Archives for category: Education Reform

This is a fascinating article about the New Orleans Recovery School District, that appeared in the International Business Times.

Which children were left behind? Who benefitted by the expansion of choice to cover the entire district? It describes the special education students who were pushed from school to school. The students who were suspended again and again for minor infractions. The high school graduation rate, still far behind the state rate.

Broader measures show a rejuvenated school system. ACT scores in the state-run district increased from 14.5 in 2007 to 16.4 in 2014, and far fewer students in the majority-black district attend schools deemed failing. The proportion of Orleans Parish high school graduates enrolling in college has grown more than 20 percent since 2004.[ed. note: a score of 16.4 is very low, too low for admission to four-year colleges.]

But parents of children like Jeremiah feel left out. Critics worry that many children, particularly those with behavioral needs, fell through the cracks. And newly available data from independent researchers, corroborated by former district employees, suggest that due to misreporting, official graduation rates may be overstated by several percentage points.

In relinquishing oversight to independent charter operators, former employees say, district authorities lost sight of at-risk students. Under stiff pressure to improve numbers or face closure, schools culled students and depressed dropout rates. And as families muddled through a complex and decentralized system, a sizable contingent of at-risk students may have left the system unrecorded.

“With an open system like that, it’s relatively easy to misreport information and fudge it,” says Clinton Baldwin, who coordinated the district’s student data from 2012 to 2014. “It was definitely something that was prevalent.”

Meanwhile, for the parents of the most difficult-to-teach students, the notion of school choice seemed to become a mirage.

“It’s not what you decide,” Osbey says. “It’s what they decide for you.”

The good news in the article is that the charter leaders are paying attention to the local critics and making changes.


The RSD, facing community pressure, has made substantial efforts to ensure students don’t get pushed out. A new enrollment system allows families to list their top eight picks. A lottery-like algorithm matches kids to schools so no one is excluded.

And a centralized expulsion system, designed in consultation with community groups, has curbed schools’ abilities to dump students for minor misbehavior, such as talking back to a teacher or violating dress codes. The state reports that expulsions dropped 39 percent last year.

“We listened to the community,” says Superintendent Dobard. “Parents have more opportunities now that the district is decentralized to make their voices and concerns heard.”

The efforts of people like Clinton Baldwin and Karran Harper Royal, the special education advocate, reflect a less-recognized current of reform that has characterized the post-Katrina recovery. Though outsiders largely defined the course of institutional reforms, native New Orleanians have made them more equitable.

“Many of the local critics of this system have led to dramatic changes,” says Stone, the head of the reform outfit New Schools for New Orleans.

That’s true in the charter community as well. “I’ve seen a big shift in the last five years,” says Gubitz, the principal at the K-8 Renew Cultural Arts Academy. “We are all listening more.”

Although there are powerful forces who want New Orleans to be a national model for urban districts–fire all the teachers, get rid of the unions, recruit Teach for America, replace public schools with privately managed charters–we should all look more deeply into the consequences of these changes in New Orleans before adopting it in other cities.

Denis Smith worked in the charter school office of the Ohio Department of Education. He knows the problems of oversight of these deregulated schools.

In this post, he proposes 10 reforms to rein in corruption and malfeasance in Ohio’s charter sector.

The major reform that is needed is financial transparency. All schools–public and charter–should be subject to public audit.

Most of his recommendations focus on the misuse of public funds, for example, to pay for celebrity endorsements and advertising.

Here are his top three recommendations:

“#3: Administrative qualifications. Incredibly, there are no minimum educational or professional licensure requirements for charter school administrators. This situation needs to be addressed immediately if all charter reform efforts are to be viewed as substantive. After all, school is about education.

“#2: Citizenship requirement. In traditional school districts, board members have to be qualified voters – citizens – in order to serve as overseers of public funds. News reports in the last year have focused on one charter school chain where some of the board members and administrators may not be American citizens. If charter proponents want to emphasize the word public in the term public charter school, they should also agree that requiring American citizenship for board members is a no-brainer for the charter industry.

“And the Number One Needed Charter School Reform –

“Get the money out!

“The influence of charter moguls David Brennan and William Lager on the Ohio Republican party is well-known. Money talks, and in charter world, money speaks loudly. Public funds – the profits gained from running privately operated schools with public money – should not be allowed to unduly influence legislators. The fact that HB 2 stalled at the very time that another $91,726 arrived to replenish state Republican campaign coffers is no coincidence.”

Philip Lanoue, superintendent of the Clarke County public schools, wrote a strong column opposing Governor Nathan Deal’s plan to takeover “low-performing” schools. Deal wants to copy Tennessee’s faltering “Achievement School District,” which has shown no progress in the past four years. Why anyone would copy a failed model is puzzling.

Lanoue cites several reasons for opposing the state takeovers, the most fundamental being the elimination of local control of schools. He may not have known when he wrote this article that elimination of local control is

He writes:

The Opportunity School District superintendent will have final decision-making authority over all aspects of the school, which would no longer be under the control of local superintendents and school boards. This is in direct contrast to current governance structures in public and charter schools, which require checks and balances through board governance models. In addition, the superintendent would have sole authority to select schools that qualify as “failing” schools. This does not align with the current movement to have more local control, as the selection of schools does not require any level of input by the State Board of Education, local boards of education, local school districts, governance entities or communities. The current budget for this program includes 3 percent administrative costs, and is concerning in this time when public education budgets are already suffering.
Here in Athens-Clarke County, a governance model based on democracy is a cornerstone of how we operate — as it is across the state. To take away democratic principles is monumental and allows Georgia communities to be stripped of their identities as having primary responsibility of educating their children. To impact schools and communities, we must take a collaborative and comprehensive approach to reform centered on the creation of dynamic learning environments strongly joined with quality early literacy; physical and mental health care; and positive and safe home and school environments. In a time where collaboration is the key to systemic change, simply changing governance as the key to reform has a greater result of creating divisions — not unity.
Educators, school boards and local school communities have the ultimate responsibility for providing engaging learning environments that ensure all students achieve. To change the Georgia Constitution to take away that responsibility will fragment communities across the state, and sets a very dangerous precedent for future decisions in educating all Georgia students.

In an opinion article today, a D.C. based writer commends the Common Core, E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum, and New York’s “EngageNY” modules.

Natalie Wexler maintains that the standardized tests did not cause curriculum-narrowing. She says that schools have long given preference to skills over knowledge. She believes that Common Core will reverse that unwise preference.

I have always preferred a balanced approach that includes both skills and knowledge. I was a member of the board of the Core Knowledge Foundation for many years. I don’t think that the Common Core standards will unleash a fervor for knowledge because it is really just more of the skill-based approach that Wexler decries. Presumably she wants states and districts to adopt the Hirsch Core Knowledge curriculum, as the “EngageNY” modules do. I think she would be wise to read those modules. Teachers and parents have complained about the overload of information in them. 

Here is a selection from the first-grade module. Consider that some first-graders are just learning to read. Few, if any, have a context into which these facts can be assimilated:

Locate the area known as Mesopotamia on
a world map or globe and identify it as part
of Asia;

Explain the
importance of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and the use of
canals to support farming and the development
of the city of Babylon;

Describe the city of
Babylon and the Hanging Gardens;

Identify cuneiform as the system of writing used in
Mesopotamia;

Explain why a written
language is important to the development of a
civilization;

Explain the significance of the
Code of Hammurabi;

Explain why rules and laws
are important to the development of a
civilization;

Explain the ways in which a
leader is important to the development of a
civilization;

Explain the significance
of gods/goddesses, ziggurats, temples, and
priests in Mesopotamia;

Describe key
components of a civilization;

Identify Mesopotamia as
the “Cradle of Civilization”;

Describe how a civilization evolves
and changes over time;

Locate Egypt on a world
map or globe and identify it as a part of
Africa;

Explain the importance of the
Nile River and how its floods were important
for farming;

Identify hieroglyphics as the
system of writing used in ancient Egypt;

Explain the significance of gods/goddesses in ancient
Egypt; Identify pyramids and explain their
significance in ancient Egypt;

Describe how
the pyramids were built; Explain that much of
Egypt is in the Sahara Desert;

Identify the Sphinx and explain its
significance in ancient Egypt;

Identify Hatshepsut as a pharaoh of ancient Egypt and
explain her significance as pharaoh;

Identify Tutankhamun as a pharaoh of ancient Egypt
and explain his significance;

Explain that much of what we know about ancient
Egypt is because of the work of
archaeologists

Wexler predicts that the high failure rates on the Common Core tests will lead to a demand by parents for Core Knowledge. Since we know that those failure rates were engineered artificially by setting a ridiculous passing mark aligned with NAEP proficient, it seems safer to predict that continued failure will encourage the growth of the opt out movement.

What do you think?

Educators tend to be child-centered and attentive to the needs of classrooms for adequate resources. Having been teachers, they are usually unwilling to support attacks on the teaching profession.

So where do rightwing governors find people to lead their state’s education department? Here is one major source: Teach for America.

When Bobby Jindal of Louisiana needed someone to lead his agenda for vouchers, charters, and anti-teacher proposals, he selected John White (TFA).

When Bill Haslam of Tennessee wanted someone to push the rightwing agenda, he chose Kevin Huffman (TFA).

When Terry Branstad of Iowa wanted someone to push his rightwing agenda, he chose Ryan Wise (TFA).

When North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory needed an education advisor to promote his extremist, anti-public school agenda, he chose Eric Guckian (TFA).

Let us not forget Michelle Rhee (TFA), who served a mayor, not a governor and was especially vitriolic towards teachers and unions. Her organization StudentsFirst has funded candidates who support privatization.

What is it about TFA that produces leaders who want to privatize public education and crush the teaching profession?

Eve L. Ewing has written a moving and important article about the meaning of the fight for Dyett. It is far more important than the closing of one school in Chicago. It is about a community’s fight for survival, a fight to retain its identity and its history. New Orleans is a story of obliteration of the landmarks of the Black community. The hunger strike to save Dyett is a fight to preserve what belongs to the community.

She tells the history of Dyett High School, of its famous graduates. She explains what an open enrollment school is:

“In Chicago, as in many large urban districts across the country, over the course of the last 15 years the concept of “school choice” as a popular bipartisan idea has entrenched itself to an impressive degree. Whereas once upon a time, cities and counties were divided up on a map and students simply attended the school closest to where they lived (what’s known technically as a “catchment school,” or in big cities, a “neighborhood school”), the era of choice has more or less changed all of that in places like Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, and other large districts that serve primarily children of color. Where once the only way to exercise some kind of “school choice” was to attend private school, children can now stay in the public school district and apply to a magnet school, enter the lottery for a charter school, apply to a special vocational or career academy, or try to test into an academically elite “selective enrollment” school serving only a small sliver of top-performing students. (In New York these are known as “specialized schools,” in Boston you may know them as “exam schools.”) While such elite schools are often publicly touted as gems of the district, Chicago’s selective enrollment schools only serve about 12% of the city’s public high school students. Charter schools, meanwhile, are more likely than traditional public schools to expel or suspend students with disabilities, and two of the city’s most high-profile charter high schools—Noble Street and Urban Prep—are also two of the most likely to lose students between freshman year and graduation….

“The community of Bronzeville is no stranger to hardship or the racism that begets it: from the 1919 race riot to the high-density kitchenette buildings that packed in black residents in the 1930s and 1940s, where an entire family might have shared a room furnished with a hot plate in lieu of a real kitchen and use a bathroom in the hallway shared with other residents, to the struggles of families living in the public high-rise projects that emerged during the 1950s and 1960s—the Ida B. Wells Homes, Stateway Gardens, Robert Taylor Homes, and other names that came to strike terror in the hearts of white Chicagoans who never actually set foot south of the Loop. But, amidst all those challenges, school closings stand out as a particularly insidious and heart-wrenching form of hurt. By my count, CPS has closed 16 elementary schools in Bronzeville since 1998, bouncing students unceremoniously from one building to the next, with some students experiencing multiple closures over the short span of their elementary school education….

“Losing your school is hard for everyone involved. Really hard. When I found out that the school where I taught would be closing, I was visiting my father in Florida for spring break, and I locked myself in the bedroom and cried like a little kid. I started replaying life there in my head, over and over, like a sappy montage in a bad movie. Here’s me walking down the hallway for the first time, on my way to meet the principal for a job interview. Here’s Nathan, staying in my classroom after hours to write and illustrate a story about the Great Depression. Here’s Patricia standing proudly in front of the whole school and perfectly reciting her lines as Lady Capulet, despite her hearing impairment and speech impediment. Here’s the staff meeting where we find out that Nashae has cancer, and strategize about how we’re going to coordinate hospital visits, frozen dinners, and rides home for her sister. Here’s Omari connecting a circuit for the first time, and Sierra lovingly feeding Peanut, the gecko that was our class pet. Here is our school.

Here is my personal opinion, as someone who has gone through a school closing, my professional opinion as an educator, and my scholarly opinion as a researcher who is now writing a dissertation about Bronzeville’s shuttered schools. I will say it without reservation to whomever will listen, so listen: the decision to shuffle students from one building to another in the name of numbers is shameful. The decision to do so is based on the premise that children, teachers, and schools are indistinguishable widgets, to be distributed as efficiently as possible across the landscape. But the fact is that schools are ecosystems, each with its own history, culture, and intricately woven set of social relationships. Schools are community anchors. They not interchangeable, nor are they disposable. Schools are home.

Regular school closings, like I experienced, are hard. What’s happened at Dyett is arguably even harder. Since CPS opted for a slow “phase-out” over several years, students and teachers had to watch as the world around them was slowly dismantled, piece by piece. As teachers and students left, the school’s budget was thrown into disarray, so that the students who were left had to take online courses to get credits in Spanish and social studies, and even art, music, and physical education. One girl I interviewed told me that her teacher quit, for fear that if he stuck around until the school was totally closed, he wouldn’t be able to find a job the next year. He never told his students he was leaving—they walked into the classroom one day and found a note he had left for them. Like he was dumping them….

“A closed school is like a ghost. It lingers. It fills the space. In 2008, the year I began teaching and five years before my school was closed, it was already an occupant of a building where another school had lived and died before it—Douglas school, which was closed in 2004. Sometimes I would stand in the school auditorium when it was empty and try to imagine throngs of children and teachers I had never met, filling the seats for a talent show or an end-of-year award ceremony. I wondered about what their names were, and what music they liked, and what books they read.

Since my school closed, I guess you could say I’ve become something of a ghost hunter. On humid afternoons you can find me peering through the windows of closed schools around Bronzeville, trying to picture what used to be there. Inside the buildings you can sometimes catch glimpses of what’s left. Chairs, stacked high in layers of gleaming chrome. An American flag leaned against a dusty window. A haphazard pile of textbooks. I walk across empty playgrounds and trudge through unmown grass and I see all the ghosts. Sitting in a folding chair amid the Dyett hunger strikers and their supporters, I don’t have to see the ghosts alone. “I always think of double dutch,” one woman tells me. The whole line of girls playing double dutch, all along this way. And I used to enter through that door.”

I remember what Martin, one of the thirteen students who stayed at Dyett until its final year, told me recently. “Dyett is our fort.” Dyett is different than the other schools. Because Dyett might come back. And that, really, is what the hunger strike is about—the hope that what’s lost can return. Like maybe even in a city that never wanted us, and has found creative ways to show it, from the 1919 race riots to stopping and frisking people at a rate four times that of New York City, a city that broke our hearts so bad that the blues made us famous—maybe even here, black children and all of Chicago’s children can be guaranteed a high-quality education, whether or not they have high test scores or parents who enter them into a lottery. Maybe we can learn well and live well, right here in our own home.”

“Unlike a charter school, where students have to enter and win a lottery to enroll, or a selective enrollment school, where students have to be deemed members of the academic top tier to enroll, an open-enrollment neighborhood high school is open to any student who lives nearby. That means that everyone is guaranteed a spot.”

Mike Petrilli has been ranking education policy people by their Klout scores for a few years. Here is the latest ranking. You will note that Arne Duncan is #1, I am #2, Randi Weingarten is #3. I am pleased to note that four members of the 20 top people are members of the board of the Network for Public Education: me, Xian Barrett, Julian Vasquez Heilig, and Anthony Cody.

I am not sure what any of this means. Just do your work, follow your passion, and don’t worry about your Klout score.

Testing Lacks Public Support,” the headline on the Phi Delta Kappan’s summary of its just published 2015 Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, says it all. The annual survey clearly shows that a majority of Americans are fed up with politically mandated overuse and misuse of standardized exams, just as FairTest and allies have repeatedly stated.
FairTest Reaction
http://www.fairtest.org/fairtest-reaction-2015-annual-gallupphi-delta-kapp
Complete PDK/Gallup Poll Data
http://pdkpoll2015.pdkintl.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/pdkpoll47_2015.pdf

National Defending the Opt-Out Movement
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/21/opinion/defending-the-opt-out-movement.html
National “Sorry, I’m Not Taking This Test”
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/08/opt-out-standardized-testing-overload

Arizona Teacher Evaluation Should Be Rigorous, Not Punitive
http://tucson.com/news/opinion/editorial/teacher-evaluations-should-be-rigorous-but-not-punitive/article_0b0835e1-e9b5-5814-8a13-6c1e197ee359.html
Arizona Is Skepticism About High-Stakes Testing Reaching a Tipping Point?
http://www.tucsonweekly.com/TheRange/archives/2015/08/24/is-skepticism-about-high-stakes-testing-reaching-a-tipping-point

California Legislature Passes Exit Exam Reprieve and Governor Promises to Sign It
http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_28696312/exit-exam-senate-lifts-it-2015-grad-requirement
California What Is the True Value of a Test Score?
http://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/lifestyle/20150821/school-desk-what-is-the-true-value-of-a-test-score

Connecticut State Balks at Releasing Test Scores
http://www.journalinquirer.com/state-balks-at-releasing-test-data-though-superintendents-given-a/article_278966e4-474e-11e5-a623-97b054cbf62e.html
Connecticut Schools To Be Rated on More Than Exam Results
http://www.courant.com/education/hc-schools-opening-testing-0822-20150823-story.html

Florida Schools Still Waiting for Results From Last Spring’s Tests
http://www.baynews9.com/content/news/baynews9/news/article.html/content/news/articles/bn9/2015/8/19/local_educators_stil.html
Florida Some Teachers Say “No” to Test-Based Bonuses
http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/teachers/bonus-program-has-some-florida-teachers-telling-the-state-keep-your-money/2241561
Florida Local School Board Member Says State Fails at Testing Year After Year
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-school-testing-myword-082415-20150821-story.html

Maryland Questions About Cost-Savings Claims From New Tests
http://marylandreporter.com/2015/08/24/md-savings-on-new-standardized-school-tests-are-questioned/

Massachusetts Test and Punish Scheme Leaves Too Many Children Behind
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/letters/2015/08/24/test-and-punish-scheme-leaves-too-many-children-behind/BQPPt9r73JivDL6R5OaGLM/story.html
Massachusetts Too Many Tests, Too Little Creativity
http://www.telegram.com/article/20150825/NEWS/150829625

Michigan State Testing Time To Be Reduced
http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/08/20/michigan-exam-mstep-shorten-length/32046953/

Mississippi Legislative Task Force Criticizes School Rating System
http://www.sunherald.com/2015/08/20/6374766/report-finds-school-ratings-flawed.html

Missouri Politicians Shouldn’t Be Driving School Testing Policy
http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/mailbag/politicians-shouldn-t-be-driving-school-testing-policy/article_405b2da6-ca93-5214-b6b5-62de94dc2460.html
Missouri Poverty Strongly Related to Test Performance
http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/school-district-scores-how-poverty-relates-to-performance/html_806bfff2-8414-5e24-9b9f-e9543ece79f6.html

Montana Schools Challenged by Delay of State Test Results
http://www.sidneyherald.com/news/schools-challenged-with-testing-delays/article_3b5b26f8-45ff-11e5-b90a-3bce33ea8dbf.html
Montana Refuses to Pay Testing Bill Because of Late Scores
http://www.nbcmontana.com/news/standardized-testing-scores-over-a-month-late/34898966

Nevada $1.3 Million Settlement Reached Over Botched Student Testing
http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/education/13m-settlement-reached-over-botched-student-testing-program

New Mexico Stop Trying to Turn Teachers Into Algorithms
http://www.abqjournal.com/631568/opinion/stop-turning-teachers-into-algorithms.html
New Mexico Teacher Bonuses: A Study in Disparity
http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/education/teacher-bonuses-a-study-in-disparity/article_b1fa0e6a-39eb-536b-8cb4-2fc104ac439f.html

New York No Financial Penalties for Districts with High Opt-Out Rates
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/21/nyregion/new-york-schools-with-many-students-who-skipped-tests-wont-lose-money.html
New York How One Community Organized for a 70% Opt-Out Rate
http://www.syracuse.com/schools/index.ssf/2015/08/behind_one_cny_school_districts_70-percent_state_test_opt_out_5_things_they_did.html
New York Editorial: Opt-Out Movement Sends A Clear Message
http://www.lohud.com/story/opinion/editorials/2015/08/21/editorial-opt-out-movement-sends-clear-message/32060729/

North Dakota Parents Concerned About Over-Testing
http://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/getting-answers-or-over-testing-local-parents-worry-about-too/article_2f346035-d7e1-5c37-8612-212456b3ff43.html

Ohio State Must Stop Micromanaging Local Schools
http://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/08/18/teacher-state-must-stop-micromanaging-schools/31924835/
Ohio Replaces PARCC Exams With AIR Tests
http://www.local12.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/High-stakes-tests-Ohio-changes-test-providers-187268.shtml

Oklahoma What Parents Need to Know About Testing
http://www.tulsaworld.com/homepagelatest/stefani-bartholomew-what-parents-need-to-know-about-testing/article_d4e79b9b-9343-564f-9c5e-3340ff74a11e.html

Oregon Some Demographic Groups Missed Fed 95% Participation “Target”
http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2015/08/oregon_barely_meets_federal_te.html

Pennsylvania Too Many Standardized Exams Taking Toll
http://www.titusvilleherald.com/news/article_3f81aa06-455d-11e5-b901-57482ec91db8.html
Pennsylvania Districts Seek Less Testing, More Time for Teaching
http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/item/85363-lower-pssa-scores-spur-some-pa-school-districts-to-call-for-less-testing

South Carolina Bill Would Allow Students to Skip Standardized Tests
http://www.independentmail.com/news/bill-would-allow-students-to-skip-standardized-tests_46735763

Tennessee What Do Testing Spikes and Nosedives Really Mean?
http://tn.chalkbeat.org/2015/08/18/testing-spikes-and-nosedives-what-does-it-all-mean/#.VdPo3itLUZw
Tennessee Pay For Test Scores Undermines Teaching Profession’s Humanity
http://tnedreport.com/?p=1513

Texas Are Design Flaws the Reason So Many Students Struggle with State Grade Promotion Tests
http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-daily-post/why-are-so-many-texas-students-struggling-with-staar/
Texas New Law Gives Options to Students Who Failed Graduation Exam
http://www.valleycentral.com/news/story.aspx?id=1244015

States Gaining a New Say on School Accountability
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/08/19/states-gaining-a-say-on-school-accountability.html

Standardized Test Fixation May Be Holding Back Next Generation of Computer Programmers
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2015/08/20/standardized-tests-may-be-holding-back-the-next-generation-of-computer-programmers/

Why I No Longer Am a Measurement Specialist
http://ed2worlds.blogspot.com/2015/08/why-i-am-no-longer-me4asurement.html?m=1

The Validity Evidence Gap for Education Achievement Tests
http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=18064

How to Get Into a Great College Without Great Test Scores
http://time.com/money/3998184/best-college-low-test-scores-tips/
FairTest List of ~850 Test-Optional and Test-Flexible Schools
http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office- (239) 395-6773 fax- (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468
web- http://www.fairtest.org

The newspaper in the Lower Hudson Valley of New York (north of New York City) is called Lohud.com. Its reporters have been outstanding in covering education issues in Albany and across the state. Unlike the New York Times, Lohud’s editorialists understand why parents are opting out. Instead of scolding them, as the Times did recently, Lohud calls on state leaders to listen to them and take action to address their grievances. Last year, 5% of the state’s students opted out; this year it was 20%. The New York opt out was so huge that it has received national attention. In some schools and districts (outside of New York City), opting out is the norm, not the exception. If state officials continue to threaten parents who opt out, you can bet there will be more opt outs next spring.

This is what Lohud.com wrote:


It seems that everyone has been trying to analyze the opt-out numbers from April’s state tests in math and ELA. But there’s not much to figure out. There’s no secret code in the numbers, no conspiracy to unravel. If you’ve been following the education wars during New York and the nation’s “reform” era, the meaning of the opt-out numbers should be plain: Growing numbers of parents are not happy with our educational direction.

The big question is not what the numbers show, but what our educational leaders will say or do to satisfy parents who had their children boycott April’s tests — or may do so next April. School starts in a few weeks, and what happens over the next few months may determine the future of the opt-out movement….

Real concerns

At a time when few people come out to vote on school budgets, and many parents are simply too busy to worry about non-essential matters, such a widespread movement cannot be easily dismissed — even if one disagrees with the decision to opt out.

Why did so many parents choose to defy state and federal insistence that the annual math and ELA tests provide essential information? There is no single reason. But several prominent concerns led the way:

Too much focus on new Common Core tests is leading to a narrowing of the curriculum and “teaching to the test.”

The use of student test scores to evaluate teachers may be inaccurate and unfair — and is hurting the morale of popular, proven local teachers.

The tests themselves are poorly conceived and have not been reviewed.

Test results are released too late, during August, to be of help teachers, parents or students.

Testing requirements are unfair to students with disabilities and recent English learners.

There are other concerns, of course. But the overall issue is that growing numbers of parents seem to believe that the trifecta of tougher standards, tougher tests and tougher teacher evaluations is not the answer to improving public education.

Many advocates and commentators continue to insist that the opt-out movement was surreptitiously created and nurtured by teachers unions, sort of like Frankenstein. This is simply not the case. At least in New York, the movement was built over several years — slowly, in stops and starts — by parent groups using social media. Local teachers unions started to publicly back the opt-out idea only in the final months before April’s tests. And NYSUT, the statewide union, did not jump in until the final weeks, after it was clear that Gov. Andrew Cuomo would not allow lawmakers to topple his much-despised teacher-evaluation system.

The eval link

Speaking of teacher evaluations, school officials in the Lower Hudson Valley continue to say out loud what many lawmakers and state bureaucrats quietly know: that community-based discontent over the clumsy, ineffective evaluation system will only grow and will feed — guess what? — the opt-out movement. Bedford Schools Superintendent Jere Hochman, the new president of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents (and a guy who tries to see things the state’s way) told our Editorial Board last week: “The whole system needs to be thrown out. Start over.”

The Westchester Putnam School Boards Association, in a new statement to the Education Department, condemns recent changes to the evaluation system as “disruptive to our schools, staff and students” and said the current plan “cannot and should not be salvaged.” The group also noted that the opt-out movement has exposed parental concerns about the “nexus” of high-stakes testing and evaluations.

School districts need an evaluation system that continually helps good teachers improve — leading to better classroom instruction — and identifies teachers who need help or can’t do the job. New York does not have such a system.

Class divide?

There’s been a great deal of focus on where large number of parents boycotted the tests and where the movement did not gain much traction. Analysts have emphasized low opt-out rates in both urban “poor” school systems and the state’s most affluent school districts. The state Education Department noted that most test-refusers were white and “more likely to be from a low or average need districts,” in other words, middle-class suburbanites.

But if you talk to educators and parents, there’s no mystery about why opt-out rates were higher in some places than others. In cities with high poverty rates, parents often don’t have the luxury of worrying about education policies because they are too focused on daily concerns and less connected to parent groups. Plus, in New York City, where the opt-out rate was less than 2 percent, test scores have long been tied to school admissions and student promotions. In affluent districts, meanwhile, officials and real estate agents worry that any form of public “discontent” will affect property values.

Yes, the opt-out movement has been driven by middle-class parents, conservatives and liberals, who don’t like the loss of local control over school matters.

It’s disturbing to hear some advocates suggest that parents who opt out are selfish because they are weakening a testing system that reveals the achievement gap facing poor, minority students. Everyone knows that the gap is perhaps the greatest challenge facing American schools. Figuring out how to close the gap is a more pressing question than how to better define it. We hope that the state’s new efforts to assist struggling schools will work out and provide new information on how to close the achievement gap.

Reigning in the opt-out movement will not be easy. Neither Elia nor Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch should expect instant results. It took several years of questionable state leadership before the opt-out movement took hold and gained momentum. It will likely take several years and some major policy changes to win back the trust of parents — and the teachers whom parents trust.

Leonie Haimson and Jeanette Deutermann explain here why the opt out movement is right and necessary. If policymakers continue on their present path, they predict, the opt out movement will grow and spread to many other states who see the power of grassroots activism.

They do so in response to editorials in the New York Times and the Washington Post criticizing the parents who opt out of mandated testing.

The mainstream media echoes the Obama administration’s line that high-stakes testing will somehow promote equity and reduce the achievement gap, but as Haimson and Deutermann contend, thirteen years of No Child Left Behind demonstrate that this assertion is false.

Haimson and Deutermann write:

Why should parents put their children through this time-consuming, anxiety-producing and pointless exercise? When parents are repeatedly ignored by policymakers, opting out is their only option.

For months leading up to the assessments, and especially during the two weeks of testing, parents report their children show signs of anxiety, sleep problems, physical symptoms, school phobias and attention difficulties. This phenomenon has been growing among children as young as 8 years old. To add insult to injury, for the last three years the exams have become overly long and confusing, with incoherent questions like the pineapple passage on theeighth-grade exam in 2010, and the talking snake passage on thethird-grade test this year. Our youngest learners sit for up to 18 hours of state testing.

The most vulnerable children – students with disabilities and English language learners – are asked to endure exams that are so inappropriate even the state asked for waivers from the federal government, which were denied. Only 3.9 percent of English language learners and 5.7 percent of students with disabilities passed these exams. The bar should be set high for all children, but at an appropriate level for each child.

Parents have become increasingly frustrated at watching the alarming changes in their children and their education, along with the waste of precious tax dollars. More than 220,000 New York state parents chose to have their children refuse the state exams this year, in both high-performing suburban districts and struggling city schools, to express their anger. Many teachers joined parents in the fight to protect their students and the integrity of their profession. The question is, will the powers that be listen and make the necessary changes? If not, the number of opt-outs will continue to grow until parents’ voices are heard by policymakers, the tests are improved, the punitive, high-stakes exams removed, and real teaching and learning return to our classrooms.

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