TODAY   |  March 26, 2014

Teacher quits over standardized tests

A Boston kindergarten teacher quit after 25 years by sending her resignation letter to the Washington Post. She says there’s too much emphasis on data and tests. Michelle Rhee, former chancellor for the Washington, D.C., school district, discusses testing with Matt Lauer. NBC’s Ron Mott reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> now to the subject of education and the hot button issue of teaching to the test or teaching for the test. a boston area teacher frustrated by what she says is too much emphasis on test scores and testing instead of the kids themselves quit her job in a resignation letter to the "washington toast popost." and a lot of people are taking notice.

>> reporter: as resignation letters go, teacher susie slighters is a talker.

>> i'm resigning my position as pre-k and kindergarten teacher.

>> a sobering assessment about standardized tests how children are damaged by what she calls a broken system more focused on scoring them.

>> i have seen my career transformed into a job that no longer fits my understanding of how children learn and what a teacher ought to do in the classroom.

>> her decision to quit was not an easy one.

>> so many things that pulled me away from the classroom. it takes the joy out of learning for the children. it takes the joy out of teaching.

>> when president george w. bush signed no child left behind into law in 2002 , supporters applauded the sweeping reform for holding schools and teachers accountable for student performance. but it wasn't long before complaints surfaced.

>> i suspect that in time, we will find the right way to achieve that balance between strong academic instruction and high-quality learning.

>> students are often lost in the test-taking shuffle which shows up in their behavior.

>> i recognize many of these behaviors as children shouting out to the adults in the world. i can't do this, look at me, know me, help me! see me!

>> in the end, she says teaching left her heartbroken.

>> when i think about all of the children i know in the school i've been in for years who i never get to see anymore, and they don't even all know why i left.

>> a self-described firm believer in public education walks away.

>> i did not feel i was leaving my job. i felt then and feel now that my job left me.

>> no longer a believer in what it's become. for "today," ron mott, nbc news, chicago.

>> the former chancellor for the washington, d.c. school district . she's the founder and ceo of, a nonprofit aiming to transform public education . michelle , nice to see you, good morning.

>> you have children in public schools , i have children in public schools . what is your gut reaction to what this teacher wrote in her resignation letter?

>> well, i think it's clear that we as parents are seeing a lot of this. you know, not too long ago, my youngest daughter came home from school and said well, we don't have to work anymore. we're going on lots of trips and doing parties, and i said what do you mean? and she said the test was over, and this was at the end of april. and i thought, my gosh. what are we communicating to our kids if they think the test is the most important thing and then after the test is over, learning ends. so we definitely have an issue in this country in too many schools and too many districts where there's an overemphasis on testing.

>> yeah. i hear this all the time. we've got the elas here in new york starting next week, by the way, so my kids are in the whole standardized testing moment right now. we asked our viewers what they thought about this. john wrote to us, standardized tests teach nothing, just another bubble for students to dread filling in. we got a lot of that. and i mean a lot of that. we also heard from people like this, we heard from mike who said without minimum standards being set, some school districts may choose to have low standards. how do we find a balance, michelle ?

>> well, that's absolutely right. i p mean, at the same time this teacher is resigning in massachusetts, last week there was a study that came out in massachusetts that said 2/3 of employers in that state were saying they can't find people, employees, who have the skills and knowledge necessary to fill their job. we know there's a huge disconnect that exists.

>> are they going to get those skills and knowledge from standardized testing ?

>> no, but we can use standardized testing to measure whether or not kids are actually learning what they need to learn, right? while recent international test results show that the u.s. is now 26th out of 30 something nations in math. and the bottom line, the kids today who are in school today in america are going to be competing for jobs against the kids in india and china, not against the kids in the state next door. so we really do have to make sure that our kids can compete in the global marketplace .

>> all right, michelle . i want to tell you, when we went online and asked people are standardized tests the best way to have kids learn? we had 41 votes for yes, we had 5,692 votes for no. it's an issue that will continue to be debated. michelle rhee , nice to see you, thanks very much.

>> thank you.