Ron Maggiano is a social studies teacher at West Springfield High School in Fairfax County. In 2005, he won the Disney Teacher Award for innovation and creativity, and in 2006, he won the American Historical Association’s Beveridge Family Teaching Prize for outstanding K-12 teaching. Now, after a 33-year teaching career, he is resigning, just four years away from full retirement.
Why? He’s had enough of the high-stakes testing obsession that he believes has undermined public education. He told the school’s student newspaper, the Oracle:
I don’t think I’m leaving the education system. I think the education system left me.
Here’s part of an e-mail he sent to me, and following that is the The Oracle’s article on him.
I have taught history at West Springfield High School for the past 19 years. I have been a successful classroom teacher for more than thirty years, but now I have had enough. As a result of the obsessive emphasis on standardized test scores in FCPS and across the educational landscape, I have decided to retire at the end of the current academic year. I have made this decision, because I can no longer cooperate with a testing regime that I believe is suffocating creativity and innovation in the classroom. We are not really educating our students anymore. We are merely teaching them to pass a test. This is wrong. Period.
As for myself, I won the Disney Teacher Award for innovation and creativity in education in 2005 and the American Historical Association’s Beveridge Family Teaching Prize for outstanding K-12 teaching in 2006. I am four years away from full retirement, so my decision to retire was not made lightly. It will cost me. Our school newspaper, The Oracle, just ran a story on my retirement and why I am leaving the classroom and the job that I love.
By Calvin Wilder
From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the election of Barack Obama, Ronald Maggiano has been teaching history as it happened. And after 33 years of teaching, he’s decided this will be his last.
He said there were two main reasons for his decision to retire. The first one is that he feels he’s a good teacher now, and he doesn’t want to wait for that to change.
“I’ve been doing this job for over 30 years. I mean, when I started teaching, Jimmy Carter was president. I don’t want to be one of those teachers that should have retired five years ago,” said Maggiano.
But his motivation for retiring goes deeper than that. Maggiano feels that the education system is obsessed with test scores to the point that real, meaningful learning is suffocated. He wants to move on to new things rather than to continue to be a part of that system.
“I don’t think I’m leaving the education system. I think the education system left me,” said Maggiano.
Maggiano says that ever since SOLs were instituted to test students’ knowledge, schools have had less and less focus on creativity and innovation. Instead, teachers teach to the test, trying to achieve the highest scores possible.
“When I started teaching, the worst thing a teacher could do is teach to the test. Now, all we are doing is teaching to the test. From the first day of school to the final exam, that’s all we are doing,” said Maggiano.
No Child Left Behind and other programs that emphasized standardized tests increased this problem, according to Maggiano. The more the school system relies on standardized testing, he says, the more difficult it is for teachers to foster critical thinking and other useful skills.
“I strongly disagree with our obsession with test scores and data. I think it is killing education, destroying creativity, and discouraging any kind of innovation,” said Maggiano.
Maggiano doesn’t think kids aren’t learning anymore. In order to score well, students do have to learn something.
The problem, he says, is that that knowledge isn’t helping kids function in the real world.
“I think kids are learning a lot now, but they don’t know what to do with it. Life is not a multiple choice question, and the answer to life’s most important questions is not A, B, C or D,” said Maggiano.
Maggiano made it clear that this emphasis on standardized testing has nothing to do with WS or any people here. These issues, he says, are taking place across the country.
“It’s not just in this building; it’s not just in this school. It’s the direction I see the education system heading in the county, in the state, and in the nation,” said Maggiano.
Maggiano said he thought about retiring last year, but decided to give it more thought and continue at least another year. By the end of the first quarter, however, he knew he wanted to move on. He decided that the problems he sees in the education system aren’t likely to go away soon, and he felt that they were too severe for him to want to continue being a teacher.
“I just think it’s wrong. This isn’t teaching that we’re doing anymore. All we are doing is coaching kids to pass the test,” said Maggiano.
Maggiano has been teaching here for 19 years. Now that he’s leaving, he’s looking into working at a historical society, or in a museum as an education coordinator. Students have been sad to hear he is retiring from our school system.
“He was such a great teacher. He would go out of his way to help us, and he treats us like we’re his family,” said senior Nick Polo, a former student of Maggiano.
Maggiano says he sees returning to teaching as a possibility. However, he doesn’t plan to unless the issues he sees in the education system are fixed.
“I don’t really know [about returning to teaching]. The pendulum has swung too far… the testing pendulum. It’s gone too far and it’s going to take a long time for it to return to a fair and balanced approach to learning,” said Maggiano.
Maggiano started teaching right out of college, in the music department. However, after several years of teaching Band and Chorus, he decided to switch to teaching history. Since then, he’s taught courses on US, European, and world history, (and he’s enjoyed working with other great teachers in all those subjects). He has also actively participated in WS’s after-school clubs, working with Spartans for Christ, the Chess Club, and the Young Republicans club. Maggiano lives in Loudon and has a commute that is well over 2 hours round trip each day.
After all these years, he says there’s one thing that’s kept him coming back.
“The kids. This school has great kids,” said Maggiano.