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Christine Langhoff: The Corporate Reformers Are in Control of Massachusetts Public Schools

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Christine Langhoff teaches in Massachusetts and is a member of the Network for Public Education.

She writes:

Massachusetts public education is being run by a cabal of reformsters, many of them affiliated with a local thinkster tank, The Pioneer Institute. Jim Peyser, state Secretary of Education, is a former director of The NewSchools Venture Fund, having run the Pioneer Institute from 1993-2000. Gov. Weld named him as undersecretary of education in 1995, shortly after the introduction of charters to the state, for which Peyser was – and is – an advocate. In charge of higher education is perennial gadfly Chris Gabrieli, failed gubernatorial candidate, who has developed no fewer than three reformy edu-businesses. (Time on Learning – extended day and year no extra pay; TransformEd – measuring grit and feelings; and Empower Schools, which seeks to destroy union contracts and impose a “third way” in urban districts – so far 3 and counting). So, to use the local dialect, all of them are wicked reformy.

Things have not been going so well for Chester. He signed on as chairman of PARCC, but that boat sank under the weight of the Common Core. This past November, when he thought the charter cap would be lifted and privatization could proceed apace, that too went down to an ignominious 2-1 defeat, in the process awakening parents and taxpayers to the charter scam. He has lately signed on to be a Chief for Change. Reformsters, unlike teachers, don’t need tenure because they have sinecures.

I think this latest peevish salvo stems from Chester’s frustration at being unable to simply sign executive orders and command the world as he would have it. Recently, after testimony from Lisa Guisbond of Citizens for Public Schools, he was forced to revise a punitive policy for students opting out:

“On the related issue of state testing, I thought you should know that some teachers are being given these instructions for handling students whose parents have chosen to opt them out:

‘When a student opts out they will remain in the classroom, listen as the test directions are being read and given the test. If after 15 minutes the student doesn’t write anything down, then, and only then, may the teacher remove the test.’

A 4th grade teacher shared her reaction:

‘This is public shaming, will cause emotional harm, and is a travesty to the precious relationship between teachers and students. Remember we cannot say anything except the scripted words on the test document or we are threatened with job termination, legal and or criminal action.’

So we have a fourth grader embarrassed and crying and a teacher who could lose his or her job for consoling the child. The teacher must ignore this child in need and say nothing.

I trust that these instructions are in error, and that your humane instructions from last year, Commissioner Chester, that students should not be pressured or punished for opting out, remain in place. I urge you to communicate this to the field.”

At the April 18 board meeting, one of the topics under discussion was the use of the scores from this year’s round of testing. Chester proposed to have 2017 scores included in the average for determining school levels. That was nearly unanimously rejected by the Board due to the use of several variants of tests in the past three years. Previously, it had been agreed that schools would be “held harmless” during the transition to a new test.

A recess was called, during which time Secretary Peyser expressed his belief that if the 2017 scores were not included, teachers would deliberately have students tank the exams so that they could increase scores in future years. In other words,he believes teachers across the state would INTENTIONALLY have thousands of children do poorly on tests in order to create a low baseline. NB: At the time of the discussion, we were already halfway through the testing period.

These people have no respect for the work teachers do. They do not believe we have any integrity. They do not treat us as professionals. It is indeed shameful.

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