New Face of Teacher Unionism, Eyes Fixed on Testing Mania


by Dennis Van Roekel, teacher and NEA President

In 1946 more than 1,100 St. Paul teachers staged a five-week walkout for better pay and working conditions. It was the nation’s first teacher strike. Over the next six decades, the sight of striking teachers walking a picket line became the indelible image symbolizing teacher might. Now a new face of teacher militancy is emerging.

teacher and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel

In Seattle, a small but passionate group of educators is using the art of disruption 2.0 to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo. Over a month ago, teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School took a courageous step to stand up for their students by refusing to administer the flawed and irrelevant Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. While the Garfield staff doesn’t object to the mandated state test, they oppose the district-wide MAP for solid reasons. Aside from being poorly designed, MAP doesn’t line up with state standards or district curriculum; it doesn’t measure what students are actually learning in their classes; it’s not an appropriate tool for assessing students or their teachers; and it wastes valuable class time.

I visited the Seattle Education Association in December and was impressed by the dedication and professionalism of the teachers I met. In staging the MAP test boycott, they are saying, “Enough is enough.” And on Wednesday, Feb. 6, educators, parents and communities are urged to join them.

NEA’s Seattle affiliate is staging a “national day of action” — encouraging colleagues across the country to hold meetings, organize rallies and wear red — to highlight the rising tide of discontent with the testing regime. All part of a growing movement and chorus of voices protesting high-stakes standardized testing.

Read more.

Reader Comments

  1. ALEC and the narrow corporate interests are behind all of it. Ten years ago, we were being duped. Now we know better. Inform your parents and fellow educators, and break the back of the corporate agenda before they break ours. Save our schools!

  2. When teachers were actually professionals, perhaps “teaching to the test” would have been an intrusion. Today, however, unionized “teachers” are essentially blue-collar employees who have demonstrated that, far from being professionals, they are individuals whose primary interest lies far from the education of their students. For a large number of them (albeit not all, of course, but a significant portion), their main concern can be summed-up in a two-word phrase; i.e. – “gimme, gimme”.

    Frankly, I don’t trust such blue-collar laborers to create their own study materials or develop their own curriculum; given their blue-collar attitude and mind-set, it would be hard for me to consider them qualified. To my mind, they need outside discipline to be held to a standard which they’ve repeatedly shown they’re unable to adhere to by themselves.

    Teaching was once a profession. It’s not any more…and it’s the teachers themselves who made it that way.

    1. I feel so sorry for you that you are filled with such hate. It’s clear by your post that you have been brainwashed by the pundits and you have really no idea about what teachers are really like and how much they sacrifice and give up for their students on a daily basis. Your claim that most teachers are just in it for a gimme demonstrates your total disconnect with what’s really happening with teachers in our school. As a teacher who has taught for more than 13 years and have spoken with thousands of educators I can honestly say you can not be more WRONG. You obviously have no idea what makes a teacher tick.

      1. How many “blue-collar” workers study 8 years to learn enough to serve those they work with and for? After a 20-year blue collar career I moved into real estate and then teaching. It has taken me four years of post-graduate work to understand the needs of my students and what I can do about it. For that I now make $40,000 a year – less than I made as a printer 13 years ago. This work is important. My students with disabilities can be productive and able citizens if they are helped to learn to direct themselves. Where is the “gimme, gimme” in that? This comment smacks of wanting everything from public servants but not being willing to pay for it. And what “profession” are you in, Mr. Meyer? Who do you help?

    2. This post was very hurtful. I’m not sure why you have such a chip on your shoulder, but as a young teacher myself, I can attest that I’m very passionate about what I do. I have a graduate degree. I’m not a blue collar worker. And I have never met a teacher of was “in it for the money”.

    3. In addition to numerous other remarks, I take exception to your characterization of blue collar workers as individuals who have a poor mind-set and attitude. I associate blue collar with dedication and hard work, and those who actually get the job done, while others create uninformed policy. I would characterize what I do as a teacher as blue collar without any hesitation and take pride in the label. My parents were hard-working and dedicated blue collar workers who were nothing but professional in their jobs. Shame on you for alienating such a wonderful segment of the American population.

    4. Yes, I’m gimme-gimme. I confess:

      Gimme textbooks for my students.
      Gimme technology so I can help my students compete with the rest of the world for jobs that pay more than minimum wage.
      Gimme more funds so that we can have an adequate number of instructional aides to assist teachers in the classroom. (I don’t need one, but my friend who is teaching a basic career skills class with 22 students of various disabilities sure could!)
      Gimme standardized tests that show whether or not my special needs students are progressing, instead of wasting their time taking an on-level test that we already know they won’t be “proficient” on.
      Gimme more than 24 hours a day so that I can meet my students’ needs AND complete all of the repetitive, extra paperwork my state requires me to do as a special education teacher.

      …and before you ask:
      Yes, I do buy materials out of my own pocket for my classroom because my district can’t- $350- $1,000 a year, depending on what I need.
      Yes, I do stay after school if a student needs extra help- on my own.
      Yes, I do volunteer in my district to co-sponsor an after-school club for at-risk youth- with no extra pay.
      Yes, I have bought clothing, food, glasses and Christmas gifts for students in need. I’ve also baked birthday cakes for kids who wouldn’t otherwise have one.
      And yes, I have paid out of my own pocket to take classes and workshops to ensure that I am the best teacher I can be for my students.

      Now, if you won’t “gimme” the things I ask for, than at least “gimme” a break and stop making accusations- when was the last time you were in a school for more than 1/2 an hour and saw what a teacher actually does?

    5. BLUE-COLLAR?????? Really????? I have a BA in Math and Education, an M.Ed. in Education and Technology and an ELL endorsement (another 19 credits) and you call me BLUE- COLLAR? Teachers have degress – usually multiple dgrees, take classes to keep our certification up (and generally at our cost, and it isn’t cheap) and you think we are just a bunch of blue-collar workers yelling “gimme gimme”. We should be greated with respect, and as professionals. That is all that we are asking, We teach your children, the most important people in your lives. All the while we also help them with their problems, make sure they have what they need to be successful in school and life. And yet, you consider us blue-collar! I have been working for 23 years, teaching students with behavior issues, learning disabilities, those new to english, and at the same time trying to be treated as a professional, which I am.

  3. I have such fond memories of what teaching was all about before the obsession with testing took hold. As a middle school principal, I used to cringe when my best teachers woud complain to me about not being able to teach the curriculum which they and their colleagues had developed because that curriculum was no longer valued while the new curriculum standards developed by the state were to now be assessed with state developed tests. How do you feel about teaching to the tests? You had better get used to it or you and your principal will be looking for another job. Teachers and principals really don’t have a choice to do otherwise. I hesitate to remind people that the country that has scored consistently in the top 1-3 in student achievement in all curriculum areas is Finland which has virtually no standardized testing but plenty of top notch and thorough teacher training. Their teachers enjoy an elevated status in the community, are well paid, and there is a wait list for anyone wanting entrance to teacher training institutions. For those who wonder if there’s a better way to educate our children, you really don’t have to look too far for better ideas.

  4. Too many tests is a problem that we have faced in the public schools for well over a decade. However, I am not in favor of teachers deciding, on their own, to not administer a test that the administration and school board decide to have the students take. These decisions have to be made collaboratively. Our district uses the MAP test for its Middle School level students; some of our teachers like it, some do not.

    1. Ed, then I would offer that you have a very narrow and myopic view of how to educate children. You look across the nation and even the world and find the best in class programs, and you implement those. You do not follow mindlessly what a small group of people have determined as best for the students.

    2. Teachers are the professionals that are in constant contact with students to be able to best determine their needs academically. Adminstrators are far removed from the classroom as are legislators that implement requirements for schools. School boards are usually made up of non-educators that have no idea what it takes to teach children, as hard as they may try to understand. There’s a reason teachers have to have such an extensive education. But so often, others outside looking in see them as non-professionals incapable of making important educational decisions. If teachers were the ones making the decisions about education and what is needed in their classrooms and schools, our education system would be much more successful in educating students.

  5. I began teaching in 1980! What a world of difference – I helped write the curriculum, guided kids, taught appropriately to every child – They were NOT tested until they got ready for high school – all of them were READY for college… Not any more! I retired last year – it was NO Teacher left Standing – It’s a sad way for the education of our little ones – They are NOT better off! STOP THE MADNESS! I’m so sorry there are so many young teachers that do not know how wonderful the whole system could work!

    1. Amen to that! I retired three years ago after 40 years of teaching. “Back in the day” teachers were supported by parents who gave the teachers latitude to actually teach. If we stop the testing madness and teach to the WHOLE child, the children’s success will be ensured. This high stakes testing has been put into place by legislators who need a platform. It would be good to remind them that they are a product of our public school system!

    2. I too retired last July. We were obliged to follow a detailed pacing guide, as well as pre-test and post-test every 10 days both in English and Math. Students were put in classes according to age, not ability, so they were often tested (and teachers were evaluated) on subject matter that they were not prepared to study (for example, algebra for students who had not yet mastered basic math such as multiplication and division). Teachers were spied on, with administration looking at what the teachers had on their computers even during lunch time, and there were cameras in every classroom which were randomly surveyed. The magic of teaching was eliminated from the curriculum, with ‘expert consultants’ coming in and out of classrooms to be certain teachers were using the best ‘research on how the brain works’ type lessons and lesson plans. Our creativity and expertise was minimized and eliminated from our classrooms.
      I recently listened to a TED lecture by Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz(?) on NPR that discussed this situation. Professionals are being micro-managed and told how to do their job, not leaving any space for what they know is best for (in this case) their classrooms and students, incorporating high standards with creativity and critical thinking. The result is mediocrity.

    3. I also retired 3 years ago after 43 years; first 25 teaching Industrial Arts when downsizing abolished my position because “the kids will never need to know that stuff any more” and the last 18 American History. Administration wanted only discovery learning and found ways to “encourage” teaching to test. Subsequently, they were moniterially rewarded when school made AYP. Parent comment to me: students know who is genuine and what is happening; any wonder they are learning but not “educated”.

  6. The problems with standardized teaching is across the nation as a one model tests all nut each has different needs and learns and takes tests differently. There are also problems with lack of teachers, too many students in a classroom per teacher, lack of school security and counselors and social workers and before or after school programs to help kids with their homework or keep them active instead of sitting in front of a tv and lack of teacher training and so on yet OUR CONGRESS GAVE THEMSELVES A RAISE back in dec 2012 and UNIONS KEEP SEPARATE US by not uniting all teachers and police officers and to coal workers and all other onions across the country. UNION DUES GO UP YET OUR SALARIES are FROZEN or DECREASE with our benefits. WE PAY with TAXES and DUES and NOONE SPEAKS FOR US’!!

  7. Ohio is also up against state testing, now we have 3 rd grade reading guarantee, teacher evaluation on student growth and the list goes on. I teach elementary learning disabilities class. My frustration is that little 4th grader that can not add or subtract basic facts, but the curriculum says he should be doing fractions. Really?? Some one some where is trying to break down education system as we know it. Watch for an increase in private schools. Parents need to speak up. They’re not going to listen to those of us in the trenches. Those who can teach, those who can’t make laws about teaching.

  8. It is all politics. Testing is a right wing strategy to destroy public unions. Note that they have already killed off private unions using NAFTA and other outsourcing. This meaningless testing enables them to attack teachers. Then the teachers unions are put in the position of defending what the public perceives as ineffective teachers. After several teachers are removed, and merit pay incentives are put in place, new teachers will not see the value of unions. With “Citizens United” the unions will no longer have the funds to support Democrats against corporate money behind republican candidates.

    1. Mike, there are plenty of Democrats who have gotten on board the testing bandwagon as well. There are numerous states with Democratic legislatures and Democratic governors who preach “accountability” and want to destroy the seniority system. I hear it on MSNBC as well as FOX. It all sounds the same–“We must hang on to our younger, more effective teachers.” Are you kidding me? It’s all a plan to save money–no union worth it’s dues can EVER abandon the seniority system when it comes to furloughs.

    2. Where does the incentive for using student test results for teacher evaluations come from? It comes from Arne Duncan’s Department of Education initiatives. It is the RTT money that the current administration is offering to states and districts that drives this phenomenon. Maybe President Van Roekel can explain to us why NEA was so quick to jump on the Obama bandwagon (and continues to support him 110%) in the face of just about the worst education policies to emerge during any administration, either Republican or Democrat.

  9. I’m convinced the only way that the testing obsession will change is when parents start to question administration about the amount of time taken away from learning. Absolutely no one listens to teachers: not the media, not administration, often not even parents. We are definitely not trustworthy. Angry, loud parents who threaten to go to the media, however, seem to get their way.

  10. Kids often now think of “reading” as a chore so that they can answer the teacher’s questions –written or otherwise –, or they think of reading as a task for STUDYING reading. I want my daughter and son, and my 35 fifth-grade students to perceive of reading as a pleasure, as a source of growth, as a window into the greatness of the world, of life. I want then to lose themselves in a text, not lose themselves in an ocean of Post-Its and a barrage of questions, strategies, and bubbles to fill in. Do my students REALLY NEED to know what an “appositive” is? Or REALLY NEED to know the difference between a simile and a metaphor? California state test-makers and state education officials think so.

  11. I began my career in the early 90’s. I never in million years dreamed education would go this way. Why did we let this happen? Some teachers jumped on the testing craze when it started gaining steam about 2000. However, a lot of us didn’t say anything. Hind sight is 20/20. We didn’t know it was going to get this ridiculous.

    1. @ Jeff Hicks: I began teaching in the early 80s. Don’t blame yourself for not saying anything. My teaching partner and I said a lot, but were told, politely (then later not so politely) to shut up. be a team player, and dance to the piper. All evidence points to a political goal of destroying public education, with the first step being to get rid of the unions. Just one example: why are Florida public schools graded A-F, but private schools exempt from the same scrutiny? You could fill a book with this stuff (in fact, several people have). Now we have right wing think tanks publishing their own journals so they can claim their poorly excited, ideological based research is peered reviewed, giving their bad ideas the air of credibility.

  12. I am really glad to be able to retire next year
    The B.S. teachers are having to put up with has finally taken it’s tole on several educators.

    1. I have been teaching for 30 years and anecdotally have seen all these “reforms” as being the catalyst to the decline of authentic learning. The teachers have more of an investment in the test scores than the students which shifted the point of education. Finnish schools are considered the best and they have no standardized tests to compare students and schools. Anyone who makes a decision regarding education must be or have been a teacher. It is time to stop blaming teachers, to stop using ineffective business policies that dehumanize students and to take control of education away from people who have no experience in education besides having gone to school, most likely a privileged private one.

  13. Let’s keep our kids in our hearts and not try to compete with other countries where scores are high, but so are suicide rates of school age kids. Don’t test and test until kids don’t want to read. Let’s keep it fun and not stressful.Why must we have a test to see if a kid is ready for a test before another test. This policy does not have our children in our hearts.

  14. Our district is going to be doing testing from the end of April through the end of June, solid. MAPS tests, SLO tests, Regents and the rest…it’s become a cash cow for testing companies while our students end up on the losing end of this new testing mania. Enough is enough!! The MAPS test used for my students was composed of 40 questions, only 10 of which were related to the subject I teach. Tell me how this test is relevant?

    1. I agree. What if we took that money the testing companies got and could use it for instruction? Now that’s something to think about!

  15. I realized that some of this “testing” was hurting my students and offered it rather than insisted that they take it, grade it themselves, and correct their answers. The “test” included all disciplines of science. Some students were bubbling in a,b,a,b,a,b, I was not rehired for the next year so I retired. Atl, GA.

  16. We have the same thing here in NYS. I am on the school board here in our little district in Upstate NY. Our children are being “assessed” every week – day in, day out. Enough is enough already. When does a teacher have time to really “teach” – like having discussions other than teaching “to the test”. Our children are being stressed out way too much from all this testing and a lot of kids throw up their hands say that’s it – I’m outta here and they drop out. And, the tests given to the students (from the State) cannot be scored by that teacher – they have to have someone else correct the test; i.e., social studies test corrected by a math teacher – what’s with that? We can’t trust the people who are with our children 5 days a week; 6-7 hours per day????

    1. Some machine-scored standardized testing is, in fact, very helpful as it saves us teachers a significant amount of grading time and can provide some very useful information when aligned to what we have taught. Indeed, on the one hand you’re saying go against the machines for testing and yet say to see your website (stored on a machine).

      The issue here in Seattle generally is not opposition to all testing (ok, probably so from a couple of teachers) but that the MAP itself does not align is a big issue as to generating relevant data. There is also a certain amount of valid opposition to the quantity of testing, and in the case of the MAP the coding is so poor that the computers must be set into a permanent lockdown mode instead of just a lockdown mode initiated when the test starts – we lose computer labs for weeks at a time instead of just enough periods to get through some testing.

      Some testing is and should be here to stay, and some of it should be computerized to improve the timeliness/usability of the results. We are calling into accountability the choice of the software selected for testing… and yes, we’re on the edge of how much testing is too much. Other areas are overboard on how much testing – for us it’s mostly that MAP is largely a useless piece of garbage selected by a former Superintendent who was on the board of the MAP’s parent company.

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