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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Mitchell Robinson on Silencing Teachers

The One about Silencing Teachers, Retribution and the Smell of Fear from the Reformers...

I received the note below from a former student who is now a teacher. For obvious reasons, I won't identify her or where she teaches, but--shockingly--her story is becoming all too common...

"We had a union meeting yesterday where they warned us that the governor is going after the certificates of teachers that opted out their kids (of the state tests). The governor says it breaks our contract agreeing to protect and follow educational laws. Is this legal? Teachers are being targeted and warned to be extremely careful, especially on public media. I was just curious on your thoughts."

This theme of administrators and elected officials threatening teachers if they speak out publicly against tests, the Common Core State Standards, or other education policies seems to be growing stronger and louder recently, with reports of similar stories popping up in New Mexico (, Louisiana (, New York (, Arizona (, Missouri (, and Michigan (

In Rochester, NY, an email from an administrator to the city's principals asked them to keep a list of teachers who might have shared information on testing for possible disciplinary action:

"An email sent from a high-level Rochester City School District official to principals is causing concern among teachers.

Chief of Schools Beverly Burrell-Moore sent the email Monday afternoon to principals she supervises. The email asks them to share names of teachers who have encouraged parents to refuse to allow their children to take state exams. 
"Per your building, please identify teachers who have sent letters or made phone calls to parents encouraging them to opt out their children from the NYS Assessments.  Also, identify teachers who you have evidence as utilizing their classrooms as 'political soap boxes.'  I need this updated  information no later than Tuesday morning for follow-up," the email states. (
Audrey Amrein Beardsley, a professor of education at Arizona State University, and the author of one of my favorite education blogs on the web, VAMBOOZLED, reports: "New Mexico now requires teachers to sign a contractual document that they are not to 'diminish the significance or importance of the tests” or they could lose their jobs. Teachers are not to speak negatively about the tests or say anything negatively about these tests in their classrooms or in public; if they do they could be found in violation of their contracts.' Beardsley wonders about the legality, and even the constitutionality of this sort of action: 'As per a related announcement released by the ASBA, this “could have a chilling effect on the free speech rights of school and district officials' throughout the state but also (likely) beyond if this continues to catch on. School officials may be held 'liable for a $5,000 civil fine just for sharing information on the positive or negative impacts of proposed legislation to parents or reporters.'”

While there is no doubt that these moves are indeed a "chilling" development in the education "reform" movement, I believe that they also reveal a quickly growing sense of fear and confusion among those in the reform community regarding the viability of their agenda. Indeed, the surprising strength of the "Opt Out" movement in New York, where as many as 200,000 students have reportedly refused to sit for the state's tests, has led to 
calls demanding the resignation of Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the NYS Board of Regents.
If there is a silver lining to these threats it may be the impending crumbling of the reform agenda under the increased scrutiny from the public, the media and teachers. For far too long, policy "leaders" like Chancellor Tisch, Governors Cuomo, Kasich and Snyder, and Sec. of Education Duncan have responded to criticism of their agenda with either deafening silence or dismissive pandering, such as accusations that "painted parents as confused patsies of a labor action." Now, these feeble rejoinders are being exposed for what they have been all along: weak and arrogant responses to the legitimate demands for accountability from those so negatively impacted by these destructive policies.
These "leaders" are clearly scared, and they have every right to be. Now is the time to step up the pressure, and not let our voices be silenced. We are fighting for our students, our colleagues and our profession.
Let students learn, let teachers teach, and get the politicians out of education.
Mitchell Robinson
Mitchell Robinson is associate professor and chair of music education, and coordinator of the music student teaching programat Michigan State University. Robinson has held previous appointments as assistant professor and coordinator of the music education area at the University of Connecticut; assistant professor of school and community music education at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.; and director of wind activities and wind ensemble conductor at the University of Rochester. Robinson’s public school teaching experience includes 10 years as an instrumental music teacher, music department facilitator and high school assistant principal in Fulton, N.Y.
Robinson was awarded the 1997 Reston Prize from Arts Education Policy Review for his analysis of arts education policy, and the 1999 Research Award from the International Network of Performing and Visual Arts Schools. He recently concluded a term as Editor of the Music Educators Journal, and has served on the editorial/advisory boards of Arts Education Policy Review, the Journal of Music Teacher Education, the Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, the Music Educators Journal, the International Journal of Education and the Arts, Research and Issues in Music Education, and the Desert Skies Research Symposium. His publications have appeared in Arts Education Policy Review, Music Educators Journal, Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, Journal of Music Teacher Education, American Music Teacher, and the American School Board Journal. He was a chapter author for Great Beginnings for Music Teachers: Mentoring and Supporting New Teachers, published by MENC: The National Association for Music Education in 2003, and contributed a chapter to Teaching Music in the Urban Classroom, Volume 2: A Guide to Survival, Success, and Reform, published by Rowman & Littlefield Education. Robinson also contributed two chapters to the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research in American Music Education, and was asked to write the chapter on music (Music Teaching and Learning in a Time of Reform) for What Every Principal Needs to Know: Instructional Leadership for Equitable and Excellent Schools, which will be published this summer by Teachers College Press. Robinson also served for two years as scholar-in-residence for music for the Connecticut State Department of Education, where his work focused on beginning music teacher induction and support.
A founding member of the Instrumental Music Teacher Educators Association (IMTE), Robinson received B.F.A. degrees in music education and trumpet performancefrom the State University of New York at Buffalo, the M.M.Ed. from Hartt School of Music, a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration from the State University of New York-Oswego, and a Ph.D. in music education from the Eastman School of Music. He also pursued post-graduate studies in music education and conducting at Northwestern University.
Dr. Robinson lives in Okemos, MI, with his wife Cathy, an elementary music teacher, their two sons, Jacob and Drew, and Buddy the Dog.

Selected Publications

Book Chapters
Robinson, M. (2015).  A Tale of Two Institutions: Or . . .Myths and Musings on Work/Life Balance.  In Theoharis, G. and Dotger, S. (Eds.), On The High Wire: Education Professors Walk Between Work And Parenting.  NY: Information Age Press.
Robinson, M. (2014).  Changing the Conversation: Considering Quality in Music Education Qualitative Research. In Conway, C. (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research in American Music Education.  NY: Oxford University Press.
Robinson, M. (2014).  The Politics of Publication: Voices, Venues and Ethics. In Conway, C. (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research in American Music Education.  NY: Oxford University Press.


Robinson, M. (2012).  Music Teaching and Learning in a Time of Reform.  In Theoharis, G. and Brooks, J. (Eds.), What Every Principal Needs to Know to CreateEquitable and Excellent Schools.  NY: Teachers College Press.
Robinson, M. (2015).  The Inchworm and the Nightingale: On the (Mis)use of Data in Music Teacher Evaluation Arts Education Policy Review, 116, (1), 9-21.
From the Band Room to the General Music Classroom: Why Instrumentalists Choose to Teach General Music. (accepted for publication). Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 2010.

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