Sunday, December 28, 2014

Schizophrenia of Teaching

The title of this blog came to me this morning after reflecting on the semester just ended. This year, semester-long courses ended before the holiday break and new students and courses arrive January 5. It is a good time to review.

Part of the ruminations included moments of deep despair, survived only by deliberately ignoring the larger system within which I labor and focusing on the details of each day.  It means setting aside an awareness that "official dogma" is in direct conflict with the necessary components for real learning.

Schizophrenia.  When being honest about what could be done in relation to what we are often asked to do there is a clear division.  At times it is impossible to hold the two images at once. It's crazy-making.

And then, in an effort to avoid writing, I clicked through some missives my brother shared, one being Pope Francis' Christmas address.  And here is one of the 15 ailments the Pope sees in the Catholic Curia:
Suffering from 'existential schizophrenia.' "It's the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of hypocrisy that is typical of mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness that academic degrees cannot fill.  It's a sickness that often affects those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic work, losing contact with reality and concrete people."
Yep.  That would be it.  Thinking too hard about education means living a double life.  I'm a hypocrite.  Let me count the ways.

1. Despising the tests that I neither trust nor find a reliable measure of ability (to do what? take a test? on an esoteric bit of old information that students will quickly forget? On a computer that's as far from the real world as you can get?) while simultaneously making sure that every student passes both the reading and the writing test.
Devoting hours to collecting and pouring over data, directing human and financial resources to remediation time and rah-rah "you can do it" sessions to insure that every child passes because they cannot graduate without those passing scores, and I desperately want their 13 years in school to mean something--though it is my firm belief that the tests mean that their degree means less and less....

2. To hating, absolutely despising and decrying grades while simultaneously using them as both carrot and stick to engage students in their work.
Seriously, what is an "A"?  An abstraction for.....I'm not even sure any more.
My students are fully round people.  Some break the rules in creative and disruptive ways, and we should encourage that.  After all, how will change come about if we don't have rule breakers? Others rise above difficult lives, come to school everyday, work hard, but still just don't 'get' what intellectual pursuit is, what it means to wrestle with ideas.  In fact, some students openly avoid any equivocation in their lives.  They want to comply, to have something they can count on day after day. They don't want disruption.  Is compliance an "A"? Is risk-taking?

3. Two days before break I proctored re-takes on our state tests. Every one of the hundred or so students in the room was a 'failure,' having already failed one or more of the tests. Some would return the next day to try, yet again, to pass more tests.   Of course the idea that you can fail the test one day and pass it the next, sometimes by a 30 point margin, begs the question: what is this test anyway?
Every computer in the building was employed and our Media center was a hush of test-taking seriousness--as it had been for the previous six (soon to be seven!) days.
The kids were incredible. Polite. Patiently waiting while teachers helped them reboot computers, find scratch paper and calculators.  Raising hands to tentatively ask "Am I allowed to go to the bathroom?"in the midst of the repeat of a sometimes four-hour long test (just one of many).  Not a peep when they were reminded that their addiction to cell phones would have to be curtailed.  Hushed voices, serious, focused faces.
I wanted to scream: Walk out!  Fight back!  You're better than this!  Hell yes, you can go to the bathroom, and if they won't let you, throw some furniture! You! You're the kindest student I've ever taught. You! You're hilariously funny! You! You're athletically gifted. Celebrate that!
But I did not. I helped and encouraged them to do their best.
I marveled at how well they have learned what we have taught them: This test, on this day, is all that matters.  Your worth is being measured now.
The kids have got it.

4. While working on a strategic plan for our district we listed our beliefs.  And I believe them--every one.  But, sadly, I do not think that we will realize our vision of helping every student find their purpose, talents, and skills in this world before they leave our system.
There are too many forces we cannot control.  Over half our students live in poverty.  Their parent(s) need jobs that pay enough to put affordable roofs over their heads and healthy food on the table. Some need even more than that. The children need safe places to grow and explore before their "official" schooling begins.  All children need a variety of hands-on, playful experiences and a chance to get off their block.  Otherwise all of school is just an abstraction to which they have no connection.  Some of our students have never see the other side of town, much less a hiking trail or an escalator.
Without these supports in place the yardstick that measures success deems them failures before they ever step foot in our buildings.  And once they arrive there we begin to sort them into 'awesome" and 'abject failure,'  perpetuating a dismal view of the world.
But I signed on because if we list and fight for what we believe maybe we can get the wider community to believe it too.

So a New Year's Resolution is in order when going about the daily work of teaching children.  I will follow Pope Francis' directives and strive to be the apostle of  education.  He urges us to avoid the 'funereal face':
"In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity.  The apostle must be polite, serene, enthusiastic and happy and transmit joy wherever he goes."
Less hypocrisy.  More joy.  That is the tonic for teaching schizophrenia.

Next blog: Moments of joy.

Monday, December 1, 2014

UVA and Our Heart of Darkness

All of Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz...

If you think our country isn't currently sinking in a fetid sea of corruption born of greed, inequality, and a slavish adherence to market forces, think again. Read the recent account in The Rolling Stone of the brutal, animalistic, predatory rape of a freshman woman on the campus of The University of Virginia. The scales will fall from your eyes.

The description of abusive behavior perpetrated at the venerable university is physically sickening.

Update: This article is now under scrutiny by the media for its failure to fact-check.  This is a sad turn of events surrounding violence perpetrated on women. However, I stand by my premise that women are being abused and the powerful are ignoring their sacred trust in order to protect their 'brand.'  The evidence for this lies in the student body reaction after the article and the pile of stones placed by women on the campus, with each stone representing an event.  There is clearly a problem.

The case is finally--years  later--the subject of an investigation.  But only after the leaders of the institution have had their hand forced by the publication of repetitive, abhorrent events swept under the rug to maintain UVA's "reputation."  In the modern parlance, the UVA 'brand' must be protected so the dollars keep flowing.

If you doubt a systematic abuse of women on the campus, look at the pile of stones placed on the Phi Kappa Psi porch last week by young women who have been the victim of "a bad experience," as the women in the Rolling Stone article came to view their sexual abuse in frat houses. As in: "I had a bad experience" after I was drugged and then raped by privileged frat boys.

From the article, it is clear that money talks--and that some are more equal than others.

Thirty years of concentrated effort has been centered on privatizing nearly every institution in this country because the 'magic of market forces' promises to right any wrongs through fevered competition.  But it has brought us down to this: we would sacrifice our own children in order to maintain a money-making machine.

UVA, like other public schools across the country, has seen state funding dwindle as taxes have been held low. Nearly all schools continually search for grants, donors, and wealthy alumnus with nostalgic ties to campuses. They pander to the monied elite, many of whom have fraternity ties.  De-funding public schools has been the policy of the right, including K-12 schools where "vouchers" are promised to bring market-driven competition into the lives of all our children.

In the 70's, when I was a college student, most of the funding of state schools was provided by the state.  When state funding was the norm, students found higher ed in easy access.  Who knew these would be the golden years of opportunity to advance by furthering an education?  It was possible then to work a part-time job, live independently, graduate debt-free, and find a decent job.

No more.  But that could be the case if we had the will.

Today we pit our students against each other in a "race to the top" where achieving high test scores and grades encourages cheating and a single-minded attention to scores, not learning for its own sake. Students, too, understand the need for winning at any cost and are mired in a market that demands ever more from those competing for limited resources.

Following a high-school career driven by the desire for a seat at a college--students land on campus where they apparently drug and drink themselves into oblivion. On some level the students must realize their purposeless existence of chasing the next score (money, grades, whatever).

For those who realize their dream (is it their dream?) of graduating into a job, most face beginning life mired in debt where true adulthood--owning a home, raising a family--is pushed further into the future.

We haven't learned much from the past.  This story has been told before (Leopold's Congo, the Gilded Age, Louis XVI).

Concentrated wealth corrupts absolutely.  Our education system has absolutely been corrupted by the same forces.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

There are no magic bullets

This week my brilliant seniors led their own discussion on the epic tale of Beowulf.  It was their first Harkness and they performed phenomenally, as all students will when given the guidance and opportunity to follow their thinking around a text.

At one point both of the classes arrived at a similar conclusion--just one of many they circled around until they were able to summarize their thinking and talking.

They decided:  Humans seem to have a desire to either find or create some superhuman hero who will swoop in and clean up all our messes, while we watch with relief. This "other" will even save us from ourselves.

Here is how one student put it:  "We seem to have two types of heroes.  There are those who are our permanent heroes, like firemen, policemen, soldiers, and teachers who are with us all the time, helping us out of trouble along the way, but we don't really pay attention to them because they're always doing that work.  And then we have the less permanent heroes who come in and do this awesome act one time and then go away."

They went on to discuss how we tend to put sports heroes or celebrities on a pedestal, and that our adulation of these heroes actually de-humanizes and alienates them from the larger group.  (I told you they were brilliant.)

They decided that Beowulf was one of these better-than-real-life heroes who actually ended up alone, confronting the dragon by himself--with the exception of their favorite character Wiglaf--at the end of his life. (For some reason Robin Williams comes to mind.  A man who ultimately had to face his own dragon, isolated and alone, probably in part because we kept insisting he was larger than life.)

Our public education policy for the past decade has embraced this superhero mindset.

After a decade of "education reform" it should be painfully obvious that there is no simple lever or heroic treatment that will wipe away all issues inherent in teaching our diverse student population. NCLB has failed on many fronts and set us back over ten years.

It is a fiction created by lazy and simple minded leaders--or worse, by cunning, Orwellian opportunists who selfishly now wallow in profits based on a deception.

It has also been an easy sell for the public to  embrace.  Like the students said: there's something about us that really, really wants a hero who will make it all better.  These seventeen-year-olds seem to understand the folly in that kind of wishful thinking.

Four times this summer, on four separate reading and listening occasions, I encountered leading educators using this exact phrase: "There are no magic bullets."  In each instance the person--like Richard Allington in one amazing day-long review of research around reading--was refuting the idea that we could just buy a program, plug it in, and hope to lift all of our students out of the illiteracy that plagues their forward movement.

There is, however, a better more lasting answer to the question of how to improve our education system and that is to turn to the permanent heroes who have been doing the hard, repetitive, one-on-one, down and dirty, very unromantic work of helping students one at a time: our teachers.

As two of the educators encountered over the summer stated--there is no replacement in the teaching of reading and writing than actually doing a lot of reading and writing.  And each kid needs to be met at the level where learning those skills will happen.  And, no, those computer programs do not work (tried, tested, proven a waste of dollars).

Statistics show that both of these skill-based "interventions" have been dropping over the years with less time spent on both.  In 1999 the NAEP showed a narrowing of the achievement gap in reading comprehension among high school seniors, not because the bottom came up, but because the top readers declined.  We have not moved that number at all with any of the current magic bullets.  We are stalled.

Along with the "magic bullet" phrase, another theme has emerged in my professional work: a teacher and his or her training does make a difference.  Its clear in our building what happens when effective training doesn't occur as opposed to when it does.  And it is clear what effective is.  It has been studied.  One-shot outside consultant visits are ineffective.  "Effective professional development is intensive, ongoing, and connected to practice..." says the National Staff Development Council.

We have seen what happens when mandates and one-and-done PD scramble the messages of good instruction and the decisions made far from the classroom have to be implemented on the run. It creates a morass.  The one we are currently stuck in.

How we treat teachers -- through both compensation and ongoing, effective professional development--also makes a huge difference in advancing learning.  Because teachers who've gained real skill are choosing to leave when they can.  It is a story that is being repeated over and over.

That critical fifth year has played into many of those up-close and personal scenarios I've witnessed. Watching a novice teacher grow in confidence and ability, through the aid of veteran teachers who are short on both time and energy, generally takes well into at least the fourth year.

When a teacher leaves right as classroom skill is taking off--and the mentors can back off and begin focusing on other efforts--the process must begin again.  It is a long and very individual process and stresses those who are committed to fixing problems the old fashioned way--through hard work and persistence.

To watch a peer walk out the door, taking the training with them, is not just a disheartening, morale-deflator for those left behind, it is bad for teaching and learning.

And it is happening far too frequently.

The impetus for leaving teaching is generally a combination of the reality of the hard work coupled with a meager salary and little hope of real, substantive support-- in the form of opportunities to work with peers, time to shape curriculum, finding resources that will reach every student all day long. Couple that with a dearth of the softer components of a successful workplace that boosts the spirit of those who labor against difficult odds, and you create a "why bother?" mentality.

Time.  And money.  And respect.

There is no magic bullet.

The hope of public education lies in the development of human capital--permanent heroes who live in a grown up world.  One where superheroes don't really exist because the work is nuanced, not simplistic.  Continual learning from others in a community of learners is a necessary part of growing teachers.  Even my seniors understand that solving difficult problems isn't likely through the efforts of one superhuman.

We need to develop teachers. (Which means finding those who are good at developing teachers, paying them well to do that, and providing time to help both parties work on skill development.)

We need to pay teachers better.  Teachers are leaving because the pay SUCKS  to begin with, and doesn't get better over time.

We need to respect teachers by giving them control over their learning and their teaching.

And, yes, we can afford this.

Stop buying magic bullets and get some real work done: grow a cadre of permanent heroes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

NEA Representative Assembly and the Death of Democracy

Earlier this month I served as a first-time delegate to the NEA representative assembly.

As a fan of democracy, it was an amazing process to behold.

Over 7,000 teachers and education support personnel filled the convention hall and were all more-or-less on equal footing: permitted to enter into debate and then vote on over 100 New Business Items (NBI).

All items arise from the membership (50 members must sign on before an NBI is considered), are discussed by the membership, and then voted on by the membership.  My contribution to the five days was to shout "Aye" or "Nay" at regular intervals after huddling in caucuses to debate a stance on the upcoming items.

The annual meeting charts the funding of discretionary monies, so every item comes with a price tag. The ongoing tally is reported throughout the process so membership dues are not overspent.

I learned a lot as a first time delegate.

Democracy is complicated.  There is political wrangling throughout the whole process.  A strategy exists in getting items to the floor, getting time at the mike, asking questions for more information, moving items to debate or referring them to committee, forming caucuses to garner more support, debating on the floor, adjusting the wording of the NBIs so there's an easier price tag to swallow, etc. etc.

It was amazing.  And fascinating.  And definitely not for me--too old (it would take years to form the relationships)--too introverted--too slow in thinking.  If there's one thing I'm sure of it's that I need time to process.  This is a game for extroverted, fast-thinkers.

But in spite of my delight in the true democratic flavor of the whole event, my overriding impression of the NEA RA is:

This is going to kill us.

And by us, I mean teachers and the public schools we love.

Our "enemies" are not operating under the same rules.

Those allied against public education hold resources equal to those of small countries.  And the holders of the resources do not need to come to consensus to get what they want.  Decision making is dictatorial, or at the very least, held in the hands of an elite few.  No debating.  They can move fast. And the money has been buying access to decision makers for decades now.  We are overwhelmed.

Though most of the new business items were clearly student-centered (take that teacher-bashers who think the union is all about protecting teachers) a fair amount were actions in RE-action to the monied agenda.

We are going to lose that battle.

The democratic process is too slow--and tends to the moderate middle.  By the time the membership has moved on an issue the target has also moved, far, far down the road.

Though some alert members have been on top of the reform agenda for years, others are slow to take alarm.  It's taken three attempts for the members to agree to ask for Arne Duncan's resignation.  The majority of the membership had to see the handwriting on the wall before majority ruled. The NEA decision to call for Duncan's resignation will likely be ignored.

The very democratic process we celebrate undermines our attempts to save our other democratic ideal: the common school.

The unions (AFT and NEA) take their cues by reacting to policy, not developing and proposing an alternate policy.  Each NBI that requires funding to fend off an attack depletes resources, scatters the focus, puts us even farther behind, and turns off dues-paying members who do not see an organization that speaks for them.  The power brokers only need to wait until we we talk and vote ourselves into bankruptcy.

It was hard to shake the feeling that we are playing into their game--a waiting game.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Please stop appreciating me

This sounds crass and rude, but nothing would please me more than an end to the need for a week long festival of teacher appreciation.

Let's face it.  As a 58-year-old adult with twenty-five years of classroom experience, beginning in 1978, I do not need another piece of cake or pen that says "We love our teachers" to indicate that the work is important. In some ways the recognition is infantilizing.  The small acknowledgements are like tips given to a favorite babysitter.  We are not babysitters.

Meaningful compensation would go much further in underscoring that teacher work is a valued adult profession that benefits everyone.

We know our work is important, even if much of the country does not.  The work is so important that countless hours and dollars have been invested in the improvement of  practice, including a Master's Degree, National Board Certification, and endless work with colleagues in both face-to-face networks like the Northern Virginia Writing Project and virtual networks like the CTQ Collaboratory, Advanced Placement and English Teacher's Companion nings, as well as a host of twitter chats. Additionally, professional reading through magazines and books is a part of a daily reading diet. All of these activities are completed outside of expected work hours.

After having done other private sector work I have a basis of comparison.  Teaching is engaging, demanding, and often physically exhausting, much different from the other roles I've played in advertising, freelance writing, and radio--there I was afforded more time to do less demanding work, more freedom to set a schedule, and far less oversight.

Teaching is also vastly underpaid, particularly here in Virginia where we rank 30th in the nation for teacher compensation. (But a mere  $10,000 away from the lowest ranking state).   Returning to teaching after a part-time hiatus in advertising while raising three children, I was stunned by the amount of intellectual work teachers give away every day.  In advertising, we charged $70 an hour for much of the same work performed with students and parents multiple times in a day: proofreading, writing, creating powerpoint presentations and agendas, writing scripts, letters to clients...

In spite of having worked with literally thousands of students, expertise in delivering content to sometimes distracted, resistant, or struggling students is not recognized as a valuable skill.

It is.  Not everyone can teach.

Nancy Flanagan, of the Education Week blog Teacher in a Strange Land, and I met ten years ago when we worked together to create the graduate course "Teacher as Change Agent" for Virginia Commonwealth University.

Recently, we teamed up again to review the past decade and the changes in education revolving around Teacher Leadership.  The short answer is "not much."  Teacher Leadership has become a buzz word but is far from a reality.

What would a teacher-led profession look like?  A whole lot different from today.

First, recognized master teachers would be leading professional development, all teachers would work in true learning communities to examine student work, share instructional strategies, and allocate resources.  Teachers would both set standards and work together to evaluate student work against those standards.  Teachers would also specialize in differing roles of leadership like instructional leadership, education management, and administrative roles.

Teachers would be advisors to policy makers, create content, examine the work of other teachers, review the work of pre-service programs, all while keeping a foot firmly in the classroom.  This would mean a division of teacher time with more time away from students (like the best performing nations), and a re-imagining of the educational structure.

The real plus would be in what is gained when teachers are involved in creating and evaluating the work that they do.  Just as students gain the most when they are brought in on choice and evaluation, self-examination and collegial problem-solving lifts all boats.  This is what is already happening in the highest performing nations.

My awakening came in the Intensive Summer Institute of the National Writing Project where we were invited to make our own work the subject of inquiry.  This is where I learned, through the modeling of the institute, how to invite students into their own learning process.  It is also where the sharing of practice helped other teachers learn and grow, just as I learned from them.  It was electrifying and has kept me energized and involved in my work ever since.

The National Writing Project has found that 98% of the teachers who have gone through the Institute have stayed in education throughout their careers.  Stability in the workforce is another (cost-reducing) plus when teachers are valued for their hard won expertise in marrying theory with effective practices among students in real classrooms. This savings would be passed on in the form of increased compensation--low pay being another reason good teachers flee the classroom.

We cannot ask every teacher to relinquish time with family and rejuvenating rest and recreation to achieve the knowledge and skills needed to be highly effective.  Currently, the outliers in effective practice have gained their knowledge by building their own professional networks--going solo and working hard outside of compensated time.

We already know the conditions which create effective practice and these conditions should be job-embedded.  That means re-allocating resources so teachers have what they need most: time and access to good practices.

And that means a fight, because those who are already getting the resources will not willingly hand them over.

Personally, I would start by  repurposing the three-year, $110 million contract with Pearson by the state of Virginia.

I would gladly hand over all my free tote bags and coffee mugs for a chance at that challenge.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

In the Belly of the Oligarchy

Corporate Oligarchy, according to Wikipedia:

Corporate oligarchy is a form of power, governmental or operational, where such power effectively rests with a small, elite group of inside individuals, sometimes from a small group of educational institutions, or influential economic entities or devices, such as banks, commercial entities, lobbyists that act in complicity with, or at the whim of the oligarchy, often with little or no regard for constitutionally protected prerogative.  Monopolies are sometimes granted to state-controlled entities, such a the Royal Charter granted to the East India Company.  Today's multinational corporations function as corporate oligarchies with influence over democratically elected officials.

It is the testing season, and, as I have been required to do every year since we began the Standard of Learning tests in Virginia in 1995, I must sign an agreement with the state before proctoring the tests.

The School Division Personnel Test Security Agreement is enforced by Virginia Law 22.1-292.1.

Over the years the agreement has been revised.  Last year the agreement was "toughened up."

In signing, I put my livelihood at stake:

  • Agreement #1:  "Violation of test security procedures: revocation of license."  
  • And in case I didn't get it, in Agreement #2: "...if test security procedures are not followed, my license may be suspended or revoked and/or I may be assessed a civil penalty for each violation."
  • And finally I am required to squeal:  "All known or suspected violations of SOL test security shall be reported to appropriate school division personnel or to the Virginia Department of Education."  And then the contact information for informants is provided.

The agreement rankles.

Parts of it are downright insulting--"All persons are prohibited from altering, in any manner, student responses to secure SOL test items"--since it presumes a level of complicity or guilt--while also acknowledging the very high stakes surrounding these tests since adults are judged (fired, reassigned, subjected to extensive data-collection and paperwork....) by the results.

So, yeah, some might be tempted to cheat.  Go figure.

We are also advised that "All persons are prohibited from providing students with answers to secure test items, suggesting how to respond to secure test items, or influencing student responses to secure test items."

Okay.  I wouldn't do that in my classroom either, especially if I really want to know what a student knows, but once you start making rules you have to cover every possible variance (hence my problem with rule making.)

But here is where it crosses over into the level of a gag rule.

The following item on the agreement is more about protecting the intellectual property of the test maker--in this case Pearson, a multinational corporation (see oligarchy definition).

The ruling effectively shuts down any push back on whether a test item is a valid one, whether the test is testing what it purports to be testing, or whether classroom teachers can get any insight into what a student might struggle with so adjustments can be made in the classroom to better prepare the test taker.

Teachers are prohibited from:

  • "Reading or reviewing any part of a secure test (e.g. test items, answer options, passages, pictures, diagrams, charts, maps, etc.) before, during, or after the test administration."

The rules, supported by the state legislature, (see definition wherein corporations have "influence over democratically elected officials") ensure that there will be no effective oversight of the test items.

We can't read the test or we are in violation.

Our role is to merely read directions and tacitly support a tool we may not find in the best interest of our students. (But how could we know?  We can be fired for reading it.)

  • All SOL tests must be administered strictly in accordance with the instructions provided in the SOL test manuals.  This includes but is not limited to adhering to procedures for the handling, distribution and use of test materials and test manipulatives, adhering to specific requirements associated with test accommodations (e.g. read aloud accommodation, dictation to scribe, etc.), and reading all SOL test directions to students exactly as written.  SOL test directions must not be paraphrased, altered, or expanded without prior authorization from the Virginia Department of Education through the Division Director of Testing unless the Examiner's manual allows flexibility in providing specific directions.
We have been instructed to answer every student inquiry (whether it has to do with negotiating the new computerized 'enhanced testing items'--lots of clicking and dragging--or providing a condensed version of directions) with this rejoinder: "Read your test directions again and do the best you can."

That's it.

Turn on the computers.  Read the official directions.  Don't look at the test.  Face the potential of losing your license--and your income.  And have your worth as a professional measured by student outcomes on a test which essentially exists in a black box.

Something feels really unfair.

So not impressed with the "technology enhanced items."  Just bells and whistles that are a distraction from what a student knows because sometimes it's the format that trips the student up.  

For instance, on the reading test they must click on tabs to read paired passages.  Some don't see that.  (Even though even more class time is given over to teaching students how to use the tools, they don't always see it. Maybe they're stressed?)

Some students don't notice that the passage is more than a page long. Getting to the next page requires more clicking.  

Many students complain it is hard to read on the computer screen.  The reading test last year took my students FOUR HOURS, people. Think about reading long passages on a computer screen for four hours.

Many items feel like trickery.  For instance, there are items that indicate you should choose "all" the items which fit a criteria.  There is no indication of how many items one must choose.  But you must get all of them (and not too many) or  the entire question is wrong.  That is supposed to reflect "rigor." 

Seems more like a carnival game where the carny is sure to win more often than the mark.

I can learn more about my students' knowledge from a written answer.  

And you, dear taxpayer, should want me to do that.  After all I have a Master's degree and 25 years of teaching experience.  That's thousands of students, tens of thousands of written answers.  I can provide immediate feedback that extends into narrative or a long discussion rather than a disembodied number devoid of explanation.  

I actually know how to do that.  

And I know my students.  I know who is a second language learner who understands a lot of content but is lagging behind in language acquisition.  Providing a simple synonym could help them reveal their understanding.  And I know who has little experience with computers and might need assistance with technology.  And I know who has testing anxiety and could better show their knowledge in another way.  And I know who struggles with attention and could use a stretch or a stroll around the room to get refocused.

Frankly, I'm surprised there is no prison time associated with these rulings. Pearsons' $9 billion in annual revenues is at stake.  There's a lot less profit if you have to re-write the test every year.  Much easier to coerce a legislature into threatening an entire profession.

But I imagine that Pearson's Public Relations division has determined that making martyrs of public school teachers through extended jail time might turn the public against them.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Addendum: Another Meeting

Bill HJ 1has passed both houses in the Virginia Legislature.  This bill is titled "Teacher Career Ladder program; report.  Requests the Department of Education to study and make recommendations regarding the feasibility of a Teacher Career Ladder program in the Commonwealth.

This legislation had wide approval with 97 voting yes in the House with one Nay vote and a voice vote in the Senate.

What does it mean?  MORE study.  Similar to the report I heard at the meeting in 2001 mentioned in this post.

Talk, talk, talk.  No action.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Stepping on Toes or Time to get Rude

My husband tells me I'm cynical.  Maybe so.

But I can't help the feeling that Arne Duncan's speech to the Teaching and Learning Conference on Friday, March 14 (after the press corps has packed up and gone home for the weekend) was designed to mollify a group of increasingly loud teachers.

He called, in effect, for a meeting where teacher leadership would be discussed.  (There.  That should keep them happy for awhile as we continue with down the road in our mission that already has wheels and full gas tank.)

And he promised money for the meetings.  (For airfare? Snacks?)

It reminded me of my first hopeful foray into teacher leadership way back in 2001.

I sat in Richmond, along with other Nationally Board Certified teachers and teachers-of-the-year and teachers-of-the-building, district, state along with other fresh-faced-Milken-gosh-we-just-love-our-underpaid-teacher-prize winners to hear an alternative career plan for successful teachers.

On the last day a statewide education committee which reported to the DOE said they had been meeting for ten years to decide what a teacher does that can be named.  They decided that there was no way to identify accomplished teaching so they had determined to......wait for it.......have some more meetings.

What?!  More meetings?  Hadn't the National Board for Professional Standards already defined the standards and evaluated teachers?  What is the next meeting for?

At the end of an exciting weekend of discussion about changes to the teaching profession, I got a sinking feeling.  Oh.  I get it.  Delay on a politically sticky wicket.  There's a lot of pushback from somewhere.  After that meeting, no more movement statewide.  It's been thirteen years.

So Duncan has called for more meetings.  A delay.  Sticky wickets (lots of $$ around the current system of evaluation and punishment.)

And then he left the Teaching and Learning meeting to urge state education leaders not to back away from testing and fudged on a question about assessing teachers by using the, still questionable, scores from the current blizzard of tests as evidence of teacher effectiveness.

But Duncan did make a comment that makes sense by acknowledging that Congress is dead in the water: change will come from outside Washington.  States will have to make the reforms needed (and he says, to support the untested experiment in the Common Core that is currently underway.)

So, only one thing left to do my teacher friends.  Waken the Sleeping Giant and be the change you want to see in the world.

No way around it.  It is time to get rude, get some sharp elbows and start making sure that accomplished, successful educators are leading the charge in your district and your state.

Don't sit down for yet ANOTHER meeting.

Stand up for what you believe in and make sure every policy maker knows that what is being done in the name of reform will ultimately improve teaching and learning for every child in the United States.


  • Universal preschool
  • Support for underserved students in the form of nutrition and health care
  • A new school day where teacher development and collaborative learning is built into the day
  • New pre-service models that involve a clinical phase
  • Identification of teacher leaders accompanied by responsibilities and income to match
  • Teachers on EVERY task force from the district to the national level
  • A transformation of teacher unions to self-regulating enterprises with the goal of improved student learning
Would you sit back and let your own child suffer through these nationwide experiments?

Monday, March 17, 2014

And now from Arne the T&L

On Friday afternoon of the Teaching & Learning 2014 conference, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed the teachers before a nearly full room.

As part of his commentary he announced a new partnership with NBPTS. Here is what Duncan foresees as his plan:
We will convene a group of teachers, principals, state Chiefs, teachers' groups and district leaders, among others.  This group will take the steps foster real-world commitments on teacher leadership.  This group will announce significant commitments from districts, teachers' groups, and others who want to be part of the solution to make teacher leadership real at scale.
Duncan mentioned other items which indicate that he has at least been cribbing from all of our online and face-to-face conversations, and he knows the complaints.  Many of his comments seemed designed to elicit nods from those who have been working toward a teacher-led profession for years.  Our own words parroted back.

He acknowledged the flood of departures by effective teachers who have given up in despair after battling damaging reforms.

He highlighted places where teacher leadership has made a real difference.  And he gave lip service to the growing debate over the Common Core--but claimed that where teachers had the chance to work with the standards they were loving it.

He also reminded us that teaching can be a rewarding profession.  If, as I was told once by a supervisor, a strong teacher finds a way to do what's right for kids in spite of policy.

This is how teacher leadership has played out in most situations--a ballsy teacher taking all the risks of innovation--working outside of the lines.  Duncan gave anecdotal instances where teachers had created real success for kids.  Now, if only THIS--elevating effective practice--were the policy instead of the exception.

Some heads were nodding.  But many had assumed the wary, arms-folded posture of the once-hopeful teacher who has been duped one too many times into sitting on a committee where their presence was a token nod so the real "deciders" could claim that teachers were a part of the decision making.

Fool me once.....

The only enthusiastic applause in the speech occurred after Duncan indicated that funding would follow the announcement.  We at least know that words without dollars are just that: words.

For the most part, we remained polite.  (Just like my school weary students.  Gotta love 'em.  They are at least polite to the teachers who have been boring them out of their minds to reach pass rates...)

A panel of teachers were invited to question Duncan after his remarks.

The cheer-inducing question came from Maddie Fennell who asked Duncan how he could envision a collaborative workplace in the face of the highly competitive levers already in place--like (she did not say, but I improvise) public VAM scores, graded schools and systems, high-stakes tests, and a races for funding that pit districts and states against each other.  How can you ask teachers to be innovative when the stakes are so high?

For most of the questions, including this one, Duncan pulled out the old politician canard of relating anecdotes of individual successes, as in "See?  It's already happening."  (But only by those ballsy teachers mentioned above. If they succeed, we'll make a movie out of it and rally round a teacher hero. If they fail, new profession.)

On the VAM scores Duncan denied ever endorsing VAM as a measure of effectiveness and found the publishing of scores unacceptable. (Time to go to the tapes?)

For my own part, I was alert when I heard him say "We're meeting next week to figure out how to do this."

So, announce first, figure it out later.  Hmmm...doesn't sound like a lesson plan to me.  I count myself among the wary arm folders.

Disclaimer:  I had forehand knowledge of what Duncan planned to announce: a partnership between NBPTS and DOE around teacher leadership.  Duncan was, and has been, pulling from the report I helped author as a member of the NEA Commission of Effective Teachers and Teaching. Maddie Fennell chaired that Commission.

I still stand by that report as having the potential to help create a real profession since the observations in it were drawn from the current landscape in the profession, from teachers own hopes for our future, and from proven effective teacher induction and teacher-led reform. It spoke to all the stakeholders, including the NEA which was encouraged to assume a voice in the quality of instruction and the preparation of teachers nationwide.

Duncan has pulled from that report before when announcing the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. program.

The what? Yeah, he said that--in February of 2012.

The conversations around gaining respect were held--I held one with teachers in my district--and a RESPECT vision was produced.  The document is "a discussion document for use in conversations with teachers and principals about the teaching profession."

i.e.: Rhetoric.

However, I may part with some of my colleagues in my hopes for the future of the teaching profession.

In 2001 when I began working on policy in earnest, Teacher Leadership was never discussed by policy makers.  I was told by a union activist that she "had a lot of problems with that."  Now there are a consortium of organizations working toward this vision and Duncan has made Teacher Leadership part of his official platform, in words anyway.

It is up to us to make sure it shows up in deeds as well.

Leaders lead.

Though I still have my arms folded in scepticism from decades of being the token teacher, I still believe in the power of conversation and argument to win the day, and that it is naive to think that one side will say "Yeah, you're right" and capitulate.  It will be an ongoing struggle to get things right.  And we are going to have to be rude.

The online conversations must persist.  Our parents need to be informed about the damage that has already been done in the past decade.  We all have to take responsibility for making the change, for insisting on change as a moral imperative.  I sense a tipping point coming.  We have to be alert.

I return to my image of yesterday's posting.  There are two rivers converging.  Both were represented at the T&L Conference.  John Holland, friend and colleague of the CTQ, feels it too.

By far, for the attendees, the spokespersons who married reality with research had our ear.  We loved Doris Kearns Goodwin (the only standing ovation).  We loved Tony Wagner, and Linda Darling-Hammond, and Pedro Noguera, and Pashi Salzburg.

We loved our own teacher-practitioners who brought effective lessons and shared. The rooms where this was happening were packed.  Teachers are getting the work done in spite of, not because of, current reforms.

But the money people were in the room too and the attendees went and listened.  We know how to model democracy.

We need to make sure that the flood of commentary rises on our side of the river and an effective education system for all of our children is the end result of all the rhetoric.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Teaching and Learning from Bill Gates in the Nation's Capitol

Maybe it was Doris Kearns Goodwin's passionate admiration of son Michael Goodwin's Rivers and Revolutions instructional program that brought the image to mind, but this weekend's inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference at the Washington D.C. Convention Center presented by NBPTS felt like standing at the confluence of two rivers.

Or maybe one river and one tributary swollen with unlimited cash.

By far the longest line (besides the one for Starbuck's Coffee) was for Bill Gates' plenary session at 1 p.m. on Friday.  The house was packed.  But that session revealed the gaping disconnect between the world of corporate charity and real teaching.

I had just left NYU professor Pedro Noguera's session on Education and Civil Rights in the 21st Century where he spoke without notes but from the clear experience of his research and work in bringing the bottom up through the only equalizer we've ever had: education.  (His newest book is on teaching resiliency to young men of color, Schooling for Resilience.)

All of Noguera's comments struck a chord.  I still remember the classroom before NCLB. I remember the seventies,  and work daily with children of poverty and second language learners.  Locally we are preparing for the next flood of underserved students which will smash headlong into the boulder of "more rigorous testing" that will supposedly make all children above average. 

Noguera knows the landscape well.  He echoed my world. "We are boring our kids to death." "We were making progress in the '70's when we were paying attention to childhood development."  "Give up on the feds, and even the states, and work locally.  Our kids can't wait.  We need this now."  

He reminded us that America is where public education was born, not as a commodity to be bought and sold by Wall Street investors, but as the only hand-up we can offer citizens to level the landscape.  He told us we need parents as partners in education, not as consumers.

It was a bit of a whiplash to go directly from Noguera to Bill Gates. As an English teacher I would have advised Gates to consider his audience when preparing remarks--though admittedly this involves a leap of imagination into empathy that can be challenging.

He addressed the room of teachers in a boardroom-appropriate flat affect. He indicated that we should help shore up the Common Core.  He needs teachers (now, he has realized) to make the program work. If we get behind CCSS we can make it possible for all kids to go to college. He told us kids need to be better readers.  He told us teachers need to be better teachers.

The audience was polite.  (If teachers have a failing it is that we are too polite.)  

Set aside for a moment that by show of hands throughout the weekend nearly two-thirds of the crowd were already highly accomplished, board certified teachers. And ignore also that we all know with clarity just how well our students can or cannot read with depth and understanding. Even set aside the notion that we are aware that setting high-expectations is a cornerstone to good teaching.  

The argument that more rigorous testing and standards and a college educated workforce are the solutions to the American doldrums is an assumption that is still highly debatable.  But to the very successful Harvard dropout, Bill Gates, college-for-all is the goal.  

Conversely, Tony Wagner, in his plenary speech the following day, indicated that the top innovative companies like Google and other start-ups find GPAs and SATs "worthless."  They are not interested in college degrees, but look for problem-solvers and collaborators.  Our top students generally negotiate the current system of schooling by following rules and meeting deadlines. By that measure, increasing standardization is the enemy.  The schools Wagner revealed in a short video sparkled with activity, color, and students working hard while having the kind of fun Daniel Willingham promises real learning can engender.

Gates stayed on stage to take questions from George Stephanopoulos.  Not much there that I can recall, except my worry that a star-struck audience might get distracted from substantive issues.

After seeing Pedro, Bill seemed woefully out of touch, describing perhaps a teaching and testing system for the children of the upscale Seattle suburbs and not my kids--who miss school to watch over younger siblings while mom goes to her minimum wage jobs--who dismiss the need for homework when they can work through the night at the grocery store, and then fall soundly asleep during Silent Sustained Reading. Or miss multiple days due to asthma attacks, or anxiety, or illness from poor diet, no exercise and infrequent doctor visits, or just stay away to avoid the sheer boredom of spending the days preparing for THE test and then more days taking THE test, remediating for the FAILED test, retaking THE test....

He didn't even seem to understand my own children, all of whom have college degrees and are married to college graduates. Their lives have had slow and rocky starts as they shoulder the shared debt of earning those degrees, trying to start families, find jobs in a depressed market, look for (and not find) affordable daycare.....

Gates didn't hang around to shake hands.

Next Blog:  Arne Duncan and Teacher Leadership 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Educate with Trust in Mind

In the dead of winter, revisiting the Summer Institute.

July, 2013
I have just walked the promenade on the east side of the Johnson Center on the George Mason campus.  Where is the crepe myrtle, I wonder?  

Ah, there, behind the maples which now shade the entire walkway. 

Fourteen years ago these maples were mere afterthought, and the crepe myrtle stunned the brick walls and bare sidewalk with their variety and fecundity.  Now I can barely find them.  I remember watching them flame into color and then ebb as I dashed each morning from my parking spot, surprised to find a bit of the beach and the various shades of myrtle in the land of concrete.

The maple trees remind me that fourteen years is a long time, long enough for saplings to crowd out the salmon, pink, and white bushes and darken the sidewalk with thick shade on a cloudy morning.

In my July—in 1998—the Northern Virginia Writing Project Summer Institute quickened my teaching into a life of inquiry, a place where classrooms could be home to my learning as well as my students’.  And returning to this campus has always rekindled my energy and my focus on teaching as a puzzle in human enterprise.  I like the puzzle.  It’s interesting.

And yet, it seems that I must continually learn my lessons over and over again.  Here in this space, where we have the luxury of time, we build a fire of conviction fed by the sparks created when minds rub up against one another.  The fire will burn through the next school year and, hopefully, I won’t forget what it is that students need, as opposed to what we hand them.  There are plenty of buckets of water waiting to douse the flame. 

What do they need?  They need to be invited to take hold of their own education just as I was invited to take hold of mine.  Things seem better, richer when teachers are merely setting the sail and not steering the craft.  For a teacher, that means providing choice, time, tools, the thing-you-need-to-know-when-you-need-to-know-it, and the chance to continue on a journey in the company of someone who is willing to celebrate along the way.

But all that is old news. What have I learned this time, in this new and different, and yet oddly the same Summer Institute? 

I’m a slow learner, and I like to keep things simple.  So this year I will take just one small thing into the storm.

This year, I choose trust. 

The basis for most learning lies in trust, but we supply it in miserable quantity. 

Trust first that we can be engaged in our own growth.  Trust that our students and our peers already bring experiences we can learn from.  Trust that there can be gain from taking what the others offer. Trust that none of us learn until we have had the chance to go inside an idea and walk around a bit. Trust that the outcome of that experience is unpredictable, startling, unique, and entirely human.  Trust that the blank page will be filled.  Trust that waiting will bring an answer.

I would like to think that after fourteen years I am fourteen-years wiser, but that would be a lie. 

Teaching is complex and intellectual and frustrating and exciting and best done in the company of those who are in on the fun.  Surround yourself with those who grapple, wrestle, dance, sing, write, draw, run with ideas and you will never feel “wise”—just childlike in the face of that endless pursuit of the next best thing.

If you do it right, those people could be your students.

Trust in that.

*Written in the Summer of 2013 as a final Position paper to my final George Mason Summer Institute.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Poverty Leaves Every Child Behind

  • "What Happens When the Poor Receive a Stipend?"  ran on the New York Times Opinion page on January 18.  It reveals a study that occurred when the Cherokee Nation in North Carolina decided to distribute the largess of their new gambling casino to every family, no strings attached.  Luckily, 1,460 children in the group had already been under a study by Professor Jane Costello of Duke University Medical School. She was tracking incidents of psychiatric disorders among the group.  She had a baseline measure and was in the perfect position to track the effect of the infusion of cash, which eventually reached $6000 per family per year.

  • Recently I heard a re-broadcast of the October 19, 2012 This American Life.  The theme that united the four stories were people or groups who managed to "get away" with something.  The fourth story was called "Pre K-O. "  It was about how the governor of Oklahoma managed to pass a law stipulating universal pre-school right under the noses of state legislators who might object to the intrusion of big government.  Now, of course, no one could imagine cutting the program.  A prominent businessman helped in the fight because he saw it as an investment that would save money in the long run.

The results in both of the above cases were immediate and lasting for children.  Measurable and economically rewarding things--sometimes astoundingly so--for both the state and the children began immediately.  The younger the child the more pronounced were the changes.

In the case of the Oklahoma pre-K instruction, teachers and superintendents saw an immediate change in student ability to learn and an increase in enthusiasm for learning, all observable in the first year following universal pre-kindergarten instruction.

In the case of North Carolina, it turns out that the reduction of stress on the Cherokee families resulted in a lessening of mental illness, an increase in on-time high school graduation, a reduction in crime among the young.  As the article states:
By age 3, measures of vocabulary, working memory and executive function show an inverse relationship with the stressors experienced by parents.
In both cases economists see the expenditures spent early in life as far out-weighed by the savings to society.  It is good business for a state to spend money on its youngest citizens.  It saves lots of money down the road.

The evidence that expenditures on children is good for the economy and future investment of resources in social programs--prisons, mental hospitals, addiction programs--has been indisputable and well-known even before Richard Nixon vetoed the Economic Opportunity Amendment in 1971.

Here is some of what he said on that occasion:
Though Title V's stated purpose, "to provide every child with a full and fair opportunity to reach his full potential" is certainly laudable, the intent of Title V is overshadowed by the fiscal irresponsibility, administrative unworkability, and family-weakening implications of the system it envisions.  We owe our children something more than good intentions.
Family weakening.  Pish-posh.  The North Carolina study reveals that the real weakening of families is caused by the stressors of poverty.

Nixon, however, was right about something: we do owe our children something more than good intentions.

The No Child Left Behind Act has been overshadowed by both fiscal irresponsibility (billions of taxpayer dollars diverted to testing companies), and administrative unworkability (billions of taxpayer dollars diverted to the collection of data).

It has been a very bad intention -- shifting public dollars into private hands -- cloaked in the Orwellian language of a truly good intention.  We have been duped.  Repeatedly.

Dismantle the testing industry and divert the dollars to enriching the lives of our youngest, poorest citizens.

Statistics, like the ones used in the two situations above, have proven that the past decade has been reckless spending with zero results.  If we shift those dollars to shoring up our 16 million children (22%) living in poverty,  the impact will be immediate and long lasting.

And we can start to feel good about ourselves again.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Talking Education with Non-educators

It is easy to remain insular during the school year as any private life is consumed by the crowded school schedule.

It is school, school, school without a let up (nights, days, weekends) until everything comes to a screeching halt at the holidays.

Often I feel that I have emerged into another world when mingling with peers who have only tangentially thought about public schooling as it affects their grandchildren, nieces, nephews and neighbors.

After being immersed in conversations about Ed policy with educators for months at a time, I am confronted with themes as they are perceived by the general public.  Angry exclamations from those outside of our realm about what is going on in our schools--or not going on, as they see it--are informative. The texture these big issues are taking in the wider world by those who don't eat, breathe, and sleep educational issues becomes clear.

Though it may be easy to rise to a defensive posture, the commentary heard from the wider public can help us frame a message to explain the broad changes educators endorse when it comes to effective instruction for our students.

What I've heard over this holiday break convinces me that real reform in public Ed needs a framework that will engage a public that only understands one kind if schooling:  the one they had. 

Here are ways I've tried to shift conversations. Also offered are tips for transitioning a righteous rant into a thoughtful consideration of what it means to be educated, something those who played the game by the old rules (and did fairly well according to that system) haven't considered.

Tip number one:  Let your conversation partner rant. But listen beneath the outrage. What does he/she seem to be fearing?

Tip number two:  Rather than going on the defense, ask questions. Whenever possible, tie an issue to their own child or grandchild by describing what a policy looks like from the child's perspective. Link new ideas in education to memories of their own school experiences.

Here are issues which are raising the eyebrows of the general public.  I've had more than one adult bring up these topics as what is seen as alarming change:

Do you know that if a kid fails a test they get to take it again?

Fear:  This is unfair. Kids should get what they "deserve," which is a low grade due to laziness. We will get a generation that does not value hard work. Consequences, like low grades, will teach them a lesson.

Response:  What do you see as the goal for a course?  Is it more important to earn the first score or learn the material?  Try to shift the speaker's focus to outcomes for a system of education.   If you can maintain their interest, ask about their own grades, and what they can recall about particular subjects. Did the grade reflect what was learned?  (I recommend asking about Algebra and Chemistry. :-)) Does a good grade mean you know it?  How do you think you would react to schooling if you always failed every test?

At some point, I reference the many students I've had who've "passed" a course with the lowest possible numerical D and seem happy enough accepting several failing grades. They have learned to play the school game well, content to coast through on seat time, learning very little. (Or, as is the real case, they have given up trying to figure out how this learning thing works.)  Reteaching and retakes ensure that kids who struggle learn they can get help. They also learn that perseverance produces results. The message in this philosophy is that understanding the material is the primary goal--not squeaking by.

This issue is actually a monumental shift in the goal of public education.  It signals a move from merely ranking our students by the skills, talents, and experiences they arrive with through "earned" grades to instructing all students to a level of competency.  When the public gets behind this paradigm shift, then we will have the kind of literate, thinking workforce the biz people are always yapping about.

The teacher had the kids doing these projects and teaching each other.  She's not doing anything.

Fear:  My taxpayer dollars are being wasted. What a cushy job!

Teachers know this sounds like project-based or constructive learning. We also know that managing the projects and keeping students moving forward takes a lot of planning and skill not obvious to onlookers when the teacher is in coach mode. When the job is done well, the learning is deep and long-lasting. But it would take hours to go through the theory.

Instead, ask:  When you learn something new at work, which do you remember better--the directions someone feeds you or the tasks you had to figure out for yourself?

Or:  Tell me a specific day or days you recall learning something in school. Why do you think you remember that? Most will concede that they remember little of daily lectures, more about what they read on their own, reports they generated, and even more when the activity was unique--like a field trip off campus or a play or musical performance which demanded their active participation.  This, you can explain, is what we have learned about learning.  The mind must be engaged.  The task has to be somewhat challenging but achievable (not too frustrating).  Most adults only have experienced this kind of learning at their workplace--very few in the classroom.  This is another paradigm shift for the adult who has not experienced this kind of hands-on learning.

I'm evaluated on my results at work.  It's only fair that teachers are evaluated as well.

Fear:  Somebody is getting away with something (like that lazy, good-for-nothing history teacher I had who hurt my feelings in eleventh grade....)

With this one, the temptation is really strong to cry "bullshit" since I've worked in the private sector alongside plenty of slackers who were never fired or even pushed to improve.  However, reality never seems to enter into discussions of schooling.  Public schools, I've gathered, are supposed to reflect some place that doesn't exist in the real world where everything is "fair," all parties are happily satisfied, and no transgression goes unjustly resolved. Ah well.

Ask:  Do you have a child/grandchild/niece/nephew in school?  How would you feel about your loved one taking a high stakes test in every grade, including kindergarten, and every subject (think art, PE, band).  Now to add to the pressure of the test, imagine that the livelihood of the adults, who have their own children, mortgages and debts, relies on the scores of those tests.  What would the day/week/month look like?  Who's best interest will be served in this scenario?

That usually does it.  If you want to explore other ways that the teachers could be held accountable, feel free.  But, without a doubt, most adults can see that basing employment on the tests taken by children, impressionable, malleable children left in a room for six to eight hours a day with a stressed adult, is a very, very bad idea.

Oh, and the last big issue?  School shootings.   There has been no debate at all on this issue with my adult friends.

We all agree that something must be done about mental illness and the easy access to weaponry.