A few weeks ago I spoke to an elementary principal about the issues she faces. She told me that one is teacher absenteeism. When I asked her why,she quickly told me, “Stress.” At 4 p.m. today, (Friday May 25) I’m talking to the principal of one of the best elementary schools in the state.
Their students’ last day of school was yesterday. She told me it was the hardest year she’s ever had as a principal. That the teachers were totally wiped out and when they got together to celebrate another year completed, it was a much more somber atmosphere than it should have been.
These conversations popped into my mind when I came across the following article from a group known as Child Trends, an organization that has been around for years providing data resources for policymakers, foundations and the general public.
“As education stakeholders consider improvements to school climate, school safety, and student well-being, many have turned their attention to the role of schools in promoting mental health. While most of this attention focuses on students’ mental health needs, it is also essential to explore ways of supporting teachers and school staff who often experience high levels of stress.
Relative to professionals in other sectors, educators experience significantly more stress and suffer more often from mental health problems. In fact, 61 percent of educators reported that their work is “always” or “often” stressful. Failing to address the mental health needs of teachers (concurrent with our focus on student stress and trauma) may affect their ability to address critical needs among students. Teacher wellness has been linked not only to teachers’ physical health, but also to stability in schools and to teaching effectiveness and student achievement. Moreover, teachers’ emotions and stress levels have been found to influence those of students and other teachers. In Child Trends’ preliminary research on creating healthy school environments, students, educators, and policymakers all mentioned teacher wellness as an important factor in the overall health of a school.
Research points to several key sources of stress that can undermine teacher wellness: high-stakes job demands, limited resources and professional autonomy, and negative school climate. Heightened attention to student test scores in recent years has placed teachers under increased scrutiny, as their professional success is measured in large part by student performance on standardized exams. They must also navigate challenging student behavior and complex parent and family needs. Teachers are often expected to drive student success for a diverse set of learners and intervene across a range of challenging situations with limited materials, assistance, and control over school and classroom decisions. In fact, teachers are less likely than any other professional group to report feeling that their opinions matter at work.
Existing research suggests that the availability of supports and resources to address students’ needs may affect teacher wellness; preliminary findings from Child Trends research indicate that unmet student needs may be a potentially critical source of teacher stress. When a student experiences trauma at home or lacks sufficient resources to thrive in the classroom, her teacher is often the first to notice that something is wrong and to respond. In the absence of sufficient student support services at the school, or systems that link students with needed services in the community, the teacher may feel helpless to meet the needs of that student. Alternatively, the teacher may become the student’s primary support system. Both scenarios are emotionally taxing for the teacher.
While elements of the school environment and structure seem to cause considerable stress for teachers, the mechanisms commonly suggested to reduce teacher stress tend to focus on the teacher’s responsibility for self-care. Self-care practices such as meditation, exercise, or participation in a support group are inexpensive and straightforward to implement, and certainly have the potential to alleviate symptoms of stress. However, these practices do not address the root causes of teacher stress and may divert attention from the systemic stressors that exist in schools today. Instead, we should address these sources of stress and embrace a holistic approach to teacher wellness. Promoting teacher wellness requires attention to physical and mental health, professional development and support, and resources needed to be effective in the classroom, among other things.
Any profession is bound to have its stresses, and teaching is no different. But when we accept that an unhealthy level of stress is inherent to teaching, and place the burden of stress reduction on the individual teacher, we limit our ability to improve overall school wellness. We can better shape healthy schools for teachers and students by addressing the underlying causes of chronic stress and cultivating environments that promote teacher wellness. Ultimately, such attention could lead to healthier, more supportive school communities and more positive outcomes for students. When teacher wellness becomes a norm, so too will student success.”
Teacher stress is real–and seldom mentioned in all the talk about helping schools improve.
As the Tombigbee river meanders through west Alabama it eventually becomes the eastern border of Washington County. In fact, this is where its waters join those of the Alabama river before heading to Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The county is both big and old. With more than 1,000 square miles, it is larger than Rhode Island. And it was created in 1800, well before Alabama became a state in 1819.
The first territorial capital of Alabama was in Washington County at St. Stephens. And like so many of our rural counties, it is shrinking and has less than 18,000 citizens. The cotton fields that once flourished here have long given way to pine trees.
Only 2,682 students are spread among seven schools, five of them high schools. In 1995-96 there were 3,783 students.
However, this rural slice of southwest Alabama keeps on chugging. And as David Wofford, Career & Technical Education Director for the school system explains, there are success stories.
“It is that time of year again for Washington County schools. The K-12 world is busy preparing for graduation ceremonies and going away parties. All the hard work of students and teachers is about to pay off, as graduates move to another phase of their lives..
Two years ago, the school system made changes to the local career and technical education programs. This year, students, teachers and businesses have reaped the benefits of those changes.
After surveying students’ interests and local needs, system officials converted the business program to health science. This change contributed to students securing certified nursing assistant internships with home health care services, and 16 seniors were pinned as CNAs. Five internships were also awarded.
Changes were also made in the system’s industrial maintenance classes. A partnership with Coastal Alabama Community College resulted in the first dual enrollment pipefitting program in the state of Alabama. Six seniors were awarded scholarships with local community colleges.
All 17 graduating students from the pipefitting program were offered positions at Ingalls Shipbuilding. Additionally, eight students have been hired on full time or as summer interns at AM/NS Calvert. Safety courses were also provided for all CTE students, courtesy of AM/NS Calvert.
Although there is much left to do, Washington County schools are on the way to improving the lives of students and providing them with viable study and career options.”
We save the world one life at a time. Dedicated professionals such as those in Washington County make it happen. Truth is, when you are tucked away in places like Leroy, Fruitdale, Millry, McIntosh and Chatom chances are you are both out-of-sight and out-of-mind.. However, this does not diminish your work.
And recent graduates of these tech programs are testimony to such.
There are only two candidates in the Republican primary on June 5 for District Two on the Montgomery County school board. I am one, the other is Ted Lowry.
To my dismay, Lowry has resorted to phone calls to voters to smear my campaign. Here is the transcript of the call he did on Monday night, May 21:
“But just months before he qualified to run as a Republican Larry Lee voted in the Democrat primary in the Senate Special Election. When real Republicans like us voted for our nominee, Larry Lee voted in the Democrat primary to choose his nominee. Larry Lee has run and lost four time as a Democrat, campaign manager for a Democrat congressional candidate (inaudible) was a paid contractor for the same special interest group who are fighting reforms in the Montgomery schools. Don’t be fooled by Larry Lee.
His record tells us who he really is—a Democrat who will fight against the reforms Montgomery schools desperately need. We can do better. Vote against Larry Lee in the June 5th primary.
Paid for by Lowry for school board, 1532 Old Park Row, Montgomery, AL 36117”
NOT A SINGLE WORD ABOUT WHAT HE WANTS TO DO TO HELP OUR 29,000 PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS.
Just more deceit and deception. Among the things Lowry fails to mention is that my candidacy has been challenged at both the local and state level. The local committee voted UNAMIOUSLY in my favor and the state steering committee voted overwhelmingly for me just last week.
Lowry talks about “real” Republicans. But wouldn’t real Republicans abide by what their local and state party has said Instead of trying to undermine them?
He also fails to mention that in 1968 (50 years ago) I was a member of the Jefferson County, AL Republican Executive Committee helping Judge Perry Hooper run for the U.S. Senate. I was a Republican way before it was “cool” or “convenient.”
And while Lowry trashes Democrats, he obviously does not know that four of the seven school board seats are now held by Democrats and a Republican cannot get anything done without working with them. It might help him to look at all the candidates running for the board on June 5. Some 17 of them are Democrats, only five are Republicans. Obviously he does not understand the reality of this community.
Just why is Lowry so desperate for a seat on the board?
Something he said at a candidate forum sponsored by the Montgomery Advertiser on May 10 may give a clue. He told this crowd that he had done research and three of the top four high schools in the United States are charter schools operated by the BASIS. Company in Arizona.
Not surprisingly, Lowry’s research left much to be desired. For example, as this article from the Washington Post explains, charter schools run by BASIS are woefully inadequate in representing public school populations in Arizona. While the statewide public school populations were three percent Asia, 45 percent Latino and 39 percent white, student bodies in 18 BASIS schools were 32 percent Asian, ten percent Latino and 51 percent white.
In fact, there were NO English Language Learners in the BASIS schools. IN ARIZONA!!
Neither did he mention that parents of students at these schools are “requested” to contribute $1,500 a year per child and that less than 50 percent of all students who enroll in a BASIIS school graduate from one. Finally, BASIS schools spend an average of $2,291 per pupil on administration while public schools spend $638.
My position on charter schools has always been that they should be carefully considered on a case by case basis. We should be diligent with our homework before we approve them.
But homework does not seem to be Lowry’s game plan. Rather, he had rather deal in half-truths and trash.
I have been in hundreds of classrooms and I’ve never seen one labeled as either Republican or Democrat. It is shameful that Ted Lowry puts politics ahead of school kids..
Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H. W. Bush, has endorsed me in my campaign for the Montgomery school board.
I am honored and humbled by this endorsement, because, without doubt, Diane Ravitch is one of this country’s leading advocates for public schools. The fact that she was an assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education under President George H. W. Bush, gives this endorsement tremendous credibility.
Ravitch, whose last two books about education were New York Times best sellers, endorsed me on her blog, which receives 100,000 views per week. She says in part:
“Larry Lee is the real thing. He is running for the school board to fight for better schools. I hope the people of his district elect him to stand up for their children and their public schools.”
Ravitch has been a member of the National Assessment Governing Board and held the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution. Nine universities and college have recognized her with honorary degrees.
She is also founder and president of the Network for Public Education. I was on the charter board of this national organization.
For someone of this stature to endorse a candidate for a local school board is highly significant.
In the last 24 hours I have read two articles that paint something of a stark picture of Montgomery these days.
One is about Montgomery public schools in the Montgomery Business Journal, a publication of the Chamber of Commerce. Here we learn that “seven out of ten Montgomery voters blame the Board of Education for Montgomery’s failing school system.” The article goes into detail about comments of interim state superintendent Ed Richardson discussing the plight of the schools here.
We are told that at the chamber’s annual meeting last December, Richardson asked 700 business and community leaders, “Do you really want good public schools for Montgomery?” The article goes on to say: “Montgomery’s public schools are failing; they’re failing the students they exist to serve; they’re failing the city and its residents whose tax dollars fund them. And they’re negatively affecting the business community by stifling economic development efforts.”
The other article that made a big impression is this one in The Montgomery Advertiser about LaDonna Brendle, who became so concerned about the homeless and needy that ten years ago she left her career in accounting and started Reality and Truth Ministries.
In the grand scheme of things, Brendle has not moved mountains or started something that swept the country, but she has had a HUGE impact on those she has helped.
An old saying goes, “If you want a helping hand, there is one at the end of your arm.”
This was the approach LaDonna Brendle embraced. However, as I go from setting to setting in my school board campaign, I don’t sense that this is the way it is with this school system..
For example, when Ed Richardson asked that roomful of people if they wanted good schools, his follow up question should have been, “So what are YOU going to do to make this happen?”
There was once a time when communities and schools were practically one and the same. This was OUR community and these were OUR schools. But I rarely hear anyone mention “OUR schools” these days. Instead, we want someone else to fix things. IF we just had a new school board? IF we just had a new superintendent? IF the state intervention will work?
I have referred to David Mathews little book, Is There A Public For Public Schools? many times. It is all about the disconnect we now have between communities and schools. He says, “The public and the schools haven’t had a divorce, but they are definitely separated.”
He also says, “The only way for the community to be a better place to live is for the people of the community to understand and accept their personal responsibility for what happens.”
There are many examples of individuals and businesses helping our schools. A few days ago I was at a meeting where the PTA gave the principal a check for $25,000–and this was after having spent $58,000 on school improvements in the last year. That was at a magnet school. The story is far different for most of our non-magnets.
Too often we sit around waiting for Santa Claus to show up. But Santa Claus is not in Washington, and he ain’t in the state capital down on goat hill.
If Santa Claus is going to show up in Montgomery and make our schools better, then it is up to each of us to go find a red and white suit.
My friend Wendy Lang is a former educator, an advocate for public education and a single parent who understands the value of those who invest in the lives of children. She is also a regular columnist for the Decatur Daily, her hometown newspaper.
She just attended her youngest son’s graduation from the University of Alabama and the occasion caused her to reflect a lot. Here are her thoughts:
It would seem that our legislature and society, as a whole, have taken the stance that educators are to have one goal and one goal only; to work diligently in an effort to raise declining test scores. It makes me tremble in anger as both a former educator and as a parent that we have come to this point. My greatest fear is that one day educators might actually adhere to this verdict.
I was visiting with a classroom teacher last week who was thrilled because every student in her room had achieved some measure of growth; however, she was visited by her principal who informed her that although each child did grow academically under her tutelage, they did not rise to the bar that he had set for them. Not only was she unaware of this “bar of excellence”, but her enthusiasm was gone. She felt that once again, her best simply wasn’t good enough and that she was not appreciated for her attempts at making a difference in the lives of children while helping them to achieve academic growth. Her administrator went on to state that because every child was not at least ten points above the spread for “proficiency” that her job might be in jeopardy.
This administrator hadn’t noticed that she spent untold hours tutoring those that didn’t quite get it or that when they showed up for school in shoes that didn’t fit, she made her way to town and bought them a pair herself. He hadn’t noticed that those that came to school with no coat because they didn’t have one magically went home in a coat that same afternoon. He never saw her stuffing backpacks with food because sometimes a school lunch is the last meal of the day for many children. He didn’t know that she had made her classroom a safe haven for her students and that she listened to her children’s problems and helped them to see right from wrong. After all, she didn’t advertise all that she did. This was her calling; her mission field; her heart. Or to be honest, maybe her administrator did know, but he just didn’t care.
You see, test scores are front page news. Everyone wants to know how you scored. But thankfully, not every educator adheres to the law of the land. Some educators still see the importance of making a difference. Some educators believe that once you have been in their classroom, you will forever be their baby regardless of your age. Some teachers go the extra mile day after day because they understand that children need someone that cares about them and not just the scores that are derived from one test given only on one day of the year.
My son graduated Suma Cum Laude this past weekend from the University of Alabama with a degree in Business Analytics and Finance. His life hasn’t always been as easy as he wanted people to think. Thankfully he had teachers that cared about the whole child and not just the part that tested well. They listened and cared and offered sage advice. I’m not sure, but I think they have even told him a time or two that his mother isn’t all bad and for that, I will always be grateful.
Saturday as the orchestrabegan to play Pomp and Circumstance, two of his high school teachers climbed the steps in the coliseum to where our family sat and joined us as we watched Jorge cross the stage in his well-deserved gold sash. (They had driven 150 miles way to get there.) I couldn’t help but shed a tear and say a prayer of thanks…..Thank you, Heavenly Father that my son had teachers that saw him as more than a test score. Help those who write the laws and set the goals to understand that educators do more than just teach. And bless these two who sit beside me real good for such is the kingdom of heaven.
As we explained a couple of days ago, after being challenged in March about running on the Republican ballot for Montgomery County Board of Education, I was challenged again by former legislator Perry Hooper, Jr. of Montgomery in late April.
I am happy to report that in a conference call on May 15, the steering committee of the state Republican party denied the challenge and we’re now on to the primary on June 5 (hopefully).
And while I don’t consider this a knockout by any means, I do consider it a win by all means.
From the get-go I thought this challenge was more frivolous than anything else. Why Hooper wanted to circumvent a decision made by his own home county, I will never know. It’s strange that those who scream the loudest about “states rights” when referring to mandates from the Federal government don’t apply the same logic at the state and local level.
But then, who said that there is much logic used in political decisions?
Pat Wilson is chair of the Montgomery GOP. She is a fine, fine person who spent more than 40 years in the classroom. She knows far more about education and the things that should be done than any of those pushing the challenge.
It was sickening to me to see her being put through all of this commotion needlessly. It was an insult to all the work she has done on behalf of the Republican party to be treated the way she was.
She made more than a yeoman effort in this matter. I will always be grateful to her.
It was both heart-warming and humbling that when I put out a call for help to friends across the state to send emails of support, so many responded. Especially retired educators.
I have connected most of the dots in this caper and know that the Business Council of Alabama does not want me on the Montgomery school board. Actually, I don’t believe this has anything at all to do with the local school board, instead it is an effort to get an ounce of blood as payback for my being willing to speak loud and long about the continuing attacks on Alabama public schools by certain groups. And BCA is standing at the head of the line.
There is no way that BCA can testify in favor of the Alabama Accountability Act and claim to want what is best for all the 730,000 children in our public schools.
BCA could be an extremely positive force for public schools if they wanted to be. It’s unfortunate that is not the path they have chosen.
There is a battle going on for the heart and soul of our public schools. And really for the heart and soul of Alabama.
So that battle has now landed on District 2 of the Montgomery School Board. A few square miles of east Montgomery are now a microcosm of what is taking place from Bayou La Batre to Bridgeport and from Smith’s Station to York.
Last night I sat in a packed auditorium of a Montgomery elementary school while the 5th grade performed their own version of a Broadway musical. It was delightful. Mamas and daddies clapped and took pictures and beamed when Johnny or Mary had a featured part.
This was Alabama at its best. This is what public schools are all about. About teachers who work tirelessly to teach some very awkward young man how to “dance” or some shy young lady to step to a microphone and recite lines with 500 pair of eyes staring at her. It’s about the PTA giving the principal a check for $25,000 to be used to make her school better.
It’s about the smell of popcorn and five-year old little sister squirming on the floor at the front of the room while big sister sings and dances.
I know that. It’s sad that others don’t. That instead, they think a school board election is only about bending others to their own will.
I am glad the battle continues.
At the top of the home page of this blog you can click a small box to make a campaign contribution to help us go forward. I will appreciate it with all my heart.
So, the attacks about my running for the Montgomery Board of Education continue.
This time I am branded as a racist. See it all here.
Someone went to the trouble to go back 36 years and dig up an article from the Montgomery Advertiser where a reporter said that I used a racial slur. I NEVER SAID THIS. And the reporter had no proof that I did.
This was my first encounter with what today is called “fake news.”
Notice that the headline on this article says:
“School Board candidate Larry Lee’s racial slur sparked controversy in 1980s”
It’s not until the seventh paragraph that my denial gets mentioned.
And someone wants the public to believe that a racist is running for a seat on the school board of a system that is 78.5 percent African-American. How much sense does that make?
Nor does it make any sense that two school superintendents, a retired principal, a retired teacher, two principals, a former dean of a school of education at a HBCU and the longtime director of the Montgomery HIPPY program, all of whom are African-American, would be supporting my campaign financially.
Nor does it make sense that I helped start the Black Belt Teacher Corps at the University of West Alabama to provide excellent faculty for Black Belt schools.
Nor does it make sense that I raised $17,000 to install showers at George Hall elementary school in Mobile. A school with 373 students, 367 of whom are African-American.
On the home page of this blog you see me standing with two sixth-graders at Dadeville Elementary. One, Alana Tolbert, is black while Addison Spakes is white. I wrote about being interviewed by them for their school’s morning TV show.
You can see this interview here. Judge for yourself how I interacted with these students.
Over the years I have been a consistent voice FOR public schools. I have spoken truth to power over and over when it comes to efforts by the Business Council of Alabama to control our schools and the woeful results of the Alabama Accountability Act that has now diverted $146 million from the Education Trust Fund and the madness of A-F school report cards that makes a mockery of the efforts of some of the hardest-working educators I know.
Have I stepped on some toes?
Which is why I am under attack now. This is NOT about a seat on the Montgomery school board. This is about the heart and soul of public education in Alabama. The same schools where 90 percent of our students go.
This is about greed and power and money.
And children be damned.
NEVER did I think that when I decided to run for the Montgomery school board things would turn as ugly, disgusting and sickening as they have.
And sadly, I have learned that there are some who put politics WAAY above anything that may benefit the school children of the state. It turns my stomach.
With the primary election three weeks away on June 5th, I am now being challenged about running on the Republican ballot. Though I was already challenged before the Montgomery County GOP in March and approved unanimously, I am now being challenged at the state level.
Terry Lathan is chair of the Alabama Republican Party. Sick and tired of the gossip and untruths being tossed around by certain people apparently wanting to handpick a Republican candidate (there are only two Republicans running for school board district two), following is part of an email I sent Ms. Lathan:
“I write in regards to the challenge to my being a Republican candidate for the Montgomery county board of education.
A year ago, running for any office at any level was the absolute last thing on my mind. I was busy writing my blog about public education (www.larryeducation.com), working on various education projects and generally enjoying retirement.
In early January my friend Durden Dean, Republican county school board member, told me he was moving to North Carolina and would not seek re-election. He encouraged me to run.
I considered doing so because I have a great deal of knowledge of the woeful state our public school system here is in and felt that my track record of involvement in public education could serve this system well.
Since I know Montgomery GOP chair Pat Wilson well, I called her and asked what was involved in qualifying. (I have no clue who her counterpart is with Montgomery Democratic party.)
I qualified on Jan. 29, paid my $200, and started putting a campaign together. Several weeks after this I learned my candidacy as a Republican was being challenged. There is only one other candidate in the Republican primary.
Honest, that night was rather weird. When I got to the appointed place, a man I had never met greeted me and told me how much he enjoyed my blog and agreed with it. Then he told me he was there to challenge me.
He said that he was neither a Republican or a Democrat and I really never understood on what basis he brought the challenge.
I made my presentation to the local committee, including documentation of contributions to Republican candidates, such as Jo Bonner, Martha Roby, and our mutual friend David Wheeler. In 2016 I also gave $1,000 to Adam Bourne of Chickasaw who was running for the state school board.
I was called later that night and told that the committee voted unanimously to allow me to run.
I assumed that was that. But was I wrong.
Perry Hooper, Jr. sent you a three-page letter on April 26 protesting my candidacy.
Since this was signed by Perry, the assumption would be he originated the challenge.
But that does not appear to be the case at all. At a local GOP event on May 5, Pat Wilson asked Perry why he was challenging me. He told her that “they” brought him the info and asked him to do it. He also told Pat that “they” was Will Fuller, a member of the Young Alabama group.
Earlier this past week Bill Britt talked to Fuller and was told that Perry was the “stooge” they were using for the challenge.
Which brings me to this point. If a letter of challenge is signed by someone, isn’t it normal to assume they are acting on their own–not fronting for another party?
Someone should ask Perry if he received any compensation for doing this. If this were the case, then he was simply selling his seat on the executive committee for personal gain.
As you recall, Perry was involved last fall in a situation in Crenshaw County where he attempted to interfere with the local GOP organization.
I attach the letter you wrote to Perry after this episode.
And I cut and paste part of this letter.
While the apology you sent to the Crenshaw County chairman is appreciated, the ALGOP Steering Committee wants to make it clear that we support our county parties and their respective chairmen to handle their business. We need everyone to work in concert with our groups and respect their authority.
Which begs the question of why it appears that one standard was applied to Crenshaw County–but is not being applied to Montgomery?
Perry also spoke in his challenge about the fact that I once had a small contract with AEA. (Of course, he never mentioned that I also had contracts with the Council for Leaders of Alabama Schools (CLAS) and the School Superintendents of Alabama)
I did have a contract with AEA for several months. One day I ran into Henry Mabry at the statehouse (then exec secretary of AEA) and he told me he enjoyed my blog and asked who paid me to do it. I told him no one, that all the expenses and travel associated with it came out of my pocket. He suggested that they could give me $2,000 a month to defray expenses. Being retired with no income other than a social security check, I was glad to get it.
NEVER did anyone with AEA ask me to write anything on the blog or give me any kind of direction as to editorial content.
The particular irony here is that at the same time I was getting $2,000 a month from AEA, Perry, his father and his brother were collectively getting $16,000 a month from them.
I attach an AEA document that verifies this.
This past week Todd Stacy, who does a political news blog, questioned Perry about his AEA money. Here is his response:
I asked Hooper about it. He said former AEA head Henry Mabry contracted him for strategic counsel on rebranding the organization to Republican voters and redirecting its objectives within the GOP supermajority in the Legislature.
“I gave advice to help Henry chart a more conservative path. We tried to find ways to change AEA for the better, to find common ground for them with Republicans,” Hooper told me.
And he and his family were getting $16,000 A MONTH for doing this?
The other issue this seems to have some up in arms is that I voted in the Democratic primary in the special election in 2017.
I was NOT going to vote for Roy Moore. So, I voted in the Dem primary. Here is the real irony to me, had I voted in the GOP primary and then voted for Doug Jones in the general no one would be saying a word.
However, that would have been dishonest.
But apparently, we’re in a situation where honesty means little.
I was not an elected official in 2017, nor a candidate, nor an official with any political party. I had signed no loyalty oath.
Let me close by saying that had I had any inkling when I qualified in January that i would be involved in this mess, I WOULD NEVER have signed up.
This school system is a WRECK of the highest order. We desperately need good leadership. However, it is obvious that the well-being of the 29,000 students in our public schools is not being considered in the least bit in this matter. Instead, we are once again using children as the rope in a political tug of war.
This is shameful.
Jo Bonner and I have been great friends since 1982. We have had many conversations about why it is so hard to get decent people to seek political office.
What I am now going through is exhibit A.
June 5 is three weeks from this Tuesday. But here I sit, having spent $19,000 telling folks to vote for me in the Republican primary and I’m left to twist in the wind.
God help us all.
At this point I am so beaten down about all of this and so disgusted that politics of this nature is being used at the local school board level, I don’t know how to feel.
However, if you are going to kick me out, please go ahead and do it. Enough of this Chinese water torture.
I have no clue how this will all turn out. But I do know that all of this has NOTHING to do with better educating our children.
The over emphasis on test scores (can you say A-F report cards?) is wrong-headed and detrimental to students and our school systems.
Here is a great article from District Administration magazine by Tim Goral exploring this topic. Tim interviewed Daniel Koretz, one of the nation’s foremost experts on education testing, the Henry Lee Shattuck professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of “The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better.”
Pressure to raise achievement test scores has become the driving force behind what is taught and how. Worse, the results from these tests reveal only a fraction of the overall picture of whether students are learning—and whether teachers are effective in their jobs, says Koretz. In fact, he says the whole idea of test-based accountability has failed.
In his book, Koretz says the pressure to produce results often leads to outright cheating.
“Test-based accountability has become an end in itself in American education,” Koretz says, “unmoored from clear thinking about what should be measured, how it should be measured, or how testing can fit into a rational plan for evaluation and improving our schools.”
I have to say, reading your book made me angry at times.
Well, thank you. I have to admit, I wrote it in part because I was angry. Probably came through.
You’ve been studying testing for about 30 years, and you tried to warn of the misuse of standardized tests early on.
It’s depressing. My concern was that it was clear that using tests in this way wasn’t going to work, that it was going to generate serious side effects, and that, ironically, it was going to undermine the value of tests.
In 1987, I published something that said that one of the consequences of high-stakes testing is that test scores will be less valuable. And that has been true.
That’s Campbell’s Law that you wrote about in the book.
Campbell was one of the founders of the Scientific Study of Program Evaluations. He said, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”
We’ve known for a long time that this would happen. The majority of people who study incentive systems in a variety of fields know and accept that it happens. That makes it even more striking that people in education have pretended that it doesn’t.
Hence the word “charade” in your book’s title.
Exactly. It’s pretense. Everywhere I turned, people in education were acting as though this weren’t true, even though they had evidence to suggest it was. They found it inconvenient, so they pretended it wasn’t there.
You write that standardized testing has value, but not in the way we’re currently using it.
Standardized tests were designed, primarily, to monitor and diagnose. And they work pretty well for that.
For instance, at the same time that racial differences in achievement have been narrowing, socioeconomic status differences—more specifically, the gap between rich and poor kids—have been growing. And we know that because of standardized tests.
So we need to measure what matters in multiple ways. How can we get more valid assessments?
What I always say to people is, even before you get to that question, ask yourself what you want to see when you walk into a classroom. If you can’t describe what you want teachers to do, and what you want them to do better, there’s no point in even starting to design an accountability system.
When I visit a classroom and see kids absolutely bored to tears, then I know that the classroom is not acceptable, even if the test scores are good.
When I observe classrooms, at the top of my list is student engagement. I want to see them motivated. I want to see them committed to real intellectual work, as opposed to just sitting there doing chores, doing worksheets and so on.
Different teachers produce that kind of engagement in different ways. I want to see what teachers are producing in the classrooms, and not just a standardized list of things that they should be doing.
There are many teachers and district leaders who now equate good instruction with just getting better scores.
It’s even worse than that. In many places teachers are told that good instruction is test prep.
This is something that students here at Harvard, who are former teachers, have been telling me for years—that it’s not just that they were told explicitly to do test prep to raise test scores. They were told that doing test prep is good instruction. And they were often given these little menus for how to do it: Do step one, do step two, do step three.
So they don’t recognize the contrast between good instruction and test prep. They’ve never seen anything else.
The clearest example I can give comes from a former inner city teacher. She said, “I know that what we were doing was not what the kids really needed. But you tell me—how else was I going to meet the targets that were set for me?”
That, in two sentences, sums up what’s wrong with this system. Instead of teachers asking, “What can I do to improve their learning,” it’s, “What can I do to get their numbers up?” And in many cases that has turned out to be simple cheating.
Let me stress one thing in the book that doesn’t get as much play as I would like. Cheating is just a canary in the coal mine. There’s a huge amount of test prep that produces fraudulent gains in performance. And if you define cheating that way, it’s everywhere.
It’s not just in Atlanta, where people changed answer sheets, or El Paso, where they made kids disappear from the enrollment rolls. It’s all over the United States.
Are you hopeful we can change it?
I think we can. But it’s going to be a tough slog, because there are a lot of people who stand to lose if we back away from this. You’ve got all the people who pegged their careers on these reforms. Suddenly they’re going to be in an awkward spot.
There are probably close to one million teachers who will need to be completely retrained because they’ve never seen any other type of instruction.
A former teacher asked me, “Where is the point of leverage to start changing things?” And I think the answer has to be partly at the top.
When you say at the top—do you mean the federal level?
Right now, many people tend to point fingers at the federal level because the feds took control of this with No Child Left Behind. But keep in mind, the origin of this heavy-handed test-based accountability really began at the state level. Some of them will really have to change their tune as well. We don’t know exactly what recipe will work.
There are huge differences in the challenges facing, for instance, teachers in low-income schools and high-income schools. So why would we insist that they do things in exactly the same way? It doesn’t make sense to me that they would.
Some schools have large populations of kids who don’t speak English well, and who aren’t in a position to pick it up quickly on their own. Seems to me they should be organized differently.
Unfortunately, many families without resources are relying solely on schools to educate their kids, and they’re not being served.
That’s one reason I got so fed up with the pretense. The motivation for a lot of the reforms of the last 15 years was to begin to reduce inequities. That was why, when NCLB was in Congress, people like Ted Kennedy and George Miller supported a Republican bill. They wanted to pressure schools to improve things for the kids at the bottom.
There’s just no evidence that it has worked.
I believe we have an ethical obligation to admit that we failed and we have to look for another approach. And we can argue about what that other one should be, but it’s not this one. We’ve done this for more than 20 years, and that’s a generation or two of school kids who have been cheated out of an education.