“Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” – William Butler Yeats
“You can’t light a fire in an empty bucket” – Larry Sand
The Save Our Schools March, Rally and Pity Party went off as planned in D.C. this past weekend, although on a smaller scale than the organizers had anticipated. They thought they could attract 5-10,000 people, but according to Education Week, only 3,000 showed up. Of those 3,000, it is unknown how many were teachers.
Many of the protesters carried signs which pretty much captured their reason for supporting the event. Essentially, the messages can be broken down into two basic areas. The first were in the political-economical realm:
• Charter schools stole your kids lunch money
• students before bankers
• fund education, not occupation
• stop private interest from destroying public schools
• our children deserve the same education as Sacha and Malia
• Socialism is the alternative
The second type of signs was directed at the protesters’ near phobia of standardized testing:
• Who profits from testing?
• Education is more than test prep
• kids need teachers not tests
• testing is not teaching, end high stake tests
• my students are people not numbers
• children are more than walking, talking test scores
• data is a four letter word
• we want education not test preperation (sic) (This photo speaks volumes!)
That the march was supported by several socialist organizations, including Students for a Democratic Society, Freedom Socialist Party, Radical Women and 56 labor unions, would certainly explain the leftward slant of messages in the signs. But it is the anti-testing animus that is at the crux of the marchers’ anger. The first quote in the subhead is from Yeats, and is featured on the SOS website and on several of the marchers’ signs. It tries to make the point that schooling should be about igniting children’s imagination, not teaching them facts. But if children don’t know any facts – about literature, history, science, etc. — all the imagination in the world won’t take them anywhere.
Despite the protesters’ allegations, no education reformers are advocating that a single test determine the effectiveness of a given teacher. But standardized tests do give some indication of what a student has learned and concomitantly what a teacher has taught them. Hence there are accountability systems popping up around the country which do use testing as one of the indicators of an effective teacher. Perhaps the best known is IMPACT, which is currently in use in Washington D.C.
The fact that the teachers unions and their disciples are dead set against using any testing as even a part of an evaluation points to the fact the unions are opposed to any serious form of teacher evaluation. Because once such a system is in place, some teachers will be found to be better than others, which could lead to ditching an arbitrary seniority system should layoffs be a necessity. It could also lead to a system of performance pay whereby good teachers make more than their less effective counterparts. As soon as the all-teachers-are-the-same myth is dispelled, unionism in its current form is in deep trouble.
Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, issued a press release stating, “This coalition is the same coalition of the past 35 years. It advocates for the status quo and reform to them is about money, control, and no high stakes tests or accountability.”
In a similar vein, Association of American Educators Executive Director Gary Beckner said, “Teachers absolutely need to be part of the conversation as we reform a system that works for students, communities and teachers. Sadly one needn’t dig deep to realize that this rally is not about what’s best for schools and teachers, but the same old union fight to preserve the status quo…. Teachers – don’t take the bait.”
Education reform writer RiShawn Biddle put it this way, “When you look closely, the Save Our Schools rally is really the March to Save Teachers’ Unions. This is because four decades of dissatisfaction with American education — along with the high cost of lackluster schools — is finally coming home to roost.”
Fortunately, the forces of progress and reform are beginning to shake up the system and loosen the grip that the unions have had on it. As such, the unions and their acolytes are desperately clinging to antiquated policies that are failing our children and seriously threatening our country’s future. But it’s no secret any more that the Same Old Stuff is working about as well as trying to light a fire in an empty bucket.
About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.