These summations by Cita Cook of the main points made by some of the people at this meeting are selective, organized by topic rather than the order in which they were stated, and usually paraphrased.
INSPIRING AND HELPFUL SEGMENTS IN THE PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION
• Page xiv: Nancy describes a fourth grade class she enjoyed as a child that was organized as a democratic community, with everyone helping each other and making decisions together. Every student had fun, felt cared for, and achieved some success, exactly what we all wish.
• Page xviii: Mara’s resistance story condemns the use of rankings, competition, and rewards for either students or teachers because they lead to assumptions that teachers are to blame for any poor performance.
• Page xviii: Mara remembers when a twelve-year old special education student was doing well until his teachers were ordered to treat him as if he were the same as any other student. When he was not allowed the kind of support network he had enjoyed before, he failed repeatedly.
• Page xxi: The authors hope that more supporters of public education, individually and collectively, will learn from the stories in this book how they might develop the courage and strategies to move forward.
• Page xxi-xxii: A democratic society should provide meaningful and challenging education to all students. Students need to learn how to participate in a democratic society. The authors want to show what an effective school environment might involve in spite of the various problems we face, including the move to put corporations in charge of more and more aspects of education.
• The first-hand accounts in the book are about experiences outside of the South, often where teachers could rely on active unions and other strong organizations, but they can still help us think about how we might adapt some of their tactics to our particular circumstances. To what extent and how has supporting public education been different in the South from what is described in the book? What can we learn from experiences from the history of the Civil Rights Movement and other activists who struggled to support education in the South?
THOUGHTS INSPIRED BY THE PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION
Barriers to Effective Teaching
• We know that good teachers care about their students, listen to them, and make learning fun and exciting, qualities that cannot be assessed through standardized tests and that are currently being punished rather than rewarded.
• Both students and teachers are being turned into data points. Teachers need to be free of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top limitations so they can plan their classes based on the needs of their students at the start of the school year.
• The special education classes taught by one of us used to include activities such as learning math through working on an income tax form and taking field trips. Then the district administrators interpreted No Child Left Behind as requiring all students, no matter what their learning challenges, to be evaluated the same on standardized tests and to be considered failures if they did not perform at their supposed grade level.
• One of us retired earlier than expected because of the new restrictions imposed on teachers in her district. Instead of using techniques that she knew would involve and help her particular students, she was ordered to follow a narrowly-focused curriculum as if it fit all students equally. Teachers at her high school had to put their lesson plans on their doors and every subject had to have an End of the Course Test. Even when she ignored some of the directives without getting in trouble, she felt too bad about what was happening to keep teaching.
• One of us had always enjoyed teaching until her principal forced the teachers in her elementary school to pilot the America’s Choice Program, which involves tightly scripted lesson plans. She could no longer do effective and fun activities such as organizing her room to be like Native American and African villages or putting on musicals on history topics. On the bulletin boards, she had to replace children’s art with the standards which even second graders had to learn by rote. The teachers tried to convince the principal to drop the program, but she was hoping to write about it for a dissertation.
• Requiring teachers to focus on college and career preparation from the start is another barrier to creating fun classroom activities which lead to more learning. Students feel insecure and fearful when told to focus on their future as an adult when they are still children and have not received enough exposure to what each choice involves. A fifth grade girl reacted to pressure to think about college by asking, “What if I just want to marry?”
• The Atlanta Public Schools eliminated elementary school recess at one point, but it’s now coming back, thanks to Michelle Obama. In DeKalb District, elementary schools have recess, but middle schools do not always hold physical education classes. Some teachers purposely lead their students to lunch the long way so they can have a little relief from sitting. Students with ADHD do worse when they have no opportunity to move around during an entire day.
• For many decades, education officials have imposed new programs without setting aside enough time and money to offer the teachers and students whatever might allow them to transition successfully to the new program. This has meant that even programs which might have had potential to be effective have tended to fail.
• In at least one middle school, teachers have not received the federal money that is supposed to allow the special assistance some students need and team-teaching. Actually, most never see the money and are apt to be the only person on “the team.” When a science teacher asked the principal about the money that was supposed to be distributed, she answered that she was using it only for ESOL classes since “English isn’t needed in Science.”
• Some schools have fewer ESOL teachers than they used to have even though they now have more students. In an Atlanta elementary school, however, there are more teachers, even though they lost 100 ESOL students. The teachers pull students out of their classes to work with them.
• There are more and more limits on the kind of free reading that is so helpful to students. One person remembers how the task of reading twenty minutes a day in a lower grade led to her son becoming an avid reader.
• Some districts are interpreting the Common Core directions in a manner that places excessive limits on the right of teachers to assign fiction, even in Language Arts classes.
• Many years ago, when a kindergarten teacher was free to teach as she thought best, she put the word “look” on the board with eyes in the oo’s. Later that day in a store, she heard one of her students point out to his mother that she was the teacher who had just taught him to read. Teachers today seldom have the flexibility to create moments like this.
• The reading level of kindergarten children is now being based on their ability to read on a computer, leading both the students and their parents to worry about their ability before teachers have had the opportunity to teach them in ways that give them confidence.
• Too many officials have established arbitrary expectations for tests that do not help the teachers figure out what their students need. Teachers do what they can to develop and use other methods of determining the needs of individual students.
• Officials are not recognizing that if test scores are abysmal across one or more schools, it is probably the fault of the test, not of the individual teachers, making the scores invalid. In at least one case the questions on a test were too difficult even for the teachers.
• Officials are not using test scores only for student assessment as they had promised to do. One principal announced to a parent that a teacher with students who did poorly on certain tests would be “remediated.”
• There has been a severe lack of money for teacher development for many years, with none available at some schools. New York teachers can take cheap courses to stay current and to earn credits and a pay raise. In Georgia, we pay a lot of our own money for courses and no longer receive raises for earning higher certificates and degrees.
• Because of these attacks on authentic education and teachers’ rights, many teachers suffer from severe depression and other physical and emotional diseases. Studies have shown that the less control individuals have over their lives, the more they are hurt by any stresses they experience.
Concerns of The Corporate Leaders Who Support Privatizing Education
• Many recent actions by pseudo-reformers have meant that more than ever, we have dual school systems divided between charter and other special schools (such as International Baccalaureate programs) that serve mostly privileged children and public schools for everyone else.
• Corporate leaders, politicians, education “philanthropists,” and top education officials have joined in a backlash against liberal arts education that encourages students to learn about a wider world, to think critically, to question existing circumstances, and to appreciate the role of the arts and other cultural practices.
• Authorities have long been afraid of what might happen if all students learned to think together in new ways. In the 1960s, a high school teacher in New York State was fired for teaching her English class students to think and write about their own lives because the administrators were certain it would lead to their being dissatisfied as factory workers or soldiers.
• The changing job market, influenced in part by the increasing reliance on computers (including online courses), robots, and other technological developments has not only changed what skills workers needs but also how many workers we can expect to find jobs. Too many students are pushed into the schools-to-prison pipeline (where prisoners work for private industry) or the schools-to-military pipeline. Because those who benefit from the current economy assume that it requires an underclass that can be moved into different circumstances, they do not want everyone to have a decent education.
• Companies seeking profits from school districts have been an issue since at least the 1980s. Pearson even puts its name on tests they sell to districts.
• The more private corporations have been allowed to push products and profit-making services on schools, the less democratic public education has become.
• The emphasis on “career and college readiness” in Race to the Top and the Common Core Curriculum Standards needs to add “citizenship readiness” to encourage the kind of education that goes beyond vocational and narrow academic training.
• Too often, administrators succeed at isolating teachers and other school workers by the tactic of divide and conquer. The unions and other groups have sold us out so their leaders can keep a place at the table. The laws against collective bargaining in the South restrict teachers further.
• The National Education Association is supporting the teachers in the state of Washington who are boycotting one of the tests. Some teachers and retirees in our area responded with surprising fervor to a letter about the boycott.
• Some retired teachers, discovering that their economic security is under attack, are beginning to speak up for their pension rights.
• Some teachers, classified workers, and retirees in the Fulton County School District are in the middle of a fight because the school board is trying to take control of their Pension Fund from workers’ elected representatives. Because the School Board needs legislative support to do this, both sides are lobbying legislators. One retiree said she is ready to picket if the legislators and board members refuse to respect the rights of the workers. They fear that Fulton County District, like that in Gwiinett County might outsource (privatize) management of the Pension Fund.
• The DeKalb County School District stopped paying into the Teachers’ Retirement System of Georgia without telling anyone. During a lawsuit over the issue, the money in an annuity plan was left without effective management. Some district officials were just found guilty, but they are going to appeal the verdict.
• Too few teachers in Georgia or the South are aware of how both the AFT and the NEA have helped teachers in states that allow collective bargaining and effective grievance handling.
• As an example of a state where the public has demanded better priorities, in Vermont subs can work one-on-one with special ed kids. One teacher was able to take an autistic child sledding.
• We have agreed to have at least seven more meetings, three weeks apart, from 2:00-4:00, in Room 105 at the Little Five Points Community Center, 1083 Austin Ave. NE (enter through the front door or the rear entrance). Each time we shall discuss about thirty pages of the book:
1. February 17: Part One, pages 1-28 (Facilitated by Kai and Bev)
2. March 10: Part Two, through Essay 8, pages 29-64
3. March 31: Part Two, Essays 9, 10, and 11 in Part Two, pages 65-84
4. April 21: Part Three, pages 8-120
5. May 12: Part Four, Essays 16-19, pages 121-154
6. June 2: Part Four, Essays 20-23, pages 155-182
7. June 30: Essays 24 and 25 and the Postscript, pages 183-207
• We are expecting Kelli’s Child Care Collective (KCCC) to be in charge of child care for our meetings. Google their website to understand why you should be comfortable trusting them with your children for a couple of hours.
• If you would like to be on our email list or order a book for $10, contact Mary_Anne_Smith@hotmail.com.
• Anyone who has not read or subscribed to the magazine, Rethinking Schools, should check it out.
• A new organization for teachers in Georgia, Educators First, is doing presentations at schools to seek members, calling themselves a non-union. [New information: The two women who have organized Educators First are attending Education Committee meetings at the legislature. They now have 2,000 members and consider themselves more politically focused than PAGE and less than GAE. They apparently have no connections to national organizations.]
• The annual convention of the Georgia Association of Educations will be in Atlanta in early July.
• The Free Minds, Free People Conference will be in Chicago from July 11-14. MAPS and Project South have proposed a workshop on “Opposing the Southernization of Public Education.”