Teachers must have the time, support, and freedom to teach the whole child.
During public comment at school committee meetings over the past two years, teachers and paraprofessionals have shared eloquent testimony about the way increasing demands for data collection and testing are negatively affecting teaching and learning in our community. Many Brookline educators have described how top-down mandates and an intense, misguided focus on data collection and processing that do not help them teach, have affected morale and robbed them of time to do what they know is in the best interests of their students. Suzanne and Paul want to bring back a more balanced and sensible approach to assessment. They know such an approach can increase engagement in learning, keep student and teacher anxiety from rising to unhealthy levels and still provide truly useful information about our students and schools.
Brookline recently lost a beloved teacher, David Weinstein, who would have continued his career if not for the way testing and data collection were getting in the way. In a WBUR interview, David said, “[Teaching is] a much more pressure-packed kind of job than it used to be. And it’s challenging. The pace is intense and I feel for kids, because they’re rushed. …You only get to be a child once. And you don’t get to enjoy childhood when you’re constantly being rushed from this place to that place to this, and being assessed in this way…What becomes problematic is when an outside party is asking you to collect data which isn’t tremendously useful to my tailoring instruction to children. And that — that becomes frustrating to me as an educator, when I’m spending the limited time that I have each day collecting data, as opposed to developing lessons and working with children.
Here’s the full interview by Brookline parent Sharon Brody.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Finland ranks at or near the top in international education comparisons but has taken a radically different approach to education reform from the U.S. Finnish students take far fewer tests, have little homework and young students have plenty of time for play. In addition, “teachers in Finland have time to work together with their colleagues during the school day. According to the most recent data provided by the [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] the average teaching load of junior high school teachers in Finland is about half what it is in the United States. That enables teachers to build professional networks, share ideas and best practices. This is an important condition to enhancing teaching quality.” And “education in the United States is too much defined by testing and data.”
Racial justice and equity must be a central focus of programming and decision making.
Suzanne and Paul understand that structural racism exists in the Public Schools of Brookline as well as in our town, state and country. As white people, they are committed to using their privilege to examine how structural racism impacts all Brookline students negatively. They realize that at Brookline High School (where students of color are 43% of enrollment) structural racism has led to increased segregation and an over-representation of White and Asian students in Honors and AP and of Black and Latino kids in Standard and Basic courses. They know the problems are complex and the solutions must be as well. They are committed to honoring Black, Latino and anti-racism voices of educators and students, and parents of color and to changing policies, practices and procedures. They know that this requires that time be opened up for students and educators to do pragmatic, ongoing anti-racist work in the schools. Suzanne and Paul will join with others to support using an anti-racism framework in their work on The Brookline School Committee.
The educator and scholar Gloria Ladson-Billings wrote in “From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools”: “I want to use this opportunity to call into question the wisdom of focusing on the achievement gap as a way of explaining and understanding the persistent inequality that exists (and has always existed) in our nation’s schools. I want to argue that this all-out focus on the “Achievement Gap” moves us toward short-term solutions that are unlikely to address the long-term underlying problem.”
The School Committee must be a transparent and democratically engaged participant in our community.
The endless collection of data vision of schools is a dreary, anti-human vision, and certainly not what made Brookline public schools great in the first place. Suzanne and Paul have a different vision. They believe that the school committee must be a transparent and responsive body that represents the interests of parents and students. Their vision puts the teacher and the student at the center of education. Teachers need to be free in the classroom so that they can be a living example of critical thinking, creativity and autonomy. Our children need critical thinking so they can understand what’s real, solve problems, explore the world, and participate fully in our democracy.\
Brookline parents Katherine and Matthew Stewart wrote in a Brookline Tab commentary, “Do we want a version of the top-down, standardized-testing, blame-the-teachers, consultant-driven, privatization strategy that has demoralized educators and damaged school systems around the country? Or do we want a system of the kind that places the highest priority on the teacher-student experience—the kind of system that has long been the source of Brookline’s reputation for excellence in public education? No doubt there is room for debate. But let’s have it in the open.”
Brookline should be a leader in opposing state and federal mandates that are harmful to children.
Brookline has long been widely recognized for excellent teaching and high-quality schools. All the more reason our school policymakers can and should be leaders when it comes to advocating for quality and equitable public schools in Brookline and across Massachusetts. They can and should also speak out against state and federal policies that do more harm than good. Suzanne and Paul are proud of what Brookline schools have accomplished and are ready to advocate for home-grown innovations and against policies that hinder learning or divert scarce funding from publicly accountable schools to privately managed ones.
For example, did you know that Massachusetts is one of just 13 states that still use standardized tests in this way? “In the last few years, 10 states have repealed or delayed high school exit exams. California, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arizona even decided to issue diplomas retroactively to thousands of students denied them due to scores on discontinued tests. Although 13 states still use exit testing for diplomas and policies are in flux in several others, the number is down from a high of 27 states during the testing craze promoted by No Child Left Behind (NCLB).”
Want to know more, or have specific questions? Suzanne and Paul would love to hear from you!