Most people have no clue what’s going on in the public schools we financially support. And it’s tough to find the truth.

Thankfully, if you really want to know what’s going on in our public schools, you can ask a recently retired teacher. They have no skin in the game. My sister, as a recently retired public middle school English teacher in a district to remain unidentified, is finally free to speak.

In last week’s column, she listed three overarching reasons for resigning. Now, she’ll share how standardized testing is ruining education and making teachers’ jobs onerous and robotic:

“Every year, I have eighth-graders who read on a second- or third-grade level. My solution was to just have them read – read books, comic books, fiction, non-fiction, whatever they chose. Then we’d talk about the books; we’d create board games based on the books; they’d act out the stories with their peers. The result was always the same – students telling me they enjoyed reading for the first time in their lives.

“However, the director of the English department and my principal discouraged reading novels. We should instead find one-page fiction and non-fiction excerpts online that are aligned with the state test, they would say. ‘Teachers take too long with novels,’ they said.

“At a staff meeting with a school district testing data coach and our principal, I brought up the lack of reading skills in my eighth-graders. How was I expected to bring them up five or six grade levels in one year so they could pass the state test in February and April, I asked.

“Their reply was: ‘Don’t talk about kids who can’t read and our responsibility to educate them, and don’t ask questions. Head down; mouth shut. You’re no longer teachers, but managers and monitors of information.’

“For the past four years our school has been under an experimental methodology that didn’t raise test scores in Detroit’s public schools.

“As a result, our formerly A-rated middle school lost two dozen veteran teachers in three years. The new methodology included many classroom observations with multiple observers, strict teaching guidelines, follow-up emails with teachers put on the defensive, and a 70/30 rule, which meant the teacher was to talk 30 percent of the time and students taught each other content for the remaining time. Common sense dictates that not all learning lends itself to putting kids in groups.

“Administrators were also told to score teachers low in evaluations, no matter how effective we were. The message from this company and our principal was to have every class looking the same. Teachers were to teach the same way. And creativity, a teacher’s hallmark, was not welcome.

“So, I was not to talk about the students who can’t read well, not to offend administrators, not to read novels to encourage love of learning and reading, not to meet my students’ needs for vocabulary development.

“My message to parents is this: Talk to your children’s teachers and be a voice for those teachers to school boards. Teachers are afraid of losing their jobs if they speak up.

“School board members should go into the schools, be a substitute teacher for a week and talk to the teachers with no administrators around.

“Principals should support their hard-working teachers and shield them from crazy experimental ideas.

“Students’ educations are suffering because teachers are not supported and are not being treated as professionals. When education is not honored, teachers aren’t allowed to teach, and teachers leave – as I have.”

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.

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