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Teacher to Congress: Listen Up

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As the discussion over the reauthorization of NCLB heats up, one New York educator wants to be heard. Nancy Close, a health teacher from East Islip, Long Island, writes in a Newsday commentary this week, “It’s important that Congress listen to teachers and, make sure that, this time, it gets the law right.” Without deeper consideration, Close fears, “…Congress could make a problematic law even worse.”

The unrelenting focus on test scores, she writes, is draining the creativity from teaching and learning. “Children and their schools are so much more than test scores…Yet, it appears the House Education and Labor Committee remains to be convinced.” According to Close, NCLB is “failing children and local schools, stigmatizing both with unfair sanctions driven by unscientific methods of adequate yearly progress.” She suggests a refocus on class size, teacher training and retention, access to early childhood programs, and funding for school facilities and materials.

“Teachers—and children—need the law to work. But it can’t work if it excludes the wisdom of teachers.” Close, a union teacher, is president of the East Islip Teachers Association. She visited the House Education and Labor Committee earlier this month.

17 Comments

"She suggests a refocus on class size, teacher training and retention, access to early childhood programs, and funding for school facilities and materials."

Isn't this the same old thinking that got us in trouble in the first place? It seems to be the opposite of what we have now ... too much control/no control. My 40 years of teaching tell me that we need a blend of both of these --- reasonable freedom for teacher guided by clear and measurable (I like "evaluatable" but it's not a word :)) outcomes.

I agree with wbuedu above... I am afraid that this is a emotion-driven backlash against NCLB.

Personally, I love what NCLB should have been. I hate what it is now, and I've already talked with my representatives about it.

Hold on, things are going to be interesting...

I agree with Close's statement "it can't work if it excludes the wisdom of teachers." Teachers must be part of the decision making process. As an educator, it can be extrememly frustrating to have people looking in from the outside (lawmakers and others with no formal training in education) telling teachers what they are doing wrong and how it should be done.
Teaching is so much more than assessment after assessment. At what point are teachers supposed to teach? I am from Texas and our students are tested to death. There must be time devoted to actually teaching or else there will be nothing to teach but how to pass a standardized test.
Of course, I agree there needs to be teacher accountability, but when there are so many other factors affecting student performance, it is tragic when entire schools are penalized. The solution is not taking money from the schools to punish them for low scores, but to help those students and teachers.
It should be a requirement for lawmakers to come into the classrooms of "failing" schools and teach for a period of time to gain a true assessment of what is needed.
Teachers also need to speak up for the profession and stop allowing people to treat us like we are failures. The NCLB could be a wonderful tool to strengthen our schools only and if only administrators, teachers, and lawmakers come TOGETHER to really create and implement a realistic plan.

to the editor;

if children can be judged on them doing their "personal best" both inside and outside the schoolroom we would have done our job as teachers and parents.

I agree that congress needs to listen to educators and to parents as well. NCLB is in its intent good but it neglects to look at the big picture. No where does it take into account those students who are doing their personal best and showing tremendous growth and yet are still below grade level. Instead they are told they are failures because they can't master a "one size fits all" assessment. If one size fit all we would not have IDEA and we certainly would not have the diversity in our society that we do.

No time to be a child. No time to teach. No creative or reflective thinking. No time to take into account our societies problems - especially poverty, the learning disabled, etc. What does all this add up to? Well, my arithmetic ain't none too gude, but it all spells a country threatened by communism - from the inside

An old Chinese proverb says, “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere”. How true! During my formative years, I was gifted to have classroom teachers who understood the importance of learning and demanded excellence in its quest. Learning is nothing more, nothing less than a student working hard and giving their best. The legislation called No Child Left Behind does not understand this simple concept! Teaching to a test and manipulating the data does not say much for NCLB. Benjamin Distraeli, British prime minister in the late nineteenth century, is reputed to have said there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Today that would probably include the statistics schools are putting out trying to meet the unrealistic standards set by NCLB. The congressmen who passed this legislation should be forced to come into our schools and educate some of the unmotivated young people we face every day (another issue in itself), and then try to meet all the standards of NCLB. This is not coming from a beginning teacher but one who has been in the classroom for 31 years and has won numerous awards and honors including Iowa Teacher of The Year in 2006. Yes, there are many successes in my award-winning program but I am also realistic enough to know that NOT EVERY STUDENT wants to pass! Maybe the legislators who sit in Washington and have never been involved in the educational process should read the following idiom: You can lead a horse to water (but you can't make him/it drink). Which means you can give someone the opportunity to do something (learn), but you cannot force them to do it if they do not want to. Simple enough! We (teachers and administrators) work hard everyday to get ALL students to learn. NCLB will never be the catalyst that determines if our students learn. Students will learn when they have the best people teaching them and they have the desire to learn. The two go hand in hand. That Washington is such a simple concept, that even you should understand it!

As you reported, “[Close] suggests a refocus on class size, teacher training and retention, access to early childhood programs, and funding for school facilities and materials.”

Yes, we need Closes’s testimony in front of the House Education and Labor Committee, especially a refocus on teacher training and retention. How do we refocus? Let’s say “renew” or “re-design” instead! Let’s think outside the box on this! NAEP followup data show that most teachers use collaborative learning strategies in their classes. Our work at the Hoenny Center for R&D in Teaching includes a national study that confirms and deepens this information, and that helped to set the foundation for our research on teaching ability beginning at the earliest ages. [Notice the reemphasis on peer teaching in the news (EdWeek, October 2, 2007).] Until we treat individual differences in teaching talent as we do other abilities in children--through a combination of support, challenge, and remediation, we’ll be missing some of the excellent students who should join our profession. We notice and support all kinds of talents in students, why not teaching? We have curricular paths for the most talented and the struggling students. When students find success working together in collaborative groups, what teaching strategies do they demonstrate? How do we help them grow their strengths? We need all students to deepen their teaching abilities regardless of their career paths. By making it a general practice to find and nurture students who are effective and interested in helping others learn, we will have even more control of our profession.

35years, K-12 vocal and general music educator, NYSUT, EdD

Some focus also needs to be on the homes, we only have these students in school for 7 hours a day, I only see each child for 1 hour each day. What happens to that child during the other 17 hours of the day?? What responsibility is figured in for the parent to make sure the child is getting the help at home they need to succeed in school? Why has the government not made parents also responsible for those students left behind.
Another aspect of NCLB that the government seems to have misjudged concerns our special education students, to ask a child in 8th grade who is reading on a 1st grade level to take and pass a test on the 8th grade level seems to put a lot of unfair pressure on that student and their teacher. I feel so sorry for those students who I see so upset because they can't understand or read something on a test, and I can't help them.

NCLB was originally a beautiful idea, but its implementation has turned ugly. Schools are essentially asked to do more and more on less and less; creative and freedom are being choked. In many education classes one learns of the factors that impact student achievement. One factor is parental environment; some parents provide a richer, more stimulating environment which then gives the child an advantage in school. Yet, the students who do not have these kinds of parents are asked to compete at the same level and are penalized if they don't. Many students don't do homework; in fact, they never open a book at home and their parents do not push them to study. Once again, these students are expected to perform. Many students are unmotivated, yet they must perform at the same level. Other students are impoverished, and their biggest concern is survival, not World History, for example. Yet, they must perform at the same level. If these students do not perform, then the teachers and the school are held accountable, not these other factors. Moreover, the tests themselves prove little about student achievement. The tests are largely multiple choice; students expect there to be only one correct answer. Life, on the other hand, is not in fact multiple choice, nor is there only one correct answer most of the time. These tests also largely test factual knowledge, or straight memorization. Consequently, they are at the lowest levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. The question then becomes, shouldn't we be teaching and assessing higher level skills? Shouldn't we be preparing students to be productive citizens, capable of reading between the lines? Students who are capable of analyzing the argument and either agreeing or disagreeing with a government representative's position, or students who are capable of thinking creatively and applying concepts broadly, are these not to be our goals? We don't allow teachers to teach a subject without some knowledge of it and experience; why do governments make policy on education when they don't meet the requisite level of proficiency we use to assess teacher quality?

I have never been made to feel as incompetent as I do since I entered education a little over 10 years ago. I spent 17 years in finance and was at the top of my game. I strive to be at the top. Teaching has been no exception. However, since I speak Spanish and I am also trained in ELL, I work at inner city schools. Most of them considered failing. Never mind the fact that most of the teachers I have had the pleasure to work with side by side are the most dedicated and competent, they are constantly told they are not doing enough, put under every microscope until they find something. This is just ridiculous. NCLB does nothing for the poor but punish them and their schools for not doing as well as some other schools with half the resources. What will happen when the government takes over all the inner city schools for failure to make AYP? Can we expect to see a raise in teacher salaries and major changes to NCLB then??? At least most days I am still able to close my doors and do what I always wanted to do and that is teach children and applaud their wonderful and daily successes.

Once again it seems union members want to return to the days of no accountability under the guise of creative teaching. Real creative teachers are creative regardless of the environment. NCLB is not perfect, as any human creation is not, but it's better than what we had before. I disagree that it hurst the poor; it is designed specifically to close the centuries-old learning gap between the haves and the have-nots. Prior to NCLB is was way too easy to shove the bottom 25% through the cracks at the school. Now they cannot be forgotten, ignored, and prepared for a life in penal institutions instead of college. Unions are the problem; they've fostered low quality instruction, low quality teachers, and forgotten their purpose -- to eliminate themselves. This "teaching to the test" argument promoted by unions is balderdash: it does not matter who you are or how many years you've been teaching, you can't teach to a test you've never seen. You can teach to the benchmarks the test will measure, and this is the beauty of NCLB. The legislation, with only minor flaws, better directs instruction toward the needs of the Nation. I retired from the Marine Corps and have been teaching for over a decade now. I've found few teachers, and no unions, who fully understand the gravity of this profession. Instead, we have too many teachers who seek the path of least resistance and convey this attitude to their students.

Real creative teachers are creative regardless of the environment? Well, maybe, if environment is the only thing you are concerned with. But I'm confronted with dozens of specific benchmarks each nine weeks (I teach reading and language arts, so some of those benchmarks are fairly inclusive, i.e. teach the kid to decode; others are very specific, as in "the student shall understand the terms hyperbole, irony" etc.) Then I'm given woefully short amounts of time in which to teach them. The teachers at my school find we can't even cover all the benchmarks, let alone really teach them creatively and repeatedly so kids will in fact learn them. And we ignore the mandate at our own peril.
We don't fault the county for trying to see to it that tested areas will be covered. It's the idea that all kids need to learn the same things at the same point in their education that is the problem. I question the idea that it is pivotally important for me to be rushing through elements of plot structure with kids who need to learn to read in the first place.
Oh yes, we understand the gravity of this profession. Many of our kids will spend time in either college or prison, depending on how well we do our job. The desire to make that crucial difference in the lives of the children we teach is what drives us. That being the case, it is tragic that we are increasingly shackled as we struggle to do it competently.
The environment has nothing to do with creativity or lack of it, other than the fact that creative, motivating lessons are never needed more than here among inner-city kids.
NCLB will, like the Iraq War, go down in history as one of those things that are said to have "seemed like a good idea at the time." But teachers, had Congress asked us (there was just one educator on the committee that put together NCLB, and he was quickly blackballed) could have predicted for Congress some of the actual effects: ineffective teaching, dispirited students, and sadly, some of the best teachers leaving the profession in disgust.

Due to the pressure put on our inner city districts, more children are being left behind than ever before. In order to get the next statistic jump in the percentage of students who pass, we are told to identify the "bubble" students who are just above and just below the passing point. They get all the attention and resources. The strong students who need further challenge are on their own. And those weaker students, who cannot be expected to pass, are left in the dust. I am in this profession to teach ALL children, but I am no longer permitted the luxury of doing that. And this is progress??

I applaud all of you for your dedication and passion for doing what is best for your students. I was reflecting as I read how much you are "preaching to the choir." You each have something important to say that should make a difference, but who is listening?

Have you considered sending a copy of your blogs to your local newspaper? You are right in your convictions but our frustration as educators is still not being heard by those you can make a difference.

I retired from teaching four years ago after 32 years in the classroom and now work as an educational consultatn throughout the country. Everywhere I go I hear your voices and meet dedicated educators who are doing the best they possibly can but are constantly criticized by the public and media for failing to cure all of the ills of our socielty.

NCLB continues to hurt our children and drive our teachers from the profession. I have found in recent months that letters to certain politicians do help. I now write a letter once a month and send copies to each of my representatives. Most offices I NEVER hear from ,but the ones I do hear from have people in their ranks who actually care.

Teachers DO have power but little time to use it. It's okay to send the same letter over and over again. Just send it. Eventually someone may hear you. I am out there fighting for each of you and your students.By the way, I have never been asked to serve on any committee that counts or speak about NCLB, but I keep trying.

Teachers cannot make their students learn anything. All students by virtue of their own efforts and guided by competent teachers can accomplish or learn anything they set out to do. Students must be expected to work hard -- do homework, outside reading, participate in class -- for their success, not wait for the teacher to produce success for them based on their needs and interests. It makes no difference who the students are or where they come from, all students have the potential to master challenging academic curriculum, provided they work hard and long enough. If we put the burden for their academic success back on to the student, and mean it, there wouldn't be anything that NCLB could ask us [educators] to do that we [teachers and students] could not accomplish. Teachers teach and students learn. No excuses.

I still believe high school students with normal intelligence should be able to read at grade level and that simply is not happening. It was not happening before NCLB and while some school systems are finally looking to learn methods that work, many are just playing with the numbers, scoring and administrative protocols of state standardized testing.

A recent research paper showed that universities simply are not providing teachers with the tools they need to do the job expected of them. See www.nctq.org and read "What Education Schools Aren't Teaching About Reading--and What Elementary Teachers Aren't Learning". This is a fantastic researched report.

I mean what are we doing wrong if we have to read standardized tests to high school students in order to meet AYP? In Georgia this is a significant problem.

It seems no one appears to be interested in really figuring out what works even though the information about what works is finally out there.

We also need administrators that are trained well enough in instructional methods so that they can discriminate between hyped up marketing and what really constitutes good reading methodologies as well as quality teacher training opportunities.

Some of the fixes do not require a greater amount of money but money spent in the right place and to work smarter not harder.

I agree with the sanctions. I do not know why it is such a bad thing to have failing school systems monitored by the U.S. DOE. I say, please come, we need you.

I agree that "class size, teacher training and retention, access to early childhood programs, and funding for school facilities and materials" is NOT the fix. RIGHT teacher training may be a part of what is needed. But funding for school facilities?? We have beautiful school buildings in our area but if we do not have good ideas about how to make schools learning environments, what difference does the facility make?

We also have a lot of technology in our schools but the students say why come to school if they can just do the class on the computer or if they cannot get the time they need with good teachers in order to get the extra help they desire?

it seems the administration has more use of the technology than is being applied to instruction anyhow. And in our system they then applaud themselves for having loads of technology. I would be more impressed with really making it work for what we need it. Technology also has to be picked out with a high level of discernment.

I will be speaking with my representative and showing them very specific examples of what I am seeing. I still believe in NCLB and we need to really start looking at what the current science of reading and instruction for math and science is telling us.

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