UPDATE: are teachers, parents protesting too much?

Kids in Poland sit for standardized testing exams.  (Photo:  Wikipedia)

Kids in Poland sit for standardized testing exams. (Photo: Wikipedia)

UPDATE:  The testing debate comes to the Ausable Valley Central School District tonight at 7 pm.  For more information, check out this Facebook page.

A month or so ago, I took part in a public conversation about standardized testing in Saranac Lake.  I went away with a lot of questions and doubts, not only about testing but about the debate itself.

A growing number of parents and kids are opting out of these tests, as the Adirondack Daily Enterprise reported last month.

This week, on Facebook, I came across this video, which seemed like a great summary of the anti-testing, pro-teacher-liberation point of view.

I urge you to watch it before reading the rest of this essay.

This teacher raises important questions. We need to think deeply about how public education does and doesn’t work in America, and how tests do or do not move us forward.

But I wonder if the backlash against No Child Left Behind and standardized testing isn’t overlooking a couple of big issues.

First, public education has been troubled for a long time – long before these tests moved to the center of our K-12 system.

My own teachers, particularly in high school, ranged from disinterested to mediocre, with occasional flashes of real talent and engagement.

For all the occasional bright spots, there was little accountability, little passion or creativity, and I came away from my public education in a state that can only be described as substantially ignorant.

When I traveled to Germany as an exchange student, I found that I was substantially behind my peers in literally every subject, including English.  (Having a nine year old German kid correct your grammar is no fun, let me tell you.)

I went to school in the 1970s and 1980s, long before standardized testing rewired public education.

This teacher also speaks — as teachers did at the event in Saranac Lake — about their desire to nurture well-rounded, holistic citizens.  And there’s a big place for that in schools, to be sure.

But there are a lot of institutions in American life — from the family to churches to after school art programs — that can help create well-rounded citizens.

There’s only one place where kids absolutely must learn the practical humanistic skills — a great command of English, math skills, sciences, a foreign language — needed to function in a complex, post-industrial society.

And it seems to me that we need some metric, some measuring stick, to make sure that’s happening.

In the current debate, there is also a lot of earnest talk about how stressful tests are for kids and that teachers have to teach the things — including boring, ho-hum things — that will be on the test.

Again, fair enough.

But it seems worthwhile to think out loud a bit about the fact that life itself is stressful.   And oftentimes we have to do a lot of work — even boring work — before we overcome obstacles.

There are also frequent tests in adult life, some the actual check-the-box tests that are required to gain promotions and opportunities.  But also those constant, stressful informal hurdles that we must prepare for and overcome.

There’s also something to be said for the idea that we need some uniform, measurable standards for education.

Yes, it’s cool to think about really talented individual teachers uncorking unique, brilliant lesson plans year after year, lighting up rooms with their inspired lesson plans.

But this is the real world.  There have to be supports in place for average teachers, or tired teachers, or burned out teachers that help them get through the day and the year.

And we also need kids in terrible school districts to have a shot at a decent education that at least resembles the education that kids get in rich, high quality schools.

Finally, I think it’s reasonable to point out that while tests may be a highly imperfect method of evaluating teacher performance, teachers’ unions have declined to come up with a method that is any better.

It’s romantic to think that teachers are all as wonderful as the woman in that video.  But the truth is that there are a lot of teachers in our schools who shouldn’t be there.

Unfortunately, our testing systems have been dragged into that debate in clumsy, sometimes painful ways, as a way to weed out the dead weight.

One solution is to scrap tests and go back to a world where there is little true accountability, where kids get stuck for years with people who don’t belong in classrooms.

Or we could make tests less important by coming up with better, fairer, more helpful ways of identifying bad teachers and moving them along to different careers.

I can say honestly that this isn’t one of those debates where I’m forced to pretend a kind of journalistic neutrality. I am truly, deeply agnostic on these questions.

My son Nicholas, a high school junior, has brought home some standardized test questions that were laughably stupid and obviously culturally biased.

If we do stick with testing as a pillar of secondary education, we obviously have to make them better, less fussy, fairer and more meaningful.

There probably also needs to be more flexibility built in that allows brilliant teachers to be, well, brilliant, while giving more average educators the right kind of support and framework.

So there’s my bit of hand-wringing and thinking out loud.  Let me end with some questions. What do you think about the testing regimen in your kids’ school? Should they be scrapped?

If so, do we need other methods to achieve the quality and accountability you want for your children?


53 Comments on “UPDATE: are teachers, parents protesting too much?”

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  1. The first issue is that measurement is increasingly standardized while our educational system remains highly fractured and decentralized. We reject French-style centralization of education but want uniformly high results. We expect every to be uniformly educated with a college prep education but it’s not a uniform population. Parts are being poorly served by shoving everyone into the same box. Countries with so-called higher performance don’t shove everyone into the same box.

    This second issue isn’t so much the fact on standardized testing but rather the rapidly increasing fetishization of them. It’s the ridiculous excess. They’ve become the be all and end all of the “educational” system. When I was in school in the 80s and early 90s, we took Regents at the end of the year – every year for some materials, once for others – and that was that. I don’t feel as though I was shortchanged in my education because I wasn’t given a test every time I went to the bathroom or sneezed. Somehow I managed to get a bachelor’s degree in math and found a job abroad using both the math and foreign language skills I learned in high school.

    Education seems increasingly incidental compared to measurement. I have a math degree with a concentration in statistics. I love numbers, but I also know the inherent limits of quantification. I’m not fooled by the charade that everything can be measured numerically in any sort of a fair way.

  2. Peter Hahn says:

    It should be scrapped. Speaking as someone who has worked in the higher education environment all my life and whose kids have gone through public schools and done well, I dont see the point of those tests. They are based on very flawed assumptions. They assume that a child’s performance improvement on these tests reflects their learning, and they also assume that the teacher’s skill is the most important determinant of how a child performs on those tests. Both of those assumptions are wrong. How a student performs on those tests is dependent on the students test taking ability, which in turn depends on lots of things that have nothing to do with learning. For example, making an emotional connection with the teacher during the year may make that student want to perform better to please the teacher than he or she felt like at the beginning of the year, but that has nothing to do with learning. Secondly, the parents role in helping and motivating the students is totally ignored by the tests, yet the family involvement is probably a more important determinant of student learning than the teachers skill.

    Finally, as a consumer of the products of educational system I would say that students coming out of the American Universities make better graduate students than similar students coming out of foreign universities. So, the idea that we should be emulating those other countries because they do better on some standardized tests seems like a bad idea.

    How should we get rid of bad teachers? There must be a better way but asking the teachers union to come up with the perfect system is not going to work. The union’s role is to make sure even the bad teachers get fair treatment.

  3. Will Doolittle says:

    Yes. I went to elementary school in the ’60s, middle and high school in Saranac Lake in the ’70s, through two years of high school, then to a prep school for two years.
    The prep school education was about two full years ahead of the public high school in Saranac Lake, but really more than that — it was a high-quality education where SLHS was a low-quality one.
    But that’s not just compared to prep school, but to any reasonable measure. Standards were low, many teachers were mediocre and poor, or outright incompetent. If any one is trying to say things used to be better, before all this testing, that doesn’t square with my experience.
    The testing has to some extent worked but we’ve gone overboard with tests, because they’re the easiest way to gain some teacher accountability and impose some uniform standards. Harder ways, such as more rigorous teacher training; higher pay and status for teachers; and a cultural emphasis of education instead of, for example, interscholastic athletics have not been embraced, if at all, with the same fervor as tests.
    Tests are cheap. Attracting the smartest young people to teaching careers is expensive.
    It’s true that kids do a lot of rote learning of dates and names of obscure treaties in courses like AP U.S. history, but also true that they are at least working hard and being challenged. Many more kids take these hard courses now than 40 years ago; of course, with the state’s evisceration of North Country schools that is changing.

  4. Peter makes good points. I tended to OVER-perform on standardized tests in secondary school as compared to my grades because I was an intuitive test taker.

  5. Will Doolittle says:

    Fair treatment for a bad teacher would be to get fired. That is not what the teachers union strives to do for bad teachers.

  6. Jim Bullard says:

    Although I haven’t been a full time public school teacher I did take teacher training (and taught) in the Army and I went to college to be an art teacher after the Army. That was in the late ’60s and there was a debate even back then on what the function of the public school was, to educate our young people and instill a love of learning that allowed them to maximally realize their potential or was it to train workers to function as cogs in a workforce. It seems like the pressure is toward the latter.

    Ironically though when I later ended up working in the Dept of Labor, dealing with the unemployed and helping to get them back to work I learned that employers were looking for 3 qualities above all else; reliability (they show up and do the job), integrity (they can be trusted) and initiative (they can work without constant supervision). The job market and job skills are changing so fast that no school can turn out workers prepared to do the job because by the time they graduate the jobs have substantially changed. Most entry level jobs rely on some level of OJT to give the workers the specific skills required.

    We do have a problem. For example when I was working in DOL I encountered more than one person high up in the bureaucracy who had stopped learning when they left college. They had their sheepskin and regarded it as their passport to success, nothing more needed to be done. I recall one person in particular who bragged that he hadn’t read a book since college. He said he learned management from popular magazine articles. It seems to me that the emphasis on standardized tests is a quick fix, feel good solution to a complex problem, a magazine article solution. It will, most likely, induce a lot of stress in the learning process that will have the opposite effect of inspiring love of life long learning.

  7. Peter Hahn says:

    Will – fair treatment is to follow the rules when trying to fire a bad teacher. Its due process. If the contract says they have to be given a warning and a chance to defend themselves, then thats what has to happen. They can still be fired, but not without cause. Otherwise, the administrators would just fire all the older better paid teachers right before they qualified for a pension, saying they were “bad teachers” (or not saying anything).

  8. Will Doolittle says:

    Really? Why would they do that? First of all, it’s age discrimination and illegal. Second, why don’t other employers in places where workers don’t have contracts fire all their older, more experienced, higher-earning workers so they can hire younger, lesser-experienced cheaper workers?
    Also, it’s not due process in its usual sense, which refers to laws. You’re talking about contracts. Of course, contracts have to be followed, no one is saying otherwise. Regardless, the teachers union does not generally advocate following contracts and having bad teachers fired, not in my experience. The union defends bad teachers and says they should remain in the classroom — particularly in the case of incompetent teachers. I’m not talking about criminals — teachers who deal drugs or sexually abuse kids. But I have personally seen an instance of the teachers union defending a teacher who was sexually abusing a kid.
    One big step that could be taken to improve the status of teachers would be insistence by the union on higher standards of behavior and performance for teachers.

  9. Mr. Wakiki says:

    First: Can I assume that the German school you attended was a general public school with all types of students — i.e. similar to the one you were attending in the U.S.

    Second: Can I assume your family was the typical nuclear family that most schools see today. They were divorced, in a custody battle over you and your siblings. Didn’t place a high value on education and often complained about all the idiot teachers that work for school districts now a days?

  10. Peter Hahn says:

    Will – sometimes they do (fire older more expensive workers). Home depot tried that a couple of years ago, but it didnt work out very well for them.

    I think you are misunderstanding the role of unions. They negotiate contracts and then make sure the procedures agreed to in the contracts are followed. Thats all.

  11. Asa says:

    To all,
    there is a process to remove a teacher that is not competent. 3020A. People commenting above may not like the process, but it is there to use. I suggest that Administrators hire appropriately and watch the new hires. I also expect a high level of prof. development that teachers must take. I strongly feel that the Test keep things honest. Teachers need to adhere to a curriculum. Teachers can be as creative as they can be to teach the curriculum. Trust me, I am a teacher and seem to be extremely effective teaching some rather bland info. expected of me in the curriculum.

  12. Zeke says:

    My over the fence neighbor teacher friend tells me her issue is not with the accountability for teachers from tests on students. Rather it is the lack of accountability that the test holds for students. That is to say; it does not matter if the student passes(whatever that means) or fails the student will go to the next grade. Next, she ends up with ninth grade students who do not have an understanding of 6th grade material.

  13. Paul says:

    Maybe we should require all teachers to get some experience outside of education like the person in the video? Not practical but in a perfect world it would be great. Diversification of experience always seems to lead to individuals that make excellent teachers. The cliche about those who can do and those who can’t teach isn’t true but having done more than just teach can really make for a great teacher.

  14. The Original Larry says:

    Has anyone thought about this: as the amount of money spent on education has risen, the quality of that education has fallen. I doubt it’s a coincidence.

  15. The Original Larry says:

    The current state of education is largely due to the interference of feckless parents who first did everything they could to strip teachers of their autonomy, authority and ability to actually educate children and then empowered the government to try and legislate their way out of the resultant mess. Now their chief contribution is to bitch about the mess they created.

  16. Walker says:

    Larry, you think we could improve teaching by paying teachers less? Seriously?

    Is there any other field where you figure that would work?

  17. Walker says:

    “The current state of education is largely due to the interference of feckless parents who first did everything they could to strip teachers of their autonomy, authority and ability to actually educate children…”

    Now see, that I can agree with. Think just maybe that has more to do with the problem than paying teachers too much?

    And then there’s our culture. Cultures where education and knowledge (not just credentials) are truly valued create children who take education seriously. I can’t imagine what it’s like to face a classroom full of bored students who would rather be checking their tweets.

  18. Mervel says:

    Standardized tests are not standard, the kid in Texas takes a different standardized test from the kid in Florida and the kid in NY. Our education plan and system itself as pointed out by Brian (moyfc) is widely variable. There is no one math curriculum for 7th graders in this country it varies between school districts. In the North Country in one county with multiple school districts such as in SLC, you have multiple different curriculum within this one little county for the same aged kids. Take that across the nation and there is really no way to measure much of anything and have the ability to compare anything.

    We need a common measure but we also need a common plan of what works in education and we don’t have that. To me we continually flip flop, one school trying this another trying something else, I mean come on we have examples for what works, and they don’t exist in the US. Lets look at some of the systems in Germany and France and Japan and get moving on a system that is rigorous and makes sense. I think we need to force standardized curriculum at the same time we look at standardized tests.

    The bottom line is though, standardized test taking is not going away if you want to go to college or professional school or even many trade schools. If nothing else you better have some practice taking them. Sure a school system or a family can opt out of standardized test taking, but the kid still has to take the SAT”s or the ACT’s or the GMAT or LSAT or MCAT and on and on, how well will a child who has never taken a standardized test be ready to do that?

  19. The Original Larry says:

    I didn’t say we should pay teachers less. My comment was an observation on two intersecting trends that illustrate the futility of trying to spend our way out of this mess as several posters have suggested we do. Money is not the problem.

  20. oa says:

    Good story here on Core Curriculum: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/the-writing-revolution/309090/
    I don’t think it’s the devil incarnate.

  21. Shovel says:

    A bit off topic, but I was not at all supportive of the Saranac Lake boycott of standardized tests that took place last month. The parents who pulled their children from the tests at the last minute did very little to encourage a real, community wide discussion of the issue. This is a debate worth having, but choosing to exempt your own kids from the anxiety of testing and leaving other parents to explain to their own kids why they were not special enough to skip testing seems like a bad way to begin.

  22. JDM says:

    A $100,000/yr administrator ought to be able to know their employees, especially with proper delegation to another level of $80,000/yr principals and another layer of $40,000 office staff.

    In the business world, you either know your employees or you ousted for someone who can.

    There shouldn’t be a need for standardized testing to know who can teach and who can’t.

    Granted, administrators and principals are weighted down with state mandates and ridiculous paper work.

    The system is failing.

    Stick and pin in it and stand back.

  23. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Ten and a half minute video!!!!

    Whitehall school super Watson retires:

    Education has gone through significant change during his years at Whitehall, the biggest one being increased state and federal control of schools, he said. Today, schools must follow more regulations than in the past, Watson said.

    For instance, schools lack the flexibility to determine some of their own courses.

    “It has become a one-size-fits-all curriculum, which I don’t feel is advantageous to most of our students,” Watson said.


  24. mervel says:

    Has the US public education system has never been that great? I never see numbers comparing how we are doing historically are kids doing better today than 20 years ago? I would say yes, but I have no data. I know we don’t compare very well with the education of other countries, but not because of our lack of flexibility, I would say because of our flexibility and our unwillingness to follow basic principles or curriculum on core topics over time and our focus on all of the extraneous stuff which may be nice, but is not critical.

    In addition, behind the scenes you have a huge private curriculum industry that is encouraging a constant churning in school basic curriculum in such areas as basic as math. So you have two school districts right next to each other in one county choosing entirely different ways to teach something as basic as math to 1st and 2nd graders.

  25. mervel says:

    Part of the issue in my mind is that we have a system in the US that serves a variety of interests, the taxpayers, the teachers unions, the sports lovers, the administrators, the school curriculum industry, University Education departments, etc. These interests compete with one another over resources and direction, the one interest group not represented is children and their success.

  26. V. Burnett says:

    We also need to examine pretty closely the corporations that are producing curricula. How much are districts shelling out for materials? Are the new curricula resulting in better test scores and better understanding? Who decides which materials are going to be used? How much pressure are they getting from lobbyists? What are the alternatives? How much are the curricula materials or “instructions for use” limiting teachers’ ability to teach? (I’ve heard Saxon materials referred to as being “teacher proof” because the teachers have to present the material as it is scripted in the outline without deviation. If a child doesn’t understand, the teacher repeats the script.)

    In my opinion, most of the curriculum materials being used today are seriously sub-standard compared to those we were using just a couple of decades ago. For instance: we home schooled our daughter for 5 years for the end of grade school through Jr. High. We followed a Classical model and used an old High School World History text book as one of her Social studies texts. It was a little outdated and needed a little supplementation but in general it had accurate and rigorous cultural & historical information in it, including insightful and difficult study questions. When we sent her back to school in 9th grade, all of us were shocked and dismayed by the quality of her text book for World History. It was significantly smaller, used at least a 14 point font, included many large photos and had big sections of bullet points on each page. It looked and read like something produced for 3rd graders. The text was completely Americentric and did nothing to encourage students to think about other times, places and people beyond showing them a bunch of glossy photos and factoids. Except for music, she’s been bored out of her skull for 4 years.

    Can we blame teachers if the materials they are given to work with and the strictures they are required to work within prevent them from teaching in a way that is meaningful?

  27. newt says:

    The two highest-performing nations on the PISA (international 15-year-old students comparisons) are South Korea and Finland http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/a0923110.html.

    I can’t find the source for this right now, but I remember reading that South Korea apparently uses the standard Asian model, with constant drilling, rote memorization, long schools days, weekend tutorials, etc. It also has a high suicide rate among students.

    Finland does none of this, has few standardized tests, and discourages homework. Not sure about the Finnish suicide rate for students, but Finland seems to punch way above it’s weight in terms of contributions to the world economy (Nokia).

    I believe both systems pay their teachers more than ours do, on average.
    Per Peter Hahn’s comment way back about foreign students being inferior to Americans in grad school, I had a Business professor frp, a major regional university tell me the same thing a couple of months ago. He said Asian, specifically Korean, Japanese, and Chinese students were totally flummoxed when they could not be given a specific right or wrong answer to a question, and keep insisting on being given “the right answer” to questions where the answer involves some ambiguity, creativity, or original thought. Apparently, all the creativity has been educated out of them.

  28. newt says:

    Re V. Burnett, my last five or so years teaching I refused to adopt a new U.S. History 8th grade textbook because each new edition, (from all publishers I could find) was more dumbed-down, per your description, than previous one. In the end, I was kicking myself for having replaced the edition I used in the ’90s. I should add that I believed that outside sources (readings, student research and writing) were more more critical to student learning, but textbooks provided a necessary baseline source for critical information (e.g. WWII came after the American Revolution, and similar concepts that I often found lacking among new classes of students each fall).

  29. Paul says:

    “The current state of education is largely due to the interference of feckless parents who first did everything they could to strip teachers of their autonomy, authority and ability to actually educate children and then empowered the government to try and legislate their way out of the resultant mess. Now their chief contribution is to bitch about the mess they created.”

    Yet, some students still excel and others don’t? It seems to me that it would be more of the systemic problem that you describe if all the kids were in the crapper and all the teachers stunk.

  30. Walker says:

    “Has the US public education system has never been that great? I never see numbers comparing how we are doing historically are kids doing better today than 20 years ago?”

    Mervel, did you ever read the letters home from soldiers in the Civil War? Odds are, most of them finished eighth grades, tops. In my experience, it’s a rare college student today that can write two complete sentence that don’t make you wince.

  31. Will Doolittle says:

    Those are the good letters. The ones that said, “Hey, war sucks. Muddy. But love my buds, LOL!” didn’t get saved.

  32. newt says:

    The biggest single problem for US education (at least post 6th grade), not counting urban schools in their milieu of poverty and social dysfunction, is one-size-fit-all expectations of students. Some American students love all their classes and work hard in them, some love art and hate math, some work hard though challenged, some work not at all though capable, and some hate everything about school, and just want to go to work fixing cars or doing some other job that interests them. Too grossly oversimplify. Yet we expect them all to measure up to certain standards that some people, for no discernible reason I know, thinks they must have.

    In my experience, the quality of education as I saw it in the school where I taught declined in relationship with the application of the same standards to all kids. In the old days, when we had Regents and local diplomas, the more academic kids could pursue academic learning, the less academic kids could learn more vocationally-oriented skills, and everyone was, if not happy, a lot happier than they are now.

    One thing that made American schools better than their allegedly better-performing opposites in other nations is that in a functioning American High School, s

  33. Mervel says:


    Regardless of my bad writing per the quote above, I am an outlier on the bottom of the scale. Most people in the US at the time of the civil war were illiterate and not writing any letters at all or having the literate ones among them pen the letters home.

    You have to look at the data, it is my impression that even though we don’t compare well internationally on core subjects, we are not declining either, we simply have never placed a premium on primary education in this country. So I would be interested in comparing ourselves to 30 years ago. We seem to have this idea that American public education is in some sort of decline. I don’t think that it is, we are just not performing as well as other countries or up to our own potential.

    What is interesting is that we still produce excellence on many fronts at the University level and in the corporate world. Somehow yes our kids don’t score nearly as well on basic reading/science etc when they are 15, yet even with the influx of foreign scientists, we still produce a very high producing, creative work force and an excellent University system.

  34. newt says:

    In above, I accidentally hit “submit” before finishing or proofing it. To finish the last paragraph,

    ‘students are allowed to choose their own directions, to the extent they can qualify for them, not be forced into certain educational paths (academic, trade school, etc.), based on a single test taken at age 10, or something like that. I remember a placement meeting 8th Grade teachers and the Guidance Dept. had at the end of the school year early in my public school career. One girl wanted to take Regents classes in 9th Grade. The conversation went something like,

    “She can’t handle Regents work.”
    “No way, she’ll get killed.”
    “I know, but we have to let her try if she wants to.”
    “Yeah, too bad.”

    Four years later she got her Regents Diploma and went off to a successful college career.

  35. “Maybe we should require all teachers to get some experience outside of education like the person in the video? ”

    I think this should first and foremost be required of administrators and those who set education policy.

  36. Original Larry: the fundamental difference between now and, say, 100 years ago, is not simply that we’re spending more on education. It’s also that we’re trying to educate more people. But we’re trying to educate them all the same, with the college track. We’re using a homogeneous approach on a very heterogeneous population. We’re trying to do a little bit of everything for everybody and in reality doing not nearly enough for anybody. If we stopped devaluing non-“bookish” forms of education and acknowledged that some people are going to be doctors and some are going to be plumbers (who get probably paid much better than college grads working outside their field), then kids will be more likely to get an education suited to them rather than the one-size-fits-all nonsense we’re doing now. And frankly, I’m surprised to agree with you. I don’t think a huge infusion of cash is necessarily the solution (as long as the state cuts back on its avalanche of mandates). I think blowing up the system is. But it’s not politically correct to acknowledge that not everyone is going to college, so instead we stick everyone with the same average education that ill-serves the majority.

  37. Paul says:

    The Tupper Lake Superintendent said this in the ADE regarding laying off teachers from a recent meeting:

    “He did say that if layoffs happen, it doesn’t have anything to do with a teacher’s performance.”

    Isn’t there an obvious problem here? If this is true and we don’t fix this problem than we deserve to have poor schools.

  38. Paul says:

    As an educator that cares about the students how on earth can anyone support a policy that requires us to possibly lay off the best teachers in the district and at the same time be opposed to a testing scheme that you think does similar harm to the educational experience? That is just plain and simple double speak. Bye, bye, credibility.

  39. Walker says:

    It’s not really policy, per se, Paul, it’s union contracts. It sucks, but it’s a direct result of administrators in years past playing favorites, firing teachers for political orientations they didn’t like, etc. Unions happened for a reason. It’s a shame, but one bad practice begets another.

  40. mervel says:

    But unions are doing what they are supposed to do and that is protect the interests of those they represent, which are school employees in the bargaining unit. We should not look to these unions to be putting forth proposals to help our children learn or to make better schools; that is not their job, their job is garner the most benefits, the most salary, the most job protection for their members and the most dues for the union.

    The issue in my mind is not the unions the issue is the people negotiating on the other side of the table, THEY are the ones not doing their job.

  41. mervel says:

    Keep in mind, children are not in the bargaining unit.

  42. mervel says:

    Of course teacher unions will oppose every attempt at any performance measurement for their members, once again that is their job. The fact that they have been so successful that until very recently they protected teachers with validated child sex abuse claims against them, shows how powerful they are and how weak the administrators are who negotiate their contracts. That is why we have the rubber room down in NYC, all of those unfit employees sitting around collecting full salaries because they are so bad it is better to pay them full salary and keep them away from children than it is is to fight for their termination.

  43. newt says:

    The “rubber room” is a perfect example of the problem. Reading a NYT story about it several years ago, it was perfectly plain that not every teacher assigned to it was incompetent or abusive. Some had simply gotten on the wrong side of an egotistical, incompetent, or abusive administrator. Maybe I’m unusual, but in my career I’ve encountered many more bad administrators than teachers. And I mean that in terms of raw numbers, not percentages, of each group. I persaonally am aware one case where a veteran teacher was laid-off because he caught the Superintendent’s daughter cheating and sanctioned her as he would any other student, in spite of being warned not to. The teacher had tenure, but had the least seniority in his dept., and the Supt. eliminated one position (my colleague’s) from the next year’s budget. I could go on a while with examples of administrative malfeasance that I personally witnessed. School Boards can be even worse when a teacher fails to let Jimmy start on the football team and and parents get involved. This is not to damn administrators, school boards, or the public, but to point out that, as Mervel says, teachers’ unions are protective of jobs for some very good, legitimate reasons.

  44. newt says:

    One answer, and I may be the only former or present public school teacher in America to say this, would be vouchers. Let the parents and kid decide which school, public, private, parochial, gets the tax dollars that have been raised for her education. Of course, private schools would be subject to conformance with State requirements. No teaching about cave men riding on dinosaurs because the Bible says the Earth is only 10,000 years old (or the school does not get voucher money to teach science). Let the marketplace reward successful schools through competition. Not perfect, but better. Guy named Matt Miller described how this would work about ten or fifteen years ago in a book called, I think, “The Two Per Cent Solution.”

  45. V. Burnett says:

    Mervel claims that “Of course teacher unions will oppose every attempt at any performance measurement for their members.”

    That assumption is incorrect. NYSUT spent the last several years helping districts in NYS develop and put in place rigorous assessments for teachers. Teachers, administrators and board members in districts all worked together to determine how to best measure the teachers’ performances in their own districts. NYSUT has been fighting Cuomo’s new teacher assessment plan because it nullifies the millions of dollars and hundreds of hours spent by districts across the state to develop their own plans, doesn’t actually measure teacher performance very well and relies too heavily on tiny snapshots of student achievement on standardized tests.

    For instance, under Cuomo’s new plan, the BOCES union gets to choose from 2 rubrics to measure teacher performance across the district. Neither of these 2 rubrics were originally designed to be a comprehensive teacher evaluation and neither rubric works well as an across the board measurement for the vast array of classroom situations BOCES has to manage. But Cuomo’s education experts insist that BOCES must use one and only one rubric for the entire district. One teacher has said that it is as if his job description is to make trail mix and he makes a really great trail mix but the rubric measures how well he makes a peanut butter sandwich. It doesn’t mater that his students can’t eat peanut butter sandwiches and that they need trail mix. The rubric is only set up for assessing the sandwich. During his evaluation, he will have to pretend to feed his students a peanut butter sandwich in order to score well in his assessment, even though he is not supposed to feed them sandwiches under his job description.

    We are doing the same thing to teachers that we are to students; insisting that everyone meet the same criteria and fit into the same box. There seems to be a lot of confusion about the difference between performance standards and actual job description tasks. We should expect all teachers to perform to an excellent standard but we should not expect that all teachers will be doing exactly the same things in their jobs. Chemistry is different from history and they are both different from automotive and from special ed support. If Cuomo had actual educators leading his policy instead of industry “experts” his policies would reflect that.

  46. The Original Larry says:

    Where are the parents in all this? Cluelessly approving bloated school budgets, returning the same corrupt politicians to office and blindly trusting their children’s education to teachers they think are the same dedicated, selfless professionals they remember from their own school days. Sometimes you get lucky and it works out just that way; mostly, it does not. People who don’t pay attention get what they deserve.

  47. Paul says:

    “It’s not really policy, per se, Paul, it’s union contracts.” Either way like you say it “sucks” and it hurts the students. And it is not necessary. There are other ways to deal with the kinds of problems they are worried about, if that is really what they are worried about.

  48. Kathy says:

    I have not read through the comments yet since I only have a few minutes.

    As with everything in life, balance is key. I have been homeschooling for 26 years. We are not only “left-brained”, we are right-brained, too, and it needs to be nourished. Yet, right brained activities are slowly disappearing in public schools. Kids are being pushed to academically succeed. It’s like over-fertilizing a plant. Too much will kill it.

    When something isn’t working we tend to throw out the old entirely. Testing is necessary. It provides more than accountability. It provides good old fashioned discipline that has everything to do with success. If we remove testing entirely, we lower the bar, we remove discipline, and this is important for success.

    So far, 5 of my 8 children graduated with 4 year degrees. Their academic success was important to me. But part of that success was not solely based on 5-6 hours of daily book work to score high on standardized tests. My priority was to build character and create life long learners. Activities (finding and identifying insects, growing a garden, chores, etc) and/or following your child’s interests are important for development. The public schools focus has all but eliminated such things and it’s not all because of budget cuts.

    Think of it like this: we are always learning, aren’t we? Is someone testing us? Why do we take this 13 year period, shove information down their throats, and expect them to successfully regurgitate it?

    Regulatory agencies have had too much authority and I think parents should be more involved in their child’s education. It’s easy to leave it to the “professionals”. Collectively, parents should take more responsibility for their child’s education in terms of seeing the necessary changes to stop this train wreck.

  49. Kathy says:

    Correction: 4 went to college; 1 is entering this fall and I have a homeschooled 11 yr old.

    Also, college wasn’t my goal for them but clearly, a degree is essential for many jobs.

    I don’t discount kids who think outside the box, trade schools, and entrepreneurship.

  50. Paul says:

    “The public schools focus has all but eliminated such things and it’s not all because of budget cuts.” Not in my kids public school. Maybe yours, but since you do not use it maybe you don’t really have a handle on what they are doing?

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