A “Conversation” with WHYY’s Chris Satullo

 

Chris Satullo of WHYY spoke this morning on air about Standardized testing. I felt compelled to contact him, and now am compelled to share what I learned with my readers.

 

This is a link to the broadcast, and a text of it as well.

http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/blogs/centre-square/item/75245-fine-idea-flawed-execution-our-approach-to-testing-deserves-an-f#comment-1697067546

 

I have been a listener of WHYY for a number of years, and while I sometimes disagree with a view expressed, or the slant of a story, I have found, at least, that the reporting is more thoughtful, and frankly, less insulting, than both local and national television news broadcasts. What appeals to me most, however, that more than provide information, NPR makes me think.

I have been a member only a few of those years, though, and have withstood the pangs of guilt during each fund raising campaign, especially while listening to Fresh Air. Nobody interviews like Terri Gross. Nobody.

I recently contacted PRI about the favorable presentation of education reform policy that was allowed Melinda Gates when she was interviewed on one of their programs. I don’t mind hearing her views, but how about some balance? Not a token, but real balance. Uninformed listeners would likely come away seeing the Gates’s as heroes of public education. Nothing could be further from the truth. And the Gates’ Foundation contributes generously to NPR as well as PRI.

This got me thinking. (That’s what NPR does, remember.) What if NPR does this same sort of unbalanced presentation on any number of issues? Even unspoken communication, such as tone or enthusiasm, during an interview can lead the listener. Multiply that by the rate at which public radio listeners vote, and you’ve got some serious influence.

Which brings me to this. As I was driving to school on this dark wet morning, Chris Satullo, a vice president of WHYY in Philadelphia presented an editorial of sorts. His position affords him the privilege of reading his blog aloud, on air, to the nearly half million who tune in to WHYY each week. That’s influence. I worked hard to filter out the classical music station that competes with WHYY on most mornings, so that I could hear everything being said about standardized testing in schools.

He doesn’t particularly care for teachers. Definitely doesn’t like unions. I base this on just a few of his references to teachers:

“And cheating scandals, where adults worried about consequences of low scores for them, keep on flaring up, nowhere more so than in Philadelphia.” (emphasis mine)

And,

“I’ve tended to dismiss as hypocritical whining the plaints of teachers unions about the horrors “high-stakes” testing. Weren’t those the same people who were just fine issuing tests to kids as long as the stakes didn’t apply to the adults in the room?”

He’s not finished yet.

“Final problem: The adults running schools – lacking trust in the fairness of the testing system, and lacking the courage of their convictions – make a fetish of “teaching to the test” and infect students with their test anxiety.” (emphasis mine)

He is apparently in favor of national control of schools, too.

“The main reason we don’t have solid national tests is that many of the same people pushing the accountability-through-tests idea are mired in the “local control is best” delusion.”

I wondered about the source for the last statement, as in my own experience, those most pushing for accountability though testing aim to crush local control. Isn’t that what is happening in Wilmington, Delaware right now with the Priority Schools’ threatened state takeover?

In closing, Satullo suggests (surprisingly), “…that teachers teach the way they believe they should.”

That seemed encouraging. But this would require some level of autonomy, wouldn’t it?  All teachers know that autonomy is but a ghost in most systems.

In a personal correspondence with me , Satullo stated he held no disdain for teachers, “I have taught, and some of the people closest to me are teachers. I have disdain for the mindless rhetoric of resistance that teachers unions have often adopted.”

He also asked of me,   “And who says teachers deserve “autonomy”?  That seems to be the heart of the dispute, really.”

At least he admits he is confused.

What do  you think?

 

Below is the email I sent to Chris Satullo:

Chris,

I caught your piece on testing this morning while on my way to school.  School is where I work. Where I teach. Where I fight for student and teacher rights. Where I fight to get parents on board with the education of their own children. And School is in Delaware. Delaware, the Blue State (formerly known as the First State), where Democrats have pretty much been in control since 1993. They have needed no Republican help to push public education down the chute of ed reform.

Delaware, one of the first winners of Obama/Duncan’s Race to the Top, (under Democrat Governor Jack Markell), has had three different state tests in five years, with price tags in the millions. None of these test were designed to aid in planning instruction or intervention; i.e., not for the benefit of students. Results are often obtained late in the school year or during the summer, and are never broken down into specific skill sets that can be addressed the following year. All you get is a number. A number. And an arbitrary and often fluctuating set of cut scores.

Your disdain for teachers (and their unions) was clear, but misdirected. Well before test scores determined teachers’ evaluations, or even their jobs, they were used to unfairly sort and reward schools. The common factor then, as it remains now, is demographics, not teaching. Over the last ten years, especially, teachers have lost  autonomy. Provided the illusion of a participatory democracy, teachers serve on district and statewide committees who have all but implemented their plans. All that remains for them is to claim that there was “teacher input”.

Your suggestion to just let teachers teach is refreshing, however, and not often heard outside the teaching community. Instead we spend what was once real planning time on meaningless data collection and recording after every unit (and I mean that it is the  data itself that is meaningless), developing Common Core Unit plans (as if teaching critical thinking was something new), and “learning” how to use the latest data software.

It’s not Republican. It’s not Democrat. It’s Corporatism. And the public loses.

 

 

 

This is the text of his response. (I can’t help wondering if  he was responding to someone else.)

I do not have disdain for teachers at all.  I have taught, and some of the people closest to me are teachers.

I have disdain for the mindless rhetoric of resistance that teachers unions have often adopted.

It is simply not a viable proposition for the teaching profession to say to the taxpayers who put billions into K-12 education (and whom we probably both think should put billions more) that there is absolutely no way to measure the success of what schools do, to sort the better schools from the ones that are failing students, to decide how to target new investments into winning practices.

And my point is: Most teachers don’t believe you can teach well without testing.  It’s simply not going to work to say, “We’re the only ones who get to test.  Everyone else’s job is simply to stand back and applaud the job we’re doing.”

 

And who says teachers deserve “autonomy”?  That seems to be the heart of the dispute, really.  I don’t have “autonomy” in my workplace, and I’m the boss.  Any person in a workplace is accountable to other people for the success of what they do. The notion that teachers deserve this “autonomy” that they supposedly had in some lost golden age really is what the argument is about, right?  And testing is merely a blunt weapon wielded by both sides in that fight.

It’s my regretful view that if teachers had engaged more productively with the testing question when it arose, instead of just engaging in resistance, we’d have a much more sane testing regimen in place now.

 

Again, thanks for writing in.

 

Nice guy, huh?? 

 

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