Lily Eskelsen Garcia in 2014.
-I’m on the road until the end of August. In between intermittent posts of my own I have been posting other bloggers and posts. Some have written to say these have been the best things I have ever posted. Oh well.
This is from a 2014 interview with NEA President Lily Garcia by Washington Post education columnist Valerie Strauss.
To call the woman who is about to take the helm of the National Education Association “outspoken” would be something of an understatement. Lily Eskelsen García, who will take over next month as president of the largest teachers union in the country (and, for that matter, the largest union of any kind in the country), is nauseatingly sick of what she calls “factory school reform” and she doesn’t mind telling everybody about it in clear, challenging words. “Stop doing stupid,” she says.
That’s not all. Acknowledging that sometimes it is hard for her to be diplomatic, García says she wants to shake things up: “The revolution I want is ‘proceed until apprehended.’” Translation: Teachers, administrators and everybody else involved should ignore bad school reform policy and do “the right thing” for kids. “Don’t you dare,” she said, ” let someone tell you not to do that Shakespeare play because it’s not on the achievement tests. Whether they [reformers] have sinister motives or misguided honest motives, we should say, ‘We are not going to listen to you anymore. We are going to do what’s right.’”
The biggest problem in education today, she said, is the obsession many school reformers — including Education Secretary Arne Duncan — have with standardized tests and using student scores to make high-stakes decisions on whether students move to the next grade or graduate high school, how much teachers get paid and whether they can keep their jobs, and even if schools are reconstituted or closed. “I will go down to my last breath telling people that the most corrupting influence in public influence today is a high-stakes consequence for not hitting the cut score on a standardized test,” she said.
What would she do if she were still teaching and an administrator told her to do something in class to improve student’s standardized test scores so that her test-based evaluation would be better? “I would totally ignore them,” she said. ” ‘Go stand out in the hall and don’t waste five seconds of my time.’ I would not make that change one thing in my classroom.”
You can read this story by my colleague Lyndsey Layton about García’s rise to the top of the NEA, a journey that started when she worked in a school lunch room, moved through years of teaching (during which she was named Utah’s Teacher of the Year) and took her to the leadership of her union. And here are some excerpts from the recent interview I just had with García about her views on challenges facing educators today.
On Education Secretary Arne Duncan:
“Arne Duncan is a very nice man. I actually believe he is a very honest man. And that cannot excuse the fact that he is wrong wrong wrong on just about every thing that he believes is reform. I could just give him hugs when he talks about preschool. I love when he talks about affordable college. Its not that he is in the pocket of the Koch brothers and wants to destroy public schools. But he has drunk the Kool-Aid. He has drunk the factory reform Kool-Aid. So now it’s you have to hit a number and that number is what we call accountability and we have to blame someone and there has to be a punishment for not hitting that cut score. And I believe will go down to my last breath telling people that the most corrupting influence in public influence today is a high-stakes consequence for not hitting the cut score on a standardized test.”
On the Common Core State Standards and aligned testing:
“We have something with incredible promise, like the Common Core. My own friends will go, ‘You know they are just going to mess up the Common Core.’ Yeah, and then we have Texas. Texas isn’t in the Common Core but it’s a mess there. It’s not the standards. It’s what they are doing with these standards, or whatever standards. So you have a New York situation, which is the “I Love Lucy’ thing. ” We have the Common Core and add one more test and judge you and punish you by it and ramp up the factory thing and you have chocolate falling to the fall — and there is no more tragic metaphor to me than chocolate falling on the floor. Educators, my colleagues, are trying to take the high road and explain that … 100 percent of the kids cannot statistically be above average. And you can’t throw these wonderful new problem-solving, critical-thinking skill standards at teachers when we haven’t trained then on it or given them any curriculum and tell them that the tests are being field tested but they are still going to be judged on them, even fired, and third graders can’t go to fourth grade because of test results. Imposing this toxic testing regime makes no sense.
“Stop the stupid. And I’ll try really hard to make that diplomatic.”
On ‘value-added measures’ (VAM is a way of evaluating educators that takes student standardized test scores, plops them into a complicated formula that can supposedly weed out things like how much living in poverty or being sick affects a child’s performance on a test and determining the “value” of an individual teacher.)
Voodoo value-added. It is beyond ridiculous. Have you ever seen the formulas? Here’s what I think. Let’s make it so complicated no one will ask a question for fear of looking stupid. I’m the teacher who told my kids there is no such thing as a stupid question. … I looked the year I had 39 fifth-graders and looked at what is factored into the value-added formula to determine my value. That year I had Brandon and Chris, both of whom had behavior disorders. How is that factored in [to the formula]? You cannot surgically remove every factor that might affect some child’s test score, and then attribute a “value” to a particular teacher. I know that part of what I did was build on what the teacher the year ahead of me was able to accomplish. It is not surgery. And anybody that stands up and sends us the voodoo value-added should be ashamed of themselves.
I’ve always told people — because I am that obnoxious — that I am the best freaking teacher you have ever seen. You want your child in my class… I am not afraid of an evaluation system. Bring it on. But what I would do with value added? I would totally ignore them. ‘Go stand out in the hall and don’t waste five seconds of my time.’ I would not make that change one thing in my classroom. If a principal said, ‘We can’t do the blood drive because we have to prep for the test,’ I would say, ‘Go away’. That’s where the rebellion would be.
There is no law that says we have to race around and catch that testing tail. We do it to ourselves. The revolution I want is, ‘Proceed until apprehended.’ … Stop listening to the salesmen. Stop listening to phony reformers. And stop listening to those good-hearted and absolutely wrong people and do the right thing with kids. We are the educators, the professionals. We actually know what to do with children.”
On No Child Left Behind:
“I am so convinced that No Child Left Behind is really based on the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode in the chocolate factory [when Lucy and Ethel work in a factory to box chocolates that appear on a increasingly fast assembly line]. I really believe that someone spent a little too much time watching ‘Nick at night’ and said, ‘Let’s just speed up the chocolate. We will find a way to wrap it and put it in pretty little boxes. And Lucy and Ethel couldn’t do it of course. We have corporate reform. It doesn’t make any sense.”
On corporate school reform and whether Democrats who support it have abandoned teachers union:
“I talk about factory school reform. Its not even like a well-run modern corporation that they are suggesting. It’s a 1920’s factory. And …on both sides of the aisle we get the same misguided list of reforms. Basically its privatized, standardized, deprofessionalized. The exact opposite of what very successful international success stories like Finland or even Singapore do. They personalize. They use data to make good decisions. They have ramped up the professionalism of education. They make it harder to get into your college of education than to get into your law school. They make it a career, not a summer project for someone who just graduated from college. Even KIPP [charter schools] will say one of the secrets of their success is a stable, highly professional faculty. How do you make sense of a churn system of Teach For America where you give two years and go on your way? The corporate factory reformers have this evidence-free zone that surrounds them… We are like waving red flags of evidence in front of them. Stop doing stupid. Can we just do what we can show you makes sense?…
“I would challenge the premise that the Democratic Party is not a friend of organized working men and women. But there are disconnects on more and more issues. And of course we are seeing that disconnect seriously in the education world….
“We just need to say this is no longer partisan. It is just stupid.”