"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, January 27, 2012

ALEC's War on Teachers

If Diane Ravitch gave us The Most Important Speech on Education in Years, then Anthony Cody might just have written The Most Important Blog Entry on Education in Years.

In ALEC Reports on the War on Teachers Anthony Cody gives us a good look at what is happening to the teaching profession. The war being waged on teachers by corporate leaders, billionaires, and politicians (Republicans and Democrats) is being lost. The amount of money being invested in crushing public school teachers is enormous. The job of public school teachers is being redefined. Public Education is being redefined.
As state after state rewrites their education laws in line with the mandates from Race to the Top and the NCLB waiver process, the teaching profession is being redefined. Teachers will now pay the price - be declared successes or failures, depending on the rise or fall of their students' test scores. Under NCLB it was schools that were declared failures. In states being granted waivers to NCLB, it is teachers who will be subjected to this ignominy. Of course we will still be required to label the bottom 5% of our schools as failures, but if the Department of Education has its way, soon every single teacher in the profession will be at risk for the label.
NCLB brought us the guarantee that every school in the country beginning with those serving students in poverty, would be branded a failure. Race to the Top guarantees the death of public education itself. The Obama administration is pushing their pro charter agenda to the delight of the anti-public school politicians. Those anti-public school politicians, who took over state legislatures and state executive houses in the last election, are slashing funding for public education and increasing funding for charter schools and, through voucher schemes, private schools. To guarantee the complete demise of public education, states are passing laws as fast and as hard as they can to destroy the labor movement, beginning with teachers unions, in the United States.

And no state, it seems, is doing as much to further their agenda than Indiana.
The greatest success story cited in this report is Indiana, where the corporate reform "alliance" succeeded in passing comprehensive "reforms."
Gov. Daniels detailed the reforms to the American Enterprise Institute audience, describing how Indiana lawmakers limited collective bargaining to wages and benefits. Indiana law ended the illogical practice of LIFO (Last In, First Out) in layoffs, mandating a determination of merit-- based in part on student test-score gains--rather than simply seniority be used as the basis for making layoffs.
The report describes many other reforms enacted by the Indiana legislature, including expansion of vouchers, charter schools, "virtual schools," and a parent trigger so that parents can petition to convert neighborhood schools into charters.

But it was the introduction to the report, written by Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, that brought this into focus for me. He writes:
Prior to this session, 99 percent of Indiana's teachers were annually rated "Effective." If that rating were actually true, 99 percent--not just one-third--of our students would be passing national tests. From this point on, because of the diligence and fortitude of our reform-minded legislators, teachers will be promoted and retained based on performance rather than seniority. Teacher evaluations, which will be locally formulated, will rely on student improvement. Successful educators will be rewarded, while those whose students lag behind will be asked to find work elsewhere. Additionally, schools will now be graded on an A-F scale and they, too, will be held accountable for student advancement; and the state will not hesitate to intervene in those schools that fail repeatedly.
According to this logic, the individual teacher's accountability for student performance is absolute. Governor Daniels apparently believes there ought to be a one to one correspondence between student achievement and teacher effectiveness. This is rather incredible, but there you have it. Most systems base between 25% and 50% of the teacher's evaluation on test scores...
Rational thought didn't have any say in the concept of 100% of students being proficient in Reading and Math by 2014 in No Child Left Behind, and rational thought doesn't seem to be present in Mitch Daniels contention that teachers ought to be 100% responsible for the increase in student test scores. Poverty and a child's home life, of course, doesn't matter.

In addition, as if posing for the poster child for the old saying of Mark Twain's that there are "lies, damn lies, and statistics," Daniels claims that only a third of Indiana students passed national tests. He's referring to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and what he calls "passing" is scoring at the proficient level (State summaries of scores can be found here).

The late Gerald Bracey explained years ago why scoring Proficient on the NAEP was a poor way of judging...well...proficiency. Read here, here and here.

In any case, using test scores to rank teachers has been denounced by those knowledgeable in the field of testing.
As a letter from the National Research Council's Board on Testing and Assessment stated in a letter to the US Department of Education:

"VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness ... should not used to make operational decisions because such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable."
Is anyone listening? Teachers, it's time to wake up!
Of course this is all taking place against a backdrop of rising class sizes and cuts to support services such as school libraries and health programs. But teachers alone are held accountable for the results of their students, on the narrowest of measures. How many more teachers will we lose as these policies spread? How far will this corporate reform war on our profession go? At the end of the day, this will hurt the most vulnerable students the most, as it will speed up the revolving door of their teachers and create a dynamic in which teachers with options will try not to teach in the schools and classes where poor students and English Language learners predominate.

It seems that ALEC considers itself engaged in a battle of epic proportions, yet many teachers are too busy working to even realize that their profession is being redefined in state after state.
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