My Colleague Sandra Marshall Reviews A Chronicle of Echoes
One of my colleagues at the Louisiana high school where I teach, veteran social studies teacher Sandra Marshall, read my book, A Chronicle of Echoes. She wrote the following review of my book, which includes her reaction to learning about the corporate reform drive to privatize public education.
Marshall has 39 years in the public school classroom–a seasoned, capable, and dedicated career educator– yet she had no idea that American public education had been declared “failing” by those who would market-drive it to destruction.
And now, for Sandra Marshall’s review of (and reaction to) A Chronicle of Echoes:
September 1, 2014
As a veteran teacher of 39 years, in public education, I have witnessed many initiatives, programs and strategies that were to save public education. Of course, one must believe that public education needs saving to buy into the plans being pushed, and I for one do not. I have taught secondary social studies classes at grade levels 9 – 12 and at every ability level. The past 39 years has been the most rewarding experience in my adult life, and I am proud of our profession. That being said, I believed myself to be knowledgeable when discussing the latest so called reform movement in public education including me- Common Core State Standards. After reading A Chronicle of Echoes by Mercedes Schneider, I now know that I had only skimmed the surface of the problems with this nationalized education plan.
While the book is quite long and gives an extensive listing of sources, one needs only to examine the table of contents to gain an insight as to the people and topics to be discussed. Mercedes Schneider examines the backgrounds of several of the main players pushing the corporate reform movement and does so with statistical data, biographical information and above all else, humor. Her manner of writing is far from dry due to her wittiness. At times it was difficult to keep track of the timeline and who was on what committee or corporate board, but there were several references that connected the information to prior chapters. Perhaps a suggestionto make the material easier to follow would be a graphic flowchart that would illustrate the many organizations, legislative acts and businesses linked to the key players. The flowchart would also be helpful in keeping track of the same people simply rotating from one organization, governmental body or business.
A Chronicle of Echoes paints a clear picture of the true intent of the privatizing legislation that from which many states are now attempting to disentangle themselves. The more one learns about the objectives of corporate reform, the more one realizes that the many “reformer” proposed ideas for public education are simply impossible to reach. For example, CCSS emphasizes the need for every child to be placed on a career or college bound path. That is absurd! Over the years, I have taught countless young people who, unfortunately, do not possess the mental aptitude to go to college and become degreed. Yes, some students may be able to learn to do menial tasks, but that is not what most would consider a career. Public schools meet the daily challenge of teaching these young people basic skills that will enable them to function in a life away from the school setting. At the same time, we are also teaching those who will go from school to work in a selected field. The students who will further their education at the university level are also taught the course work that will be needed for them to be successful. Sometimes, all of the students described above are being instructed at the same time in the same classroom! CCSS is not realistic in this regard, to say the least. Of course, if enough schools fail to make the grade and are shut down, which is the ultimate goal, charter schools can replace them. As we have all read, charter schools outperform the public schools hands down. Nothing could be further from the truth and Mercedes Schneider exposes the statistical evidence to support the claim that usually charter schools, that are not falsifying their scores, score nearly the same or below public schools. The amount of money being made off of the “corporate” reform movement through the establishment of charter schools is staggering! Charter schools do have a definite advantage over the public school system…the charter schools can and often do have students removed from their schools, only to be sent back to the public school. The money allocated to educate that student does not, however, follow the student back to the public school. Timing is everything! As pointed out in A Chronicle of Echoes, major corporations, politicians, so called educators (although they have no credentials) are becoming very wealthy pushing this reform. Many of the people pushing CCSS have a direct connection to the textbook publishers that will sell the updated CCSS textbooks to the states to be used in the classrooms. Conflict of interest does not begin to describe the tangled web of these powerful money changers.
Another area that is brought to light in A Chronicle of Echoes is the notion of fast tracking individuals into the teaching profession. Teachers throughout the United States have invested four, six, or more years of their life preparing to teach young people. To think that they could be replaced by so called temporary teachers who have had five weeks of training goes from the absurd to the ludicrous! These temporary teachers usually stay no more than two years teaching in the public school if the “teacher” follows the suggestions of their mentors. Anyone who does not enter into the teaching profession as a lifelong commitment will has no ability to become a true stakeholder in education, their school, or their community. Teaching does not just happen. Teaching requires a commitment to continue to stay abreast of technological advancements, new methodologies, and an unwavering desire to perfect their teaching strategies. One does not learn to teach in a matter of one year, let alone in five weeks! Teaching is not a 9 to 5 job! Student teachers are required a semester of actual teaching experience, which does not take into account the considerable number of hours spent observing a variety of teachers, before they can be hired to teach at a public school. These temporary teachers have no educational credentials that would allow them to teach. If one is truly concerned about what is best for students, it should not take too much thinking to see that fast tracking individuals into the classroom is not a plausible solution.
Lastly, there is the issue of tying a teacher’s name to a student’s test score. Mercedes Schneider digs deep into how via test-driven reform test scores are becoming the most important part of a student’s education and the determining factor in whether or not a teacher maintains his or her job. At the high school level where one student often times has up to seven teachers a semester, the idea that a teacher should lose his or her job because a student fails a standardized test should be laughable, but it is happening! Public school teachers will begin to “teach the test” if such pressure is heaved upon them in order to put food on the table. The students are the ones who will suffer in years to come from such a practice. Unfortunately, some teachers are being forced to do just that. Public schools should teach the whole child, not simply content knowledge. Also, public schools have no control over the poor conditions that more and more of our students are coming from. We do not have the ability or resources to fix the damage done to so many at such early ages, but yet teachers are being penalized because those students are not able to concentrate every day on every concept that is taught within the classroom.
Just as absurd as losing a job over test scores is the idea that a teacher’s pay should also be based on student performance on a standardized test. Many states no longer offer step increases based on the number of years of experience. That is comparable to stating that teachers do not, at the very least, deserve a standard of living increase in pay. With every year a person teaches, that teacher’s knowledge not only of subject matter increases, but also the skill level of which an engaging lesson is delivered that turns passive learners into active learners. Teaching is an art and is not centered around (or at least it should not be centered on) one high-stakes test score. A test score does not and should not determine the knowledge of a student or the ability of an individual to teach.
As a public school teacher for the past 39 years, I commend the in-depth research that Mercedes Schneider undertook to bring disturbing facts to light that center around privatizing reform.
Marshall receives local 2013 VFW Citizenship Teacher of the Year award (high school category)