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
"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 (http://dianeravitch.net/2015/04/19/audrey-beardsley-the-silencing-of-the-educators-a-dangerous-trend/), Louisiana (http://www.westernjournalism.com/teachers-district-facing-retribution-criticizing-common-core/), New York (http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/city-teacher-lost-fellowship-revealing-administration-fudged-regents-exam-court-papers-article-1.1990734), Arizona (http://www.azcentral.com/story/ejmontini/2015/03/27/legislature-arizona-school-board-association-sb-1172-free-speech-elections/70556134/), Missouri (http://www.stevenlin83.com/teachersfreepress/this-is-why-teachers-need-tenure-missouri-teacher-suspended-for-speaking-out/), and Michigan (http://stopcommoncoreinmichigan.com/2014/03/teachers-silenced/).
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
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.