Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

The real reason a whistleblowing teacher was transferred

My nominee for most effective whistleblower in the D.C. school system, Erich Martel, has finally gone too far in the eyes of some school administrators.

Four years ago I wrote about a clumsy attempt to take his Advanced Placement U.S. history classes away from him after he exposed officials giving diplomas to ineligible students throughout the system. In March Martel offended again by creating anti-cheating materials — such as two versions of the same test with the pages in different order — that his principal complained were “creating an expectation that students will cheat.”

The principal, Peter Cahall of Wilson High School in Northwest Washington, told me then he was not trying to stifle Martel, just urging him to consider another perspective. That apparently meant the perspective of a school on the other side of town. In June, as my colleague Bill Turque has reported, instructional superintendent John Davis told Martel he was being involuntarily transferred to the Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in Northeast because of his “significant educational philosophy differences” with Cahall.

I've never heard that one before. The new D.C. teachers' contract says involuntary transfers can be made after consultation with the teacher for any reason except one: It cannot be done to discipline him. And D.C. schools assistant press secretary Fred Lewis was quick to say, “Mr. Martel was not transferred for disciplinary reasons."

Despite what the school system says, it looks to me like adminstrators' taking revenge on an irritating employee. Martel, a member of the Washington Teachers’ Union executive committee, is famous for exposing official misconduct and inattention. In the spring he told D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee that Cahall had allowed students with failing grades and many unexcused absences to take a senior trip to the Bahamas while school was in session, a charge still being investigated.

Is the transfer the best use of his talents? He has been teaching for 41 years, 25 of them at Wilson. Many students praise his AP classes. Phelps, on the other hand, is a revived version of an old school, just beginnng AP. So far Martel hasn't been given an AP class. He says he has always taught regular history as well as AP and is fine with his new classes. To me the transfer limits the impact he can have on students.

Davis acknowledged that the dispute over Martel’s using different versions of the same test to frustrate cheating was one reason he was transferred. Another was his campaign against requiring teachers to cater to students’ different learning styles.

I think Cahall is wrong in both cases. Anti-cheating measures didn’t injure my youthful self-image. Much research indicates that appealing to different learning styles has no effect.

The third issue that led to the transfer, Davis said, was Martel’s opposition to enrolling students in AP even if they don’t want to. There I am on Cahall’s side. We don’t let students decide if they are going to learn to read. These days a taste of a college level course in high school is nearly as important.

Martel says AP benefits only the students willing to prepare consistently for each class. But I have seen AP teachers successfully motivate slackers with praise and persistence. I agree with Martel, however, that his reasoned disagreement with Cahall on AP is no cause for a transfer.

Martel says for now he is focusing on his students at Phelps, a selective school whose 2010 scores were above the D.C. average. He might eventually teach AP again. Let's hope he doesn't develop any philosophical differences with his new principal. Losing Erich Martel would be a blow to a district that should make maximum use of its best teachers.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | September 5, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  Erich Martel, Peter Cahall, principal and teacher disagreed over AP and learning styles, principal disliked teacher's anti-cheating methods, principal transfers teacher to distant school because of philosophical disagreements  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: How AP and IB mess up college enrollment
Next: Why 17-year-olds' scores have stalled since the '70s


very rarely do I comment on this blog and even more rarely do I have a positive comment on this blog. However, after reading the headline I was excited that, finally, this blog would have something I agree with. However, I was disappointed again. It started in the right direction, but it failed miserably when it woefully mischaracterized the issue of who takes AP. Shame on Matthew's once again. This time it is even worse because he sets up a charade pretending to be balanced and give the illusion that the post might reasonably and fairly cover DCPS and just might point out some of the destruction Rhee has wrought.

At least, Jay, you could have had the decency especially given your "favorite whistleblower" title for Martel to present the facts as well as your opinion so readers could decide for themselves.

How hard would it have been to link to the transcript of John Davis' meeting with Martel, and the letter from John Davis to Martel as well as Rhee's letter to Martel?

Further, why not give Martel the opportunity to defend himself? Why couldn't you also link (I didn't say print) to a letter or document where Martel has a chance to share his side.

Once again, this column disgusts me.

I strongly invite readers to look at the "primary artifacts" themselves and formulate their own opinion.

All relevant documents are linked here:

Posted by: mfalcon | September 5, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

School administration is about control, power, and money. The sooner you figure that out, the sooner you writings will reflect reality.

I almost forgot that Rhee is in this "for the kids"

Posted by: mamoore1 | September 5, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Jay - your analogy of kids don't want to read but we teach them anyway is the same as enrolling kids against their will into AP classes is not only untrue and absurd, but it completely misses the real issue.

The issue is simple: DCPS high schools are once again trying to game metrics to show success. Hence, they are forcing kids (assigning and scheduling kids against their will) to take AP classes so they can prop up the metric of the percentage of kids taking AP classes.


Are you seriously suggesting we enroll kids in courses they will fail? What is the point?

THis is how Columbia Heights Educational Campus made it on your (Jay's) challenge index! As a member of the faculty of the school described in his "anurbanteacherseducation" blog described what was happening:

"Many new and inexperienced teachers have been given AP courses to teach without having been sent to AP training, without having seen or passed the AP test themselves, without getting the AP course approved by College Board, and without giving their consent to teach an AP course."

Another former faculty member told me that Level 1 ELL students (students with the lowest english proficiency) were enrolled in AP English at CHEC.

Jay---how does that make sense?????

We need real school reform NOT metic gaming. Erich Martel is absolutely correct---it is meaningless and even damaging to force students to take classes that there are not qualified for.

How does it make sense? How is that AP English class the right class for Level 1 ELL students? It is not challenging that student, it is not having high expectations for that student. Instead it shows that DCPS doesn't care about that student or his/her needs. Instead it shows that the only thing DCPS cares about are metrics that can bolster Michelle Rhee's national reputation.

SHAME ON YOU FOR PUTTING MICHELLE RHEE'S preoccupation with being a celebrity AHEAD OF STUDENTS!

Posted by: mfalcon | September 5, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Go Mfalcon! Keep Jay straight!

Also, Go Jay -- I do give you credit for strongly supporting Martel as far as you felt you could.

Most of all - Go Erich Martel - keep on exposing the idiocy of Rhee's school reform that rewards low-performing students with trips during school time and penalizes high-performing students by taking away their successful AP teachers.

Posted by: efavorite | September 5, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

I agree with most of this story except the part about requiring AP classes. A student should be encouraged to take on more challenging work but you really can't force someone to learn AP courses. Frankly, it's not worth the bother for teachers. If the school really wants students to do AP work, they need to get the parents on board more than anything. They're the ones who will be listening to the complaints.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | September 5, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Jay, these kinds of tactics happen everyday in public schools across America. Most "vocal" teachers aren't transferred to other schools...they're just abruptly moved(transferred)to a different grade-level to shut them up. Often times, the teachers who are moved to a different grade-level are excellent and "very aware" teachers. These abrupt grade-level transfers limit the impact those experienced teachers have on students. Those teachers are then forced to start over again and learn a new grade-level or other teaching related job. It shuts them up real quick. This tactic also hurts students who need an experienced grade-level teacher in their classroom.

It's a game. The more vocal you are as a teacher, the more you are moved around. This is why teachers are afraid. This is why teachers have become silent. They are driven by fear. It's a sick way to make a living and I am in awe of how many teachers hang on to their careers when they are treated like dirt. Many of the teachers who are targeted are excellent teachers...more experienced, knowledgeable teachers who are not afraid to speak out.

If I were you, I would stop my expensive trips to go visit your beloved KIPP charter schools, and find out what's REALLY going on with teachers in public education. Find out how they are treated and how that impacts students' learning. The reality will upset you. Teacher abuse reaches far and wide across America. Or, maybe you already know all of this and choose not to report about the numerous abuses. Either way, it's your column, your image, and you've been given the forum to report anything you want. You can shape and mold public perception, Jay. That's a lot of power.

Posted by: Teacherreality | September 5, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

For the several commenters concerned about the Post's influence in education.

Its clout is sinking fast in just about every sphere because of obvious quality problems in news reporting and opinion writing. Its financial performance trend, though it may blip up now and then, has a strongly downward vector. Its website remains a bloody disaster financially and in terms of look and content. It has lost most of its strong reporters and columnists. The other media quote it less frequently. And it gets less notice in its hometown. Scoops are really rare.

In line with conspiracy theories and plots that anti-changers in the ed. field seem to need and nurture, worries about Post influence are far fetched. It would be hard indeed to prove that the Post's education content has moved any mountains, regardless of some thoughtful columns and occasionally correct and balanced news stories. Worry about something else.

Posted by: axolotl | September 5, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

mfalcon complains that Mathews has not linked to the transcript of the Martel/Davis meeting; but the transcript can also not be found at the dcpswatch web page that mfalcon cites. It can, however, be found here:

I was mystified by mfalcon's rant. Mathews disagrees with Martel on the merits of what policy should be WRT placement in AP classes but he solidly supports Martel over being reassigned in punishment for being a squeaky wheel, including being reassigned for speaking his mind on the AP assignment issue: "I agree with Martel, however, that his reasoned disagreement with Cahall on AP is no cause for a transfer."

Thanks for covering this controversy.

Posted by: DCUSince96 | September 5, 2010 11:14 PM | Report abuse

Jay, in thinking about this blog I have a serious question for you . As a former AP teacher I always felt that part of what made my classes really work was that the students were into it, and were enthusiastic enough about the benefits to make their extra effort worthwhile. ( I tought AP chem in a large urban So Cal School to a student population that was very low ses but who saw AP results as an important part of getting a UC scholarship). I can claim that my classes really worked on the basis of tripling the number of enrolled students over a 3 year period. Not everyone got a 5, but we sure tried. My question is how you came to your conclusion about students forced into AP. Have you found many successful AP teachers who support this view, or did you get it somewhere else? Thanks in advance for your thoughtful answer.

Posted by: mamoore1 | September 6, 2010 12:04 AM | Report abuse


Do you pay tuition and send kids to college who do not wish to be there? I don't.

There is a huge difference in many Community College day class and night classes. Often the evening classes are filled with students who work during the day and wish to better themselves and work in class as well.

Often the day classes are filled with many students who do little work.

I suggest that AP classes are for those that sign up for them. It helps for AP Calculus if they also have prerequisite skills.

The Wilson principal is indicative of many of today's principals ... he and others like him contribute mightily to the lack of achievement in secondary schools.

It would be good if every teacher at Wilson had huge differences with principal Cahill's nonsense ideology.

MARTEL Rocks !!!

Posted by: WestSeattleDan | September 6, 2010 2:27 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the link and your insightful comments. This dialogue between Martel and the administrator from the District highlights perfectly the respective positions of the "throw everyone into AP crowd" and the majority view from AP teachers that motivation is a critical element.

Jay and I had a similar dialogue about this a couple of years ago.

Oh and the evidence for different learning styles and more to the point whether we can develop effective strategies to teach to them (if they exist) is certainly not conclusive. In any event loved Martel's comment suggesting he be given the student's particular learning styles.

And as a former AP teacher, I would consider it practically educational malpractice NOT to give classes different forms of the tests. Of course kids will cheat, if you don't take measures to prevent it. The idea that you are somehow creating an expectation to cheat by attempting to head it off is so naive that it strikes me that the administrator was really grasping at straws to get rid of this "troublemaker."

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | September 6, 2010 2:47 AM | Report abuse

Martel is a good teacher, but an unruly employee opposed to the direction of management. He may be right in some cases; he may be wrong, but you can't have a member of the crew pointing the ship in a different direction than the captain. Had he worked in the private sector he would have been recognized as a high contributor, but a misfit and fired years ago, but because he works in the parallel universe of public education he still has a job. Erich, count your blessings.

Posted by: citizenone | September 6, 2010 6:11 AM | Report abuse

Putting kids into AP classes who are not ready or interested is, in fact, a way to "boost the numbers" and appear on the list of "best schools" every year.

It is no similar to putting huge numbers of kids into 7th grade Algebra; this is a very important piece of the program at my local DC middle school, Deal. The truth is, when these kids hit a serious Algebra II curriculum in 9th grade, many of them completely bomb. They struggle to keep up, hire multiple tutors, because they were simply not developmentally ready in 7th grade. In reality, only the most gifted math students should take Algebra in 7th grade.

But . . . Deal gets to say, "wow -- look at how many of our kids take Algebra in 7th grade!" It really is a joke and does not serve the kids' interests. By the way, parents play a role in this, too. They want to boast to all of their friends that their precocious little 7th grade darlings are in Algebra. Between the administrators and the parents, the kids' best interests get pushed aside.

Posted by: trace1 | September 6, 2010 7:35 AM | Report abuse

One more thing: when my kids moved to private school in 7th grade, it seemed like only a small group of kids had Algebra; most were in a very challenging pre-Algebra class. I think the private schools are much less concerned about numbers, and care much more about developmental readiness.

Posted by: trace1 | September 6, 2010 7:39 AM | Report abuse

While I did allow any and all to enroll in my AP Physics class after a year of physics, I also have to say that "forcing" students into these classes is probably a mistake. To the post that bemoans Jay's trips to KIPP schools, well, I have to agree. Mr. Matthews consistently shows himself to be little more than a dilettante when it comes to secondary education.

I was formerly an AP Physics teacher who was able to convince my students to apply to, and ultimately be successful at some of the best technical universities in the country. But, partly because of the propensity for image over reality as practiced by administrators, and unwittingly encouraged by people such as Jay, I left teaching high school and am now lecturing in engineering at a branch campus of a "major research university" in PA.

I guess they showed me....

Posted by: willismg1959 | September 6, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse

citizenone - consider that a Martel-type in private industry could also be recognized and promoted for offering good ideas that would truly boost the bottom line.

Posted by: efavorite | September 6, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

In large schools, I could envision 2 levels of AP: one for students with all the prerequisites (courses, good grades in that subject the previous year, and stated desire to take the class). Another for those with less preparation, but willingness or stated desire to take the class. But no enrollment in an AP class for students who resist the idea. For them, do some work to make all 'college prep" classes more challenging. This is not impossible.

Posted by: jane100000 | September 6, 2010 8:51 AM | Report abuse

FYI: the DCPS Watch site, (which does work), has all the documents related to the Martel case:
Only the transcript of the Martel/Davis converstion is at the site mentioned above.

Posted by: efavorite | September 6, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse


I know your preference is to focus on the AP exams and cheating things since you have talked about them before. However, if you look at the materials that were sent to the IG (on the links provided by mfalcon) you will also see allegations that Assistant Principals falsified IMPACT scores.

To me, that is bigger then one teacher, or disagreement over AP policy. I've been told by teachers at Wilson that they were not observed for the third IMPACT cycle. This is what we talk about when we say that administrators aren't doing their job to get rid of ineffective teachers. How can any of the IMPACT scores be taken seriously when an administrator has just made them up?

Posted by: Wyrm1 | September 6, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

To citizenone:

Are you familiar with the phrase "academic freedom"? Your comment is absurd. Education is not a business and that is one of the biggest problems in our nation's educational system today.

Teachers are and have been the real voice of reform---not testing companies or self-serving chancellors singularly focused on building and maintaining a national reputation.

To DCUSince96:

Did you read the same article? Did you read the last paragraph? At no point did Jay Matthews condemn the transfer. He said he agrees that a difference of opinion on AP should not be a reason to be transferred. Then he said only hopes that Martel not leave DCPS. Matthew's did not say the transfer was wrong and he did not condemn it and he absolutely did not say Martel should return to Wilson. According to John Davis' absurd letter Martel was NOT transferred because of a difference in opinion over the single issue of who enrolls in AP. Matthew's article was simply a Rhee rubberstamp wearing a costume of supporting Martel. Please be thoughtful in your reading (e.g. critical literacy) and responses.

Posted by: mfalcon | September 6, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Martel has discovered the secret to making the school district afraid of HIM, instead of the other way around.

The trick is to complain to organizations and agencies OUTSIDE of the district, such as the newspaper, police, social services, OSHA and the city, state and federal governments. Many crimes and improprieties occur at high schools so it should be easy for Martel and other older teachers to wield their own kind of power.

Did the teachers write up a report about sexual harassment and send it to district office where it was buried on someone's desk? Forget it. They should send that same report to the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights. I guarantee they'll get a response. And, by the way, it is against federal laws to retaliate against an employee who makes a good faith complaint.

Mr. Martel, go man. Soon you'll see fear in the eyes of administrators, if you don't already! And don't forget about the federal "Whisteblower Law." If you discover that federal money is being misappropriated, you can get 10% of the recovered funds. Look closely at special education where children are often cheated out of books and services. Good luck!

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | September 6, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Great coments, and so early on a holiday. I am wllling to take my lumps, and would have linked to the full and fascinating Martel-Davis dialogue if I had been smart enough to know where it was. (Kind people sent it to me. That's what you get for being too helpful to the elderly.
On the question of requiring AP, or at least trying to drag uncertain kids into those classes, I realize I am part of a tiny minority that thinks this is a good idea. But I have seen the great work done by those few teachers who are part of our little club, and have proven they can do wonders with slackers. If anyone wants to know how I developed such an odd point of view, I recommend a fun read about a great man: "Escalante: The Best Teacher in America." The book is now 22 years old, but it stands up well, at least in my mind. I wrote it at an impressionable age, 42, and what I watched Escalante and other Garfield teachers do is what convinced me that far more kids would benefit from AP than now take it.
I also think Jane100000's suggestion is a good one. Several years ago I made the same proposal in a speech and, trying to be provocative, called it "AP for Dummies." But it has great merit, and if we forgot about my snarky label, I think it would work.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 6, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

It amazes me how little these discussions focus on what is happening to the students! In my district and state High Schools get a school grade which translates into substantial bonuses for administrators. One part of that grade is the percent students enrolled in AP and other high level courses. When this was instituted last year several High schools started taking any student with a passing grade on the state test and putting them as freshmen into AP courses. Now imagine your child making the already substantial transition to high school being put in a course intended for juniors and seniors and being way over their heads and failing and dropping out halfway through the first semester (after the counts for school grades are done). What a great way to start your High School career! For a conscientious student this could be a disastrous blow to their expectations for themselves and could affect their entire academic career. But those administrators were working on that bonus! Just one more example of how so called Merit pay will cause people to game the system and how the philosophy of "reform" is very damaging to our children!

Posted by: kmlisle | September 6, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

When I was in junior high, my school experimented with different levels of 8th grade classes. The idea was that students could take the top level if they were very interested or very good in that subject and take level 2 if they were ordinary students, and there were lower levels for those who were having trouble. We were told that we could choose which level suited us, but when I had my scheduling conference, I wanted to take a level 2 math--partly because of lack of interest in math and partly because I there were enough level one students in my 7th-grade class for me to know I was not on their level. But the principal refused, arguing that I had excellent grades and would get along fine. I worked harder on math than any subject, had stomach-aches all year, cried while doing my homework,and unsuccessfully begged my parents to intervene and get me moved to another level. Formerly an "A" and "B" student, I got straight C's in math, my other grades dropped, and I had constant battles with my parents over whether I was studying hard enough. I did better in high school (with the help of my neighbor who was very good in math and corrected my homework on the bus every morning), but I deliberately chose a college and a program that did not require me to take any math classes. I had nightmares about taking math tests for 20 years.

And this was just a class made up of good students. If I had been forced into an AP class, I probably would have killed myself to avoid it. Literally--as it was, I thought about it.

NO student should ever be forced into an advanced class in any subject against his will, anymore than Mr. Mathews should have been forced to study engineering or ballet instead of journalism.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | September 6, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

"EM: I have always made my feelings known. I think that we need to take ability and motivation into account. I don’t like to use the term ability, as it implies that it is a static amount, rather then something that can change based on motivation and interest. If a student can do well or even has a small chance of doing well then I think that it is fine if they take the AP class. However, some students are unwilling to do the writing and reading that is necessary to succeed in an AP class. I don’t see how saying this is a problem. We could just enroll everyone in AP classes like they did at Coolidge, but that is not serving kids.

JD: There are situations where it has worked, data where it has worked, such as at Bell Multicultural.

EM: It hasn’t worked there either. The key word is achievement. It is not just being in an AP class like they do at Bell, but succeeding in that AP class. I don’t think it does the students any good to just be a statistic."

Jay, I understand you are heading over to CHEC.
Care to get the data Mr. Davis refers to so we can determine his veracity.

Posted by: edlharris | September 6, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

I believe most readers are missing the point. The Martel case has very little to do with student learning. It has little to do with academic freedom. (academic freedom is reserved for university and college professors not high school teachers)

The Martel case revolves around a union operative trying to circumvent reform in the guise of "what is best for the student". If Martel wants to steer the ship he needs to leave the union and get his administrative certification.

Posted by: citizenone | September 6, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

academic freedom is reserved for university and college professors not high school teachers

Where on earth did you come up with this bit of misinformation? Sorry, most successful districts realize its importance. The best thing DCPS could do would be to stop pretending to be a "National leader" and to study and copy what works in districts that way out preform it.

Posted by: mamoore1 | September 6, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Despite some court opinions in the USA to the contrary, academic freedom does not apply to teachers in elementary and high schools. The following reasons for distinguishing school teachers from university professors can be mentioned:

* School teachers teach well-known facts and methods (e.g., reading, writing, arithmetic, history) to their pupils. University professors not only teach cutting-edge knowledge to their advanced students, but also professors are actively involved in the creation of new knowledge and new methods.

* School teachers rarely write scholarly works that are published in archival journals or books. University professors are routinely expected to write scholarly works that are published in peer-reviewed archival publications.

* School teachers have pupils who are between 5 and 18 years of age, while university professors have students who are at least 18 years of age (i.e., old enough to vote in political elections in the USA). Public policy is abundantly clear that law will provide more protection and governmental regulation for children (i.e., school pupils) than for adults (i.e., university students). Schools inculcate "American values" in pupils, while university students are free to make their own conclusions. Indeed, pupils are required by law to attend school, while it is optional and voluntary for students to attend universities.

* School teachers usually have only a bachelor's or master's degree with a major subject of "education". University professors generally have earned a doctoral degree in the subject that they teach and do research.

* As a result of the greater regulation of children than adults, and as a result of the differences in academic qualifications of school teachers and university professors:
o School teachers use textbooks that are chosen by state educational committees. University professors make their own selection of textbooks for classes that they teach.

o School teachers are required to follow a standard syllabus that comes from the administration. In advanced courses, university professors make their own syllabus and determine for themselves the course content, methods, etc. (i.e., individual control and autonomy). In elementary courses, university professors follow a syllabus that is written by a committee of professors in that department at that university (i.e., control by local colleagues, not by remote management).

Posted by: citizenone | September 6, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, you don't have the slightest idea about what you are talking about. Why don't you check with different districts and find out their specific policies.

Posted by: mamoore1 | September 6, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse


Great job on comparing public school (elementary & secondary) to university professors. Very thoughtful.

However, (1): who would want to be the public school teacher outlined in that article, (2) where do you find those teachers anyway, and (3) have you talked to Rhee---because she has done away with all curriculum, pacing guides, etc.

So for DCPS, it is not an appropriate description. Rhee eliminated curriculum and curriculum requirements and instead has instituted a "framework" where "rock stars" come in and create their own curriculum from scratch and personally solve all problems in education.

Posted by: mfalcon | September 6, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

"But I have seen AP teachers successfully motivate slackers with praise and persistence."

No you haven't! Mathews, you aren't familiar with the inner workings of any classroom because you haven't been in one for more than a few minutes. Does it ever bother you how often you have to fantasize to make your points about education.

If you had an ounce of self-awareness or a shred of integrity you'd resign from Kaplan Sub-Prime University's Washington Post Company.

Posted by: natturner | September 6, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

"But I have seen AP teachers successfully motivate slackers with praise and persistence."

Sounds nice, I'd like to hear from other AP teachers on this point
I always had summer readings which were expected. If you had not done them you were rather behind. Also at the pace AP science classes require if a student is not on board at the beginning only a very exceptional learner could catch up.

Posted by: mamoore1 | September 6, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

This kind of teacher "transfer" can happen even to union members. Imagine what the job would be like without the union.

Posted by: pittypatt | September 6, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Well, if Martel was supported by his so-called "teacher's" union, then why did his transfer take place? Seems like the union would have stepped in to prevent it, especially since Martel did not agree to the transfer. From I have been learning, unions support the "system", not the teachers. This case certainly provides evidence for that.

I agree with natturner, Jay. I can't fathom that you are in enough classrooms for enough time to really be able to tell what goes on. While you are in the classroom, of course, the teacher is going to show his/her best face. As would anyone, including myself. Also, clearly Escalante was a cream of the crop teacher. But there are very few Escalantes, sadly. They are an extinct dinosaur breed. But why was his teaching career so short? Why was even he pushed out of the system?

His story and the story of so many other good and ethical teachers can be read at Too many teachers are being forced to move on when their "philosophy" doesn't agree with the principal's. Translation: When they refuse to carry out unethical practices without questioning.

Teacherreality is spot on!

Posted by: concerned36 | September 6, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

"But I have seen the great work done by those few teachers who are part of our little club, and have proven they can do wonders with slackers."
This is most infuriating logic- proposing that policy should be set according to exceptional case anecdotes and ignore statistical reality.

"Despite some court opinions in the USA to the contrary, academic freedom does not apply to teachers in elementary and high schools."
Would love to have you cite some court cases that support this proposition. It may be true that teachers K-12 have less academic freedom than say professors, but to suggest that it doesn't apply, no way.

Bottom line here though is that Martel may have been a rabble-rouser but with the evidence here so far it's pretty clear that the District would have trouble sustaining its burden that the teacher was not being disciplined for asserting his rights.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | September 6, 2010 6:45 PM | Report abuse

If the administrator, Cahall, is abusing his authority by misusing taxpayer money, then he needs to be exposed at the very least. Most teachers look the other way because they are afraid. Erich Martel has shown incredible courage in standing tall against wrongs. Martel should be lauded, not transfered.

The bottom line is that Erich Martel should be returned to his AP classes at Wilson High School. A successful teacher should not be removed from his school because he is a whistleblower or because he does not agree with the teaching theories of the principal, i.e., learning styles. He also should not be removed because he is an effective union leader.

The state of California has different versions of its standards tests. Does that mean that the state of CA is "creating an expectation that students will cheat"? That's ridiculous!

Finally, in this day of high stakes teacher accountability, both the principal and Jay Mathews are wrong about forcing students into taking AP classes. If students, who don't have the motivation, are forced to take the AP classes and then perform poorly on the AP exams, then the teacher will be considered at fault. It won't be Jay Mathews or Cahall who will considered at fault. Not all students belong in AP classes.

Posted by: patabarca | September 7, 2010 1:57 AM | Report abuse


You mentioned: "I recommend a fun read about a great man: "Escalante: The Best Teacher in America.""

WA DC is reform math centered at the bottom with the incoherent Everyday Math. Escalante would not have set foot in a place that had such poor materials and a my way or highway superintendent.

The WA DC Rhee Management's attitude is remarkably similar to why Jaime left Garfield.

Posted by: WestSeattleDan | September 7, 2010 3:53 AM | Report abuse

WestSeattle Dan is right on the mark. No quality teacher wants to work in the abusive, dishonest environment that Rhee, and her hand-picked lieutenants like Cahall, create.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 7, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

For WestSeattleDAn---there are many reasons why Jaime left Garfield, but the most important in descending order were: Rudy Crew offered him elite status with a specially designed classroom in Sacramento, the other math teachers had voted him out of office as math department chair, and his wife hated the spraying to stop a medfly epidemic in their neighborhood in Monrovia.

for natturner---My classroom visits are usually at least a couple of hours. I spent four hours in Rafe Esquith's classroom this summer and for my books centering on Garfield High, Mamaroneck High, Mt. Vernon High and the KIPP schools, some visits were all day, and there were scores of them over the three or four years it took me to report each of those books. As you say, you can't get much out of a couple of minutes.

for mfalcon--my apologies. I really to have to learn to write a clear column. I think the transfer of Martel was wrong.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 7, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company