Tag Archives: Education Reform

The People Spoke, We Must Too


It’s no secret who I voted for, but I believe in The People. We live in a country where that means something. I know in 2011 educators met with Dewhurst and he listened. I know others did, too. I know when I wrote my blog post, A Plea from a Teacher that was viewed a bajillion times around the world politicians from all sides commented on it and sincerely wanted to hear back from me. The People spoke yesterday, and it was a resounding defeat for Democrats, but just like the R‘s don’t own Jesus, the D’s don’t own education. Don’t let an election stop you from fighting for the kids, the classroom and what we know is right. Education can not be a partisan issue now. If people let it become one, it gives the testing companies and their lobbyists more power. Most politicians are parents. They want what’s best for kids, too. They just don’t always know what’s best. They won’t ever know if we don’t speak up. Tell your classroom stories. Tell about how the cuts have challenged you as an educator (not just teachers), tell how testing affects your kids, educate the public. If we go around being angry teachers and parents all the time, those “reformers” sound like they’re on to something.

(Another cross posting from my Facebook wall. Sorry if you’re seeing this twice.)

The School Board Speech, A Little More and Why I WIll Always Fight for Education Based on Something Other Than Tests

Original title: Hey, Bill Gates, Reform This #EvaluateThat BUT then I thought, that’s preaching to the choir and this post isn’t, so I changed it…

Since it’s been in the paper, I thought I’d post my actual speech to the school board. I’ve added some comments at the end. I would’ve said a little more at the meeting, but that pesky 3-minute time limit got in the way. 🙂 The payoff for this post is at the end. I might be a little too honest with it, but honesty is what can bring true change. (If you read the TRN story, you can skip the speech part because Ann Work pretty much summed my words up perfectly.)

The speech:  My name is Mary Beth Lee. I’m the student media adviser at Rider. I’ve taught in the district for 20 years. I enjoyed participating once and then serving as a teacher leader in the Leadership Cohort. I have served on the Superintendent’s advisory committee several times. I’m a member of ATPE. Several of my former students serve as teachers in the district and elsewhere.
First I want to thank the board for their service. I can’t imagine volunteering the time you do in easy years and I certainly can’t imagine serving on the board in the midst of such massive change. I appreciate the board and downtown administration. Unlike so many politicians across the country, you haven’t blamed teachers for the problems in our schools.
I’m speaking today as a teacher and a concerned citizen. In the midst of the talk about buildings, I want to make sure the board remembers buildings don’t educate students.
As the Coalition for Hispanic Education report stated, the district is in the midst of huge change demographically. More than ever we need seasoned teachers in the classroom.
When I started teaching our buildings were filled with experienced teachers. My friends who signed up for jobs in the Metroplex were jealous of our career ladder that started far above state minimum and continued with its guaranteed raises that included a little extra on the five-year marks. They were even more jealous of the help mentor teachers gave us without being asked.
New teachers are so important to education. But I’m concerned that as a district we’re not doing enough to keep teachers in the district, to build loyalty to the community.
We need teachers committed to the district and the city. Teachers who won’t use us as a stepping stone to a bigger pay check.
There are several things the district can do to help promote life-long Wichitan educators.
First, it’s been shown several times over the years that guaranteeing pay raises doesn’t cost the district money. Because of attrition and moves pay raises for educators who commit to the district is a wash.
When the legislature cut funding to schools, every teacher I know agreed that we should all share in the pain of those cuts rather than see quality educators lose their jobs. Those lean days aren’t so far in the past that we don’t understand the need for austerity, but I sincerely hope the board is looking at ways to make sure teachers are rewarded for their commitment to the district.
Second, I hope the administration will look at ways other than a set career ladder to recruit and keep teachers. Finding a way to reward master teachers with continuing contracts would help in that endeavor.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know we’re facing a real crisis in this town. Wichita Falls is changing. The school district can help. They can ensure we hire and retain excellent teachers. They can make sure our buildings have depth.
Yes, we need new facilities, but without a staff committed to the district and the city, facilities are like wrapping paper on an empty box.

Now the more…

I don’t think teachers should get automatic raises just for teaching. I think we should have a career ladder with clearly defined raises and expectations for getting those raises that center on TEACHING not TESTING. Expectations like multiple CE hours, pre-lesson objectives complete with what we think will happen and post lesson analysis over what really did happen. What problems do we see with the lesson? What could make it better? Truly studying our craft in action, and make no mistake, teaching is a craft. That’s what a test-centric system misses completely.

The rest of the story…Why the Fight Matters

When I hit ninth grade I developed this weird social anxiety problem. I couldn’t really talk to more than a couple people at one time unless they were really good friends OR unless I was wasted (I didn’t learn about how freeing alcohol could be until junior year. I was a pro pretty quickly after that). I don’t like to remember those days. High school wasn’t easy. I wanted to love it….but…yeah, not so much.

Thank GOD for my small group of friends and my amazing teachers.

My math teacher practically held my hand through every lesson in Intro. Algebra. He helped me see that my problem was a mental block, and he promised me that one day I would conquer the fear instilled by an evil monster of a teacher in junior high. If my test scores had been held against Mr. Brown, one of the best math teachers to ever grace a Burkburnett High School classroom, that would have been criminal. I wasn’t the only one in his class with math problems. He taught classrooms full of us. The best part of this story other than him being an angel is he was right. I would never go around solving equations for the fun of it, but I took the self-paced Algebra classes at Vernon Junior College, and I survived. And that evil junior high teacher that traumatized me so much I could barely see straight in math classes after…he taught most of the star students. He would do GREAT under the merit pay system that considers standardized test scores as the be all, end all.

My American Lit teacher, Mrs. Bo…probably the best English teacher to ever walk the earth…she made me LOVE literature. She taught me to write. She didn’t make me talk in front of the class, but she let me know that one day I’d be able to.

My eighth grade English teacher was brand new. I can’t remember her name, I think it was Ms. Reed,  but I wanted to be her when I grew up. She taught me research skills I used from eighth grade all the way through my MA in English. She changed my life with her passion for education and her absolute belief in me.

My journalism teacher Mrs. Gillespie helped me discover my passion and held me to a higher standard than I ever held myself. As a teacher now, I know she had to see me making those scary life choices and she had to be worried. But she didn’t hold the choices against me. She never judged me. Instead she showed me what the world could be.

And then there’s Dencil Taylor. He taught my college speech class. He told us all he knew we were terrified. I don’t figure I was the first person he’d run across who could barely whisper in front of a class. He made it clear we WOULD give our speeches, that we had no choice if we wanted a degree. I wanted a degree, but talking in front of five people terrified me. An entire class….oh God, that was torture. I had to leave class after my first speech to get sick. He told me I’d get over that. He didn’t coddle me, or let me make excuses. He made it clear I could drop his class, but I’d just be putting off the inevitable. He let me think it was my idea to stick out the class. The class changed my life. Without it, I wouldn’t be a teacher, I wouldn’t have spoken at the school board meeting. I also wouldn’t be married to the love of my life. I met my husband in that class.

The above story would be a great place to end, but I can’t without a shout out to Dr. Hoffman, yet another teacher who changed my life. He helped me see that I was smart. That’s such a strange thing to write, but it’s the God’s honest truth. He and I have talked about that often over the years since I was in his Sophomore Lit class at MSU. Back then he just encouraged me to keep writing. I did. AND I kept taking his classes. AND when I finished my BA, he dropped an application off at my house to start my MA. And he didn’t really take no for an answer even though I wasn’t all that excited about going back to school. God, I’m glad he didn’t let me cop out of getting my master’s with the “I’m too busy” excuse. Those seminar classes helped me truly fall in love with learning. I definitely wanted the advanced degree, but more than that I wanted to know more, read more, write more, debate more, research more. That hasn’t changed.

NONE OF THOSE stories can be measured on a standardized test. I doubt seriously I would have graduated from high school if I would’ve had to pass a standardized math test, but I’d put my writing, reading comprehension and problem solving skills up against any politician, any test maker, any CEO in this country.

I WAS poor growing up. I WAS a mess growing up. I WAS the kid in the gap the “reformers” say they’re trying to save. Well guess what, reformers: your kind of reform would have destroyed me. Thank God for the master educators who didn’t have their careers measured by my scores on a test. #EvaluateThat #QuitKillingOurKids #QuitKillingOrSchools


Testing, Testing

Let me make one thing clear: I’m not against a nation-wide test or a state-wide test or even a district test.

Data is not a bad thing. Discovering that 30 percent of the kids in your class don’t understand fact vs. opinion but across the hall a friend’s class has a hundred percent mastery of the concept….yeah, that’s valuable. And sharing those results with each other is invaluable. And asking why and finding answers to that question…invaluable.
The problem is the answer isn’t always simple.
Unlike factory production where there’s a constant inhuman product, teachers are working with people. People with emotions and hormones and issues. People who are constantly changing. That change is what we champion in education. It’s what we celebrate. It’s essential.
But when testing becomes the entire basis for education, when teachers are evaluated on effectiveness based on the test, when testing companies help define education policy, we’ve moved from using a test to help to using a test to destroy public schools and all that is good about education.
It’s making the WHY unimportant when finding the why is the thing that matters over any other. The why determines the how and the how to get past the why not.
A test can help determine what students have learned or not learned, but it can’t do a lot more than that. When it’s being used as a weapon against teachers, even that effectiveness is lost.
Finally, there are no one size fits all solutions to WHY NOT and HOW. The answers to those questions in Wichita Falls aren’t the same answers in Memphis or Mansfield or Minneapolis. When a test is used as the be all, end all of education that fact gets overlooked. Teachers understand that. More and more parents understand that. Politicians probably understood that at one time, but they’ve forgotten.
I hope that changes before more quality educators get out of the business of changing lives.


Teacher Magic Rarely Planned


The best teacher I’ve ever worked with started one of her best lessons with the N-word on the board.

By the time the lesson was done, several other vile words were on the board. Words of hate and intolerance. Words that destroyed.

A master teacher, she engaged her students in discussion about the words they used daily with little thought. She taught about the power of hate speech, about how different cultures had embraced hate words and claimed them as their own under the belief that by doing so the speech would lose its power.

By the time she was done, every kid in the room took part in a lesson that would last a lifetime.

As the students made their way through my class that day they shared their shock at the honesty of the lesson, their excitement at its reality. They couldn’t believe how much they’d learned, and quite honestly, most felt guilty about the way they’d so easily thrown around the words she’d written on the board.

She was a master teacher who didn’t shy away from tough topics.

That was 1997.

I’ve talked to some of those students and they STILL remember that day, they still think before they speak.

I wonder if the same lesson could be taught today.

I hadn’t thought about that lesson until last week when I read a story on HuffPo about a teacher under fire for writing “You can’t be a democrat and go to heaven” on the board.

Her superintendent said the statement wasn’t part of the curriculum.

I don’t have a clue what the teacher was doing when she wrote those words on the board, but I know I certainly heard those words during this election cycle. I know those words could be a great starting point for a lesson on politics and the angry rhetoric that is so much a part of our political world today.

I don’t think the words would find their way onto one of the tests that run our curriculum these days, but I know real learning can take place in classrooms led by a fearless teachers who dare to engage in discussion about real world issues instead of how to choose the best answer: A, B, C or D. I know because I see those real life lessons every day conducted by fearless teachers across my campus.

The master teacher I worked with in 1997 didn’t PLAN her lesson. She heard the students dropping the words in the hall as if they were no big deal, and she decided in a moment to change what they were doing in her classroom that day.

Great teachers can do that.

It’s scary to think our current education culture could ruin those moments of spontaneity, those moments of teacher magic that can’t be measured and don’t have anything to do with objectives or TEKS or common core standards.

I don’t know what took place in the classroom in the linked story. I do know I want my students to think critically, problem solve and question the answers. Maybe I’ll start my day Monday with the words “You can’t be a democrat and go to heaven” on the board.

***Photo Link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/7777942490/lightbox/ used under creative commons license.


Books out now: Letting Go and Grace is Enough by Mary Beth Lee; Honor and Lies and Dead Girl Walking by Elizabeth Lee. Available in kindle format or from book stores everywhere.

RIP The Week That Was Wasted

Dear students,The anti-education
I’m sorry. I’m sorry we wasted your time this week. Sorry you had to sit and wait and wait and wait while your peers finished the exam that takes everything else you do in school and belittles it. Sorry you’ve been brought up in the generation of test, test, test where teach, teach, teach means nothing unless it culminates in Commended.
I’m sorry I had to look at you and say “no talking, no questions, no, no, no” unless, of course, your question was could you read a book when you were done.
I’m sorry I had to break out the teacher look when the entire class was done within 90 minutes, and yet you had to sit silently for 4 hours in your perfect little rows of 5X5, facing forward in classrooms covered in butcher paper so you wouldn’t actually learn something.
I’m sorry the politicians we elected listened to business owners and testing companies instead of educators about how best to ensure you are learning.
I’m sorry I didn’t stand up earlier and say enough is enough.
I’m sorry I didn’t educate your parents on what the test-only culture was doing to our classrooms.
I’m afraid now I might be too late. But I won’t be silent, and neither will most of your other teachers.
Something has to change. I’m sorry it won’t change in time to make a difference for you.
And, yes, I realize the test is done. I realize that you’ve been brought up in a culture that says the test is all that matters. But, dear students, that is wrong. And while the test is done, class is not.
I’ll see you Monday. I might not be able to recapture a week of lost learning, but for the next four weeks, we’re going to learn without the pressures of the test. Hopefully, the teacher look can be put away until next year’s week of no, no, no. No learning, no questions, no real answers other than A, B, C, D.
If you’d like to bring a book for downtime, AWESOME. I have some suggestions for you, and our library is fantastic.
Perhaps we’ll have a wake for the week that was wasted.

I Just Thought Fahrenheit 451 Was Sci-Fi

The following CHILLING conversation between teachers, k-12 and higher ed, took place on my Facebook page last week. I’ve included my original post so readers understand what started the narrative. Read it all. It won’t take long.

My original post: From TCEA 2012 Dr. Howie DiBlasi
The skills today’s business leaders say we need to be teaching

•Communications skills
Information and communications skills
Effective Communication
Presentation skills
Use digital technology and communication tools to
Oral and written communication
•Inventive/Critical Thinking
Thinking and problem-solving skills;
Creative problem solving
Critical and analytical thinking
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
“Thinking outside of the box” – creativity and innovation
Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity
Creativity and Innovation
•21st Century tools
Use 21st Century tools to develop learning skills
Teach and learn in a 21st century context
Use 21st Century Assessments that measure 21st Century Skills
Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments
Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility
Digital Age Literacy
Technology Operations and Concepts
Ability to apply discipline knowledge and concepts
•Creating global citizens
“Knowing more about the world” – creating global citizens
“Developing good people skills” – teamwork
Learn academic content through real-world examples
Model Digital-Age Work and Learning
Productivity and Professional Practice
Collaboration skills and projects
•Information literacy
“Becoming smarter about new sources of information” – information literacy
Collect and/or retrieve information
Organize and manage information · Interpret and present information
Evaluate the quality, relevance, and usefulness of information
Generate accurate information through the use of existing resources
Information gathering, evaluation and synthesis
Research and Information Fluency
Identify trends and forecast possibilities.
Literacy and numeracy
•Personal attributes
Personal attributes such as ambition, self-awareness and an inquiring mind.
Time management and organization
Interpersonal and self-directional skills
Initiative and enterprise
High Productivity
Balanced lifestyle and capacity to manage stress levels
Emotional intelligence; interpersonal skills
Community involvement
Polly Wagner Birkhead A lot of things will have to change in the education world before this will happen!! But I pray the changes do come and soon!!
Thursday at 8:08pm
Mary Beth Lee Me too! Notice there’s one mention of assessment, and I don’t think it’s talking about TAKS or STAAR.
Thursday at 8:10pm
Polly Wagner Birkhead EXACTLY!!
Thursday at 8:19pm
Brittany Norman Even at the college level, we’re sacrificing communication classes. New curriculum regulations are cutting hours from the core, and the state has mandated that those cuts be made from composition and speech classes. Beginning in 2013, instead of 2 semesters of composition and 1 semester of speech, students will only be required to take one semester of composition and then choose between speech or comp for their second credit. That means that students who have trouble writing will probably opt for speech, and students who struggle with public speaking or are shy will choose to write, ensuring that they never have to face their weaknesses. (Also, without second semester comp, there’s no research component in the core ENglish curriculum… so how’s that for information literacy?) I don’t know how, but we have got to find a way to put people who understand education–who LIVE it every day and see what students need–in charge of crafting curricula and setting priorities. As long as a bunch of career politicians–whose primary concern is ensuring their own reelections–are in control, we’re never going to get back on course.
Thursday at 8:31pm
Mary Beth Lee That’s terrifying, Brittany. Who thought that was a good idea? It’s insane!
Thursday at 8:33pm
Brittany Norman According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (at least the last time I checked), the NUMBER ONE shortcoming of recent college grads–and this is according to some of the country’s major employers–is a lack of communication skills, both written and oral. So what does the Texas legislature do? Cuts down on the amount of written and oral communication training students have built into the core curriculum–and for students in some majors, that’s the only communication training that they get throughout their entire college careers (until/unless they fail the writing proficiency exam at MSU their senior year, in which case they have to take another composition skills course. The exam is given before students can start their “senior-level” hours. This year, the failure rate was absolutely staggering).
Thursday at 8:36pm
Mary Beth Lee The conspiracy theorist in me screams SEE, THEY WANT TO PRIVATIZE ALL EDUCATION. They’re destroying education on purpose. There’s an agenda. But then I shake my head and say, nope, they’re just idiots.
Thursday at 8:40pm
Peggy Browning I agree with the idiocy diagnosis.
Thursday at 8:44pm
Charlotte Wittel Dockery maybe they are idiots with an agenda
Thursday at 8:46pm
Peggy Browning That’s a possibility.
Thursday at 8:46pm
Brittany Norman I think the real problem is that things like communication skills, critical thinking, and creativity can’t be easily quantified, even though they’re very real. The education system in general (at least in the US) has a real problem with misplaced concreteness. If you can’t slap a (grossly inflated) grade on it, give it a percentile ranking, and compare it against “everyone else” (meaning, of course, only other schools in the state/country, because we don’t want to even consider how poorly we’re stacking up against the rest of the world right now) to somehow prove that everyone is “above average” even though that entire concept is ridiculous and impossible, no one wants to hear about it. And as long as the entire system is built around standardized test scores and students, parents, and educators are pressured into seeking “more-than-perfect” GPA’s just to make it into the top 10 percent and get into a state school…. nothing is going to change. You can’t assign a number to critical thinking or communication skills, which means… you can’t attach a corresponding dollar value to it.
And I know I’m rambling and going off on a major rant here, but the education system in the US hasn’t changed a whole lot (other than just becoming more and more grade and test-obsessed) since the 1950s, when a big goal of education, especially K-12, was to train students to become functional and successful cogs in the industrial machine. Our economy is no longer driven by factories. The US exports innovation–at least in theory–and the current system doesn’t provide any space in the curriculum to let students THINK. They learn how to take tests, but the real world isn’t a multiple choice exam–it’s open-ended.
Thursday at 8:53pm
Polly Wagner Birkhead I agree with Brittany! 100%. Well said!!
Thursday at 9:03pm
Brittany Norman This facebook discussion led me back to a paper I wrote in a sci-fi lit class back in undergrad because one paragraph of it fits in perfectly here. I remember re-reading Fahrenheit 451 in that class–I had read it at least a half dozen times already, but had never really focused in on the bleak future Bradbury had been forecasting for education. And… I’m afraid he was right. There are far too many situations these days where our classrooms eerily echo those in Bradbury’s dystopia. The first quote in the following paragraph is one that comes to mind far too often these days.

“Even education is prepackaged and directed toward a quantifiable goal – passing standardized tests. Multiple-choice examinations require no thought or analysis – only memorization. Clarisse’s description of education eerily echoes today’s uninspired classroom environments. “We never ask questions, or at least most don’t,” she laments. “They just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing…. It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not” (Bradbury 30). Class, homework, and sports combine with extra-curricular activities, community service, part-time jobs, and SAT-prep courses. High school graduates walk the stage at commencement with a mind full of facts and simplified answers they were never taught to question. No one learns to think because thought cannot be tested, measured, and ranked. Instead, education focuses on tangible skills. College students no longer crave knowledge; they build rĂ©sumĂ©s. Bradbury’s antagonistic fire chief echoed the sentiments of many degree candidates: “Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?” (Bradbury 56). Enrollment in pre-professional programs skyrockets while the arts and humanities flounder. Graduates yearn for assured employment, functional cogs in the corporate consumer machine. Interchangeable parts require only efficiency, not imagination. When that machine inevitably succumbs to obsolescence, there might be no one left to re-invent it.”
Thursday at 9:44pm

Breaking Through Comfort Zones

“Mrs. Leeeeeeee, I don’t wannaaaaaa. What if my teachers say I can’ttttttttt?”

Here’s the deal. I’ve been accused of picking favorites. Look me up on teacher sites, and you’ll see it. I admitted to the class where a student asked the above question that it’s true. I do pick favorites. Do your work? You’re a favorite. Don’t? You’re not.
Truth. Might be wrong, but it is what it is.
Does that mean I won’t work with you? Nope. Does it mean I’m going to let you skate by being a solid C-D-F student and not jump up and down, tease, cajole, insist, call your parents, make you call your parents while I’m standing there (great idea from a great English teacher), do everything in my power to make you one of my favorites? Nope. If you’re in my class, I don’t plan on letting you skate (unless you bring skates to the room. It’s big enough now to do that.). In fact, if you’re not doing your work, I’m going to make you as uncomfortable as I can. If you’re not doing your work and you’re comfortable in my classroom, I’m not doing my job.
The girl with the above quote? She’s one of my favorites. Most of my students fit that bill.
I’m in the middle of revamping my program. Because of that, I’m pushing kids out of their comfort zones. I figure the above conversation intro will be repeated time and time again over the next six weeks. The next couple weeks we’re touching on photography. We’re using Walsworth’s curriculum and taking it step by step. Step one: Visual Storytelling. I knew she was going to freak when I told all of the students they were doing this. It took six months to get her comfortable with interviewing. If I’d let her sit in front of the computer and design or write editorials and reviews–especially book reviews, she’d be in HEAVEN. But I wouldn’t be doing my job.
So I made her take the photos and narrow them down to 5-7 to tell a story. She has to have a lead image, variety and a closer.
I’m gone to Regionals tomorrow. I can’t wait to see what she has when I get back. And if she still needs to do the work, I know I can get her to do it when I’m back. Because she’s that kid. She wants to do a good job. She CAN do a good job. But she’s afraid.
She’s afraid of people looking at her while she’s holding the camera, of teachers telling her to put the camera away, of doing the work wrong, of doing something she really has no idea how to do because my instructions after an overview of visual storytelling were pretty general: Find a Rider story and tell it photographically.
She wants specifics. And she wants to hide. And she wants to be comfortable.
Not going to happen.
And when we’re done, maybe not this time–or the next–or the next, but before she leaves my program, she’ll have learned how to get out of her comfort zone. How when you walk into a room sure of yourself and your mission, people generally let you go about your business, especially when you have a press pass.
And while I’m teaching her and the other kids in my program, I’m teaching myself the same thing.
Because once upon a time, I WAS AFRAID. I didn’t want to be noticed. I was afraid of failure and wanted to be left alone in the world of newspaper and yearbook advising, and I didn’t want to worry about other technology or education reform or campus leadership. Once upon a time the only people who knew my thoughts and feelings were close friends. But a good teacher friend of mine who taught debate and WFISD’s Leadership Cohort changed me.
And if I don’t get her out of HER comfort zone, I’m letting that old me come back into the picture. Not going to happen.

Building on the Values of No Child Left Behind

Since NCLB took hold we’ve seen entire generations of children taught to bubble in answers like pros while losing the ability to problem solve and think critically. Our schools are earning “Exemplary” ratings, and yet, the only subjects students learn are those measured by a test. Testing companies and their lobbyists are earning billions while school districts try to balance budgets. Teachers and administrators across the nation are calling for change, but politicians and lobbyists–most of whom have never set foot in a public school–continue to beat the drum of test, test, test. The test in and of itself is not the problem. Having a tool to measure data is a good thing. The problem is politicians bought into testing company lies that the test was the salvation of education. And then they tied everything we do in education to that lie. Instead of investing in great teacher training and effective strategies for everything from classroom management to best learning practices, we invest in hour upon hour of “How to actively monitor a test” and “keeping the test secure.” (more)
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

(continued) The test has done nothing to improve teaching other than helping teachers learn to analyze data. While that’s not a bad thing, when it comes at the expense of actual student learning, it’s terrible.
Has their been some success in closing the achievement gap? Yes. Would that success happen without NCLB and its test driven theory that has created big business for Pearson, et al? Yes. We were already working on best practices before NCLB. True best practices, not best test taking practices. Reading this post, I have to wonder if the author has even looked at the exit-level tests we’re giving children today. If not, he should. And then he should take a released practice test, publish his results and then talk about how the test translates into real world learning and how NCLB saved education. Talk to professors and they’ll tell you the truth: today’s students aren’t prepared for post-secondary learning, but they are expert standardized test takers. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see standardized test taker as a great career path for any student, regardless of socioeconomic class.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Killing the Profession, One Teacher At a Time

How has the current test driven culture helped public education? The only data driven results I see supporting a test as a solution to our education ills are results gathered and disseminated by testing companies and those with interests in testing companies. Average SAT scores have remained somewhat steady since the 70s. Professors across the board say our students are more unprepared for college than they’ve ever been and business leaders say we need students who understand how to problem solve, work collaboratively and think outside the box. I don’t know when you went to school, but I graduated in the 80s. I didn’t take honor classes. I took the required curriculum, graduated somewhere in the middle of my class and went to my local university, where I started my freshman year with bad grades due to poor decisions but learned through trial and error how to make the grade. I am a successful, productive member of society. I graduated with others who went on to be nuclear engineers, Peace Corps volunteers, CPAs, Cadillac driving Mary Kay Directors. NONE of them took and passed state and federal mandated tests to become successful. Come to think of it, neither did any of the leaders in the US who happened to make their way through public education before tests took over in 1998.

I wrote the above on Facebook today. I’m so tired of hearing how the US has a failing education system, and the test is the only way to see that failure and correct it.
I’m all for using best practices in the classroom: vertical and horizontal alignment, project based learning, portfolios, scaffolding, the list goes on and on and on. Instead of spending so many billions on tests, perhaps public school systems would be better served training teachers to excel on their fields. I learned more from watching master teachers like Sheila Curlin, Anne Patterson, David Knight, Lori Oglesbee and Bobby Hawthorne at work in the classroom than I ever learned from a textbook or a canned lesson courtesy of a textbook supplier. I get more from honest student feedback on evaluations than I do from the 1 or 2-day observation from my admin. Aside: My administration team rocks. They are the BEST ever, but those evaluations aren’t all that helpful. I enjoy their visits to my classroom because I like to hear their thoughts on my lessons. What would be more helpful: visits from master teachers and novice teachers in my school, and then time for us to share observations from those visits.
My district’s Leadership Academy challenged me to be a better teacher, inspired me to do more in the classroom, gave me tons of tools to use on more than teaching to a test.

Back to my original Facebook post: I went to school in the time before the test. To hear a test is the only way to keep teachers accountable is a slap in my teachers’ faces. I remember four teachers from high school who didn’t do much to challenge me in the classroom. A test wouldn’t have fixed that. What I remember more are the amazing teachers who left a lasting legacy at Burkburnett High School. If I had grown up in the testing world, I’m not sure I’d remember those teachers because I’m not sure they would have lasted in the classroom.

The Only Wrong Answer: Silence

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. –Martin Luther King Jr.

I never expected my Plea From a Teacher letter to go viral. I blog about education issues all the time. I even helped lead a local Save Texas Schools rally last year. The fact that so many people (around 3000 that I know of after less than 48 hours) have read the post and shared it by retweeting, posting on Facebook, commenting here on the blog or privately, gives me hope that we can change the direction of education today.
If you’re in Texas, the Save Texas Schools rally is in Austin March 24 from 11-2:30 at the capitol. You should be there and make your voices heard. We can’t wait for the Texas Legislature to be in session to get involved in the dialogue. We need to be out there now. If you’re not in Texas, get involved in your state.
Also, teachers, make sure you’re talking to parents. Parents are as frustrated as we are. AND don’t believe for a minute this is a teachers vs administrators issue. Trust me when I say administrators at all levels are as frustrated by the state of public education as classroom teachers are.
Current educators need to be the driving force of education reform. NOT business owners, not testing companies, not media pundits. We cannot sit silently while children suffer and school systems collapse. We must be vocal about change. The world has changed and education has changed along with it. Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Finally, remember, tests aren’t evil. Tests are simply supposed to be tools to measure data. When tests drive everything about education, that’s a problem. Check out this link for more on that. Be prepared to be stunned by how we ended up with this test-centered public education atmosphere. I certainly was. Now more than ever I know it’s time to speak up.
Thank you.

Follow me on twitter @marybethleeybnp