Re: Teacher Testing Boycott for Spring?
- Subject: Re: Teacher Testing Boycott for Spring?
- From: "George N. Schmidt" <Csubstance@AOL.COM>
- Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2001 07:23:24 EST
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
- Sender: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
In a message dated 1/28/01 10:40:56 AM, gkc@LOUISVILLE.EDU writes:
<< These newspapers sound
like the anti-testing movement is running counter to public sentiment (or at
least liberal media sentiment). What gives? >>
January 29, 2001
Hello George (and colleagues):
The media have a party line on the tests. It's generally spread and smoothed
(in the public relations sense, or in the way you might "smooth" an
inconvenient data set if you were less than ethical in your research) in a
very slick way. The Fire Wall between newsrooms and the PR departments of the
education bureaucracies no longer exists in many places.
There are many examples, although you have to work on a case-by-case basis. I
still maintain that NPR, public television, and Education Week are generally
setting out the party line in favor of test-based "standards and
accountability". Some here disagree.
At the level of local newspapers, it's very interesting. The school
administrators court reporters, making it easy for some reporters to get
their "stories" (many of which are packaged and so require no work, as we've
reported from Chicago and others from Houston).
If you spin the "news" in their directions, the Paul Vallases and Rod Paiges
of the world put their enormous public relations departments at your
disposal. If you're critical, you have to spend three years to get one
Freedom of Information request filled (as I just did). Thus, the "news"
originates in the expanding spin factories of the bureaucracies. But when it
appears in print, people think it comes from independent reporting. I could
give hundreds of examples, big and small, of this in Chicago. Once the spin
is in, however, then the "first rough draft of history" (the news archives)
do the rest. Then scholars go to work uncritically on what they find on the
Web (for Chicago, you hit the newspapers and Catalyst, for example) and the
spin goes down the line, with growing intensity.
The examples we could give have enormous resonance.
We debunked the Marva Collins "miracle" story 18 years ago, but it's still
being spun by the same media machines that have churned out all the other
footnotes to "A Nation at Risk."
Two years ago, Detroit was sold a bill of goods about political takeovers and
the virtues of putting a "CEO" in charge of an urban school district, in a
large part based on carefully spun "reporting" of the "Chicago miracle."
Someone should deconstruct the relationship between the Chicago media version
of "standards and accountability," the way the Detroit Free Press picked up
Chicago as the "model" for its 1998 "How to fix urban schools" series, and
the resultant takeover of the Detroit public schools. Incest used to be the
work for this kind of activity.
But you have to include one other key group of players, especially when we
ask why teachers don't speak out (even if they don't yet resist the tests).
The bureaucratic leaders of the teacher unions.
Throw in the leadership of the teacher unions and you have completed the
biggest part of the mix behind the Testocracy at this point.
At no high school (even the elite schools where the scores tell families how
"good" the kids are) that I know in Chicago of do the majority of teachers,
parents, and students praise (or, generally, even support) the tests. The
vast majority view the tests as something ranging from an inconvenience (or
interruption to real classroom activity) to an atrocity. More and more
Chicago principals (especially the high school ones) are silently in contact
with us at Substance (and also providing support to us) in a big way because
of their professional opposition to the current test craziness here. But the
Chicago Teachers Union (which has 34,000 members, the majority of whom are
classroom teachers) and the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association
(which holds an AFL-CIO charter and represents principals and assistant
principals) are both firmly in support of the Vallas administration's test
programs, so neither teachers nor principals gets backing even when voicing a
Two months ago, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) national newspaper
published the results of the most pro-test survey from last year, reporting
(if you can call how they handle facts "reporting") that the majority of
Americans are in favor of the tests. In order to come up with this bit of
"news", the AFT Washington leadership had to ignore growing dissatisfaction
from the ranks and a half dozen surveys that showed the opposite (as has been
reported here). They did it with a straight face.
By that point in history (two months ago), the National Education Association
(NEA) had already begun to awaken (thanks to the work people have done at the
local and state levels, culminating in the work last July at their national
convention in Chicago) to the vast dissatisfaction among classroom teachers
with the tests. That resulted in Brian LeCloux's appearance on the cover of
NEA Today and on a very balanced (and very informative) coverage of the
Part of the viciousness in the attacks on me (and Substance) is rising from
the AFT's leadership and its commitment to the Testocracy. Much of this goes
on behind-the-scenes and informally ("Did you know the real truth about
him?!...") in typical totalitarian slander manner. A number of people here
keep me in touch with the kinds of things that are whispered in the shadows.
The AFT and its people have a long history of this type of "debating" style
on both national and international issues.
At the state and local level, the teacher unions vary in their approach to
the tests. Where the unions' staffs are full-time bureaucrats (in Chicago, we
have at least a dozen former teachers working full-time at the Chicago
Teachers Union, none making less than $90,000 per year), they tend to be
full-time politicians who support the tests' political sponsors. Here in
Chicago, we joke (darkly) that the Chicago Teachers Union's offices should be
on the fourth floor of City Hall. One floor below the mayor's office,
probably directly below an open pipe from the mayor's commode, given how he
To me, one of the amazing things is that so many parents, students and
teachers are getting together in opposition to the tests. Here in Chicago,
you can ready the daily press for six months at a time and barely know that
anyone is critical of the tests. After I was fired last August, the education
writer for the Chicago Sun-Times (circulation, about 500,000 daily, more on
Sunday) spent several days doing a story about me. When it couldn't turn into
a hatchet job, her editors spiked it.
You're generally right about the "liberal" press. But I stopped using those
categories ("liberal" and "conservative") as you might have noticed. They
really yield very little information at this time. As I pointed out
yesterday, the Chicago Tribune (once the most notoriously conservative
newspaper in the United States and still one of the most rabidly anti-union)
did an investigation in Florida (using their vast resources, they own, among
other properties, the Orlando Sentinel) that basically proved Al Gore won
Florida. A few weeks earlier, the equally "conservative" Chicago Sun-Times
(owned by Hollinger International, whose chief called the bishop of Calgary,
Canada a "Leninist" for supporting a newspaper strike against the Calgary
Herald, which he owned) launched a major piece exposing the bankruptcy of the
"War on Drugs." The Sun-Times is still a union shop, but its reporters can
rarely published stories that cast a favorable light on unions (or test
Hope this helps.
We've got to keep reminding people that national testing and many of the
proposals of the Testocracy we're generally opposing (or at least critical
of) here began as "liberal" plans. Diane Ravich pointed out a couple of days
ago that much of the Bush reform plan sounds like Robert F. Kennedy's 1965
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