Funny How I Spent My Saturday Snow Day – Writing a Letter To Our Federal Government In Opposition of Their Proposal

Bryan Ripley Crandall has taught in public schools and at the college level.  His blog can be found at: Cracking Up Candall 

Yesterday, I participated in the democracy that I’ve grown to love. Whether or not the powers that be ever read or listen to the voices of individuals like me is unknown. Cynics say there are larger mechanisms making decisions with or without input from the larger citizenry. The latest proposal from national leaders, however, is to tie notions of quality in teacher preparation to how students perform on national tests. If we don’t laugh, we just might start to cry. These are my thoughts that I shared yesterday morning:

Dear National Leaders,

Although I am a strong proponent of high expectations and teacher excellence, I’m extremely concerned about ED-2014-OPE-0057. For the last 20 years I’ve been an urban school educator in three states. Currently, I oversee 600 educators through the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield (part of the National Writing Project) where I actively seek and implement grants to support K-12 teachers. Training the best teachers for America’s schools is what the work is all about.

In the last decade, however, there’s been a tremendous move to blame teachers for the pangs within our democracy. Politicians and ill-informed reformists have found ways to make money on educational gaps and, to be frank, it is sickening. Research shows that the vast divides in our schools arrive from economic disparities. The field knows what works in America’s classrooms, but financial resources to get there remain scarce. Those kids who have the least deserve educators who have the most to offer, but our government has not been putting the funding where their mouths are.

In the last ten years I’ve watched teachers give more and more while given less and less, especially in the poorest schools. Funding has dwindled and most infrastructures for supporting teachers have disappeared (funding for professional development, for example, is down 75%). It is as if teachers have had their mouths covered with duct tape, their hands bound behind their backs, and their legs chopped at the knee. At the same time, the nation has demanded they swim across the Atlantic Ocean in record time. If they don’t achieve this, they’ll be labeled as failures. Expectations have been ridiculous and teacher morale is at an all time low. The short-sighted assessments used in relation to Common Core State Standards and the top-down dictations from the Department of Education are destroying teaching as a profession. The objectives are great, but the support to reach them has been pathetic. Effective and passionate teachers are now saying, “It’s too much.”

Schools of education have always been tasked with doing their best to train the next generation of teachers and to prepare professionals for the realities of K-12 schools.

ED-2014-OPE-0057 and its desire to rate schools of education on the test scores of young people in k-12 schools is worrisome. Quality will be equated to where Schools of Education send their graduate students. Those who push professionals into highest performing school districts will be rewarded because it is already known affluent districts surpass impoverished ones. Any graduate school that desires to work with struggling, impoverished schools will be punished. ED-2014-OPE-0057 will have the opposite effect for what it aims to achieve. Rather than closing gaps, it will discourage professionals from wanting to work in areas where there are high needs.

At this time, I see no value in ED-2014-OPE-0057 and I believe research in literacy and school reform backs my skepticism. The proposal will cause tremendous damage for the following reasons:

1. The cost will be large. Investments in teachers, school resources, and student support would dwindle as funding continues to move towards more tests and assessments and out of the hands of administrators and teachers.

2. School performance by students is partially the result from the teachers who work with them. Larger influences: poverty, food, shelter, media, etc. impact how students ‘do school’ and whether or not they will be successful. If national leaders really wish to make a difference in the lives of young people, they need to focus on closing economic gaps first. They need better policies to fight poverty (they also need to spend more time in our nation’s schools).

3. Measurements for quality as defined by this proposal are inane. Should a dentist or doctor be fired/judged/evaluated/ assessed by the number of cavities or illnesses their patients have? I don’t think so. This proposal punishes those who serve in the neediest communities. It discourages work in high-needs areas because it places the blame on teachers for America’s ills, rather than provides resources for teachers and schools of education to help alleviate them.

4. Teaching is a human act. It is a career that transcends economies, business models, and quantitative measurements. Teaching requires building relationships, sharing knowledge, establishing trust, investing in neighborhoods, and loving the potential futures of all youth. This proposal, however, views teaching numerically. Such robotic indicators will only continue to diminish the soul work necessary to reach diverse student populations in our heterogeneous society.

I am shaking my head in disbelief that this proposal is even being considered. I am thinking about kids. I am thinking about teachers. I am thinking about my career for the last twenty years and I’m saddened by our national leaders. ED-2014-OPE-0057 should not be passed. It is terrible.

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