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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Welcome to the great American awakening

Last year I walked 400 miles in 40 days to protest the NCLB/RTTT policies. This year I am walking again, but I am bringing a few friends with me. I am not waiting for Superman, or some dynamic leader to fix public education. Instead I am walking to Washington DC again. What our public schools need most is an Awakening of the American People. An awakening is no simple task before us. The purpose of public schooling in America is enormously complex. Every once in a while, we as a people lose sight of the purpose of schooling in America. As a country we have not had a serious conversation around the purpose of education in over 150 years.

I intentionally use the term awakening because in many ways our great nation has been asleep in regards to the purpose of our public schools. The last time such a conversation was had was when the great Horace Mann fought for the very idea of a public education. He led our nations' noble fight to establish a free public school system. Horace Mann had a great vision called the "Common School Movement." It is his vision that eventually became an American awakening. It was his life's work. His vision focused on building a quality public school system that would educate not only the poor, but would also attract the sons and daughters of the very wealthy. His vision was driven by equality. Indeed the yardstick for public education would eventually become equality. While it was never perfect, equality did become the legal measure of public schools in our great nation. We have a legal history that goes back over a hundred years attesting to this fact. Mann dreamed of a system that inspires the spirit of democracy and a sense of morality. Education was the very means of preserving our democracy. The leadership of his day, on the other hand - much like today, was less inspired by morality and democracy. They did however love the idea of a competitive workforce, (ironically not much has changed). In order to sell the idea of public schools Mann had to compromise, and sell both a competitive workforce and moral citizens. Some of us today refer to this as Horace's Great Compromise. In essence this is America's covenant with a free public education. Although it was a compromise, the moral yardstick of our public school system remained equality until the legislation of No Child Left Behind.

No Child Left Behind lacked any moral compass from the start. This law reduces equality to a test score. It assumes no federal responsibility in obtaining equality. This current education reform has discarded our yardstick of equality. Simply put, the one and only indicator to measure academic success under NCLB is the test score on a standardized measure. Astonishingly NCLB claims to focus on closing the achievement gap while effectively taking the focus off equity issues. It has shifted the focus to outcomes on standardized testing as public schooling savior. Policy makers, politicians, and many of our educational leadership no longer focus on issues of race, poverty, and those Savage Inequalities that Jonathon Kozal so effectively writes about. Standardized testing is seen as the means to end inequality. Policy makers point fingers of blame at parents, teachers, schools of education, even students themselves. In my mind the very weakness of NCLB reforms are driven by their fear that America is losing its economic edge in this global world. In their mind democracy and morality come second. Sadly in some circles it may even be seen as a hindrance.

We once again have the unique opportunity to revisit our public school covenant. This awakening will be driven by two questions:
First: Is the best sole measure of a child a standardized test score?

Second: Is the ability to compete in the workforce the most important outcome of our public schools?

If the answer is a resounding yes, then indeed all that matters is a test of basic academic skills in math, reading, and writing. Unequivocally, I believe that as Americans we expect so much more from our public schools. Morality matters to Americans. In particular it matters to the parents and caregivers of the children in our public schools. Character counts in America. Without a doubt the very principles of democracy matter a whole lot to the people of our great nation. NCLB has thrown the balance so far out of whack that the very fabric of our nation is in danger.

This awakening is so much more than NCLB. It is more than a simple test score, or even education reform. This awakening is about a covenant that has been broken. It must be fixed. In order to do this we need a movement that returns us to a conversation around our nation's public schooling covenant.

Some people naively think parents, teachers, and Americans in general are not ready for this kind of discussion. On the contrary, I believe this is what Americans are born to do. I plan on bringing this conversation to our people. I have great faith in Americans and their do the right thing attitude when push comes to shove. With NCLB push has come to shove. For this reason I walked 400 miles from Connecticut to Washington D.C. this past summer. It is why I am walking again next year. While my simple metaphor to begin this awakening was "Children Are More Than Test Scores" it really must be so much more. It must be a call to action. A call to reclaim our schools; reclaim our schools from fear. We need to return to Horace Mann's vision of purpose.

My walk ended this year on Labor Day on the campus of the American University. Those sitting at our presentation didn't want this to be the end. Instead our group of NCLB resisters said this is only the beginning. All of those present had followed my walk from Connecticut to D.C. (via the internet) since I started out in May. We knew we wanted to continue this conversation beyond test scores. So began our conversation around a balanced and fair assessment system. This will be a system that respects children, teachers, and local schools. This on-going conversation opens the door to the awakening. We as a group, parents, teachers, and academics, have been working hard on planning a series of actions against NCLB, (SOS's March/Teach-in July '11).

America and our public schools need every voice. We need to elevate this conversation to something more than the failure of NCLB. We must be reminded that public schools are at the heart of what makes us America. I think it is imperative to move congress, the senate, and the White House, but first of all we need to move the people of America. The rest will follow.

It is to the people of America I make this call, to the Mom's and the Dad's, the builders and the firefighters, the nurses and the teachers, you are our voice, our hope. I have always thought that each and every one of us can be the hope for each other. Together our voice is loud and clear, and only together can we move mountains.

I am not pessimistic these days. I am not fearful that the day is in danger of being lost. I am convinced this wakening is already happening. No congress, or senate, not even the president can stop this conversation now. We are beyond the tipping point. There is a choice, either get out of the way, or come ride our wave. I love the idea that every tidal wave has its origins in a single drop of rain. Are you part of the coming tidal wave? What is holding you back? Hold on this is going to be one heck of a ride. Teachers and parents come join us in Washington DC. It is your voice that is often missing in this extremely important discussion. Employees of public schools, the teachers and principals of the schools that we all cherish, are very vulnerable in all of this. They and their unions are the targets of so many of the current reformers. They can very easily be dismissed or moved, at the drop of a hat. You are unique. You can do something powerful by speaking up for someone who is crying inside. The teacher or principal that you've known forever may be too fearful to speak up. I call upon you all, especially grandparents, retired teachers and principals. You are the powerful potential.

It was Abraham Lincoln who shared: "I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong".

Rather than tell people what to do, I prefer to say "Why not come join us in Washington DC this July 28th to July 31st, and become a pivotal part of the Save Our Schools Awakening." To connect with this, please join our group, Children are More than Test Scores.

Standing by those that stand right!
Jesse P. Turner,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

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Looks like we got a revolution, come join the tidal wave with us this July...Heck I am walking all the way to DC again.
… Now is the Time …
SOS Step Up 4 Public Education
National Call to Action
July 28-31, 2011
Washington D.C.

Teach-ins, Seminars, Speakers, Documentaries
-- Public Rally --
 (Saturday, July 30th)

Ending the over-reliance on standardized testing in student and teacher assessments
Increasing student, teacher and family involvement in curriculum decision making
Increasing student, teacher and family involvement in assessment decision making
Obtaining full funding for school and neighborhood libraries
Equalizing resource disbursement across schools and school systems  
Providing services and support for families specific to community needs

Providing more time for teaching curriculum, less time spent on testing and test preparation
Providing culturally and linguistically responsive curriculum in every classroom
Reducing class sizes


For more information contact

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Walking to DC again

I am waiting on my "Children and Teachers Are More Than Test Scores"stickers to come in the mail. I plan on giving them out at the National Council of English Teachers in Orlando next week. I'll park myself outside the Department of Education Session next Saturday giving everyone entering a sticker. I figure the DOE needs to know how we feel about NCLB/RTTT. Strange how our professional organizations have remained so silent on NCLB.  Silence and apathy are not acceptable this is something we should all be fighting against with everything we have.
I plan on making a little noise there. Speaking of noise yesterday my walk made the front published yesterday in New Britain Herald:
If you have a chance to check out the link please leave a comment for the author to keep things going.
I am walking to DC again,

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The day after

The day after the elections is the day to start reminding our old and newly elected politicans parents and teachers don't approved of the focus their NCLB/RTTT education reform policy. Children are more than test scores, and so are their teachers. We cannot afford to keep spending billions on more testing rather than focusing on providing actual in the classroom services to our children in need.
I love being part of this great democracy.
Win, lose, or draw on election day the work of the people goes on. I love my people, and I love my nation.
Now is the time to fight for respectful education reform policies that focus on services to children.
On my 400 mile-walk from Connecticut to Washington DC this summer I heard from parents and teachers that 9-12 weeks of testing was hurting children.
It is time to let our policy makers, our politicians, and our president know we want to focus on teaching again.
Silence, and apathy are not acceptable, and my duty goes well beyond merely voting on election day.
I am walking to Washington DC again,

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Declaration of Professional Conscience for Teachers

The most profound reading researcher in our life time is Dr. Kenneth Goodman. He has always advocated reading for meaning using real books. His research always places teachers and students in the the mist of authentic conversations about books, writing, and reading. Because Goodman, advocates using real books rather than abridged versions or basals he has never been the darling of the test book publishers, but he has been the darling of millions of teachers, and millions of children benefited from engaging in authentic conversations about reading. His Miscue Analysis research did more to change the world of teaching reading than any other researcher of my lifetime. His work brings dignity and respect to both child and teacher.
But, Dr. Goodman is also a fighter for good teaching, and below is his Declaration of Professional Conscience for Teachers written some 20 years ago, and is needed more than ever in this new age of just teach to test teachers.
A Declaration of Professional Conscience for Teachers

There is a time in the historic development of every human institution when it reaches a critical crossroad. Institutions, like people, cannot stand still; they must always change but the changes aren't always for the better. Human institutions are composed of people. Sometimes the people within the institutions feel powerless to influence the directions of institutional change. They feel they are swept along by a force beyond anyone. Yet people within institutions can determine the directions of change if they examine their convictions and take a principled stand.
That's what the founders of American democracy understood when they began the Declaration of Independence with "When, in the course of human events,..."

Education in the United States is at such a crossroad. At the same time that schools have rededicated themselves to equal educational opportunity for all, laws and policies are being imposed on schools that limit the ability of diligent teachers to use their professional judgment to further the personal development and welfare of their students.

There are strong pressures today to dehumanize, to depersonalize, to industrialize our schools. In the name of cost effectiveness, of efficiency, of system, of accountability, of minimal competency, of a return to the basics, schools are being turned into sterile, hostile institutions at war with the young people they are intended to serve.

As teachers we hereby declare ourselves to be in opposition to the industrialization of our schools. We pledge ourselves to become advocates on behalf of our students. We make the following declaration of professional conscience:

We will make the welfare of our students our most basic criterion for professional judgment.
We have no greater accountability than that we owe our pupils. We will work with parents and policymakers to formulate programs that are in the best interests of our pupils. We will work with the kids to personalize these programs. We will respect all learners. We will cherish their strengths, accept and strive to understand their language and culture, seek to further their personal values, tastes, and objectives. We will oppose methods, materials, and policies that have the intent or effect of rejecting the personal and social characteristics of our students. We will, in all matters, and in all interactions, deal with our pupils fairly, consistently, honestly, and compassionately.
We will do all we can to make school a warm, friendly, supportive place in which all pupils are welcome. Our classrooms will be theirs. We will provide guidance and leadership to support our students in the development of problem-solving, decision-making, and self-discipline. We will help them build a sense of respect and support for each other. We will help them appreciate and respect those who differ from them in culture, language, race, color, heritage, religion, sex, weight, height, physical strength or attractiveness, intelligence, interests, values, personal goals, or any other characteristics.

We will not use corporal punishment on pupils of any age for any offense.
We believe violence begets violence. We will not use marks or schoolwork as punishment. We will seek causes for problems and work with pupils to eliminate the causes of antisocial behavior rather than simply control the symptoms.
Neither will we use tangible, extrinsic rewards such as candy, prizes, money, tokens, or special privileges as a means of controlling behavior. We regard all institutionalized forms of behavior modification as immoral and unethical. We will work with pupils, building on intrinsic motivation in all areas of curriculum and development.
We will accept the responsibility of evaluating our pupils' growth. We will make no long- or short-range decisions that affect the future education of our pupils on the basis of a single examination no matter what the legal status of the examination. We will evaluate through ongoing monitoring of our pupils during our interactions with them. We will strive to know each pupil personally, using all available professional tools to increase our understanding of each and every one.
We are teachers. We are not actors following scripts. We are not technicians servicing an educational machine. We are not delivery systems. We are not police officers, babysitters, petty despots, card punchers, paper shufflers, book monitors. We are not replaceable by machines.
We are professionals. We have prepared ourselves for teaching by building knowledge of human development, human learning, pedagogy, curriculum, language, and cognition. We know the history of education. We know the competing philosophies of education. We have carefully built personal philosophies that provide us with criteria for making teaching decisions in the best interests of our pupils. We have a broad liberal education and an in-depth knowledge of the content areas in which we teach.
We will use our knowledge base to support our students in their own quest for knowledge. The real curriculum is what happens to each learner. We, as teachers, are the curriculum planners and facilitators. We will not yield that professional responsibility to the publishers of texts or management systems. We will select and use the best educational resources we can find, but we will not permit ourselves or our pupils to be controlled by them.

We will continually update our knowledge of education, of our fields of instruction, of the real world, because of our professional dedication to use all means to improve our effectiveness as teachers.
We expect school authorities to support us in our professionalism and self-improvement. And we will oppose all policies that restrict our professional authority to use new knowledge or new pedagogical practices on behalf of our students.
We believe that schools can well serve pupils, parents, and communities if the teachers in them function as responsible, dedicated, and compassionate professionals.

To that purpose we make this declaration of professional conscience.

Now thank you Ken Goodman, and thank you Richard Owen for offering it as a free download  PDF