The One about Silencing Teachers, Retribution and the Smell of Fear from the Reformers...

I received the note below from a former student who is now a teacher. For obvious reasons, I won't identify her or where she teaches, but--shockingly--her story is becoming all too common...

"We had a union meeting yesterday where they warned us that the governor is going after the certificates of teachers that opted out their kids (of the state tests). The governor says it breaks our contract agreeing to protect and follow educational laws. Is this legal? Teachers are being targeted and warned to be extremely careful, especially on public media. I was just curious on your thoughts."

This theme of administrators and elected officials threatening teachers if they speak out publicly against tests, the Common Core State Standards, or other education policies seems to be growing stronger and louder recently, with reports of similar stories popping up in New Mexico (, Louisiana (, New York (, Arizona (, Missouri (, and Michigan (

In Rochester, NY, an email from an administrator to the city's principals asked them to keep a list of teachers who might have shared information on testing for possible disciplinary action:

"An email sent from a high-level Rochester City School District official to principals is causing concern among teachers.

Chief of Schools Beverly Burrell-Moore sent the email Monday afternoon to principals she supervises. The email asks them to share names of teachers who have encouraged parents to refuse to allow their children to take state exams. 

"Per your building, please identify teachers who have sent letters or made phone calls to parents encouraging them to opt out their children from the NYS Assessments.  Also, identify teachers who you have evidence as utilizing their classrooms as 'political soap boxes.'  I need this updated  information no later than Tuesday morning for follow-up," the email states. (

Audrey Amrein Beardsley, a professor of education at Arizona State University, and the author of one of my favorite education blogs on the web, VAMBOOZLED, reports: "New Mexico now requires teachers to sign a contractual document that they are not to 'diminish the significance or importance of the tests” or they could lose their jobs. Teachers are not to speak negatively about the tests or say anything negatively about these tests in their classrooms or in public; if they do they could be found in violation of their contracts.' Beardsley wonders about the legality, and even the constitutionality of this sort of action: 'As per a related announcement released by the ASBA, this “could have a chilling effect on the free speech rights of school and district officials' throughout the state but also (likely) beyond if this continues to catch on. School officials may be held 'liable for a $5,000 civil fine just for sharing information on the positive or negative impacts of proposed legislation to parents or reporters.'”

While there is no doubt that these moves are indeed a "chilling" development in the education "reform" movement, I believe that they also reveal a quickly growing sense of fear and confusion among those in the reform community regarding the viability of their agenda. Indeed, the surprising strength of the "Opt Out" movement in New York, where as many as 200,000 students have reportedly refused to sit for the state's tests, has led to calls demanding the resignation of Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the NYS Board of Regents.

If there is a silver lining to these threats it may be the impending crumbling of the reform agenda under the increased scrutiny from the public, the media and teachers. For far too long, policy "leaders" like Chancellor Tisch, Governors Cuomo, Kasich and Snyder, and Sec. of Education Duncan have responded to criticism of their agenda with either deafening silence or dismissive pandering, such as accusations that "painted parents as confused patsies of a labor action." Now, these feeble rejoinders are being exposed for what they have been all along: weak and arrogant responses to the legitimate demands for accountability from those so negatively impacted by these destructive policies.

These "leaders" are clearly scared, and they have every right to be. Now is the time to step up the pressure, and not let our voices be silenced. We are fighting for our students, our colleagues and our profession.

Let students learn, let teachers teach, and get the politicians out of education.

Write a comment

Comments: 24
  • #1

    Margaret Sergent (Sunday, 19 April 2015 18:26)

    Sayng nothing or not standing up for what is right for children is like watching someone getting murdered and not doing anything to stop it. It is time for us to rise up and collectively have our voices heard. We need to stand up to the bullies who think they know better than we do for our students. Enough is enough. We must not allow our children to be used in the name of educational reform any longer.

  • #2

    diane barrett (Sunday, 19 April 2015 18:54)

    Aren't all teachers mandatory reporters of child abuse?
    Those tests and policies are a clear danger to children. Needs to be reported.

  • #3

    Susan Alderman (Sunday, 19 April 2015 19:12)

    Two words: First Amendment.

  • #4

    Melody Geroux (Sunday, 19 April 2015 19:50)

    If the tests are reliable and valid, and the reforms are the right thing to do, why are they frightened? Anyone speaking out against them can be rebuked with the truth. If, however, the test refusers are right, and the tests are garbage, silencing them and threatening their careers would be criminal. Methinks they protest too much.

  • #5

    Beth C (Sunday, 19 April 2015 19:57)

    This is still America right? Freedom of speech?

  • #6

    Don (Sunday, 19 April 2015 19:58)

    I feel like we live in Russia or Nazi Germany. Where has the "Republic and Demacracy gone? We live in an oligarchy now. Brutally obvious. Teachers...fight for what is right! They have kept you out of these discussions for obvious reasons...the are an inconvenience to what they want. You are in their way of privatizing education and bringing in the business model. It will never work. You can standersize equipment and cars...never a human being! I hope the parents of the current children revolt. It obviously is necessary. Arrogant agendas are very dangerous and my Cuomo is leading that charge. Cold his soul to the greedy! No friend of public education!

  • #7

    Raschelle Holland (Sunday, 19 April 2015 21:38)

    This is a tragedy. It's like being in Nazi Germany Times... I'm a teacher in WA State and I'm opting my son out of the TEST. It is my right! I am a parent too. The tests are ethically wrong!

  • #8

    Peyton (Sunday, 19 April 2015 22:38)

    Remove the political stigma imposed by state testing standards and instead enrich the curriculum at every school. Instead of linking teacher evaluations to standardized test results, look at the texts, the varied media, field trips, and overall school climate. Create outlets, not traps. Address equal technology shares that place childhood poverty at par with everyone. What are state tests going to reveal that we don't already know: the poor, special needs, and culturally disadvantaged will not do well. However, the kids pay a very high price. Tests erode their sense of the world where there is only one "correct" answer; there must be only one way to learn, and the state must have the "key". What students learn is how to take a test, a state test, a measure of how much our government leaders manipulate public opinion by test outcomes. At best, it wastes money that could be better spent. The testing movement at its worst, provides political zealots all the fallacious arguments they need. Opt out? No, end the toxic testing!!

  • #9

    Chris Quackenbush (Monday, 20 April 2015 05:42)

    This is more than a tragedy. It's the end game to destroy America and the light of freedom in the World. Check out this article which connects the dots:

  • #10

    linda gale (Monday, 20 April 2015 10:44)

    I think what teachers have to do to keep their jobs is awful.

  • #11

    Fran Rizzo (Monday, 20 April 2015 13:07)

    Not saying right or wrong, but cases have been done over an over again on what teachers can and cannot say. You cannot be acted against if you're speech is you being a citizen to your government, (including school district). IE: Education of your children. However if it's seen as an issue related to an employee / employer relationship teachers have been on the losing end of that battle for decades.

  • #12

    Dr. Wayne M. Linek (Monday, 20 April 2015 14:51)

    I'm a former co-editor of the Journal of Literacy Research. We published an article on the negative impact of high stakes testing about 10 years ago. The same goes for teacher education---I've published research in other research journals that expose quick and easy avenues to teacher certification as damaging to students. Even though I've tried to be politically active, politicians have refused to listen. In fact, at one point we were on the Texas Legislative Budget Board's agenda to present research findings. We got un-invited once the officials realized what the research found. There has been a consistent political agenda to discredit public schools and colleges of education in this country in order to privatize the institutions so that they can become money making propositions instead of social institutions that support an informed democracy.

  • #13

    Marcy Abramsky (Monday, 20 April 2015 20:25)

    Rochester was slightly different - still questionable but different. However, the point here absolutely valid .. If parents can speak out and we are also parents then we as teachers, can also opt our children out. The bottom line is they ( the state ) are grasping at straws .. The lawsuits are in the works ( in Rochester) and they will be valid .. There is NOTHING that indicates that we can't fight for change in education when there is a monopoly on tests, certification materials and a dictator holding funding and now our jobs over our heads .. If there was no directive from admin which it appears not as union is supporting full legal action the comments about what we do with our own children is a joke. Let them figure out all that data..and try me .. The system will be dismembered by that time.
    It's a waste of time and too big a task to take that on and if it doesn't sway us it won't change a thing. Good Leaders that last and are respected, don't lead with threats. I do believe we are required to maintain professionalism in the classroom but our governor is mocking the needs of our children in order to make history with his "legendary" plan that is about to crash and take everyone with it.

  • #14

    Carol Griffitt (Tuesday, 21 April 2015 00:03)

    Political agendas are eroding teaching and do not promote the education or well being of the student.

  • #15

    Mary Pelkey (Wednesday, 22 April 2015 07:04)

    Completely agree with Carol Griffitt! It's all political now--are you all going to actually deny that there is anything wrong with the educational system and it needs reforming? Would you be more accepting if these reforms came from a republican administration? The kids are caught in the middle of two opposing political agendas--very sad. Nothing wrong with having high standards. And as for tests--I took the Iowas when I was in school and the Cakifornia state tests and the sat--I also had to sit for a standardized test for placement when I got to college. Tests are a fact of life-- how else are you going to measure how students are doing?

  • #16

    Jason Mosall (Thursday, 23 April 2015 10:50)

    @Mary Pelkey
    Please understand that teachers value feedback. That is not what this agenda is, nor is the Iowa test relatable to this discussion (cc tests take weeks out of instruction yearly, just to administer). The current teaching adgenda *deliberately tests at 2 and 3 grade levels higher than educational science says is aproppriate, therefor painting literally most teachers ineffective. If developmental appropriateness is not important to you, then we need to have another conversation entirely. Teachers never get any feedback about specific weaknesses in their approach. This is an agenda to replace the hard working professionals in your community with lower paid drones with no real expertise or experience. Go visit a public school. We'll show you what will be lost by handing over our public schools to the rich-guy charter school agenda.

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