice and change.

  1. Be willing to listen and learn.
  2. Have the courage to speak out and act in the name of justice.
  3. Never forget why you do what you do and who you do it for, and make sure everything you do honors that.

As you may know, I recently got back from the National Student Power Convergence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Words can’t even begin to describe how inspired and moved I feel. 5 days of meeting and connecting with student activists (including the wonderful and amazing Stephanie Rivera, Jacob Chaffin, Asean Johnson, and Israel Munoz), exchanging ideas and strategies on how to organize action around key issues affecting youth, and celebrating the power of student voice and action? It was seriously a dream come true. I wish I had the time to delve into every detail of every experience that I had during these 5 days, but I hope you take my word for it that the NSPC was life-changing and groundbreaking.

With all that I’ve learned and all the new friendships I’ve made, I am so excited to take all that I have learned to begin building my very own chapter of Students United for Public Education (SUPE) in Los Angeles and well as working alongside my great friend and mentor Stephanie Rivera as a national organizer for SUPE.

But I’ll be honest: as excited as I am, I’m actually kind of scared. I’ve spent most of my life doing what I love most: learning. And most importantly, I’ve devoted a lot of time to learning about myself, what I really feel passionate about, and how I could to contribute my gifts and talents. I never wanted to really act until I was sure of myself and until I understood the issues fully and deeply. And to be honest, I’m still learning, but since starting this blog, I’ve been starting to speak out and act. When I created this blog, I wanted to use it not only as a place where I could continue to learn and develop my thoughts, but to also speak up about my beliefs, raise awareness, inspire others to think critically about these key issues.

Of course, I will continue to learn, listen, and grow for the rest of my life. It’s my favorite thing to do. But I feel like I’ve finally found my voice and I’m at a good place where I can begin to translate my passions, my thoughts, and my ideas into meaningful action and activism. Making that transition, stepping out of my comfort zone to put myself out there, is scary. But so far, what I’ve learned and how much I’ve grown has been more than worth it.

Attending this convergence was a big first step towards action for me. One of my favorite experiences in this entire world (maybe even more than singing a solo on stage) is meeting people who care. People who have passion coursing through their veins. Who really care about something so much that they go out and do something about it. Who have the courage to stand up and fight for justice and what they believe in. Whose eyes light up and heartbeats speed up at even the slightest mention of something that makes them angry, hopeful, inspired, determined. Who are driven by love: love of compassion, solidarity, justice, freedom, and equality. These people are not only passionate; they’re revolutionary. They are the game-changers and change-makers. These are people who live and breathe that list at the top of the page. These are the people who have fought the fights and walked the talks. These are the people who have taught me what it means to be a part of the student movement, to stand up, speak out, and take action.

I went to this convergence to do the first two things on that list that opened this post. I am here to learn from and listen to these amazing people and their stories. And from learning from those who have walked the talk and fought the fight, I hope to find the courage within myself to become more action-oriented, to continue to speak out against injustice, to immerse myself in my community, and work with and alongside others already doing great work to make a better tomorrow for youth.

But before I continue working on my action plan for SUPE, I want to give attention to the third and most important point on that list. I’m even going to repeat it here because it’s so important:

Never forget why you do what you do and who you do it for, and make sure everything you do honors that.

What I’ve seen happen often times (especially in… yup, you guessed it: the education reform movement), is that intentions start out good but the sword starts to swing the other way when money, power, and statistics are valued over the lives and humanity of students. “Kids first” and “For the kids” becomes merely rhetoric, as people jump to enact radically dangerous and untested policies that do anything but put kids first. It’s even scarier when these policies are put in place by people with power and money, because then they are blinded by their power and money and fail to see all the intricate parts of the matter.

This scares me, because I believe my intentions are good, and the last thing I want to happen is for what I fight for to put students at a greater disadvantage. But I know that won’t happen, as long as I make sure that everything I do for my students stems from why I do what I do. I need my vision to be clear and for that vision, story, and root of my passion to drive me. I need to stay humble and true to my roots.

So why do I fight for educational justice?

Well for starters, I want to be a teacher. Every time I play that “nine lives” game at conferences where in each life you can choose any career you want, high school civics and social studies teacher is written in #1-9. But why do I want to be a teacher? Is it so I can watch people’s face fill with disappointment and bewilderment when I tell them my life’s ambition? Is it so I can work 2 other jobs to pay for my first job? Is it so I can have my impact measured by my students’ test scores? Is it so I can get weekends and summers off?

The answer is simple: I want to devote my life’s work to inspiring and fostering young, bright, creative, and passionate hearts and minds. The thought of crafting creative and engaging lesson plans, bringing them to life in my classroom, sharing my stories and wisdom with young minds, taking my students to places they’ve never been (both intellectually and literally on field trips and such), and watching them grow into conscientious, open-minded, kind-hearted, passionate people excites me like no other. I’ve gotten a taste of it through working with children of all ages during my high school and early college careers, and I really cannot wait until I am finally fully trained and prepared to teach my own classroom.

But why become active in educational policy and activism?

Well the answer to that connects to what I want to teach and how I was taught. Let’s start with the latter.

I am very lucky to have gotten the education that I got. It completely changed my life. As I’ve mentioned before in my other posts, I didn’t realize what learning was until I was exposed to a full, well-rounded curriculum that included the arts, humanities, and social justice education. Before, I depended on my high test scores to know that I was learning. Today, I know that no test score could ever reveal how much I had truly grown and learned through my education.

For the first time, I was experiencing what I was learning, rather than passively regurgitating information that I barely internalized (something I’m really excellent at doing… I could be a professional test taker and that’s something to be ashamed of). I was finally opening my eyes to the intricacies and complexities of our global society and the field of education, and finally understanding concepts like solidarity, inequality, privilege, human rights, justice, and my role in all of these things. Social studies and civics woke my mind and heart and sparked such an immense passion in me that in my spare time, I found myself delving into the issues I studied more and more, as well as becoming more involved in my local community through organizing work and volunteerism.

During this time in my life was when I found my passion in education, partly because realized the magic of education through my own transformational experience, and partly because I decided to write my sophomore year research paper on standardized testing and it shattered my long-held (arrogant) faith in tests as well as everything I thought I knew about education.

As time went on, I slowly developed my biggest belief: that EVERY student should receive a free, quality, democratic, and well-rounded public education, unhindered by huge class sizes, dilapidated infrastructure, terrible working/learning conditions, inadequate funding, child poverty, high stakes testing, or other broken reform policies. I believe that this is a fundamental human right and true justice.

This is why I am fighting for educational justice now. My education helped me find my voice and understand the importance of standing up for justice and equality for my brothers and sisters. When I look at the current attacks on public education, especially by a group of people I used to trust to improve education, I get this intense emotional reaction that mirrors the kind I would get in high school every time I read about or discussed a social injustice. My insides burn, my heart races, and every inch in my body longs to get up and do something because what is happening to students, teachers, and schools today is not reform; it’s destruction.

I cannot possibly stand by while countless students are literally robbed of true education by neoliberals under the guise of “innovation”, “high expectations”, and “accountability.” I cannot possibly stand by while I hear my students’ stories of feeling unheard and powerless in what should be THEIR fight for THEIR education. I cannot possibly stand by while students continue to be silenced and invisible, their humanity reduced to digits and their futures determined by people who ignorantly implement harmful policies without considering student voice. I cannot possibly stand by while people who don’t want to devote a day of their life to educating a child use their money and power to manipulate and profit from a system they destroyed in the first place (Why is there a billionaire boys club? Oh right, because poverty and economic inequity exist and are silently hurting public education).

I realize that I could not care about any of this, live a very easy life, float through grad school, get my teaching credential, and just be a teacher in a high school somewhere. I’m sure the reformies would love that. But I refuse to do that. And that has as much to do with how I was taught as it does with what I want to teach.

I want to teach the things that made me a more open-minded, empowered, and justice-seeking person. I want to be a high school teacher of social justice and civic engagement.

I believe that true education can and should awaken the mind and heart by fostering critical thinking (mind) and a commitment to social justice (heart). Yes, learning about all the terrible injustice and oppression that has marginalized groups of people throughout history is naturally discouraging, but I feel that there is also such beauty in looking at how the marginalized have historically risen up against their oppressors and fought for the justice and freedom from oppression. When students engage with learning material that relates to them and their cultural histories, they are more empowered to think and learn for themselves and take action. This kind of social justice education brings not only knowledge and enlightenment, but also hope for students. Hope that they too can not only live in a better world someday, but also be the reason for that better, more just and equal world.  

This is what I hope to bring to students. Hope. Light. A true sense of wonder for the world and love for those living in it. Motivation to learn and turn learning into positive action. A sense of empowerment.

But how can I possibly begin to teach social justice in a system with so much injustice?

I fight for educational justice because I believe that I myself have the power to contribute what I can now so that by the time my future students reach my classroom, the education system will be a more just place. I believe that empowered students like myself can and will stand up for what they believe is right and demand educational rights for all. I believe that education is liberation from oppression.

I know I’m going to get a lot of opposition for fighting for what I believe in. Social justice education is equally liberating and threatening to authorities that pray for compliance. But I will not comply under policies and rules that put students at a disadvantage. I will not comply with people who wish divergent perspectives and beliefs be silenced. I will not comply until there is justice.

Instead, I will continue to hope. Hope that I can not only teach in a better education system one day, but also be the reason for that better, more just and equal system. Hope to live my lessons now and one day have my lessons come alive.

Everyone keeps talking about the Status Quo

I get blamed for accepting it all the time. I get told (usually by education reformers) that if I don’t agree with their methods, I’m accepting the status quo. 

I guess what they mean by status quo is the whole “failing schools epidemic.” Or “bad teachers.” Or “terrible unions.”

To me, the status quo just looks like people in power suppressing the voices of those who don’t agree with them. Kind of like the way critical thinking, balanced discussion, creativity, divergent perspectives, and student voice are suppressed in schools in favor of compliance and testing. Such a system keeps the powerful in power. 

To echo a wonderful piece of wisdom from Daniel Kao:

If we can’t even give our students a voice, how can we expect to give them an education?

I refuse to be silenced, and the students I teach refuse it as well.

 

 

A Reply to Mariam (part 2) – A look at the infamous Finland, a place with no tests

Here’s my response to the second part of Mariam’s comment. You can find part 1 here.

2) I completely agree with everything you had to say about standardized testing, and I thoroughly disagree with Rhee’s ‘objectivity’ business. Ever since high school, I have been in favor for shifting the emphasis from standardized tests to holistic assessments that tell far more about the student as an individual. However, I hear from many that standardized testing is convenient, and that’s why it will stay. I was wondering how you would respond to those who cite convenience as the reason standardized testing will prevail because I honestly don’t know how to respond to that… I mean, to be completely honest, it’s true. Standardized testing is too convenient and can allow any school administration to compare students with each other, rank them, and use that data to admit students into college/graduate programs. How would admission committees use student work portfolios to compare students ‘objectively’ (ugh there’s that word again)? It’s far easier or convenient to cut off students because they don’t meet a certain GPA or test score, but once standardized testing is out of the equation, how do these institutions select which students should be admitted since the portfolios will be unique to the student and comparing a unique portfolio of one student to another’s would be like comparing apples with oranges?

Hey again Mariam!

I answered most of your questions in my reply to Byron, but I did some more research since then and I’d like to add more to my answer than just referring you to my reply to a previous comment.

As you already know from hearing me talk about it for years now, if it were up to me, there would be no standardized testing. Schools would teach students how to learn, rather than how to take tests. No one would be reduced to numbers and ranked. They would be fully educated, prepared to ace a test if they had to, but never programmed to do so. Teachers would be respected as professionals and would have freedom to do what they’re meant to do: teach creatively and passionately.

This isn’t an out-of-reach dream. It’s happening in other countries. Here’s a great example:

Finland

And here’s an excerpt from the article I linked:

There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians.

From the article, there’s a lot of evidence that proves this model works. Lots of positive teacher and student testimony, lots of observation from third parties of very creative classroom lessons that engaging students and helping them learn, lots of evidence of collaboration rather than competition that fosters strong, tight-knit learning communities. Teachers in Finland are guided by the philosophy that they know more about their students than a test score does, and I absolutely commend their efforts.

But this isn’t the first thing most Americans look at. No, Americans are really hung up on is how in the heck Finland’s students can outscore almost every country on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), an exam that tests reading, math, and science literacy in 15-year-olds worldwide. Results on the PISA are hardly a fully accurate indication of the state of education in a country, but test-crazed American educational leaders are putting a lot of weight on these results.

What is Finland’s reaction to all this? Frankly, they don’t give two damns.

“We are not much interested in PISA. It’s not what we are about.”
— Pasi Sahlberg, Finland’s Ministry of Education

“Americans like all these bars and graphs and colored charts.”
–Kari Louhivuori, Principal of Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School

I guess it is a little baffling to see a country that doesn’t care much for standardized tests, perform so well on them. That’s because they focus on the more important things, like creating creative and captivating lessons, and they know that their students can demonstrate learning better through the work they produce than through the scores they get. Students then acquire skills that are unlimited by what’s on a test. Their education system is definitely something to envy.

Along with the interactive and engaging classrooms, educators and Finland citizens alike understand that poverty and economic inequity plays a large factor in student performance. That’s why “all political parties on the right and left” strongly stress equality and bravely confront the issue of poverty. They support and provide comprehensive social services for students, such as adequate counseling, medical care, free student health care, and even a taxi service. All of this makes a pretty good package, in my opinion. And they did it all without scores.

Now, I can definitely see how difficult it is going to be to revolutionize America’s education system and build a model that’s similar to Finland. You said that it’s unlikely that standardized tests will be eliminated because testing is so convenient. I agree. Testing is very convenient. But more than that, I think that it will be difficult to eliminate testing because we’re so addicted to it. It’s like what Louhivoiri said. We like bars and graphs and colored charts. We like quantifiable data. We like rankings and competition and comparisons. Testing and data have infiltrated every level of our education system, now from kindergarten (yes, there are now tests for kindergarteners) to post-secondary. The minute kids begin their educational careers, they are now statistics and will have numbers attached to them as they move through the system.

But I’m saying that it’s possible. It’s possible to eliminate high-stakes testing and significantly reduce the time we spend to test our students. It will take work, it will take a lot of fighting on the part of parents, students, and educators, but it is possible. We can shake the addiction to the “objective”, where honestly, it’s not really needed. We can stop ridiculously comparing students and schools, and instead work on fostering individual growth through holistic evaluation.

But even if we eliminate standardized tests for grades K-12, shift to well-rounded curricula and portfolio-based evaluations, revitalize our education system, shake the addiction to rankings and charts, and focus on developing each individual student and supporting their individual growth (which is a pretty damn good investment and definitely possible), we still have the issue of what to do when students apply to college. Because you’re right. Unlike the K-12 system, which should provide equal opportunity for all, colleges have admission requirements and rates.

Admittedly, I haven’t thought about this in depth to settle on a solution that I would wholeheartedly endorse. But after doing a little more research, I have a few ideas that might work.

Before I begin I want to stress again that I don’t think college should be treated as the main goal and destination of education, as it is so often treated right now. I think that many other options for students should be made available, viable, and acceptable. This whole “college-bound” attitude is dangerous and excludes many students who might not fit in to the picture of higher education (or who can’t afford it because holy crap what is happening to tuition and student loan rates?!). But there will still be students who want to pursue higher ed, so here’s a way we can still eliminate high-stakes testing at the K-12 level, implement holistic evaluation, and improve the college admissions process all at the same time.

In my reply to Byron, I came up with a way to increase the speed and precision of evaluating student portfolios if they were to be used in the college admissions process (side note: I mostly think of portfolios being used in the context of learning tools and teacher evaluations, not so much college admissions). But then I came to a dilemma when I realized the real problem was comparing two portfolios, which would be, as you suggest, like “comparing apples with oranges”.

So, I’d like to go back to my thought that perhaps we should devote time to developing a very meaningful and useful exam that can potentially be used as the “objective” component of college admissions. To maybe get an idea of how this might work, I decided to check out universities in Finland and look at their admission criteria.

In Finland, college admissions are based mostly on an entrance exam. Some weight is given to high school grades, extracurriculars, and the interview (only for those going into Education), but most weight is on the college-created entrance exam. There are no recommendations, personal statements, Finnish universities have internal autonomy, and so their exams vary. But typically the entrance exam entails open-ended questions and student-produced responses where students write essays, solve problems, and demonstrate their critical reasoning skills. There is no multiple choice.

This might be a good alternative to the SAT, which is not a very good exam anyway. Instead of a nationwide exam used for college admissions, colleges could fashion their own exams that they feel will determine who is best fit to attend their institution. And unlike Finland, American colleges can still consider high school grades, community involvement, personal statements, work portfolios, recommendations, and interviews. Colleges should really only care about how students fare against other students in their applicant pool when making a decision, so why doesn’t every applicant take an assessment created by the college?

But then again this might not be feasible in the US. Finland is a fairly small country with far fewer colleges that America. It’s easier for students of Finland to take an exam for a college on the other side of the country. Representatives from the college would simply set up test centers in other regions of Finland and offer the test on a certain date. With the number of colleges we have, that doesn’t work so well for us. That would actually be complete chaos. (If you have an idea on how this might work… let me know, I think this would be a very good solution).

So perhaps a nationwide exam is necessary for college admission. Personally, I think colleges can make decisions using the current criteria they use now, minus the SAT test score. Some colleges aren’t even looking at SAT scores anymore. But if we really need the aspect of objectivity, perhaps we can work on that developing that one meaningful and useful exam.

Just out of curiosity, I took a look at Finland’s one exam that students are mandated to take throughout their entire education careers. It’s a matriculation exam that is administered at the end of their secondary education, sort of like a high school graduation exam. It’s a very well-constructed exam, in my opinion. You can check it out for yourself. Exams require all student produced responses, come in different levels for students to choose, and provide a variety of subjects beyond the “common core” (native language and math) that students can choose to take. They are required to take at least 4 exams, with the only mandatory one being Finnish (or Swedish if that is their “mother tongue”). The other three exams can be chosen from the following 4 exams:

  • Second Language exam (if they speak Finnish, Swedish, or Saami besides their “mother tongue”)
  • Foreign Language exam (sounds very similar to an AP Foreign Language exam in the US)
  • Mathematics (student-produced responses only)
  • General Studies exams (choose at least one from “Evangelical Lutheran religion, Orthodox religion, ethics, philosophy, psychology, history, social studies, physics, chemistry, biology, geography and health education”)

Exams are graded twice, first by teachers and then a national board. Scores are on a scale of 1-7, with the only failing mark being a 1. Failing scores can be compensated with other passing scores and tests may be retaken.

This sounds way better than the SAT to me. The only problem I have with this exam is that it has a lot of weight put on it. I’m against the use of high school exit exams, because the stakes are high and using a score as a condition of graduation can hold back a diploma from people who actually deserve one. Perhaps these people aren’t the best test takers or they learn and express learning in less of a “paper and pencil” way, but they still worked so hard in school and learned a lot of material that can’t be encompassed in a test score. I think completing coursework and building robust portfolios are a good enough graduation requirements.

Thus, I think this kind of exam might be more useful as one of the factors of college admissions. And perhaps educators from American colleges can come together and collaborate and the development of such an exam (rather than a testing corporation).

I’m honestly just throwing ideas out there. Please feel free to comment further and offer your opinions on how we can approach fair and equitable college admissions. Your questions have really challenged me to think deeper and in more detail about these issues, and I’m really thankful for this opportunity to sort through some logistics. Because ideas can be great but they aren’t worth much if they aren’t feasible.

Thank you so much again for your wonderful comment, Mariam! I hope my answer has been enlightening!

Here is the last portion of Mariam’s comment. It wasn’t a question but simply her response to the part of my post on poverty. She says some very wise words that I’d just like to share with y’all:

Overall, I love everything you have written in this post especially the way you describe the effect of socioeconomic factors on public school education. “The achievement gap is simply a euphemism for the wealth gap.” YES. This is entirely accurate. Not only can one’s socioeconomic status affect a student’s performance in school, but it also contributes to the ‘unequal’ public schools of our country. Some public schools are perceived to be ‘better’ than others. No surprise there when public schools are funded by property taxes. Some communities do not have the resources, and their schools naturally reflect that. (This is where race and class intersect too, and we are left with inner-city schools where the student bodies’ makeup is predominantly African American & Hispanic… courtesy of redlining)

If anyone has any questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to let me know! I’m still in the process of learning as well! Thanks 🙂

My “Conversation” with Michelle Rhee

michelle rhee

So a while back, I talked to Michelle Rhee (CEO of StudentsFirst) on a Tioki Forum after seeing on Facebook (I follow StudentsFirst just to see what kind of shenanigans they’re up to next) that she would be available from 4:00-4:30 PM to talk to the common folk and discuss any questions we may have. For a forum, there wasn’t much discussion going on. It was mostly question and answer, where some questions were not fully addressed or even answered and rebuttals were not responded to. But half an hour isn’t a long time, so I cut her some slack.

I submitted my question early, because I really did want a response. When I posted it, I received a message saying that my question would be submitted for review before being posted. Well then. It looked like Michelle would be spared from answering questions from her most ardent critics, and the discussion would be less authentic dialogue and more filtered propaganda.

But luckily, my question was posted! Probably because I tried to appear not so threatening.

I couldn’t limit myself to one question, so I chose two things that are two of the biggest flaws and faults of the education reform movement:

Here was her reply to my question about poverty:

Q: Hi Michelle, I’m a student and currently starting my research in education and I’d love to hear your thoughts. I know you talk a lot about accountability, teacher unions, and the structure of public schools as being the causes of our failing public school system, but I recently came across a considerable amount of research that highlights out-of-school factors such as poverty and economic inequality as the root cause. Whether public or charter, a school in a wealthy community almost always outperforms a school in a poverty-stricken environment. What are your thoughts on this? What are you doing to address this issue and ensure a quality public education for all students, regardless of socioeconomic background?

A: Well let’s start at the top. I have repeatedly said teachers’ unions are not the problem. But yes, the governance structure of public schools is a big issue. Antiquated bureaucracies stifle innovation and are bad for kids & teachers. But you bring up a good topic – education policy is so polarized that people seem to think there are only two camps of thought. 1. Poverty is to blame for all public education ills and all tests are bad vs. 2. We need to test everything that moves and teachers are to blame. There’s little room for reasonable dialogue. Poverty does matter and does affect kids, but that shouldn’t stop us from guaranteeing that the minute a child sets foot in school, they are getting the best education possible. Poverty is something which must be accounted for, such as through comprehensive social services, but we cannot allow ourselves to believe that because a child requires these services or is poor, that they are not interested in or capable of learning.

And here’s what I think about her reply. Let’s start at the top:

Teachers’ Unions

Chicago Teachers Union fighting alongside parents and students to save over 50 public schools from closings mandated by education deformer and Michelle Rhee worshipper Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

First, I honestly don’t know when you’ve “repeatedly said that teachers’ unions are not the problem” because I watched you tear down teachers’ unions in Waiting for Superman (which ironically paints you as the hero???), and I know that StudentsFirst is funded by Walton Family Foundation (the one in control of the money controls the org!), who are historically known for being anti-union (Wal-Mart. Enough said.)

And here’s a quote that also makes you look like a complete hypocrite:

“People tell me the unions are an inevitable part of this [school reform]. My thing is, what has that gotten us so far? All the collaboration and holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’?” – Michelle Rhee at the 2008 round table at the Fordham Institute.

Furthermore, I listened to my SFER/USC President spew his brainwashing rhetoric about how if I wanted to be a real reformer, I needed to stand against teachers’ unions (SFER is basically a branch of StudentsFirst, and you can read Stephanie Rivera’s excellent critical analysis of it here). “Teachers no longer care about students and they are the problem!”

And boy was I fooled. Every starry-eyed student just entering the realm of “educational policy and reform” will be fed the whole “teachers unions are the problem” crap. It made sense, didn’t it? Teachers, people who dedicate their lives to helping students, would put their career before students. As if their career wasn’t about the students.

It didn’t take long for me to realize what a load of bullshit that was. No teacher goes into the field wanting to destroy a student’s love of learning. No teacher wants to dull their students down to test scores. No teacher wants to teach to the test and lecture material in order to satisfy standards. Teaching is a noble and creative profession, an art that requires a system where that art can flourish.

But what would a Teach for America corps member who taped her students’ mouths shut and calls herself an education expert after very little classroom experience know about teaching? Probably only that experienced teachers protected by unions are hurting students. Because that totally makes sense. Here’s a thought: Why do we trust experience in every other field BUT teaching?

Of course, some teachers teach better than others. You don’t need to look at data to know that; any student can tell you! You want to help students and save them from “bad” teachers? Help the “bad” teachers. Stop taking the easy way out and tying teacher quality to test scores. Stop busting teachers’ unions and firing teachers. Start implementing some meaningful evaluation (student work portfolios, student surveys, third party holistic observations – preferably by people who have experience teaching). Unions protect good teachers too, and eliminating them would be dangerous not only to the teachers but also the students. Teachers fight for their students. That’s their job.

Bottom line: Teachers’ unions are NOT the problem. They’re a part of the solution.

Now onto the part of Michelle’s reply about

Poverty

To reiterate, here’s what she said:

Education policy is so polarized that people seem to think there are only two camps of thought:

1. Poverty is to blame for all public education ills and all tests are bad

2. We need to test everything that moves and teachers are to blame.

There’s little room for reasonable dialogue. Poverty does matter and does affect kids, but that shouldn’t stop us from guaranteeing that the minute a child sets foot in school, they are getting the best education possible. Poverty is something which must be accounted for, such as through comprehensive social services, but we cannot allow ourselves to believe that because a child requires these services or is poor, that they are not interested in or capable of learning.

Again, let’s start at the top. I agree, both these ideas are extreme and entirely flawed. I didn’t say that poverty was the root cause of a failing public education system. But it is a contributing factor. And for education reformers to basicaly embody the second camp of thought and tie test scores to teacher performance and ignore other factors that could contribute to low scores is terrible data analysis and quite frankly, very narrow-minded.

Poverty is a large part of the equation. Study, after study, after study proves this. High-poverty environments can cause severe stress and damage in youth brain function. Academic performance correlates with family income and socioeconomic status. The achievement gap is simply a euphemism for the wealth gap. And the “no excuses” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude of the reform movement is ignoring this glaringly obvious STRUCTURAL issue.

Of course, we should believe that students are capable of achieving no matter what ZIP code they come from. This is an attractive, and admittedly genuine idea that Michelle Rhee preaches. But if we truly have faith in students, we should also show them that we do and invest in the communities they live in. If we want to build better schools, we should start by building healthy environments that kids can come home to after school, and the “following up with health and academic and social policy programs at school.” But of course this isn’t what the education reformers want. Because that would mean the tax dollars that they are taking for their own corporate gain would go toward solutions that actually benefit students and their communities!

Once again, I’m not saying that poverty is the sole reason, or excuse, why students from poorer communities don’t do well in school. Far from that actually. I agree with Michelle in that respect: “We cannot allow ourselves to believe that because a child requires these services or is poor, that they are not interested in or capable of learning.” But I’m saying that poverty, along with in-school factors (which I’ll get into later in this post), exacerbates the problem and we need to be brave enough to confront it.

I’ve often said that once we solve the issue of education, most other societal problems will be solved. That’s probably because if we ever want to give students a better education, we need to also simultaneously tackle other societal problems that put pressure on our students.

Poverty NEEDS to be considered. Yes, I agree with Sir Ken Robinson; teachers are the lifeblood of a classroom, of education. Teachers have magic powers, and they can definitely be sources of inspiration and true learning, but to expect a teacher to undo all the pernicious effects of poverty on a student is a tall order. Collaboration (something Michelle is sorely against) between teachers, students, parents, communities, and government is necessary to ensure that every student gets the education he/she deserves.

To truly invest in kids and do what is best for them, we need to recognize that there are BOTH in-school and out-of-school factors that contribute to the problem. We cannot take an extreme side and focus on one or the other. If any progress is to be made we need to step up and target both ends of the spectrum equally.

Bottom line: Poverty cannot be ignored.

Now, what about those in-school factors that we also need to tackle? Education reformers seem to think that apathetic, low-quality teachers are the source of the problem, but what they fail to look at is the strict system and troubling predicament these teachers are placed in. From Bush’s No Child Left Behind to Obama’s Race to the Top (basically NCLB on steroids) and now, corporate America’s Common Core State Standards, we have turned our public education system into a terribly run business, with meaningless data that only serves to punish students, teachers, and communities, all under the guise of “accountability.”

Let’s see what Michelle had to say in response to my question about

Standardized Testing

Q: Also, I’d like to hear your thoughts on lessening the unnecessarily tight grip of standardized testing on our students and using that time and money to focus on providing all students with a well-rounded education that helps them become better people, not better test takers. I feel that over-emphasis of standards and test scores limits creativity (for teachers and students), critical thinking, enthusiasm for learning, and attention to the many other dimensions of an education that simply cannot be encompassed in a multiple choice exam and 3 digit number.

A: When it comes to testing, as a parent, I don’t want my daughters’ teachers to only be teaching to a test. I want them to have a well-rounded education & curriculum. However, we must have an objective way to measure whether kids are learning so that schools and educators can use assessment feedback to improve how they educate kids. Accountability for schools, educators, students, & parents is essential.

Okay first off, great appeal to parental emotion there, Michelle. But of course no education reformer is going to directly endorse teaching to the test. However, that has been the unfortunate consequence of what they call “data-driven assessment” and “accountability.” First, No Child Left Behind let the giant claw of standardized testing get a grip on our education system. Now, Race to the Top has tightened that grip as it promises large sums of reward money to districts with the highest scores (because competition is how we ensure equal opportunity, right?). Alongside this, Common Core State Standards, which are corporation-created standards for language arts and math, are being implemented all over the country, and enforced through yet another onslaught of standardized tests.

Oh, and did I mention these tests are produced by corporations, sold to schools, and protected from peer review and public scrutiny? Yes, these are people who have never been teachers, never even step foot in front of a classroom, dictating what students should learn and reaping profits from this added pressure on students and their teachers. Do they care if teachers teach to the test? Not really.

But moving on from that… whenever I bring up my views on standardized testing, I almost ALWAYS get the same retort, even from my parents:

“We need an objective way to measure progress! It can’t just be a free for all!”

Alright. I admit it. We need hard data to know how to improve. But let me quote Timo Heikkinen, a principal of a school in Finland where there are no standardized tests:

“If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”

Right on, Mr. Heikkinen. Yes, we need data to track progress and project growth. But beyond being objective, it needs to be accurate, and by accurate I mean that it should take into account every part of a student. Is such accurate yet still objective data on human beings possible? Probably not.

But then the question becomes: do we care about our kids enough to put in the extra time and money, value their humanity through meaningful assessment, and shift the focus to providing well-rounded educations?

If we do, then we should aim for accurate data. But in order for data to be meaningful and accurate, it needs to be comprehensive. Michelle said in her reply that data from tests is used to improve how kids are educated, but I fail to see how numbers in a data chart (that don’t even take into account a student’s creativity or critical thinking ability) can give effective and constructive criticism to teachers. These numbers only tell part of the story, and are unfairly used to punish teachers for not raising scores. This adds pressure on them to teach to the test in order to fulfill standards and appear “accountable.”

For data to be comprehensive and useful for teacher and student growth, it needs to cover all the bases. Data should try to tell the whole picture of a student, something that standardized testing doesn’t even come close to achieving. To meaningfully assess students, why don’t teachers ask students to compile portfolios of their original pieces of work for evaluation? Work that is able to demonstrate a mix and myriad of skills and understanding, from civic engagement to scientific method to literary analysis. And then, why don’t we give them feedback that shows them that we value their effort enough to write more than one letter grade on it? From there, portfolios can be submitted as a part of the teacher evaluation process, to a third party review team composed of teachers who will then decide how the work meets curriculum standards also created by students and teachers.

Yes, the national standards created by Common Core have good intentions, but poor implementation. It’s yet another get-rich-quick-scheme by the education reformer crew. It’s created even more standardized tests and pulled focus away from funding for and focus on the arts, music, civic ed, the sciences, humanities, physical education, and enrichment programs (all of which are a part of a well-rounded education). The standards were also created and imposed upon schools across the country without teacher or student input.

What we need is a set of standards constructed through collaboration of students and teachers inn various communities, in every subject and area of learning, that are enforced through comprehensive data collection (portfolios and written evaluations).

This will only be one part of improving education, because we should also be evaluating teachers in comprehensive ways that gives them comprehensive feedback from which they can work forward from. Student portfolios are a piece of that puzzle.

Completing the rest of the puzzle takes more emphasis on student voice, rather than numbers. This may come as a shock to reformers, but students can say a lot more about themselves and their learning experiences than a test score. GO FIGURE!

When evaluating teachers for the purposes of accountability, why don’t we ask students:

  • What do you want to see in a teacher? What do you feel a teacher should do (not just academic-wise)? This provides a backbone checklist of expectations that teachers should meet.
  • What does your teacher do well? How can your teacher improve? What do you wish your teacher did differently/more? This gives a broader look into how teachers are serving their students and provides tangible advice teachers can use to improve.

We can also invite a third-party team of teachers to come observe and evaluate the teacher using an assessment that is, once again, comprehensive and covers all the bases of teaching, as well as provides concrete ways the teacher can improve in the future. The key here is to shift from narrowly test to holistically assess.

We should trust our students and value their voice enough to do all this.

We should also trust our teachers to work together with students, teach them with passion and creativity, and assess them holistically.

We should trust teachers to collaborate with and help one another for the sake of their students.

Once this happens, wonderful things can happen in education. I refuse to believe, Michelle, that objectivity is necessary to improve education. Accuracy and comprehensiveness is what we really need. It shows kids that we care, provides clear steps forward, and leads to providing students with the well-rounded education we always talk about, but never act upon… the same education that is made impossible in the face of the standardized testing monster.

And as for accountability for schools, educators, students, & parents? How about input from and collaboration between schools, educators, students, & parents? There are valuable voices out there in education, and we can no longer afford to silence them.

Bottom line: Standardized testing is not necessary. There are better solutions.

I would have replied on the thread… but by the time I saw her reply to me, I realized it was too late and she would never read my post anyway. And she still might not read it. But at least I can reach more people this way. Hope you enjoyed reading! Please spread the word and awareness! The education reform monster needs to be stopped!

Nikhil Goyal Advocates for an Education Revolution in America

Well said, Mr. Goyal. I’m also very excited to begin your book.

This about sums up my stance on standardized testing, while also giving a great solution that I shoot back at anyone who asks me,

“What’s going to happen when we cut down on standardized tests? How are we going to hold students and teachers accountable?”

Portfolios are a GREAT way to start. It not only gives more meaningful, holistic, and accurate “data” on the growth of a student, but it sends a positive message to students, one that says,

“You are more than a number. You are more than a letter. You are capable of accomplishing so much. Your work is valuable and important.”

Take a look! It’s a short but worthwhile watch.

Further suggested readings by Nikhil Goyal, an 18-year old author, speaker recognized by Forbes 30 under 30:

First topic I’ll tackle: The “Other” Education Movement

First off, I want to say that I feel really bad for not posting in a while. Things have been really hectic at home, and I could barely find a sizable chunk of time to just write for myself. When I did sit down to write, I was interrupted or had to put it off… and nothing just ever got done. 

But, now I have re-balanced my time and plan to start right up again, beginning with a topic that I think needs to be addressed before any others. Before I can establish where I stand, I want to be clear on where I DON’T stand. Before I can get to figuring out solutions, I have to fully understand the problem. Here is a huge chunk of the problem:

The Educorporate Reform/Deform/Rheeform/Rephorm Movement

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Michelle Rhee, the Dolores Umbridge of Education and the leader of the Education Reform Movement.

Gosh, where do I begin? I’m going to do a string of posts on this, but I guess I’ll start with a bullet point list of what the education reform movement is really about.

[Linked in each bullet point is an article to get you started… of course there are tons of articles and evidence for each one. Also, if you haven’t done so already, I really suggest you check out this handy “Reform-to-English” Dictionary. It’s basically an expanded list of the Ed Reform movement’s bullshit]

My first post on this topic is going to directly address people who are in my position.

A letter to future teachers and present education advocates

All I ask of you is this:

Please, please, please take a second look at the current education reform movement being led by StudentsFirst CEO Michelle Rhee, and championed by big names like Bill Gates, Wendy Kopp (Teach for America CEO), and Arne Duncan (current Secretary of Education appointed by Obama).

Take it from someone who used to be a Students for Education Reform member, used to dream about working for StudentsFirst, joining Teach for America, and running my own charter school.

Usually, I would suggest that two sides of the education debate put aside their differences to put students’ interest first. Usually, I would promote what I support rather than bash what I oppose. But what I oppose is moving education in the wrong direction. What I oppose is making it difficult for me to promote what I support. What I oppose is gaining support from cover-ups and lies, and tricking so many (including myself) into believing their bullshit.

Before, I was under the false impression that this was the change our country needed. I believed that doing all those things I just mentioned would help students and the education system. 

Don’t be fooled by fancy, charge rhetoric and the growing presence of their names in the media. Corporate money is fueling this campaign, and the only beneficiaries are those at the top. When the movement started, I joined it because it had good intentions and set clear goals on how to solve the issue of education. Now, actually seeing the disappointing results of this movement and digging deeper into their motives has led me to become completely disillusioned, if not horrified.

All I ask is that you dig underneath all that fancy looking brochures, websites, and appearances and discover what the education reform movement is really doing to our public schools, our students, our teachers, our communities.

After looking at all sides of the situation, if you still stand by the EdReform movement, then by all means, pick up on the past that I abandoned.

But I just want you to know that there is another side to this debate. Another solution that actually listens to students, shows genuine concern for the future of our education system, stands behind teachers, and believes in bettering public education for all. 

Education reformers are on the wrong side of history. They are doing nothing to improve education, and they are reaping all the benefits. Real solutions require full collaboration from the bottom up, not the top down (in this case, they don’t even reach the bottom). Advocates for education justice are championing real solutions, real change.

All I ask is that you take a second look.

I’ll end with a quote by Diane Ravitch:

“The future belongs to all the students who understand that public education belongs to them as a democratic right to build their future. [Education] must not become a plaything for Wall Street and billionaires, nor a stepping stone for politicians, nor a profit center for entrepreneurs.”