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Cathy Fuentes-Rower went to the Indiana legislative hearing about the teacher shortage, and she patiently waited seven hours to testify. Cathy is a parent, not a teacher. She was forced to listen to a lineup of “experts” who insisted there was not too much testing, compared to Florida; and there is no teacher shortage, because the superintendents who reported a shortage are biased, and the conservative NCTQ said the data were inconclusive.
When she finally testified, she spoke out boldly.
I am a mother of four children in public schools.
I know that my children’s learning conditions are their teachers’ working conditions.
This educational environment has become a pressure cooker for our kids and teachers because the legislature has decided that somehow educators weren’t accountable enough. The learning and teaching process has been transformed into a test-taking, data collecting nightmare to somehow prove accountability… at the root of which is an apparent deep distrust of teachers.
We’ve had standardized tests for a long time. But it is what is at stake when the kids take the test now that has transformed their experience.
In the past, standardized tests were just one aspect of an overall assessment of how our kids were doing. We trusted teachers to relay to us how our kids were learning. Now it has become the end-all be-all. If my eleven year-old doesn’t score well on a test, it could affect his teacher’s job, his school’s letter grade, the label on his district, property taxes, and the community as a whole.
This intensity of pressure comes down and lands right on the shoulders of my child.
Who stands between my child and that weight of the world? Buffering him and protecting him from this stress?
His teacher. And for teachers whose students have special needs, live in poverty, or are learning English as a new language, the pressure to perform is tremendous. The consequence is a stigmatizing F on their small heads—or in 3rd grade, flunking.
These policies are not brought about because parents clamored for them. Parents have not been begging for a better school than their neighbor’s child. They’ve been begging for a great school. Period.
Parents want equity. Instead, we get competition.
Competition involves winners and losers. No 6 year-old should be a loser when it comes to educational opportunity.
These recent changes in policy are occurring all over the country. And this is also why the teacher shortage is not unique to Indiana. Bills that have transformed our kids’ learning environment into a pressure cooker are all from the same source: ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). The goal of this organization is to create more competition in education and to privatize it. There is even an Indiana Reform Package of model legislation on the ALEC website touting our reforms. Our governor has written the introduction to the ALEC report card on American Education. Many members of our education committee are or were ALEC members. In fact, you, Rep. Behning, our house education committee chair, were the ALEC chairperson for Indiana for several years.
The A-F grading of schools, teachers’ loss of voice in advocating for kids through the loss of collective bargaining, the draconian 3rd grade reading law, vouchers and charters creating a competition for funding, a developmentally inappropriate 90 minute block of literacy instruction, these are all ALEC laws. They were not backed by research of what are best practices in teaching. They were not created by teachers. Parents do not want this obsession with data.
We want funding for our public schools such that all children have smaller class sizes for individualized instruction. We want WHOLE CHILD accountability for our teachers and our schools. That means research-backed education. Kids learn through play. Are they getting recess? Kids need to have time to follow their interests and do hands-on projects. Are they getting the broad curriculum and what is NOT on the test: social studies and science? Many of these things are being squeezed out for test prep. Do our high schoolers have extracurricular activities—things that keep them connected and wanting to go to school?
We want our teachers to be paid as the professionals that they are and to have more time for teaching and less for testing. You cannot reduce the time on testing if you don’t reduce the stakes attached to it.
We want a multi-measure evaluation of teaching and success.
You cannot say you respect teachers when every single thing they do is micromanaged by having to prove themselves with data. You cannot quantify joy, creativity and critical thinking. My children are not numbers.
They are unique human beings who are learning and growing. I don’t want my eleven year-old college and career-ready because he is a child. I don’t want him to have pressures to perform like an adult, because he is not one. His teachers know how to give him that childhood, they know what is developmentally appropriate for him, AND research (yes data!) shows that giving him these learning experiences will ensure that when the time comes, he will be ready to take his part in our society and our democracy.
So let teachers do their jobs. The best way to do this is to give them a voice, allow them to create policy, not business people and legislators who know nothing about it. Certainly not ALEC backers who make money off of it.
There is nothing more precious to me in this world than my children and every day I entrust them to the care of their teachers. I care more about what they tell me regarding my kids’ education than I do about any stinking ISTEP score. This is because they are the professionals. I trust them to do their jobs.
If you truly support teachers, you will, too.