Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Response to Time on Duncan

Time Magazine wrote a feature on Secretary of Education Duncan.
Here is one teacher's response.

Dear Editor,

Gilbert Cruz's feature on Arne Duncan and the Race To The Top program entirely missed the boat, misrepresenting the issues and ignoring years of evidence about what it takes for students to learn. The idea that teachers should be held accountable for the success or failure of their students is neither new nor (amongst teachers) controversial. The controversy surrounds the means by which we evaluate both students and teachers. With Race To The Top, President Obama and Secretary Duncan lay all of the responsibility for students' success or failure squarely on the backs of classroom teachers, while giving them no authority to do anything whatsoever to change the status quo. Today's teachers are regularly forced to use scripted lessons and follow pacing guides that leave no room at all for creativity or professional judgement. If teachers have no power, how can we hold them accountable? Would you hand a firefighter a set of procedures to follow at every fire, regardless of its size, location, or nature? Would you require doctors to use the same treatment with every patient, regardless of the disease? That's what is happening to our teachers and students.

In his effort to blame teacher unions for standing in the way of reform, Mr. Cruz fails to note what an abject failure No Child Left Behind and its era of high-stakes standardized testing have been. States spend billions on tests that are not reliable and are often inappropriate. School districts have responded by narrowing the curriculum so that teachers teach only what is to be tested that year. Many elementary students never touch a history or science textbook. Art and music are things of the past. Physical education is disappearing --And research shows us that these subjects and programs are vital to student achievement.

There is no evidence whatsoever that our testing mania is helping children; there is mounting evidence that it does them terrible harm. Educators are challenging Race To The Top because it's going to make things worse, not better. Once salaries are tied to test scores teachers will compete to work with the best and brightest students, those who are likely to test well. Our students with the lowest test scores and the greatest needs will get the inexperienced and less capable teachers. I have taught English Learners and immigrant children for over twenty years. My students learn a great deal, and make tremendous advances, but they traditionally score poorly on standardized tests because they have yet to master English. But we still keep giving them the same tests we give the English-only students, knowing in advance what the results will be. Who is this helping? And more importantly, who is going to want to work with these students once salaries are tied to test scores?

Charles Finn
Teacher, Oceanside Unified School District
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