Archives for category: Parents

Despite pressure from the big spenders at Stand for Children and other titans of corporate reform, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed the legislation allowing parents to opt out of state tests.

 

Federal officials had warned that the bill, which also reduces the consequences for schools where many students skip tests, could lead the federal government to withhold millions in federal education funding.

 

House Bill 2655, which was strongly backed by the Oregon Education Association, prioritizes the rights of parents to exempt their children from that one aspect of public schooling over the desire of school accountability proponents to get complete reading and math test results for all students each year.

 

But Brown said she wants Oregon educators to make the case to parents that taking part in state tests is valuable so that they will opt for their children to keep taking the exams.

 

The new law means that, beginning next spring, schools will have to notify every family at least 30 days before state testing begins about what the tests will cover, how long they will take and when results will be delivered. Those notices will also tell parents they can exempt their child from the tests for any reason.

 

Friends in Oregon: Forget the governor’s misgivings! Opt out is the best tool you have to protect your children from the current national mania for standardized testing. Opting out will curb the overuse and misuse of standardized testing. Former Texas state commissioner of education Robert Scott memorably said in 2012 that the educational industrial complex was out of control and that testing was “the heart of the vampire”

 

He also said:

 

The assessment and accountability regime has become not only a cottage industry but a military-industrial complex. And the reason that you’re seeing this move toward the “common core” is there’s a big business sentiment out there that if you’re going to spend $600-$700 billion a year in public education, why shouldn’t be one big Boeing, or Lockheed-Grumman contract where one company can get it all and provide all these services to schools across the country.

 

I mean, that’s really what you’re looking at. We’re operating like a business.

 

Mother Crusader opened her blog to this post by Sue Altman, who received a dual degree at the University of Oxford in International and Comparative Education and an MBA. In this post, she explains why critics of Opt Out are wrong, and what mechanisms are needed for Opt Out to succeed. She points out that the very mechanisms needed for success have been stripped away in many districts that serve predominantly African American and Hispanic students.

 

Privatizers (aka reformers) have scoffed at the Opt Out movement as a phenomenon of privileged white suburban moms, presumably pampering their children.

 

She writes:

 

For an opt-out movement to catch on, certain criteria must be in place— things like democratically elected school boards, open-minded and respectful superintendents, and teachers with job security. But, by design, these things have been removed, systematically, from urban communities, so that policies can be put in place that community members (mostly African-American or Hispanic) have no say in.

 

 

She has studied the successful Opt Out movement in New York, and the post explains how each one of these elements is crucial for the parents to participate in opting out. Where participation is low, it is usually because these ingredients (a democratically elected school board, a respectful superintendent, and teachers with job security) either don’t exist or have been systematically removed. The goal of the privatizers for the past decade has been to replace democratically elected school boards with mayoral or state control and to remove any job security from teachers. This stifles democratic dissent and reduces protests, which is why the students in Newark turned to the streets and to sit-ins to be heard since no one in power was listening. As Altman points out, black and Hispanic communities have been the targets of policies meant to silence their voices. This also discourages such bold actions as opting out.

 

The U.S. Department of Education has threatened to withhold funding from the state of Oregon if a bill passes allowing parents to opt out of Common Core testing.

“PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The U.S. Department of Education has sent the state of Oregon a letter, threatening to pull federal funding if Oregon lawmakers pass a bill making it easier for parents to opt out their children from standardized tests.

“The state could lose more than $140-million a year if the bill passes, maybe up to $325-million. Representative Lew Frederick is a supporter of the bill. He says losing funding has always been a thought but he tells KOIN 6 News, Oregon isn’t the only state fighting standardized testing.

“The bill doesn’t say get rid of the test.” said Frederick. “The bill says simply, here is a procedure for opting out of the test if parents come forward and want to opt out, that’s all it says.”

This money represents funding for the neediest students in the state.

The only time in the past that the Feds made similar threats was in the 1960s, when districts refused to desegregate, pursuant to federal law and court orders. Who imagined that the day would come when the ED would threaten to cut off funding if a state allowed parents to refuse the tests?

I received this email from a parent leader in Seattle:

 

 

Hello all,

 

We are in need of advice in Seattle.

 

This spring the SBA was rolled out in grades 3-8, 10 and 11. We were delighted to learn that there were many opt outs across the Seattle School District, as well as in every corner of the State. We formed the Seattle Opt Out Group in Dec. 2014 and have worked tirelessly in the first half of 2015 to inform parents about opting out and the problems that high stakes standardized tests bring with them. We plan to continue our efforts in earnest over the summer and into the next school year.

 

Yesterday, however, we learned of an event that has us quite alarmed, and we want to proceed in as informed a manner as possible.

 

Apparently at a Seattle middle school the principal forbade students who opted out of the SBA to attend a year-end school carnival last Friday.

 

A parent reached out to us and sent us this note:

 

Here is my daughter’s experience with being excluded from the Denny Carnival last Friday.

 

During the last period of the day, my daughter was summoned to the vice principal’s office. She waited for about twenty minutes and was then invited into the office. The vice principal informed my daughter that two of her teachers had emailed her earlier in the day to inquire why she was not on the approved list for the carnival because she had outstanding effort grades(all A’s in effort as well as academics). The vice principal then informed my daughter that she may be able to write a letter of appeal, but she would let her know if that was possible by the end of the period. She explained that she had to follow the rules which were that only students excused from the SBAC for medical reasons would be allowed to attend the carnival. Students who opted out would not be allowed to go because they did not follow the rules.

 

My daughter then returned to her classroom to wait. Her teacher read a list of students who were allowed to go to the carnival and she was not on the list. She was then sent to a another teacher’s room to do homework with the other students who weren’t eligible, mostly due to behavior infractions. After 30 minutes, she was informed that she could write a letter of appeal.

 

My daughter was very upset and disappointed, but she knew that her teachers supported her and that this was just an unfair rule.

 

We would appreciate any guidance as to how we should proceed. It has been suggested that this is a case of the principal violating student discipline policy. Have you heard of a punitive measure such as this occurring elsewhere in the country and, if so, can you describe to us the route of action that was taken? Any advice is welcomed by us!

Peter Greene read a post that Checker Finn wrote for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s blog, in which Checker warned parents to be ready for the unpleasant news they would learn about their children’s failure when the Common Core tests results are reported. Peter did not agree with Checker because he thinks the tests are dumb, not the kids. Peter can’t understand why a “conservative” would want the federal government to take control of what all students in the nation ought to learn. He writes: Aren’t Fordham guys like Finn supposed to be conservatives? When did conservatives start saying, “The government should decide what a person is supposed to be like, telling people when they aren’t measuring up to government standards, and using government pressure to try to make them be the way the government says they should be.”

 

I am sort of in a tough spot here because Checker was my closest friend for many years. We worked together at the Educational Excellence Network, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (now Institute), the Koret Foundation at the Hoover Institution, and we shared many family events. However, when I turned against testing, choice, accountability, charters, and vouchers, our friendship did not survive. I am still fond of Checker, his wife Renu, and his children, but we don’t agree anymore about things we both care about, and we both understand that. I lost a very close friend when I changed my world views, and I am sad about that. But, I had no choice. Knowing Checker, he would do the same. But he didn’t.

 

I know that Checker has a low opinion of American students and teachers. He went to Exeter and Harvard, and very few meet his high expectations. When he was chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which oversees NAEP, he led the creation of the achievement levels so the American public would see just how ill-educated their children were. The established NAEP scale was a proficiency scale from 0-500. Checker thought that the public did not derive a sufficient sense of urgency because they did not understand what it meant to be 350 or 425 on a scale of 500. What they would understand, he thought (correctly), was proficiency levels: basic, proficient, advanced (and, of course, the worst, below basic). He wanted the public to be duly alarmed at the sad state of education. Congress recognized that there is an arbitrary quality to proficiency levels; they still considered them to be “trials.” Experts disagree about how to set them and what they mean. Ultimately, the NAEP levels are set by panels of people from different walks of life who make judgment calls about what they think students in fourth grade and eighth grade ought to know. This is not science, this is human judgment.

 

Unfortunately, the public didn’t listen to the periodic alarums from NAEP and NAGB. The reports came out, and they didn’t get much attention. But after the passage of No Child Left Behind, the nation went into full-blown crisis mode about the state of education, and a hungry industry grew up to tutor, remediate, and school the students who didn’t pass their state tests. Then the charter industry emerged, and the henny-penny-sky-is-falling movement saw that the way to create a demand for charters and vouchers was to generate a steady narrative of “our schools in crisis.” Suddenly the regular NAEP reports were headline news. Suddenly the public became aware of the number of students who were “not proficient,” even though proficient was a very high bar indeed.

 

Now we have Common Core, more rigorous than any of the other standards, and Common Core tests, designed to find 70% of American kids falling short of the standards.

 

This is where Checker comes in again, to warn parents that their children will surely fail. Imagine this: the most powerful nation in the world, with the most advanced technology, the most influential culture, the biggest economy, yet somehow the schools that educated 90% of Americans are terrible. How can this be?

 

Peter Greene steps in now to take Checker on.

 

Read the whole thing, but here is the windup:

 

Finn’s basic complaint is that parents aren’t being forced to understand the Hard Truth that BS Tests prove that their children are dopes, and that said parents should be alarmed and upset. The Hard Truth that Finn doesn’t face is that the PARCC and SBA provide little-to-no useful information, and that parents are far more likely to turn to trusted teachers and their own intimate knowledge of their own children than to what seems to be an unfair, irrational, untested, unvalidated system.

 

Yes, some parents have trouble facing some truths about their own children. There can’t be a classroom teacher in the country that hasn’t seen that in action, and it can be sad. I’m not so sure that it’s sadder, however, than a parent who believes that his child is a stupid, useless loser. Finn seems really invested in making that parents hear bad news about their kids; I’m genuinely curious about what he envisions happening next. A parent pulls the small child up into a warm embrace to say, “You know, you’re not that great.” A parent makes use of a rare peaceful evening at home with a teenager to say, “I wish your test results didn’t suck so badly. Would you please suck less?” What exactly is the end game of this enforced parental eye opening?

 

Okay, I can guess, given the proclivities of the market-based reformster crowd. What happens next is that the parents express shock that Pat is so far off the college and career ready trail and quickly pulls Pat out of that sucky public school to attend a great charter school with super-duper test scores. The market-driven reform crowd wants to see an open education market driven by pure data– not the fuzzy warm love-addled parental data that come from a lifetime of knowing and loving their flesh and blood intimately, and not even the kind of chirpy happy-talk data that come from teachers who have invested a year in working with that child, but in the cold, hard deeply true data that can come from an efficient, number-generating standardized test. That’s what should drive the market.

 

Alas, no such data exists. No test can measure everything, or even anything, that matters in a child and in the child’s education. No test can measure the deep and wide constellation of capabilities that we barely cover under headings like “character” or “critical thinking.”

 

Folks like Finn try hard to believe that such magical data-finding tests can exist. They are reluctant to face the Hard Truth that they are looking for centaur-operated unicorn farms. The unfortunate truth is that they have dragged the rest of the country on this fruitless hunt with them.

A parent in New Jersey heard the news that Governor Chris Christie had decided to abandon Common Core. Apparently that is good politics today. Governor Christie is against the Common Core. But he favors keeping the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests. Is that good politics? Does it even make sense? This parent doesn’t think so.

 

 

 

He wrote the following letter to legislators:

 

Dear Senate Education Committee:

 

Last night I attended a friend’s absurd annual party where we sit around drinking, laughing, and betting on the National Spelling Bee (which this year came to an incredible draw). I ended up down about $10. In this age of spellcheck, I (somewhat facetiously) can’t think of any more useless talent than knowing how to spell, but that did not stop me from lovingly asking my 12-year-old daughter this morning why she can’t be as smart as those kids (she is, even though her spelling is atrocious).

 

Last weekend in Livingston during the Youth Appreciation Week activities, the student members of the Livingston High School Robotics Club presented ingenious working 3D Printers that they designed and built.

 

I don’t know whether those kids are ready for college or career. I pray that they never find out until they get there.

 

The prior Monday, at the Senate Education Committee hearing, we finally heard from some people (all parents of children at North Star Academy [a charter school]) who felt that they had benefited from PARCC. There was a heavier-set gentleman who worked in the community, a father and son, two women who were unable to read aloud the words that were prepared on their behalf on the papers before them, and one lively woman who spoke of being $100,000 in school debt and of the pride and sense of accomplishment that her son felt when he prepared for, focused on, and took the PARCC Exam.

 

The problem is that the suburban parents of the students who set the standards on standardized tests… they largely do not believe that pursuit of those standards is a worthy goal. I cannot imagine what it is like to live in a community that has been wracked by socio-economic malaise for generations. If the PARCC Exam served that community by demonstrating the rewards that come with focus and goals, then PARCC may have had a sliver of value as one tool in the infinite quiver. However, that sense of focus and accomplishment… that can be learned in music, in arts, in the scientific method of exploration, in language, in mathematics, in athletics, in making history come alive, in studying the dictionary, or in designing and building your own 3D printer. The Pursuit of Happiness and The Pursuit of Excellence are intertwined as both individual and team pursuits. To force anyone year over year over year to reach for the subjective levels of “excellence” set by others seems as silly as it is inhumane (especially when the students of Newark have as of late so boldly set new standards of excellence for public advocacy).

 

We should thank the Governor for his strong leadership in abandoning the Common Core. It is silly to impose a common set of standards on students across the board because to do so distracts us from actually addressing the needs of each community and each child as an individual. A common set of standards subverts the tried and true simple method of Observation. Profit motives probably got in the way. If we are going to impose standards, they should be actionable standards… standards for facilities… standards for staffing… standards for programming (how about every fourth grader in the South visits the Liberty Bell and every fifth grader in the North visits the Statue of Liberty?). The standard is, “Nothing worse than we would want for our own children.” Every school should be teaching coding and have a robotics club. Every school should have a school library brimming with new books (and yes, even dictionaries). Every school should serve the needs of the Community. These are actionable standards. They are investments that we can ill-afford NOT to make.

 

The Purpose of Education is to create active and engaged citizens… citizens who may pull from their vast experiences across the liberal arts to address and solve today’s problems while being prepared for tomorrow’s concerns. There is no reason why The People of The Garden State cannot lead the country in those efforts. It will take months of hard work to overcome years of misfeasance and malfeasance. We should all be thankful that we get to start together on Monday. We have unlimited potential for Growth.

 

Thank you to the Senate Education Committee for its leadership.

 

Have a great weekend.

 

Justin Escher Alpert
Livingston, New Jersey

 

P.S. Perhaps we ought to welcome each of those North Star parents back in front of the Senate Education Committee to testify in the safe space… in their own words… about their real struggles and needs. Perhaps PARCC had only scratched the surface. Government is instituted for the protection, security, and benefit of The People, and they have the right at all times to alter or reform the same, whenever the Public Good may require it. Let us commit to each other that that time is NOW.

Elizabeth Harris and Ford Fessenden wrote an article that just went online in The Néw York Times about the stunning growth of the Opt Out movement in Néw York state. Its numbers have increased dramatically in only two years.

The movement is now a potent political force:

“As the vanguard of an anti-testing fervor that has spread across the country, New York’s opt-out movement already has become a political force. Just two months ago, lawmakers from both parties, at the behest of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, increased the role of test scores in teacher evaluations and tenure decisions.

“Those same legislators are now tripping over one another to introduce bills that guarantee the right to refuse to take tests. The high numbers will also push state and federal officials to make an uncomfortable decision: whether to use their power to financially punish districts with low participation rates.”

The federal government requires a 95% participation rate on tests. Two years ago, almost every district complied. Not this year.

“Only 30 of the 440 districts where data was available met the 95-percent test participation rate called for by federal requirements, a far cry from just two years ago, when almost every district complied.”

Critics of opt out say that without the test scores, no one would know which students, teachers, and schools are “failing.” But if the tests are invalid and unreliable, as many believe the Common Core tests are, then the information they provide is worthless. Are superintendents, principals, and teachers so untrustworthy that no one knows what is happening in the schools? Are the test makers better judges than professional educators?

Where will the Opt Out Movement go from here? It terrifies the Establishment. It is a grassroots movement that can’t be bought out.

Now that parents have found their voice and a means of expressing their displeasure, there is nowhere to go but up. The organizing will continue, especially as the state raises the stakes on the trsts. Next year expect even bigger numbers.

Parents in Texas rose up to fight the over testing of their children and to send a message to the Legislature. Testing is not teaching, but the Legislature seemed to think that the way to fix the schools was to add more tests while slashing billions in funding.

Reacting to parent groups like TAMSA (Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessmentt), the Legislature dropped a proposal to require students to pass 15 tests to graduate (it remains five). Almost every school board in the state passed a resolution ahAinst high-stakes testing.

And now the State Education Department (headed by a non-educator) has acted: it switched testing vendors, taking most of the state testing away from Pearson and giving it to ETS.

Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning Mews asks the key question:

“Whether students, teachers or school officials will notice the change is a question state officials declined to answer Monday.”

Does it really matter which vendor administers too many tests? Does it matter who writes theultople-choice question? Will the stakes change?

According to a news story from Minneapolis, scores plunged at some of the best high schools in the city due to students who opted out of the testing.

 

The acting superintendent is upset by the falling scores, but parents are making their voices heard against the deluge of testing that has overtaken their schools. They are protesting the “reforms” based on test scores in the most effective way possible: by not letting their children take the tests.

 

With so many missing scores, the scores are invalid. Before the students opted out, the tests were invalid and unreliable, not available for review by independent experts. Parents know that the absence of transparency by the test-makers in not in the interest of their children and that the tests are designed to fail the majority of students because their passing score is set unrealistically high. Some parents understand that the tests provide little or no diagnostic information about their children (most Common Core tests provide NO diagnostic information, just a score.) Some are protesting the Common Core,  some are protesting the federal takeover of their state and their local schools. Some are protesting the tests themselves. As more students take the tests, the opt out movement will grow.

Blogger “Lace to the Top” (aka Kevin Glynn) has written a witty parody of life in the age of school reform, as seen by a principal, a parent, and a leader of the Opt Out movement. Glynn is the founder of Lace to the Top, which distributes green laces to members of the resistance.

 

If you don’t know the names of the people mentioned in the parody, they are all (except me) leaders of New York Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), which led the historic opt out movement in New York.

 

In his parody, most are taken away to jail, deported to other countries, or fined for their insubordination. Carol Burris, the Long Island principal who consistently wrote and spoke against high-takes testing and the Common Core, was fined $100,000 for every article she published on Valerie Strauss’s blog “The Answer Sheet” on the Washington Post website; Valerie Strauss was sentenced to write about alien sightings for the National Enquirer.

 

The number of arrested teachers tells the story of just how damaged the education system in New York was. On Long Island, 70% of the teaching force was fired for their ties to social media groups such as Long Island Opt Out, Lace to the Top, and NYSAPE to name a few.

 

Activity in these groups was deemed unlawful by the recently passed bipartisan bill, “Save Schools from Parents Act.” This bill will guarantee every child will be assessed and eliminate the agendas of negative social media groups that attempt to promote activities that are ruled to be “dangerous to the ideals and beliefs of the American people.” Any families that join these groups or “friend” members of said groups are considered a “threat” to the children in American schools.

 

New charter schools will be created for the children of identified families. One of the interview questions officials have shared will be “Are you or have you ever been a member of the Green Lacer party?”

 

Teach for America has decided to reduce the time required for students to be certified to 45 minutes in order to fill the enormous number of vacancies left by the teachers who refused to obey the directives of the State Education Department.

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