Eskelsen Garcia, a former cafeteria worker, kindergarten aide, and then elementary school teacher, is upbeat and intense and outspoken against testing—but, as you'll see late in her comments, is carefully politic when it comes to figures like Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who her union's representative assembly called on to resign, and who she characterizes as "a good person" but one who's "just dead wrong on this obsession with test scores."
On testing and where she wants to take the NEA:
It is to me the epitome of wrongheaded corporate solutions to things like boys and girls and it is a factory model of quality control that is all wrapped around hitting a cut score on a commercial standardized test and what's being lost is the whole happy child. [...]
I got involved in my union because I had 39 kids in my classroom in Utah, where we stack 'em deep and teach 'em cheap. ... I said I want somebody who's going to fight for what I need to do my job as a good, creative, caring, competent teacher, and I got more and more involved as I saw the forces from outside education coming in and telling us that teaching and learning was reduced to multiple choice tests, because that what not what made me the teacher of the year ...
As much as I want to move a very positive agenda, if we can't move this incredible boulder out of the road and that boulder is you hit your cut score or you fail, we're never going to be able to move toward whole child reform. Whole child means the arts. It means kids who don't speak English or special ed kids or gifted and talented or gifted and talented special ed kids who don't speak English, you know, in all of their wonderful variety. I never met a kid that came in a standardized box. Not one! So what we want to do is to say how do you open that public school to all of the opportunities that that kid should have, and while we obsess over hitting a cut score on a standardized test, that's never going to happen.
We've got to approach it on two fronts. First of all, legislatively, we have to change No Child Left Untested, we've got to stop racing to chasing our tails around a cut score on a test. We have to get rid of those policies, change them dramatically, but I am not one who would tell my teachers "and we can't do anything until that happens." I have no faith in Congress all of a sudden getting smart, all of a sudden learning to look at the evidence and go "oh, this is actually hurting kids." So you have to proceed until apprehended. You have to say there's a whole lot of things you, your building principal, your school board, your superintendent—we're all sick of it. We're not always on the same side of issues, a union and the administration, but we're on the same side of this. What we have to do is to say there is no federal law that says we have to obsess over this test score. You give it as little credence as possible, you stop worrying about the punishments that come with that, you let the chips fall where they may, and you let nothing get in the way of giving these kids everything they need to make their lives what they want them to be.
There's more below the fold.
How you fight on the state level when teachers even, and maybe especially, in the states with the best education records, are under attack:
No one can convince me it's not a well-funded and well-organized campaign to discredit public schools. Of course the testing insanity gets to be a part of that, because No Child Left has a statistically impossible standard: 100 percent of human-type children will meet or beat a cut score on a standardized test. That's impossible. There is no statistician in the world, no mathematician that will tell you 100 percent of kids are going to be able to do that. So if one kid misses the cut score by one point, your school is labeled a failure. One hundred percent of schools, no matter how good, will have one kid that doesn't hit the cut score, and they will be labeled—publicly—failures. So that's what we're up against. It's absurd, and it makes great press. [...]
They need to attack unions because we tend to tell the truth. We're the people that actually know the names of those kids in the schools, this isn't an academic exercise for us. I had 39 fifth-graders one year! And now we have teachers, very talented, competent, caring teachers that are being handed a script that some administrator bought because it was guaranteed to get the scores up or your money back, and test prep materials and the professional development is all about teaching teachers to teach their kids to be better test-guessers and so everything is being wasted. A lot of money being spent, and wasted because it's not being put in the arts, it's not being put in the debate team, it's not being put in preschool. It's being put in test prep, and when you have a union that is saying enough is enough, a whole lot of people could lose money if the public starts to listen to us.
We however agree that we do need to start focusing on the best schools. We will usually and have traditionally ... have gone in to point out the inequity, the incredible inequity in our schools, where you go into some neighborhoods and the roof is leaking and they've done away with recess, let alone the arts, because these kids are only going to get test prep for a math and a reading test and that's all they're going to get. You go into other schools—most of my teachers know which schools have everything. ... If I wanted my kid to have everything, the Olympic swimming pool, the theater department, the chemistry lab, the auto mechanics class, I can tell you exactly where they would get everything in that public school, and I can tell you where they would get none of those things, in the same state. So I think we do need to go into the best schools in our state, highlight what the best schools have, and I think the high-stakes test for a governor, for a state legislature, for President Obama, is we need to then say why doesn't every school in the state look like this, and when we go into the poorest schools and we say "why don't you have the chemistry lab, why don't you have the preschool why don't you have the afterschool program," it's "well, the economy, and times are tough, and we don't have the money and we need to do more with less, and we can't," I want to be able to say "the hell you can't. I just walked through what you can't. Why can't you for these kids? Why can't you for every kid?"
On testing vs. inequality:
It's a total bait-and-switch. We're going to focus on, what? The reason these kids don't have what they need is they have bad teachers? All of them are bad teachers! And if we could just fire all of the bad teachers, then the roof wouldn't leak anymore! If we could just fire all of the bad teachers, it wouldn't matter that you had 39 kids, because good teachers can handle 39 kids! It has become an excuse, and their narrative is you don't have to worry about equity, we just need to fire bad teachers—and then of course it's "the unions are protecting bad teachers." So let's just take that to its logical conclusion. The states that have the highest union members are Mississippi? Louisiana and Arkansas? I don't think so. No, no, if it was all about a union then you would take a look at your lowest union states and those states should be fabulous and they're not, and guess why? Because they don't have the resources. [...]
We keep giving emergency credentials to unprepared people, and we don't put them in the best schools. We put them in the worst, most challenged neighborhoods with the highest poverty, with kids who don't speak English, with kids whose parents can't find a living wage so they're working three or four jobs, and we go "here, let's give you to these kids." It is a bait and switch, to just say "let's talk about bad teachers." I can be on the defensive about why we don't have many unprepared people, but it's a wasted conversation. How do we get the best, most highly qualified, most experienced people to want to teach in these high-challenged areas?
How do teachers unions fight back?
We have to organize, and we have to organize outside our own ranks. I'm very excited about the Democrats for Public Education that Donna Brazile just announced. ... It is an alternative to the Democrats for Education Reform, to that corporate reform, running a school like a factory, because we know that's the wrong answer. I'm glad that there's at least some Democrats that are saying "how about if we're actually for building better public schools." [...]
I was talking to MomsRising this morning, and they are all over what we're going to do to end this school to prison pipeline. [...] There are people now who've made a beeline to the National Education Association, and we've reached back, to other organizations that wouldn't think of themselves as education organizations, but they are. A lot of the civil rights community now, that really believed that No Child Left was going to be how our kids get what they want ... but then it went "and then we're going to use it to say you can't go to fourth grade." Wait wait wait! [...] We're building now bubbles of communities. That's why we're at Netroots—these are progressives who understand civil rights, and they understand what's happening to our most vulnerable children in this corporate model. [...]
It can't just be us.
On Harris v. Quinn and the Supreme Court's potential threat to public employee unions:
We've got a strong membership in Utah. So I know that the forces of darkness and evil will try to pick off: how do we undercut the structure of the union, things like how they collect dues, release time so that volunteer leaders can go to a meeting or can represent their members, how do I pick off how they're structured? Yes, we know exactly what's going on here. I'm not downplaying the importance of the Harris decision, but what I'm telling you is in right to work for less states that have survived and thrived, we did it by being relevant to our members. [...]
It's not going to stop us. States like Michigan, states like Wisconsin, that overnight became right to work for less states, came to states like Utah and said "all right, how do you do it?"
On the NEA representative assembly's call for Education Secretary Arne Duncan to resign:
The call for the secretary's resignation came from a place of very deep disappointment. And by the way, it was hotly debated, and it was not overwhelming, but it won the day. It was more than Race to the Top. It was a feeling that the secretary just doesn't get it. I know Arne Duncan. He's a good person. He's not a bad person, he's not part of a deep dark conspiracy, but he's wrong. He is just dead wrong on this obsession with test scores, and with offering states grant money if they will link things like a teacher's evaluation to test scores, when by the way it's a reading and a math score. What if you teach science? What if you teach social studies? What if you teach the band? We've already seen the absurdities in Florida where they start testing in third grade, but every teacher has to be judged by a test score, so what do you do with the second-grade teacher? ... It's absurd beyond belief, no one can defend it, I don't think the secretary can defend it ... That was what the debate was all about, it was if you can't see that, then why are you here? That's the most important thing that we need from the top education official in the country.