Education Opinion

Seattle Grace

By Nancy Flanagan — January 25, 2013 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

What would happen if teachers refused to do things that harmed their students?

Actually, it’s a common occurrence. Ms. Smith decides making her students write their spelling words ten times each is unproductive make-work, and finds a better routine. Mr. Jones stops his embarrassing (but time-saving) habit of exchange-papers-and-correct. Mrs. Johnson realizes that reflexively assigning kids to all-day detention is counterproductive and substitutes real, difficult one-to-one conversations instead.

This dust-up at Garfield High in Seattle is no more than an inflated and super-heated version of teachers deciding to jettison a practice (computer-adaptive MAP testing) that’s been tried and found unproductive for their students--albeit a battle with national policy implications.

In an ideal ed-world, of course, whether to submit students to regular computer-adaptive testing would be a negotiable question. When I was part of my local union’s leadership, we called these “high road issues"--items like class size, maintaining popular after-school programs, setting a calendar that acknowledges family plans, providing teachers time to update and improve curriculum. Things parents supported wholeheartedly--unlike the salary schedule or benefit packages, where parents were happy to turn the wrangling over to their elected boards.

It’s worth pointing out here that resisting the MAP test is more work and stress for the Garfield teachers: Lesson planning and prep for the do-nothing days when MAP testing would otherwise suck up huge chunks of time, for example. That’s not including the extra meetings, crafting statements, making phone calls and risking their paychecks that the refusal entails. It’s a high road issue all the way.

How does taking computer-adaptive tests harm children? Besides wasting their precious face-to-face learning time? Computer tests are easily gamed, and can even be psychologically damaging to children who perceive that their early wrong answers cause the computer to label them inferior. Computer-adaptive tests squander scarce district resources--time, money and access to technology. They tacitly imply that technologies are more useful and reliable than human teachers. MAP tests don’t give students useful feedback, and the information they provide to teachers isn’t necessarily aligned with what teachers are trying to teach.

A letter signed by supportive educators around the country (full disclosure: I’m one of them) explains the Garfield teachers’ rationale best.

So what happens when teachers join forces and make a carefully considered--and, importantly, collective--decision about what their students need? In a country in thrall to standardization, competition and hierarchies, the answer is pretty predictable--a power struggle. The immediate response from the press? Teachers need to follow the rules. Immediate response from the new Superintendent? Follow the rules or I’ll punish you.

Sometimes, as the saying goes, ya do what ya gotta do. You may not get the immediate response you desire, but moving the needle is never a function of a single act of civil disobedience. The best we can hope for is a little grace--a national awareness that it is fit and proper for teachers to stand up for their students, a generous disposition toward those who care about doing what’s right. Goodwill. A pause or reprieve from the power struggle, a chance to sit down and discuss best use of time and resources in learning. As professionals.

Thanks, Garfield teachers. Know that your courage isn’t wasted on your colleagues around the nation.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP