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Where do we stand?

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Lead from the Start: Where do we stand?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Where do we stand?

A teacher finally said "No." After 8 years teaching in Washington state a middle school teacher, Carl Chew, refused to administer the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. I learned of this act of Civil Disobedience in TeacherMagazine.

"Every year, I said to myself this is the last time I'm going to do this," said Chew, 60, who has been teaching for about eight years and said he has seen kids struggle through the test with few positive results to show for the time and effort expended over two weeks each spring. He made a decision to stand up for his beliefs as he was walking down the hall to pick up this year's test booklets.
I feel like I did when I stood on one side of a creek that ran behind our house, afraid to jump, and because of the teenage bully coming after us, afraid not to.

I want to add Mr. Chew to my list of heroes like Mark Emblidge and Billy Canaday who I placed there for working to help solve the testing issues for English Language Learners in Fairfax, VA last year. I want to stand with him... but I can't.

I can understand why he did what he did. When I teach my students black history I usually start with the story of Rosa Parks. We learn a call and response marching chant. Eventually the students do the call and I do the response. It goes like this:
Students Chant --- Teacher Response
Rosa Parks --- Rosa Parks
Mother of the Movement ---Mother of the Movement
She said, "NO!" --- She said, "NO!"
"I won't go!" ---
"I won't go!"
"To the back of the bus!" ---
"To the back of the bus!"

Teaching this to 4 year olds to explain what it means to stand up for what you believe makes sense. I am not sure I can say the same thing about what Chew did. What Rosa Parks did was to stand up to a corrupt system that was against her because of her race. Mr. Chew stood up to protest a corrupt aspect of a system that was put in place to basically correct what was a corrupt system.

Let me explain, before there were standards, there were many schools where students were not taught. The standards movement came about because people wanted teachers and students to be held accountable. Much about the current high-stakes system is not fair to students or teachers but, it is there for a reason... because we didn't have anything better at the time. I have been reading those Value-Added papers I wrote about last week. Mostly they are about making the assessment mechanism more fair by qualifying the judgment of whether schools are passing by saying, "Did you improve outcomes for this child?" and being able to verify a school did that no matter where the kids come from or where the school is located.

So we are working on it (a fairer system) ... I think. If these value-added measures become tied to teacher compensation I think we have a big problem. The statistical tools these scientists are using are already complicated enough without trying to invent a way to qualify differentiated pay as a school improvement tool. As my brilliant STAT professor said, "It won't work."

So, although I understand Mr. Chew's decision, and watching the video below will help you understand too, I can't stand with him. I have too much faith in our system and I would much rather work with policymakers towards workable solutions than point a finger and say this is not right. I think most policy makers know the way things are now is not right, if we don't work together it will keep being wrong. But when I watch the video below I think maybe I am on the wrong side. This video is from a Primetime Live episode. It will seem long but make sure to watch until about 2:30 seconds. She makes my point.

What do you think? Is Mr. Chew a hero?


At 4:07 PM, Blogger Bam Bam Bigelow said...

John wrote:
Mr. Chew stood up to protest a corrupt aspect of a system that was put in place to basically correct what was a corrupt system.

This, Pal, is a brilliant comment that fully explains how we've gotten to the point in education where teachers aren't seen as equals at the policy table.

And while I'm a bit tired of having the failures of schools twenty years ago thrown in my face---after all, I entered the classroom at about the same time as the testing movement----I know that we've got work to do to repair our reputations.

You should check out this post:

It's another good perspective on Chew's decision. Notice the emphasis on civil disobedience being about building relationships and taking action as a part of a larger movement.

They resonated with me.

Rock on,


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