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

The Trump U. Treatment

First: this is not a defense of Donald Trump or his now infamous Trump University.  Trump University was probably a scam (did anyone really think it wasn’t going to be?), and we deserve to know about it.

But hang on a second.

If a fraud like this is concerning enough to make headline news, why isn’t the media reporting on education scams that are happening everywhere?

Let’s be real: when it comes to education policy, taxpayers across the country are getting the same treatment Trump University gave its clients, but without the headlines.

Here’s one example:

Trump University used a playbook that encouraged recruiters to play on emotions. (“Don’t ask people what they think about something you’ve said. Instead, always ask them how they feel about it. People buy emotionally and justify it logically.”).

And that, of course, is exactly what the esteemed FrameWorks Institute has more than likely been doing to you.

With sophisticated market research techniques, FrameWorks taps into people’s beliefs about education, then manipulates those feelings in order to get you to accept ideas like Common Core and competency-based education. (When it comes to selling fraudulent ideas, “frames always matter more than facts.”)

It also seems that Trump University taught its recruiters how to exploit aspirations. You know, sort of like the claims we heard about how Common Core would get our kids college and career ready, or how one-to-one iPad initiatives would bring us, at last, into the twenty-first century, or how certain reforms would bring us the jobs we’ve been looking for – like this petition signed by corporate executives and governors across the country calling for an expansion of computer science with the outright lie that there are currently 500,000 open computing jobs in this country. (Over ten years, there will be 500,000 computing jobs – at a rate of 50k per year.)

It seems that the course content offered by Trump U wasn’t all it was cracked up to be either. According to the New Yorker, “the contents and material presented by Trump University were developed in large part by a third-party company that creates and develops materials for an array of motivational speakers and Seminar and timeshare rental companies.”

Third party companies developing mediocre products to be used in the classroom? You mean like the ones our districts spend fortunes on each year because they claim to be Common Core aligned or “personalized”?

It makes you wonder: was Trump University sort of like the phony school of education called Relay Graduate School that is spreading across the nation like wildfire at the approval of our elected officials? Or the charter chains that promise big results but end up swindling taxpayers out of funds for their local public schools? Or the research-devoid blended learning programs made by programmers in Silicon Valley?

Maybe now is the time to admit that we’ve all been getting the Trump U treatment… and we’ve had enough.



Ed Reform Propaganda Machine Goes into Overdrive

Well now this is just plain creepy.

In 2012, the Vermont based, Nellie Mae Education Foundation-funded  Partnership for Change  developed a one-year, 125k dollar communications plan for the Winooski-Burlington School Districts in Vermont to sell an idea for which there is no sound supporting research.

Using tactics developed by FrameWorks Institute (also with funding from Nellie Mae), the communications plan  uses strategic messaging – including sample talking points, opinion editorials, a speech/PowerPoint presentations, letters to the editor, and even a template sermon for the faith community –  to generate public buy-in for the corporate-driven theory of education  known as “personalized,” “competency-based,” or “student-centered” learning.

“Over time, we will put flesh on this narrative, adapt it for various audiences and time frames, and spread it across the community such that it eventually becomes second nature to the citizens of Winooski-Burlington,” the document states.

According to the plan: “Designated messengers, including superintendents, will give PowerPoint presentations to various groups (e.g., Kiwanis, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce) about the Partnership for Change and its implementation.”

The plan even includes a master calendar of local school and community events to help “the team” to help “identify potential opportunities for carrying the message and building public engagement.”

Nellie Mae, a spawn of the student loan industry whose funds come in part from the Gates Foundation and a hedge fund in the Cayman Islands, has been on a massive spending spree in the Northeast in an attempt to transform local schools districts into an education model developed by investors in the ed-tech and student loan industries.

Focusing their efforts primarily on New England states, Nellie Mae has established nonprofit organizations like Vermont’s Partnership for Change and Maine’s Educate Maine to disseminate their message and lobby for policy change; has poured millions into consulting groups like the Great Schools Partnership and Reinventing Schools; and has even provided funding for full-time reporting positions at public broadcasting networks in Maine and Connecticut.

Nellie Mae has even found a way to get students to help lobby for them.  In Burlington, high school students can take a course in school redesign, in which they (yes – the students) can serve as real-time consultants to teachers in their district.

Given the scope of Nellie Mae’s efforts in Vermont, one has to wonder: do Burlington/Winooski citizens know they are victims of an onslaught of corporate-sponsored propaganda?

According to this article, there is evidence of at least some growing tension between the Partnership and local community members.

In 2015, some Burlington school board members questioned the Partnership’s decision to play a role in the school board elections.  According to the article, the Partnership helped plan the candidate forums aired on the local news station, and made sure that each candidate took a public stand on the partnership. They also put together a voter guide in English, French, Nepali and Vietnamese, and even attempted to put together a job description for the local school board position  – without input from current board members.

When questioned about his support for the Partnership, school board member Mark Barlow asked: “Are you just an educational initiative or a political initiative?”

Of course, it’s even more than a political initiative – but given the level of strategic deception they employ, it’s understandable that local community members would have trouble knowing what they are dealing with.

From Maine and beyond: we’re pulling for you, Winooski-Burlington. Keep pulling back that curtain.