The Save Our Schools March on Washington Saturday is part of a
new nationwide push to organize educators against the Obama
administration's regime of education reform.
What if the education reformers are wrong?
That's the opinion of a growing number of educators who are
convinced that the current direction of reform - despite powerful
backers that include President Obama, Bill Gates, and many
influential academics and nonprofit leaders - is harming public
schools rather than improving them.
While teachers unions and a number of prominent education
thinkers have been critical of the reform policies for some time, a
more concerted effort is emerging to organize those critics. They
plan to take to the streets in Washington on Saturday in hopes of
galvanizing attention around their cause. The Save Our Schools March
has attracted endorsements from well-known academics, educators, and
Passionate and articulate, many of them classroom teachers, the
critics tend to zero in on the increasingly high-stakes role played
by standardized tests, which can make or break the reputation of a
school or teacher - even if the tests aren't very good.
"What we call 'accountability' now is just totally unreliable
numbers that are meaningless in terms of the lives of children and
the careers of teachers," says Diane Ravitch, a historian and former
advocate of standards-based reforms who is now one of its most
frequent and ardent critics. "All they're doing is terrorizing
Attaching so much importance to tests, say such critics, is
leading to unintended consequences - including cheating (with the
recent scandal in Atlanta as Exhibit A), a narrowing of the
curriculum, and the reduction of many schools into test-prep
factories that ignore the higher-thinking skills needed for college
and the workplace. Instead, they assert, more attention should be
paid to poverty and the related factors affecting students'
achievement, teachers should get better support and training, and
evaluations should be more nuanced.
Although the Obama administration has been trying to address what
it sees as shortcomings in the No Child Left Behind law, critics say
that overall the administration is going in the wrong direction on
"This is impassioned educators pushing back for good or bad,"
says Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the
American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, who is generally
an advocate of standards-based reforms. "I think it's clear that
this isn't union power tactics."
In May, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote an open letter
to America's teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week acknowledging
many of the concerns voiced by teachers. He concluded the letter, "I
hear you, I value you, and I respect you."
Rather than appeasing teachers, it unleashed a storm of angry
blogs, letters, and comments from educators who feel far from
"The things you say here are, as Hamlet once said, 'words, words,
words,' but there is no substance behind them," reads a typical
comment about the letter, posted on the Department of Education's
website. The teacher also says, "The education policies of this
administration are the single reason why I will not vote to reelect
Barack Obama in 2012."
Why such disgruntlement?
Certainly, some teachers are unhappy for professional reasons,
seeing everything from their pay to, in some cases, their job
security hinging on tests they don't believe in. Others rail against
the constriction of their autonomy in the classroom.
Sabrina Stevens Shupe, an organizer of the march and a former
teacher in the Denver Public Schools, recalls her frustration with a
district that hired her for her creativity and praised her for the
strides she was making on math with her fifth-graders, but then
criticized her for not following the prescribed curriculum exactly -
even when she had seen it wasn't working. …