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We are in Washington to Save Our Schools and We Want Answers!

For me, the journey to today's Save Our Schools March started when I wrote an open letter to President Obama raising serious questions about where we are headed with education reform in America. Those questions have still not been answered.

Yesterday I had a chance to ask Arne Duncan a question, after his "Working Toward 'Wow'" speech. What I asked him was this:

I worked in high poverty schools in Oakland for 24 years. The turnover rate for our interns is 75% after three years. Your proposal for the reauthorization of ESEA continues to label the bottom 10% of our schools as failures. Under these circumstances, who will choose to teach in these high poverty schools? Doesn't this contribute to the crisis in our profession?
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Though Secretary Duncan responded, I did not get an actual answer to my question, as to who will choose to teach in these schools.

Here are some more questions we must ask.

No Child Left Behind was a huge national experiment based on the so-called Texas Miracle, which turned out to be a hoax.

When current policies are questioned we are told similar stories about schools that supposedly are "beating the odds," and thus prove what is possible.

The National Academy of Science recently released a report that showed that nearly a decade of test-based reforms have shown no positive effect on real student learning. Study after study shows that paying teachers for test scores does not work - even to raise those scores. Evaluating people based on test scores has not worked. Closing schools and firing people to improve schools has not worked. When will the Department of Education begin basing its policies on sound research rather than exceptional cases, many of which turn out to be poor models in any case?

Over a year ago, Secretary Duncan and President Obama praised the decision by the administration to fire the entire staff of teachers at Central Falls High School. Though there was a subsequent agreement that reversed this decision, morale plummeted, student disrespect for teachers increased and teacher turnover rose. How is this any sort of a strategy for school improvement?

Many of the core elements of Race to the Top and the Blueprint are related to test scores. Department of Ed policy calls for the linking of teacher evaluations and pay to student test scores. The Blueprint calls for tracking of student test scores of teachers according to the place they were prepared. We still have the threat of reconstitution hanging over the bottom tier of schools, attended exclusively by children in poverty. All based on test scores. In March, President Obama described the tests that Sasha and Malia take as "low stakes." All these changes RAISE the stakes on the tests, for teachers and schools. How does this move us towards the "less pressure-packed environment" the President has advocated?

Yesterday Secretary Duncan suggested that teachers be paid as much as $150,000 a year. Afterwards, some National Board certified teachers from Detroit told me that as a result of the latest crisis, they are about to LOSE $15,000 to $20,000 in pay and benefits. What fiscal planet is Secretary Duncan on? And since he has no capacity to actually impact teacher pay, what difference does it make in the real world when he says our pay should be increased?

How about supporting processes that empower teachers to take leadership? How about real support for teacher action research? How about leveraging collaboration to reduce turnover and build stability? How about building teacher accountability on a foundation of real responsibility and agency, rather than bribes and threats? How about policies that reduce, rather than accelerate, racial and economic segregation?

We have been asking questions like this for more than a year, and the answers we get are maddeningly devoid of insight.

The answers to the challenges facing our schools will not be heard from Secretary Duncan. He has been given many chances to respond, and all we get is nonsense. We want answers and today, we are marching to the White House to demand them.

Note: Blogger Alice Mercer will be providing streaming audio from today's events around the country, starting at 11 am. Find out more here.

What questions would you like answers to? What must we do to get our concerns heard?

image by Anthony Cody, used with permission


[Editorial note: Education Week Teacher is not affiliated with the Save Our Schools event; the views expressed in this opinion blog do not reflect the endorsement of Education Week or Editorial Projects in Education, which take no editorial positions]

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