Shoreham family rallies for education in D.C.
Ohanian Comment: A Vermont family of educators talk with a reporter about why SOS was important.
I would add that other Vermonters were there. I spoke with retired superintendent/now member of the State Board of Education and Managing Director of National Education Policy Center Bill Mathis and with Vermont resident who teaches at Temple and organizes The New DEEL project, Steve Gross and his son Will.
Gee, Vermont was almost as well represented as the Washington D. C. teachers union.
By Ian Trombulak
SHOREHAM -- Moved by the release this spring of statistics that said 72 percent of Vermont schools -- including 13 of 25 schools in Addison County and Brandon -- failed to make enough government-mandated progress, several local people traveled to Washington, D.C., on July 28 to attend the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action. The event was organized in opposition to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, known as NCLB.
Charlotte resident and long-time educator Susan Ohanian was in attendance at the three days of workshops and a rally that drew thousands. She said the presence of so many like-minded individuals made a powerful impression.
"It is always a positive thing when teachers from across the country can make a connection," said Ohanian.
Two long-time educators and Shoreham residents, Barry and Carol-Lee Lane, along with their daughter, Jessie Lynn, 27, also took part in the gathering. They said they believe that NCLB has done more harm than good to our nationÃ¢€™s students, and may soon cripple the public school system entirely.
"In the last 10 years, since NCLB came into effect, 'Ã¢€™ve noticed a marked change in schools for the worse," said Barry Lane, an educator for 20 years and writer of books for educators. "Partly because of how much time is spent on test prep, and how much money ... has been taken away from what I would consider real instruction."
NCLB uses yearly standardized testing to measure schoolsÃ¢€™ success, with escalating sanctions placed on schools that fail repeatedly.
The Lanes knew that NCLB did not agree with their educational sensibilities, but they were unaware of its far-reaching consequences until their trip to the nationÃ¢€™s capital.
"(We) went down to participate in the Save Our Schools conference because we knew that public education was in trouble," said Carol-Lee Lane, also a long-time educator at both the junior high and college level, "but until we actually got to Washington, and started hearing classroom teachers and parents and principals from all over the country, we had no idea how bad it was out there. It's very frightening. We are literally poised to lose our public education system in 2014."
A CULTURE OF TESTING
Critics of NCLB identify the focus on standardized testing as one of its major flaws. Because the consequences of low test scores are so drastic, they said, teachers are pressured, and often forced, to "teach to the test," meaning less time is spent on deep learning.
This emphasis on testing, said Carol-Lee, has driven many of the best teachers from the profession entirely.
"Since NCLB became a federal mechanism driving whatÃ¢€™s happening in our classrooms ... many of our best teachers, in the face of scripted curricula ... suddenly were literally forbidden to do the job they were trained to do. A lot of wonderful teachers left the field."
Barry echoes his wife's sentiments.
"The most creative teachers I know, and I know many in Vermont --- (are) either thinking about retiring or have retired," he said. "They love kids, they love teaching, but they're not allowed to do what they do best."
Nor does an increase in testing benefit the students, argues Jessie Lynn Lane.
"We aren't teaching our children how to be well-rounded individuals," she said. "We're teaching them how to be test-takers."
Policies implemented and enforced by NCLB are unprecedented in the international education community, and according to Barry Lane, there is a good reason for that.
"I've done enough research to know that other countries think w'Ã¢€™re insane," he said. "Countries that are way ahead of us educationally have drastically reduced the amount of testing they do, and drastically increased the amount of teaching that they do."
PUBLIC VS. CHARTER SCHOOLS
While NCLB critics see the rise in standardized testing as illogical and educationally harmful, the larger concern is the punishment that schools will face when students fail to continuously improve their test scores: being turned into a charter school, owned by a private company with the power to turn students away based on poor test scores.
Barry Lane believes that turning public schools into for-profit institutions is a mistake -- one that will affect the roughly 80 percent of schools nationally that have failed their most recent AYP goal.
"It's a way of pushing products, and the schools themselves are ... products," said Lane. "They want to create the charter schools that will somehow magically replace public schools."
Jessie Lynn Lane believes that turning away kids with low test scores is antithetical to the idea of public education.
"We're going to be abandoning the students who need the most assistance in learning," said Lane.
Ohanian argues that Vermonters ought to detest the idea of private companies taking control of local schools.
"Vermonters care a lot about their schools," said Ohanian. "Decision-making about those schools should remain in their hands."
RALLY IN WASHINGTON
The Lanes are not the only people concerned about the future of public education in America. Thousands of teachers and parents from around the country gathered in Washington for a two-day conference about education, followed by a march to the White House. Speakers such as author Jonathan Kozol, former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch and actor Matt Damon -- whose mother, a teacher, was in attendance -- addressed the crowd.
Many of the attendees were long-time educators similar to the Lanes.
"Most of the people there were experienced teachers (with) a dozen, 20, 30 years in the classroom, and knew that things were at terrible risk," said Carol-Lee Lane. "These were not people with axes to grind. These were people who love children and are fearful for their welfare."
Above all, Carol-Lee wants President Obama and the rest of the country to realize that NCLB is based on a fundamentally flawed idea: That 100 percent proficiency is possible in a system that is accepting of all.
"You cannot make that the standard of failure in a public education system that is inclusive of all children," said Lane, calling into question the goals of NCLB, which ironically seem to exclude children for whom 100 percent proficiency is not attainable. "(Mentally handicapped) children have no place in this NCLB system. In the classrooms that they're in today, their teachers have no opportunity to address their needs, because the existence of their school is riding on their ability to (get) these kids to the point where they stand a chance at passing these tests."
At the rally, she said, this was a sentiment shared by all -- and that in itself made it worth the trip.
"People were so loving and supportive," Carol-Lee Lane said. "It was the experience of community that, as a professional, I just treasure having."
Reporter Ian Trombulak is at email@example.com.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES