Saturday, February 24, 2018
Education

Romano: Frustrated Florida teacher laments 'reforms' in viral resignation letter on Facebook

Somewhere in the void between political theory and human reality, Wendy Bradshaw realized she was failing the people she cared about most.

She would spend her mornings adhering to Florida's one-size-fits-all mentality to teach a class of second-graders, and then work evenings as an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida instructing aspiring teachers to strive for the exact opposite.

So with her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction behind her, and with her maternity leave about to run out at her elementary school, Bradshaw, 36, decided in October that she needed to quit the job she had spent her adult life preparing for.

FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE: Florida's school districts could change the way they operate under a new legislative plan

Intriguing? Sure. Lamentable? Absolutely. But her story did not seem destined for headlines until an innocuous decision changed everything.

Because she wanted her colleagues to understand her rationale, Bradshaw posted a copy of her resignation letter to the Polk County School District on Facebook.

Within days, her story had spread across the globe. The original Facebook post had more than 8,000 reader comments. Cosmo, MTV and the Washington Post had written about her. She was doing live interviews with radio stations in the United Kingdom.

Bradshaw had touched a nerve with parents and educators who believe a decade's worth of school reforms have not just been ineffective, but are actually harming children.

"The gap between what I knew was right and what I was told I had to do in a classroom or face discipline in my evaluations, was getting further and further apart," Bradshaw said this week while entertaining her 4-month-old daughter, Meredith.

"I just couldn't keep doing things I knew weren't right for the children."

Coming one day before President Barack Obama declared standardized tests should take up no more than 2 percent of class time during a school year, Bradshaw's letter helps point out the difference between listening to teachers and issuing government directives.

Obama's announcement was meant to be an acknowledgment that reforms have overshot their mark, but it still fails to recognize the actual dilemma.

The issue is not the tests. It's the ramifications and penalties assigned to the tests. It's the absurd autonomy given to testing companies. It's the misguided notion that all children develop at the same rate. It's the fervor to measure accountability as if students are finite equations instead of unique individuals with widely disparate backgrounds.

The gathering storm of reform has turned classrooms into assembly lines where students are constantly told they are not producing, and where teachers are penalized for showing creativity outside of a district's strict guidelines.

Social studies, science, PE, recess and art lessons are often afterthoughts because the entire school year is geared around passing standardized math and reading tests.

"If you've ever been around 5- and 6-year-olds, you know they're pretty joyful. They'll make the best of just about anything," Bradshaw said. "So it says a lot that so many of them are so unhappy in classrooms today. You can see the frustration in their faces. They cry because they're being asked to do things that they're not developmentally ready for.

"A 6-year-old's attention span is about 10 to 20 minutes, and we're asking them to spend an hour in a computer lab to take a test. I was at a Title I (low-income neighborhood) school where half the kids don't have access to computers at home to even practice the skills they need to take the tests."

If she has grown disenchanted with public schools, Bradshaw has not abandoned education. She is teaching online college courses, and has been asked by parents of special-needs children to assist with their home-schooling.

The irony is that she is the kind of teacher the reform movement was supposed to attract: highly motivated and at the top of the educational ladder.

Instead, the paint-by-numbers mentality of educational reform has chased her from public school classrooms, after she devoted years to graduate programs and ran up thousands of dollars in student loans.

"It is kind of sad," Bradshaw said. "But it's more sad what we're doing to these children than what's happened to me."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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