Friday, March 25, 2011

Child Abuse In Corporate Education Reform: I Cannot Feed You, But I Will Test You

Dear President Obama, Mr. Duncan and The Billionaires' Club:

I recently looked up the definition of child abuse and found that neglect is a component of it.  We are neglecting children if we do not provide them with food, adequate clothing, and an environment which allows their health to thrive. I would take this a step further by saying we neglect a child if we starve them intellectually by depriving them of books and other reading material. 

Let’s keep this simple.  I know you like statistics, but we don’t need to throw a ton of numbers into this conversation and measure them, fling them in the air, regroup them, eyeball them and spit them back out in a way that makes me want to throw dishes.  Let’s just call a spade a spade.

We have almost 25% of our children living in poverty. The United States government is neglecting them; this is child abuse. We have a national crisis that cannot be measured. We have an almost 10% unemployment rate. During this crisis, you are planning to increase student testing under Race to the Top.  We will be investing 4.5 billion dollars in this new testing extravaganza.  I say “we” because if we continue to be silent, this will indeed happen and we will all be responsible for it.  My voice, and the voices of all Americans, matter, and we need to speak up. Children will be tested at the beginning of the year, the end of the year, during the year (could be monthly, daily, this remains to be seen) and they will be tested in many subjects – not just reading and math. We plan to Race to the Top, quantifying our students' achievements as we go.

Talk to a hungry child and try to quantify how the child feels.  Talk to a sick child and try to measure the short and long term effects of untreated illness as they trudge to and from school.  Visit a child in a school without books and you just try to tell me how you’re going to measure those spiritless, vacant eyes. 

You wanna measure those eyes at the beginning of the year, during the year and at the end of the year? 

Do you have the stomach for it Corporate Ed. Reformers?  I’m trying to stay calm, but it’s hard.

As a teacher, I never found a standardized test to be useful in telling me about the needs and strengths of my students.  I already knew these things. I am a teacher, I am a professional.  I knew these things because I observed my students every single day.  I listened to them, asked them questions, read their work and evaluated their work. I talked to them, watched them, and saw how my students changed from day to day.

I also noticed how poverty effects student learning.  I worked in very wealthy schools and very poor schools, so I have been able to watch how wealth and poverty play a part in a child’s education.

Let’s look at poverty first. When a child came to school hungry, I noticed that they couldn’t pay attention.  When a child came in dirty and smelled bad, I noticed that they turned inward and avoided their classmates and avoided my eyes.  When a child came in tired because he had been babysitting his younger siblings while his mom worked the night shift, I noticed that he fell asleep at his desk. I noticed that when a child spent the previous night hooking up a long extension cord from the neighbor’s trailer to their family’s trailer, in order to have electricity, the child was filled with anger, unable to concentrate and had an impulse to lash out at others.  I noticed that when children were poorly clothed, they were uncomfortable; often cold, sick and lacked confidence and the ability to even consider their own potential.  I noticed that a child who browsed a school library that was filled with only old, tattered books was less likely to read, and more likely to get involved in gangs. 

I noticed that the standardized test did absolutely nothing to support the child, nor did it do anything to support my ability to meet the needs of the child.  I already knew what the child needed. And I knew that the standardized test was the least of my students’ worries.

I have also watched the children in the wealthier schools.  I have seen their clean clothes, their well-packed lunches, their light skip as they enter my classroom.  I have seen their independent reading books fall out of their desks due to lack of room to store the surplus books that the parents keep buying.  I have seen their keen, excited glances as they talk, share and brainstorm new ideas and creative thinking.  I have heard their laughter fill my classroom and spill into the hallways and the playground.  I have seen their parents go off to work where they make money to provide food and shelter for their children.  I have heard the parents discuss the child’s college fund and the unlimited opportunities in the child’s future. The standardized test was completely useless in improving achievement in these schools as well. I already knew what these students needed, because once again, I am a teacher and I am a professional.

I can tell you my students’ strengths, their needs and their attempts without looking at the results of a standardized test. I evaluate my students during the school day, at home and in my sleep.  I assess them as they read, write, talk, move and breathe.  Krashen states, “The repeated judgments of professionals who are with children every day is more valid than a test created by distant strangers.”

I am highly offended, President Obama, Mr. Duncan and the Billionaires' Club, by your lack of respect for me, and your audacity in assuming that you can help me evaluate my students. You don’t know my students and you don’t know what I know about teaching, learning and children. You see, I studied education and actually did extensive teacher training, as well as completing my master’s in English as a Second Language and pursuing additional doctoral work in Multicultural Education.  I am a teacher and I am a professional. 

I have read Stephen Krashen’s article entitled “Children need food, health care, and books.  Not new standards and tests.” It is crystal clear, in this article, that we do not need state standardized tests to tell us how America’s children are doing within the public school system. In addition to the teachers’ observations, we also have the NAEP, (The National Assessment of Educational Progress), which “is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas. Assessments are conducted periodically in mathematics, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, and U.S. history.” The NAEP is given to a sampling of children across our country and is then used to show how the results would look within larger groups.  As Krashen says, “If we are interested in a general picture of how children are doing, this is the way to do it.  If we are interested in finding out about a patient’s health, we only need to look at a small sample of their blood, not all of it.”

I would also add that if the child is hungry, sick, tired or mentally deprived of intellectual stimulation  - therefore abused – therefore neglected - that blood sample won’t look too good. And….I can dance, laugh, sing and do somersaults in my classroom as I teach, in an attempt to help the child pay attention and do well on the state test.  But, if a child is hungry, tired or sick, I doubt that the resulting test score will reflect and enhance what my student really needs and really knows. But I will tell you, the wealth of knowledge they have about life leaves me speechless.  You should read one of their reading logs.  Now that, President Obama, Duncan, and Gates, is an evaluation that would be useful.

I am standing up for these children, almost 25% in our country to be exact, who live in poverty and know how to problem solve and maneuver through life in ways that would leave me crying alone in a corner if I attempted to do the same.  They are brave children and how dare anyone neglect them and punish them with a standardized test, which labels them a failure.  How dare America do that to our children, to our schools and to the teachers who are spending their own money feeding and clothing our students, while filling their classrooms with books they personally bought. 

As Krashen states, we can protect our children from poverty by feeding them, providing them with health care, a clean environment and school classrooms and libraries filled with books. Studies state very clearly that fewer books mean lower reading scores.  Since scores are what you’re looking for, why not take that test money and buy books instead?  The books would remain in the library for years to come and be read numerous times – not held under lock and key and placed on students’ desks at designated times each year. And imagine how much time our children would have to read if teachers could quit teaching to the test.

Our children not living in poverty score extremely well on international tests.  We score at the top internationally when you look at the scores of children not receiving free or reduced lunch.  Our children living in poverty are the children scoring poorly on the tests.  Poverty is the problem.

If America would quit neglecting its children, by providing our poorest children with healthy food, school nurses, clean school environments and books, we could easily score at the top of the world.  We wouldn’t need to race to get there - such a foolish notion.  We could confidently and easily find ourselves at the top by providing our students with the basic needs necessary for any human being to move forward in this world.

Krashen suggests a way to protect our children from poverty.  We aren’t able to provide all of the parents with jobs overnight, but we can provide students with basic needs simply by ditching the standardized state test.  That’s right.  Ditch it.  Admit the mistake.  Let it go, move on, and remove the effects of poverty for 25% of America’s children.

The test is not necessary.  We already have the NAEP.  We have our teachers, who are professionals and are able to assess and evaluate their students on a daily basis.  If we took the 4.5 billion and invested it in healthy school breakfasts, lunches, nurses and books, we could improve student achievement faster than I can hand off the relay stick in this race to the top.

We would no longer be neglecting America’s children.  We would achieve the greatest achievement of all.  No more vacant eyes, but rather, eyes filled with ideas, dreams and possibilities.  I cannot quantify this achievement either.  Maybe you should talk to America’s children to find out how that would feel; that’s what our teachers would do.

Professionally,
Peggy Robertson








36 comments:

  1. I am responding to a question I received from a friend who has not worked in the public schools with children of poverty. She asked me an excellent question - "Are the stories of the children living in poverty true?" Yes, they are true and are actually incredibly mild compared to the detailed version of each child's story. I'm sure that many teachers would concur. Great question and thank you for asking!

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  2. Nice work, Peggy. I'm sharing it...

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  3. Absolutely FANTASTIC!!! I teach in a Title 1 school in The Bronx, grade 6 ELA. Poverty is more than just true. It affects every aspect of learning in my classroom. I felt every word of this letter. Thank you so much. You were able to put into words what I have been trying to for so long. I have a teaching blog on this site, too. I haven't updated it in a couple of months, but you have inspired me...maybe I'll do it this weekend. I'd love it if you checked it out. It's "America's Future: The Inside Story"

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  4. Brilliant - WELL done! We need to share this wide and far!

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  5. I am sharing this, thank you, I am a parent not a teacher.

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  6. Just saw this posted on my cousin's FB page (he's an ed major.)

    Excellent, excellent piece. I teach 8th grade ELL ELA in Maine. My students are all refugees of the Somali civil war, and have been placed here in conditions which, though hundreds of times better than the refugee camps they grew up in, are still dismal for 21st century America. I live this every day. You couldn't be more right.

    Thanks for speaking up. I will continue to follow... Excellent writing, btw. A+ : )

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  7. True, concise and brilliant! Thank you!

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  8. Great, great post. Thanks for writing it. Sharing!

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  9. Wow. Absolutely fantastic read. Thank you so much for writing this on behalf of our nation's poor children. They don't have a voice in this "ed reform" fiasco. Current politicos and "ed reformers" are ignoring the hurting child and pointing a finger at the teacher. What they need to do is point the finger back at themselves. - Kelli Reyes (@TeacherReality on Twitter)

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  10. Fourteen years in a Title I school and this post is spot on!!! Thank you and it has been shared far and wide.

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  11. Well Said.. And not said enough!! I will repost!

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  12. It really is all about the choices we make. We don't need to cut teachers' pensions, or serve our kids french fries and corn dogs every day for lunch, or stretch a school nurse between 5 schools if we stop spending billions of dollars on these worthless tests. Thanks for your voice, Peg. Well said.

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  13. I'm in my 10th year teaching in an urban middle school where most of the students live in poverty. They still astonish me with some of their questions and the depth of their writing. They are as talented as kids in the richer schools, they just have so much more to overcome. Getting rid of the tests would be fabulous, Why can't we have someone like you as our Secretary of Education?

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  14. I wish there were a version of this that thousands of educators could sign their names to and send off to President Obama et al. Perhaps with a date when we all promise to strike if there is no change to the present absurd and harmful education policies.

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  15. Reposting - glad to share teachers voices!

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  16. Peggy,
    Great post! Very clear and to the point. I, too, will be sharing it with others! Keep writing. Don't let go of that pen!

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  17. Thank you, thank you! I would change one thing though. Capitalize Teacher, capitalize Professional! And make the font so big that even the billionaires (not capitalized) can see the words from atop their ivory towers!

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  18. yes those stories are true

    http://behindthebluewall.blogspot.com/2010/01/ny-never-forgetting-norma-roman.html?spref=fb

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  19. Have you sent this to NEA and AFT?

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  20. Thanks for writing this Peg. I've shared it on my Facebook page and retweeted Stephen Krashen's Tweet with the link!

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  21. “If we are interested in finding out about a patient’s health, we only need to look at a small sample of their blood, not all of it.” .....

    There's a reason we test all kids; it's the best way to ensure there are children who fail, be sure they know it and also know who to blame. There are very few jobs in a Race to the Top paradigm and the system controllers know it.

    BTW.. Arizona currently projected to budget $0 for books next year in public schools.

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  22. Hi I saw your blogs my friend need help is 2011 and her son continue have a abuse in the school I just open a blogg for her beacuse she is handicap blind,she is a single mom..I will add more pages about her case..please feel free to visit my my page..thanks :)))

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  23. Hi Peggy! your blog referring to the abuses to chidlren at the hands of current ploicies bring to mind a frighetning analogy, that speaks more to truth than simply metaphor-
    Speaking of abuse, I think our modern approach to curriculum and assessment mirror these procedures. We dull and deafen the sense of our students-in an effort to produce maximum capacity we hold them down at desks like cows in feedlots or chickens in restraints and pour pre digested feed down their throats. And the substance quality of the food is minimal—corn and soy in animals who naturally are grass eaters and prescribed one size fits all content of little nutritional (meaningful or useful) value—the goal is to merely fatten them up to take their roles in the capitalist/consumer world. A free range school would be where students are free to roam physically and intellectually, to seek what it is that nourishes them, to develop the capacity for genuine socialization that encourages civic participation rather than passive aggressive fighting from having one too many chickens in s s\mall confining space—behavior problems manifested in small mind numbing over crowded classrooms. Let’s just cut of their beaks and wait for their feet to grow into the cages so they can’t move anymore-

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  24. sorry! cannot edits posts i am learning-my initial analogy is between current schooling policies and factory farming methods. The indutrial profit model sees children, like animals, as products and effectively reduces them through abusive testing and "teaching" to inhuman resources having little to do with a genuine education that has the best or any interest of the children at heart.

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  25. Great thoughts from everyone!! Let's keep this momentum going by getting involved in the Save Our Schools March this summer - July 28-31st in Washington D.C. If you are unable to go, there are still many local opportunities! Check out the website at www.saveourschoolsmarch.org.
    In Solidarity,
    Peggy Robertson

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  26. Bravo!

    Consider submitting this to MomsRising!

    http://www.facebook.com/MomsRising.org

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  27. Dear Peggy,

    I am the first to agree that standardized testing is the most ridiculous, time wasting, anxiety producing, element in the schools today. What happened to going to school, listening/learning, taking tests and passing or failing based on actual knowledge skills, life skills & behavior?
    And though we agree on the need to do away with the standardized testing, I do have to call you out on how you are addressing the current administration. Obama is NOT the person who started this education mess. You can thank good old GW Bush for that one. And for the children who are living in poverty, they are provided with food, clean classrooms and hopefully a safe environment while in school. Not sure where this is coming from...
    Just my .02 cents.

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  28. Hi artgirl,

    Unfortunately children living in poverty are not always provided with enough food at school, and often the food is not healthy. There was actually a great comment about that on Wapo today (where this blog was posted), but it appears most comments have been deleted! Such a bummer.

    Jonathon Kozol is a great place to start in regard to reading about poverty in the schools -also David Berliner. I totally agree with you on the GW Bush comment, but Obama is the one currently making the RTTT punishments even worse than NCLB. Hopefully by speaking up we will be able to shift that plan. Thanks for your comments.

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  29. Thank you for stating the truth. I re-posted on FB to share with my colleagues.

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  30. Thank you for your well-written summary of one of the greatest issues facing our schools and students today. I teach in Virginia in a high-poverty elementary school and I agreed with everything that you wrote. Thanks for helping me feel validated as a professional and for providing a voice for my students.

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  31. Excellent article! We are professionals, and our students deserve a NCLB-free world.

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  32. Hi Peggy,

    Several of my colleagues and I at Corwin Press read your article in the Washington Post. We would like to send you a copy of one of our new books called Homelessness Comes to School by Joseph Murphy. Please email me at Lisa.Whitney@Corwin.com so we can mail you a copy.

    Thank you for your inspiring article!

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  33. Peggy,
    I work in one of those high poverty schools-- nearly 80% get free or reduced price lunch. Most of these children have no books at home, one of my students didn't have a stove or oven at home so when they received the care package for Thanksgiving they couldn't even cook the meal. Our kids are demoralized, tired, hungry, anxious, we have had a rash of suicides on our campus-- 9th grade children! People have NO IDEA what teachers face on a daily basis, but if you are there and care to show some interest, you will get some very heart breaking stories. My students want to do well, but sometimes they can't stay awake in class or can't sit still. Thank you for expressing what so many of us experience on a daily basis.

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  34. ...unfortunately true so not even funny..."teacher, I couldn't do my homework because an apartment in my building exploded last night." (a meth lab)

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  35. ...Love your passion, Peg. I'm an educational reformist with your and students' best interests at heart.
    Follow my education blog at http://yolandamichellemartin.wordpress.com/category/education/

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