About 100 people attended a rally organized by Oregon Badass Teachers to protest Pearson, a corporation whose name has become synonymous with high stakes testing. Many attending belonged to organizations that fought to pass legislation that would make it easier for parents to opt their children out of such tests. Stand for Children opposed the bill with saber-rattling threats urging the governor to veto it. Kathleen Hagans Jeskey, event organizer, announced during the march that Governor Kate Brown had just signed the Opt-Out bill into law drawing ecstatic cheers from the crowd.
Protesters, adults and children alike, took the stage to attest (no pun intended) to the horrors of high stakes tests in their lives. Johnny-Moneybags-Pearson literally offered kids money with strings attached — to no art, no music, no library, and so on. They weren’t having any of it.
Bill Gates surprised the crowd by arriving from Seattle, Washington in the Opt-Out Bus. He graciously posed for photos with members of the group causing some to wonder, “Does he finally realize the harm Common Core high stakes testing is doing to America’s children?” We can only hope.
All in all, it was a good day for Oregon’s children.
So I walk into the learning store to see what’s available for parents to purchase in their attempt to assuage the dreaded Common Core beast that has entered into the lives of their children, uninvited. As a teacher I had frequented the store and spent considerable time and way too much of my paycheck there. As a retired teacher, I sometimes buy games and flashcards to tutor struggling students. I have to admit it. The #2 Ticonderogas, the scented fluorescent markers, legos, scores of smiley-face stickers, laminated posters hot off the press, paints and puzzles, more legos . . . I love that store.
I chat with the sales clerk. I want to know about how parent resources have changed since Common Core State Standards and high stakes testing have become the driving force in our public schools. I refer to Arne Duncan’s assessment of suburban moms, the very parents who frequent her store:
It turns out that many suburban and middle-class parents have issues when those reforms are extended to the schools that educate their children. This has been taken as a sign that these parents are ignorant or selfish. As U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has put it, “Pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who – all of a sudden – their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary.”
I offer up some more facts about the test, and she listens patiently. “Although some parents are beginning to opt-out their children from high stakes standardized tests, others are hunkering down for the challenge believing that their children will defiantly beat the odds — as only one-third of students are predicted to pass the SBAC or PARCC,” I explain. She nods and sighs deeply.
“Parents come in and ask for books to help their kids with Common Core and the tests, and I direct them to these shelves,” she says as she gestures. She directs me to shelves of books displaying Common Core icons on the cover. I browse the math selection.
I expect to find booklets rich in worksheets and answer keys delineating the 108 steps required to solve a Common Core fourth grade word problem as demonstrated by this Arkansas mom.
Instead I find the same standard content from the same familiar publishers. There are no convoluted word problems with 108 steps that can just as easily be calculated in two. Confused, I ask the sales clerk what had changed in the new booklets the store is now selling as Common Core material.
She grins sheepishly, shrugs a little, and says, “The Common Core icon on the cover.” She timidly bites her lip and hurries away to help other customers offering no further explanation.
I get it. This store isn’t in the business of selling out kids by providing the ridiculous CCSS resources that make a mockery of learning. They aren’t betraying families with children who need a little boost to learn math. On the other hand, it’s deceptive to market math materials as Common Core relevant when clearly they are not. It must confuse parents who are trying to figure out what all the fuss is about. They miss the opportunity to find out just how convoluted Common Core math really is.
Immediately, I see the predicament the store had been forced into by an education system that no longer makes sense. Selling education materials should not present a moral dilemma to shop keepers promoting the joy of learning. UGH!
Thank you Yong Zhao for the wonderful and entertaining insights in your keynote speech to over 600 parents and educators at the Network for Public Education in Chicago this past week. And thank you, too, to Mercedes Schneider for transcribing it so masterfully so that we bloggers can highlight delightful excerpts from it for our posts. Without further adieu, Yong Zhao:
For the record, John Oliver must be recognized for doing the reporting that seems to elude mainstream media. He nails standardized testing and the nasty profiteers that proliferate a horrible hoax on the American public at the expense of our children. The report begins with pep rallies being staged to celebrate the taking of the tests.
I cringe to think that at some time in the near future a video of me circa 1991, surrounded by my Indianapolis Public Schools colleagues leading a cheer for the ISTEP, will emerge. It was a time before standardized tests determined the future lives of children, teachers, and schools — a time when a test was just a test — no high stakes. In those days, teachers sought to gain favor with their principals, and principals with administration, by championing THE TEST. We were all naive.
Nearly 25 years later, as tests have evolved into instruments used to facilitate student data collection, teacher evaluation, and school quality, we know the harm these tests can do. When John Oliver exposes the standardized test deception on an HBO comedy show, it’s time to say, “Enough is enough! We’re not going to give/take these stupid test anymore.!”
As I write this post, I have in front of me my permanent education record from kindergarten through eighth grade. It is by way of an unusual set of circumstances that I have this file. The short of it is that the records clerk at the first high school I taught at gave it to me in 1992.
It includes my standardized test scores for grades K, 1, and 4-8.
Yes. I took standardized tests beginning in kindergarten. My first was the Metropolitan Readiness Test, Form B (1973). It assessed my readiness for first grade, in six areas: word meaning, listening, matching, alphabet, numbers, and copying.
My teacher used it to help determine whether I should advance to first grade.
The test was not misused to grade my teacher or school.
None of the other six tests were used to grade my teachers or my school. They were used for diagnostic purposes related to my education.
My tests were not used to make me feel bad about myself by way of expected failure rates publicized in the media. My test results were not manipulated by those who possessed the political power to set any cut scores. There were no cut scores. There was no media hype surrounding my testing. There was no need for my parents to be concerned about my emotional well being due to any punitive consequences that might befall me. I was not worried that my scores could be used to fire my teachers or close my school.
There was no need for my parents to consider opting me out of testing.
Those days do not reflect the testing-pressure-cooker reality of 2015.
Coincidentally, at the same time John Oliver presented his bittersweet expose and Mercedes wrote her fantastic blog post, Parents Across America published its position paper against Common Core, SBAC, and PARCC complete with Common Core Basics and annotated references. Add it to your arsenal of resources to opt your child out of high stakes standardized tests.
While editors at the Oregonian continue to serve up platitudes to its readers, a comedian invites us to digest the evidence surrounding high stakes standardized testing.
President George W. Bush in just his third day in office announced his No Child Left Behind program. It passed Congress with bipartisan support because of course it did. Voting against No Child Left Behind is like voting against No Puppy Left Unsnuggled.
CLASS is a project of the Chalkboard Project also know as Foundations for a Better Oregon.
Whenever the topic turns to education in Oregon, the mention of the Chalkboard Project is sure to enter the conversation. Time and again ex-Governor Kitzhaber has invited ”expert” testimony from the Chalkboard Project to enlighten members of the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) on research and policy. The Governor always promptly exited the room when public testimony, conflicting or otherwise, was given . . . always.
The cost of K–12 public schooling in the United States comes to well over $500 billion per year. So, how much influence could anyone in the private sector exert by controlling just a few billion dollars of that immense sum? Decisive influence, it turns out. A few billion dollars in private foundation money, strategically invested every year for a decade, has sufficed to define the national debate on education; sustain a crusade for a set of mostly ill-conceived reforms; and determine public policy at the local, state, and national levels. In the domain of venture philanthropy—where donors decide what social transformation they want to engineer and then design and fund projects to implement their vision—investing in education yields great bang for the buck.
Foundations for a Better Oregon, a group of charitable organizations whose combined assets total over three billion dollars (that’s billion with a “b”) concocted the Chalkboard Project to become a player in the education reform scheme and have garnered unprecedented influence at a bargain basement price — about $21 million of theirs and $12 million of ours (taxes) as of 2013. These foundations came together to form the Chalkboard Project:
If Chalkboard was created by foundations to support education reform, one might wonder why in the past several years Chalkboard has been awarded millions in government grants. While it was originally supported entirely by the foundations and other charitable funders, in 2010 it received its first government grant of about $112,000 or about 7% of its $1.6 million in revenue. Over the next few years (after the creation of the OEIB) revenue from government grants skyrocketed to nearly $5 million annually or 70% of its revenue. In less than a decade, the Chalkboard Project has gone from being funded primarily by foundations to receiving the majority of its revenue from the state. It has also gained optimal influence over education policy in Oregon. You might ask why Chalkboard’s founding foundations, worth over $3 billion collectively, need government funding that could be much better spent by k-12 school districts? Good question.
According to information gleaned from scrutinizing 990s filed with the IRS, Foundations for a Better Oregon (a.k.a The Chalkboard Project) was founded in 2004 with a $150,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and some small change from others. One thing that foundations have championed is paying unqualified (out of field) people relatively large sums to act as CEOs to create their vision. This is not only true for Chalkboard, but for many other reform organizations as well. Sue Hildick has been the president since its founding, and although Chalkboard has several staff members, Sue and one other person are paid the lion’s share in salaries. Sue pays herself $228,717 a year; Dan Jamison makes $170,949 and the other salaries and wages of $443,969 appear to be divvied up among the remaining 11 employees. That’s 47% for the top two execs and 53% for everyone else. Funny thing. Since 2009, when the foundations were paying the bills, Sue was paid about $130,000 a year, but when the government — you and me– started paying most of the bills, her compensation rose about $100,000 to nearly $230,000 as of 2013. It’s good to be queen.
Chalkboard president Sue Hildick, who has no education credentials, enjoys the enviable position of providing counsel on matters that affect kids and families, teachers, and schools on a daily basis. Why Hildick? Is she an education wunderkind? Does she possess knowledge about teaching and learning that will make Oregon schools the best in the nation — as Chalkboard’s mission states? Should Oregonians trust her to do what is best for our children? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO! Here’s why.
Chalkboard is one of those organizations cited in the Barkan article, one that wants to project its vision onto us. Nevermind that its vision may not be our vision. With a little of its own money and a lot of ours, it has envisioned a dream education for us. So, does Chalkboard share our vision? Not if it isn’t advocating for the Quality Education Model (QEM). Not if it isn’t demanding that public school programs be fully and equitably funded. Not if it isn’t led by an engaged educator who can relate to the needs of teachers and students. We don’t need a bunch of filthy rich foundations telling us how to educate our kids and teachers.
So, where do our Chalkboard tax dollars go? It’s hard to say. None of the money seems to reach the classroom. No books or librarians in the budget. No music or art. There seems to be a lot of polling, marketing, lobbying, branding, and consulting going on. Listed on its website are these partners annotated here with the type of business each operates.
DHM Research — opinion polling
ECONorthwest — economic consulting
Mambo Media — marketing and media
NW Public Affairs — lobbyists
Quinn Thomas Public Affairs — lobbyists
Squishy Media — website development
Leopold Ketel — branding agency
Kira Higgs Consulting –thought leader with no education experience. What the?
Education First — founding partner is from the Gates Foundation, other staff are Broadies, TFAers, etc., few have real education credentials; services mimic the memes of STEM, College and Career Ready, Teacher Leaders
A quick look at its IRS 990s raises multiple red flags. Troubling. Here are some:
Foundations for a Better Oregon should identify itself as doing business as the Chalkboard Project.
The organization was founded by six charitable organizations (plus Gates) dedicated to making sure Oregon has the best schools in the country. Since 2011, (the year OEIB was created) well over half its budget has come from government grants instead of from the foundations. You might say the government (OEIB) is now the seventh foundation in the Chalkboard Project
The conflicts of interest among board members are ubiquitous.
The salary paid to two employees is nearly half the entire amount paid out to all other employees.
The travel budget seems high compared to the number of employees. Where is everybody going?
Conference fees (expense) seem high compared to the number of employees. Which conferences?
The “Other” line item expense is nearly a million dollars in some recent years yet unaccounted for on the form. Where did all that money go?
There is no rhyme nor reason as to the amounts granted to school districts. For example, in 2012 and 2013 Salem-Keiser school district received over a $1 million in grants annually while Portland Public Schools received only $10,000. And why did the governor’s office receive a $35,000 CLASS grant in 2011 and another grant for $75,000 in 2012? Head scratch.
Expenses for consultants and lobbyists seem to be a sizable part of the business especially when compared to amounts paid out to most school districts.
Since 2011, up to 70% of Chalkboard’s funding has come from government grants. Face palm.
The Chalkboard Project is only a tiny sliver of the education reform pie. It was created to marginalize education professionals and give businesses and foundations the means to control the teaching profession and public schools in Oregon. Chalkboard wields tremendous power in this state. It seems to be accountable to no one. To some, Chalkboard may even have the appearance of a slush fund with so much of its expenses either questionable or unaccounted for. As disturbing as that is, of much greater concern should be the OEIB’s power to act as a charitable foundation with our taxes, to ignore conflicts of interest, to cherry-pick who benefits and who does not, while holding all to the same standard. It’s unconscionable. Time to say no more of our tax dollars for Chalkboard. (Sorry Sue, you may have to take a pay cut.) Time to wave a not-so-fond farewell to the OEIB.
Parents with their kids in tow flocked to Play Date PDX Sunday evening to learn how to opt their students out of high stakes standardized testing. The kid-friendly venue provided a pleasant atmosphere to share information about the worrisome test their children will be subjected to this year.
In December of 2013 the Oregon Department of Education said the new tests are needed primarily because Oregon’s current tests, known as OAKS, don’t cover the skills schools must impart under the Common Core State Standards that Oregon mandated schools cover by 2014-15. But parents and teachers say not so fast. Members of Oregon Save Our Schools, headed by the Opt Out of High Stakes Testing Committee chaired by LuAnne DeMarco, organized the event to share information about the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or SBAC (referred to as s-bac) and how parents may request that their children not be required to take the test.
Quintessential primary teacher Emily Crum objects to the new tests for several reasons. In states where the SBAC has already been given, two-thirds of students failed. Similar results have already been projected for Oregon students. Too much time is spent preparing for tests that are developmentally inappropriate for children. The tests take away valuable teaching time and leave little time for kids to be kids. Emily asked families to create posters citing their reasons for opting out of the test. You may view the posters here.
More than 90 people came to receive information and resources to support their decision to opt out. You can find that information and opt out forms here.
Many parents are finding out more about the dark side of high stakes testing and are not willing to simply follow the order of the task masters who are not acting in the best interest of children. Read here why one mother and educator will be opting her children out of the SBAC.
Oregon is not alone in questioning the efficacy of the new tests that supposedly align to the Common Core State Standards. Fair Test and United Opt Out are promoting resistance to the tests nationwide.
Ultimately, the question becomes, “What kind of school experience do we want for our children?” Do we want schools with rich curriculum and exciting experiences, a place where teachers and children want to learn and work and play? Yes. We have the power to opt out of standardized testing!
Most of my school days as a student and as a public school teacher were spent in Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). These days Indianapolis seems determined to sell out its public schools. So, when I heard Stand for Children (SfC), a repressive education reform group based in Oregon (where I now live), was pouring large sums into the campaigns of three particular school board candidates, I paid attention. Why would SfC care about a school board election 2,000 miles away? Why should Oregonians think the goals of SfC in Indiana are any different for our state?
Perhaps, foreshadowing the IPS results, glossy brochures and pamphlets barraged voters at the mailbox in the final days leading up to the election. All three elected candidates, Mary Ann Sullivan, Kelly Bentley, and LaNier Echols, were endorsed by Stand for Children as well as other funders with deep pockets. SfC, in turn, receives much of its funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Over $100,000 was donated to the candidates who support for-profit charter schools, high stakes testing, and non-licensed school staff like Teach for America and Teach Plus. Incumbent opponents raised only about $6,000 among the three of them, and while that may sound dismal in comparison to the outside corporate support, it had previously been the norm.
Photo credit: Matthew Mayer
The ousted incumbents are current IPS board president Annie Roof, Samantha Adair-White and Michael Brown, who all had been endorsed by the local teachers’ union.
Brown was a strong supporter of former Superintendent Eugene White, voted against his buyout and has been skeptical of some of the changes the board has embraced since 2012, such as partnerships with charter schools. He said during the campaign that smaller class sizes, quality teachers and more involved parents are the keys to improving IPS.
Maybe Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) members, who often consults with SfC on education issues, think Oregonians aren’t aware of its bad behavior in other states. Maybe Governor Kitzhaber and Education CEO Nancy Golden think that parents, students, and community members aren’t aware of SfC’s agenda of privatizing our public schools. They would be wrong. State politicians and the OEIB cannot expect Oregonians to act like ostriches with their heads stuck in the sand on the very important issue of public education. We endorse smaller class sizes, quality teachers and more involved parents just like the ousted IPS board members.
Is SfC planning a coup to disrupt school board election here in Oregon? We’ll know soon enough in April, 2015, when Portland Public School board elections are scheduled. Attempts on the part of SfC and other reform funders to influence the outcome of the election will result in active protest. Oregon school boards are not for sale.
Before reviewing the test, a word about the graphic design. Skimming this web page, it is clear that some designs are more legible than others. That’s true for test, too. Many people think a computer test is “more standardized,” and therefore more fair than an old-fashioned pencil and paper test. That’s a misconception. Differences in the age of the computer, the brand, speed, monitor size, display, sound, and other tech attributes can make a difference in student performance. Some readers may find this page visually difficult to read and understand, just as some kids will find the test format and instructions difficult to read and understand. And, that doesn’t begin to take into consideration the range of dexterity and computer skills kids bring to the test.
On to the test. From the Stand for Children website:
BETTER TESTS: YOU DECIDE
We are finally moving to higher academic standards for our kids.
With those high standards come better tests that measure critical thinking, replacing bad tests that are just rote memorization.
Are the higher academic standards referred to above the Common Core State Standards?
What are the names of the old tests and the new tests? Is the old test the OAKS? Is the new test the SBAC?
In the first 3rd grade math problem, the new test is measuring area, not perimeter. Drag and drop!Drag and drop! Drag and drop! What is the correct answer to the old test problem? Should the question on the old test have been: What is the area? Was this an actual old test question?
In the second 3rd grade math problem as in the first, the student is simply asked to answer more problems at once. Dragging and dropping several answers instead of selecting only one answer. No partial credit?
Does the 5th grade Reading/Writing test require kids to do more than drag and drop to answer the question?
Does drag and drop now equal critical thinking?
Find out more about opting out of high stakes testing:
For this teacher, the November 4, 2014, TIME magazine cover is intimately personal and painful. I view it from an unique perspective. I feel that gavel pounding my head just as surely as if the judge were standing above me. I have been deemed a “rotten apple” by a court of law. Because of a court ruling that you may find as unbelievable as I do, I have lost my job, my career, my dignity. I struggle to survive. Even though the original incident happened over a decade ago, it effects cast a lingering pall over the teaching profession.
Many other outraged teachers have voiced informed, indignant replies to TIME demanding an apology. Only a tiny fraction of the public who saw that cover and subliminally absorbed the “TEACHERS ARE ROTTEN APPLES” message, will know about the teacher responses. I’m adding my voice to the outrage machine which will also, most likely, be ignored. Speaking from personal experience, I’m making the case that it is exceedingly easy to fire a teacher — even if the court must make new law to do so.
Consider the front page cover that brazenly and in bold print decries (and implies that our teachers are) Rotten Apples and graphically displays a gavel that is about to smash an apple that looks healthy. Why? . . . Clearly I do not know the motives behind Time’s depiction of the issue nor will I pretend to know them.
I think I do know TIME’s motive, and unlike many employed educators, I have nothing to lose by speaking my mind. The intent of the TIME cover is to implant the BAD TEACHER message into the American psyche. As Vergaracopycat lawsuits against teacher tenure wind their way through our court system, parents and the public will be reminded in a myriad of ways just how bad teachers are. The “bad teachers are impossible to fire” meme will become prolific with periodic boosts from major media outlets and incessant mimicking via social media. Members of an uninformed, unduly influenced public will far outnumber the educated few who will be powerless to stop this billionaire scheme. Unless we all become wise to this scam, the teaching profession and our publicly owned, publicly governed, publicly beloved schools are doomed. They will become the property of the wealthy elite.
The following video exchange between an Indianapolis TV news reporter and me and my attorney, Michael Schultz, tells my story succinctly. Note that even during a press conference to announce my appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, I struggle to be heard. The case is Mayer v. Monroe County Consolidated School Corporation, aka the Honk for Peace case. (Other relevant documents including the text of the TIME for Kids article and the petition to the Supreme Court may be viewed at the Free Speech Nation website.) A transcript follows each video clip.
Reporter: What brought you here today?
Deb: The original incident happened in January of 2003 when I was teaching a current events lesson to my class that had to do with Iraq. And I was using Time for Kids which is a magazine that was provided by the school. (Construction noise from the street nearby interrupts. Deb, who had already asked that the interview be moved to a quieter place, waits for the noise to subside a bit. Even at a press conference, Deb stuggles to be heard. Ironic.)
Reporter: You were teaching what?
Deb: I was teaching a current events lesson using Time for Kids which is a magazine that was provided by the school. It was approved curriculum. The issue was about Iraq. There were articles about weapons of mass destruction, about UN inspectors going in, and there was one little article about peace demonstrations being held in Washington, D.C., so we discussed that and one of my students asked if I would ever march in a peace march. And I said that peace demonstrations were going on all over the country, even in Bloomington, Indiana. When I drive past the courthouse square where the . . . (Again noise drowns out Deb’s voice.)
Reporter: Sorry, you don’t want to get drowned out.
Deb: I know.
Reporter: Okay, when they asked you, “Would you march . . .
Deb:… would you march in a peace march? I said when I drive past the courthouse square, where the demonstrators are, I honk for peace because they have signs that say, “Honk for Peace.” And I didn’t think too much about it. I thought it was a good common sense thing to say. I also went on to say that I thought we should seek out peaceful solutions to problems, and we teach kids to be mediators on the playground so they won’t fight and hurt each other. And that was the extent of the conversation. I had a student who went home to complain to her parents that I was encouraging the kids to protest the war which hadn’t even started yet. And the parent was very angry and eventually demanded that I not mention peace in my class again. I was told, the entire school was told not to mention peace in relationship to the war. I was intimidated from that time on, harassed, and eventually lost my job.
Attorney Michael Schultz:
The question we are actually putting to the United States Supreme Court is whether and under what circumstances do public school teachers have a right to free speech in class, or stated a little differently, whether or not the First Amendment limits a public school board’s power to punish a teacher for expressing an opinion on a matter of public concern. We’ve not taken the position that teachers should always be able to just go into class and spout out their opinions on issues. This was a class of fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. The curriculum was approved. It was Time for Kids magazine. It talked about current events. It had articles in it about differing opinions on the war. The article actually talked about protests of what President Bush was doing in December of 2002 — January of ’03, and the students naturally wanted to ask about the teacher’s opinion. She made her opinion in a very limited, very professional, appropriate way and got fired for it.
Reporter: What kind of message do you hope to send with this law suit?
Reporter: I mean, you’ve already lost.
Deb: I’ve already lost.
Reporter: You’ve lost the appeal.
Deb: I’ve lost the appeal.
Reporter: Now you’re going to the Supreme Court.
Deb: At this point the . . . (Noise from jack-hammering on the street beside us interrupts again. Deb is obviously frustrated by the noise and had already asked to move the interview to a quieter place, but the reporter insists on having the image of the courthouse in the background.)
Reporter: Hold on. Oh well. Okay. Sorry. Let’s go through this.
Deb: The court has ruled that basically the Constitution and several landmark decisions involving free speech at school are irrelevant. They’ve said that teachers have no right of free speech, and that means that a teacher can be fired for any little random comment that she makes. And the court has also said that a teacher’s speech is a commodity that she sells for a salary to the school which I think is a very dangerous concept, and I don’t think we should let that stand because I think free speech is an inalienable right, and I don’t think teachers should lose their rights as a citizen whenever they go to work.
Attorney Michael Schultz:
The law is always made by the losing battle and it is always the cases lost in trial court that eventually end up making new law or clarifying the law, and what we’re trying to do is get the United States Supreme Court to finally clarify the law in this area. We have all the circuit courts are sort of all over the place on how they deal with on whether or not a teacher’s in class speech is protected. In some circuits it is protected. We say in our petition that if Ms. Mayer had been – if this had happened to her in Ohio, for example, she’d probably still have her job. Even if it had happened in Texas, she’d probably still have her job.
On the day I learned the Supreme Court declined to hear my case, Personnel Pitfalls in Cyberworld, written by the attorney for Monroe County Schools, Thomas Wheeler, II, was published on the American Association of School Administrators website. From the article:
Assume Mayer applies for a teaching position in your district. Before the common use of keyword searches on the Web, a school probably would have received limited information regarding her discharge from the Monroe County School Corp., but probably would not have received any information relating to her lawsuit or anti-war activities. If you declined to hire her based on that information alone it would probably be well within your rights to do so.
However, in this Internet age, what if you perform a Google search showing her litigation and anti-war activities. Assume you take the exact same action, declining to hire her based on her prior discharge. Unfortunately, given the knowledge of her anti-war activities and lawsuit, your school district may very well be subject to legal action by Mayer alleging you violated her First Amendment rights by refusing to hire her based upon her anti-war protests.
I haven’t worked since.
My attorney, Michael Schultz, still receives requests from teachers with free speech issues. He explains that he can’t help them because of the Mayer decision. It seems that in fighting for my own rights, the rights of many others were lost. For me, that’s a heavy burden to bear.
You might wonder where the teachers’ union was during this time. The National Education Association, of which I was a member, and the America Federation of Teachers refused to support me. I travelled to Washington, D.C. twice and literally begged for help. Michael E. Simpson, assistant general counsel for NEA, refused to support me. His reasons were arcane and absurd, and I have never been entirely sure whether they were the union’s or his own. Let’s just say his reasoning reflected badly on the union. Organizations, after all, are the people who constitute them.
Another case, decided while the Honk for Peace case was crawling through the system, is Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006). It abolished the free speech rights of government workers while at work, tentatively making an exception for educators. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Thomas E. Wheeler II wrote an amicus brief for Garcetti and then used the verdict in that case to argue against my petition to the Supreme Court. Both my case and the Garcetti case were decided without regard for the evidence or the law, but according to a predetermined opinion of the court. Mayer v. Monroe County Consolidated School Corporation (2007) meant to challenge the Garcetti ruling, but the Supreme Court declined to hear it. You may wonder why you don’t hear more from civil service workers exposing government corruption. My guess would be because of the Garcetti ruling.
Even when teachers do win one as in Renee v. Duncanwhere the California Supreme Court ruled that alternative certification teachers (Teach for America types) do not meet the definition of “highly qualified” teachers, the victory is short-lived. Because of generous contributions and lobbying efforts from billionaire-funded Teach for America, the United States Congress lost no time in posting a “temporary amendment” declaring “alt certs” highly qualified teachers. The amendment is continually renewed in the Continuing Resolution that is guaranteed passage, thus preventing a national debate about whether poor and minority students deserve actual teachers. This Congressional end run around the court is another blow to teachers and their supporters. President Obama weighed in early against teachers when he applauded the firing of teachers in Rhode Island. Arne Duncan, promoting Race to the Top and Common Core, hasn’t been teacher friendly either. So, let’s recap, all three branches of government with support from billionaires and their foundations are waging a devastating public war on teachers. Why? Why? Why?
Let’s be clear about one thing. Vergara is not at all about employing the best teachers for our children. It’s about destroying the teaching profession and teachers’ unions. As Campbell Brown and her cronies proceed with their Vergara-like cases, there will be more covers and more stories about bad teachers. She, along with Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, and other public relations darlings who have nary an authentic education credential amongst them, will make the rounds on talk shows, maybe visit The Colbert Report again and The Daily Show, and act as the true voices of education. Actual teachers, on the other hand, will be silent. Not because they aren’t screaming at the top of their lungs to be heard, but because no one in the mainstream media will invite them to the conversation. I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.
There are some bad teachers, it’s true. It is the job of administration to fire bad teachers. It isn’t impossible. A system is in place, and the rules should be followed. Laws and tenure protect the rights of good teachers so they can’t be fired capriciously. The next time you see a “bad teacher” story, replace that descriptor with a mental picture of your favorite teacher, or your child’s favorite teacher. Recognize that the gavel will indiscriminately fall on the head of a real person — not a meme. This could get messy.
Deb Mayer is a former teacher. Before teaching at Clear Creek Elementary School where free speech died, she taught at the prestigious Key School in Indianapolis, best known for introducing multiple intelligences into the classroom and instituting other educational theories into practice. She served as a faculty member at Indiana University (IUPUI). She is the recipient of the Defense of Academic Freedom Award. Currently, she is the director of the volunteer-run nonprofit, Great Schools for America, where she maintains Edwatch. She also maintains Teachers United Against Teach for America.
This comic accompanies a two-year long Truthout supported series illustrating the education reform debate from an alternative perspective, both ideologically and visually. For previous graphic essays on education by Adam Bessie, see also
“This School is Not a Pipe” (with Josh Neufeld); “The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum: The High Price of Education Reform” (with Dan Archer: “Part I: Washington D.C.”; “Part II: New Orleans”; “Part III: Finland”) and “Automated Teaching Machine: A Graphic Introduction to the End of Human Teachers” (with Arthur King).
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Great Schools for America examines issues of public education policy and advocates for the protection of our poorest and most vulnerable students against the rich and powerful who aspire to usurp their rights. We are committed to democratic, not corporate, education ensuring all students access to great teachers, facilities, programs, and projects.