Subject: Fwd: Letter to MI State Senator:
Sent with the permission of Michael Paul Goldenberg. This is for your
information. Michael is responding to State Senator Pavlov in MI (see
Pavlov's note at the bottom) in this letter.
Dear Senator Pavlov:
I appreciate your reply. However, there is some error: I didn't
intend to sign any petition designed to break unions and/or do away
with tenure. I fear that such is the plan in this country: destroy
teachers unions in order to deliver public schooling into the hands
of for-profit, private management companies so that those already
rich can get much richer.
Public education is, or should be, the backbone of core democratic
values. It is only through committing to free public education not
controlled by corporate interests that we can educate all citizens as
responsible, critical thinkers who consider the facts before making
decisions, and who participate in democracy rather than allowing a
small group of powerful citizens to do all the thinking for them. I
see the current war on teachers and public schools as a key
the future of democracy in this country. And the petition I signed
(apparently in error) is on the WRONG side of that fight.
I agree that we need more cooperation between teachers,
administrators, and unions to improve the quality of public schools.
But the current movement to rate schools and teachers solely by
multiple-choice test scores is either blindly ignorant of what those
tests' serious limitations are in providing useful feedback to
teachers, students, parents, et al., or flat-out evil: a conscious
decision to ignore the facts.
Examine the policies of Finland, which is amongst the world leaders
in international tests of literacy, mathematics and science. It
supports teachers who aren't doing a great job by providing them
needed mentoring, professional development, etc. For those teachers
who don't improve, they offer even more help.
Yes, we should encourage teachers who clearly aren't professionals to
find other areas of employment. And we should also reward teachers
based on a variety of criteria. But we should be starting out doing
something that few government officials in this country are prepared
to commit to: raising the national level of compensation, not taking
away benefits, salary, and bargaining rights. Of course, if we paid
teachers an appropriate salary, perhaps there'd be a lot less
need for collective bargaining. But the current structure is based on
how we have as a nation historically denigrated teachers and we reap
what we've sown in that regard.
If you know of a truly valid and reliable set of measures of
teachers, do let me know. But I hope it's based on a great deal more
than kids' test scores on vapid, multiple-choice tests. I happen to
be an expert in such tests, and you'll need to do a lot of very
serious research to find something I don't know about them. I can
assure you that the United States is in a very tiny minority of
countries that uses them. That's not an accident: most countries
realize how worthless they are,
unless, of course, you're looking for a cheap, easy way to get "data"
to beat down public education.
If you're convinced that the current system is really useful and
meaningful, here's a challenge: you (and the rest of the members of
the Michigan legislature, state department of education, and, of
course, the governor, take the full battery of the high school tests
from the MME, including the ACT, and so will I. And we'll publish the
scores in all the newspapers in Michigan. Is it a deal? If not, why
is it fair to publish the scores of public schools and pretend that
what we see really distinguishes which schools, principals, teachers,
and, by inference, children?
The best assessments are formative, providing specific, constructive,
non-graded, non-comparative feedback that shows students where they
are are doing well, what needs work, and how to move forward. There
is ample research to support that view. There is no valid research to
support the view that the best way to improve teacher performance or
student learning is to use multiple-choice summative testing.
Furthermore, the current national testing craze, fueled by NCLB and
RttT, is leading us off a cliff we may not recover from for decades,
if ever. The mathematics that determines school "success" is
unsound, guaranteeing that eventually EVERY U.S. public school will
be judged to be failing, no matter how great it may be in actuality.
Any mathematically competent person should recognize how mad such an
evaluation system is. And how ethically and morally wrong it is.
The US has many great schools. They are most usually found in
communities and neighborhoods where there is relatively little
poverty and where parents are engaged in supporting children's
education. I happen to do work with high school mathematics teachers
at public schools in Detroit. Where I work is the antithesis of the
sorts of places where most kids have decent to great teachers,
adequate materials, and a safe physical environment. The problems I
see daily in Detroit aren't
the result of bad teachers who don't care (some, of course, are not
good, but that is true in all lines of work, in all communities, in
all states), but rather the fact that no one can reasonably expect
education alone to help overcome the enormous handicaps kids in
poverty are burdened with before they ever set foot inside a public
school, and the horrible conditions they have to come to grips with
every single minute of their lives when they leave the school
What is unconscionable is that the performance of our good, very
good, and excellent schools are being lumped in with that of schools
of poverty, urban and rural, and we are then told that all
our schools are inferior to a handful of elite private schools and
some pie-in-the-sky charter schools, both sorts of which are able to
pick whom they educate (and, thus, whom they test). Detroit Public
Schools take everyone, and where I work, there are on average more
than 50% special education students being MAINSTREAMED in all
classrooms. If you haven't visited lately, it's not that long a drive
On my view, while there are most certainly places in this country
that are a national disgrace, low-performing schools of extreme
poverty are a symptom, not a cause, of that shame. We can, of course,
do much better, but it isn't going to be either by bashing teachers
and schools or by handing our public education over to greedy
for-profit management companies, hedge-fund managers, or billionaires
like Eli Broad, Bill Gates, the Walton Family, or the Koch Brothers.
It's far more likely to figure out how to improve entire communities
so that education can contribute
to improving the life of that community, not be held responsible for
the conditions there to begin with.
You have a critical responsibility to make important decisions about
the future of Michigan's children and its economic survival and
growth. Cutting back on funding for public schools isn't the answer.
Picking on nearly the entire teaching profession based on what a
relatively small minority of bad teachers do or fail to do isn't
going to make a single child better-educated. Making choices based on
slogans and bumper-stickers won't do it, either.
If you care to learn more about the serious short-comings of
high-stakes tests and how we can get back on track to support public
education, I'd be more than happy to take time to speak with you. But
I need you to know that I do NOT support the petition named in the
subject line: it's just one of those slick attempts to pull the wool
over the eyes of educational stake holders, slick enough that
apparently it fooled me temporarily into thinking it was something
meaningful and effective. I urge you strongly NOT to buy into the
notion that there's any concern for "great teachers" in this: it's
about getting rid of teachers with experience who are viewed as "too
expensive," to destroy tenure, and to make it easier for private
interests to increase profit margins when they take over public
Michael Paul Goldenberg
Quoting Senator Phil Pavlov <firstname.lastname@example.org.
> Dear Michael:
> Thank you for taking the time to contact me. I sincerely appreciate
> your feedback on the so-called "LIFO" issue.
> Most public school districts rely on these provisions to determine
> layoffs in difficult budget situations. While such an arrangement may
> make sense in some cases, it's important we recognize that not all
> teachers are the same. I agree that a number of factors should be
> considered in determining the effectiveness of public school teachers,
> and only the best should be retained in positions where they affect our
> children's learning.
> It's important to make the distinction that changes to "LIFO" policies,
> and other performance related issues, are not an attack on the teaching
> profession. These efforts are intended to recognize new approaches to
> instruction and evaluations. Our world is rapidly changing, and we
> cannot be afraid of new ways of doing things. We know the current
> approach to layoffs and compensation does not highlight or reward people
> who go the extra mile for our students. As chair of the Senate
> Education Committee, I look forward to addressing these issues with my
> Please feel free to contact me again with your questions and concerns
> You can also stay in contact with me on Facebook, or by signing up for
> my newsletter at www.senatorphilpavlov.com
> Phil Pavlov
> State Senator
> District 2