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Rally with
Over the past year, grade school students in the low-income city of Holyoke, Massachusetts, have faced having their names and standardized test scores posted in classrooms on "data walls," for all their classmates to see. Horrible, right? But it shouldn't be unexpected, as educational policy pushes standardized tests to the center of what goes on in schools, and as test scores are used for ever more punitive purposes. The story of how the data walls came to light is  particularly revealing, though.

Teachers and parents, outraged about the data walls, went to a school committee meeting to complain; at the meeting, the schools superintendent insisted that students' names should never be used, and suggested that he'd be cracking down on individual teachers who were doing this bad thing. That contradicted testimony from a parent, Paula Burke, who said she'd directly requested that the superintendent "send a clear directive to ALL principals and teachers regarding the sharing of private student information," but "This has not been done." But it raised the very real possibility that teachers would be scapegoated for a practice to which they had first drawn attention. But then, Sarah Jaffe reports:

In response to his comments, the teachers released copies of a PowerPoint presentation given to teachers and paraprofessionals for kindergarten (yes, kindergarten) through third grade at Kelly Elementary School in Holyoke on October 11, 2013—at which Superintendent Paez delivered the welcoming remarks. The slides, provided to In These Times by teacher activists, clearly show sample data walls with students' first names and in some cases, last initials.
Yes, the practice that the superintendent was all disapproving of in front of reporters and the school committee was drawn directly from a training he introduced. Whoopsies! But if teachers weren't organized to fight back against practices that hurt their students and retaliation against themselves, this would be a different story. Already, the decks are stacked against teachers fighting back:
“The data walls really speak to a bigger problem,” Kaeppel says. The battle against data walls is just one fight in a broader war—everywhere, testing is replacing teaching time, and test scores are used to pressure students, to determine whether teachers can keep their jobs, and to rate schools as successes or as “failures,” with dire consequences. [Teacher Agustin] Morales points out that his students in Holyoke spend 27 days out of the 180-day school year taking standardized tests rather than learning. [...]

The constant exhaustion means that the union must prove to its members that a fight is worth the effort. That's why [Educators for a Democratic Union, a progressive caucus within the Massachusetts Teachers Association] is trying to build solidarity through concrete victories—like the effort to fight the data walls in Holyoke. Kaeppel, who was one of [Barbara] Madeloni's students at UMass, says that it seemed like a winnable fight to the Holyoke EDU members and their supporters from outside of the district, and has served to catalyze some parent support. Administrators, she says, assume that the lower-income parents in Holyoke are not involved with their kids' schooling and won't challenge school practices, but they got a surprise when parents and teachers spoke together at the school committee meeting.

But however outgunned by test-crazy politicians and billionaires, teachers and parents are there, in kids' lives. The need to fight back is so obvious.

(Disclosure: My father is a member of EDU and has been involved in the campaign against Holyoke data walls. And background: I've written about Barbara Madeloni in the past.)

Continue reading below the fold for more of the week's labor and education news.


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

A fair day's wage

  • David Dayen talks postal banking on the Belabored podcast, hosted every week by Sarah Jaffe and Michelle Chen.
  • Social workers—and others—are often told to practice "self care." But when we talk about self care, we need to talk about structural inequality:
    Telling social workers that they need to rely on self-care as a strategy to prevent burnout is like telling factory workers to be attentive and put out fires that start in their factory, when the real problem is that the equipment in the factory is ill-maintained and hazardous, and thus liable to catch fire at any given moment. Social workers and other social service employees, in this metaphor, are expected to produce goods in the factory as well as prevent the entire darn place from burning down.

    Of course, maintenance of the “equipment” should primarily be the agency’s job, not the employees’. However, often this maintenance does not happen. Instead, agencies and other people in power put the blame for high turnover on ‘lack of self care.’ It’s just another way that organizations defer the blame for their actions and inactions, all of which only best serve their own bottom line.

  • The NFL Players Association will stand "shoulder to shoulder" with Northwestern players trying to unionize.
  • Oh, look. Business lobby groups don't like a plan that would take away their chances to intimidate workers away from joining unions. How surprising.
  • United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard:
    The GOP is all about freedom -- for corporations, that is. Republicans believe, for example, that business should be free from the kind of government regulation that would prevent chemical companies from spewing poison into West Virginia drinking water.

    When it comes to freedom for workers, though, the GOP is all about squelching that. Republicans believe workers should not be free to form labor unions, that they should not enjoy freedom of association, that they should be denied their right to collective action.

  • Brazilian footballers are organizing for better conditions.
  • GM has apparently taken enough heat for how its female CEO's pay compares to its former male CEO's pay to release some more details trying to make things look better. Trying.
  • Paul Krugman:
    It’s all very well to talk vaguely about the dignity of work; but the idea that all workers can regard themselves as equal in dignity despite huge disparities in income is just foolish. When you’re in a world where 40 money managers make as much as 300,000 high school teachers, it’s just silly to imagine that there will be any sense, on either side, of equal dignity in work.


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Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 10:55 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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