Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Support Garfield High (Seattle) Boycott of High Stakes Tests

By Jack Gerson

A boycott of standardized tests -- launched earlier this month when teachers at Seattle's Garfield High voted unanimously to refuse to administer the districtwide Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test -- has attracted national attention as well as support from parent and teacher groups locally and nationally.  Teachers at some other Seattle schools have joined the boycott, while many others have sent letters of support.  The Seattle Parent Teacher Student Association, the Seattle Student Senate, and many leading education activists and researchers have also issued support statements.

Today -- Wednesday, January 30 -- is a national call/phone/fax day to tell Seattle Public Schools that you, your organization and / or your union stand with the Garfield test boycotters. Send your message to Seattle Schools Superintendent José Banda:

Phone: (206) 252-0180
Fax: (206) 252-0209
Email: superintendent@seattleschools.org

 The MAP tests were created by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), a non-profit corporation with ties to Bill Gates and Eli Broad, billionaire architects of the corporate assault on education.  They were brought to Seattle by former schools superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, herself a graduation of Eli Broad’s Urban Superintendents Academy, who spent more than $4 million of public school funds for them. This was a blatant conflict of interest: Goodloe-Johnson never even bothered to disclose that she was on the board of NWEA before, during, and after she contracted to buy the MAP tests. 

Far worse, though, are the tests themselves.  Teachers and schools are held accountable for student test scores on MAP – in fact, the district wants to use MAP scores in teacher evaluations – but Garfield teachers say that these tests don’t test what they’re supposed to – they are not aligned to curricula.  They penalize low-income and special education students:  the tests are administered on computers; low-income students in under-resourced schools have far less access to computers than students from affluent families, while MAP testing denies special education students the accommodations they often need to effectively interact with computers.

This is an old story:  deny resources to those who need them the most, increasing inequality. Then use poorly designed and arbitrarily applied tests to “measure” student achievement, and blame students, teachers, and "low-achieving" schools for their “failure”.  Naturally, the students who score lowest are those who suffer most from social inequality – children from low-income families, and especially those from black and Latino families. And, of course, the overtesting mania rewards rote learning and spitting out the “right” answer – blind obedience --over concepts, creativity, and independent thinking.

Rather than provide what’s really needed -- more resources for schools and, most importantly, massive public programs to combat the effects of poverty and reduce social inequality – schools are told to “do more with less” while essential public services are cut or eliminated.  And then schools are closed, experienced teachers are laid off, destabilizing neighborhoods and increasing social inequality.  More schools closed, more neighborhoods destabilized, more young people consigned to the streets, the military, or prison. In this way, high stakes testing reproduces and deepens the class and racial divisions and inequality that are at the heart of the problem.

Teachers, parents, and education activists have come out strongly in support of the Garfield teachers and their test boycott.  What about the leaders of the two huge national teacher unions, the 3 million member National Education Association (NEA) and the 1.7 million member American Federation of Teachers (AFT)?  Well, in fact, the presidents of the NEA (Dennis van Roekel) and the AFT (Randi Weingarten) have each said that they support the teachers boycott. But they haven’t lifted a finger to demonstrate real support. Teachers – and parents – across the country are fed up with overtesting. With an investment of some of their massive resources, NEA and AFT could spread the boycott to thousands of schools, organize mass support rallies, and make the simple and direct connections between the fight against high stakes testing and the fight against the cuts to education and other essential public programs. In other words: they could use the fight against high stakes testing as a springboard to kick off a national campaign against austerity. But they’re not about to do that – at least not on their own initiative. They’re not about to break with Barack Obama and the Democrats. They’re not about to clash with “responsible business leaders”. Instead, they’re going to continue to embrace the “team concept” of labor / corporate / government collaboration – the same policy that accelerated the decimation of U.S. private sector unions.

But that doesn’t mean that these fights aren’t coming.  Parents and community can now see the corporate “reform” for what it is: shutting down schools and overall downsizing of public education; charter schools, test prep mills, consultants and contractors and overall privatization; forcing out experienced teachers and overall union-busting.  And in many communities, it’s understood that the corporate assault on education is an integral part of “shared sacrifice” austerity, and that the only ones sacrificing are working and unemployed families.  And we’re fighting back: three years ago, in the California movement against cuts to education; two years ago, in the massive struggle in Wisconsin against cuts and union-busting, kicked off by students and teachers in Madison high schools; last year, in the massive and groundshaking Occupy movement; and just four months ago, in the powerful teacher and  community alliance manifested in the Chicago teacher strike.

So, let’s make those phone calls, send those faxes, post those emails to let Seattle Schools Superintendent José Banda know that there’s massive support out here for the Garfield teachers and their boycott of Seattle’s high stakes MAP tests. Here’s Banda’s contact info:

Phone:  (206) 252-0180
Fax:       (206)  252-0209

It’s a start. It can lead to more. 

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