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Teachers Go Public With Their Resignation Letters

quit_chalkboard.jpgScripted lessons, an oppressive testing culture, and a punitive evaluation system are the main reasons teachers are heading for the exits, according to analyses of their resignation letters. Now a new study examines how the letters have risen into the realm of social action.

"The reasons teachers are leaving the profession have little to do with the reasons most frequently touted by education reformers, such as pay or student behavior," said Alyssa Hadley Dunn, a co-author of the new study on "I Quit" letters and assistant professor of urban teacher education at Michigan State University. "Rather, teachers are leaving largely because oppressive policies and practices are affecting their working conditions and beliefs about themselves and education."

The authors of "With Regret: The Genre of Teachers' Public Resignation Letters" set out to understand how teachers' writing aims to make a difference in an an education system they view as broken. The study analyzes 22 letters written by educators from 13 states between 2012 and 2014, and with experience ranging from one year to 40 years. What emerges is a veritable style of writing expressing disillusionment with the teaching profession and the aims of the education system. (You can also read Education Week Teacher blogger Walt Gardner's assessment of why teachers quit here. Gardner taught for 28 years in Los Angeles and was a lecturer in the UCLA Graduate School of Education. And here is a first-person account of why a teacher in her sixth year has decided to leave the profession.)

In the past five years, U.S. teachers have increasingly shared their resignation letters onlinein blogs, on Facebook, Youtube, and on local and national news siteswhere the missives have gone viral. These letters come from novice and veteran teachers of all subjects and grade levels, in urban and suburban settings all across the country. Linking these letters is the view that education in the United States is headed in the wrong direction, and that the best course of action is to leave the classroom and let the public know why.

Teachers often write of feeling complicit in a broken system, and that leaving was a way of taking a stand. One teacher writes: "I quit because I'm tired of being a part of the problem. It's killing me and it's not doing anyone else any good."

That sentiment informs the central component of the teacher resignation letter: a description of what's wrong with U.S. education today. Gerald J. Conti, a social studies department leader in the Westhill Central School District in Syracuse, N.Y., offers a case study. The 40-year veteran cites many reasons for his exit, not the least of which is what he sees as an overreliance on "data-driven education" that "seeks only conformity, standardization, testing, and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core . . .  ."

Like the other letter writers, Conti expresses feelings of abandonment by a profession which, as he says, no longer trusts teachers to create their own quizzes, and then eats away at their planning time by making them prepare lessons and other materials for review. "After all of this, I realize that I am not leaving my profession; in truth, it has left me," he writes. "It no longer exists."

Still others express defiance. One teacher writes: "I am quitting without remorse and without second thoughts. I quit. I quit. I quit!" His reason: He feels the profession forces him to preside over a barrage of tests "for the sake of profit."

The study's authors conclude that resignation letters provide teachers with a platform for questioning the policies that shape education, while also educating the public about its problems. Taken as a whole, the "I Quit" letters describe the state of U.S. education, build empathy for teachers who work in the system, and provide a call to action to fix what is wrong in public education.

For an alternative view of the "I Quit" letter phenomenon, check out Justin Minkel, who says these "gloomy tales of departure" deserve a response from career educators who find the teaching profession worthy of a lifetime of dedication. Minkel is a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher in Arkansas who frequently writes for Education Week Teacher.

34 problems with standardized tests

 April 19 at 12:57 PM

 

In March I wrote about a decision by three justices on a Florida appeals court that said that a standardized reading test is the best way to decide whether third-graders should move to fourth grade — not actual school work or grades.

The case involves a Florida law that says that students who fail a third-grade language arts test can’t move on to the fourth grade (though some exemptions are made). While the policy has not been shown to have a lasting benefit to students, Florida and other states maintain it anyway.

Some third-graders — including honors students — from a number of school districts were denied promotion because they opted out of the test. The parents of those students, who are part of a national testing opt-out movement, went to court and sued their districts. In August, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers ruled that those school districts that had refused to promote the students had been wrong. The case was appealed and the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned her ruling, saying:

The purpose of the ELA is to assess whether the student has a reading deficiency and needs additional reading instruction before (and after) being promoted to fourth grade. See § 1008.25(5)(a). The test can only achieve that laudable purpose if the student meaningfully takes part in the test by attempting to answer all of its questions to the best of the student’s ability. Anything less is a disservice to the student — and the public.

That ruling ignored years of research that shows that high-stakes standardized test scores are not reliable or valid, and it ignored the problems Florida has had with its standardized testing accountability system, which became so severe that school superintendents statewide revolted in 2015 and said they had “lost confidence” in its accuracy.

Here’s a look at all the things standardized tests can’t do, by veteran Florida educator Marion Brady,  who has written history and world culture textbooks (Prentice-Hall),  professional books, numerous  nationally distributed columns (many are available here), and courses of study. His 2011 book, “What’s Worth Learning,” asks and answers this question: What knowledge is absolutely essential for every learner? His course of study for secondary-level students, called “Connections: Investigating Reality,” is free for downloading here. Brady’s website is www.marionbrady.com.

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More towns tell students: It’s time to play

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts GLOBE CORRESPONDENT  

Elementary school students in Medway are now spending an extra 10 minutes a day outside for recess, a move parents and school officials hope will lead to improved social and emotional growth.

The change from 15 to 25 minutes started just after the February break, and came about 18 months after a group of parents began lobbying the district for more unstructured play time.

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Lab Rats for America, A Kafkaesque Version of Our Future

Peter Greene writes here about a polished (and terrifying) video released by the ACT Foundation that portrays the programmed education of the future.

He begins:

Oh my God. Oh my effing God.

If you want to see where Competency Based Education, data mining, the cradle to career pipeline, the gig economy, and the transformation into a master and servant class society all intersect– boy, have I got a video for you. Spoiler alert: this is also one way that public education dies.

I’m going to walk you through the video, embed it for your own viewing, and tell you about the people behind this. Hang on. This is stunning. And I’ll warn you right up front– this is not some hack job that looks like amateur hour video production (like, say, an in house USED video). This is slick and well-produced. Which somehow makes it more horrifying.

The video is a little SF film taking us ten years into the future. Imagine you are one of the one billion people using a new technology called The Ledger. And our slogan…?

Learning is earning.

Peter patiently walks you through this dystopian vision of the future of training, disguised as “education.”

He writes:

Exactly what task will certify that you have acquired one hour’s worth of critical thinking?

And how do we even begin to discuss the notion that it doesn’t really matter whether you learn quantum physics from a PhD in the field or from a person who once sat in one class taught by that PhD?

And does anybody think that this is how the children of the wealthy will be educated? Will they accept this sort of “education”? Will they accept this total violation of data privacy?

This is not education. This is training. This is operant conditioning for the servant class that also provides the upper class with tools that let them trickle even fewer benefits down to the working class.

In fact, I would say that this is just training rats to run a maze, but it’s even worse than that, because ultimately even if we were to accept the premise that simply giving some job-ish training for the underclass is good enough, and even if I were to accept the racist, classist bullshit that somehow ignores the immoral and unethical foundations of such a system, the fact remains that this would be a lousy training system. To reduce any job of any level of complexity to this kind of checklist-of-tasks training provides the worst possible type of training.

So, no, this isn’t even sending rats into a maze to earn a pellet of food. This is carrying the pellet dispenser with you as an app. This is saying, “Well, the maze just involves twelve left turns and seven right turns.” Then I hand the rat a tiny phone with an app that measures his ability to turn corners, and once the rat has turned twelve left corners and seven right ones, the app spits out a food pellet.

This is also, not incidentally, the death of public education for any but the wealthy. In the world of the Ledger, there are no teachers, no schools, and no education for any purpose other than to satisfy the requirements of the people with power and money. In the world of the Ledger, education training exists only to help workers better react to the demands of employers. There is no benefit to education training except to trade for money. The Ledger is the wet dream of every corporate boss who said, “Why are they wasting time teaching these kids all this extra stuff. I’m not gonna pay them for that.”

It is important to know what the futuristic thinkers have in mind for us and our children, whether their vision will expand our ideals or contract them. This is most certainly the latter.

How the SAT and PSAT collect personal data on students — and what the College Board does with it

March 30

If your child takes the SAT or PSAT, is his or her personal information being collected, profiled, licensed and sold?

That is the question that Cheri Kiesecker, Colorado parent and member of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, asks and attempts to answer in the following important post. The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy is a national alliance of parents and advocates defending the rights of parents and students to protect their data.

The SAT has traditionally been used as a college entrance exam but it, and the ACT, also a college entrance exam, are increasingly being used as high school tests. In fact, 25 states now require that high school students take them for school accountability purposes, Education Week reported here.

The protection of personal data is in the news with the recent passage by Congress of legislation that eliminates landmark online privacy protections established by the Obama administration. It removes limits that had been placed on Internet service providers —  such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon — on how they can use data they collect on their customers, including browsing habits and Social Security numbers. Privacy advocates are especially concerned with how this will affect young people.

Here’s the post by Kiesecker, and following it is a response from the College Board, which owns the SAT and the PSAT exams.

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Press Release: The BPO Endorses Suzanne Federspiel and Paul Harris for School Committee!

The BPO, Brookline PAX, BEU, and BRJE Join to Endorse Suzanne Federspiel and Paul Harris for School Committee

On Tuesday, May 2nd, Brookline citizens will have an historic opportunity to vote for a School Committee that supports the ideals of excellence, justice, and democratic process that have long been the hallmarks of our great public school system.

The Alliance for Brookline Schools, consisting of Brookline PAX, the Brookline Educators Union (BEU), the Brookline Parents Organization (BPO), and Brookline for Racial Justice and Equity (BRJE), have joined together to endorse two highly qualified candidates for School Committee: Suzanne Federspiel and Paul Harris. Suzanne is a long time Brookline resident and parent, and a retired teacher and Boston Public Schools principal who combines a lifelong passion for students and education with an intimate knowledge of the workings of public schools. Paul is also a long time resident and Brookline parent, as well as a town meeting member and founder of its Green Caucus, former co-chair of Climate Action Week, who is deeply committed to public education here in Brookline.

The Alliance believes strongly that Brookline should never repeat the debacle that was the recently resolved three year contract negotiation. It believes strongly in a living wage for paraprofessionals, in freedom and autonomy for teachers in their classrooms, and that students are not data collection points.

“The students of Brookline deserve an education of equity and excellence that addresses the needs of the whole child,” says Suzanne. “In this time of challenge to the public schools at the national level, I am running to protect the integrity of our schools at the local level.”

Paul adds, “I believe I can help the Brookline School Committee engage more constructively with teachers and paraprofessionals. A realization of this will include students, educators, and other staff who love their work, their peers, and the Brookline Schools.”

The Alliance came together out of an unprecedented need for change in the direction and vision of our town’s School Committee, and put its collective energy into interviewing and vetting all of this year’s School Committee candidates. As the result of this process, the Alliance has endorsed Suzanne Federspiel and Paul Harris out of its belief that they are the only two candidates who share a vision for a school committee that is transparent and will work in active collaboration with the community.


links

http://ourbrooklineschools.org

http://brooklineracialjustice.org

http://brooklinepax.org

http://brookline.massteacher.org

Local legislators reconsider the standardized test

Local legislators reconsider the standardized test

After fielding hundreds of calls from concerned parents, local teachers, and administrators frustrated by an education system they see as increasingly obsessed with standardized test scores, nearly 100 state legislators have joined in support of a bill that would freeze for three-years the use of state assessments.

Those supporting the sweeping education reform package, known as Bill S.308, include legislators representing most of The Middlesex East’s coverage area, including Wakefield, Woburn, Tewksbury, Wilmington, Reading, Wakefield, Winchester, and Stoneham.

“I felt over the last few years that too much time is dedicated towards preparing and studying for the test. The students are losing time with other subject matters they could be learning otherwise,” said State Rep. James Miceli (D-Wilmington), who is a strong supporter of rethinking the state’s MCAS policies.

"I co-sponsored the high-stakes testing bill (S.308) after speaking with teachers, administrators and educational professionals about the growing burden of testing on our students,” State Rep. James Dwyer, a Woburn democrat, commented in a separate interview. “Don't get me wrong; I believe there needs to be assessments to determine our students' growth and achievement. However, when our system of education becomes so assessment centered, I think we need to take a step back.”

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IES Audit Finds Problems With Screening for Contractors Using Student Data

The U.S. Department of Education's office of inspector general has released an audit sharply critiquing the Institute of Education Sciences' security screenings for federal education contractors.

IES, the Education Department's research agency collects data on millions of students nationwide, and it is one of the primary agencies connecting researchers to student data, but the audit suggests the agency needs to tighten its processes to ensure researchers know how to safeguard student privacy.

Auditors looked at a a sample of 95 employees assigned to IES's five largest contractors, all of them long-standing research groups: Research Triangle Institute, the American Institutes for Research in the Behavioral Sciences, NCS Pearson, Inc, Westat, Inc, and the Educational Testing Service. All told, they represent more than $462 million, or 29 percent of IES's active contract funding.

The auditors found nearly half of the 81 employees who needed a screening in order to work with student data had no evidence of receiving one. Another 15 employees had been screened while under a previous contract or while working for another agency, but IES had not verified their screenings.

In general, the problems seems to be caused by confusion about which employees met different levels of risk in working with students' personal data. IES is in the process of revising a guide for contractors on student data, but it has not been reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.

In a response to the audit, IES delegated director Thomas Brock said that the agency has written clarified guidance to its contractors and added additional staff as "personal security representatives" for contractors, and that it is continuing to work on security screening processes.

‘Weapons Of Math Destruction’ Outlines Dangers Of Relying On Data Analytics

Heard on  All Things Considered

NPR's Kelly McEvers talks with data scientist Cathy O'Neil about her new book, Weapons of Math Destruction, which describes the dangers of relying on big data analytics to solve problems.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We are in a time of big data. In recent years, NPR's done stories about how data analytics are being used to help political campaigns, rally supporters, compare the cost of similar surgeries in different cities, track public buses in real time and even maybe identify police officers at risk of committing misconduct. But the question is are we putting too much faith in big data? That's the question we're asking in this week's All Tech Considered.

MCEVERS: In her new book, mathematician Cathy O'Neil says we are in a techno utopia. And she does not mean that in a good way. Her book is called "Weapons Of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality And Threatens Democracy." And she is with us now. Welcome to the show.

CATHY O'NEIL: Honored to be here, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So tell us what you mean by techno utopia.

O'NEIL: Well, techno utopia is this idea that the machine-learning tools, the algorithms, the things that help Google, like, have cars that drive themselves, that these tools are somehow making things objective and fair when, in fact, we really have no idea what's happening to most algorithms under the hood.

...

O'NEIL: Yeah, well, so everybody knows about the sort of decades-long attempt to improve public education in the United States. It goes by various names like No Child Left Behind, you know, Race to the Top. But at the end of the day, what they've decided to do in a large part is to sort of remove these terrible teachers that we keep hearing about. And the way they try to find these terrible teachers is through something called the growth model. And the growth model, mathematically speaking, is pretty weak and has had, like, lots of unintended consequences.

When I say weak, I interviewed a teacher from New York City public schools named Tim Clifford. He's been teaching for 20 years, multiple awards, he's written quite a few books. He got a 6 out of 100 one year and then a 96 out of 100 the next year. And he says his techniques didn't change. So it's very inconsistent. It's not clear what this number is actually scoring in terms of teachers and the teaching ability. I interviewed a woman named Sarah Wysocki in the D.C. area who actually got fired because of her low growth model score.

MCEVERS: There must be other examples, though, where people, you know, good teachers got good scores.

O'NEIL: Yeah, I mean, there certainly are, but I would say it's relatively close to a random number generator. So the fact that some good teachers got good scores doesn't say enough. I guess the point is that you might have some statistical information when you hear a score, but it's not accurate enough to actually decide on whether a given teacher, an individual teacher is doing a good job. But it's treated as such because people just trust numbers, they trust scores.

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The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy: a Fantastic Website

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy was founded in July 2014 by Leonie Haimson of New York and Rachael Stickland of Colorado, two parent advocates who successfully led the battle to stop nine states from disclosing their personal student data to inBloom Inc.  inBloom was designed to be a massive student database, with the goal of more easily sharing this information with for-profit data- mining vendors and other third parties without parent notification or consent.

The inBloom controversy made parents aware for the first time how widely schools, districts and states were engaged in risky data sharing, and how few privacy and security protections were employed.  It kick-started a national debate on student privacy that has not yet abated. After inBloom closed its doors in April 2014, Leonie and Rachael decided to form a national coalition of parents and advocates who would defend the rights of parents and students to protect their data.

We have written letters to Congress to strengthen federal rights to student privacy; authored op-eds and provided resources to parents, informing of their current rights to protect their children’s data under federal law. We have also drafted five principles for student privacy that every educational institution, agency and third parties should respect and incorporate in their data policies.

You can join our mailing list to receive updates on how you can help us advocate for stronger student privacy protections by providing your information here. You can email us at info@studentprivacymatters.org or call us at 303.204.1272.

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy is a project of Class Size Matters, a 501C3 non-profit headquartered in NYC.  Please consider making a tax-deductible donation by indicating on the page that you would like your contribution to be used for this effort; you can also send a check to the address below.

Please also join our Facebook page and follow us on twitter at @parentsforprivacy

Thanks!

Leonie and Rachael

Co-chairs, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy