Jesse Turner has lost almost 60 pounds since he started a protest walk from his home in New Britain, Conn. in June that will end in Washington, D.C.
The distance is approximately 300 miles, but he feels the effort is well worth it, especially when the issue is the nation’s education policy, an issue the former teacher feels passionately about.
Turner, 55, a Hoboken native who grew up in downtown Jersey City, is opposed to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, and is leading a movement he calls “Children Are More Than Test Scores.”
Currently the director of Central Connecticut State University’s Literacy Center, Turner takes offense at policies that he feels are too dependent on standardized test scores and that punish schools with failing scores.
“It’s hard to be a teacher.” – Jesse Turner
States trying to achieve the reforms set down under this program compete for federal funds.
However, Turner, in a recent interview, sees these programs as promising results without providing the resources to achieve those results.
“Study after study of No Child Left Behind, for example, shows it’s had little or no effect on student achievement,” Turner said. “This is costing lots and lots of money, which I would put into hiring thousands of new teachers and tutors.”
Turner will wrap up his walk on Labor Day, Sept. 6, when he is scheduled to speak at American University in Washington D.C. about his trip and about education policy. As of end of last week, Turner was in Maryland, where he is pausing for speaking engagements along the route of his walk.
Some talking and listening
Turner made a stop in downtown Jersey City on Aug. 18, and addressed local residents about his mission. A small group gathered in the back of La Conguita Restaurant on the corner of Bay and Grove streets in downtown Jersey City.
Turner reminisced about his old haunts around Hamilton Park in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when it was not quite the gentrified, genteel green space that it is now, recalling old friends who died from drugs and violence.
Turner also looked back at his teachers at Ferris High School who influenced him with their dedication and devotion to their profession to pursue his current vocation. He said that the current education reform and political environment has created an atmosphere hostile to the teaching profession, forcing many good teachers to retire from a profession much more demanding than people think.
“It’s hard to be a teacher,” Turner said. “I turn around and tell people, ‘You think it’s easy, try teaching 125 first grade kids.’”
Turner also pointed out that No Child Left Behind has led to teachers having to spend as much three months out of the school year preparing students for their standardized tests rather than just teaching basic skills.
Alexis Wesley, a college classmate of Turner at NJCU, is currently working in the Jersey City public school system as a literacy coach. She was impressed by Turner’s stance.
“I think what he is doing is incredible,” Wesley said. “I hope he can get his voice heard.”
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.