I’m not an educator – I just play one while working at the state capital

Editor’s Note: This was originally published yesterday on @ the chalk face. @ the chalk face endeavors to establish an alternative space to discuss education reform from an entirely progressive perspective. Check out their main blog, their weekly radio show on Blog Talk Radio, and make sure to “like” their Facebook page. Raging Chicken Press readers – especially those following our coverage of education in PA and beyond through our Smashing Apples series – will find the same progressive, activist, and raging passion from contributors to @ the chalk face. Check them out!

Yesterday, Carnegie Mellon University English professor Kathy M. Newman published an opinion piece about high stakes testing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that has since gone viral.  The title was simple: Why I Won’t Let My Son Take The PSSA.  The passage itself was powerful and very well articulated.  For example, after talking about the problems the PSSAs (NCLB tests in PA) were causing at home, Professor Newman said:

Then one day this March it dawned on me. I am getting angry at my son about a test. A test that I do not like. A “high-stakes” test that will put so much pressure on Jacob that it probably will not reflect his true abilities. I also realized something else: Jacob does not love to read.

After doing some research and talking with other parents, my husband and I decided to “opt out” Jacob from the PSSA tests. We are opting him out because we do not like what high-stakes tests are doing to Jacob, to our family, to his teachers, to his school and, ultimately, to our entire education system.

OPT-OUT none of the aboveI immediately thought of my son Luke and how at the point of frustration my wife and I decided to opt Luke out of PSSAs three years ago and how that simple act of civil disobedience created a turning point in our lives as parents and Luke’s life as a student.  Since then we have opted our daughter out of PSSAs and have become national advocates for the OPT OUT Movement.

However, this post is not about me.  This post is about Tim Eller who serves as the press secretary for Ronald Tomalis.  Ronald Tomalis is the secretary of education for the state of Pennsylvania.

Let’s get this out of the way now.  Neither Mr. Eller nor Mr. Tomalis possess any credentials in education.  As far as I can find out neither of them even possess an advanced degree.  Their combined expertise is in communications and political science—obviously highly qualified to make broad pronouncements about children, public schools, teachers, learning, classrooms, and assessment.

You know, the same stuff that the state requires a person to go to school for in order to become certified as a professional teacher.

Hell I even know a few people with really advanced degrees (in fact you might call them terminal) in this education stuff.  Some have actually written a book or two and/or conducted multi-longitudinal studies or painstaking ethnographies about this teaching, schooling, and learning stuff.

But why bother?  You see in today’s reform world of education in America one only needs political or financial power to be an idiot expert—on anything—especially education.  So at some point last night Mr. Tim (communication’s guy) Eller decided to explain to Professor Newman why she was simply wrong about the harmful (documented by research) conditions associated with high stakes tests like the PSSA.

Here is what he submitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at 12:10 am this morning:

PSSAs are Valid

Before addressing the flaws of Kathy M. Newman’s thinking (“Why I Won’t Let My Son Take the PSSA,” Forum, March 31), a correction is necessary: Gov. Tom Corbett didn’t cut $1 billion from education. Since taking office, the governor has increased state support of public schools by $1.25 billion.

The writer’s critique of the PSSAs is quite disturbing. Expecting educators to be held accountable for student performance is unacceptable? Expecting students to graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in life is unheard of?

I think Ms. Newman is a bit off the mark. The PSSAs have been in place for more than a decade and now that they will be used, in part, to evaluate educators, now is the time to opt students out?

As a taxpayer with two children in public schools, I want to know if my taxes are being used to educate not only my kids but all students since one day they will take the reins of this country and it’s imperative to ensure their success.

My kids complain about taking the PSSAs, but they also complain about quizzes, unit tests and projects. Should we abolish all forms of assessment?

The writer forgot to mention that the Department of Education applied for a waiver to provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Once approved, adequate yearly progress will no longer be measured. In fact, under the waiver application, it would not be used for this year’s assessments.

Public schools must be held accountable to students, parents and taxpayers. If not the PSSAs or some other assessment, how else would Ms. Newman suggest we ensure that the $27 billion — local, state and federal taxes — Pennsylvania taxpayers put into K-12 public education is being used to educate our kids?

TIM ELLER
Press Secretary
Pa. Department of Education
Harrisburg

Wow!  Take that Ms. Newman you, you, you —–“writer!”

In seven short paragraphs Mr. Tim (I don’t possess education credentials) Eller managed to strip Professor Newman of her academic achievements and give her a lesson in writing and education policy in Pennsylvania.

The problem; Mr. Tim (Communications director) Eller is blatantly incompetent when it comes to issues such as teaching, learning, children, schools, and assessment.

So, while trying to drink my morning coffee, I had to post this in the comments section to Tim (not even close to a teacher) Eller’s rebuttal to Professor Newman’s vivid account of the harm caused by high stakes tests like the PSSAs.

Thanks for your brilliant rebuttal to PROFESSOR Newman’s lack luster dismantling of the PSSAs (Sarcasm). You and all the other reformers just can’t grasp the idea of parents holding politicians accountable for creating a system designed to destroy our public schools. Amazing isn’t it? “The people” taking control and participating in democracy–the ruling class just can’t stand it.

Look we don’t need under educated individuals like you and the secretary defending policies that have absolutely no support in research. 12 years of accountability and we have children less prepared for college and work and our best teachers leaving the profession because they are not allowed to TEACH anymore. If this is what supposedly adding $1.25 billion to our public schools has accomplished then please stop spending the money on worthless tests and data management systems.

Try doing a little research into what actually helps children learn–small class sizes, rich curricula with arts and music, fully stocked libraries with certified librarians, social workers, recess, extra curricular choices. PSSAs and the next generation of assessments (thanks to the waiver) are simply a fleecing of the American taxpayer.

And seriously, why would anybody take a communications director seriously? You have NO credentials to support anything you say regarding education. In fact the title of this ridiculous piece demonstrates your ignorance of basic testing principles. The PSSAs and all high stakes tests are NOT valid–unless you are measuring income distribution, access to proper nutrition, and high quality healthcare. The taxpayers of PA can easily obtain this information without spending $1.25 billion on tests!

Someone had to say it!

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Timothy Slekar: Someone Has to Say It! “Someone Has to Say It!” takes on any “media” that prints stupid comments from education reformers. I will also expose the think tanks and special interest advocacy organizations that pose as “research” outlets and make sure to debunk their “findings” as nothing but special interest advocacy. Other “media” outlets be warned. When you print something stupid “Someone has to say it!” So EdWeek, Huffington Post, and all you other education “news” outlets get ready: NCTQ, PARCC, Heritage Foundation and all the other hack reform groups and their propagandists you regularly cite as credible researchers are now targeted. Why? “Because Someone Has to Say It!”

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