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‘Live with Kelly and Michael’ Top Teacher is quitting: I can’t ‘drill ’em and kill ’em’

Elyria High teacher Stacie Starr, right, gives sophomore Dominic Zullo a hug, after being chosen as a finalist for the Live with Kelly and Michael show at a watch party in her classroom April 29, 2014. She went on to win and be named Top Teacher for 2014. (Elyria Chronicle Telegram)

Stacie Starr is a mother and a ninth grade intervention specialist in Elyria City Schools in Ohio who was selected as “Top Teacher” last year in a national search by the popular television show “Live with Kelly and Michael.” Now, though she still loves to teach, she is quitting.

Why? Teachers, she said, can no longer be creative because they have to teach to standardized tests so much. It’s all about “drill and kill,” and even the most creative teachers, she said, are being affected. She said:

It is very upsetting. We are becoming presenters of materials and not teachers. They have taken away all of our creativity in the classroom…

Starr was speaking at a recent information session at which she gave a detailed and moving talk (see video below) about how the Common Core PARCC test will affect special education students. Starr spoke about how her ninth grade students, who read at fourth- and fifth-grade reading levels, are being forced to take the PARCC even though they will not be able to handle the extensive and detailed reading passages or write complicated essays. All ninth graders, she said, will take the PARCC; there is no alternative test for special education students though they can have some accommodations. Starr noted that there is a great deal of confusion at the moment about which accommodations many special education students will get.

She said she took a practice ninth-grade PARCC English Language Arts test and that the first reading passage was five pages of a speech by nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (who was a leader in the development of the atomic bomb), followed by some questions, then two pages of a letter from President Harry Truman about the bomb’s development and two more pages about Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Japan. After reading these nine pages, she said, students are asked to write a compare/contrast essay with evidence from all three texts explaining how effectively each other supported their claims. Then they are asked to read five pages written by Charles Dickens, answer 10 questions and write another essay. She read two sentences from the Dickens passage, which was from “Bleak House,” and which read:

I was apprehensive that his illness might be of a dangerous kind, but of course I begged her to be quiet and not disturb any one and collected myself, as I followed her quickly upstairs, sufficiently to consider what were the best remedies to be applied if it should prove to be a fit. She threw open a door and I went into a chamber; where, to my unspeakable surprise, instead of finding Mr. Skimpole stretched upon the bed or prostrate on the floor, I found him standing before the fire smiling at Richard, while Richard, with a face of great embarrassment, looked at a person on the sofa, in a white great-coat, with smooth hair upon his head and not much of it, which he was wiping smoother and making less of with a pocket-handkerchief.

She said:

“Last time I checked, there is a reason these students are on an IEP. They have a learning disability and they may struggle with reading…I have faith in my students but I can tell you all right now, my students are reading at an average fourth- and fifth-grade reading level…. It is extremely upsetting.. These children are being demoralized on a daily basis. We are making them feel worse about themselves…. We are teaching to a test. Our curriculum is going way too fast, and these students, we are losing them.”

Starr said that her own three children are doing fine in school and can handle the tests, but, she added: “If you are a child that struggles or you are a child that doesn’t have a family that values education, you will not survive in this system…. We are putting them out.”

In May 2014, she was announced the winner of the television show’s Top Teacher contest, cited as a creative teacher who engaged her special education students and taught them to think through problems on their own.

Now, she said, she can no longer remain in system because it demands that teachers spend too much time collecting data, getting students ready for tests, and doing other tasks that are not related to what she considers a quality education.  She said, to audible gasps from the audience: “I can’t do it anymore, not in this ‘drill ‘em and kill ‘em’ atmosphere.” She also said, “I don’t think anyone understands that in this environment, if your child cannot quickly grasp material, study like a robot and pass all of these tests, they will not survive.”

She said she plans to start an after-school program to help students who need support.

Here’s the video, done by Toni Jones of the grassroots Lorain County Parents Supporting Our Parents and Teachers organization. It’s about 15 minutes long and worth your time.