Hey there! It’s Amy Dubé M.Ed.!

cekyurskGuest Blogger Amy Dubé, M.Ed. responds to Myopic Globe Editorial on February 12

In a recent February 12 Globe editorial titled “The MTA’s Myopic Agenda”, the first line reveals the author’s purpose, “FRESH OFF A victory on Question 2, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, led by combative firebrand Barbara Madeloni…”

Clearly, this editorial writer is still feeling the sting of the overwhelming NO on #2 vote. The taxpayers, parents, and teachers have spoken in support of Massachusetts students. Yet still, this editorial, a thinly veiled attack on Barbara Madeloni as well as Massachusetts teachers, is filled with vitriol over the powerful pushback of the voters against lifting the charter cap. The February 12 editorial is quite a slap in the face to voters, parents, students, and the teachers that work so hard for their success.

As the editorial contributor correctly explained, “The MTA wants a three-year moratorium on those tests, with the goal of nixing them entirely.” That’s the only thing this editorial got right.

But why does the MTA want a three-year moratorium on those high stakes tests?
Is the MTA truly a myopic agenda, or are there nuances that the writer of this simplistic editorial failed to see?

The stakes are so high that schools are forced to teach to these tests. It forces publishers to simulate the tests. It forces school districts to purchase curriculum from these publishers based on these tests. There are companies like ANet and Iready that districts hire just to simulate these tests quarterly in order to train students to perform for these tests.

How does this affect children?

Senator Michael Rush, D-West Roxbury, is to be commended for being the brave lead Senate sponsor of the MTA legislation. As a champion of student well-being and the meeting of student developmental needs, he explains, “A lot of these concerns I have had…Largely, they feel students are being over-tested.”

The bill would also rewrite school-turnaround legislation which is badly needed. The bill would limit the states hand in intervening. Why does the state want to intervene with underperforming schools? To meet student needs? No. To push charters. Charters are a great way to bring “innovation” to districts. And by innovation, this means less qualified, less experienced administrators, higher faculty turnover, lack of budget transparency, concerning suspension rates and teachers with minimum to zero certifications for their positions. In urban areas with transient students as well as students with recent acquisition of the English language, students need stability and expertise. Charter school “innovation” brings them the opposite of what they need.

It is myopic to think that Massachusetts teachers do not care about student success or even foster student failure. The only thing the editorialist did a fine job with was perverting what the heart of the bill is actually about – the developmental appropriateness of instruction and the meeting students’ needs.
Vygotski, renown psychologist and researcher of the theory of human cultural as well as bio-social development coined the term Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). ZPD explains the sweet spot in instruction where student learning is maximized. Instruction fails when it is too hard or too easy. The most learning takes place just outside the students’ current level of performance – not levels and levels above a student’s current ability.

I teach grade six students in an urban Massachusetts school district. Our brand-new curriculum by Harcourt, Reinhart, Mifflin is geared toward the tests. Currently my students are tackling a New York Times article featured in our grade 6 textbook and indicative of the level of most of the selections within our textbook.

The New York Times is written college level. It isn’t exactly high interest reading for your average twelve-year -old. Below are excerpts from our grade 6 textbook from 2012 New York Times article “Defined by What They Wore” by Guy Tremblay.

“And there, in the lightless saline netherworld, a vest, a trilby hat, a pair of laced boots, a belted valise and an alligator bag (along with a huge range of artifacts) lay scattered across a broad apron of remnants…”

“…she covered her office walls with photographs of the Titanic’s passengers to absorb the sartorial elements that enliven character. The removable celluloid collars with laundry marks inside, the man’s vest with a single vertical buttonhole for a watch chain and fob, the homespun finery packed away by village girls as a trousseau for an imaginary future…”

“At a minimum, the sartorial details convey some overlooked information: people were generally smaller in 1912, had tidier heads, more-compact torsos, less-capacious lungs.”

“Our clothing is an amalgam of what we are: the shoes, the vest, the trousers, the suit jacket purchased at different times…”

“Though they largely passed into legend, those who lost their lives in the epoch-making shipwreck were never “characters,” said Deborah Nadoolman Landis, the curator of “Hollywood Costume,” an exhibition exploring the role costume design plays in cinema history that will open in October at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.”

“Fixed and flattened in memory by the shock of disaster, the realities of the Titanic become available to nuanced interpretation only now, a century later, just as with the sale this week of the hats and vests and shoes and watches saved from the ocean, come into wider view.”

“A surprising amount of ephemera defied logic to survive the sinking of the unsinkable ocean liner that went to the bottom 100 years ago on April 15.”
“Yet the lives at the heart of the story are easily forgotten, transformed into facile metaphors and symbols of gender and class.”

“Clothes, said Lisa Cohen, a biographer whose book “All We Know” delineates the lives of three early modernist women— Mercedes de Acosta, Madge Garland, Esther Murphy—in part by using the “soft history” of fashion to demonstrate that our surfaces elucidate “our depths,” as the author said.”

“Among the aspects of the story most laden with pathos is the contemporary depiction of bodies frozen into life jackets .”

These excerpts from the grade 6 textbook are not anomalies. Rather, they are indicative of the selections throughout the newly adopted curriculum. They point to a curriculum laden with pathos and lack of student joie de vie.

The February 12 Globe editorialist fumes, “Teachers unions have long had an ambivalent stance on education reform?” How so? They are pushing for a bill that supports the developmental appropriateness of instruction and maximizes student growth.

“Our best-in-the-nation status was achieved,” as the editorialist with a minimalist understanding of education huffed, was achieved long before the “landmark” education reform law of 1993.

Massachusetts has ALWAYS topped the nation in academic performance, even before this testing craze based largely on the motives of education pillagers and profiteers lusty for a piece of the education funding pie. Massachusetts continues to top the nation in academic performance IN SPITE of the testing machine cranking out profits for opportunists such as publishers, fly-by-night consultants, and pseudo-nonprofit charters.

The editorialist erroneously claimed, “anti-testing partisans often assert that a student’s socioeconomic status is determinative of his or her academic performance.” Anyone with the ability to read research studies knows that there is an undeniable and direct correlation between academic performance and zip codes, economic status, and the educational level of parents.

Politicians want to blame teachers. They cannot blame parents’ education or economic level because they need votes in the fall. Politicians don’t want to be accountable for meeting the public’s need of poverty fighting legislation such as making health care and higher education economically accessible to all. Our elected officials are so drunk on data points, why aren’t any of them talking about high stake accountability for their own positions? Alas, few politicians are actively championing raising the minimum wage and reducing the corporate welfare received by their most generous campaign contributors. Holding politicians accountable for the citizenry’s quality of life would in effect be establishing term limits for many career politicians.

This editorialist is the one who needs to “undertake some serious homework about exactly how Massachusetts made it to the top nationally on education.” They made it there in spite of anti-teacher, anti-student, anti-parent high stakes testing legislation based on starving schools into failure.

As for the opt-out, parents cannot truly opt out of testing. The editorialist doesn’t have to fear that because many at-risk districts purchase curriculum which mirrors testing and contracts quarterly test simulators such as ANet and Iready.

Opting out of state testing is not without consequence. It would foster developmental appropriateness of instruction within each student’s Zone of Proximal Development.

MTA is not, as the scorned Yes on 2 cheerleader and editorialist stomped, a “self-interested and wrong-headed” organization which “deserves to die a quiet death in committee.”

This responsible, informed bill is a crusade which champions the rights of students and parents. It fosters developmental appropriateness of instruction and instruction within each student’s Zone of Proximal Development. It bill gives students and parents the support needed for success.

Our children are more than numbers. Our students are more than pawns and data points to be twisted for profit and votes. This editorialist should be more informed about education before leading Globe readers down a path of misinformation lined with scars from a severe beating of referendum 2 – despite all the out of state dark money backing it.

Amy Dubé is a teacher, formerly Amy Berard, she has been featured in: Education Week, Washington Post, & former U.S. Asst. Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch’s blog. She can be found on Twitter at @1amyberard.

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Hurray for the Know Nothings

If you have any interest in education policy, or perhaps an interest in grizzly bears, you know that Secretary DeVos is a big proponents of vouchers. I think when some people hear vouchers they imagine sending their children off to Beaver County Day, voucher in hand.

And I’m here to tell you, Don’t You Believe It. That isn’t the way it has worked out for any community that has tried to implement a voucher program. For reasons that I will get into, vouchers lead to worse educational outcomes for students.

Take Trump’s campaign promise to provide 20 billion dollars to disadvantaged students for vouchers. He would have to raid Title I funds and then some in order to provide this money. This will leave educational ecosystems more degraded than they already are. And if that money goes only to America’s 25 million disadvantaged students, this will provide a voucher of a little less than $1,000 a year per student.

Trump assets that states will need to kick in an additional $220 billion dollars to make this plan viable. Frankly, I see this a little bit like Trump saying that Mexico will pay for the wall. Where, pray tell, are these cash strapped states going to find these billions of dollars without wrecking the school systems of the children who are not disadvantaged? But even if the states pillage all of their government employee pension plans to pay for this, we are still looking at about $11,000 per student.

This still isn’t enough money to send your child to private school. Parochial schools are generally cheaper than independent private schools. Catholic Memorial High School is $18,000 a year. BC High School is $20,000.

And while it’s true that most private and parochial schools offer financial aid, the schools haven’t been conscripted into supplementing this voucher plan. They have their own criteria for who gets admitted and how much aid they will receive.

And this is the reason why vouchers lead to worse educational outcomes. Because Trump is a religious man, and that religion would be Supply Side Economics. And if there is money to be made, there will be someone who steps up to provide that service as cheaply as possible. Even if they don’t exist today, there will be schools that will take that voucher money. We can imagine how they will manage to provide a private school education at half the cost of what current schools charge. Will they be quality schools? Will they accept special education students? English Language Learners? What about little Johnny over there with lice in his hair who gets bored easily and throws things at the teacher for attention? Will a private school take him? Will there be any regulatory scheme or will we let the market sort this all out?

All of this leads me to cheer for the “Know Nothings.” The Know Nothings were an anti-Catholic party in the 19th century, and one their most stubborn legacies was a provision in the Massachusetts State Constitution prohibiting public money going to private schools.

This fallen Catholic salutes your wisdom.

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Heavens to Betsy

first-day
Kiddos on the first day of indoctrination at their failed government school.

So now we have an Education Secretary more concerned about fighting off bears than educating children with special needs. That, of course, is distressing. But I couldn’t help but be elated by the robust defense of public education that we have witnessed these last few days! After years of hearing about how public education is a failed experiment, it turns out that folks actually really love their public schools. The avalanche of emails and phone calls have certainly sent a message to Washington that people want to insure that their children can continue to send their children to a public school.

The good news is about DeVos is this. ESSA passed during Obama’s presidency, and it pushes accountability to the states. This limits the damage that the new secretary can do. Probably. We are in Trumpville now, and down is up and up is down. In fact, no sooner had DeVos been confirmed, did GOP lawmakers introduce legislation to abolish the Department of Education. (Since Jan 20th I spend half my waking hours wondering WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING!) So maybe her whole department is abolished and everyone can just go home.

But my biggest concern right now will be for vulnerable students who will now be shepherded by a woman who has never stepped foot in a public school. I have some concern about her enthusiasm for school vouchers. Vouchers are unconstitutional in Massachusetts but DeVos could try and set up an incentive program like Arne Duncan did in order to get states to sign on to the idea. Trump has promised 20 billion towards school choice. Now that’s a lot of money, and to be frank, Trump has promised a lot of things. But I’ve heard some rattlings that it could come in the form of tax credits (contribute to a voucher program and take it as a tax write off.) But already, philanthropy is in the hands of the charter industry, so I don’t know how much difference this would make.

I think what we really need to watch out for is making sure that Title I funds don’t become portable. Title I funds go to schools with high levels of poverty. If the funds become portable, they would follow a child even if that child transfers to a wealthy public school. People often move from cities to suburbs or they enter into Metco so that could have some real damage.

I am also concerned about Trump completely defunding Title I perhaps to fund his voucher program.

But frankly, it is hard to say what is going to happen next. Maybe he will issue an Exectuvie Order that all homeroom teachers will be replaced by spider monkeys. But what is clear to me is that we all need to be active at the local level because that is always where most of the education decisions are made.