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Monday, July 25, 2011

Why the Walking man is Marching.

The Walking Man is marching

First: The differences between Real Experience, and a CEO who has people at his call:

My name is Dr. Jesse Patrick Turner, the Walking Man.  I’m the guy who walked 400 miles in 40 days from Connecticut to DC last August protesting No Child Left Behind & Race To The Top policies.  I just might be the guy who got this whole Save Our Schools March actually moving.
Take a seat ~ this may take a while…
The road that brings me to the Save Our Schools March is indeed long and winding.  To begin with, I am the product of a public school education.  I grew up in poverty, and I attended public schools that the current No Child Left Behind Policy would have certainly labeled as failing schools. I am an educator, who for the past 30 years has worked in the trenches next to children, parents, and teachers.
Arne Duncan our nation’s Secretary of Education on the other hand, is a CEO, a former semi-pro basketball player, who tutored children for a year in an after school program run by his Mother. Mayor Daly of Chicago appointed Arne the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.  His friend, President Barack Obama then chose him to be the Secretary of Education in 2008. He works with other CEOs, DC policy makers, and educational leaders from across the nation. His experience as a public school is non-existence.  While my experience with CEOs is non-existence.   

However let’s go back a little further…  While Arne Duncan attended costly private schools and universities, I attended public schools and graduated from state universities.  I did not select a university on the other side of the country. I could not afford the plane tickets, the dorms, or the all you can eat meal plan. Instead I rode the downtown Montgomery Street bus, past the projects and up the hill ~ with my lunch, to the local state university, New Jersey City State University, for my undergraduate degree.  And then I walked to work right after class each day.   

My journey to teaching followed the traditional route; I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Studies and Education.  It took me six years to achieve my first degree.   Sometimes it’s just the simple things, like eating and having a place to live, you see they took precedent over my academics at times.  Contrary to many DC elites I know poverty matters, because I have lived it.

By now you should be aware that Arne Duncan and I have very little in common. He grew up in a life of privilege. Secretary Duncan’s father was a professor at a university. My father left my Mother and three sisters when I was ten years old. Secretary Duncan’s mother was educated, and ran after school programs for children ~ a lot like me. My Mom was a high school graduate and worked as a waitress.  Arne grew up in the land of milk and honey. I grew up in the land mayonnaise sandwiches. At times my family existed on welfare and food stamps.  I’ve known a Thanksgiving without a Turkey, and a Christmas without a tree.  Don’t even ask about a NJ winter without heat.  Where I grew up, if your father stay around, and had a steady job you were lucky. The only professionals in my neighborhood were teachers, police officers, and fire fighters.   They were our role models.  I imagine in Arne’s neighborhood there were doctors, lawyers, judges, CEO(s), and probably a few political makers and shakers.  I doubt if there were many teachers that could afford to live in Arne’s neighborhood.

The schools I attended were my salvation, and those teachers were all my heroes.  Not because they had the blessings of the United States Department of Education, or because they attended prestigious Ivy League Universities.   They were heroes because often they were the only adults who cared what happened to us. Our teachers were there for the long run, from Kindergarten to 8th grade, and then all through high school.  We had the same teachers as our friends, our siblings, even our parents.     There was no need for two-year missionaries who came to save America’s schools. Our teachers went the distance.

With my Bachelor’s Degree in hand, I followed my heroes into teaching. It was only natural that the spark for learning lit by those teachers would inspire me to continue my education.  I earned two master’s degrees, one in supervision and urban education, and another in remedial reading.  All of three of my first degrees were at the same university, the one I used to ride the bus to. The only difference for my master’s degrees was I drove to classes.

That reading bug caught me during my second master’s degree.  Eventually I would cross the country to earn my Ph.D in Reading, Language, and Culture at the University of Arizona.  I eventually found myself back on the east coast in Connecticut, as the Director of the Literacy Center at Central Connecticut State University.   For the past actually work with children, parents, and teachers.   Where as the secretary calls on others for answers, I call upon my own real experiences of working with children, parents, and their teachers, and the knowledge base that come with three advance degrees in education.  

I know first hand the pain of children and parents who have suffered the consequences of a policy that claims Poverty does not matter; Small classes don’t make a difference, and Hiring more tutors and reading specialists are not necessary for children with special needs.   This ridiculous policy has spent nearly one trillion dollars on new assessments, new standards, and teacher proof curriculums.  All of which the data now (after 10 years) clearly demonstrates little, or no impact on closing the achievement gap.  Arne Duncan  seeks to close the achievement gap of our nation through testing and with competitive grants. While I work on it, one child at a time.  There is something to be said about real experience.  There is something to be said about saving the world ~ one child at a time.  My teachers used that same one child at a time approach to save my friends and I, from the gangs, the drugs, and the violence of the inner city back in the 70’s.

Second the difference between a balanced assessment framework and the policy rhetoric of NCLB/RTTT:
Some thirty years of learning about assessments, and working with struggling readers helps me to understand that any assessment on its own is at best a limited snapshot of any one person at any one time.  While I have no particular angst with standardized assessments, I fully understand that on their own they offer no court of appeals, and their objectivity is at best ~ cold and heartless.  For our government to have made such measures the single major focus of evaluating our public schools, and each child’s academic success, is folly at best.  Without a doubt, it is the most blatant act of violence ever committed by any United States Department of Education against America’s children.

I have absolutely no objection to including standardized assessments in a balanced assessment framework, I include them, but cannot give them precedent over other measures.  Standardized assessments give only one angle of any child.  A balanced assessment framework views academic achievement as a photo album of performance, over time.  It measures the whole child, not isolated pieces. It includes many pictures of a child’s progress from multiple performance indicators. It includes the voices of children, parents, and teachers. Yes indeed, I think children and parents should have a say in what goes into that photo album of performance.  Again standardized tests are included, but they weigh no heavier or lighter than other parts of the assessment. This is what balanced is all about equal values. All data is important within a “Whole Child” perspective. We should not only assess on demand reading and writing tasks.  We should allow children to include the writing pieces they select. The piece they were motivated to read and write about the one they chose.  There should also be a place for the work they do in school everyday.  Grade point average counts in a balanced assessment framework. With standardized measures the view we have is limited to what a child can do when not being guided by a teacher.  Most of school, just like the work place, is about what we do with others under the guidance of someone.
The current educational policy rhetoric relies solely on isolated not integrated assessments. These assessments break down reading, writing, and math into isolated components.  Any Graduate Assessment Course clearly presents the concept of the whole child and the need for a balanced assessment framework.  However Secretary Duncan never had the opportunity to sit-in on that course. He has his people to call upon, but something tells me his people never took this course themselves.  The fact that Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond is speaking at our Save Our Schools rally is an indication that Secretary Duncan is not even listening to the Assessment Experts he calls into the Department of Education for advice.

Thirdly top down driven mandates will meet with resistance every time.
There is a vast difference between rhetoric and real experiences.  After a decade of DOE leadership, our nation is bewildered as to how 85% of our public schools will be labeled “Failing Schools” by 2013 ~ who was in charge.   With data indicating the achievement gap was closing quicker before NCLB, educators and parents are perplexed as to how not one Secretary of Education during the past 10 years has even questioned this policy.   The mantra of “Testing and New Standards will save us” is repeated over and over again.  Each year America’s children lose two/three months of teaching and learning to testing and test preparation.

Every so often The Department of Education holds “Listening Tours” but they are the ones who do the talking, and no one in the DOE appears to willing to listen.   They promise things will be different in 2014, or with the re-authorization of NCLB, but our public schools continue to suffer tremendously.  Secretary Duncan has publically claimed that educators are elated with his policies ~ every chance he is given. We have testified, e-mailed, written letters and reports explaining our opposition to NCLB/RTTT policies to no avail. Lately we have taken to the streets to walk, to protest, and now we are marching to the White House to inform the Secretary of Education that enough is enough.  
Albert Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.
Not only does No Child Left Behind fail Einstein’s imagination standard, but it relies on an antiquated means of measuring literacy.  It uses 20th century assessments in this the 21st century.   Literacy has changed dramatically over the years, it is now communication engineered through digital lenses.  A lens that already dominates the lives of our children both in and out of their classrooms.   Standardized assessments have little chance of catching up to the literate lives of our 21st century students.

Finally returning to why I am marching?

Some are marching for equitable funding across all public schools and school systems.
Some are marching for full public funding of family and community support services.
Some are marching for full funding for 21st century school and neighborhood libraries.
Some are marching for an end to economically and racially re-segregated schools.

While I applaud all the above, and gladly wave those banners.
Just like last year, when I walked those 400 miles in 40 days from Connecticut to Washington DC under the hot summer sun, I am marching to Washington DC to tell them again that “Children Are More Than Test Scores”
I marching for the teachers who inspired me to be more than just another thug.
I am marching for the guys in my neighborhood that never made it this far.
I am marching for my Mom who did absolutely everything just to keep her boy on the right path.
I am marching for my sisters who carried me on their shoulders, because they were born before ghetto girls were pointed toward college.
I am marching for Father Fitzgerald and Sister Antonelle who knew boys needed more than academics.
I am marching for every child, parent, guardian, and teacher I’ve ever worked with because they deserve some one to march for them.
I am marching to “Take Back Our Schools” from the inexperienced, the well connected, the Ivy League, that good ole DC boys club.
I am marching to let America’s CEO’s know that our schools are not for sale.
I am marching so America’s billionaires know; we welcome their gifts, but not their puppet strings.
I am marching, and I am coming Secretary Arne Duncan to DC.
Marching to DC,

My song for today is James Taylor's Walking Man 


  1. you are a good and passionate soul. you are the kind of teacher i would want to have in our schools. thank you for this--for your story, and for your passion.

    save our schools!


  2. Thank you for the feedback Annie on some days I wonder if anyone is out there, and then along comes a few kind words that make all the difference. I'll no longer be alone this Saturday. I'll be standing with parents, children, and teachers and marching to the White House.
    430 miles down-70 to go,

  3. you are not alone. this has been a long, difficult road for many. i will look for you and hope to meet you and many passionate people at the rally.

    what you are doing, what you believe in does make a difference.

    together, our voices will be louder.

    thank you for your efforts.


  4. Jesse,
    I too did not have a privileged background... I lived in the projects in a Connecticut city until my parents could scrape enough money together to move our family of 6 to a 912 sq. ft., 1 bathroom house in a blue collar suburb when I was 11. I so echo everything you are saying and have been reading everything I can about the current sickening state of education. I especially loved Diane Ravitch's book. I received my MS from CCSU and recently retired after a 37 year teaching career. I'm marching in spirit, not in person, but I've written letters to the editor and am running for the Board of Education in my town. I so admire what you and the all the marchers are doing. Know that for every one of you marching, there are thousands behind you. Thanks for representing us so passionately.

  5. PLEASE help US by becoming part of the Internet wildfire our nation MUST become for public education to be made the priority it ought to be in our America! It’s time for us to SPEAK UP and contact our leaders. Let’s FLOOD America with E CUBED ALLIANCE – EXPECTING EDUCATIONAL EXCELLENCE!

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