Walking for Sanity


My whispered prayers today are for Mike, an ESL teacher from Hartford, Connecticut who I met last night. Mike explained that since the advent of “NCLB” his time testing students keeps growing. He now spends 61 out of 180 days each year testing rather than teaching his students. Another Hartford Special Education teacher, Candace, said she is spending the same time testing students. Heather, a Hartford art teacher and parent of a Hartford Public School student, explained that testing has taken over her curriculum.
Am I the only one missing something here with NCLB? The capital that feeds academic achievement is not testing, but instruction. My music on my walk today was Pink Floyd’s “Another brick in the wall” The weather was sunny, and I walked outside singing:”Teacher, teacher, leave them kids alone” I ended with some of Billy Idol’s Dancing with myself, and Rebel, Rebel. Guess you could say my walk was jamming today.
I almost forgot to mention I walked another 6 miles, and melted some 800 calories away. Lots of people are asking where did this walking thing begin. So here it is: Like many of you, these high stake assessments have been a long struggle for me. It actually began even before NCLB. We arrived in Connecticut in 1997, and I soon discovered that the first 6 weeks of school was practice for the Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMT’s). For my daughter Erin, who was going into 3rd grade, there was no getting to know each other the first few days of September, no building of community; just immediately begin practicing for the state test the first or second day of school. It was insanity in my opinion to give away the start of every school year to this nonsense.
By 1999 I was working locally with a group of faculty members, teachers, and other professionals to develop an anti-high stakes position paper. This was a rather big risk for me at the university, a new, non-tenured faculty member – in the School of Education. We wrote the paper asking faculty from other departments to sign it. In the end some 38 people signed on, and we sent it to The Commissioner of Education. It took our state newspaper (The Hartford Courant) nearly a year to have the position paper published in their newspaper. Back then there wasn’t too much interest in this type of thing. Our position paper, delivered to the Commissioner and published in the newspaper pretty much went unnoticed. Never the less, we felt a sense of accomplishment.
Over the next few years we went our separate ways. A few of us stayed in touch and at times work together on common issues. In the last two years we have added some new/younger faculty, and we continue to collaborate together. These are the people who are helping me with my walk to DC. I held on to those same principles I had back in 1997, and since then have been tenured and promoted. I am now the Director of our University Literacy Center. I continue to be active in my opposition to high stakes assessment. I collaborated on three anti NCLB conferences. I have brought Susan Ohanian, and other big names in to those conferences. Our very first conference was “Children Are More Than Test Scores”‘ so now you know where the group name comes from (-:Last year we brought in David Berliner (Manufactured Crisis and Collateral Damage) as our keynote speaker for our annual Central Connecticut State University Literacy Essentials Conference. My position and life’s compassion allows me to work with children, parents, teachers, and schools on a daily basis. My major concern, (or should I say my pain) is with the limited value of the actual data collected with high stakes assessment from special needs children.
I am not against standardized measures, but I am against single measures used to categorize and box learners in reductionist little boxes.I advocate in every way that I can for children, parents, and teachers. Lately, to me it seemed that no one was listening, especially with this RTTT rhetoric. I decided I needed to advocate in a different way. A group of teachers and fellow faculty members started presenting resistance stories at National Conferences. We have been well received by teachers and educators. In November of last year I knew something had changed, at two of these conferences, teachers at the presentations began to cry, at the end of the presentation, audience members (teachers/faculty members) wanted to hug us for presenting the resistance stories.I felt compelled to do more, at the end of our sessions when people asked ‘Jesse what can we do’? I started thinking about this walk. I told myself I would do it ‘ myself – a one man protest, walking from Connecticut to DC. But people began to ask ‘where’ ‘when’ and ‘can we join you’ Thus, this is how ‘The Walk’ began.