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As you may have already heard, my organization, Students United for Public Education, is preparing to launch our first national, student-led campaign:
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.
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!
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
– 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.)]
Thanks for reading! If you made it this far, enjoy this flyer that I just made 🙂
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.
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!
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:
- In my apartment before the event, I made this poster:
- 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:
- When 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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 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:
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,
- Student Calls Out Michelle Rhee at Teacher Town Hall [VIDEO!] (teacherunderconstruction.com)
- My Speech at the Los Angeles Teacher Town Hall, AND a VERY Important Message (inspireducation.wordpress.com)
- Student Takes on Michelle Rhee (washingtonpost.com)
- Michelle Rhee’s Teacher Town Hall: A Students Stands Up and Disagrees (dianeravitch.net)
- Michelle Rhee’s Teacher Town Hall: A Students Stands Up and Disagrees (bloggerstech.wordpress.com)
- Michelle Rhee Comes to Los Angeles; The City Shrugs (k12newsnetwork.com)
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!
I believe that there are three key things you need to always do when leading a movement for social justice and change.
- Be willing to listen and learn.
- Have the courage to speak out and act in the name of justice.
- 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.
I’ve pretty much heard all the arguments for and against high stakes testing, and feel pretty confident that I wholeheartedly disagree with it and can give a solid counter argument to any arguments for high stakes testing.
But recently I’ve been getting some new arguments that… kind of throw me for a loop.
Whenever I say that test scores shouldn’t be a factor in teacher evaluation or determining school progress (and likewise funding for schools making progress) because they are an unreliable source of data that can’t capture student performance, let alone teacher performance or school performance, I get either or both of these response:
- Why do you care so much about teachers/schools? This should be about the kids!
- Test scores are only [some percentage] of [something]!
These throw me for a loop because they’re kind of ridiculous. The first one is easy. Caring about kids means also caring for the teachers that are dedicated to educating them and the schools that are their learning communities. That’s how you care about kids. And don’t forget that testing hurts kids (not just teachers and schools) as well. If you don’t believe that, then you aren’t looking closely enough.
Now to the second argument. It’s a phrase that would be a fact without one word. And that word is “only.”
When I hear that tests ONLY account for a certain percentage of teacher evaluation or school progress reports in various states and districts, I hear a concession. I hear an acknowledgement that a lesser percentage would probably be more beneficial for students and schools. I hear a, “Chill out, Hannah! Yeah, it’s a problem but at least it’s only a percentage of a problem!”
And this is what I don’t understand. If people see the issues with testing, why do they still allow it to factor into pivotal decisions that impact students?
So last night, I decided to do something daring and send an email to my SFER chapter, voicing my opinions about the Vergara vs. California lawsuit. And I got a reply late last night, which I then responded to this morning.
I won’t publish his reply here, for the sake of his privacy but in a nutshell, he found me misinformed, asked ME to question both sides (and trust me I have been doing that before opening this blog which I only did after I took a clear stance), and brought up his personal experiences with teachers’ unions and working for Parent Revolution and how those pushed him to support the corporate education reform movement. He says we “need high stakes testing”, “accountability”, and basically ignored my points about a better more comprehensive solution to getting rid of “teachers” in favor of simply bashing teachers and tearing down unions.
I could go on, but you can glean most of what he said in my reply:
Hi [omitted for privacy],
Thanks for the prompt reply! I was really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on these issues.
Before I respond to individual parts of your argument I want you to know that I have looked into both sides, very carefully. I actually was once a fierce supporter of the corporate education reform movement. I felt change was necessary, and I had hope that ed reform leaders would create change.
It took a LOT of evidence for me to change my mind. After looking at not only the stagnant progress but also the dire consequences this movement has inflicted upon our public education system, I cannot bring myself or my conscience to support such a movement. From Chicago public school closings, to Philadelphia budget cuts, to charter schools “creaming”, to Atlanta cheating scandals, to student opting out of tests all over the country, to teachers having to form a Badass Teachers Association to get the point across that they actually want to teach (more on this later), to my students (who were from charter schools) asking me why the “rich white people” who partly fund their school can’t give them paper towels in the bathroom or a soccer field with grass (this isn’t even the full list). I know injustice when I see it. I’ve only started it voicing my opinions about education after I fully understood both sides’ arguments. I’ve thoroughly questioned both sides, actually questioning my current side much more than the corp ed reform side.
I recognize that you’ve experienced many things throughout your own educational activism journey. I appreciate you bringing those experiences to light and working hard to fight for what you believe in. That is something very noble. I have my story too, and very good reasons that fuel my passion against the education reform movement. I’ve stepped into classrooms, listened to what students are saying, listening to dedicated but frustrated teachers, worked with students and understood how incredibly difficult yet rewarding it is. I was also lucky enough to receive a high quality education, something I want every student in America to experience.
Now let’s start at the top: I know you’ve studied Geoffrey Canada, religiously. I’ve studied him as well (probably not religiously) but I know enough to know that I cannot side with him when it comes to his views on accountability. I only quote him because he is one of the few reformers who gives a damn about bettering the communities around schools, and that is something I can respect. I believe that that has been the key to his success. If it isn’t, then why does the high stakes testing model elsewhere do more harm than good?
High stakes testing and data-driven accountability are something I cannot support. This is one stance in education that I have held since the start of my high school career. High stakes testing puts too much emphasis on test scores, outcomes, stats and far too little emphasis on student growth, learning, and humanity. You can celebrate stats all you want, but I prefer to celebrate humans. Learning (we can talk a whole lot about education but forget to talk about learning… isn’t that the point of this all?) cannot be encompassed by a test number. Anyone who’s ever gone through the education system can tell you that. The corp ed reform movement, which promised change, just takes a broken model that hasn’t worked for 40 years and does it even more, using up more learning time and money for resources and inflicting more harm on the quality of students’ education. It’s ridiculous, terribly poor data analysis, and it needs to have stopped yesterday. Countless evidence shows that high-stakes testing is harmful to students, and if you don’t believe the evidence from professional psychologists and researcher-educators, then at least listen to what students are saying and DOING (walking out of tests, boycotting). Teachers aside, high stakes testing is doing the most harm to students in school.
Instead of reform, I support a learning revolution that builds a solution from the ground up, starting with students. We need to eliminate structural forces that hinder true learning, critical reasoning, creativity, classroom collaboration, active discussion, and a well-rounded education that includes the arts, humanities, and civic engagement. If you really want to put students first, think first about the purpose of education and then the purpose of high stakes testing. Do those purposes line up?
Can something else achieve the purpose of high stakes testing without dulling the quality of our students’ education? The answer is yes. I highlight more in depth my proposed solutions here, here, and here. Short answer: data is useless if it’s not accurate, even if it’s objective. Do we value our kids’ learning and development enough to put in a little extra time to get data that’s meaningful, holistic, and useful? You don’t need numbers to hold people accountable. There’s other kind of data that people collect, other kinds of data that have proven to be much more revealing and valuable than the objective data the corp ed reform movement funds so vigorously.
Now back to what we are discussing, which is teachers. I think you completely misread my point. I am NOT arguing to keep these protections. There is evidence, student, parent, and your testimony, that these protections are harming a number of students. That testimony is valuable and should be honored. What I have a problem with is the current method by which we measure teacher effectiveness.
Removing the protections but still tying teacher performance to test scores is what demeans the profession. Not only does high-stakes testing prevent student learning it inaccurately measures teacher effectiveness. And what really is the point of data that’s inaccurate?
Just as there are better ways to look at student performance, there are better ways to look at teacher performance. Schools are communities in and of themselves. They are not businesses. Corporate privatization never works outside the financial sphere and if you want to think of students as standardized products then I cannot support your goals. Teachers should be given respect and autonomy to teach and foster creative and thoughtful young minds. Students’ work should be valued FULLY, and their growth celebrated, rather than reduced to a chart. I said it before and I’ll say it again: Assessment is not a spreadsheet. It’s a conversation.
Now, I want these terrible teachers out of the system as much as you do. But is targeting the entire teaching profession really the answer? No, that causes way more problems than solutions. With the current implemented methods of evaluating student work, more truly effective teachers would be fired than truly ineffective ones. And students would continue to receive test-centered education. Is that a price we want to pay? Collaboration cannot be forced. You (not you specifically, but the whole reform movement itself) have angered countless people who truly care about children. How do you not expect people to fight back?
Believe it or not, teachers go into teaching to teach students! I know it’s hard to believe but teachers actually don’t go into their profession for a pension (you can get that in many other places), or to test students until their brains are numb, or to kill a child’s love of learning! They have been reduced to being defensive after many threats on their profession and many years of being trapped in a terrible system that works AGAINST the very people they’ve dedicated their lives to working FOR. We need to start with doing the right and smart thing, eliminate a system that harms both students and teachers.
[And if we’re going to talk about teachers and their pensions, how about talk about billionaires that fund the corporate education reform movement and their tax breaks? I’m not saying that every reformer ignores poverty. I’m saying that I’ve never heard a single billionaire who is funding the corp ed reform movement mention tackling the issue of poverty and working on building safer, healthier communities for students. Ask yourself why that is.]
You want accountability and for teachers to become more skilled. You want the terrible “teachers” who are completely unfit for the job to begin with to go. I completely understand that and I want that too. But you want to get rid of a problem without looking at the other problems tied with it. That’s not going to lead to any solutions.
You mention in your second email a process that I think should be implemented. “This is a job, if a worker isnt good at their job, you give their professional development, if that doesnt fix the issue, you fire them.” Sounds like a plan to me! Guess how we can get to this process and still do something that benefits students.
- Get rid of the system of high stakes testing and data-driven accountability.
- Let teachers teach and let students learn.
- Evaluate and hold schools accountable through student voice (testimony), student work (Student project portfolios are a great way to track growth. It’s a win-win because they also encourage and foster rather than prevent learning and student growth), and peer evaluations (teachers will work as teams, collaborating, helping one another)
- Work WITH (not against) unions to immediately fire anyone posing a danger to students. Continue to work with them to revise tenure and seniority laws.
- With new useful, meaningful, and holistic data, provide valuable profession development for teachers to improve and continue excelling at their job.
- If they don’t show improvement, move to fire.
All of this can be done before the Vergara vs. California case goes on trial in 2014. Seriously, it can. And if you don’t believe it can, than you’ve never experienced believing in the nearly impossible. That’s something that teachers do every day for their students.
The solution is not either unions or no unions. It’s looking at the system in which both teachers and students are trapped. If we wait for unions or union opponents to “do the right thing and work for kids, we will be forced to wait idly by as history will crucify us for failing to fight.” Your words ring true and that is why I am fighting. I am fighting against a system that puts everyone in danger.
Now for the other points that you bring up:
- Thank you for acknowledging that the corporate education reform movement is funded by billionaires. I don’t care if billionaires want to donate their money to helping education. That is a good thing to do! But what is happening is that they profiting from this system. SFER members, I really encourage you to look into this issue yourselves. Here’s a good place to start (but remember to always check the facts and question everything!)
- Finland wasn’t doing so well before. Their country was in economic turmoil and their education system was lackluster for decades until they put their differences aside and worked towards building economic inequity. It’s something everyone on the right and left agree on. Poverty was just as widespread as it was here. As a sociology major and someone who has studied the intersections of race and class tirelessly, I definitely understand the intricacies about how “we got here”. That’s why I understand the importance of working together as a country to eradicate poverty in children’s’ neighborhoods. The reason I bring up Finland is that they don’t have high stakes testing, and the professional educators over there scoff at our system for caring so much about scores and even tying those scores to teacher performance. They aren’t surprised that teachers over here are angry about this.
- Your last point about unions preventing fair discussion cannot be brought up until we systematically implement fairer ways of evaluating teachers and students. Once that happens, if unions still fight back, then I am with you that we need to “cut off [their] heads”. But I doubt they will because unions are also fighting for what I am fighting for: ensuring that every child has access to a quality education by eradicating a flawed model of high stakes testing. That is the real civil rights issue.
Thanks for reading! I hope we can continue this discussion.
Hope to hear more from the members soon! And of course to see how the president of SFER USC would reply to me.
Thanks for reading! As always, post your comments and questions below! 🙂
So first I want to say that I have the best best friend. She doesn’t only support my work and journey through the field of education, but she engages with my work, challenges my thinking, and helps me grow as an educational activist. Oh and did I mention that she’s a total badass advocate herself? She’s totally going places.
Great points, Hannah! Very well-researched and well-written. I wish Michelle Rhee could read this because I would absolutely love to hear her comeback (if she had any, that is…).
Some food for thought below, regarding some questions I’ve mulled over. I would be very interested to read how you address them!
1) As far as teacher unions go, I do agree that teachers themselves are not the problem. Most teachers willingly choose this noble career path to make a difference in the lives of their students. However, as a student myself, I can easily tell you that I had my share of horrible teachers along with the incredible ones. Any student will likely tell you the same. Unfortunately, for some teaching has become the ‘stepping stone’ to a better career later on or a last choice option that they reluctantly had to accept. For these few (emphasis on the FEW, they are the absolute minority) unmotivated teachers, I’m not sure if ‘helping’ them out will honestly benefit students. Why? Because these teachers may become comfortable knowing that they cannot be fired and thus, they may not heed the constructive criticism a passionate teacher would otherwise take into account. However, that being said, teacher unions largely protect the experienced and capable teachers who would do anything to fight for their students. How do we ensure that teacher unions remain intact such that the aforementioned experienced and caring teachers are properly compensated, while those who are clearly unmotivated and careless are removed from teaching altogether?
There are few (again, emphasis on the FEW) teachers out there in classrooms who are unequipped with the skillset and the nurturing mindset to teach… and these individuals do not deserve to be teaching in a classroom in the first place. (Michelle Rhee, based on her TFA stint, is exactly the type of teacher that should NOT be put into a classroom by any means. I don’t want to help ‘teachers’ like Rhee; they should be fired on the spot.)
I hope she read this… but something tells me she didn’t and even if she did, I doubt she’d reply. No one’s got time to reply to a little college student if they’re too busy raising money to destroy public education, right?
Anyway, I really appreciate your comment and I hope my response covers all your questions. If I’m missing anything or if you have any more questions, of course feel free to let me know!
Let’s start at the top with your first question about teacher unions protecting unmotivated, careless teachers.
I completely understand where you’re coming from (having been to the same high school with you). There are a few teachers out there who enter the field reluctantly (or with ulterior motives… cough cough Teach for America recruits) and don’t actually want to be teachers, teachers who abuse and commit unmentionable offenses against students, and teachers who engage in illegal activity with students. These teachers are a disgrace to the teaching profession and I don’t think the other dedicated and passionate teachers in a teachers’ union want to associate themselves with such “teachers”.
Now, there is a difference between teachers who enter the profession unmotivated, and teachers who become unmotivated and feel defeated by the destruction of their profession through high-stakes testing and budget cuts (and now privatization and personal attacks from billionaires who’ve never stepped into a classroom). But it’s hard to distinguish them.
But before I go into my proposal of what we should do about this predicament, I want to go back to something you said in your comment about properly compensating teachers who do their job. Currently, we have something in place that tries to do this.
Merit pay is a product of education reform and it basically gives higher salaries to effective teachers, essentially using incentive to motivate teachers.
This sounds like a great idea right? Incentive is a great motivator, and who wouldn’t want to be rewarded for doing a good job?
Let’s start by defining an “effective teacher”. Here is a great definition from one of my favorite articles on merit pay:
Effective teachers challenge students to pursue activities they never thought they could do—or would be interested in. Effective teachers stimulate their students’ natural curiosity about the world. Effective teachers develop free-thinking, inquisitive minds, eager and able to learn for themselves. Effective teachers inspire kids to succeed in life—to believe that they can succeed in life, and to be prepared to succeed in life.
So does merit pay actually reward effective teachers? The answer is no.
If you go to the article and find the paragraph I quoted above, you’ll see that the last sentence, is the simplest yet perhaps the most powerful of all:
Effective teachers don’t just cram kids’ brains full of information.
The problem with merit pay (as is the problem with most education “reforms”) is that although it has good intentions, it is poorly implemented and has unexpected counterproductive consequences. Merit pay narrowly assumes causation between teacher performance and test scores, and it ignores the many other factors that require attention in order to holistically assess a teacher. Sometimes teachers are evaluated based on the test scores of students that aren’t even theirs! This is an entirely unfair process that consequently quantifies and de-professionalizes the teaching profession and forces teachers to teach to the test. It sends a terrible message that teachers are only as good as the test scores they can produce. Teachers then feel even more disrespected and unmotivated. They also can’t do much about it because they’re trapped in a lose-lose situation.
And so I ask… how can we compensate teachers who do their job, if we don’t let them do it?
Before any judgments can be made on teachers, we need to bring respect and autonomy back into the teaching profession. We can do this through a variety of ways, starting with eliminating high-stakes testing and merit pay. We can then begin to develop an equitable evaluation system that encourages growth and involves student voice, student work, and teacher collaboration. This cannot be dictated by a few people in power (merit pay was the ingenious idea of a select few including Michelle Rhee and Bill Gates). Collaboration is key to create a truly democratic education. It’s time for politicians and bankers and billionaires and corporate reformers to step aside and for the voices they’ve silenced to speak up once again.
I also want to add as a side note that I don’t think we can buy a teacher’s respect. Yes, pay is important, and teachers should be paid more in general, but if we want to ever get to that point we need to tackle systemic attitudes and frameworks that attack and look down on teachers. We should value teachers the way we value doctors and lawyers and let them do their job.
Now, going back to your point about the “teachers” in our education system. I first want to point out that you yourself are a student, and that your voice is valuable and should be heard. Can your test score really indicate that your teacher is doing a poor job? No, you can tell a lot more about your teacher than your test score can, right?
Currently, student input is not valued when it comes to evaluating teachers and I want that to change. If more administrators listened to students about “teachers” working in their schools and worked with teachers union to investigate further and come to a fair and sensible conclusion, we wouldn’t have “teachers” that stay in schools and threaten the well-being and safety of students. So first we need to work on implementing FAIR methods of teacher evaluation that are fully collaborated on, that will justly distinguish teachers from a few “teachers”.
I think unions right now are more adamant about protecting their teachers because their profession is being completely disrespected by corporate reformers and their jobs are being threatened by very unfair and incomplete methods (if you can even call it a method) of evaluation. Once we revolutionize the system in which these teachers teach, and we actually let them teach and then evaluate them holistically (once again incorporating student voice and teacher collaboration/peer evaluation… I really cannot stress this enough), then unions can work on refusing job protection to teachers who simply are not teachers and are not willing to improve themselves. Together we can foster a force of revitalized, passionate, and committed educators.
Once upon a time, I planned to graduate college and become a Teach for America corps member, thinking I would be doing the education system a favor. That was until I gave my admiration of this seemingly benevolent organization a second thought.
Recently, I came across this amazing letter to new TFA recruits written by Katie Osgood, a special education teacher in Chicago, beautifully sums up everything terrible I discovered during my research into Teach for America. I really could not have said it better myself.
I really do encourage everyone to read it, especially if you are thinking of doing Teach for America. I know your intentions are good, but there are many more constructive ways you can contribute to education (like, I don’t know… attending an actual teacher college). Teach for America simply isn’t one of those ways.
Further suggested reading:
Dennis Hong, a molecular biologist turned biology teacher, writes in this wonderful post about the profession that is the backbone of this country, but it still so disrespected and underestimated.
Here what Hong says is the reason why people have delusions that anyone can do what a teacher does, but doesn’t have those delusions when it comes to other fields of specialty:
Have you ever watched professional athletes and gawked at how easy they make it look? Kobe Bryant weaves through five opposing players, sinking the ball into the basket without even glancing in its direction. Brett Favre spirals a football 100 feet through the air, landing it in the arms of a teammate running at full speed. Does anyone have any delusions that they can do what Kobe and Brett do?
Yet, people have delusions that anyone can do what the typical teacher does on a typical day.
Maybe the problem is tangibility. Shooting a basketball isn’t easy, but it’s easy to measure how good someone is at shooting a basketball. Throwing a football isn’t easy, but it’s easy to measure how good someone is at throwing a football. Similarly, diagnosing illnesses isn’t easy to do, but it’s easy to measure. Winning court cases isn’t easy to do, but it’s easy to measure. Creating and designing technology isn’t easy to do, but it’s easy to measure.
Inspiring kids can be downright damned near close to impossible sometimes. And… it’s downright damned near close to impossible to measure. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s test scores. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s grades. You measure inspiration 25 years later when that hot-shot doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur thanks her fourth-grade teacher for having faith in her and encouraging her to pursue her dreams.
Maybe that’s why teachers get so little respect. It’s hard to respect a skill that is so hard to quantify.
Amazing article, definitely check it out for yourself. He brings up some other really great points.
This is a perfect segway into a piece I’m working on about Teach for America. All I’m going to say now is, people who think they are fantastic teachers after 5 weeks of training are not only embarrassing themselves, but also being incredibly disrespectful to the teaching profession.