Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Speaking out about Predatory School Reform

Public education, teachers, and unions have been under attack ever since the report entitled “A Nation at Risk” came out during Reagan’s presidency.  Most lay people–those not directly involved in K-12 education– simply assume what they hear in the media is true–that our schools are failing our children and that, as a country, we are falling behind the rest of the world.  As a result, we have poured massive amounts of money into creating a “fix” for this problem.  The fix–standardization and mass testing of children–is failing everyone–teachers and children alike– and creating a culture of despair in our schools and our children.
The latest incarnation of this so-called reform, courtesy of Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education under Obama, is called “Race to the Top.”  In order to receive federal education funding, states were coerced into adopting the now notorious Common Core State Standards, and the new tests that are “Common Core aligned.”   These standards were written from the top down starting with high school graduation requirements and ignoring the research on human development, especially in the early years.  A cry went up from early childhood professionals across the country but the alarm was ignored by the U.S. Department of Education.
Here is a large banner I painted with my ARRT! group–The Artists Rapid Response Team of the Union of Maine Visual Artists to bring to Washington for a national protest of U.S. education policy under Duncan.  The protest was organized by a group calling itself the Badass Teachers Association, or BATs.  You can see the National BATs logo on the right side of the banner.
We held our rally and protest in the U.S. Department of Education Plaza.   We were over 500 strong, teachers from 38 states converging on Washington D.C. with our families in tow. brooks_banner_web
We sang, we spoke out, we hugged, we danced, and we chanted.  We celebrated the creativity and passion and love of learning that brought us all into the teaching profession.  We raised our collective voices to call out the falsehoods of the Deformers and demand accountability from Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education.  Here is a link to a short video that will give you the flavor of that amazing day:
The “shock and awe” campaign of the privatizers and Deformers is working.  Public schools are being closed across the country. Charters and other for-profit schemes are replacing neighborhood schools with no evidence that they perform better than what we already have in place.  Teachers have effectively been silenced, having been all but shut out of the big national conversation on education.  Many are not speaking up about the abusive culture of testing, fearing they will be viewed as insubordinate by their administration and worried they will loose their jobs.
Teachers are fed up with our unions–the National Education Association (NEA)  and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) for accepting  hush money from the same corporate deformers who paid for the CC$$ standards and the aligned tests by Pearson and the Smarter Balanced Consortium.
We are fed up with being called “bad teachers” and having our schools be labeled as failing.  We are sick about the suffering we see every day in our students both from the impoverished conditions in which many of them are struggling to live and about the abusive “teach to the test” practices that make so many children feel like failures, starting in kindergarten.
Now, arts teachers are being asked to pilot new arts standards and aligned assessments in their K-12  classrooms.
These new arts standards are called “Core” but the core is rotten when they are linked to standardized tests.  Trying to standardize arts education and test learning outcomes in our students is the absolute pinnacle of educational malpractice.  So many schools have already lost their arts programs in favor of more test prep and technology to administer the tests.  Here’s my dream.  What if every arts teacher–theater, music, dance, and visual arts, simply refused to participate in this pilot assessment project?  That is a performance piece that I would applaud.
Robin Brooks, Topsham, Maine
October 5, 2014
robin and rita peace fair webPS  Here I am with the amazing early childhood educator Rita Clement, a fellow peace activist and colleague of mine in the Augusta Public Schools at the Greater Brunswick Peace Fair, August, 2014.

1 comment:

  1. "corporate deformers" -- great coinage. We should stop using the terms "education reform" and "education reformers" because those terms have positive connotations to most people and opposition to "education reform" sounds like we are against something good. We should immediately (imho) adopt the terms "education deform" and "deformers" instead. Great article, love the art!