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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Walking to DC March 24, 2010

Salutations Bloggers,
My whispered prayers today are for Mike an ESL teacher from Hartford Connecticut who I met last night. Mike explained that since the advent of "NCLB" his time testing students keeps growing. He now spends 61 out of 180 days each year testing rather than teaching his students. Another Hartford Special Education teacher Candace said she is spending the same time testing students. Heather, a Hartford art teacher and parent of a Hartford Public School student explain that testing has taken over her curriculum. Am I the only one missing something here with NCLB? The capital that feeds academic achievement is not testing, but instruction.

My music today was Pink Floyd's "Another brick in the wall" The weather was sunny, and I walked outside singing:"Teacher, teacher leave them kids alone" I ended with some Billy Idol Dancing with myself, and Rebel, Rebel. Guest you could say my walk was jamming today. I almost forgot to mention I walked another 6 miles, and melted some 800 calories away. 

Lots of people are asking where did this walking thing begin. So here it is:

Like many of you, these high stake assessments have been a long struggle for me.   It actually began even before NCLB.  We arrived in Connecticut in 1997, and I soon discovered that the first 6 weeks of school was practice for the Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMT’s).  For my daughter Erin who was going into 3rd grade, there was no getting to know each other the first few days of September, no building of community; just immediately begin practicing for the state test the first or second day of school. It was insanity in my opinion to give away the start of every school year to this nonsense.

By 1999 I was working locally with a group of faculty members, teachers, and other professionals to develop an anti-high stakes position paper. This was a rather big risk for me at the university, a new, non-tenured faculty member - in the School of Education.   We wrote the paper asking faculty from other departments to sign it.  In the end some 38 people signed on, and we sent it to The Commissioner of Education. It took our state newspaper (The Hartford Courant) nearly a year to have the position paper published in their newspaper.  Back then there wasn’t too much interest in this type of thing.  Our position paper, delivered to the Commissioner and published in the newspaper pretty much went unnoticed.  Never the less, we felt a sense of accomplishment.    Over the next few years we went our separate ways. A few of us stayed in touch and at times work together on common issues.  In the last two years we have added some new/younger faculty, and we continue to collaborate together.  These are the people who are helping me with my walk to DC.

I held on to those same principles I had back in 1997, and since then have been tenured and promoted. I am now the Director of our University Literacy Center.  I continue to be active in my opposition to high stakes assessment.   I collaborated on  three anti NCLB conferences.   I have brought Susan Ohanrian, and other big names in to those conferences.  Our very first conference was "Children Are More Than Test Scores"… so now you know where the group name comes from (-:

Last year we brought in David Berliner (Manufactured Crisis and Collateral Damage) as our keynote speaker for our annual Central Connecticut State University Literacy Essentials Conference.  My position and life’s compassion allows me to work with children, parents, teachers, and schools on a daily basis. My major concern, (or should I say my pain) is with the limited value of the actual data collected with high stakes assessment from special needs children. I am not against standardized measures, but I am against single measures used to categorize and box learners in reductionist little boxes.

I advocate in every way that I can for children, parents, and teachers.  Lately, to me it seemed that no one was listening, especially with this RTTT rhetoric.  I decided I needed to advocate in a different way.  A group of teachers and fellow faculty members started presenting resistance stories at National Conferences.  We have been well received by teachers and educators.  In November of last year I knew something had changed, at two of these conferences, teachers at the presentations began to cry, at the end of the presentation, audience members (teachers/faculty members) wanted to hug us for presenting the resistance stories.
I felt compelled to do more, at the end of our sessions when people asked “Jesse what can we do”?  I started thinking about this walk. I told myself I would do it – myself - a one man protest.   But people began to ask “where” “when” and “can we join you” Thus, this is how “The Walk” began…

I am a compassionate teacher who loves his work.  Honestly, I never imagined I would become an activist.  I am often reluctant to step outside my little safe room.  In my room all children and teachers are valued, and we all enrich our learning journey together.  I could have stayed in my little corner - if they left the children and teachers I work with alone.  But, NCLB/RTTT misguided testing requirements consistently dehumanizes the children and teachers around me.   So yes,  Bloggers, I started on January 2nd,  with 250 miles on my treadmill, (and weighing  34 pounds less…)   I am (for me) in serious preparation for my walk in August to DC to protest this insane policy of NCLB/RTTT.  I am overjoyed that so many others want to join this effort, I am now envisioning “State Chapters” but my resources are limited.   I invite others to join me, but the only certainty I really have is that I am walking. 

In reaching out to others, I am beginning to think we may actually have become that tidal wave of change.  I am open to all suggestions.  I see my potential partners as PTO’s and Teachers Unions.  I have not as yet approached these groups – but this network is growing…  I would most definitely need some help to go public with this aspect.   It is not easy giving 110 % to my work, and now to this cause.  But in August of this year, whether it’s with 3000, 30, 3, or just me - I will walk to DC to protest this state of affairs.  Let me know what you think…
I am walking to DC,


1 comment:

  1. Dear Jesse,
    I loved reading your whole story!! You're dedication and commitment is a huge inspiration for so many of us who felt lost and alone when our intuitions and instincts said "this is tooooo much for our kids"!! Thank you for being you!! and Keep on Walking!! ~ Kim