Monty Neil of FairTest told the audience “we need a new federal law” because NCLB is “disastrously flawed” and masks the deeper problems facing our nation. He urged every person in the room and teachers across the country to make phone and write to Senators Kennedy and Miller as they work over the next several weeks to craft changes to the five-year-old law.
The event was sponsored by Education Action, Jonathan Kozol’s newly formed non-profit organization, and by FairTest. Kozol, the keynote speaker, raged against a policy that turns teachers into “drill sergeants for the state.” He called those who punish poor black, Latino and special education students and hold them accountable for scores on a standardized test “sociopaths and sadists.” Kozol, the author of Shame of the Nation, the Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, said schools are more segregated today than they were in 1968:
There is something outrageous and unconscionable about senators and congressman holding an 8-year-old girl accountable for passing a standardized test when they don’t provide the same preschool education and health care that they give to their own children.
Kozol characterized the climate in Title 1 schools across the country under NCLB as a “reign of terror” as teachers and administrators are afraid to speak up and are forced to abandon real, meaningful learning to drilling to improve test scores. He said “children are being indoctrinated in the acquiescence of their own subordination, as they are being force fed mini chunks of Balkanized cognition.”
Kozol is taking his fight to Washington and is hoping that parents, teachers and concerned citizens will begin to speak up, and to practice civil disobedience, and make their voices heard as reauthorization of NCLB moves forward.
Josiane Hudicourt-Barnes, a former teacher who participated on the panel, spoke about the injustice and unfairness of NCLB as more failing schools are being turned over to private interests and making way for vouchers. Although teachers and administrators find themselves in a pressure cooker under the impossible mandates of 100 percent proficiency and constantly moving targets, they are afraid to speak up: “Principles of democracy do not apply to public school employees and teachers fear for their jobs.”
Kozol will be releasing his latest book, Letters to a Young Teacherthis Fall at the same time that Education Action will launch its national campaign to end the testing mania. He hopes it will mobilize and inspire a new generation of teachers to reclaim a public education system that has been hijacked by corporate interests and politicians in Washington. These are the politicians and business leaders who continue to scapegoat public schools, teachers and students for the deep-rooted problems brought on by increasing poverty and inequality that plague our nation. Kozol challenged these corporate and political reformers to spend one week teaching in a classroom.
Following Kozol's call to arms, smaller action groups discussed strategies and tactics for political action. Educator Roundtable was among the action group sharing their agendas and collecting signatures for the repeal of NCLB.