What Makes This Time Different? It’s Not a Pendulum, It’s a Guillotine

Submitted by 4th grade teacher, Diane Valentino

I’ve only been a teacher for 23 years, but have been around long enough to teach through an impressive number of shifts in educational methods and doctrine. All of these have been well intentioned; although not all have been realistic and effective. After surviving a childhood filled with “New Math”, I burst onto the teaching scene filled with basal readers, workbooks and hand drawn bulletin boards! We were dealing with unfunded mandates and jumping through education reform hoops back then, so what is the difference now?

I’ve seen the reading pendulum swing from phonics only, to SRA’s to basal readers. The Whole Language movement reigned for quite a while, then refocused on to reading for comprehension, and other researched based programs designed to “redesign teaching”. Now, Close Reading is the newest best practice. Again, all with good intentions and always aiming at making our profession of education better. Math instruction has been reshaped, redesigned, reworked, and reimagined a hundred different ways! Skill and drill, manipulatives, MathTheir Way, Everyday, spiraling, Chicago, Singapore, are just a few of the packages I have opened and relearned, only to realize it all comes down to good teaching methods and the intuition to teach the children that are in front of you, not the ones in some far away pilot study. Good teachers have always known how to pick the best parts of all of the above and mold it into a balanced teaching program that, at the end of the day, met the needs of the 25-30 kids sitting in their classroom.

I’ve written courses of study, learning objectives, pupil performance objectives and curriculum maps. I’ve been told to stop teaching phonics, (I didn’t), only to have it come back repackaged and rebranded as “word study”. I’ve unpacked, backward designed and planned with “the end in mind”. Let’s not forget the dawn of formative assessment techniques right up to today’s world of SLO’s and data driven decisions, and finally, drumroll please…The Common Core.

Through it all, I’ve given standardized tests to my students. I’ve given the CAT, the ITBS, Terra Nova, Otis Lennon, In View, Ohio Proficiency Test, OAA’s, and I’m sure a few more in addition to those. I’ve told my students to “just do you best” when I wasn’t allowed to give clarification on questions they could easily have answered if it was formatted a different way…you, know…for different types of learners (i.e. humans). Those “why are you abandoning me?” eyes would cut through any teacher’s heart.

Then, there are the “oh so helpful” political contributions to the world of public education. From Why Johnny Can’t Read, A Nation at Risk, right up through NCLB, and now, today’s Race To The Top, STEM and PARCC. Throw in anything that the Koch’s have contributed and you have “the perfect storm”. I’ve seen unfunded mandates, endured Education Governors, and watched as my profession has been thrown under the big yellow bus so many times we have permanent tire tracks running down our backsides.

I’ve been paid less than, and have been teased by “business professionals” who asked why I stayed in teaching when their quarterly bonuses were the size of my annual salary? (1990’s) Fast forward a few years, and I was told I make too much money “just for being a teacher”, by those same business professionals that boomed and lost their fair weather fortunes. I’ve had my future pension gambled away by an unregulated market only to be blamed by local and state governments that my pension is bankrupting the municipality.


Why am I so enraged and afraid for the actual existence of Public Education?

The first punch in the face comes from a little known (to the general public that doesn’t take interest in politics…) 2010 Supreme Court Decision called “Citizen’s United”. This gave corporations the same “rights” as people when it comes to contributing to political campaigns. This means, corporations can, in fact, contribute to lawmakers campaigns and EXPECT payment back in the forms of laws that divert public money into said corporations.

Enter face punch #2: What better marketplace than a 500 billion dollar U.S. Education market? As the Education Reform corporations (Pearson, Gates Foundation, Achieve, In-Bloom, White Hat, SAT, Venture, etc.), lick their chops at the thought of getting a piece of 500 billion dollar pie, a generation of students is being used, abused and spit back out into a world that expects them to be “college and career ready”. It seems clear to see that the corporate “formula for success” is to rig the education game by buying laws that allow education reformers to create a formula that ensures public schools fail, (happening RIGHT NOW), while EXEMPTING private schools from some of the same rules, then make a financial killing on “for profit” schools.

It seems so simple. Why aren’t parents, tax payers and teachers camping out on their congressman’s front lawn and demanding their elected officials stop cheating them? Do they really think it will save tax dollars? If they do believe that, then they probably believe that state lotteries “fund” education and senior programs. FOLLOW THE MONEY. This is not the same old game. This time it’s different.

Diane Valentino
4th Grade Teacher
Twitter: @d_val1