Archives for category: Parents

Parents and educators often ask, “What can we do to stop high-stakes testing and other fraudulent “reforms?” There is a clear answer: Organize. Resist. Band with others to let your school board and elected officials know that you will not collaborate with policies that are harmful to children and to public schools. Tell them you will not feed your child to the Machine that tests, ranks, and grades children for no purpose other than grading the teacher and generating data.

As a reader wrote yesterday, Néw Jersey is doing just that.

She writes:

“New Jersey is waking up and organizing against high stakes testing and other harmful policies of so-called ed reform.

“As reported by Save Our Schools NJ on its facebook page, at least 40 towns’ School Boards have recently passed humane opt-out/refusal policies, including:

“Bloomfield, Delran, Millburn, Montville, North Brunswick, Princeton, Robbinsville, Bernards Township, Black Horse Pike Regional, Bordentown Regional, Bueana Regional, Byram Township, Clinton Township, Delsea Regional High School District, East Hanover Township, East Windsor Regional, Elmwood Park, Evesham Township, Gloucester Township, Gloucester County Institute of Technology, Gloucester Coutny Special Services Schools, Little Egg Harbor, Livingston, Mahwah Township, Montville, Morris, Morris Hills Regional, Neptune Township, Pemeberton Township, Randolph, Somerset Hills, Southern Regional, Stafford Township, Sewdesboro, Township of Ocean, Union Township, Wall Townshhip, Washington Borough, Washington Township (Bergen), Woodbridge Township.

“Montclair NJ’s BOE is slated to vote on a humane opt policy Monday night, 1/26/15.

“(Parents should ask their districts about these directly, since districts may keep policies quiet so as not to inform parents as is reported here http://www.nj.com/education/2015/01/what_happens_if_nj_students_dont_take_the_parcc.html )

“Since Montclair Cares About Schools organized, a total of 14 towns have spontaneously organized their own “Cares About Schools” groups, including Highland Park, South Brunswick, RIdgewood, North Arlington, Florham Park, Nutley, East WIndsor, Verona, Manalapan-Englishtown, Dunellen, Howell, Millburn, Montville. Many of these groups are on facebook.

“Showings of ‘Standardized,’ the movie, and Take the PARCC events where community members can take sample PARCC tests and judge the tests for themselves, are popping up all over NJ. Some are sponsored by Cares About Groups, some by numerous other groups with their own names and styles, like Township of Union Park Advocacy Group.

“Statewide groups like Save Our Schools NJ and United Opt Out NJ have seen tremendous growth.

“Additional statewide sources like Speak up NJ http://www.speakupnj.org post addresses and contacts to write legislators and important links.

“Groups like PULSE and the Newark Students Union have been organizing in Newark, NJ to protest the mismanagement and lack of accountability of the state appointed superintendent Cami Anderson, and their concerns are being echoed by Mayor Ras Baraka and legislators who oversee public schools.

“And organizations in Patterson and Camden are raising their voices.

“I am sure there are countless groups organizing in NJ, not mentioned here.

“Name them. Share information.

“Find a group. Join it. Or Start one of your own.

“Speak out, be brave, refuse the tests, refuse to vote for anyone who advocates for policies harmful to public education and children. Organize.

“Organize. Organize.

“Keep going. And never, never give up.”

I will be part of a parent-organized discussion of testing at PS 3 in Manhattan at 490 Hudson Street, from 6-9 pm.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT AGAINST

TEST-OBSESSED SYSTEM:

How Do We Put the Focus Back on Learning in our Schools?

A WORKING STRATEGY SESSION

Presentation by Diane Ravitch Followed by Breakout Action Groups

Welcome by Lisa Siegman, Principal PS3; City Councilmember Corey Johnson; and PS3 PAC co-Chair Nick Gottlieb

Presentation by Diane Ravitch followed by Question & Answer session

Breakout Action Groups

Reconvene for presentation by Action Groups and summation

Wednesday Jan. 21, 2015, 6:00 – 9:00pm

PS 3 Auditorium, 490 Hudson Street

Senator Lamar Alexander

U.S. Senate

Washington, D.C.

 

Dear Lamar,

 

I wish I could be in Washington for the hearings about the reauthorization of NCLB. I can’t make it for two reasons: I wasn’t invited, and I have a date to speak to parents at P.S. 3 in Manhattan who are outraged about all the testing imposed on their children.

 

I learned a lot about education policy and federalism after you chose me to serve as your Assistant Secretary of Education in charge of research and improvement and as counsel to the Secretary of Education (you). I am imagining that I am still advising you, as I did from 1991 to 1993 (remember that you and every other top administrator in the Department left a day before the inauguration of Bill Clinton, and you told me I was Acting Secretary for the day?).

What I always admired about you was your deliberateness, your thoughtfulness, your ability to listen to discordant voices, and your respect for federalism. You didn’t think you were smarter than everyone else in the country just because you were a member of the President’s Cabinet. You understood federalism. You didn’t think it was your job to impose what you wanted on every school in America. You respected the ability of local communities to govern their schools without your supervision or dictation.

 

NCLB was not informed by your wisdom. It set impossible goals, then established punishments for schools that could not do the impossible. I remember a panel discussion in early 2002 at the Willard Hotel soon after NCLB was signed. You were on the panel. I was in the audience, and I stood up and asked you whether you truly believed that 100% of all children in grades 3-8 would be “proficient” by 2014. You answered, “No, Diane, but we think it is good to have goals.” Well, based on goals that you knew were out of reach, teachers and principals have been fired, and many schools—beloved in their communities—have been closed.

 

NCLB has introduced an unprecedented level of turmoil into the nation’s public education system. Wearing my conservative hat, I have to say that it’s wrong to disrupt the lives of communities, schools, families, and children to satisfy an absurd federal mandate, based on a false premise and based too on the non-existent “Texas miracle.” Conservatives are not fire-breathing radicals who seek to destroy community and tradition. Conservatives conserve, conservatives believe in incremental change, not in upheaval and disruption.

 

I urge you to abandon the annual mandated federal testing in grades 3-8. Little children are sitting for 8-10 hours to take the annual tests in math and reading. As a parent, you surely understand that this is madness. This is why the Opt Out movement is growing across the nation, as parents protest what feels like federally-mandated child abuse.

 

Do we need to compare the performance of states? NAEP does that already. Anyone who wants to know how Mississippi compares to Massachusetts can look at the NAEP results, which are released every two years. Do we want disaggregated data? NAEP reports scores by race, gender, English language proficiency, and disability status. How will we learn about achievement gaps if we don’t test every child annually? NAEP reports that too. In short, we already have the information that everyone says they want and need.

 

NCLB has forced teachers to teach to the test; that once was considered unethical and unprofessional, but now it is an accepted practice in schools across the country. NCLB has caused many schools to spend more time and resources on test prep, interim assessments, and testing. That means narrowing the curriculum: when testing matters so much, there is less time for the arts, physical education, foreign languages, civics, and other valuable studies and activities. Over this past dozen years, there have been numerous examples of states gaming the system and educators cheating because the tests determine whether schools will live or die, and whether educators will get a bonus or be fired.

 

I urge you to enact what you call “option one,” grade span testing, and to abandon annual testing. If you keep annual testing in the law, states and districts will continue to engage in the mis-education that NCLB incentivized. Bad habits die hard, if at all.

 

Just say no to annual testing. No high-performing nation does it, and neither should we. We are the most over-tested nation in the world, and it’s time to encourage children to sing, dance, play instruments, write poetry, imagine stories, create videos, make science projects, write history papers, and discover the joy of learning.

 

As I learned from you, the U.S. Department of Education should not act as a National School Board. The Secretary of Education is not the National Superintendent of Schools. The past dozen years of centralizing control of education in Washington, D.C., has not been good for education or for democracy.

 

The law governing the activities of the U.S. Department of Education states clearly that no federal official should attempt to “exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, [or] administration….of any educational institution.” When I was your Assistant Secretary and Counselor, I was very much aware of that prohibition. For the past dozen years, it seems to have been forgotten. Just a few years ago, the current administration funded tests for the Common Core standards, which will most assuredly exert control over the curriculum and program of instruction. The federal tests will determine what is taught.

 

The nation has seen a startling expansion of federal power over local community public schools since the passage of NCLB. There is certainly an important role for the federal government in assuring equality of educational opportunity and informing the American people about the progress of education. But the federal role today is taking on responsibilities that belong to states and local districts. The key mechanism for that takeover is annual testing, the results of which are used to dictate other policies of dubious legality and validity, like evaluating teachers and even colleges of education by student test scores.

 

Sir, please revise the federal law so that it authorizes the federal government to do what it does best: protecting the rights of children, gathering data, sponsoring research, encouraging the improvement of teaching, funding special education, and distributing resources to the neediest districts to help the neediest students (which was the original purpose of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965).

 

In closing, may I remind you of something you wrote in your book of advice:

No. 84: Read anything Diane Ravitch writes about education.

—Lamar Alexander, Little Plaid Book, page 44

I agree with you.

 

Yours truly,

 

Diane Ravitch

 

A regular commentator, Dienne, makes a point that is very important. She asks what is the value of comparing children, comparing teachers, comparing schools, and comparing states by test scores. She is right. The only ones who need to know a student’s test scores are the student, the parent(s), and the teacher, maybe even the principal. A test score is like a medical diagnosis. It is between you and your doctor; if you are a minor, it is between you, your doctor, and your parents. If the states wants to collect data, they do not need to look at your personal records. They use data to determine if there is a pattern that requires a public health response. But how a child scores on a test is no one’s business but those most immediately involved: the student, his/her parent(s), and teacher(s).

 

Dienne writes:

 

I think it’s a lose-lose battle so long as we continue to buy into the rephormers oft-repeated lie that we need “accountability” (with the implication that there isn’t any without standardized testing). There are multiple ways for parents to know how their children are doing – report cards, conferences with the teacher, science fairs, open houses, heck, just talking with their kids. How anyone else’s kid is doing is not anyone else’s business.

There are also ways to know how teachers are doing – that’s the principal’s job. Again, it’s not anyone else’s business, just like my performance review at my job is between me and my superiors.

The notion that we need some sort of nationally published stack-ranking system for schools or teachers is ludicrous and we need to say so.

After Kevin Huffman stepped down as state commissioner in Tennessee, Governor Haslam selected Candace McQueen as his successor.

The Momma Bears of Trnnessee–the state’s parent activists—here figures out who she is, what she believes, and hopes for the best.

She is a Common Core cheerleader. The Mama Bears say poo to that.

She testified to the state legislature on behalf of Common Core and PARCC. Mama Bears say poo again.

“Finally, the announcement was made that the heir to the throne would be… Dr. Candice McQueen! A woman! A mom! A person who spent 5 years as a real teacher! We knew a little bit already about her from writing a past Momma Bear blog, but we researched her even more. There wasn’t much new to learn. We were disheartened to see that she has been a tireless cheerleader for Common Core. She testified to the TN legislature in support of the Common Core and the high-stakes PARCC test. Pooey. She is serving on the board of SCORE (the organization funded by Bill Gates to support Common Core and reformy stuff). Double pooey. She’s also served on boards that profit from Common Core (like the Ayers Foundation who received a huge chunk of the Race to the Top prize money to develop Common Core videos). Triple pooey. She’s involved with Pearson (a British mega-corporation) through Pearson’s EDTPA program that grants teaching licenses to people who can pass Pearson’s tests. Quadruple pooey. That’s a whole lot of poo, people!”

“On the other hand, her own private school, Lipscomb, was not doing Common Core; Lipscomb’s three private schools have their OWN standards. In fact, there was nearly a parent revolt at Lipscomb when the private school parents thought their little darlings would be doing the same Common Core standards as public school darlings… but Candice wiggled her way out of that one, assuring them there is no way in H-E-double-hockey sticks that Common Core has been adopted at Lipscomb and there are no plans for Common Core ever at Lipscomb, saying, “We make decisions about what’s going to be best within the context of our community. I would say that’s absolutely what we’re going to do now and for the future.” (insert applause from the Momma Bear gallery).”

The Mama Bears also read her doctoral dissertation on parent involvement.

Their conclusion is a home run:

Momma Bears have a whole bunch of questions that nobody will know the answers to for a few years:

Will she be the Governor’s puppet?

Will she still be a champion for the Common Core initiative? Will she defend and strengthen the battered teaching profession? Will she be an advocate for children or for business interests? Will she listen to parents when we tell her the testing is excessive? Will she understand and act wisely upon what she hears? Will she see parents as the enemies as Kevin Huffman did? Will she truly listen?

If we could ask her some literal questions, we’d like to know:

What were McQueen’s TVAAS scores were when she taught? Was she a level 5?

Why didn’t she teach longer? 2 years at one private school + 3 years at a public elementary school don’t seem to be very long at all. That’s not even long enough to gain tenure. Why did she quit so soon?

What happened to the 5th grade student she wrote about in her dissertation who was frustrated to tears over math homework? Would Sue Dugger, the student’s mother, rate McQueen as an excellent or poor teacher?

Does McQueen keep in touch with any of her former public school students? (we’re not talking about the adult students in her grad programs, but want to know about the children she taught because teaching is a lot about building relationships) Did her students feel valued, respected, and did they enjoy learning?

Where do her own children attend school? Is she involved as a parent there? Does she volunteer with the PTO/PTA?

What does parental involvement mean to her? Private schools often have different expectations than public schools.

What would she do if her own child was overwhelmed with testing and/or homework?

Would McQueen support suspending TCAP testing for 2015, or at least make it a no-consequences test since it is not aligned with the standards that are in limbo?

Would McQueen support throwing the secretive TVAAS formula and evaluation system out?

Will McQueen push the Governor for increasing teacher pay in Tennessee as he promised to do years ago?

Will she advocate for smaller class sizes and more support staff in schools?

Will she be a supporter of Art, Music, and sports in every school in TN?

Will she respect a parent’s choice to opt-out of standardized testing for their child?

Will she get rid of all these expensive benchmark assessments and screener tests that are eating up instructional time and recess for our children?
Will she take an honest look at the new RTI2 program mandated in TN? Is it really helping students, or is it helping the testing companies? Is it hurting students with disabilities and special needs?

Will she hire qualified, experienced people within the Tennessee Department of Education, or will she favor young, inexperienced Teach For America yes-man types like Huffman did?

Will she strengthen our locally elected school boards or seek to further revoke their power?

Will she favor charter schools over public schools?

Will she have the guts to close failing or corrupt charter schools, including the online K12 virtual school that is making so much money for its owner and for politicians’ campaigns?

Will she get rid of the ASD and give failing, poor schools the support they desperately need to help their students succeed?

Will she sign a multi-million dollar no-bid contract with Teach For America with our tax dollars?

Goodness, that’s a whole lot of unanswered questions!

and a whole lot of poo!!!

Momma Bears will be watching…

You must be the light that opens the eyes of children to the wonders of learning.

Parents at the Julian Nava Academy in South Los Angeles loved their middle school. They worried about their children moving on to a high school where they might get less attention, where the education would not be as good as it had been at Nava Academy. So the parents organized, met with the principal, met with the district administrator, and won permission to open a new high school, called Nava College Preparatory Academy.

 

The school opened this fall, and the parents remain engaged with it. Its first class has 300 students, and it will eventually grow to 1100 students. Note there was no parent trigger, no confrontation between parents and educators. The parents loved the school they had, they wanted more of it, they made their case, and they won.

On his blog, Julian Vasquez Heilig reports that the California Charter Schools Association is shocked! shocked! to learn that some charters require parents to volunteer time or pay not to volunteer their time. He discusses a survey conducted by a civil rights group called Public Advocates, which reached this conclusion.

 

 

Apparently the California Charter School Association hasn’t heard of such a thing happening in practice or charter school policy, even though Public Advocates delivered the evidence to the public via parent whistleblowers and publicly available policy documents. Public Advocates’ report documented its year-long investigation into an inequitable and illegal practice by some of California’s charter schools, and calls for charter schools to end requiring payment in lieu of volunteer hours. Public Advocates is demanding that the state take immediate action to stop the practice and increase its oversight of charter schools more generally.

 

Heilig quotes the story in the San Francisco Chronicle:

 

At least 170 California charter schools are violating the state Constitution by requiring parents to volunteer up to 100 hours a year if they want their kids to participate in field trips and other activities or remain enrolled in the school, according to civil rights lawyers in a report released Thursday.

 

A survey of 555 California charter schools — about half of all charters in the state — found that nearly a third impose family volunteer time, with some allowing parents to pay $5 to $25 per hour to buy their way out of the commitment.

 

“One of the reasons it’s so alarming to us is it’s punishing a kid for something that’s not the kid’s fault,” said Hilary Hammel, attorney at the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates and lead author on the report.

 

Hammel cited an Oakland parent who found on the first day of seventh grade that her son was not enrolled at his charter school because she had not completed the required volunteer hours the previous year. She was told she could either pay $300 on the spot or go buy three large boxes of paper.

 

She went and bought $80 worth of paper and returned to enroll her son.

 

Does that happen in public schools too?

 

 

 

 

As a parent in Nashville, the blogger called Dad Gone Wild attended a meeting called by the state’s “Achievement School District” (ASD) to persuade parents that their community public school is a failure and needs to be turned into a charter school run by the ASD.

Dad concluded that the state officials were “gaslighting” the parents–misleading them, frightening them with false data, slandering their school.

This is no failing school, he wrote. The teachers were greeted like rock stars. Failing school?

“This description doesn’t fit any of the schools I’ve been in. In each of them I’ve been hit by an overwhelming wave of community. Last night teachers from the school were introduced at the beginning of the meeting and they were greeted like they were the Rolling Stones taking the stage. So wait a minute, you mean the community loves the very people that are robbing their children of their future? How is that possible? In fact the crowd was so anti-ASD that if I was them I would have packed my stuff and gone home, but I don’t have a savior complex.

“It was interesting that when the opposition spoke there was an energy in the room, but when the ASD representative spoke the room felt heavier, the shuffling louder, and the sound of side conversations increased. Looking around I see a well kept school. Examples of student work litter the halls. Teachers move about interacting with students and their families. They obviously have formed strong bonds. Trust me, I know failing and this didn’t look like it.”

The reformers won’t stop labeling children, teachers, and schools as failures. That’s their bread and butter.

Dad Gone Wild won’t stand for that:

“When Chris Barbic as head of the ASD says “I’m just here to make a bad school better” and chooses to ignore all the factors that go into that school, that’s immoral. When teachers tell me that the ASD representatives who toured the school were more interested in the property then the actual students, that’s immoral. When you refuse to provide adequate translators to parents who are going to be affected by your actions, that’s immoral. I also believe, when you stand and preach about how every dollar goes to the child yet you draw a salary of 200k from working with kids that live in poverty, that’s immoral. The whole process is predatory and immoral.

“I’ll be honest with you. I consider quitting this fight on a daily basis. It makes me nuts. It impacts my home life. It takes time away that I could be spending with my family and truth be known, we have other options. Then on a day like today, when I go read to my child’s class at a school that because of demographics could be labeled a failing school, it becomes crystal clear again. When I look out at all those kids who are all facing their own individual challenges that reformers expect them to overcome alone or they’ll label failures, I remember. Going to this school is going to make my children better people and their presence is going to make those children better people. I owe it to my children to give them that chance.”

I recently posted a letter from a teacher whose message was “this too shall pass.”

 

Some readers took this as an expression of complacency. Just wait it out, and the billionaires will get so frustrated by their repeated failures that they will move on to disrupt something else or go back to playing polo.

 

The bottom line is that you never win in a confrontation by digging your head into the sand. Complacency is self-defeating. While you close your eyes to what is happening, the high-stakes testing will get worse, your community public schools will be closed, experienced teachers will be fired, and schooling will become a consumer choice, like buying milk at the grocery store (the analogy that Jeb Bush suggested at the Republican convention in 2012, that picking a school should be as easy as choosing between 1% milk, 2% milk, whole milk, chocolate milk, whatever).

 

And meanwhile, if we do nothing, we will find that one of the institutions considered essential to our democracy will have been destroyed by free-market ideology and greed. Instead of community public schools, where children learn to work and play together, we will have “choice” schools that increase segregation and that are free to kick out the students they don’t want. Of course, some “public” schools will be retained, as the school of last resort for the children unwanted by the choice schools.

 

Do any of the billionaires pushing this market-based ideology ever stop to wonder why none of the top-performing school systems in the world have the kind of school choice that they are promoting for the U.S.? Has it occurred to them that the nations they admire–those with the highest test scores–have strong public school systems with well-prepared teachers, but no vouchers and no charters?

 

The current corporate assault on public education will not pass unless those who oppose it take action. On one level, this means that we must organize for the next elections to support only candidates who support public education. The last election–at the gubernatorial level–was frankly a disaster, with the re-election of Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, Rick Scott in Florida, Rick Snyder in Michigan, Paul LePage in Maine, and others who support privatization,. The low turnout across the nation showed that not enough people were informed of what was at stake. We must do better next time and elect candidates who will strengthen families, communities, and public schools.

 

But there is more we can do now. As parents and teachers, we can encourage students not to take the tests. That’s called “opting out.” The tests are created by two or three major corporations that get to decide what our children should know. The results are used to rank and rate children and identify those who are failures and those who are successes. This is ridiculous. Why should the testing corporations be the arbiters of success and failure? Why should they be given the power to label our children? The standardized tests have no diagnostic value; the results come in too late to inform instruction or to provide insight into what children need more or less of in the classroom. In fact, they are utterly worthless. Tests should be written by classroom teachers, who know what they have taught. There is no particular value in knowing how your child compares to children his age in Maine and Arizona. What you really want from a test is an indication, useful to the teacher, of his strengths and weaknesses, a guide to helping him improve where improvement is needed. That is not what you get from standardized testing. What you as a parent or teacher really want is to know that children are engaged in learning, that they learn how to ask good questions and to pursue the answers, that they learn to love the pursuit of knowledge. A standardized test won’t help you reach those goals, indeed it will undermine them by teaching the importance of finding the right answer to someone else’s question.

 

So here is my advice: Opt out. Stop the machine that produces the data that are used to label your children, to fire his teachers, to close his school. Take away the data and insist that teachers deal with the needs of every child. Do not feed the machine built in D.C. or at Pearson. Be strategic. Do the one thing that only you have the power to do: deny them the data. Use the power you have.

 

Save the children. Save your schools. Save your community.

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