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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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.Skip to next paragraph
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"The answer lies in striking the right balance between effective assessment of and for learning, and accountability that is smart," Edelman says. "It's a little bit of a zigzag, but overall we're moving in the right direction."
Many of the reform movement's biggest critics are quick to say that it's not that they disagree with assessments; it's the top-down, high-stakes nature of the tests that they have a problem with as well as the minimal effort to get buy-in from teachers and parents for the policies.
Recently, the National Education Association approved, for the first time, a policy that student achievement should be a factor in teacher evaluation. But it simultaneously asserted that no system currently does so in the right way.
Anthony Cody, a longtime teacher and teacher coach in Oakland, Calif., and another organizer of the march, says he's seen many mediocre teachers get excellent test scores for kids and outstanding teachers get worse ones.
He remembers students complaining when a group of teachers was giving them challenging writing and thinking projects. The students asked them why they didn't just do what the prior year's teacher had done and say what would be on the test.
"We have managed to transmit from the highest level in the nation to these individual students in Oakland that what matters is the test score," says Mr. Cody. "These students are going to get to college and find their professors don't actually say, 'Here are the 50 questions that will be on the test.' "
A common refrain among disgruntled teachers is that the current policies aren't leading to the kind of schools that the top leaders would want to send their own children to. The Obamas, for instance, send their daughters to the private, progressive Sidwell Friends School – not a place known for test prep or a narrow curriculum.
So where will the backlash against the reforms lead?
It's unlikely that the policies of accountability and testing are going to be stopped, given their momentum. But even some advocates of those policies say that more debate may ultimately be a good thing for education.
"There is a simple-mindedness, an arrogance, and a reflexiveness with which the reformers are pushing their agenda, particularly from Washington, and I think they've wound up giving classroom educators serious and fair cause for concern about how things like value-added evaluations or merit pay are taking shape," says Mr. Hess of AEI. "This pushback both helps call attention to the need to do this smarter and offers an opportunity to slow down and pursue these things with the deliberation and thoughtfulness they require."