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Walking with a purpose

Susan Notes:

The good news is that Jesse took this walk. The other good news is that a newspaper finally printed a story about it.

by Lisette Velasquez

NEW BRITAIN — An advocate for education and children, Central Connecticut State University professor Jesse Turner walked 400 miles from New Britain to Washington, D.C., to protest the injustice of failed educational policy that he said is harming children.

Over the summer, Turner walked for 40 days to Washington in a symbolic protest. While talking about the government's obsession with testing, he also reflected on the U.S. Department of Justice's 2009 "Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey."

"Nearly one-half [46.3 percent] of all the children surveyed were physically assaulted within the previous year, and more than one-half [56.7 percent] had been assaulted during their lifetime," Turner said. "I find myself wondering why our nation's leaders see standardized testing as the nation's number one problem, and not violence? Am I the only one who sees the disconnect here?"

City School Superintendent Doris Kurtz said, "[No Child Left Behind] has not had a positive impact on the district. It oversimplifies complex issues and sets unrealistic time-sensitive expectations given the resources, preparation, and learning barriers of high poverty communities [and] those schools with large student populations in which English is not their first language... School systems should be held accountable for making progress, but shouldn’t be labeled and sorted with a one-size fits all mentality."

Turner was raised by a single parent -- his mother struggled to keep the lights and heat on in their apartment, was over-worked and under-paid and had to rely on government assistance. It is through her life lessons, and that of the civil rights leaders, that he draws the impetus to fight for children who have no voice in the political game of education.

"I am called to walking as my creative protest. Dr. King's legacy of service compels me to walk... I try to live in Marti's steps today," Turner said. "His shoes are of course much too big for me. I took his American history lesson with me on my walk today."

Many of Turner's CCSU colleagues are in support of his efforts and hopes his message becomes wide-spread.

"He has a lot of passion for education and great ideas. He's correct in that we are spending all our resources, time, energy all to test students and a lot of that is focused on what they can’t do, not what they can do," said Lynda Valerie, reading and language arts professor.

Valerie said Turner makes an important point that so much time is on assessment rather than instruction and valued engagement with students.

There is no question that when the national policy of NCLB was instituted by former President George W. Bush in 2002, many school district officials scrambled. NCLB was originally proposed to support standards-based education reform, based on the belief that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual academic performance.

The law requires states to develop assessments in basic skills to be given to all students in certain grades, if those states are to receive federal funding for schools. The law does not assert a national achievement standard but instead allows standards to be set by each state. For Connecticut, that standard has been the Connecticut Mastery Test scores.

However, many in education have hotly debated its undesirable measures and lack of resources to meet expectations, especially in urban districts with complex socioeconomic constraints that affect children's abilities to learn.

Moreover, Turner said he read the report of the impact of NCLB only to have further evidence that the policy is not working.

"There has been some key data that has come out that the feds are not paying attention to. In 2008, a study claimed schools weren't using the right reading material, so they came out with a list, data, models, scientific-based reading programs that they pushed on urban districts and poor schools," Turner said. "With top-down models, the federal government insisted 'you do it this way with these materials'... NCLB and Race to the Top seeks to address unreasonable measures of accountability. The only place [the government] is not looking for accountability is themselves."

Valerie agrees with Turner and encourages others to join him, to continue to bring and keep this issue of an educational crisis in the spotlight.

"Somebody needs to be saying these things and this is such a grass roots effort, I commend him for [it]," Valerie said. He has a big educational heart. He sincerely cares for kids."

With the belief that children are more than test scores, Turner advocates for a national demonstration for real educational reform with resources to ensure that all children can achieve to their maximum potential.

Kurtz has had Turner facilitate a creative education weekend program for parents on literacy strategies that help children improve called Parent University, but she declined to comment on his walk to Washington. However, both agree the government doesn't provide enough resources to meet the mandates of NCLB.

When he arrived in Washington on Labor Day, Turner he met with educators and students.

Turner plans to walk again, in hopes that others will join him. He chronicled his journey on a blog and has organized a movement he calls Children are More than Test Scores on Facebook.

— Lisette Velasquez
New Britain Herald



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