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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.

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.


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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Comment Preferences

  •  "War on workers?... (15+ / 0-)

    Tenn. auto workers declare war on themselves by rejecting Union representation that was even tacitly favored by their employers. Amazing! American voters at all levels confound me with their abject STUPIDITY!

  •  What about student privacy laws? (21+ / 0-)

    In my state of KY, at least, we are not allowed to post our students' grades, or to discuss them with anyone other than the student or admin. I teach university level--isn't privacy even more important for minors? I can understand telling parents of minors, but not other students.

    Posting students' grades is wrong, even just a list of grades, not names, is wrong, because kids have ways of figuring out who made what and shaming the  outliers.

    Zen is "infinite respect for all things past; infinite service to all things present; infinite responsibility for all things future."--Huston Smith's Zen Master

    by Ree Zen on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 11:13:10 AM PST

  •  Not only is this a violation of privacy, BUT also (13+ / 0-)


    Just like those drug testing laws for welfare recipients, I don't see our Congressional "representatives" who voted for this nonsense willing to get drug tested to received their pay checks.

    So, let's add some fairness:  Let's insist that ALL citizens of the United States post their:

    --IQ tests
    --participation in nursery school
    --elementary schools grades
    --middle school grades
    --high school grades
    --college transcripts
    --oh, and OF COURSE, penis size--because what the heck, it might be important

    Separation of Church and State AND Corporation

    by Einsteinia on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 11:13:26 AM PST

  •  crazy (3+ / 0-)

    people are so selfish these days. We need unions to help balance things out.
    We work more ,more effiencet .The compony makes more,managment makes more.
    The worker ,he gets more hours.
    Nobody thinks of anyone else or longterm.
    This country is screwed..the rich will control everything.

    In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted." Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

    by lippythelion69 on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 11:16:54 AM PST

  •  importance of teachers unions (6+ / 0-)

    Teachers are often given verbal instructions that potentially violates the law. These instructions might include giving a student credit for work that is not completed, awarding an unearned grade to comply with grade for play requirements, or in this case posting grades or graded work that is personally identifiable. For instance, schools once posted grades with students names, but this was stopped.  In a more general case, online firms have been successfully sued for exposing non-personally identifiable information but information that could be, along with other date, be traced back to a person.

    The teacher can refuse this directive, but then that is grounds for termination.  Yes, if administration wants to use this as a basis for dismissal it is possible.  At the very least, a teacher can expect retaliation for refusing such a request. We see clearly in this case that no written instructions were given, probably because the request was illigal, and now the administration is blaming teachers.  Even if it was the teachers fault, administration must take responsibility for not making a clear written request.

    The only recourse in these cases is for the union to demand a written clarification on the policy.  Verbal directives are the administrations friend and the teacher's enemy.  Without a strong union, teachers, and as this case shows, students, have no protection.

    On a technical note, posting grades in a rookie mistake and speaks to the competence of the administration.  When training students to take standardized tests, one is not looking at single grade, or even a whole test, but a trend of grades and objectives over time.  So what can be posted is, perhaps, a percentage improvement from one test to the next.  A student who goes from 30 to 60 shows a 100% improvement.  A student who goes from an 80 to 100, a 25% improvement.  For elementary kids this provides age appropriate reinforcement to improve towards the real test.  It would be better to have the grade broken down by objective so the kid and teacher can work on problem areas, but most school do not the infrastructure to do that, nor do they pay the teacher for the time it takes to create such resources.

    •  Use confirming emails. (13+ / 0-)

      Send email to the person who gives the illegal instruction:

      Dear Administrator:

      This email is to confirm my understanding that in your presentation last night, you instructed us teachers to publicly post our students' individual standardized test scores, by student name, on a wall in our classrooms. Please let me know if I misunderstood what you told us to do.

      I am also confused because my first impression is that this practice would violate the student privacy mandates of FERPA. Am I misunderstanding the application of FERPA to this situation?

      While I obviously want to cooperate with adminstrative directives, I'm a bit hesitant to post individual scores until I have a better understanding of the legality. Please advise.

      Thank you,

      Save it on school/district/university email system, print it out and keep hard copies in your files at school and at home.

      "These are not candidates. These are the empty stand-ins for lobbyists' policies to be legislated later." - Chimpy, 9/24/10

      by NWTerriD on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 12:04:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Not new. In the 1960s my "selective" suburban (3+ / 0-)

    high school posted, quarterly, an Honor Roll and an Honorable Mention Roll, with names - and grade point averages to the first decimal point. Every quarter my brothers saw me on the Honor Roll, one brother on the Honorable Mention, the other brother off…somewhere… It didn't conduce to family felicity.

    Escaping that school probably saved my life.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 11:30:46 AM PST

  •  Everyday I grow more (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    discontent with public schools. Right now I have to deal with only one of my two kids qualifying for GT, even though they are both exceptionally GT. This has disrupted my home. Then there's the constant PTA fundraising using our kids (what about PTA is actually Parents and teachers?!). I'm swinging hard to the right on this because the system stinks.  I'm ready to get my voucher and educate my kids my way.

    Knock twice, rap with your cane

    by plok on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 11:32:50 AM PST

  •  way back 40 years ago (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    my sister was of the delusional opinion (she was in high school at the time) that all schools really wanted to give their students was the skills to be a member of the working class. skills to show up regularly and on time

    dumber and younger me, thought she had to be wrong. our educational system was meant to educate-whatever educate is i wasnt sure and still am not sure of that one.

    i now realize how right my sister was. it just wasnt as obvious forty years ago. now days, no one (in power) cares if they make students into worker bees.
    worker bees have no privacy. no personal thoughts. just part of the collective.

    i dont even think they see any difference in the "top" performers or the "loser" performers. all performers going nowhere

    •  God, I hate these kinds of generalizations. (6+ / 0-)

      Yes, there are some people in public education -- mostly high-level adminstrators of the corporate persuasion -- who would like to create a feudal worker class. If you don't want those people in charge, elect legislators and school board members who believe in educating the whole child rather than creating serfs.

      But stop bashing "the educational system" for those monsters. Most people in the "educational system" are teachers. Teachers, as a class, are there because we want to provide kids with the tools to create the best, most satisfying, most productive, most rewarding lives they can possibly have.

      A huge percentage, maybe the majority, of my energy as a teacher goes into trying to motivate my students to

      (1) think for themselves so they will be in a position to make wise decisions as individuals and as citizens, and

      (2) build high-level thinking skills and content understanding, so they will have sought-after skills and therefore have options open to them, and

      (3) be as effective (responsible, reliable, intrinsically motivated, able to question conventional wisdom and think for themselves, etc.) as possible, so that whatever they choose to do in their lives, they can succeed at it.

      I am part of "the educational system," and everything I do is to fight against what you say the system is designed to accomplish.

      The people who want to create serfs for the purpose of exploitation are themselves exploiters. They aren't going to go into the teaching profession. It doesn't pay, and it doesn't provide enough power.

      And yes, I do see that in the third paragraph, you added a parenthetical phrase about how it's those in power who don't care, but that two-word addendum isn't enough to negate several paragraphs of sweeping generalization.

      "These are not candidates. These are the empty stand-ins for lobbyists' policies to be legislated later." - Chimpy, 9/24/10

      by NWTerriD on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 12:24:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  if there wasnt some truth (0+ / 0-)

        in that our educational system promotes good working skills, rather than fundamentals, you would have nothing to fight. "I am part of "the educational system," and everything I do is to fight against what you say the system is designed to accomplish."

        i am sorry to generalize , but our entire educational system is built on generalizations.
        from grading, to class size, to subject matter, to funding, to teaching methods. nothing is geared to any specifics.

  •  Oh, goody! Let's gang up and humiliate a 10 year (8+ / 0-)

    old who may well be homeless and hungry. We can set him up for enough bullying that maybe he'll drop out and disappear into our prison line and we won't have to bother with him any more. Fun, huh?

  •  The war on public education continues, (13+ / 0-)

    as does the war on children. CHILDREN. Think about it.

    Pope Francis: the Thumb of Christ in the eyes of the Pharisees.

    by commonmass on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 11:50:28 AM PST

  •  As a product of the Holyoke Public Schools (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quill, slatsg, seabos84

    and a person deeply familiar with the political and social culture of my home town, I would guess that what comes next is a campaign of personal vilification of those perceived as the leaders of this critique, to the point where the sheer outrageousnes of the accusations makes the original substance pale into invisibility.  You might say I've seen this before.

    Also worth noting, my deep skepticism of the principles and personal chaaracter of the Democratic Party also has its roots in Holyoke, which has essentially been run by the Democrats for a century

    "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." ~Frederick Douglass

    by ActivistGuy on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 12:00:02 PM PST

    •  I was shocked by Holyoke's economic malaise (0+ / 0-)

      I attended Mount Holyoke (located in South Hadley, not Holyoke) for my first year of college. We were generally advised to avoid Holyoke and one afternoon we did spend a few hours sitting around waiting for a Uhaul to become available. The difference a few miles makes, I tell ya. I am embarrassed that the local colleges ignore it. They should be sending students in droves to help with the primary education system. The only project I ever heard about was a community garden initiative with UMass. That's it. Here we were in our ivory tower, talking about solutions to systemic inequality and educational opportunity differences, and doing jack about it in the local community.

      Is fheàrr fheuchainn na bhith san dùil

      by bull8807 on Sun Feb 16, 2014 at 10:01:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  One word - FERPA. (10+ / 0-)

    The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

    The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.
    FERPA prohibits the release of any educational records without the student or family's consent except for very narrow exceptions.

    Posting student's test scores is a prima facie violation of FERPA. In my university system we have been told that such an action would put the university at risk and, for the individual posting such information, would be grounds for discharge.

    That superintendent ought to have his a## handed to him in court.

    •  Was going to say (5+ / 0-)

      this is flamingly illegal.

      "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

      by kyril on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 12:54:51 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Oh, court! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Judge Michael Donahue presiding!  Truth, justice and the American Way to be observed, no doubt!  Good luck getting out of there without being cited for contempt.  Welcome to Holyoke.  You grow up there, 98% submit and become like them, the rest are like me and one homie I've got here, both all edge, no mainstream.

      "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." ~Frederick Douglass

      by ActivistGuy on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 01:41:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The Federal government wants it both ways (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mike Kahlow

      FERPA is the law of course. OTOH the push for standardized tests to gauge student achievement and teacher evaluations has been accompanied by strategies such as these. Data walls are not something new. The folks at Holyoke did come up with this. I have heard about them at conferences for at least nine years. Both the Bush and Obama administrations pushed this stuff.

      A proud member of the Professional Left since 1967.

      by slatsg on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 02:11:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yes FERPA (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mike Kahlow, Ree Zen

      Who the heck can ignore FERPA this way without consequences?  Who are these people?

      I work in education. FERPA is clearly defined and taken so seriously that I can't imagine this. Every ed employee.. Even custodians and maintenance people must be trained in FERPA law to work in a school here. How can this be?

  •  Horrible (7+ / 0-)

    I NEVER post my students grades. I don't even let students hand back graded work to other students. It wastes a lot of paper, but I frequently print out individual grade reports for each student and hand them to students individually.  When I call students back to my desk to give some grade feedback, I set my grading program up in a way so that only their scores are displayed on my monitor.

    Assigning students a perception of "worth" based on grades is disgusting.  What I always tell my students is that I can easily make them have a bad time based on misbehavior, I don't pick my favorite students based on grades. Frankly some of the stuff we teach to all kids in a comprehensive college preparatory HS is difficult and it isn't possible (or helpful) to have every kid get an "A" or "B" on every test, essay, and/or final grade.

    In spite of what some folks on here are posting in terms of some negative school behavior, I've never worked for any school administrator who has asked me or any of my colleagues to put students in a position of shame over grades. Crap like what these poor kids were exposed to in Holyoke should be crushed like an evil mole with the mallet of justice every time it pops up.

    Sadly this garbage is 100% the byproduct of education deform, high-stakes standardized tests, school "accountability" measures.

  •  My husband worked in an office (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that used to show a chart that listed how much each worker earned that month.  After the Crash, they got rid of the chart.  It was too depressing and turned into a public embarrassment for the adults.  

  •  thanks for the EDU mention. this seattle teacher (0+ / 0-)

    who GREW UP IN HOLYOKE (HHS '78) is happy to see that there is more to the MTA than a bunch of I-wanna-kick-it-with-Beacon-Hill-Pooh-Bah sucks ups.

    I've been a teacher in Seattle (high school math, career 3) for 8 years, and the WEA is entrenched, always protecting their seat at the kidde table & their sporks & their sippy cups & their mush.


    Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous

    by seabos84 on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 06:23:14 PM PST

  •  For those asking about FERPA (4+ / 2-)

    Teachers and parents in Holyoke have claimed this as a violation of FERPA laws. But check out this quote from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Data Toolkit--(Page 305). Note- student = unit. Note the use of the word 'may' re: privacy.
    "Identify the individual unit that will be monitored. In schools, this is the student. However, a district-wide data wall might use the classroom, grade level, or school as the unit to monitor. Use small magnets, post-its, or another material to create a marker for each unit, e.g., each classroom, grade level, or school.
    a.    It may be best to label each unit in a way that maintains privacy, while also allowing the identification of specific units, e.g., specific classrooms.
    b.    The Team might consider using additional coding of the markers to add a third or fourth dimension of data. For example, green markers could represent classrooms with teachers in their 1st or 2nd year, yellow could represent those in their 3rd–6th year, and orange could represent those with 7 or more years of experience."
    Here is the link to the toolkit - for a deeper sense of the madness that grips us:

  •  Laura can you debunk this? (0+ / 0-)

    I found the link on facebook from one of my far right friends.

    it has this link for it's source.

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