Kindergarten teacher resigns over too much testing – and the TODAY show pays attention!

teacherquitsA powerful story got some much-needed attention this week. Susan Sluyter, a veteran kindergarten teacher based in Cambridge, MA, had her resignation letter posted by Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post’s education blog, The Answer Sheet: Kindergarten teacher: My job is now about tests and data — not children. I quit.

In her resignation letter submitted last month, Sluyter wrote,

“I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them. 

“Each year, I have been required to spend more time attending classes and workshops to learn about new academic demands that smack of 1st and 2nd grade, instead of kindergarten and PreK.  I have needed to schedule and attend more and more meetings about increasingly extreme behaviors and emotional needs of children in my classroom; I recognize many of these behaviors as children shouting out to the adults in their world, ‘I can’t do this!  Look at me!  Know me!  Help me!  See me!’ “

Garnering over 500 comments at The Answer Sheet, it is obvious that Sluyter has struck a nerve. And on Wednesday, the TODAY Show invited Sluyter on to tell her story. Interestingly, the TODAY Show, in conjunction with this story, posted a poll on their Facebook page and their Facebook page “exploded”. The question asked was, “Do you think standardized tests are the best way for kids to learn?” The results were clear: 5,692 people answered, “No” and only 41 answered, “Yes”.
TODAY show pollNext time, perhaps TODAY will invite Diane Ravitch instead of Michelle Rhee for the follow up Q & A – though very glad Michelle Rhee got to see those poll results!

Public Comments Sought for New Preschool Competition – deadline February 26th

What are your hopes, recommendations, fears and concerns about federally funded preschool? Earlier this month Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the Obama Administration plans to use “$250 million from the FY14 Consolidated Appropriations Act,  2014 (Public Law 113-76) for a major new competition to build, develop and expand high-quality preschool programs, working with local communities and with states across the country, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.”

The U.S. Department of Education is working with the Department of Health and Human Services on this initiative, which is different from the up and running The Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge.

The open comment time is a chance to give input – ideas, suggestions and comments towards this new grant competition. Here is a bulletin from the U.S. Department of Education with information about how/where/when to submit your comments.

Dr. Doris Fromberg, Professor of Education at Hofstra publically shared her thoughts last year about this time when President Obama made his State of the Union commitment to universal prekindergarten. Below we have re-posted Fromberg’s thoughts – to inspire and inform you as you formulate your comments for the new preschool competition:

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Applause is due for President Obama’s support of universal pre-kindergarten. Below are some thoughts about The Upsides; The Downside Cautions; and Possible Future Outlooks.

The Upside:  There is research to support the cost-benefit to society of fine quality early childhood education, particularly for children from low-income homes.

During the past 40 years, different studies have found a $1.00 investment in fine quality early education yielding as high as a $16.00 cost-benefit return by reducing retention, school dropouts, improved high school graduation, less incarcerations, and improved employment histories.

The Upside: Children from low-income and immigrant families benefit significantly from pre-kindergarten/Head Start settings.

The Upside: There is research that finds kindergarten children attained higher test scores when their teachers were specifically state certified to teach early childhood education.

The Downside Caution: Early childhood teachers typically work with 100% of school principals and central school administrators who have had no required preparation to understand the distinctive ways in which pre-kindergarten and kindergarten learn.

In order to effectively supervise, support, and evaluate early childhood teachers, school administrators would need to understand how teachers can match early learning with a rich repertoire of teaching activities; classroom organization, scheduling, and equipping.

The Downside Caution: Federal funds in recent years have followed the path of the past 14 years of educational funding by focusing on testing and evaluation. Part of the impact has been an increase of teaching narrowly to the test and downright reporting fraud by frightened adults. The testing funds typically have categorized rather than qualitatively or quantitatively improved rich learning.

(If you have 15 minutes of curiosity, I invite you to view a TEDx talk on the economic impact of high-stakes testing when compared with fine quality early childhood education. Google: Doris Fromberg TEDx as well as  Lawrence Schweinhart TEDx).

The Downside Caution: Federal funds have found their way into massive overlays of administrative costs as well as testing costs.

The Downside Caution: More than 95% of kindergarten children attend public schools. Their teachers are required to have professional state certification. Barely 50% of children attend any pre-school programs, and their teachers often do not have specific preparation in how to match teaching with the conditions with which young children learn. There is a 45-55% turnover rate among non-public school early childhood staff members.

In 1993 Trellis Waxler stated that, if the federal government had invested modestly in college scholarships for Head Start teachers instead of isolated bits of uncoordinated staff development, there could have been less turnover, more stability, and stronger educational benefits to the young children.

Pre-kindergarten funding within states has streamed into non-public school settings which might or might not have professionally state certified teachers. Many of the settings drill children in unproductive ways and support the children’s alienation from school.

The Possible Future Outlook: Focus funds on supporting states to require professional state-certified preparation for all teachers, building level, and school district administrators who are responsible for the education of pre-kindergarten children. Professionals are able to assess young children through multiple means, sequence their learning experiences, and differentiate instruction effectively.

The Possible Future Outlook: Minimize administrative costs. Maximize relevant materials (other than tests), equipment, and require professional educators for the benefit of young children.

Fine quality professionally certified educators who can match teaching with the conditions with which young children learn are likely to support the society’s needs for STEM (Science-Technology Engineering, and Mathematics) professions. Moreover, young children who have a richly engaging early education have the potential to become productive adults and informed citizens.

Related References from Dr. Doris Pronin Fromberg:

  • Association of Teacher Educators and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (1991). Early childhood teacher certification. Young Children 47, (l), 16-21.
  • Arnett, J. (1987). Caregivers in day care centers: Does training matter?Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 10, 541 – 552.
  • Bodrova,E.,& Leong, D.J. (2007). The Vygotskian approach to early childhood education. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice-Hall.
  • Deal, T.E., & Peterson, K.D. (1991). The principals’ role in shaping school culture. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office.
  • Early Childhood Advisory Council & Council on Children and Families (2012). New York State early learning guidelines. Author.
  • Fromberg, D.P. (1992). Certification of early childhood teachers. In L.R. Williams & D.P. Fromberg (Eds.).The encyclopedia of early childhood education  (470 – 472). New York: Garland.
  • Fromberg, D.P. (2006).Kindergarten education and early childhood teacher education inthe United States: Status at the start of the twenty-first century. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education 27(1) 65-85.
  • Fromberg, D.P. (2012). Kindergarten today: Is the match between high-states outputs and low-impact inputs cost-effective? TEDTalk. (You Tube)
  • Fromberg, D.P. (n.d.) A comparison of small-group compared with whole-group instruction in kindergarten. Unpublished study.
  • Howard, E., Howell, B., & Brainard, E. (1987). Handbook for conductingschool climate improvement projects. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa.
  • Jerrold, R.H. (2011). A comparison of early childhood linear-academic and nonlinear intellectual teaching methodologies. Doctoral dissertation. Cypress, CA: Touro University.
  • Lazar, I., Darlington, R., Murray, H., Royce, J., &Snipper, A. (1982). Lasting effects of early education: A report from the Consortium for Longitudinal Studies. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 47, (2 – 3), 1-151.
  • McMahon, E.M., Egbert, R.L., & McCarthy, J. (1991). Early childhood education: State policy and practice. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
  • National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (1992). 38thannual guide to accredited education programs/units. Washington, DC: Author.
  • Reynolds, A.J.,Temple,  J.A., Robertson, D.L., & Mann, E.A. (2001). Long-term effects of an early childhood intervention on educational achievement and juvenile arrest. A 15-year follow-up of low-income children in public schools. Journal of the American Medical Association 285 (18), 2339-2346.
  • Ruopp, R., Travers, J., Glantz, F., &Coelen, C. (1979). Children at thecenter: Summary findings and their implications. Cambridge, MA: Abt.
  • Rust, F., O’C. (1993). Changing teaching, changing schools: Bringing earlychildhood practice into public education. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Schwartz, S.L., & Copeland, S.M. (2010). Connecting emergent curriculum and standards in early childhood education: Strengthening content and teaching practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Schweinhart, L.J., Koshel, J.J., & Bridgman, A., (1987). Policy optionsfor preschool programs. Phi Delta Kappan 68, 527.
  • Schweinhart, L.J., et al, (2005) Lifetime effects: The HighScope Perry preschool study through age 40. Monograph of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation No.14. Ypsilanti, MI: HighScope Press.
  • Schweinhart, L.J. (2012). The return on investment of high quality preschool. TED Talk. (You Tube).
  • Seplocha, H.,&Strasser, J.(2009). A snapshot of quality in kindergarten classrooms in low-income districts: Implications for policy and practice. Trenton: New Jersey Department of Education..
  • Smith, W.F., & Andrews, R.L. (1989). Instructional leadership: How principals make a difference. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Warger C. (Ed.). (1988). A resource guide to public school early childhood programs. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Stipek, D., Feiler, R., Daniels, D., & Milburn, S, (1995). Effects of different instructional approaches on young children’s achievement and motivation. Child Development 66, 209-233.

Many thanks to Dr. Doris Fromberg, Professor of Education, Hofstra University for sharing her insights. Now is the time to post your comments at Homeroom, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education. Now it is time to use your “teacher voice”! (or your “parent voice”, “your concerned citizen voice”, or whatever voice you have!)

Looking back at “A Year at Mission Hill”

“What can the larger world of American education take away from one school’s experiences?”

A Year at Mission Hill was filmed by Tom and Amy Valens (of August to June fame) during the 2011-2012 school year. Mission Hill School is a progressive public school in Boston serving about 200 students. This series, which includes 10 chapters, brings the viewer inside the school to meet teachers, students, families and community members. Most of all, it helps us to remember what is possible in public schools. Each chapter comes with a wealth of resources under the categories of “Watch”, “Read, “Listen” and “Do”.

A Year at Mission Hill was produced by Sam Chaltain with support from Ashoka, IDEA, and the NoVo Foundation.  The series website describes it this way: “Ten videos. One year. A public school trying to help children learn and grow. The national conversation we need to be having.”

Here is more on A Year at Mission Hill from the Start Empathy website:

The first chapter of the film was released on January 31, 2013 simultaneously by dozens of partner organizations – networks, youth programs, foundations, journals, non-profit organizations, and schools – all committed to the need for a new story about education to emerge. This new story shows what is possible when a committed group of educators, young people, and parents come together to build a powerful educational community rooted in engagement, justice, and collaboration. And this new story is not confined to Mission Hill. It’s happening in schools and communities around the country (and around the world).

Starting with that release in January, each new chapter was shared every two weeks until the 10th and final episode aired on June 6th. As of today, there have been over 350,000 views of the Mission Hill film and accompanying resources, including 40,000 views of the film chapters on YouTube, an estimated 100,000 additional views through public and private screenings, and 200,000 views of the amazing Year at Mission Hill Prezi (be sure to check it out if you haven’t yet!).

The film series has sparked public conversation far and wide in schools and communities, among educators and parents and policy-makers, and across social media on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. And now the film-makers Amy and Tom Valens are hard at work adapting the footage to an hour-long documentary titled Good Morning Mission Hill.

Here at DEY our connection to A Year at Mission Hill runs deep. Mission Hill School’s founding principal, Deborah Meier, is on our National Board of Advisers. The current principal, Ayla Gavins, is also on our National Board of Advisers. I am the director of DEY and also a founding teacher (and current preschool teacher) at Mission Hill School. As I watch these videos again, and then review the vast wealth of resources connected with each chapter, I am reminded how strong our movement is and I  am energized to stay in the fight to defend public education. I urge you to view these videos and share them in your community – and help change the national education conversation.

Top tips for activists

Today’s guest blogger is Karel Kilimnik. Karel is a recently retired early childhood teacher in Philadelphia, PA. Karel has spent her life working with young children and their families in some capacity. She earned her early childhood degree at Temple University and began working at the School District of Philadelphia where she found a home learning and teaching for over 20 years. Karel was active in the union and had a firm commitment to infusing everything with a sense of social justice and peace. When she retired a mere four years ago Karel became a full time education activist working to save public education. Karel says: “Every day I woke up to find something else evil being announced as private interests seek to take over public education from closing 32 schools to outsourcing almost 2,000 Head Start placements, to laying off all school counselors. I co-founded an activist organization, the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS) with another retired teacher. We have been relentless in following the money in Philadelphia. Decisions are getting made behind closed doors with little pretense of involving the public. These decision makers are the only ones with any money to spend as the governor of Pennsylvania has stripped $1 billion dollars from the state K-12 education budget during his first years in office (as he somehow found $400 million to put into building a new prison right outside of Philadelphia).  Corporate interests masking themselves as philanthropic entities are helping themselves to our public schools and seeking to destroy public education. We must organize ourselves to fight back.”

At our session for early childhood activists at NAEYC’s Annual Conference in November, Karel shared her top tips for activists. We asked Karel for permission to share her tips here:

Tips for Activists

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead

  1. Find like-minded people
  2. Food always helps people connect so bring in muffins or cookies.  Have tea & coffee readily available
  3. Do something fun together. Go see a movie or to a concert or an art exhibit.
  4. Put one foot in front of the other – take small steps and always, always celebrate your wins no matter how small they may seem.
  5. Do your research so that you are prepared.
  6. Support each other. Kindness begets more of the same.
  7. Be persistent. Do not give up. Oftentimes your opponents will respect you for your integrity and persistence even if you are always opposing them. Do not mistake attempts to subvert you for respect – a fine line to walk.
  8. Be positive. Look at what is possible. For this you need to know what you believe in.
  9. Talk with people. Collect business cards. Talk with the reporters who cover education.  They may come to see you as a reliable source of information.
  10. Change the conversation. For example, instead of their talk about high performing schools, change it to, “Every school a great school.” Instead of choice always meaning a charter school, change it to choice meaning good neighborhood schools. Act like a toddler and repeat this over and over and over again.

Thanks to Karel for sharing her strategies! To learn more, check out Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools on Facebook. You can also view a powerful video. Activists and the Media Mobilizing Project TV in Philadelphia, PA have produced the video Our Schools Are Not For Sale. “This is the story of Philadelphia’s teachers, parents, students, and communities who are fighting for public schools that are well-resourced, high-quality and available to all. Watch how local communities are responding to a year of unprecedented attacks, including the closing of 24 schools, layoffs of hundreds of teachers and counselors, and the elimination of school libraries, art, music, and sports programs.”

RI teacher says, “I quit!”

DEY would like to introduce you to Stephen Round. Stephen Round is a second grade teacher who, like many veteran teachers, has been forced to quit rather than remain teaching in a “one size fits all” system that does not respect individual teachers, students or families. As we travel the country, we hear similar stories. We share Round’s story as an example of what has been happening all too often.

Stephen Round has been asked to speak in April at Occupy the DOE 2.0 – along with Diane Ravitch and DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige. For more information on Occupy the DOE 2.0, please see their press release below:

OCCUPY THE US DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION 2.0
The Battle for Public Schools

Administrators of the public education advocacy group UNITED OPT OUT NATIONAL are hosting the second annual event on the grounds of the US Department of Education in Washington, DC on April 4-7, 2013. We ask all of those in support of teachers, students and public schools to attend. The third day will include an organized march to the White House.

The event is a four-day gathering of progressive education activists endeavoring to resist the destructive influences of corporate and for-profit education reforms, which began in previous administrations and persist with the current one. We cannot and will not stand silent as the threats to dismantle our system of public education continue. These threats include the erosion of the teaching profession, excessive use of standardized testing, mandated scripted curriculum, the absolute disregard of child poverty, and reforms which disproportionately impact minority communities.

We ask that you join us, stand tall, and meet your responsibility as citizens to be heard above the din corporate influence. You will have the opportunity to hear speakers and converse with public school advocates from across the country, including Diane Ravitch, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, Stephen Krashen, Brian Jones, Deborah Meier, and many other students, teachers, and community members.

Do not miss this free and unique opportunity to connect with like-minded public school advocates. Come gather information and strategies that can be used to fight corporate education reform in your own community. Join us and make your voice heard.

Courageous in Seattle

There is a bit of a standardized testing revolt brewing in Seattle! About a week ago, the teachers at Garfield High School voted unanimously to boycott the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test. Soon after, the teachers at Ballard High School joined them. Will more follow? DEY shares this story in an effort to inspire other educators to stand up against policies that are harmful to children.

You can read about the MAP boycott in the words of teacher Jessie Hagopian, who writes,

WALKING the same halls once trod by Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Bruce Lee, Brandon Roy and Macklemore makes teaching at Garfield High School exhilarating.

When I look at the students in my history classes, I see young people who may be the next to turn the world inside out. Garfield has a long tradition of cultivating abstract thinking, lyrical innovation, trenchant debate, civic leadership, moral courage and myriad other qualities for which our society is desperate, yet which cannot be measured, or inspired, by bubbling answer choice “E.”

Garfield teachers voted last week, without a single “no” vote, to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, test on ethical and professional grounds. Our student government and PTSA both voted to support us.

Why did we take this stand, now, against this test?

I graduated from Garfield in 1997, went to college, did Teach for America in Washington, D.C., came home, got my masters in teaching at the University of Washington and returned to teach in the “Dog House.”

The standardized tests I took as a student at Garfield were moments of great misery, because they made me feel unintelligent. I had talents, but there were no test questions on whether I could play piano, coach my little sister in pitching, or identify a problem in my community that needed action and write a letter to the editor about it.

Read the entire piece here, in The Seattle Times.

Take a few moments to the comments posted after Hagopian’s piece.  A number of them are from elementary teachers who are also unimpressed with the MAP test for their grade level.

For example:

As an elementary school teacher in SPS, I applaud the staff at Garfield for doing what most of us would have loved to do several years ago. There are other flaws that impact students at the elementary level and I haven’t read them much in comments on the blogs and sites that offer stories this week and last to this boycott. I would love to share.
The test is stressful to little children. High readers in intermediate grades (3-5) will be asked questions that really throw them for a loop. Once a student of mine got irritated with the test and started writing everything down that the test was asking her that she didn’t know. There were 11 items. They included alliteration, iambic pentameter, and personification. These are not things that enrich the life of a 9 year old.

and

Elementary aged children have their reading assessed via the DRA. This assessment is done one to one between student and teacher. I’ve found the results to be more reliable than placing a 5 or 6 year old child in front of a self administered computer exam (MAP). Elementary aged children are also given MAP three times a year to assess math and reading. At the end of the year, one week after MAP testing, students in grades 3-5 take the MSP for reading and math.

As Hagopian sums up:

Garfield’s teachers are preparing students for the real-life tests they will face, and reject the computer multiple-choice rituals that fail to measure grade-level content — not to mention character, commitment, courage or talent.

The boycotts in Seattle are important, as Race to TheTop and the Common Core State Standards are bringing even more computer-administered standardized tests to our classrooms. DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige has published a personal message of support (along with her son, Matt Damon) to the teachers of Garfield High. To show support to the Garfield teachers, DEY encourages you to write to their school board and the superintendent. (Thanks to Susan Ohanian for the contact information listed below.)

superintendent@seattleschools.org

schoolboard@seattleschools.org

You can also write to the teachers whose names have appeared in the news.

Kit McCormick (English teacher)
Jesse Hagopian (History teacher)
Mario Shaunette (Math teacher)

Garfield High School
400 23rd Ave.
Seattle, WA 98122

Teachers’ Voices

In case you missed it, DEY wrote an op-ed for Valerie Strauss’ column titled The Answer Sheet at The Washington Post. The piece is titled How ed policy is hurting early childhood education, and it included some early quotes from teachers who had responded to our online survey. We believe the quotes hightlight DEY’s concerns and help to paint a picture of the where we are today with early childhood eduction. Here is an excerpt:

“I just decided yesterday that what I am doing has little to do with my intent when I became a teacher. I will work one more year and then retire. Not because I want to , but because I hate the teacher I have had to become.”

“It concerns me that policies are being written by people who are not knowledgeable about young children and how they develop. While their intentions may be good, they are setting us up for an epic failure that we have not seen before. Our public education system is at risk and unfortunately, the ‘fixes’ are steering us toward disaster at a rapid rate. It is sad and I am currently exploring my options to leave the profession.”

“I feel disrespected as a professional, my students feel the pressure and the parents are confused. I see kids with eyes glazed who are simply overwhelmed by being constantly asked to perform tasks for which they are not yet ready to do. I finally had to leave my classroom and retire early. Now I volunteer in my grandson’s first grade classroom and cringe every time I see what the teacher has to do. She is testing every time I enter the room. I have not seen her sit with a small group of children and actually support them.”

“Rhyming, reading in kindergarten, recognizing numbers to 30, counting by 2’s, 5’s and 10’s. SOME children can do these things. The problem is they want ALL children to reach the standards and children do not come ‘standard’. ”

“Very simply — much of the joy has been taken away from education for both children and the adults providing it.”

To read the entire column, click here.