Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Daniel Katz: Teachers and Moral Imperative, Something Unity Caucus Doesn't Know the Meaning of

Ms. Lee told NBC, “Parents should definitely opt out. Refuse. Boycott these tests because change will not happen with compliance.”  She went on to call herself a “conscientious objector.” She is also a true professional, guarding the well being of the children entrusted to her...
Daniel Katz, Can Teachers Talk About Opt Out?
I saw MOREs Jia and Kristin Taylor on the Today show yesterday which featured Long Island parent leader Jeannette Deuterman as the opt-out story moves into the mainstream. Daniel Katz has a good blog on the rights of teachers to speak out politically not only on general issues but in defense of the children they teach. Katz opens with:
batsNew York City teachers Jia Lee, Lauren Cohen, and Kristin Taylor risked disciplinary action recently to speak with NBC news about their opposition to the state testing system and their support of the Opt Out movement. This was no small act on their part because the NYC DOE has sent multiple signals that it does not tolerate classroom teachers speaking against the tests which have been occupying schools’ time and attention this month.

He talks about the moral imperative:
...perhaps this should not merely be a matter of whether or not teachers disciplined for speaking against testing could win a civil rights suit.  Perhaps this needs to be framed as a matter of professionalism and professional judgement because while teachers have responsibilities and rights in the performance of their work, they also have professional obligations and norms that define what it means to be a teacher.  Among those is the need to speak up when children are being ill served or harmed by what is going on within school.  John Goodlad referred to practicing “good moral stewardship of schools” and this principle is as important to teaching as “do no harm” is for medicine or being a zealous advocate is for law.  Teachers are given an awesome and sacred trust – the intellectual, social, and emotional well being and growth of other people’s children.  Speaking out when that trust is in jeopardy is not simply a question of Constitutional rights.  It is a moral obligation.

I get it - livelihood perhaps over rides moral imperative. I faced a similar dilemma and luckily found a group like MORE early in my career. That emboldened me to be free to speak out throughout my time in the system, not only on local and citywide educational policy but in battles with my principal when I felt she was doing stuff that was unfair to my kids. I was a fierce defender of the kids in my class and am proud to say I never asked to have a child suspended. When there where hints of retaliation I struck back. I taught with a pretty clear conscience -- except for those times when I myself realized I was not treating certain kids fairly.

We are seeing teachers come to MORE after years and even a decade or more of teaching who seem to have had enough and are ready to take more risks because teaching for them in this environment has put them at moral risk and they find it increasingly hard to live with themselves. At least if they speak out or get involved with a group like MORE which empowers them to speak out - doing so in a climate of others doing the same  - they can feel they are at least doing something even if nothing outwardly changes.

But inwardly there is change and just that act can save their career.

And then there is the moral bankruptcy of the people in Unity Caucus who by the very nature of their being in the caucus and supporting running roughshod over opposition and defending the outrages being perpetrated on children and teachers explains why they have to cover their mirrors so they don't have to look themselves in their eyes.

Katz also features MORE's Katie Lapham:
Do teachers have good reason for concern about how these tests impact their stewardship?   New York City teacher Katie Lapham certainly makes a compelling case:
The reading passages were excerpts and articles from authentic texts (magazines and books).  Pearson, the NYSED or Questar did a poor job of selecting and contextualizing the excerpts in the student test booklets.  How many students actually read the one-to-two sentence summaries that appeared at the beginning of the stories? One excerpt in particular contained numerous characters and settings and no clear story focus.  The vocabulary in the non-fiction passages was very technical and specific to topics largely unfamiliar to the average third grader.  In other words, the passages were not meaningful. Many students could not connect the text-to-self nor could they tap into prior knowledge to facilitate comprehension.
The questions were confusing.  They were so sophisticated that it appeared incongruous to me to watch a third grader wiggle her tooth while simultaneously struggle to answer high school-level questions. How does one paragraph relate to another?, for example. Unfortunately, I can’t disclose more.  The multiple-choice answer choices were tricky, too. Students had to figure out the best answer among four answer choices, one of which was perfectly reasonable but not the best answer.

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