Second Vermont Republic

A citizen movement committed to restoring Vermont to an independent republic, free to pursue life, liberty and happiness unimpeded by the demands of an imperial, corrupt and disintegrating United States.

Vilaseca Channels Orwell


By Susan Ohanian

Recent statements by Vermont Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca contradict teacher testimony to the Vermont State Board of Education.

In a letter to the editor published in Education Week on Dec. 4th, 2013, Vilaseca declares that the highly disputed Common Core represents “an evolution of our current standards and our best collective thinking on the math and literacy skills our students will need to be prepared for their future.” In his letter he also claimed, “To be clear, teachers and state education personnel played an active role in writing them.”

 This is false. FALSE. It echoes the disinformation George Orwell pointed to in 1984: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.

 This propaganda from Vermont’s Education Secretary sits in sharp contrast to the testimony of veteran kindergarten teacher Diane Marcoux-LaClair, who was invited to speak at the Vermont State Board of Education meeting on Oct. 15, 2013.

 Marcoux-LaClair, who has been teaching at Hyde Park Elementary for 41 years,  was asked to address the question: How has student assessment changed your teaching practice over the last several years?  She gave a sharp and moving recap of what’s been happening to kindergartners now that Vermont is under unrelenting and inappropriate  pressure from No Child Left Behind and has signed on to even worse from the Common Core.

  Marcoux-LaClair talked of when kindergarten was a children’s garden and teachers based their teaching on developmentally appropriate practice. Then, she closely observed kindergartners and took notes on their skills and needs as they planted sunflowers, made maple syrup after tapping trees on the playground, and studied Monarch butterflies. In her words, “We kept inquiry journals about everything!”

 But these days, kindergartners’ participation in hands-on exploratory projects are severely curtailed by testing demands.  Marcoux-LaClair describes it as throwing kindergartners into “pressure cooker mode.” Instead of demonstrating skills while planting sunflowers, each child  must recite answers to prescribed skills shipped in from a testing conglomerate while a timer is ticking. Yes, a timer is on the table as each kindergartner has one minute to demonstrate proficiency. Thinking time is not allowed. “Automacity” is what’s demanded. One minute.

 Marcoux-LaClair revealed the distance between reform rhetoric and child reality when she mentioned that what the child really wants to do is examine the ticking timer.

 In a written report presented to the State Board, Marcoux-LaClair points to evidence that her kindergarten colleague Melissa Ramsey wrote in a letter trying (unsuccessfully) to opt her own child out of kindergarten testing, “The esteemed National Association for the Education of Young Children believes that such data is only 50% accurate in children under the age of eight.”

Marcoux-LaClair reported, “My colleague and I have seen kindergartners wet themselves, vomit, and burst into tears while being timed.”  Her experience and expertise with kindergartners tells her to never use a timer for any assessment at the kindergarten level.

 Marcoux-LaClair offered the Board of Education lots of research evidence against standardized testing of young children and asked, “Why don’t we listen?”

 It’s a good question: Why not listen to the experts?

 New Hampshire educator Rebecca Holcombe, who will assume office as Vermont Secretary of Education in January 2014, was at the October board of education meeting. We can hope she was listening and will lead the Education Agency away from the easy corporate rhetoric of the Common Core and toward the wisdom of longtime Vermont teachers and the real needs of children.

Susan Ohanian is a long-time public school teacher and a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Atlantic, Parents, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Phi Delta Kappan, Education Week, Language Arts, and American School Board Journal. Her website offers information and inspiration on high-stakes standards and testing resistance.

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This entry was posted on December 18, 2013 by in Education, Politics.

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