Archives for category: Parents

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.

Arne Duncan once made an insulting comment about “white suburban moms” who got angry about Common Core tests because they were disappointed to learn that their child was not as brilliant as they believed.

This white suburban mom has written a response to Arne.

The PTA of the Hastings-on-Hudson, Néw York, school district sent the following open letter to Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy charter schools. They shared it with me and asked me to post it.

 

Eva Moskowitz
Success Academy Charter Schools,
Chief Executive Officer

Dear Ms. Moskowitz:

We write in response to your recent comment to WNYC, explaining why Success Academy schools don’t accept new students after fourth grade: “It’s not really fair for the student in seventh grade or a high school student to have to be educated with a child who’s reading at a second or third grade level.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/04/10/new-york-city-charters-leave-thousands-of-seats-unfilled-despite-exploding-demand-study-finds/.

As advocates for children, we are deeply troubled by your and Success Academy’s view. Many seventh graders who read at a second or third grade level are children with learning differences. These children already face huge obstacles and prejudices, even as research clearly supports that including these children in general education settings benefits all.

Inclusive classrooms, which comprise special education students and their general education peers, are academically, socially and emotionally beneficial to both groups. In fact, the advantages of such classrooms are so powerful and the outcomes often so successful that federal law requires that these children be placed with their non-disabled peers whenever possible (i.e., in the “least restrictive environment”). At a recent PTA meeting here in Hastings-on-Hudson, parents of general education students specifically asked for their children to be placed in inclusion classes, with their special education peers, once they learned more about the benefits to all that those classrooms produce, including more attention to differentiated learning, as well as additional teaching staff.

In addition, dismissing a child who is reading below-grade level puts too much emphasis on reading and ignores the myriad of other measures of achievement. A child who reads below grade level may excel in math or biology or be an exceptional artist, athlete, or musician.

We live in a diverse world, and it is our job and our duty to create environments that engender respect, support, and, possibly most important, empathy. The direction you advocate
— separating and rewarding just the highest achievers in selected subjects — does a disservice to all.

So while you state that including struggling readers is “not really fair” to your current Success Academy scholars, what saddens us – and feels truly unfair – is this layer of unnecessary and painful exclusion and hardship, in the name of protecting your high-achieving scholars, that you find appropriate and necessary.

We are happy to meet with you and explain these issues more deeply, if that would be helpful. And in any event, we ask that you issue an apology, and also that your schools make a concerted effort to include children with special needs or learning differences. It’s not only best practice, ethical, and fair, but it is the law.

Very truly yours,

Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA Executive Board, Lisa Eggert Litvin and Jacqueline Weitzman, Co Presidents

Hastings-on-Hudson SEPTA (Special Education PTA) Executive Board, Nina Segal and Jennifer Cunningham, Co Presidents

(Note that we are sending this to the general information email for Success Academies, because after extensive online searches, as well as numerous phone calls to individual Success Academy Schools and to the State’s offices governing charters, we have been unable to obtain an accurate email address for you. We left a message at Success Academy’s business office (as it was called by a receptionist at one of the academies) explaining the gist of the letter and asking for your email. If we receive a response, we will forward to that address.)

In the second round of Common Core testing, devoted to math, the early counts from Long Island indictate that more students will skip the exams than did so for the ELA.

Crack reporter Jaime Franchi has reported on the movement. which has been active for years. The moms in the movement have been active for at least the past three years.

“Fueling the mass rejections are a litany of complaints among parents and teachers, two being that their objections are falling on deaf ears and that Common Core supporters continue to mischaracterize them as frightened of academic challenges and what state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch dubs as students being caught in the crosshairs of a “labor dispute” between teachers unions and the governor.

“This is a governor who is just fixated on firing teachers and breaking the union,” slams Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School and 2013 New York Principal of the Year, in a phone interview from the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago April 25. “There’s no other lens to see it because it’s not in the best interest of the children.”

“Other gripes harbored by parents opposing the Common Core tests include their belief that the exams lack diagnostic value, as test scores are returned during the summer and cannot be used to further instruction. Zephyr Teachout, Fordham professor and former Democratic gubernatorial primary challenger to Cuomo, tells the Press: “The tests have no pedagogical value, so parents are opting out because they aren’t helping the kids.”

“Opponents are concerned that with such a heavy focus on high-stakes testing, teaching in the classroom would resort to an increasing amount of test preparation at the expense of various other learning opportunities and a more diverse curriculum. They contend the assessments are age- and grade-level inappropriate, charging as proof that several reading samples for the recent ELA tests were coded two to three grade levels above appropriate reading levels.”

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