One Nail a Day

In our town we had a high school teacher, I’ll call him Harlen, who, as a young man, was one of the first prisoners taken by the Japanese in World War II. He was a construction worker on Wake Island and was captured when the island fell on December 23, 1941. As a prisoner throughout the war, he endured beatings, a starvation diet, and was forced to help construct roads, bridges, and fortifications for his captors. One of the stories he told me stands out as a model of resistance that we might apply today in our struggle to regain control of our local public schools.

Harlen and his fellow prisoners faced beatings and even death for shirking work or resisting in any way what was required of them. To maintain their personal dignity they felt they had to do something so each prisoner stole one nail a day from the project and tossed it away where it could not be used. If caught with one nail a minor beating might ensue but the prisoner would likely survive. A handful of nails could be disastrous. A small effort? Yes, but over weeks and months each prisoner was able to feel they were contributing to the war effort and it was well worth the risk.

We all know that powerful groups are controlling the fate of our public schools and the futures of the children who attend them. Parents feel marginalized and worry that their actions might bring unwanted attention to their children. Many teachers, principals and other school workers fear for their jobs should they speak out in opposition to high-stakes testing, Common Core, or other misguided policies that narrow opportunities for learning and attempt to standardize our children. My question is, “What is your nail?” What can you, as an individual, do every day to slow the juggernaut?

Here is one suggestion to get you started. Check out the model handouts prepared by Defend-Ed. Copy, modify if you like, and send one to your state legislator. Tomorrow you can send one to the school board president. The next day, ….. You get the idea. A small effort, but over time you and your friends and colleagues can have a tremendous impact as the circles widen and deepen into a tsunami of change.

Get your first nail here:

Check out the Forum section of Defend-Ed for a whole box of nails.

High-Stakes Handout

5 Things every parent should know about high-stakes standardized testing.

1. These tests are untested.

Validation requires the test developer to show that the test actually measures what it claims to measure. This has never been done for these tests.

2. These tests don’t tell us where we can improve.

Many assessments such as classroom and performance tests have diagnostic and instructional value but high-stakes standardized tests have no such value. Teachers and students are barred from seeing the direct results of the tests to discover what went wrong.

3. The tests distort what and how teachers teach.

What gets measured is what gets done, and not much else gets done. The tests cut out instruction in subjects not tested.

4. The tests have shown no positive results.

After more than a decade of standards and testing accountability efforts there has been virtually no increase in achievement outcomes.

5. The tests are incredibly costly in both time and money.

It is estimated that as much as a third of the school year is spent preparing students for the tests. The dollar cost is enormous as well including an estimated 2 billion dollars per year for the tests and scoring and huge additional amounts needed for the computer upgrades required for projected online testing.

5 Things you can do to stop the use of these tests on your child.

1. Share this message with your friends and form a group to fight for change.

2. Send this message to your state legislator demanding an end to this testing.

3. Send this message to your local school board with a letter asking them for support in ending high-stakes testing.

4. Use this information to write a letter to the editor demanding change.

5. Most importantly, refuse* to allow your child to be tested on these high-stakes standardized tests.

*For help in drafting your refusal letter go to

5 Things PDF suitable for printing