August 20, 2014

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Elyria elementary teacher writes Washington Post editorial on public school testing

Dawn Neely-Randall

Dawn Neely-Randall

ELYRIA — Dawn Neely-Randall is the kind of teacher who will have her fifth-grade language arts students read a novel featuring a biscuit-baking contest as a plot twist, and then bring her students homemade biscuits to wrap up the unit.

Or, she will assign them to write essays to civil rights leader Dr. James Lawson, all the while telling them to keep in mind their hands will touch papers that will be held by a man who with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. worked to change the world.

A mock inaugural ball to correspond with President Barack Obama’s historic win, Neely-Randall did it.

Lessons on etiquette with a professional coach, it has happened in Neely-Randall’s classroom.

After a career that spans 24 years, Neely-Randall knows how to reach even the toughest young minds and bring the most reluctant student over the academic finish line. Yet, with just three years until she is eligible to retire, the teacher, who has weathered numerous unfunded state mandates dictating how she should work in her classroom, says she has reached her breaking point.

“At this point, the first job outside the classroom I am offered, I’m taking,” said the McKinley Elementary teacher. “I can no longer do this job and be a part of the torture we are inflicting on students in the name of accountability. There comes a time when enough is enough.”

Neely-Randall let that mantra speak for scores of teachers recently when the Washington Post published her essay, “Why school isn’t for children anymore.” It was posted to the newspaper’s website Monday morning and reflects how Neely-Randall feels about the testing cycle of public education.

“I wrote it because the system is getting very abusive and I, as an educator, can either just keep plugging away, doing what’s best for kids and stay quiet, or keep plugging away, doing what’s best for kids and speak out,” she said. “I chose to speak out because education is becoming less and less about kids and more about these tests, the scores and the labels associated with them.”

The state academic achievement tests, changes to curriculum known as Common Core standards and even a new mandate known as the third-grade guarantee, which will result in hundreds of students not advancing to fourth grade after this school year, are working in concert to change public education in the state.

Teachers have largely remained silent, choosing instead to navigate the system in the best way they can for their students. Neely-Randall said she was one such teacher. But this year, her mindset changed, due mainly to the various nuances of the changes that baffle her.

Neely-Randall said she is not opposed to testing. It’s a necessary part of the education process. But this new form of high-stakes testing puts too much pressure on students, teachers and school districts.

Elyria Superintendent Paul Rigda supports Neely-Randall and her decision to write the essay, said Amy Higgins, district spokeswoman.

“Paul is proud of Dawn’s ability to speak her mind in such a professional manner, capturing the feelings of so many teachers, her passion for teaching and her frustration with the testing,” she said.

“I am extremely proud that I work for a district that supports one of its own who wants to speak out about her deepest convictions. But even if (Rigda) wasn’t, even if the district wasn’t, I would risk my job to do this,” she said.

“These are some of the darkest days in standardized testing right now and I wish more teachers would speak up, whether it’s anonymously or standing with me with their knees shaking. It’s time for them to do it for the kids and profession they love. It’s time to speak out and maybe, just maybe, we can take back our state.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.

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  • tired7041

    Being one who works in and our of different schools in the county, I have seen first hand the effects of this wonderful government mandated education. Parents need to wakeup to what is happening by our government mandates. We have many wonderful educators out there who are really trying to educate these students. Yes there are also some not so wonderful, I am not blind to that fact. But educators who are trying to get through to your students need to have their hands untied, and let them do their job. You as parents are responsible for the education of your children. You do have the right to speak up, support your teachers who are really trying to work with your kids and help them to have a better life. Your kids are not robots, they are individuals, and our government needs to realize that. You as parents need to be involved with your child’s education. It has changed since we were in school. It is not the same.

  • alreadyfedup1

    The Teachers Union has had a lock on indoctrination of the youth and don’t want any changes. Common Core is BAD, indoctrination is just as BAD.

  • Phil Seguin

    Its a little hard not to view her opinion cynically since it comes near the end of her career when she is about to start an overly generous retirement and double dip like most retired educators do. I have kids in the Elyria School system and don’t think her letter is an accurate depiction of education today. What our system most needs is free market reform – let parents decide which schools their tax dollars go to. I do agree with her that we need to get Federal government out of local education.

    • Phil Seguin

      If what she wrote is sincere and she believes that the current system is “torture” and “abusive” its very hard for me to understand why she didn’t resign from the Public Schools and go teach at a parochial or private school years ago. I can tell you from personal experience that we have a lot of good and caring teachers in our system but as long as the system is essentially a monopoly dominated by unions and special interests they are going to get more and more mandates and both our children and tax payers will continue to suffer.

      • Dawn Randall

        And here I (“she”) am yet again, Mr. Sequin. Retire from Elyria Schools? I love Elyria Schools! I can’t imagine ever having left Elyria Schools during these past 24 years. I taught at Franklin, at McKinley, have tutored students, open-enrolled my own children there, and have worked with outstanding, professional teachers and very supportive parents. I have felt very blessed to be a part of the Elyria City Schools family. And of course, our students rock!

        • Dawn Randall

          Name Correction: Seguin

      • Dawn Randall

        And here I (“she”) am yet again, Mr. Seguin. Retire from Elyria Schools? I love Elyria Schools! I can’t imagine ever having left Elyria Schools during these past 24 years. I taught at Franklin, at McKinley, have tutored students, open-enrolled my own children there, and have worked with outstanding, professional teachers and very supportive parents. I have felt very blessed to be a part of the Elyria City Schools family. And of course, our students rock!

        • Phil Seguin

          So you were misquoted by the Chronicle : “At this point, the first job outside the classroom I am offered, I’m taking,” said the McKinley Elementary teacher.” ? Which is it – torture and abuse or something you feel blessed to be part of? I have also had a very positive experience with Elyria City Schools so far but I can’t help but read your opinion piece and wonder if there is another agenda. I don’t like common core, federal control and standardized tests either but when you put left leaning unions in charge that is what you get. I also think it is a little bit shameful of you to enjoy all the benefits of your job and then come out so critically. Just as you are entitled to your opinion I am also entitled to mine.

          • Dawn Randall

            Both? :) No misquoting done. No other agenda. This is not against Elyria. And yes, you are very entitled to your opinion, too. Thank you for the dialogue, Mr. Seguin, and I do see that there are a couple things we agree on. I really do appreciate that you care enough to share your thoughts. Have a great weekend.

          • Phil Seguin

            You have a great weekend too – I also have enjoyed the banter and would be interested in your thoughts on a full voucher system for every kid in Elyria.

    • Roger Knight

      There is no such thing as double-dipping. This concept does not exist. It’s merely a political red herring which is constantly repeated by individuals who don’t understand. Educators earn their retirement by paying into the retirement system. If they retire and are employed in a school system a second time, they start contributing all over again. This does not apply to just educators. For example, retired individuals from the military can obtain another government job and be paid a full salary and contribute to a retirement system. If there are any questions or concerns about this I will be happy to discuss it.

      • Phil Seguin

        OK so why do we pay Paul Rigda $180,000 a year on top of the six figure retirement that he collects? Roger whether you want to believe it or not the cost to fund public sector retirement is real – unless the Federal government starts bailing out underfunded pension plans they will eventually go broke. You don’t “earn” retirement pay – you fund it. The stark reality is that the overly generous promises simply can’t be met by the funding that has been put aside for them. Maybe hard for you to understand since you lived your life in the public sector.

      • Phil Seguin

        Also in the spirit of honesty educators do pay into their retirement system – usually it is amount that is very similar to what most people pay in Social Security tax. The real difference is what the Board of Education (aka taxpayers) put in. Usually it is 3 to 4 times what the teacher contributes whereas private sector employers only have to match the amount that their employees put in. Despite this generous funding most public employee pension plans are underfunded – the benefits are simply too rich for what was funded.

        • Dawn Randall

          Mr. Seguin, here I am, Dawn Neely-Randall. An “overly generous retirement” you say? I will be retiring at 38% of my pay and with only 28 years of teaching (although I worked in the private sector for years before that) since my choice under the new state retirement system is to either go then or wait over a dozen years more. Due to the issues I’m writing about, I have already pre-determined that I will go then. Please don’t be cynical…I am a friend and not a foe.

          • Phil Seguin

            I am a friend too Dawn but it seems like people in education want to deny the real problem – YOU created the system – YOU let your unions control it and now you are upset. Of course I don’t know the specifics of your retirement although there is a website on which I am sure I can research your specific compensation and benefit information but like I said – you don’t “earn” a retirement you fund it and the whole pension crisis is caused by underfunding from overly generous promises. The people in your field (including our current superintendent) will draw far more from their retirement than they ever funded – whether or not you will be lucky enough to enjoy the same benefit is uncertain but I think that is in large part the motivation behind all the early retirements. I am sure you are or were a wonderful teacher but you wrote an opinion piece that I have a reacting opinion to. When you publish an opinion that is what happens – you get a response. Please don’t take it personally.

    • Dawn Randall

      Mr. Sequin, here I am, Dawn Neely-Randall. An “overly generous retirement” you say? I will be retiring at 38% of my pay and with only 28 years of teaching (although I worked in the private sector for years before that) since my choice under the new state retirement system is to either go then or wait over a dozen years more. Due to the issues I’m writing about, I have already pre-determined that I will go then. Please don’t be cynical…I am a friend and not a foe.

      • Dawn Randall

        Correction: Seguin

    • jz

      I,m glad any teacher, police officer, prison guard, firefighter get a nice retirement. They deserve it. Especially cops and teachers.

      • Phil Seguin

        Then you have every right to vote for whatever is required to fund them. I believe that as a society we are best served by giving everyone as much freedom and liberty as possible which includes economic freedom and liberty – I will no longer support ANY levy until I see reasonable free market reforms enacted. Paying more taxes is not going to improve our education, make us more safe or provide better public services – it will only sustain an unfair and failing system.

        • jz

          The argument is whether or not these over relied tests are improving our education. I,m all for free enterprise. I get your point on that one.

  • Melanie Dove

    This is absolutely true and we need to stop doing what is “free” and do what is right for children. I 100% agree. I have worked in childcare and education for 20 years and we need to find ways to educate the child NOT the politician!!!

    • Phil Seguin

      Anyone who sincerely cares about children would want free market influences. It always puzzles me how educators dislike the product of the system that they put in place. When you have a system controlled by government and public sector unions you are going to get standardized testing, mandates, teacher competence evaluation, etc.
      I don’t think I have ever heard teachers come out in support of a voucher system or anything that allows market influences or parents choices in education. Why is that?

      • Melanie Dove

        I mean “free” in that parents often state their children are going to brick and mortar public school because it is “free of charge” for them. My children will never go to a brick and mortar public school because I believe just what I said. I am not a public school teacher for this reason and I know a lot of teachers who went into education not completely educated on what working for the government education system means. We need to stand up and fight for our children and not allow the government to control and ruin our child and their education.

        • Phil Seguin

          Got it – thanks for the clarification. Best of luck to you and your children. I didn’t think that I would put mine in public schools either but so far have been pleasantly surprised. The funny thing is I want what most teachers want and I sympathize with all of them but most don’t see (or at least won’t admit) what the real problem is.

        • Melanie Dove

          I think if more people stood up for themselves and educated themselves then we could make a change. unfortunately too many of us are schooled and cared for by the US government and are afraid to take care of or think for ourselves and just do what everyone else does and this is why were in this boat. Best of luck to you!!

      • jz

        Now I see where you are really coming from. Your first sentence is not an absolute and merely your opinion. Blaming unions argument is so old hat and it blinds you to the problems at hand and you should recognize that this is just as much if not more of a problem now than what ever problems you would claim unions created. Yes there are inherent problems that can arise when unions get too much power, but, this is 2014 and your biased argument is tunnel visioned.

        • Phil Seguin

          Spoken like someone who has an entitlement to protect jz not like someone who cares about kids.

          • jz

            How is working 30 years and collecting a pension an entitlement or different from the Ford worker who works 30 years and collects on his pension. I think we who worked and earned are different than these moochers who impregnate themselves with 3 different deadbeats and then get entitlements [as one example]. But that 1 example/difference is not the topic here. These tests and the people who mandate them, [politicians], oversee them etc could care less about the kids and are more concerned with their power over the hated unions which has gone too far to the detriment of the kids and the good dedicated teachers. Don’t you think? Sometimes a cure becomes an ill.

          • Phil Seguin

            I as a taxpayer don’t fund Ford pensions (unless they fail) – I do fund public sector pensions. So from my perspective there is a difference. I don’t like the standardized tests but they come with the system that has been put in place. Common Core is giving up control of local education to the Federal government and by in large nobody in the Elyria School district cares – there was no resistance.

          • jz

            Then we agree for the most part. When Bush coined no child left behind, what a bunch of politician straw man double talk.

          • johns62

            would you like some lemon for your ‘tea’

          • Phil Seguin

            Johns62 are you someone that needs to label people? Do you do that based on their race, gender and religion too or just political beliefs?

    • alreadyfedup1

      Charley Reese’s final column for the Orlando Sentinel somewhere around
      May 3, 2011 “One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one President, and nine Supreme Court justices equates to 545 human beings out of the 300 million are directly, legally, morally, and individually responsible for the
      domestic problems that plague this country. 100 years ago, & our nation was the most prosperous in the world.
      We had absolutely no national debt, had the largest middle class
      in the world, and Mom stayed home to raise the kids.
      What in the heck happened? Can you spell ‘politicians?’

  • dianekendig

    As a retired educator who taught 40 years (an am not double dipping), I have to say that most testing has gotten out of control, and I’d add the SAT’s, which are useless but whose cred is sky high, but the testing in K-12 is just out of control. Most of us could not understand many of the tests, and when we can, we can’t understand why anyone would be tested this way, let alone children.
    As a reader of the Chronicle, I cannot believe the editors are allowing the uninformed ad hominem attacks on Mrs. Randall, a life-time dedicated teacher, in the Comments section.

    • tired7041

      This government testing needs to stop. Mrs. Randall is one who has tried to make a difference in her students’ lives as have many others. The government needs to be out of our education as far as dictating the curriculum. As stated above, our kids are not robots. They all learn differently, and only a teacher that has the freedom to “teach” can help these kids learn to the best of their ability. When they are forced to teach to the test, kids get left behind, or just pushed through, not getting the education that they need.

      • Phil Seguin

        Agree – so do something about it and call the Board of Education and demand that we opt out of common core.

    • Phil Seguin

      I presume your comments are directed at me. I’m sure Mrs. Randall is a nice teacher but if she is sincere that what is happening is “torture” and “abuse” she should have spoken out long ago.

      • Dawn Randall

        Again, Mr. Seguin, here I am yet again. You presume that because you are just now reading some of my writing and thoughts that I haven’t “spoken out long ago.” Indeed,, I have. I have had published articles about standardized testing as far back as 2000 when my sixth-graders (11 and 12 year olds) were sitting five days in a row, for two and a half hours each day (12 and a half hours of testing in ONE week) taking the Ohio Proficiency Tests. Horrendous. I have spoken out at various venues, have visited and talked with many of our elected officials in Washington, have been in contact with activists for educational change, and have even been in contact with The Washington Post writer on several other occasions. Contrary to what you may think, it is not quite so easy to get published in the Washington Post or I would have done it years and years ago and “spoken out” more like you’ve said. In the meantime, putting my name on the line by speaking out is making my knees shake a bit and partly because of writings such as yours.

        • Phil Seguin

          I found almost no resistance to common core in Elyria Dawn. What do you think about a full voucher system for EVERY kid in the Elyria School district? Let’s give every family the $12,000 and change or whatever the public funding is and let them decide where to put their kids. What say you?

        • Phil Seguin

          Maybe what makes your knees shake is that there is a lot of truth in what I say. Stay strong for our kids – past, future and present.

      • Dawn Randall

        Mr. Seguin, you presume that because you are just now reading some of my writing and thoughts that I haven’t “spoken out long ago.” Indeed,, I have. I have had published articles about standardized testing as far back as 2000 when my sixth-graders (11 and 12 year olds) were sitting five days in a row, for two and a half hours each day (12 and a half hours of testing in ONE week) taking the Ohio Proficiency Tests. Horrendous. I have spoken out at various venues, have visited and talked with many of our elected officials in Washington, have been in contact with activists for educational change, and have even been in contact with The Washington Post writer on several other occasions. Contrary to what you may think, it is not quite so easy to get published in the Washington Post or I would have done it years and years ago and “spoken out” more like you’ve said. In the meantime, putting my name on the line by speaking out is making my knees shake a bit and partly because of writings such as yours.

  • FoodForThought63

    Has anyone watched Waiting for Superman? That will give you a good perspective of what is wrong with education today. You’d be surprised as to who are the strongest opponents of education reform…

  • Roger Knight

    Dawn Neely-Randall is my kind of teacher. In December of 2012 I retired from education, a career begun in 1968, 26 of those years serving as an elementary principal. My last seven years resulted in taking a demoralized staff from being in a state of rebellion to receiving six consecutive excellent ratings, a National Blue Ribbon designation, and representing Ohio as a Title I Reading Distinguished School. Morale soared with teachers, students, and parents. Now, the question no one ever asks! How did this happen? Yes, we paid attention to the standards. However, they did not control us. Neither did the Ohio Department of Education or the state legislature. I let my teachers do what they were trained to do – teach! The accolades were a natural outcome of doing the right thing by our kids. Lots of support, an outpouring of love resulting in yes, hugs, and developing a sense of family among teachers, kids, and the community. Since I left this environment, new rules from the legislature and ODE have tied the hands of principals and teachers demonstrating a total distrust in their professional abilities. The wonderful staff I left is now in a state of misery, many contemplating early retirement or just leaving the career they chose and truly love. It really isn’t the testing. The nemesis is the unjustified pressure placed upon teachers and children to perform at extremely high levels when many can’t get it done within the time frame expected by our state. We are not making widgets, we are teaching children who need nurturing and a whole lot of love provided by caring teachers. I implore the public to get involved in this discussion. Our public schools are not failing! However, we can not afford to have our ranks of excellent teachers diminished through the acts of our legislature who choose to privatize this institution. Folks, our national security is dependent upon your solid support of your local public schools. In many ways, it represents the embodiment of American democratic ideals.

    • Phil Seguin

      Roger then why aren’t you fighting common core tooth and nail?

      • Roger Knight

        Common Core is a set of standards, not additional testing.

        • Phil Seguin

          So standards are good but testing to verify they are met is bad?

          • Dawn Randall

            Standards are good. They are very, very good…IF they are good standards. However, a good standard doesn’t mean that the test given to assess mastery of that standard is good. You can have poor tests. The fact that an eight year old just coming into third grade in October has to sit still and test for two and a half hours (which is the same amount of time a tenth-grader is expected to sit and test for the Ohio Graduation Test) makes for a very, very bad test (especially a high-stakes standardized test) even if the standard is very, very good. When this happens, that is, when assessments for standards are abusive like the one I just mentioned, we all need to work together to advocate for the children under our care. Your support would be greatly appreciated. Please note that the discussion on standards was not addressed in this article…although that would make for a great dialogue, too.

          • Phil Seguin

            OK so standards are good but any attempt to verify they are met is bad. Don’t they go hand in hand? Mr. Guest what do you say to this idea – lets give EVERY child in the Elyria City School district full vouchers for the state and local support spent per child and let the families decide where they want their kids to go – what say you?

          • Dawn Randall

            Standards are good. They are very, very good…IF they are good standards. However, a good standard doesn’t mean that the test given to assess mastery of that standard is good. You can have poor tests. The fact that an eight year old just coming into third grade in October has to sit still and test for two and a half hours (which is the same amount of time a tenth-grader is expected to sit and test for the Ohio Graduation Test) makes for a very, very bad test (especially a high-stakes standardized test) even if the standard is very, very good. When this happens, that is, when assessments for standards are abusive like the one I just mentioned, we all need to work together to advocate for the children under our care. Your support would be greatly appreciated. Please note that the discussion on standards was not addressed in this article…although that would make for a great dialogue, too.

        • johns62

          Maybe phil can enlighten people about what HE believes CC is

    • Phil Seguin

      Why does our national security depend on propping up what you yourself describe as a failing system? I agree that we as a nation should and do value education but I’m not so convinced that public schools are the only means of providing that.

      • Roger Knight

        I’ll quote myself here, “Our public schools are not failing!”

        • Phil Seguin

          I’ll quote you as well: “Since I left this environment, new rules from the legislature and ODE have tied the hands of principals and teachers demonstrating a total distrust in their professional abilities. The wonderful staff I left is now in a state of misery, many contemplating early retirement or just leaving the career they chose and truly love”
          But this is not failing?

        • Joe Smith

          Already failed is more accurate

  • Zen Grouch

    **Dawn Neely-Randall is the kind of teacher who will have her fifth-grade language arts students read a novel…**

    Could be wrong, but I believe our schools started sliding downhill when they started teaching ‘self esteem’ and renamed ‘English,’ ‘Language ARTS?!’

    • johns62

      another brilliant comments from the ‘educated’

  • Jimbo smith

    wouldn’t it be easier to just exchange phone numbers to talk about this subject

  • Sis Delish

    For the Author, Ms. Randall. Please expand on a few items which may help citizens more fully understand the state of primary education in America today, to the best of your abilities.

    1. When “Conflict Resolution” was introduced into Elementry Scools, we’re you in favor or opposed and why?

    2. Regarding what our children are taught, please give readers your best explanation on What group writes and publishes school textbooks and their relationships to local school boards.

    3. Tenure. In addition to a very nice Defined Benefit Retirement Plan and other attractive benefits enjoyed by you and your peers, what is you personal opinion on the continuing practice of not “testing” the Educators as aggressively as the Educated because of the uniquely offered benefit of employment insurance program a.k.a. Tenure?

  • Kate Terry

    Being the daughter of 2 educators, I understand your frustration. However, being the mother of 3 of your former students, I can honestly say that you have an overwhelming impact on them. You taught my kids the joy of writing and they were just yesterday comparing, with pride, their Randall Bumps. You have managed, somehow, to be a very effective teacher in spite of all of the restrictions. Your passion is contagious, I hope you continue to spread this for as many more years as possible.

    • Dawn Randall

      I’m so glad I saw this posting before I left this forum, Mrs. Terry. Thank you so much for your kind words. Your children were comparing their Randall Bumps? haha THAT truly makes my day and is a great send-off to my weekend! Oh, how I truly appreciate that you took the time to write a comment and bring my sensibilities right back to where they needed to be!!! Thank you and give them a hug from me, please. :)

  • Guest

    Shades of John Taylor Gatto echo throughout this article as he
    understood and withdrew from intentionally hurting children back in
    1991. The question I’ve wrestled with in solitude for about 2 years now
    can be summed up; “Are all these coincidences and loose ends in state
    schooling over the past 140 years just separate happenings or do they
    interlock and form a massive puzzle of sorts which in completion
    solidifies the status quo at the expense of the individual(s) and if so,
    cui bono?”

  • Phil Seguin

    I’ve mentioned this throughout my posts but for the record I have two kids in the Elyria City School system and so far am highly impressed with the teachers they have had and the education they are getting. I very much value education and if I felt my kids would be better off elsewhere I would move them in a heartbeat. We are fortunate in Elyria that we have good teachers but that doesn’t mean we should blindly support a system that is clearly broken and has been ruled to be unconstitutional in its funding. I am also a taxpayer who is paying taxes on a home value of $248,000 despite multiple appraisals that show the value substantially less and the school system’s attorneys fought me tooth and nail to get a FAIR valuation – I view what they do morally on the same level as common theft but the common theft at least has the courage to use a gun.

  • Mathew Siwierka

    As a past student of Ms. Neely and as someone who is pursuing a degree in education, I agree with and applaud her actions.

    • Phil Seguin

      Matt what do you think about letting EVERY family in Elyria decide where to spend their tax dollars for education? What do you think about a FULL voucher system for every student in Elyria?

    • Dawn Randall

      Thank you Matthew. It was so nice to hear your thoughts and I really appreciate your encouraging words. Please stop and see me sometime when you’re in town and tell me all about that education degree. Oh, to see your wit and sense of humor leading a class…what a joy for your future students (and colleagues)!

  • Megan Corcoran

    keep speaking out!!!!