The Ongoing Fight for Public Education

As the fight for public education continues and our schools are stripped of funds, forced into incessant standardized testing and required to use corporate-approved, scripted programs, educators, parents and students are moving from the sidelines into battle.

From Chicago, where teachers have organized a campaign to end non-state mandated standardized tests in public schools, to Portland, Ore., where students have worked to convince their classmates to stay home during the Assessment of Knowledge and Skills standardized test, the movement to end corporate-style education is growing.

In January, Seattle teachers at Garfield High School boycotted the state’s rigorous standardized testing gauntlet. In an open letter to the district, teachers refused to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, outlining nine concerns that included not knowing what content is covered by MAP, concern over the amount of class and lab time consumed by the test, and the fact that when the district purchased the test, then-Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson was a board member of the company selling the exam, posing a potential conflict of interest.

Nearly every teacher at Garfield High School joined the boycott and 459 parents showed their support and solidarity with the district’s teachers by opting their child out of the MAP test. Additionally, a group of about 250 educators nationwide, including Diane Ravitch of New York University, signed a letter showing their support for the end of MAP in Seattle.

Concerns Spread Nationwide

During the recent second annual Occupy the Department of Education initiative April 4–7, approximately 175 protesters marched to and rallied at the White House to voice their concerns.

“The corporations are teaching our children,” said rally attendee Peggy Robertson, a parent and longtime teacher from Colorado. “We do not need these tests.”

The crowd grew to its largest as Ravitch took the podium criticizing the Education Department for being allied with “some of the wealthiest people in America” and “aligned against public education, against teachers, against children and against good education.”

Some teachers and administrators say, “Enough is enough,” and have left their professions entirely in response to the numerous standardized tests that have been added to curriculums since the implementation of No Child Left Behind.

An anonymous Seattle teacher outlined reasons for leaving the profession in a blog post on SeattleEducation2010, saying “[W]e are driven like cattle to collect mounds of data, to divvy the data up into tidy and irrelevant skill categories, and finally to create individual action plans to remediate each student’s poor data points.”

Schools ‘Too Scripted’

In 2011, The Washington Post profiled Bill Kerlina, one of 20 Washington, D.C., principals who resigned due to disagreements with the district’s emphasis on standardized testing. Kerlina partially blamed the school district, saying, “The district evaluates teachers, but does not support their growth.” He criticized DC Public Schools (DCPS) for being “too scripted” and not allowing students to “think outside the box.” Kerlina says this limited approach to education drives D.C. students to private and charter schools. His suggestions for bettering the school district included a move toward “inquiry-based learning.”

Rhode Island teacher Stephen Round uploaded a video of himself to YouTube reading his resignation letter at the end of the 2012 fall semester; it went viral almost immediately.

Round blames the school district’s emphasis on testing for his departure, saying the district was “a great fit for several years” but the high stakes placed on test scores frustrated him. Round said that by placing such emphasis on standardized testing, “our new goal is to create good test takers,” not learners.

A 2012 ACT survey supports Round, with evidence that while students’ test scores remain the same, students are showing signs of being less prepared for college. Out of the 9,937 high school and college instructors surveyed, 89 percent of high school teachers thought their students were “well” or “very well” prepared for freshman-level college, while only 26 percent of college faculty members thought students were ready, yet another sign that teaching to a test accomplishes nothing for our nation’s children.

Round had similar thoughts as Kerlina regarding inquiry-based learning, but shied away from giving outright suggestions for his district.

Fighting Corporate Education

Educators across the nation are leaving the profession or staging massive boycotts and protests because of high-stakes testing. The billions spent on standardized testing each year could be better utilized by developing whole student evaluations and not tying teachers’ evaluations to the scores. But corporate-style education is a tough beast to slay, because it is funded by billionaires like Bill Gates and Sam Walton and is sanctioned by both political parties.

“The top echelon of the corporate world is driving our education system,” said Wendi Caporicci, secretary of AFSA and a 40-year veteran of the Oakland Unified School District. “This slams teachers and it slams principals. ”

With the power of the wealthiest Americans standing in support of corporate-style education, this is an issue that will not simply fade away; we must continue the fight and refuse to accept a reality where profit comes before the education of our nation’s children.