Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Chicago Teacher's Action Inspires Antitest Crusaders - 14 Years Ago

"He's not going to teach in our system," --Paul Vallas
"What kind of people would do this?"  -- Mayor Daley

The district has brought in university professors to review questions, recruited graduate students to take tests before they are administered and hired a testing-research concern to evaluate its exams. Mr. Vallas says the Substance case hasn't influenced such moves. "We have always ignored Schmidt," he says. ..... Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2001
How come Ed Notes was able to report the Chicago ed deform story that was to spread around the nation as far back as the late 90's - which we did to all the UFT delegates and leadership on a regular basis (leading me to a ---DUHHHHH moment)? Because of George Schmidt and Substance, where I began to read Susan Ohanian for the first time.

I just looked back at the Ed Notes May and June 2001 issues and I must publish them online so you will see the full nature of the Unity Caucus sellout.

Susan Ohanian republished the full story of George's career-ending actions in 1999 with this article from those 5-25-01 in the Wall Street Journal.
Ohanian Comment: It occurs to me that since this website was not launched until a year after George Schmidt's courageous Act of Principle, many readers of this site don't know exactly what he did.

Substance cannot survive without the support of people who claim to believe in resistance. We all owe George--big time. Subscribe--and donate--now. Today.
Page One Feature

A Chicago Teacher's Action Inspires Antitest Crusaders

By Robert Tomsho,
Wall Street Journal

CHICAGO -- When copies of the citywide Chicago Academic Standards Examinations came into teacher George Schmidt's possession in 1999, he did something unusual: He published them in his newspaper.

Although the tests, completed by students earlier that year, were still being given on a no-stakes trial basis at that point, the act got Mr. Schmidt denounced, fired and sued for $1 million. But as President Bush pushes a sweeping proposal for U.S. schools to adopt achievement tests nationwide, Mr. Schmidt was also transformed into a hero among students and educators in the grass-roots antitest movement.

The admirers do not include Paul Vallas, chief executive of the Chicago school district, whose lawsuit against Mr. Schmidt alleging copyright violation is pending. Chicago, like most other school districts and states,
doesn't want the exams published because it would cost too much to produce or buy all new questions each year. "His intent here was to sabotage," Mr. Vallas says.
But the publication of the CASE tests in Substance, a newspaper edited by Mr. Schmidt, exposed a number of test questions with sloppy wording or seemingly accurate answers treated as incorrect among the multiple choices.

The world-studies test asked whether economic systems determine: "a) what trade should take place, b) food and language, c) how much goods are worth," or "d) which people should be employed in certain jobs." The answer the school district wanted was "c," but Mr. Schmidt asked Substance readers to "imagine an economic system that didn't help determine trade" or "the kinds of employment people can have."

Another question asked which event was the "spark that ignited" the Civil War. The only answer acceptable was choice "d" -- "the attack on Fort Sumter" in April 1861. But also valid, Mr. Schmidt argues, was choice "a" -- "the election of Abraham Lincoln" five months earlier, which prompted the secession of seven states and the Confederacy's formation.

District officials stood by those items and others, saying the answers they deemed correct were the best of the lot. Carole Perlman, director of student assessment, says perfection was too much to expect from a test in the trial stages, but adds that district officials were embarrassed by some of the questions published. "It certainly wasn't something we were happy about," she says.

Chicago began moving toward rigorous application of standardized testing after being denounced as the worst district in the country by William Bennett when he was education secretary during the Reagan era. In 1995, the state Legislature handed over control of the schools to Mayor Richard Daley, who put his former budget director, Mr. Vallas, in charge. To make sure that teachers followed its back-to-basics curriculum, the new administration pumped $1 million into developing the CASE tests. Students in grades nine to 12 now take the CASE tests in 11 subjects and junior high students will eventually take them as well.

'Sick of It All'

Former President Clinton praised Chicago as a model of school reform, but within the city, testing became a tempestuous issue. Parents protested after eighth-graders were held back or required to attend summer school because of their scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, a national test. Already required to take a raft of other standardized exams, high-school students launched demonstrations of their own as the CASE tests were prepared. "We were pretty sick of it all," says Will Tanzman, now a Yale undergraduate,
who helped organize the protests.

It was the sort of tumult that Substance had thrived on since 1974 when it was founded by substitute teachers pressing for better working conditions. If the muckraking monthly's tenor could be shrill, it also made a mark with a late-1980s series that helped lead to the conviction of an administrator for molesting students.

Mr. Schmidt was teaching ninth-grade English at Bowen High School when he became its editor in 1996. Under him, the paper regularly harpooned administrators and promised confidentiality to school personnel who provided story-generating tips. The paper also blasted Chicago Teachers Union leaders for being too cozy with the administration. "It's just generally antiestablishment, whether the establishment is the union or the board," says CTU spokeswoman Jackie Gallagher.

A burly 54-year-old with a push-broom mustache, Mr. Schmidt has never shied away from an argument. During Chicago's Democratic National Convention of 1968, he and a few other protesters were arrested for criminal trespassing after they waded into the midst of some bivouacked troops to talk. Later, he worked on a quixotic campaign to organize a labor union for soldiers.

Though rated a superior teacher in job evaluations, he could be
unconventional in the classroom. In the fall of 1998, Mr. Schmidt and other ninth-grade-English teachers were advised to cover Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" in preparation for a trial run of CASE the following January. Since he didn't yet have to use CASE results to calculate class grades, Mr. Schmidt advised his Bowen High students to go see the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli movie based on the play. In his judgment, incoming freshmen had enough adjustments to make in Bowen's tough culture, so he never taught Shakespeare before the second semester.

The English exam that Mr. Schmidt administered was among the six CASE tests that Substance later published -- 140 questions in all: two English tests, two in Algebra, and one each in world studies and U.S. history. Mr. Schmidt, whose basement serves as Substance's headquarters, says he received the tests anonymously at his home in unmarked packages, one of which was left dangling from his doorknob in a grocery bag. School-district officials, who later investigated, say they aren't sure how he got them.

Stumbling Rhetoric

Some of the snafus he highlighted involved seemingly careless editing. Of Martin Luther King Jr., one English question asked: "Which of the following activities of King's actions directly led to his imprisonment in the Birmingham Jail?"

But the phenomenon of multiple good answers was more serious. The history test asked which of these items contributed to America's industrial growth: population increase, government regulation, availability of natural resources, or increased taxes. Population increase was deemed correct, but Mr. Schmidt questioned why natural resources should be excluded, or even government regulations "allowing the use of public lands for railroads and the massive immigration to provide factory labor to exploit natural resources."

Ms. Perlman, the school-district official in charge of developing the test, concedes that that item "was possibly not a very good question" but adds that bad questions sometimes slip through multiple screenings before being caught.

Seeing the questions from various tests in Substance "woke everybody up," says Barbara Radner, director of DePaul University's Center for Urban Education, who was working with Chicago schools at the time. "The questions were uneven and some of them were confusing."

Perplexing the Mayor

But city and school officials accused Mr. Schmidt of violating copyright laws and district regulations while rendering hundreds of expensive questions useless for future tests. "What kind of people would do this?" Mayor Daley asked at one news conference.

The school district got a court order barring Mr. Schmidt from publishing more exams and sought more than $1 million in damages from him for copyright violations in a pending federal lawsuit filed in Chicago. Mr. Schmidt contends that, as an editor, it was his First Amendment right to publish the tests.

While the union hierarchy kept its distance from the matter, Mr. Schmidt was removed from the classroom and assigned to a central-office job. There, for a time, he designed refrigerator magnets that listed emergency numbers for latchkey kids.

During a three-day disciplinary hearing at the school-district office early last year, Mr. Schmidt flew in expert witnesses, one of whom likened the CASE exams to a game of Trivial Pursuit. But the district succeeded in limiting the matter to a simple question of whether Mr. Schmidt had violated district regulations, and the presiding administrative-law judge agreed that he had. In August, the school board finally dismissed Mr. Schmidt.

Seeking his job back, late last year he filed a still-pending lawsuit in Chicago asking a state court to review the firing, claiming the board's move was arbitrary and capricious. Chicago school officials say they stand by their decision. "He's not going to teach in our system," Mr. Vallas says.

Chicago teachers and other observers say that recent editions of the CASE tests are much improved. The district has brought in university professors to review questions, recruited graduate students to take tests before they are administered and hired a testing-research concern to evaluate its exams. Mr. Vallas says the Substance case hasn't influenced such moves. "We have always ignored Schmidt," he says.

'Big Inspiration'

But word of Mr. Schmidt's plight has spread wherever people have taken aim at one-size-fits-all testing. A call for donations by one sympathetic Champaign, Ill., teacher has helped to raise more than $80,000 to defray Mr. Schmidt's legal expenses, which now total more than $110,000. "This has really been a big inspiration to people around the country," says David Stratman of New Democracy, a Boston advocacy group that is trying to organize a teacher boycott of state exams in Massachusetts.

Jeffrey Orr says that what Mr. Schmidt did helped inspire him to boycott this year's CASE exams at Chicago's Whitney Young High. "If you are not shown your mistakes, then there is no way you can ever possibly learn from them," says the 16-year-old sophomore.

Meanwhile, copies of the latest CASE tests continue to arrive at Mr. Schmidt's house. He recently used one of them to help his own son figure out how he had done on the district's algebra test. "I think every parent ought to have that right," Mr. Schmidt says.

— Robert Thomsho

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