Burning Questions from Teachers Part 2: Meet Our Realities, Mr. Duncan
Two weeks ago, I posted a public survey for the 1800 members of Teachers' Letters to Obama, to find out the issues and questions of greatest concern to the group. A much smaller group of representatives will be holding a phone conference soon with Education Secretary Arne Duncan soon, and we want to carry the messages from all. The response has been profound. Two hundred and sixty-nine teachers have taken the survey, and a week ago I posted some of the responses. Since then another batch of responses have come in. They are unfiltered and unedited. Here you have window into the concerns of America's teachers.
1. Why do you think telling children a multiple choice test is the most important part of school (which is what we do with high stakes tests, no matter what anyone says) will prepare them for a 21st century world where critical thinking and creativity will be the most valuable skills?
2. Why aren't teachers valued as professionals in this system that has been created by politicians? We have earned the respect of our students and their parents, yet those we elect to govern the education system fails to take into account the expertise and talent we put into our work and the qualifications we have earned through our work with children to ask us how to improve the system we work with every day. We have so much to offer, and know what works, but no one takes us seriously. It is frustrating, to say the least. I have been to national conferences and have spoken to groups of as many as a thousand elected officials about education, and have been often one of only a handful of educators in the meeting called to discuss education and its future. What is wrong with this picture is that we would never do the same thing if we were discussing law or medicine, agriculture or sports, yet we do it consistently when we talk about the future of our children. We fail to include the most valuable input available from the most talented and experienced people over and over again. Is it because we are overwhelmingly female? Another horrifying questions that begs a response. Dr. Michelle Ivy, National Board Certified Teacher, Social Studies, Jacksonville, FL 1999-2019
3. In a historic decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that all Connecticut public school children have a constitutional right to a good education and that the state has the obligation to provide the resources. The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) brought this lawsuit on behalf of more than 100 cities and towns and boards of education, professional education associations, unions, students and their parents - including our Bridgeport community. However, this will take years to litigate, with CT fighting it all the way. Does this administration intend to address this issue?
4. How do we engage the whole child and his or her family in the journey of lifelong, self-directed education?
5. The achievement gap by the time a student reaches 8th grade keeps increasing. How are we preparing students for high school and beyond if we allow them to advance to the next grade level when they are not meeting the standards? Does a college student earn a degree without accomplishing the requirements of the degree? Why does our education system insist we need to change the assessments or get rid of teachers when the bar is lowered so low for the students? Currently, students do not have to do much and they will be passed to the next grade level. Raise the bar on student accountability!
6. In evaluating a teacher or school, how do you determine what knowledge a student has learned fron the teacher and what knowledge the chid has acquired from parents, peers, tutors, or self determination?
7. Is the overreliance on standardized tests and what is called "backwards planning to prepare students for these high stakes tests really educating our students for the real world?
8. Why are teacher expected to do so much, but receive so little pay?
9. How can teachers be responsible for the learning of a "drug" baby or a child with disabilities to the point of pay loss? Not all children are ready to learn just because they turn a certain age. When will we get out of the antiquated way of teaching children by age rather than by readiness?
10. I often get a class where at least 1/3 of my fourth graders are reading at a second grade (sometimes lower) reading level. I often have to plan 3 different lessons to accommodate the different levels within my classroom. As you can imagine, this requires a tremendous amount of time and effort compared to a class that is more "uniform" in performance level. How can you justify paying me according to their performance?
11. The current trends from the Federal Government are putting education for all in a box. There needs to be flexibility so that the needs of each student can be addressed. Teachers are professionals and must be accorded respect and trust because if they are empowered to make professional decision as they teach specific students and classes, the education is at its best.
12. The current approach to accountability focuses primarily on outputs -that is test scores. This puts the onus primarily on students and teachers, those with the least power in the system. Wouldn't a fairer approach to accountability take into account inputs such as funding or facilities, in order to put equal onus on those with the most power who's decisions not only fail to address equity but exacerbate inequality?
13. One of my biggest frustrations as an educator is working with highly capable Hispanic students who can earn scholarships, but because they or their parents are illegals they have to back out of the scholarship process. How can we continue to support our illegals who need to go to college but cannot get support? These students are giving up at about 5th grade and dropping out in high numbers in high school. My school is then "punished" for the drop out rate for kids who can't go on to school.
14. What public schools did Duncan attend? How many years has Duncan taught full time in low income schools?
15. Why, in the face of evidence that charters are no better than their public school counterparts, are you still emphasizing them?
16. Why should teachers' worth and success be measured by students' performance on single standardized tests that fail to adequately capture real educational growth?
17. How do you plan to address the extreme variations of state standards and criterion when determining the status for AYP?
18. Will you teach for one year in a low performing school and allow your salary to be linked to tests made by outside sources?
19. How do we refocus our resources, energy, and efforts from testing skills to rich curriculums that include science and social studies and art and music? And, why are teachers and schools being measured based on one test, doesn't that create unethical behavior and failure instead of success?
20. Why are middle schools taking such a beating when brain development says that the students brains are in their second fasted growth spurt of their lives and affect the students frontal lob and emotional control? It is amazing when we can hold on test scores. This is a world wide event, not just the USA.
21. I am a NBCT who works in a high need inner city school. 98% of my students are living in poverty, a majority of them are living in single parent households, and their neighborhood is plagued by drugs, violence, and gangs. 88% of my students who entered my classroom this year (3rd grade) were reading at a beginning 1st grade level. How can I get my students to succeed on the state test, within 6 months, without waving a magic wand? Why am I being held accountable for something I can't control when my students go home? Why should my career be jeopardized because my school is deemed inadequate, shut down, and everyone is fired because of factors out of my control? I am good at what I do. I go above and beyond and love working with this population, but why would I want to continue to work in an inner city school if I'm backed up against a wall and set up for failure? Furthermore, I see the "value added" score as an irrelevant measurement approach if the students being compared actually CANNOT read the test. How will you address the reliability & validity of the "value added" scores? If the students are simply guessing on the test (because they can't read it) then aren't we simply comparing who guessed the best, despite taking into account all the factors that the "value added" system does? Please explain.