Overheard At #RedForEd: Pay Is Important, But Testing Took Center Stage
By Jennifer Wagner
When thousands of people come together to speak out for or against something, it’s a beautiful sight. Rallies and protests are a reminder of our fundamental American right to petition our government for redress of grievances.
This week, the Red for Ed movement came to the Indiana Statehouse. Thousands of teachers flooded the building on Organization Day, which is the ceremonial start of next year’s legislative session.
It was the biggest rally I’ve seen since 2011, when thousands of union workers protested Indiana’s proposed “right to work” law, though issues such as same-sex marriage, redistricting reform and bias crimes also have drawn huge crowds.
We work in K-12 education policy, so we walked over to learn more about what brought so many teachers to Indianapolis — many from the far corners of the state — on a cold, foggy Tuesday morning.
Turns out, their reasons went far beyond teacher pay, which has been the hallmark of the national #RedForEd movement.
Sure, there were plenty of signs and chants about funding, but most of the educators we spoke with were there to talk testing. Specifically, high-stakes testing and its negative effects on students and the teaching profession.
I wrote about this a couple months ago after Indiana’s latest testing debacle, but it was distressing to hear first-hand how much pressure these tests put on everyone. When one of my co-workers told several teachers that some states use summative tests like NWEA instead of high-stakes tests like ILEARN, they were stunned and said they wished we could do that in our state. After all, they’re already administering such tests, in addition to what’s statutorily required.
And that’s an important thing to note: The teachers we spoke with were not opposed to norm-referenced tests that help them evaluate their students in a timely manner. They’re just sick of feeling like their value is determined by a test that’s given twice per year — and then tied to their pay.
Top lawmakers already have indicated a willingness to consider decoupling evaluations from teacher pay, so it will be interesting to see where this debate goes in January.
One thing we didn’t hear at the Statehouse were complaints about school choice, which often gets portrayed in the media as a reason why traditional schools don’t have enough funding despite the fact that private school choice programs make up less than 5 percent of the education budget in almost every state where they’ve been enacted.
In fact, we know from our polling that public school teachers support choice programs, presumably because they want all students — including the ones in their classrooms — to be able to get in where they fit in:
Teachers made their voices heard this week, and it’s always a good thing for democracy when people show up and speak out. When it comes to funding, there’s still a lot of work to be done to explain how teachers get paid and to whom they should look for raises, but that’s all part of a much broader conversation about the future of K-12 education across America and the best way to make sure every student has a chance to succeed.
Jennifer Wagner is a mom, a recovering political hack and the Vice President of Communications for EdChoice, a national nonprofit that supports and promotes universal school choice.