Save Our Schools March: a teacher revolt against Obama education reform
The Save Our Schools March on Washington Saturday is part of a new nationwide push to organize educators against the Obama administration's regime of education reform.
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In May, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote an open letter to America's teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week acknowledging many of the concerns voiced by teachers. He concluded the letter, "I hear you, I value you, and I respect you."Skip to next paragraph
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Rather than appeasing teachers, it unleashed a storm of angry blogs, letters, and comments from educators who feel far from appreciated.
"The things you say here are, as Hamlet once said, 'words, words, words,' but there is no substance behind them," reads a typical comment about the letter, posted on the Department of Education's website. The teacher also says, "The education policies of this administration are the single reason why I will not vote to reelect Barack Obama in 2012."
Why such disgruntlement?
Certainly, some teachers are unhappy for professional reasons, seeing everything from their pay to, in some cases, their job security hinging on tests they don't believe in. Others rail against the constriction of their autonomy in the classroom.
Sabrina Stevens Shupe, an organizer of the march and a former teacher in the Denver Public Schools, recalls her frustration with a district that hired her for her creativity and praised her for the strides she was making on math with her fifth-graders, but then criticized her for not following the prescribed curriculum exactly – even when she had seen it wasn't working.
"I was handed a book and was supposed to read verbatim each section," she recalls, with a district "support" person there to monitor her compliance. For reading, she was supposed to pair students up and have them read to each other, counting each other's words and mistakes – although in many cases, neither child understood what he or she was reading. "Comprehension didn't enter into it," she says.
Ms. Shupe's contract wasn't renewed at the end of the year despite only positive evaluations. Now, as a blogger and activist, she says she hears dozens of stories similar to hers.
"We need to be creating conditions that inspire people to do their best work, instead of punishment and reward systems that inspire lowbrow work and cheating," she says.
Still, despite the angry rhetoric heard on both sides, many leaders of the standards-based reforms insist there is more agreement than people realize.
"We all want the best for kids, and we all want more students, regardless of their circumstances, to graduate high school ready for postsecondary education. There is a very legitimate debate about how best to get there," says Jonah Edelman, cofounder and chief executive officer of Stand for Children, an advocacy group that has pushed for laws in many states that, among other things, hold teachers more accountable and make job security more dependent on performance.
Like many leaders identified with the accountability movement, Mr. Edelman emphasizes that the goal has never been just about test scores, but about how to get students learning. He bemoans any policy that encourages teachers to teach to a poor test or to cheat. But without some form of measurement, too many students will fall through the cracks, he worries.