Save Our Schools

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Minnesota teachers are among thousands of people gathering in Washington this weekend under the banner of the Save Our Schools conference and march.

Saint Paul Federation of Teachers President Mary Cathryn Ricker will be among the speakers. “Parents and educators across the country are concerned about the direction our schools are headed. We want to have a greater voice in education policy and practice to ensure our students are prepared to thrive in the global economy,” said Ricker, in a SPFT press release.

The guiding principles of Save Our Schools offer a roadmap to a better educational future:

Equitable funding for all public school communities

  • Equitable funding across all public schools and school systems
  • Full public funding of family and community support services
  • Full funding for 21st century school and neighborhood libraries
  • An end to economically and racially re-segregated schools

An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation

  • The use of multiple and varied assessments to evaluate students, teachers, and schools
  • An end to pay per test performance for teachers and administrators
  • An end to public school closures based upon test performance

Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies

  • Educator and civic community leadership in drafting new ESEA legislation
  • Federal support for local school programs free of punitive and competitive funding
  • An end to political and corporate control of curriculum, instruction and assessment decisions for teachers and administrators

Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

  • Support for teacher and student access to a wide-range of instructional programs and technologies
  • Well-rounded education that develops every student’s intellectual, creative, and physical potential
  • Opportunities for multicultural/multilingual curriculum for all students
  • Small class sizes that foster caring, democratic learning communities

No march can achieve these educational goals, but the grassroots gathering highlights a growing consensus that it’s time to stop blaming teachers and instead work together for the education of our children.

It’s also time to stop the tunnel-vision focus on high stakes testing. The most visible results of this testing are ever-growing numbers of “failing” schools and a national increase in cheating that reaches beyond students to teachers and administrators.

Cheating, as a by-product of the high-stakes testing, was described by Marcus Franklin in an excellent article in theGRIO:

One goal of No Child Left Behind — that 100 percent of the country’s students meet state standards in math and reading by 2014 — is “unrealistic,” Pallas said, adding that NCLB needs to be revamped.

“Cheating is not a new phenomenon,” Pallas added. “What’s new is the more explicit system of powerful rewards and punishments tied to student performance.”

NCLB testing is structured to fail more schools every year. Its standard for passing rises every year, so that a school that passed last year may do even better this year – but fail, because the bar has been raised. As John Van Hecke wrote at Minnesota 2020:

By 2014, any child not passing the test will cause the entire school to be declared a failure. This outcome reveals more about conservative educational policy orientation than it helps children learn. Conservative policy seeks to undermine public confidence in public education, greasing the path to continued school defunding. Creating an assessment system designed to produce failure makes convincing the public that schools are failing much, much simpler.

About half (1,048 of 2,291) of Minnesota’s schools failed, at least in part, in the 2009-2010 school year. The results for the 2010-2011 school year should be announced next month.

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