Sunday, October 25, 2015

School Reformers Cry “Wolf!”

What’s wrong with America’s educators these days? Why don’t they believe school reformers when they say they have plans to “fix the schools?”

Maybe it’s because real educators want nothing more than to work, unimpeded, with actual children.

Maybe it’s because the reformers have cried, “Wolf!” once too often. Or twenty times too often.

Doubtless, millions of educators across the country could add examples to this kind of story. But I’ll start with Rod Paige, Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush. You may recall that while serving as superintendent of the Houston City Public Schools, Mr. Paige won acclaim for the “Houston Miracle.” On the strength of his walk-on-water powers, he followed Mr. Bush to Washington in 2001, where the Texas duo promised to duplicate miracles on a fifty-state stage.

Simply stated, Mr. Paige claimed to have reduced dropouts in many inner city high schools to zero.

Yep: zero!

It turned out later that the “Houston Miracle” was less miracle and more a matter cooking the books. One Houston high school, for example, managed to classify all 462 dropouts as “transfers.” Unfortunately, by the time everyone realized Mr. Paige couldn’t turn water into wine he was ensconced at the U. S. Department of Education.

On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law. Now it was the turn of Congress and the president to shout “Lupus!” Once this blockbuster legislation was implemented, they promised we could erase all racial gaps in academic performance. Follow the rules and regulations and every child in America would be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

So, what really happened? Rules and regulations spread like kudzu. Standardized testing and test prep overwhelmed everything. Time for art, music and physical education were slashed from the curriculum. Data-collection dominated the lives of frontline educators and took time away from doing what they truly needed to do. Days and weeks and in some cases months that should have been devoted to meaningful instruction were wasted. The National Assessment for Educational Progress would report in 2009 that racial gaps in reading and math were not closing. Despite all the time, effort and money poured into testing, scores in reading and math at the fourth and eighth grade levels rose no faster than they had before No Child Left Behind passed, when educators were still free to work with students in their own creative fashion.

Millions of educators on the frontlines of learning knew testing wasn’t working. What they knew didn’t matter. More and more reformers, most of whom had never bothered to teach, added to the cacophony.

“Wolf,” blundering billionaires like Bill Gates shouted, insisting everyone should listen to them because they had so much money. They knew what was “best” for the children and demanded all kinds of new “standards” for public school students. They said teachers had to be “held accountable” for test scores and prodded like dumb cattle to advance in the direction the reformers had charted. But they had no idea what was good for those teachers, and more importantly, no idea what was good for all those public school children. Frankly, they preferred to send their offspring to private school where educators were treated like adults and professionals.

“Wolf,” snarled Michelle Rhee, for a time the nation’s most famous school reformer. Rhee actually taught for three whole years but spent the rest of her time in education clambering to the top of the bureaucratic ladder. In 2008 she took over the Washington, D. C. schools. Appearing on the cover of Time magazine that fall, she promised to raise test scores or raise hell for teachers and administrators. Over the next three years several hundred educators who failed to raise scores were fired.

Others, who did raise scores, received fat bonuses. Then Rhee skipped town just in time to avoid responsibility for a massive cheating scandal. It turned out raising scores was easy if you knew how to ply an eraser.

Across this great nation, bold reformers like Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel I. Klein continued to put forward their new plans. Yes, they promised. They could “fix schools”—in this case, in New York City. So Bloomberg and Klein “graded” schools. And they closed “failing” schools. And they opened up lots of charters.

Sure enough! Graduation rates rose! The racial gaps in performance narrowed! Test scores went up!

At first, there was celebrating in the ranks of the reformers. But it turned out schools under intense pressure to raise graduation rates simply made graduation easier. It didn’t matter that 1-in-5 New York City kids was chronically absent and that this wasn’t actually the fault of educators. Dennis Bunyan, a senior at Wadleigh Secondary School in Harlem, was typical, admitting he was absent so often from his senior English class that he “basically didn’t attend.” Yet, through a special program of “credit recovery,” he was allowed to do three essays in ten hours and gain a full Language Arts credit. “I’m grateful for it,” he told a reporter, “but it also just seems kind of, you know, outrageous. There’s no way three essays can cover a semester of work.”

Next, it turned out that the racial gaps in performance hadn’t narrowed at all in New York City.

Frontline educators knew that most “racial” gaps had far more to do with poverty than race or any other factor. Yet, when they tried to point this out reformers shouted, “Wolf!” all the louder.

In any case, when the State of New York phased out tests tied to No Child Left Behind and new tests tied to Common Core were implemented, New York City’s “progress” turned out to be evanescent.

Scores in the city (and across the state) plummeted.

With the election of President Obama and the appointment of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education new voices joined in all the shouting. Mr. Duncan promised to lead a “Race to the Top” and tame the sharp-toothed beast. The wolf, he assured everyone, wouldn’t stand a chance once he took office.

Something was still wrong, however, and frontline educators knew it. Like Secretary Paige, Secretary Duncan first won acclaim for fixing big city schools, in Mr. Duncan’s case, the Chicago Public Schools. Oddly enough, after he left the Windy City, the schools he “fixed” didn’t stay fixed. Gang violence, to cite just one terrible example, continued to plague the city. School-age kids were cut down by the hundreds  and a focus on testing did nothing to staunch the blood.

After Mr. Duncan moved to Washington, a fresh reformer joined the fray. Mayor Rahm Emanuel claimed—what else!—to have a plan to tame the wolf. He turned many schools over to private corporations to run as for-profit charters. He hand-picked a new superintendent. Meanwhile, one Chicago charter chain made headlines by charging misbehaving students $386,000 for discipline packets. The new superintendent decided to hand over $23 million in no-bid Chicago Public School contracts to a former employer. In return, company officials promised a huge signing bonus whenever she left her CPS post and rejoined their operations.

It turned out there were huge profits to be made by those who shouted “wolf” in the most vociferous fashion. In New York City, in 2013, sixteen top executives for sixteen charter chains “earned” more than the chancellor of the New York City Public Schools. Deborah Kenny of Village Academy led the big cash parade with $499,146. In Columbus, Ohio, seventeen charters went out of business in a single year, but not before founders walked away with large stacks of taxpayer dollars. Across the country, 2,500 charter schools closed their doors and went bust, founders often taking everything, including the last rolls of toilet paper with them. K-12 Inc., an online charter operation, to cite one especially egregious example, paid five top executives $34 million in just two years, 2013 and 2014, and devoted $26.5 million, most of it taxpayer cash, to advertising in 2010 alone.

And what about that “Race to the Top,” touted so loudly and so often by Mr. Arne Duncan?

It turned out that real educators and real students were forced to wade through an ever deeper quagmire of rules and regulations and devote days and weeks to test prep and test-taking, for no real purpose.

After listening to reformers shout, “wolf, wolf, wolf,” reading scores for high school seniors were lower in 2013 than twenty years earlier.

Billions had been wasted on tests and test preparation. Math scores for seniors—after a decade of misguided reforms—rose no faster than before all the “school reforming.”

After all the focus on testing the racial gaps—actually, the poverty gaps—still refused to close.

And, even though more students now graduated, ACT scores remained flat from 1990 until now.

And SAT scores in reading, math and writing (that third test added only in 2006) all declined.

It never mattered. The reformers kept up the shouting. The people who actually worked with America’s youth kept doing the best they could. Here in Ohio, lawmakers said we had to prepare students for tests in reading, math, science and social studies. “Wolf,” they cried in 2002. Educators were fooled into believing. But the tests in science and social studies proved expensive to grade. They were poorly designed, too. So the people who cried “wolf” said, “never mind.”

Those two tests were killed in 2009.

In 2010, Ohio lawmakers decided all the tests tied to No Child Left Behind were useless. Educators would have to be on the lookout for a wolf of a different color. Suddenly, legislators in Columbus and more than forty other states cried out in favor of Common Core! This time the tests politicians were demanding and paying fresh billions to have created would fix everything!

Only this wolf, too, was a figment of the imagination. In 2014 lawmakers in Ohio and in many of those same states that voted to implement Common Core rubbed their eyes—and the wolf they feared was no longer there—and they decided Common Core was a terrible idea.

But wait! Was that another fanged monster approaching? The tests used in Ohio in 2014, and tied to Common Core, would be tossed. New tests would be created—at new cost to taxpayers. Teachers and students would again be required to prepare for a battery of tests they had never seen, even though a decade of testing had resulted mainly in damaging the process of learning.

“Wolf!” the reformers cried yet again.

Only now, educators no longer believed them. The educators grumbled and cried and cursed at all they had been put through, at all the time lost when they could have been helping children.

Parents, too, began to understand. The people who kept shouting “wolf” had fooled them far too often.

John J. Viall is the author of Two Legs Suffice: Lessons Learned by Teaching, a book about what good teachers can be expected to do, as well as a look at what others must do if students are to achieve a well-rounded education.

The story is based on his 33 years of experience in junior high and middle school classrooms.

Now available

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

EpiPens, Peanut Allegries and Big Corporate Education

Why, oh why, am I afraid of corporate education? Do I have some unknown communist gene? Have I failed to grasp reality? What could go wrong if rapacious business types took over every American school?

If you listen to Fox News you know what the “benefits” of this process will supposedly be. The corporations will bring “business efficiency” to schools. The “evil teachers’ unions” will be crushed. Operating costs will plummet. Taxpayers will enjoy huge savings and yet profits will also go up. 

Profits will go up a lot!

Even standardized test scores will soar. (As we shall see in a moment, Volkswagen Group will see to that.)

Why am I so skeptical? 

I’m a retired history teacher. I know what history shows. If you can buy it and sell it, it will be bought and sold, often with little or no attention paid to ethical considerations or societal good. Slave traders, cigarette manufacturers, ivory poachers and international drug cartels all prove that point.

Corporations exist to make a profit. When profits are paramount the safety of workers and the safety of children are secondary considerations.

Or: no consideration at all.

Consider recent stories about EpiPens, used in emergency situations to treat bee stings, food-allergy reactions and diabetic shock. According to FiercePharma, an industry website, the price of these pens has increased dramatically since 2007, which in a corporate world is the best possible news. Eight years ago a company called Mylan bought the rights to the EpiPen. Each pen delivers $1 worth of the hormone epinephrine to counteract the effects of allergic reactions. The pens can save lives. Naturally, the industry website focuses on Mylan’s “marketing savvy,” which has led to a five-fold increase in sales.

Clever advertising, designed to feed into and fuel parental concerns, has convinced many families to buy multiple pens. You need one for mom’s purse. You need another for dad’s car. You need one for grandma’s house, one for school, and one for the coach of your child’s soccer team.

After all, your child’s life could hang in the balance. Or, as a business reporter notes “they [Mylan] really have a captive audience.” In this country, after insurance discounts, a package of two pens currently goes for $415. In 2007, the same pen, with the same $1 worth of hormones, was $57.

An ordinary educator or school nurse or any other decent human being interested in the welfare of children might argue: “Such increases are obscene. There are many families that cannot afford these life-saving pens at these astronomical prices.”

In the corporate world, however, such considerations are irrelevant. Mylan isn’t operating a charitable foundation. Mylan exists to make money.

The more money Mylan makes the better.

So, as you can clearly see (cough, cough), we need corporations just like Mylan to run America’s schools. Just imagine: Mylan High School. Maybe the mascot can be a big green dollar sign with arms and legs.

It’s not just the Mylan example that worries me. We know childhood asthma problems are on the rise all across the United States. But unlike the “efficient” corporate types, ordinary educators weren’t smart enough to see the vast profit-making possibilities. So why not address this issue with the same can-do spirit as the Volkswagen Group? Since air pollution exacerbates asthma, why not make it look like the cars you are selling reduce exhaust emissions? You don’t need to reduce emissions. You only need to create computer software that allows engines to run with power, to emit high levels of pollutants, and simultaneously fake out state and federal emissions inspectors.

Asthma? Smasthma. Our cars don’t cause pollution at all—and we have the test scores to prove it!

You don’t have to look high or low to find all kinds of stories like these. You want “business efficiency” in schools? Then, I am seeing a bright future for the Peanut Corporation of America in providing fine products to school cafeterias across this great land.

Okay, sure, if you want to quibble, it’s true. A handful of people did die after eating peanut butter contaminated with salmonella from a Peanut Corporation factory in Georgia. But only nine! Really, is that so bad? The other 700 victims, who fell ill, almost half of them children, did manage to recover.

Yes, a jury did recently convict Stewart Parnell, former owner of the Peanut Corporation of America, “on dozens of felony counts.” They did sentence him to 28 years in jail. It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to save America’s schools. We’ve got to let the giant corporations take charge.

You want business efficiency in schools? Well, kids, enjoy a little salmonella with your peanut butter and jelly. Emails in the Parnell trial showed the company hid the dangers for years. They knew products were contaminated. They didn’t care. Lab results were often falsified. (That’s how efficient corporations raise scores!) On another occasion, when lab results were slow coming in, Mr. Parnell told employees via email: “Shit, just ship it. I cannot afford to loose [sic] another customer.”

(Not counting those who get killed.)

In the end, a brave new world of corporate education lies ahead. And if your child’s asthma kicks up because of all the polluted air, or he or she gets a bit of bad Peanut Corporation product in his or her lunch, don’t worry!

The school clinic at Big Corporate Elementary School will have EpiPens for sale. Two for only $415.

It’s going to be great.


(Think this is exaggerated? For evidence of what to expect, related to for-profit colleges, consider the “success” of Corinthian and the University of Phoenix when it comes to piling up dough.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Two Legs Suffice: What My Book is About

In a way, Two Legs Suffice: Lessons Learned by Teaching is a book about motivation. 

It’s based in part on my years with the United States Marines (1968-70). I enlisted at the height of the Vietnam War but never saw combat. 

That means I don’t know diddly about combat. So I don’t pretend I do. In the same way most school reformers know nothing about teaching. 

The heart and soul of the book flow from my work with two generations of Loveland, Ohio teens (1975-2008). 
I loved teaching. I did. I worked in a strong community. But teaching is never easy. All real teachers know this is true. None of the school-reformers-who-never-taught have a whiff of a clue. 

Two Legs Suffice includes a pair of chapters about pedaling a bicycle across the United States (2007; 2011), to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Students and staff at my school helped bring in $13,500 for the 2007 ride and I raised almost $11,000 in 2011, as well. 

Both journeys tie into my basic premise. I believe that effort is paramount in education, just as it is while pedaling up and over Tioga Pass.

That goes for everyone on a seat. 

Near the end of my 2011 ride: pedaling up Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park.


Most teachers are good. We aren’t idiots and slackers, as many critics like to contend. We are not the problem. 

Good teachers can do much to help students succeed. Good teachers cannot solve every problem. Good teachers—even excellent ones—need help.

You can’t keep offering up bold plans to “fix the schools,” like the school-reformers-who-never-taught like to do. You don’t fix families by “fixing the homes.” You work with individuals. You help people.

Motivation is key in any classroom. Tips on motivating students feature prominently in my story. 

Standardized testing is doing great harm and little good. True learning has not been fostered. True learning has been stifled.

More importantly, if we want to follow the surest path to improving learning outcomes, then we must clearly keep in mind that two legs suffice.

(That final premise rests on a lesson I used to share with students about Bruce Jennings, a young man who pedaled a bicycle across the United States in 1976, despite the fact he had one leg.)


One motivational tool: STAR Awards for students.
Front cover.
Back cover blurb.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I Hate Standardized Testing. How about You?

When I retired from teaching, in 2008, I thought perhaps I might be losing my grip. I already believed that a growing fetish for standardized tests was warping U. S. education out of all recognition.

Maybe I’m just a crabby old codger, I thought.

Maybe the problem is me.

I don’t think so, though. I still loved my students the day I walked out of my classroom for the last time. I still loved teaching. And my fears have only increased since I retired. I also know I’m not alone in my concerns about the damaging effects of all the testing. The backlash is growing. That’s certain. On Facebook, for instance, you can find dozens of groups opposed to all the standardized testing. I’m not a crabby old codger, either. I’m happy to be retired. I still communicate with a thousand former students, via Facebook; and I get to babysit my granddaughter every Thursday.

Even my retirement check is excellent.

Still, I worry constantly about what we’re doing to a current generation of teachers and students. It’s obvious now that the collateral damage from testing is immense. Almost half of all principals admit cutting time for physical education in order to focus on “teaching to the test.” Art and music programs have been ravaged. Even time devoted to science and social studies has been reduced, because if it isn’t tested, then it can’t be measured as learning.

The passion for learning is harder and harder to keep alive. No child in history is ever going to look back fondly on their years in school and say, “Oh, I loved how we used to do all that test-prep.”

The widespread collateral damage might be justified if bombs were actually hitting the proper targets.

Real educators (not all the arrogant school reformers who love testing) see every day that they are not.

They’re just causing collateral damage.

Test scores in reading and math aren’t soaring. Gaps in the performance of racial groups aren’t narrowing. Most scores on the national tests, ACT, SAT and NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress) are flat as bologna sandwiches tossed under the wheels of speeding school buses.

Or, as we learned recently, with SAT results for 2015, scores are declining! We’ve crammed billions of dollars’ worth of standardized tests down millions of teachers’ and tens of millions of students’ throats.

Only the big testing companies have benefitted.

In other words, it turns out, I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t a grumpy old codger. Or, maybe I was; but I was still right about all the testing. In 2009, I sat down to write a book about what teaching is like—about both the joys and challenges—and my opposition to testing has only deepened with time. I have watched politicians screw around and screw around and keep changing the tests teachers and students are expected to take.

I have seen and heard about all the collateral damage.

The educators I meet tell me, almost without exception—and I always ask, because I want to get the case I built against testing in my book right—that testing isn’t helping. No. Testing is ruining education.

So, the years passed—and I was still happy, not grumpy—and I kept sharpening my attack, until, recently, my book was finished. Opposition to the shifting regimen of standardized tests is now one of the three critical messages included in Two Legs Suffice: Lessons Learned by Teaching.

I believe effective teaching boils down to hard work, and plenty of it, for both students and teachers, and to artistry. I believe the focus on standardized testing is a “paint-by-the-numbers” approach to learning.

I hint at the problems as early as Chapter 2 (The Quintessential Fact).

Then, in Chapter 11 (Two “N” Words and a “D” Word), I begin in earnest to focus on the crippling effects of standardized testing in a story about teaching middle school students empathy.

During a discussion about dehumanization one day, a young lady in my class raises her hand, and says, “Mr. Viall, the other kids dehumanize me. They call me a ‘dog.’”

It was a moment I will never forget, one of the few times in my class, given the context and emotion in the room (we had been talking about the Holocaust), where I was actually speechless.

And, so, it still bothers me today. I knew then—and knew now, you can’t measure empathy with a fill-in-the-bubble-test.

Yet, clearly empathy matters.

Here’s how the chapter begins:


Two “N” Words and a “D” Word

“Folks never understand the folks they hate.”   
James Russell Lowell

I was working out at the gym one afternoon, trying to burn off a few bag-of-chips-for-lunch calories, when I ran into an old high school friend. Ray Spicher spent a career in education, serving as a highly-regarded principal for the Cincinnati, Princeton and Madeira City Schools.

Naturally, we talked shop. I asked what he thought of standardized testing. I’m like an idiot savant when it comes to the topic and ask the same question of every educator I meet.

His answer captured perfectly what I believe is a central dilemma of school reform. He said he thought testing helped kids at the low end in school, forcing teachers to devote attention to their needs. Overall, he thought testing was a disaster.

Then he added (this is not a perfect quote, because both of us were huffing and puffing and pedaling stationary bikes), “I used to tell my staff whatever you measure you’ll get more of. If you test for ‘more cars in the parking lot,’ you’ll get more cars in the parking lot.”

My fear exactly: We’ll have more cars in the parking lot. Some will be old Ford Pintos, a model famous for its propensity to explode in a ball of flames when rear-ended. Others will lack tires and sit atop four concrete blocks. The engines of two or three won’t turn over. Several that run will have the kind of air bags that explode. They’ll be more cars, true, but the young drivers, if they can get them running, will have no better idea than before where they want to go.

I’m a history teacher. I know, when it comes to standardized testing, what history shows.


I touch on that history briefly in Chapter 11, then hit it again in Chapter 28 (Gone, Test, Gone), noting that not only are these tests expensive, not only aren’t they working, but politicians keep changing their minds about what tests teachers must give and what tests students must take.

Here’s how I explain that problem:


Gone, Test, Gone

“Infinite effort and ingenuity went into accomplishing very little.”
Christian Meier

Was I right to be so adamant in opposition to standardized testing? To the very marrow of my bones, I believe I was.

In May 2009, the State of Ohio gave the social studies section of the OAT one last time. Scores across the state remained dismal, though good at my old school. Complaints about content were multiplying. Printing, distributing, administering, collecting and grading the tests cost money. The state budget was tight. So, scattering benchmarks and indicators to the winds, the state did away with the social studies portion of the OAT.

Counting state standardized testing in the late 80s and early 90s we’re deep into the third decade of the Age of the Testing Fix. Yet nothing has been fixed, almost nothing gained. What do we have to show for all the time and money spent? A strait-jacket has been placed on good teachers. Much of what makes education special has been lost or circumscribed. The paperwork burden on frontline educators grows, metastasizes and threatens to kill the host. Bureaucrats tighten their grip on schools.

The IRS model comes to education.

By 2010, it was obvious NCLB had failed. Policy makers decided new Common Core standards would work where old standards had not. All tests then in use would be scrapped.

Fresh billions would be spent to devise and implement a new testing regimen. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia jumped aboard for the latest merry-go-round ride.

Experts promised. This time testing was going to work.

Five years later, many states are backing out. Politicians who care ten times more about remaining in office than students or learning still argue over what teachers must do.

How nutty does this seem? The Ohio General Assembly voted in 2010 to implement Common Core. Ohio educators began gearing up to meet the newest testing challenge. Vast amounts of time and effort were invested, only to discover in November 2014 that lawmakers were shifting position once more.

In 2015, tests tied to Common Core were used for the first and only time. The Ohio General Assembly decided to drop out of Common Core.

So another set of tests was dead.

Brand new tests, possibly based on the pre-Common Core standards used by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, would be created for 2016. If lawmakers had their way, these standards would remain in place for three years. Then they, too, would be phased out and Ohio would develop some really cool standards of its own. Frontline educators, increasingly fed up with political idiocy, could only rub their weary eyes in disbelief.

The merry-go-round continued to spin. Every June, it stopped in pretty much the same place.


In the meantime, we continued to use standardized tests to “measure” what students knew and held teachers alone accountable. Molly Hinker, a dedicated young Language Arts teacher, was shocked one year when a young lady turned in her standardized test two minutes after receiving it. She had colored in the bubbles at random and left every essay question blank.

A teacher may not supply answers, but Ms. Hinker did ask if she might not like to take her test booklet back and try doing something.

She replied astutely, “It’s not my grade, it’s yours.” And with that she headed happily for her seat.

In terms of accountability, we still blame teachers for low scores even if a student fails to show for class sixty-five days in a single school year.

We still blame teachers when kids are homeless and have to worry about their next meal.

We still blame teachers when teen girls get pregnant and lose interest in school.
We blame them when teen boys smoke marijuana daily.

We blame them when parents abuse or neglect kids, who must cope and take tests the following day.

We fault teachers and fail to help children.

And that’s a tragedy and a crime.


For today, I’ll leave it at that. I’m retired now, as I’ve said. I don’t have to worry about kids anymore.

Yet, I do.

I don’t believe for one moment that all the testing were doing helps kids who need help the most.

Monday, August 24, 2015

We Hate You, Teachers, the School Reformers Said

Hello, teachers. We are the people with all the great plans to fix America’s schools. Did you know we hate you?

Yes, we do.

We are not the children you teach. Nor are we their parents. (In terms of ethics and honesty, the public rates you just below nurses, doctors and pharmacists.) It doesn’t matter to us. We hate you still.

Who are we? We are reformers who, in our insufferable arrogance, insist you must save every child. When you cannot—because no ever has—we denigrate your efforts. We question your professionalism. We are men and women who will not teach, or teach only briefly. And yet, somehow, we know it all. We are the Guggenheim’s and Bloomberg’s and Gates’ who have solutions for every problem in the public schools, but send our children to private schools.

In ways you can never fathom (probably because you aren’t very smart) we care more about children than you do.

We prove how much we care by offering up bold plans to save every child. You must implement these plans, of course. We are too rich and important and busy giving advice—and did we mention how smart we are?

If our plans fail, it can’t be our fault.

It has to be you.

Who are we? We are the politicians who hamstring your every move. We want you to save every child by piling up data. Data will save them all! Pile that data high!

Now pile it higher!

We want you to give plenty of standardized tests because lobbyists pay us to insure we push for more tests. We want you to stop complaining in your teachers’ lounges, even if we change our minds every August about which tests you must actually give. We tell all our friends your unions are the main problem in education today. We say dealing with you is like dealing with terrorists.

We want to punch you in the face.

We are the pundits who insult you daily in newspapers and on TV. We are authors of books about teaching, people who never taught, but we know exactly what we would do to save every child if we were in your shoes. Indeed, we blame you for every problem America faces today. We mock you.

We hate you, too.

But who are we, really? Sometimes, we wake in the middle of the night, and we think about what we’ve done. And we know in our hearts that we are cowards. We toss and turn because we know we have asked you to do all the fighting that must be done to save the children. We don’t save a soul.

We criticize. We don’t act.

We weren’t there at Sandy Hook when you and the children were slaughtered like sheep in a pen. We weren’t there when Colleen Ritzer was murdered in a bathroom at the school where she taught. We weren’t there to tackle the gunman at Chardon High. We have no plan to address violence in schools and don’t really care what happens to you. We are the fools in Congress, whose approval rating hasn’t topped 20% since September 2012. We are the governors and state lawmakers who hold out our hands to receive fat contributions from corporate education interests. All you do is hold the hands of traumatized Chicago second graders, or scared Nevada middle school kids who have just seen blood spilled, on the way to, or at their schools.

We are the men and women who act like we know more about saving children than you do, even if you have spent six years, or sixteen, or thirty-six in a classroom, working with kids. We have spent no time in a classroom, most of us, or labored only two or three years. Then we tired of the challenge. We realized we were better suited to giving advice and piling up fat speaking fees, often by lambasting you. “Here is what you need to do,” we insisted, “if you want to save every child.” But we don’t think you do. We tell everyone you are lazy, and protected by tenure, and stupid, too.

We are the bureaucrats who put together studies no one, save other bureaucrats, will ever read, who pile data in giant heaps. We say you can never have enough data, not when it comes to saving kids. We are the types who become U. S. Secretaries of Education without ever saving one child.

Who are you, teachers? You are nothing to us.

But who are you, really? Your students think you matter. Their parents do, too. You are the educator who teaches the painfully shy five-year-old to speak in kindergarten for the first time. You are the third grade teacher who consoles the boy who just found out his parents are going to file for divorce. You are the teacher who helps the fifth grader who weeps one morning at school, after his drunken mother shaves large patches in his head the night before, who sends him to the counselor. You are the counselor and the school nurse who cut off the remaining, random tufts of hair, so the poor young man will feel a bit better in the end.

You are the foot soldiers of education. The battlefield is your classroom, where all the fighting takes place. It is there you labor without respite to fire great kids from fine homes with a passion to excel. And on that same battlefield you try to save the sixth grader who comes to class smelling of urine because he and his mother call a rusted out station wagon home. It will not be easy saving this boy. You know that—even if the people who criticize you so cavalierly do not.

(Or perhaps they know, and don’t care.)

Who are you? You are the special education instructor who must help autistic twins fit in with the other kids in the seventh grade. You are the junior varsity track coach who motivates girls to run harder than they ever thought they could. You are the tenth grade Language Arts teacher who can spot the unnecessary word in any sentence, in any essay you receive, a word like a wart on a beauty queen’s nose, and convince a young writer to cut it out.

This is who you really are. You deal with teens every day, kids who belong to gangs, gifted teens, teens who are contemplating suicide and want to know if you have time to talk. Many of you have been fighting for young people almost your entire adult lives. You have embraced the challenge. You have not wavered or quit. But you are more frustrated than at any time in your careers.

You are sick of the haters who have no earthly clue.

You are the art teacher who fuels a fire of creativity in your fourth grade kids.

You are the middle school band instructor who turns bleating trumpet players into future professional musicians.

You are the health teacher who reaches that obese kid and shows her a path that will help her lose weight.

You are the biology teacher who inspires a young woman who goes on to Ohio State and to graduate school at Yale.

You are the math teacher who feeds the thirst for knowledge of a future Rhodes Scholar.

You are legion. You are men and women who give up evenings every week and Sunday afternoons to call parents, work on lesson plans, attend concerts and games, and catch up on tall stacks of ungraded papers, projects and artwork.

Really, who are you? You are the people who labor long and hard to save every child.

And, really, who are we? You do all the fighting. We talk and talk. We are shirkers in the fight to save children.

We hate you in the end because when we look in a mirror, we see what we truly are and what we are not.


No standardized tests necessary!!!!!