"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, June 04, 2012

UOON Supports Barbara Madeloni and UMass Students

Link from United Opt Out:
This week United Opt Out National stands in solidarity with the UMass teacher educators and the sixty-seven student teachers at UMass Amherst School of Education who together chose to boycott the Teacher Performance Assessment field test via Pearson.  Barbara Madeloni, lecturer at UMass and one of the teacher educators who joined the boycott, has recently been told that her contract will not be renewed. Today we share an interview with Barbara Madeloni as she shares her views on the TPA, Common Core and education activism.

After reading the interview please take action. Our action for the week of June 3, 2012, is to ask everyone to post at the UMass Amherst School of Education Facebook page as each of us shares our individual thoughts about these brave student teachers and teacher educators – who we, at United Opt Out National, view as Liberators in our campaign “Don’t Negotiate.”
We wonder – why would UMass choose to negotiate and compromise a teacher education program with the likes of Pearson?
It appears that UMass signed an agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to participate in the Teachers Performance Assessment Consortium.  Did student teachers know that they had signed up to be experiments in a venture which will profit Pearson?  Is this even legal?  Research studies require informed consent. These students did have the opportunity to choose, but only after pushing the envelope.  We wonder, do other student teachers across the country have informed consent in regard to participation in the TPA?
As you can see, our Pearson Boycott, launched on April 29th, 2012, is still going strong and is taking casualties, as seen in the nonrenewal of Barbara Madeloni’s contract.  Barbara Madeloni believes in social justice. She believes in educating her students so that they can make informed decisions. Educate the UMass Amherst School of Education so that they wake up and do not become one more cog in the wheel dismantling our public school system and the teaching profession.
We will fight on with Barbara Madeloni and the student teachers who opted out of the Pearson Teacher Performance Assessment.  We don’t negotiate with children’s lives. Please go to the UMass School of Education FB page and testify about this misguided experiment in corporate education reform.  And now we bring you a powerful interview with Barbara Madeloni, interviewed by Morna McDermott McNulty, an administrator for United Opt Out National.
Do you think if enough university faculty stand up and refuse to be part of TPA and Common Core that we will have the weight to fight this?
Two thoughts about this. The first is that I have been impressed by the number of people out there, university faculty, who when they heard of the students’ resistance and my objections to the TPA responded with something like, ‘I have felt that way too, but I didn’t know I could say anything.’ The efforts to silence dissent about the TPA have been and are remarkable, especially given its ostensible origins with organizations that claim a scholarly focus.  So, there are dissenters out there, but we have not yet connected. Education Radio, the NYTimes and now the web resources sharing this information are allowing people to hear their personal doubts echoed in a larger arena. This is critical to building a movement.
But my other thought is that we have to resist this whether or not we think we can be successful. As I said above, the demands for silence around the TPA have been nothing short of astounding. Strong and ‘legitimate’ critiques have been ignored as the juggernaut of Stanford, the AACTE and Pearson pushed this assessment through various state departments of education with remarkable speed, the Teacher Performance Assessment Consortium (TPAC) falling all over itself with delight each time a new state said they would accelerate its adoption.  This is so clearly a part of the larger assault on teaching, on learning, on the public good, and specifically on colleges of teacher education, that we have to stand in front of it to stop it no matter the outcome. We have to bear witness to this undoing of academic freedom within the university, this outsourcing of our work, and this continuation of the construction of teaching as technocratic work.  That our professional organizations and so-called leadership are part of this assault should raise more concerns and doubts about them, not about ourselves. It is time we called out those in leadership positions, locally and nationally, who accept the discourses of corporate reformers and have become collaborators in the undoing of our public institutions. My motto is ‘see something, say something’ wherever and from whomever the assault is taking place.
What gave you the courage to refuse to “negotiate?” What inspired your students to fight this as well?
My conviction that I had to resist and speak out has been growing with my increasing awareness of the danger we are in. I see what is happening in K-12 schools, the profound distortions of teaching and learning, the abuse that is testing and its impact on teachers, students, parents and administrators. I sit in meetings with people who have the power and protections to speak out and stop what is happening, and I listen as they make a choice to side with those in power, determine through a twisted rationality that ‘we need standards’ and ‘there has to be accountability’ and ‘our practices need to be data driven’ all while closing their eyes and ears to the evident human misery these measures are creating. My courage comes from my outrage and my fear. My fear for the future of the greater good is much stronger than my fear for losing my job. I also gain courage from the Education Radio Collective, whose members support me, inspire me and give me a place of safety. As well, the national connections in educator activism, both online and at Occupy DOE have helped me to know that I am part of something bigger, that I am not alone. In some ways, however, it doesn’t feel like courage. It just feels absolutely necessary.
What troubles you the most about TPA and Common Core? What would you replace these with to ensure teacher candidate success?
My troubles with the TPA and Common Core emerge from a few places. First, we have to be attentive to who is pushing these, to what is their agenda, to the ideologies from which they have emerged or which have grafted themselves on to them. This is especially important, many people are afraid to critique the TPA because Linda Darling- Hammond is attached to it, but if we are attentive to the broader assault on public education by the forces of neo-liberalism, we have to critique Darling-Hammond at the very least for naiveté about these forces when she allows herself and her work to be taken up by them, when she allows the discourses they use to bash teacher education to become part of her rationales. I am both fascinated and not a little horrified by the degree to which educators have refused to address the real issues of power, of commodification, of assault that are attached to the TPA and the Common Core. I spend a lot of time wondering if it is meaningful to parse the difference between complicity and collaboration as teacher educators and their ostensible leaders feed corporate reformers the rope for their own hanging.
One of the key problems with any standardization is that it frequently avoids the most critical question we must ask about education: what is its purpose? But any set of standards includes an implicit purpose. So, my first objections to both the TPA and the Common Core are that I do not see anything in either of them that address what I believe to be the purposes of education: that is education for liberation and participatory democracy. Education is about opening the world to more questions, to deeper uncertainties, to shared and contested meanings, to community engagement, to imagination and action and joy. But the education implied in the TPA and the Common Core is narrow, technocratic, reproducible in the worst sense, devoid of any of the complicated messy realities of lived experience. Both the TPA and the Common Core grow from and reproduce white supremacy. The Common Core does this with its implicit message that knowledge exists outside of the contexts in which we create it; the TPA does this with its implied insistence, evident in its directions and scoring rubrics, that there is a ‘correct’ way to teach which is separate from the human relationships in all their varied forms that emerge in the classroom. The TPA reproduces white supremacy as well with its un-interrogated demands for the teaching of academic language, a frightening development in which an idea that has some origins in the idea of teaching the words of the master in order to dismantle the master’s house, has now become codified as part of the ritual disciplining of the minds of young people. Anyone who says otherwise is denying the reality of the intersections of the common core, of the TPA , of high stakes testing and of corporate control.
What elements are most vital to a successful resistance? Where do we get these resources?
We are our best resource. We need to talk to each other. We need to be public in our objections and our actions. The people in power count on our fear and our silence. See something, say something. Find allies, meet and talk—face to face and on line. I know it sounds simple, but we have to remember and remind ourselves how powerful we are as ourselves united. This will help us be strong in the face of their enormous wealth and the power derived from that wealth. We need to identify our power—and it is within us and our solidarity.
From that, we need to, as you and others are doing, claim our spaces for alternative media—continuously disrupt and expose their discourses. Then we need to make the best use we can of the various communication networks to determine how we can use them to support those who stand out as they take their stands. That support needs to be ongoing and public, not only for the individual, but for the larger community to learn that we can take a stand and there will be people behind us.  We need to, as I did with the NYTimes article, cultivate and use resources in the mainstream media—and use them wisely—carefully.  At the risk of repeating myself: we have ourselves—and that may be all we have, but throughout history when the people have joined together and put themselves on the line-they win.
As a fellow university faculty who is facing the same dilemmas as you, I know my job will be at stake but not my integrity.  We must coordinate a nationwide effort so they cannot pick us off like snipers on a roof.  We must stand in solidarity.  How can we access union and other organizations to support this?  Is this an academic freedom issue? Civil liberties?
This is absolutely an academic freedom issue. The TPA is a stealth canned curriculum that not only impacts the student teaching seminar, but that reaches back into all of the preceding coursework. I take the academic language issue as one example. This is a contested idea in education, but it is a huge part of the TPA, which demands that students show evidence of teaching academic language in explicit fashion. As someone who understands the ways that power is implicit in epistemologies, this is astonishing to me. But it extends into other areas as well, for example, what does it mean to develop a learning experience for a classroom? The TPA grows from a pretty standard lesson plan formula in which student teachers need to have objectives, attend to standards (which are/will be the common core) and then be able to show that their students meet the objective. This is a very narrow version of teaching and learning. It eliminates teaching and learning that grows from attention to and immersion in uncertainty. It suggests that teaching and learning are linear. It denies how much we do not know and should not pretend to know.
The TPA and its cousin the Common Core represent the incursions into the micro interactions of our democracy, the places we talk, listen, ask questions, wonder, germinate our critiques. These are issues of how we will know ourselves and each other and the world we will create.
I have very little to no faith in the national union leadership, or my own state union leadership. In my own union, we have come to realize that our first battle is within our union. So, we need to do that work but not depend upon it right now. The TPA and Common Core are exquisite moves by the corporate overlords in that they seem so ‘reasonable.’ So, we have to build locally and then connect nationally. Both at the same time. In my case, we are working to get UMass faculty to see this as an academic freedom issue which we can then share nationally. The people in power count on ‘privacy’ and lack of transparency, we need to be very public. And I guess I do not know how to do that without some of us leading the way and even maybe getting taken out. I don’t think there is a safe way to do this right now. But we can do what I am doing right now, and what we are doing together, and this gives the strength we need.
Thank you Barbara Madeloni.  Now, everyone, take action.

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