Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Enough is Enough!

We are at a pivotal juncture in this country with respect to education. Over the past decade, we have seen a dramatic escalation in the involvement of the Federal Government in education. There seems to be the belief in Washington that the alleged problems in public education in the U.S. can be corrected through national standards, increased regulations, standardized testing, and mandates regarding what and how our children should be taught. It seems that government at both the State and Federal levels want to take control of education away from locally elected officials and place that control in the hands of bureaucrats in the various state capitals and Washington.  Nowhere is that practice more evident than here in Massachusetts

We are drowning in initiatives. Even if they were all good ideas, there is no way we could effectively implement them all. They are getting in the way of each other and working to inhibit necessary change and progress. The number and pace of regulations to which we must respond and comply is increasing at an alarming rate. The following information is taken from the testimony of Tom Scott, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, presented to the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint Education Committee on June 27, 2013.  An examination of the regulations and documents requiring action by local districts on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website demonstrates that from the years 1996 -2008 (13 years) there were 4,055  (average of 312 each year) documents requiring action of local districts in response to regulations. The same examination conducted on the four year period of 2009-2013 reveals that there were 5,382 (an average of 1077 each year) multiple page documents requiring action by local school districts. How are we effectively supposed to implement local initiatives and meet the needs of our students when we are mired in this bureaucratic nightmare of a system?

Education is an inherently local pursuit. To view it otherwise is misguided and detrimental to the mission of educating our children. In order for schools to be effective they must be responsive to the culture of the community in which they reside. The culture of those individual communities differ greatly and mandates which dictate uniformity for schools across the state, and now even the nation, are in direct contravention to that reality.  Educational historian, David Tyack, stated that "The search for the one best system has ill served the pluralistic character of American Society. Bureaucracy has often perpetuated positions and outworn practices rather than serving the clients, the children to be taught."

Current education reform is not designed to truly change education it merely adds additional levels of bureaucracy to an already overburdened system. The extreme emphasis on standardized testing is an unproductive exercise in bureaucratic compliance. As educators, however, if we speak out against the standardized testing movement and the amount of time it takes away from instruction then we are not for accountability. If we point out that many of the standardized test questions are not developmentally appropriate for the age of the students to whom they are being given, then we are not for rigor.  

Assessments are an essential part of education. They serve as diagnostic tools that afford teachers the opportunity to determine areas where students need extra assistance or demonstrate when a topic needs to be re-taught. However, standardized tests whose scores take months to arrive, often after the student has moved on to another teacher, have a limited utility for shaping the educational environment. I am concerned that we are creating students who will excel in taking multiple choice tests. Unfortunately, life is not a multiple choice test. Enough is enough!

It is time for educators to push back against the standardized, centralized, top-down mandate driven school reform environment.  I agree with the need for standards, but those standards need to be broadly written. Local communities, school boards, administrators and teachers should then be afforded the flexibility to demonstrate how they have worked to creatively to implement local initiatives in order to meet those broadly construed standards.  The problem is that it is difficult to boil down creativity to a data point and that makes bureaucrats uncomfortable to say the least.

Well, where does that leave us? Education in the United States is constantly being compared to the systems in countries around the world. One important characteristic of education in those countries, which is consistently linked to the success of their students, is the esteem with which they hold their educators. It is time to treat our teachers with respect. It is time that we involve teachers in the discussion to set the direction for education in this country.  They are the ones with the training and expertise. They are on the front lines in this battle.  It is time that as educators we let our representatives at the state and federal levels know that we are headed in the wrong direction. It is time that, rather than be influenced by special interests, we focus on the students and the skills they need to be successful in our modern society. I will do my part. Will You?

27 comments:

  1. A noble man with courageous integrity who sees the light. God bless you!!

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  2. Wonderfully written and so very true. Thank you. The students, parents and teachers in your district are blessed.

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  3. BRAVO Dr. Gazda!!!!! Time for parents and former "left behind", now of voting age, students to communicate with our government. Call Senator Gail Candaras, 413 599 4785 or email Gale.Candaras@masenate.gov. Call State Representative Thomas Petrolati, 413 547 0435 or email Thomas.Petrolati@mahouse.gov.

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  4. Well said! We'd love to have you at our stand out in Holyoke tonight! The event is at Holyoke High School to stand out against PARCC since DESE is holding an info mtg there tonight. We will gather at 6pm in front of the school.

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  5. But when the teachers are not worth a grain of salt due to apathy or frustration with the system, How will that bring the respect the teachers need. We all know that schools are basically day-care centers for elementary and junior/senion schoolers. Social activities are nil as well as the possibility of a good student to get a great education with such reliance on test results that make a real education almost impossible. So many obstacles for students and teachers it is no wonder that our system is so low in the world of education.

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  6. I speak for many teachers: Thank you. Couragous citizens before us have sacrificed it all in the pursuit of justice. We at least owe it to the them the respect to standup against the injustice to our most precious resources, children.

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  7. WOW! Well said! Thank you for having the courage to step up and speak your mind.

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  8. Amen Todd! Good to see a Super that remembers what it was like to be in the classroom.

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  9. Thank you all the way from New York. We are a mess as well and can use your wisdom.

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  10. Very well said, & if you practice what you preach then Ludlow's teachers should feel empowered and fortunate to have such a well spoken advocate at the helm. Good luck to us all for I agree that education has become a second class citizen in this country, and it won't get any better until society embraces it with the reverence that it deserves.

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  11. I think a good first step is for Ludlow administrators to organize some meetings where administrators, teachers, and parents can engage in dialogue. Coming together to discuss these issues could be the first step in acting collectively. You have the the ability to get the word out and the resources for meeting spaces.

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    1. Oh my Goodness - I would SO show up at a meeting like this !!

      Somebody SCHEDULE IT - and let's take some action !!

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  12. Wow. Where were you when I was in school?? This country needs more supportive and aggressive Superintendents like you. I do not have children, however, my nephew just entered into the Ludlow public system. Not only do I fear for his future education, but fear for his inability to think freely, to go against the grain when needed, to stand up for what's right. I think it is educators, such as yourself, who can instill these "antiquated" morals and beliefs back into the school system. The "no child left behind" program is a farce and reading what you deal with annually only proves that such a system will not work. Thank you for being you, sir!

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  13. I totally agree with Dr. Gazda. I have analyzed the entire PARCC packet have have drawn the following conclusions. It is designed to keep the MA. Department of Elementary & Secondary Education employed RATHER than helping to identify ONLY those school districts, and students who really NEED the help the most. It presents a "self fulfilling prophesy" for the MA.
    Dept. of Elementary & Secondary Ed. There is NOTHING in the United States Constitution which guarantees a national education program to be supported with federal, state or local tax dollars.

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  14. I think it's adorable that you think anyone cares what educators think about education. So cute!
    Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a ladder to climb, and that means voicing opinions that are aligned with what Bill Gates says is good for schools.

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  15. Hear, hear! As a former educator, the spouse of a superintendent and the child of 2 parents who were educators, I applaud you! Many of those at MA DESE and in government in Boston and Washington have NO clue. Leave "education" to the experts, not legislators.

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  16. BUT, the Ludlow Public Schools, of which you are Superintendent, are still planning to give the PARCC this spring. How come?

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  17. Thank you for taking a stand. As an educator in the great state of Tennessee, we are seeing the same mandates and actions being taken by our state. We have a Commissioner of Education who has gone rogue and pushes whatever programs/mandates he sees fit. He refuses to listen to anyone who does not see things his way. He refers to us as "noise." He has even taken to usurping the authority of our state government in order to put policies into place after he was unable to get our elected representatives to put his policies into state law. I am encouraged to see more and more stakeholders putting their foot down to say "enough is enough." I have never seen such an amazing amount of teamwork on the part of teachers, parents, school boards, superintendents, and even students. We are working to overturn the damage being done by the bureaucrats of our state. We in Tennessee stand together with you in Massachusetts as brothers and sisters in education. Together we can take back the public education systems that we hold most dear!

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  18. Dear Dr Gazda,
    You are a breath of fresh air to teachers everywhere! I hope those under your leadership realize how blessed they are to have someone like you in charge. As you said, we are at a pivotal point, especially in MA right now, as the PARCC is about to be field tested in 360 districts across the Commonwealth. I believe now is the time for us to step up the fight and take action that will be impossible to be ignored. Educators in Massachusetts need to unite right now and agree to refuse to pilot the PARCC.
    Talking, tweeting, protesting, lobbying, boycotting, and the like, are all commendable efforts, but are not showing the results that we - and especially our students - need...& not quickly enough. We can't wait for enough parents to opt their children out - as teachers, it is time for us to take the reins and do it for them. If one district in the state takes the lead here, with each teacher refusing to pilot PARCC, other districts will surely follow, until the entire state has joined together and made a clear statement. A revolution needs to happen, and I believe that you are someone who can be instrumental in seeing that it does.
    http://theindignantteacher.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/are-teachers-ready-to-just-say-no-to-piloting-the-parcc/

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  19. Thank you for this. I think many parents and educators and agree. We need a revolution and it needs to be from us.

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  20. Finally, a high-ranking administrator finally willing to put himself on the line for....
    Teachers have been doing that for some time now, with mixed results.
    Good Luck, Sir!
    Stephen Round
    The Rhode Island Teacher Who Said "I Quit!"

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  21. Could you redo this in a "common core" letter, I do not understand all this "common sense". Please redo this letter and write it out using the "Common Core" principles so nobody gets what you're saying and has no clue how to get there.
    Thanks and Have a Great Day!!!

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  22. Sir,

    While I agree with your comments wholeheartedly, I believe that this has all been said many times before. The result? Unfortunately, not much else other than more and more federally backed reforms for standardization, privatization, school choice, etc. Th reason why nothing is changing? The people who run the U.S. have a vested interest in keeping public school reform on its current path. In doing so, they have also had a vested interest in weakening the solidarity of "the people's" dialectical position with regards to public school reform. In other words, the media has convinced communities that teachers suck and are incapable while higher learning institutions and school reform consultants push a discourse of incompetent and disengaged parents. Moreover, in more urban areas, a lot of this is facilitated by cultural-racial animosities between a predominantly white teacher population and predominantly black/brown community -- this is the uncomfortable conversation that nobody wants to have because so many of us believe we live a post-racist society.

    Why are those in charge of this country pushing us down this path? And why did they have a stronger commitment to more constructivist and substantially democratic forms of public schooling in the past? Well, it comes down to economics really. In the first half the 20th century, U.S. industrialists wanted a dynamic, problem-solving, empowered and tolerant working population to boost industrial efficiency and output. This is what lead the U.S. to its post-WWII dominance of the world economy. But with this, the standard of living in the U.S. also went up, and the costs of U.S. production invariably increased as well. The neo-liberal era starting in the 70s advocated free trade to open up borders for large U.S. based investment firms and to outsource production to developing countries with cheaper labor. The U.S. became a post-industrial service economy. But services don't really produce anything tangible, and they are not the main source of U.S. economic growth; this comes from U.S. based investments in production abroad. To free up more capital for such investments, the federal government has been systematically attacking public schools and their union protected teachers. What's their evidence? Bad standardized test scores. Such reforms produce entire communities of "failures" that require services from a new U.S. middle class of service workers who believe wholeheartedly that they deserve to get paid middle class salaries to "help" culturally backward people who need assistance in leading more "normal" lives. These professions include human service workers, social workers, guidance counselors, special education teachers, psychologists and psychiatrists, to name a few -- all careers that have multiplied exponentially in the past 50 years. Convincing these natural helpers that the brown/black and poor people of the world need help is also what leads most of them to condone -- or at least turn a blind eye to -- U.S. based intervention, labor exploitation, and systematic theft of raw resources from developing countries around the world.

    In W.Mass Springfield has been the primary testing ground for expanding these policy reforms that you discuss. Springfield is also the community where teachers and parents/community members seem to be the most at odds with each other. This is not surprising to me. Policies reforms are lauded as successful in decaying urban areas like this first, and then they spill over into other districts. For these reasons, I believe that Springfield schools are the vanguard of this dialectical battle on school reform. People need to step up, address their fears of one another, openly discuss their biases and unify themselves.

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  23. Bravo! You are exactly right. Our children are not widgets to be placed in the same size boxes. I wish more superintendents had the courage to speak up with you instead of just worrying about compliance! I hope your example gives them the courage to speak for what is best for our children! Thank you.

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  24. Kudos.
    I hope you and the teachers and parents in your district will support the petition calling on the President to end abusive testing. The White House and Congress may ignore us but with several hundred thousand signatures on the petition, we can get the media attention that will make the public aware of test abusive.
    The Twitter tag is #EndTestsObama
    wh.gov/lV7q7

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  25. Sometimes, if one lives long enough, one realizes that the radical rebellious position one took in times of change has become now an accepted cause... If only more people had read my columns decades ago, onesolitary voice might not have been swallowed up in the turbulence of reform gone bad.

    http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Education-Academics-turn-century-ebook/dp/B006I19D3K/ref=la_B00580PJ9Y_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396826442&sr=1-8

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  26. in an educational environment of broad graduates and the capitalism rampant in the public schools, your courageous voice is a bright light in this fight to decimate public education and render our teachers powerless and unable to use their true pedagogical skills. we will continue to fight with you. this is not moral or just and i don't understand why more people don't care when THESE ARE OUR CHILDREN. they are not a number or a resource. they are individuals with various strengths and weaknesses. "When are people going to understand you don't fatten your lambs by weighing them?”-Jonathan Kozol very apropos.

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