Leaked Emails Shed Light on Hillary’s Education Agenda

Not long ago, I wrote a letter to my former Exeter classmate, Mark Zuckerberg, begging him to reconsider the corporate-driven education policies he had recently vowed to support.

Of course, I never heard back.

Zuckerberg was far more interested in hearing from elite political insiders than from teachers or those with young children like me.

Among the recently leaked emails from Wikileaks is a request from Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg to John Podesta for a meeting with Zuckerberg:

“Mark is meeting with people to learn more about next steps for his philanthropy and social action and it’s hard to imagine someone better placed or more experienced than you to help him,” she wrote.

“Happy to do,” Podesta replied.

Five months later, in an open letter to his newborn daughter Zuckerberg announced his commitment to helping “schools around the world adopt personalized learning.”

This, of course, was no coincidence.

Though education issues have been buried throughout the campaign (Common Core was deemed a “political third rail” and standardized testing referred to as an “elephant in the room” by members of the DNC and Clinton campaign), it is clear that a Clinton Administration would be poised to advance the ed-tech and Wall Street driven “personalized learning” agenda if Hillary is elected.

Young people cheer when Hillary talks about making college more affordable, but few seem to realize that the policies she is advocating are actually designed to favor the multi-billion-dollar online and digital learning industry (along with, ironically, student loan providers). Even fewer seem aware that in the future, “college” may not mean what most think it does.

The Clintons, who have benefited enormously from Bill’s speaking engagements with online learning giant Laureate Education, have used their foundation to drive the shift away from traditional credentialing to the far more profitable and corporate-friendly digital badging system, where students earn online “nanodegrees” and certificates to demonstrate their ability to perform workforce-aligned “competencies.”

“I’ve offered a few suggestions to make sure we are a bit stronger on accountability, we lead with our promise to families and students when we describe our compact, and we highlight innovation and on-line learning a bit more,” policy advisor Ann O’Leary wrote to Clinton’s speechwriters, just before Hillary unveiled her “New College Compact,” calling for “experiments allowing federal student aid to be used for high-quality career and lifelong learning programs with promising or proven records.”

Other leaked correspondence indicating Hillary’s education priorities include a note from Stanford professor and education insider Linda Darling-Hammond to Podesta, thanking him for his advice and guidance in setting up her new think thank, Learning Policy Institute, where Podesta’s close confidante, Susan Sandler, is a board member.

Darling-Hammond has been a strong advocate of forms of school accountability that enable personalized learning, especially for assessment “dashboards” that encourages data collection that goes far beyond standardized tests. (Think social-emotional learning and “school climate” data.)

“I love the idea of the dashboard,” Hillary said in a recent speech to leaders of the National Education Association.

(So does Arne Duncan, Tom Vander Ark, and CEO of Pearson, John Fallon.)

And then there are emails suggesting who will be a priority for Hillary: one from Code.org asking Hillary to make a statement of support for computer science; another from Laurene Powell Jobs requesting a meeting with Hillary and a group of ed reformers, include Netflix executive Reed Hastings and Silicon Valley venture capitalists – all strong proponents of “personalized learning.”

So, what can education activists expect if Hillary is elected?

Here’s my dismal predication: more screen time for even our youngest children; inflated local budgets to support one-to-one tech initiatives; more (way more) invasive school-wide and individual data collection; a proliferation of low-quality online K-12 and higher education programs; and (of course) ongoing meddling and experimentation on our kids by our country’s billionaires.

Moral of the story?  Keep your boxing gloves on.


Dear Personalized Learning Salesmen: Please Join Us!

By now, most people know that the Common Core State Standards have not only been an epic failure, but that the PR machine designed to sell the standards to the public was a botched job as well.

Unfortunately, not as many folks realize that our billionaire reformers have been working equally hard to sell the public on a make-believe need for “personalized learning” (which also goes by “competency-based” or the highly deceptive term “student-centered” learning) along with the one-to-one digital devices that will make (they hope) this highly lucrative K-12 transformation possible.

Here is just a sample of what the corporate and foundation-fueled agents of the personalized learning PR machine have done over the past few years:

  • Leveraged and even gone undercover as members of the Opt Out movement to encourage parents to opt in to personalized learning

Thankfully, despite the millions of dollars being spent on the propaganda effort, the growing number of parents  and teachers voicing their concerns over this research-devoid, massively expensive effort to remake our schools suggests that reformers might very well be botching this job too.

And there’s no question that increased pushback from parents already has personalized learning salesmen wringing their hands:  recently, Bruce Friend – the Chief Operating Officer of iNACOL, dedicated an entire session at a Pearson-sponsored conference to a discussion of one New Jersey mom and teacher who raised concerns about the efficacy of her district’s “blended learning” program.

At the upcoming Digital Learning Show in Dubai, former Gates Foundation executive Tom Vander Ark will host a session on how to “take your institution into the 21st century.”  This, of course, includes ways to “overcome challenges encountered in the implementation of blended and personalized learning” – which no doubt means dodging those pesky informed parents who don’t want their children learning from a tablet all day long nor do they appreciate having their state education policy manipulated by corporate profiteers dressed up as local organizations.

With all that said, I’d like to personally invite Mr. Vander Ark, Mr. Friend, Mr. Gates, and anyone else involved in their reform efforts to join a group of parents and teachers who know exactly what they are planning for us and are not happy about it to a webinar sponsored by Parents Across America this Sunday, October 16th, at 7pm.   Perhaps they’d like to take some notes to prepare for their upcoming workshops.

Parents, teachers, and anyone else interested in the latest reform efforts that are now flying at us fast and furious are, of course, also encouraged to join.

Click here for all the info you need.



Parents: Time to Step Up Our Game

Just over two years ago, a letter to the editor appeared in our local paper that sent teachers into an uproar.  Our schools are failing! a man named Mr. Sabine had written, and the only way to fix them was to get “tough on teachers.”

Educators from across the district wrote in to defend the hard work that they do each day. Many called the author ignorant – which he was.

But I fumed for a different reason.

For seven years, I had worked in schools deemed failures based on the rules of No Child Left Behind.  My first year, I was determined to raise my students’ test scores and lift us from an F to an A.  By year seven, I knew that I was playing a rigged game.

Our schools were deemed “failing” because standardized tests said they were – not because they reflected any truth about our schools other than the economic background of our student population.

Mr. Sabine’s perception of our schools was proof that the planned attack on our public schools was working: the public believed what the tests said about our schools.

And so I wrote my own letter pointing out the problems with using standardized test scores to determine the success of our schools, and warned that things would only appear worse when our students took the made-to-fail Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Within a few days, a mother wrote to me to thank me for my response, and invited me to join her local Opt Out group.

Opt Out? Parents were actually having their children sit out of these wicked tests?

My spirits soared.

As a classroom teacher, I learned quickly that there was only so much I could say or do without risking my job, but I pushed the envelope as far as I could to spread the word about Opt Out.

When one of my letters about testing was published by the Washington Post, I felt certain that we were winning the war.

I was, of course, dead wrong.

The more I researched, the more I came across documents that made me wonder if there were people on the other side – the reformers and profiteers – that actually wanted us to opt out.  One article written by Tom Vander Ark – one of the Kings of Corporate Reform – called for the “end of the big test” all together, in favor of more frequent, “formative” tests.   When I did a search of these emails, I found one from Vander Ark expressing his worry that PARCC and SBAC would end up being just another “cheap” end-of-the-year test.  What he wanted was a testing ecosystem. 

Then I read another document predicting that standardized tests would soon be obsolete, to be replaced by continuous data feeds that would scoop up all sorts of personal information about children.

And so  I started watching the testing scene carefully, wondering how much truth there was to these predictions, and sure enough, corporations like Pearson and McGraw Hill began to announce that they were moving away from the “big test” toward the burgeoning “formative assessment” and “personalized learning” market.

Then came a huge punch in the gut:  this document from the Gates Foundation made it clear that the weird “proficiency-based diploma” mandate that had recently entered my state through the Nellie Mae Education Foundation was directly linked to the high-tech, research-devoid “personalized learning” experiment that was being unleashed on our children.

To my horror, I also began to discover that there were actually moles in this war:  groups pretending to represent parent voices and operating under the banner of Opt Out, but whose agenda was actually to herd us toward new ways of tracking, monitoring, and profiting off our children.  For these groups, Opt Out was an opportunity to lobby for their version of  “assessment reform.”

Recently, a group called NYSAPE published a document titled, “What Does the Opt Out Movement Want?” and I shuddered at some of its language.   Lexile benchmarks?  State-wide digital learning platforms?  Time limits on state assessments?

Since when did Opt Out become about all this compromise?  

Don’t get me wrong: I still believe in Opt Out.  I don’t think any child should have to sit for any of these state mandated tests.  I am a classroom teacher, and I can assure you that they do not provide one lick of useful information about your child’s abilities.

But here’s what I also know:

It’s time for us to dial up the original Opt Out spirit – the one that wasn’t afraid to say hell no – and realize that we’re going to need to extend this fight way beyond the big end-of-year-test.

Data-mining.  Key-stroke tracking.  Collection of sensitive personal information that ends up in the hands of advertisers.  Digital badging.  Unhealthy amounts of screen time. Growing class sizes. Depleted school budgets.

If I sound alarmist, it’s because I’m a mom and a teacher, so we’re talking about my kids here. I am seriously alarmed.

And you should be too.

It’s all happening, and it’s only going to get worse if we don’t step up our game.

For more specific information on what you can do next, check out this post from Alison McDowell and this document from Parents Across America.


Will Public Education Survive the Next Administration?

Donald Trump has called Common Core a “disaster.” The leaked DNC emails refer to the standards as a “political third rail.”

At this point, however, the controversial standards may be more of a red herring than anything else.

While the public remains largely in the dark, a massive upheaval of our public school system is well underway, and recent proposals from both major political parties indicate that the transformation will move full speed ahead regardless of who is elected president this fall.

The new system is designed to expand the education market by allowing out-of-district providers – including  online programs, non-profits, local businesses, and even corporations- to award credit for student learning.  At the same time, it doubles down on workforce development by aligning educational outcomes to the needs of industry leaders.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, students will “no longer [be] tethered to school buildings or schedules.” Instead, the system will require students to earn “digital badges” that they will display in individual competency-profiles accessible to potential employers and investors.

“By collecting skill-based badges, the record of achievement begun in secondary school becomes the foundation upon which workers build their capabilities and tell their stories to employers,” explains the infamous testing-behemoth, Pearson Education.

Knowledgeworks recently described the new learning system as an “ecosystem,” in which the role of the traditional teacher will soon be obsolete.

With major investments from Wall Street, leaders in the online learning, ed-tech, and student loan industries, and even celebrity billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix, the transformation has recently been picking up speed. Meanwhile, political groups on both the left and right are moving the system forward by lobbying for “personalized,” competency-based policies and “innovative” assessment systems.

(The American Legislative Exchange Council and the major teacher’s unions and their associated networks are encouraging states join the innovative assessment pilot program designed by the International Association of K-12 Online Learning and the Gates-funded Knowledgeworks Foundation and now allowed by the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.)

Now, both major political parties have put forth proposals that will kick the system into high gear.

Three years after the Clinton Global Initiative partnered with Mozilla, the MacArthur Foundation and “a consortium interested in virtual learning” to expand the use of digital badges, Hillary has unveiled a “New College Compact” that calls for federal funds to be used “to build on experiments allowing federal student aid to be used for high-quality career and lifelong learning programs with promising or proven records.”

“Many students are rebooting their careers and improving their economic prospects through innovative on-line programs offering badges, nanodegrees, and certificates,” the Compact states.

(In 2009 Bill Clinton, who was paid 16.5 million between 2008 and 2012 by online learning giant Laureate Education, honored CEO of the Lumina Foundation, Jamie Meristotis, for his work in the advancement of digital badging systems. Meristotis’s foundation is a spin-off of the student loan behemoth Sallie Mae, whose profits skyrocketed after the Clinton administration advised them to become a private corporation beginning in 1994.)

On the other side of the aisle, the Republican Party – known for its support of vouchers and school “choice” – appears ready to move forward with the same agenda. The recently unveiled plan calls for states “to allow a wide array of accrediting and credentialing bodies to operate.”

“This model would foster innovation, bring private industry into the credentialing market, and give students the ability to customize their college experience,” the platform states.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has recently called for an expansion of “community schools” – a concept that may sound like music to many parents’ ears, but likely means something quite different than many assume.

Across the country, Knowledgeworks has teamed up with Target, United Way, and Wall Street investors to create data-sharing networks where the “community” actually is the school. In Salt Lake City, parents are actually being encouraged to waive their FERPA rights by the United Way. In Pittsburgh, a partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, Common Sense Media, and Digital Promise, called Remake Learning Network, is currently attempting to turn the city into “a campus for learning.”

Where will all of this transformation leave traditional brick and mortar schools? Will teachers still have a profession eight years from now?

Only time will tell.

There’s no question, however, that no matter what happens in November, defenders of public education are going to need to be prepared to fight.


Five Myths Reformers Want You to Believe about Teachers

Teachers are no strangers to having stories told about them in order to move political agendas forward. During the era of No Child Left Behind, tales of lazy and incompetent teachers helped pave the way for strict accountability measures. Now, as ESSA marches forward with its plans to commodify, digitalize, and outsource education, a new set of myths has begun to circulate. Here are some of the most common fables you’re likely to hear.

  1. We spend most of our time lecturing.

In a 2010 article titled Teachers Unions vs. Online Education, Katherine Mangu-Ward summed it up like this: “A child who was perfectly content with a video stream, an MP3, and a chart flowing past him is suddenly ordered to sit still, shut up, and listen while a grown-up scrawls on a blackboard and delivers a monologue.”


But here’s the truth: most teachers spend very little time lecturing. At the elementary level, most teachers are trained in the “workshop model” of instruction, where direct instruction is limited to a short “mini-lesson” only. Across all grade levels, most teachers combine discussions, projects, and group work into their daily lessons. Scrawling on blackboards while delivering monologues? Not so much.

 2) We make our kids memorize lots of stuff.

This one also makes a great foil for reform plans: while teachers simply jam a bunch of knowledge into kids’ brains…


…online and digital programs will actually teach kids how to think.

But again: this just doesn’t happen. In most contemporary education programs, teachers are taught to use the constructivist model of education, where knowledge is “co-created” between teacher and student, and memorization takes a back seat to meaning-making. Meanwhile, the end-of-year math and ELA assessments don’t actually require students to know any particular facts at all; instead students are asked to do things like “find the main idea” of a paragraph, or decipher the meaning of an unknown word given its context in a sentence.

So, as much as they would like you to believe that those antiquated, 20th-century human-teachers are simply filling kids up with facts and sending them on their way, it’s just not true.

 3)  We teach according to our own needs and interests.

There is a big push right now among digital reformers to make learning more “student-centered” – as though we have somehow been centering our teaching elsewhere.


The truth is that as teachers, we are constantly searching for ways to tap into our students’ interests to engage them more deeply. “Teachable moments” – those spontaneous moments where you set the day’s plans aside because of something a student said or did – are one of the best parts of the gig. We only wish we had more time for them.

4)  We need better “assessment tools.”

This one brings my blood to a particularly rapid boil, as it pretends to hear some of our concerns about the end-of-year test (we don’t get the results back in a timely manner; they don’t actually give us worthwhile information, etc) but is really just trying to sell us more junk. Most of the major testing companies (Pearson, McGraw-Hill, etc.) have shifted their focus to the burgeoning “formative testing” market and are now promising to give teachers the real-time data and analytics that we need to inform our instruction. Meanwhile, an army of corporate-funded non-profits are aiming to put teachers to work developing banks of formative assessments that can be also used to gather student data.

But here’s the truth no one’s telling you: we don’t actually need any of this data.


Our own assessments, our own eyes and ears, our own conversations with kids and parents and caregivers give us more than enough information about our students to do our jobs well.

5) We are on board with the latest reforms.

We are asked to complete surveys that don’t include options for what we actually think; sometimes a couple of us are invited to participate on policy task forces only to find out that such policies have already been determined; occasionally someone from on high asks for our “input”…


…but lord knows what happens to it.

The fact is, while we make good window-dressing, teachers don’t have much say in what happens to public education.

Can you imagine what things might be like if we did?





Wisdom from an Old Father: “Mind Time”

I wish I could take credit for what follows.  This was written by father, grandfather, and education activist, Denis Ian. Enjoy.

I’m an old father now. Suddenly it seems.

My sons have sons. I own lots of memories. I polish the sweet ones and never dust the ones that hurt. I mind time now. I didn’t used to. In fact, like lots of you, I was reckless with time. Not any longer.

When I was a boy of about 9 or so, I had the temporary misfortune of being the last to the dinner table … and that meant sitting just to the left of my father. That was like sitting next to the district attorney … or the pope. My brothers loved my dilemma … because that’s what brothers do. It’s in the Irish Manual of Life.

So … there I was … waiting for my moment of challenge. The knives were clanging plates and there were two or three different conversations happening around this table with the fat legs. Someone mentioned that my grandfather had a birthday in a few days … and that little-bitty mention sprung my father’s mind. 

“So, young Denis” said my father, “ how long would you like to live? What is a good, long life?”

Right off the bat I’m thinking this is a trick question … because my father was never familiar with the obvious. So, there I sat … and my brothers had caught wind of my dinner-table distress … and they were loving every minute of it.

Meanwhile, my father was sipping his usual cocktail and pushing some food around his plate … which means he’s kinda waiting for an answer … to the trick question. And I don’t have much in the way of trick answers … because … I’m nine. Gimme a break. 

After several long minutes he leaned over and asked, “And?” 

I went full-out bravado … more for my brothers than for any other reason. I gotta live in this family after all, right? Strong is the key. Trust me.

“Seventy. Seventy years old is a good, long life.” 

I was so pleased with my answer, I smirked at every guy at the table … until I noticed that my father was completely unimpressed … still sitting there … at the head of the table … playing fork-hockey with his peas. 

And me? I’m waitin’ for a sign … any sign! … that my skinny answer is sufficiently smart. I’m dreaming of the big back-slap … or even the dreaded hair-muss. 

There was none. 

In fact, it seemed I was completely off his radar for a long moment.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. My father didn’t do that sort of stuff. I must’ve had him confused with my best friend’s father … who was really normal.

After a few long minutes, he clasped his hands and leaned over toward me. And then the verdict.

“You’re a silly boy.” 

Mind you … he said it softly. No mocking at all. Just a soft, blunt statement … designed to make me think all over again. To spin my brain-gears a bit more. And I did. Even my brothers were cranking their brains. I think that was part of my father’s strategy … to make the moment belong to everyone. To glue everyone into the lesson.

Then he leaned over once again … and in a loud whisper … so all could hear … he said …“If you live to be seventy … you will have lived just 840 months. Does that seem long enough for you?”

And, of course, it didn’t then … and it doesn’t now. And I learned the lesson he intended me to learn … to be careful with numbers and to respect time. And to not waste time … or let others waste my time.

So, from this old father … to you young fathers and young mothers … mind the time. 

Mind those sweet moments with your children and seldom say “Hurry up!”. Don’t wish for anything except this moment. Leave tomorrow alone. Tend to today.

Don’t let anyone hurry your child. 

Don’t let anyone sandpaper their softest years with grit or rigor … because there’s plenty of that stuff in the eight hundred months ahead. 

Don’t let anyone run innocence out of your child’s life. It has its own cadence and rhythm … and it’s plenty fast enough. 

Don’t let others spin those clock hands faster than they already spin. 

Mind the numbers in your life as never before. Pay as much attention to the little moments as you do the big moments.

Remind yourself that a five year old is sixty months on this planet. Less than 2,000 days old. They’re still brand new people! No one has the right to whisper anything about college or careers to a child determined to conquer the monkey bars. All adults should respect the Law of the Chair … if a child’s legs do not reach the floor … well … they are reality-exempt.

That eight year old … the one who sleeps in his Little League uniform? He’s a third grader. Not yet 100 months old. Let that sink in. Why is he rip-roaring mad at himself over some junk-test? That’s not the worry of an 8 year old. He should be anxious about base hits … not base line scores. His only career thought is what professional team to sign with … and that’s heavy enough. 

That music-blasting “tween” is maybe 150 months old. At that age their job is to not walk into door jambs … and to try to put a lid on some hormone havoc. They’re still closer to babyhood than adulthood. Why do we let schools bum-rush them into anxiety-hell over tests? Mother Nature has already over-supplied them with all the anxiety they can barely handle. Why don’t we just lay off ‘em … and let ‘em outgrow this messy moment? It’s bad enough as it is … leave it be. 

I’m glad my father cured me from becoming number-numb. 

My hot-seat moment has served me well for … for lots of months. Maybe this will shake up your consciousness … and slow you down some. And maybe … maybe you won’t say “Hurry up!” quite so often. And perhaps you’ll remind that school to slow down … that there are children on board … and they are entitled to every last drop of innocence. 

Don’t let them tug your child into their warped world. If they think education is all about numbers, well, they’ve already forfeited their privilege to enjoy your child. They’re just as silly as I was … but I was only about a hundred months old. What’s their excuse?

Mind time.



Dear School Committee: Please Trust Us

Here in Lewiston, Maine, a small group of experienced elementary school teachers put their thoughts together in an eloquent letter, which they presented to the local school committee on Monday night.  Their thoughts will ring true with teachers and parents everywhere.  

To the School Committee Members,

Fidelity is defined as “faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.”  We are asked to teach with fidelity, by following specific scripted lessons and assessing their learning using time consuming, cumbersome tools that interfere with what feels best for our students.

We stand here now with fidelity to no one else but our kids.

We are speaking from the heart, from our expertise and from experience.None of us wish to ever be administrators.  We have reached our professional goal of being classroom teachers, and we are completely fulfilled in our roles.  When we share these thoughts, keep in mind that our only motivation is to do what is best for our students.  In fact, we worry that in raising our concerns we may be seen as being negative or non-compliant- yet we only wish to do what we feel is right.

We have been openly sharing our concerns for three years.  In the fall of 2013, we rejected the merit pay associated with students test scores and delineated why we felt paying teachers for high test scores was detrimental to students.  We hoped our voices would promote change and give us more time with our students.

This has not been the case. New initiatives have been added, decreasing the time needed to plan quality lessons.  This is detrimental to the motivation and growth of our students. Equally upsetting are the number of teachers who are leaving the district or resigning early due to the unreasonable demands put upon teachers.

We are concerned for our profession and the result of losing quality teachers.  If this trend continues in Lewiston, what will the future hold for our students?

The art of teaching feels lost.  We do not feel that we are allowed to use our talent as teachers. We feel that the current practices in education are attempting to turn us into facilitators.

The beginning of the year is a time to connect with our students.  The goal of every teacher should be to know our students within the first few weeks.  This is done through opening activities, interest surveys, and our observations/interactions.  There is no time for this, nor is there time to use information we would have gathered about what moves our kids, what they care about and what they could be motivated to participate in.  Rather the beginning of the year finds us bogged down with formal assessments, which leaves our students feeling overwhelmed and anxious, rather than feeling comfortable in their new surroundings.  Please remember we are talking about students who are six, seven, eight, nine and ten years old.

Moreover, managing students behavior in our our classrooms has become more challenging than ever.  We strongly believe that our students’ struggles are fed by the increased amount of testing and rigid curriculum we are forced to use.  No longer do we work to help our students meet grade level standards through methods and materials that we know will motivate our students to succeed.

We deal with anger, aggression, defiance, disrespect and non-compliance in our students daily.  We struggle with chronic absenteeism and wonder specifically when this became a problem for so many students.  Certainly, with the data we have collected in the past ten years we could investigate if there is a direct connection between increased testing pressures, rigid curriculum and these struggles.  We have no doubt that there will be.

Another concern we have about assessment is being asked to quantify everything students do. But there are so many things that we teach that are not quantifiable.

These are the most meaningful learnings for children and include things such as perseverance, work ethic, understanding the qualities of a friend, healthy risk taking, and developing personal strategies for academic and civil success.

Regarding the quantitative data we do collect, we often find the various results conflicting.  The inconsistent data is not surprising to teachers, since there are so many variables at play for each child.  In every classroom, there are children who come to school with many distractions and more pressing matters.  Even children who come to school with all their needs met, express resentment about the over-testing.  We do our best to impress the importance of performing well, but what is important to district leaders, is not always important to 9 year olds.

These are children who, by our calculations, are assessed for a minimum of eleven full school days, and this figure does not include our common assessments or teacher-created unit assessments.

We are not sharing these concerns because we don’t want to work outside of the contract hours.  We are expressing our concern because, due to the district’s expectations, we are not able to adequately plan for our students and create meaningful lessons that are differentiated, nor can we consistently engage in authentic, ongoing formative assessment in a way that informs our instruction. This is incredibly discouraging and must be addressed if we want to keep quality, experienced teachers, and more importantly, encourage students to love learning.

We know that standardized testing serves a specific purpose, but we also believe that we are going beyond what is required by the state and federal laws.  As teachers, we are assessing our students all throughout our day.  We do this naturally all day long.

We wonder how much data is enough?

At what point are we over-assessing? We want to know where our students are, however, we feel that the number of assessments and the time they require actually takes away from from us knowing our students, since we spend so much time sifting through data.  Data that is often conflicting.  Frequently, we find discrepancies between what we know about our students and what test results show.  Some tests that even measure the same things result in scores that contradict each other.  When we reflect on why these discrepancies exist, we see a multitude of variables completely out of our control, including individual student development, family life, social situations between peers, physical and mental health, student motivation, amount of sleep, technological challenges and the list could go on.

We are qualified, we are experienced, and we are caring.

We once felt confident in our knowledge of students and how to best understand and meet their educational needs.   Now we feel like we fail our students daily, and we are constantly trying to navigate feeling conflicted between doing what our expertise and experience tells us we should do, and what unreliable test results and the district demand we do for children.

Finally, we are concerned about our colleagues who are new to this profession.  Without the opportunity to gain wisdom and confidence about their own ability to assess and let their findings inform their instruction, we wonder how will they ever grow into professionals who are independently capable and confident in their skills?

We feel that this culture of over assessment communicates a lack of trust in your teachers.  We have invested in our own development as professionals, and LPS has as well.  We have increased our expertise by acquiring advanced degrees, many of which Lewiston Public Schools paid for.  We care very deeply about our students and how they are learning and growing.  Trust that we care, and trust that we are fully capable.  You have invested in us as professionals.

Please allow us to do the jobs you have hired us to do, and trust that we know how to do it best.

In closing,  we are standing before you with 70 combined years of teaching experience.  We have Bachelor’s degrees in Education and Masters Degrees in Curriculum and Instruction, Elementary Education and Literacy Education.   We are licensed and credentialed professionals.  We ask that you please not buy into the rhetoric that you are constantly fed about assessment.  Please understand the reality we have presented this evening.

Listen to the parents who have expressed their concern and frustration.  Examine the amount of parents who opt out and consider their reasons for doing so.  Listen to your teachers.

We are fighting for our students, our schools and our profession, and we are hopeful that our leaders will consider making changes.

Yours in Education,

Ernie Gagne

Jody Raio

Molly Tripp

Jennifer Groover

Bonnie Bannister