Monday Moanin’: Sit down and deliver, or I could be fired!

by mister journalism2Jeff Salisbury

In the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver,” actor Edward James Olmos portrayed educator Jaime Escalante’s inspired teaching of his AP Calculus students in East Los Angeles. Olmos, as Escalante lit a desire to succeed in his students, most who’d never known much academic success. If you saw the movie, you watched as Olmos/Escalante and those students literally “teamed up” against the test in order to show the world what they had done as a team.

Speaking of “teaming up” if you are familiar with the Comedy Channel team of Key and Peele, you may have seen a recent episode of the duo discussing teachers as if they were professional athletes. Part of their skit included staging a fake “pro teacher draft” at Radio City Music Hall and critiquing how and why some teachers call on certain people in class. It’s really worth watching this clip as their characters, “Boyd Maxwell” and “Perry Schmidt,” report on “the latest developments in the exciting world of pro-teaching.”

But for now, back to “Stand and Deliver” – just imagine if you will that Olmos/Escalante had appealed to his students by saying, “Look guys, sit down and DELIVER! I need you to get at least a ‘3’ on this exam because I don’t want to get fired.” Do you suppose his students would have responded with sincere dedication if they knew their teacher’s real motivation was personal instead of being selfless? I doubt it.

Think back to your own experience as a grade school or high school student – or that of your own children — how many school teachers would think in those terms if their professional evaluations and thus their very jobs were on the line and really did depend on students’ scores?

If you follow my public education comments, comings and goings on Facebook or LinkedIn then you’re aware I recently participated in a 1960s-style “teach-in” in Plymouth, MI. Coordinated, hosted and moderated by John C. Stewart, a former member of the Michigan House of Representatives and currently a practicing attorney with aspirations (bless his heart) to run for State Board of Education. The event afforded me the opportunity to meet in person several other public school advocates whom I’d previously only known online. I’m hopeful, all the panelists and participants are in fact, that we can present a series of forums dealing with reform issues facing our public schools.

One of the panelists, Dr. Mitchell Robinson, is associate professor of music education, coordinator of the Music Student Teaching Program, and area chair of music education at the Michigan State University College of Music. He is someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for and I was honored to serve on the “teach-in” panel with him. This week he’s scheduled a meeting with a Michigan State Representative to discuss Michigan teacher evaluation system.

Here are Dr. Robinson’s top three issues:

  1. The data (students’ standardized test scores) used to evaluate teachers in the current system is invalid and unreliable for that purpose.
  2. There are major ethical concerns with third-party, for-profit corporations (i.e., Pearson) regarding data security, test content (i.e., AP APUSH revisions) and cheating (i.e., Atlanta, NYC, Washington, DC).
  3. The use of high-stakes teacher evaluations for hiring and firing decisions is creating, for the first time in our history as a nation, a culture of competition rather than collaboration among teachers. According to Linda Darling Hammond, “we should NOT adopt an individualistic, competitive approach to ranking and sorting teachers that undermines the growth of learning communities–which will do more to support student achievement than any elaborate ranking scheme.”

Now, I facetiously suggested to Dr. Robinson that he might want to take his checkbook.

Lawmakers’ listening skills, I said, are enhanced (it seems) only when they are about to receive a big campaign check. Besides, I said, the typical lawmaker of either party is pretty much clueless when it comes to K-12 public education and likely may have only the slightest idea what points he’s trying to make.

“I’m not going in to this discussion naively,” Dr. Robinson replied. “But I’m trying to remain optimistic. It was the (representative) who initiated the meeting, at the suggestion of a mutual friend. Fingers crossed!”

Now, if you are a parent or grandparent or know someone who is, what’s all this business about teachers facing getting fired if their students fail or do poorly on so-called high-stakes tests mean to you anyway?

Well, in a 2011 Washington Post article written by Carol C. Burris (principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, NY) and Kevin Welner (professor of education policy and program evaluation in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder) they contend that the movie portraying the true story of Olmos/Escalante illustrates a number of reasons why they think parents should be concerned about educators being evaluated by test scores.

Reason #1: This use of student scores will damage the relationship between teachers and students (the ‘Escalante’ reason)

Reason #2: This use of student scores will diminish access to challenging classes for students when prepping for the test becomes the focus.

Reason #3: This use of student scores will cause many schools and classrooms that need good educators the most to lose them.

Reason #4: This use of student scores will promote teaching to tests at the expense of enriched, engaging learning.

Reason #5: This use of student scores will siphon precious tax dollars from programs that benefit students.

To read the entire article, go here

If you’re an concerned educator or parent and you find yourself not just troubled by all this but at a loss for words to effectively rebut the notion of “sit down and deliver or I might be fired” then PLEASE visit

“VAMboozled!” is a blog about the issues surrounding teacher evaluation, teacher accountability, and value-added models (VAMs) in America’s public schools. VAMboozled! is also about the related issues surrounding America’s educational reform and accountability initiatives, and the federal and state policies being advanced, incentivized, adopted, and implemented across the nation. While other education blogs might focus on more general education topics, this blog is focused only on these issues, as current and controversial as they continuously are. The goal is to make more comprehensible and more accessible research-based information about these issues, and to better reach and inform teachers, administrators, policymakers, parents, students, and members of the general public, all of whom are stakeholders and who might ultimately be involved. To stay current on these issues, to engage, to participate, to add to the professional dialogue, to offer solutions, and to add to our collective understandings about these topics, please subscribe (see the “Follow” button at the bottom right hand-side of every VAMboozled! page).”



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