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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"A Time Comes When Silence Is Betrayal"

Michelle Newsum, Oregon Reading Association
“A time comes when silence is betrayal.” ~Martin Luther King Junior April 4, 1967
I was silent when NCLB was enacted. I knew full well the mandates were ludicrous. As a result of this legislation, many good schools, especially schools that housed poor kids, suffered unnecessary pain, shame and absurd sanctions when their special education populations did not pass the standardized tests.
Harebrained policy continued as NCLB morphed into Race to the Top (Trough), which removes the 100 percent mandate, but ties teacher evaluations to test scores and includes what Dr. Stephen Krashen, USC educational researcher, calls, “More testing than ever before seen on this planet.” It also carries on with misguided, painful and shaming sanctions for struggling (read high-poverty) schools. There is no research base to support these policies, but they do result in massive corporate profits.
This legislation is sold to the public under the guise of the ‘failing schools’ moniker. Yet, as educators, we know that:
American kids in schools with less than 10% poverty far outscore all other nations
Kids in schools with up to 50% of students living in poverty score well in comparison to the international average
Only American students in schools with more than 75% poverty score below the international average
This trend holds true for virtually all major standardized tests. On the TIMSS, PIRLS, PISA, SAT and NAEP low poverty schools do well and high poverty schools do not.
We need to support dedicated, hard-working teachers in their educated, innova/ve and proven work to support our neediest students.
Instead, under our watch, students are being exploited by politicians and greedy corporations.
According to the Albany Democrat Herald, a teacher at a Lebanon school received a grant to supply his class with multiple copies of great literature with which to teach reading. The teacher, Mr. Cook, said, “Students couldn’t get enough of the young-adult literature. They begged to stay in at recess to read. They purchased their own copies of the books. They fought over who would get first crack at the classroom copies of the sequels. They had discussions about the characters, their motivations, the potential real- world consequences, and what their own choices would be.”
Mr. Cook is no longer allowed to use those books for instruction. They have been replaced with Harcourt basals. His school was recently labeled a ‘focus’ school under the NCLB waiver. Jennifer Moody, education reporter at the Herald, says, “Presumably (the state) wants to make sure it controls for all the possible variables in this effort, which means all the students have to be, almost literally, on the same page.” She goes on to explain why this is such a bad idea. (See the full article here http://democratherald.com/blogs/jennifer-moody/ article_89ce0eda-e5ae-11e2-b52f-0019bb2963f4.html)
Taking literature from kids and replacing it with tripe is educational malpractice. As citizens, parents, and educators, we have a moral responsibility to speak out against such injustice.
We need to speak truth to our friends, neighbors, and community. We need to respond in fierce defense of our schools and children when false and misleading statements are made in the media.
We need to support the many groups that are attempting to save public education. Locally, we have a great group called Oregon Save Our Schools. They have an excellent Facebook page and blog. They’re very helpful in keeping us apprised of events that affect education here in Oregon as well as nationally.
The Network for Public Education is another important group to follow and support. It was founded by Diane Ravitch (former undersecretary of education, educational historian, and author) Anthony Cody (author of the popular edweek blog Living in Dialogue) and Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters and Parents Across America. Despite the possibly off-putting name, the Badass Teachers Association is a very new website and Facebook group; in a few months, it has garnered nearly 30,000 followers and has led several important actions.
As Jonathan Kozol says in The Shame of the Nation, “(This) is about the abolition of a national sin. So when people say, ‘What do you expect us to do?’ I say, ‘I expect you to rise up as courageous people have done before in America, and raise hell.’ I want to see our teachers develop a stronger political voice and find the courage to serve as witnesses to the injustices of which they are more keenly aware than anyone else... I do believe there will be another mass movement in this country, and I’d like to see it led by teachers.”
It’s time for us to rise up, unify and use our teacher voices; our silence is hurting kids.


  1. Anonymous1:50 PM

    Right on, Michelle!!!

  2. As always, well said Michelle. I'm hopeful other educators and state organizations follow suit and find their public voice.