David Wasserman, NCLB, and obeying the law

David Wasserman, a Wisconsin middle school teacher, has been disciplined for refusing to administer a standardized test mandated by No Child Left Behind:

“All over the nation, people are saying the test and how it ‘s used and what it ‘s about is sour and not right, ” Wasserman said.

On a personal level, Wasserman said, he managed to retain his integrity — and his job — on Thursday by serving as one of several proctors supervising about 30 eighth-graders taking the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination. Another staff member, he said, served as the test ‘s administrator — the person actually giving students the test — by reading the instructions.

“I got an eraser for a kid today, ” said Wasserman, who acknowledged that on some other days he may be forced to administer the test. “That was my involvement. So that ‘s all good. ”

Wasserman got in trouble on Tuesday, when he sat in the teachers lounge as his colleagues administered the test. […]

Wasserman said he refused to administer the test because it fails to improve teaching. Rather, he said, the test asks questions that aren ‘t closely connected to what ‘s being taught, and fails to accurately measure some students ‘ true skills. Then, he said, the test results are used by the district and news media to declare which schools are failing.

Rational Mathematics Education has an open letter in support of Wasserman, which unfortunately devolves into comparing the US government with Nazis and the Madison school board as Nazi sympathizers. And it rails against the school board for not “applauding” Wasserman and breaking the law right alongside him. Such is the rationality of some folks, I guess. I look forward to the day when we can criticize each other without the logical end of our criticism being comparison to the Nazis.

NCLB has its ardent supporters and detractors, and passions run high in any discussion of it. But like it or not, it’s the law, and not giving it means you are breaking the law. Madison school superintendent Art Rainwater had this to say:

Rainwater, who also has railed against No Child Left Behind, said tests are one way to measure a student ‘s progress, but a single test shouldn ‘t be used to hold a school accountable.

Still, he said his personal view is irrelevant. “As long as that ‘s the law, then we will implement it. “

There are plenty of reasons to be very concerned about the ascension of standardized testing in this country, and plenty of motivation to work to draw attention to, and perhaps change or even repeal the law. But if you break the law, you are breaking the law, and it’s not courageous to support such actions nor is it persecution to be accountable for them. And you’re definitely not tantamount to a Nazi sympathizer for doing your job.

Update: The author at Rational Mathematics Education defends his usage of the Nazi card in the comments, and of course makes it all Bush’s fault. Nevermind the cast of characters in this photo when NCLB was signed into law. Criticism of NCLB would be made a lot more believable to NCLB supporters if the criticism weren’t inextricably tied to Nazism, “Bush lied people died” attacks on the Iraq War, and calls for mass lawbreaking.


Filed under Education, Teaching

3 responses to “David Wasserman, NCLB, and obeying the law

  1. I think there are circumstances where you violate unjust laws. And I don’t think Wasserman can be judged by RME.

    But we do need constant reminders about just who pushed NCLB in the first place. We could also use some reminders about what they claimed the intent was…

  2. of course there are plenty of laws that *should* be publicly flouted
    and “calls for mass lawbreaking” might very well be something we need
    more of (patrick henry: “if this be treason–make the most of it!”).
    but ordinarily you don’t get much activist cred if you fold your hand
    at the first sign of trouble and get back in line to protect your job.
    *real* activists have to be prepared to make sacrifices.
    that’s what makes ’em heroes–and hard to find.
    how wasserman got my attention with this silly stunt is unclear.
    i thought there was a story here but the more i look into it the less i see…

  3. I don’t know about activist cred. I know that little acts of resistance happen all the time, and they create a fabric, an aether in which louder forms occur more easily.