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[Susan notes: Charles Finn clearly states the problem--and offers a telling firefighting metaphor besides.]

Submitted to Time Magazine but not published

To the editor

Gilbert Cruz's feature on Arne Duncan and the Race To The Top program

entirely missed the boat, misrepresenting the issues and ignoring

years of evidence about what it takes for students to learn. The idea

that teachers should be held accountable for the success or failure of

their students is neither new nor (amongst teachers) controversial.

The controversy surrounds the means by which we evaluate both students

and teachers. With Race To The Top, President Obama and Secretary

Duncan lay all of the responsibility for students' success or failure

squarely on the backs of classroom teachers, while giving them no

authority to do anything whatsoever to change the status quo. Today's

teachers are regularly forced to use scripted lessons and follow

pacing guides that leave no room at all for creativity or professional

judgement. If teachers have no power, how can we hold them

accountable? Would you hand a firefighter a set of procedures to

follow at every fire, regardless of its size, location, or nature?

Would you require doctors to use the same treatment with every

patient, regardless of the disease? That's what is happening to our

teachers and students.

In his effort to blame teacher unions for standing in the way of

reform, Mr. Cruz fails to note what an abject failure No Child Left

Behind and its era of high-stakes standardized testing have been.

States spend billions on tests that are not reliable and are often

inappropriate. School districts have responded by narrowing the

curriculum so that teachers teach only what is to be tested that year.

Many elementary students never touch a history or science textbook.

Art and music are things of the past. Physical education is

disappearing --And research shows us that these subjects and programs

are vital to student achievement.

There is no evidence whatsoever that our testing mania is helping

children; there is mounting evidence that it does them terrible harm.

Educators are challenging Race To The Top because it's going to make

things worse, not better. Once salaries are tied to test scores

teachers will compete to work with the best and brightest students,

those who are likely to test well. Our students with the lowest test

scores and the greatest needs will get the inexperienced and less

capable teachers. I have taught English Learners and immigrant

children for over twenty years. My students learn a great deal, and

make tremendous advances, but they traditionally score poorly on

standardized tests because they have yet to master English. But we

still keep giving them the same tests we give the English-only

students, knowing in advance what the results will be. Who is this

helping? And more importantly, who is going to want to work with these

students once salaries are tied to test scores?

Charles Finn is a teacher, Oceanside Unified School District

Charles Finn

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