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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.”

The Néw York Times has barely covered the historic parent Opt Out movement. Before the testing began, it ran a story about parents who decided not to opt out for fear their children would suffer. When the opt out was making news across the nation, given the huge numbers, the Times did not deign to report the story. Then, at last, the Times wrote a story about how teachers’ unions had fomented the opt out, with no attempt to explain why nearly 200,000 parents from across the state might take orders from the unions.

But there was more trivialization and dodging. On Friday the Times published a story about districts that follow a “sit and stare” policy for children who opt out. It quoted several superintendents who disapproved of the opt outs, but not one of the superintendents who were sympathetic.

The parent-educator group that led the Opt Out movement published a letter to the editor asking why the Times has been dismissive of their hard work.

Here is the letter:

LETTER

Parents’ Role in the New York Test Protest

APRIL 24, 2015

To the Editor:

From “Teachers Fight Tests, and Find Diverse Allies” (front page, April 21), readers would never know that the 185,000-plus students who opted out of the state English Language Arts test last week did so because of more than three years of organizing by a genuinely grass-roots movement of public school parents.

This year parent groups held more than 100 forums across the state; rallied, protested and raised thousands of dollars for billboards promoting test refusal; and engaged tens of thousands more parents via Facebook and Twitter. Sadly, this article epitomizes the media’s preference to portray every education story as a battle between the teachers unions and their opponents.

NANCY K. CAUTHEN
New York

The writer is on the steering committees of New York State Allies for Public Education and Change the Stakes.

Andy Smarick is a reformer with a low opinion of public schools, like other reformers. But in some of his writings, he has shown a willingness to challenge the formulaic party line of corporate reform.

In this post, he disagrees with his fellow reformers who scoff at parents who opt out. As he shows, the reformer party line is that parents who opt out are white suburbanites who fear accountability for their children and their teachers and don’t care about closing the achievement gap.

Smarick says that the opt out movement is a test of reformers’ humility. Will they stop scoffing at parents long enough to hear them?

Smarick writes:

“I don’t want to infer too much about these individuals’ [reformers] intentions. But I’m worried that such statements, when taken together, give the impression that education reform believes that the opinions of white or middle-class families should be viewed with skepticism or antipathy.

“Non-poor, non-minority families love their kids and have every right to participate in the public debate about public education. I’m a strong supporter of assessments and accountability, and I wouldn’t opt out. But I think it’s unfair to discount the views of those who disagree, and it would be untoward to suggest they don’t care about other kids or are insensitive to issues of race and income.

“My reading of the situation is that a significant number of American families have misgivings about what’s happening in their public schools. Most of the issues about which they have concerns—whether it’s standards, assessments, teacher evaluation, or something else—are policies developed at the state or federal level.

“Had these policies been created locally, families could petition their local school boards for redress. But now, unable to change decisions made by faraway state and federal policymakers, these families are employing a kind of civil disobedience. They are using the power they do have—to decline participation in state tests—to demonstrate their frustration with the status quo.”

I salute Smarick for recognizing that opt out parents are not tools of the unions, racists, dolts, or helicopter parents. He deserves credit for acknowledging that parents who opt out have no other way of making kmown their opposition to the status quo of high-stakes testing. When these decisions are made by politicians who would be unable to pass the tests they are imposing, it is doubly galling.

It would be good if reformers showed understanding of what is happening on the ground. Children as young as eight take tests in reading and math that may require 7 or 8 hours. Does that seem right? Why should a test in basic skills require so much time? Many adults would find it hard to sit for so long being tested.

Many teachers have reported that the tests are two grade levels above the students’ actual grade. This guarantees a high failure rate?

Teachers also criticize test questions with more than one plausible answer or passages that are confusing.

Do reformers agree with the testmakers’ demand that test questions never are released, that neither teachers or students are allowed to discuss the tests? Do they think it is reasonable that the tests report a score but release no individual report about what the student got right or wrong?

Why is it valuable to have a score for every student but nothing more? How can these scores, when aggregated, improve curriculum or instruction or help students?

I appreciate Andy Smarick’s willingness to listen. I hope he continues to do so.

This press release just arrived from Néw York State Allies for Public Education, a coalition of 50 parent and educator groups.

http://www.nysape.org/nysape-pr-ny-parents-have-spoken.html

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 23, 2015

More information contact:
Eric Mihelbergel (716) 553-1123; nys.allies@gmail.com
Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190; nys.allies@gmail.com
NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) – http://www.nysape.org

NY Parents Have Spoken, Now It’s Time to Fix Cuomo’s Education Budget Debacle & Establish New Leadership for the Board of Regents

For the past two years, New York State Allies for Public Education has warned elected and appointed officials about serious concerns related to excessive high-stakes state testing based on flawed and experimental learning standards, as well as the collection and sharing of private student data.

This past week, the national attention focused on the parent uprising taking place in New York State. Spurred to action by the refusal of both the Governor and the NYS Education Department’s failure to respond to legitimate concerns, thousands of parents fought back to protect their children.

At this time, estimates indicate parents of close to 200,000 students this year have refused New York State’s Common Core testing agenda and the final figures are expected to be even higher.

The educational program of the state is in chaos. Leadership is more important than ever. On Sunday, April 19th the Editorial Board of The Journal News declared, “The stunning success of the test-refusal movement in New York is a vote of no confidence in our state educational leadership” in calling for Chancellor Merryl Tisch to step aside.

New York State Allies for Public Education, a grassroots coalition of over fifty parent and educator advocacy organizations from all corners of the Empire State, stands with the Editorial Board of The Journal News.

Chancellor Tisch must step down. The only way for the Board of Regents, Assembly, and Senate to regain trust of their constituents is to call for the Regents to empower a new leader to fix within its authority, the Cuomo budget legislation fiasco and the misguided Regents Reform Agenda.

“Parents have been left with no choice. We will submit our refusal letters, which is our parental right, on day one of school, next year and every year and if those in power will not listen, we will free our children from a test driven, developmentally inappropriate education,” said Jeanette Deutermann, Nassau County public school parent and Long Island Opt Out founder.

“For the past two years Chancellor Tisch has repeatedly ignored parents at forums throughout the state. She is incapable of leading the state in a new direction because she believes what is happening is just fine and her latest plea for asking for more time is just a distraction from the real issues. Her repeated calls for critics to “calm down” indicates her unwillingness to change course.” said Lisa Rudley, Westchester County public school parent and NYSAPE founding member.

“On Chancellor Tisch’s watch, the work of the State Education Department has been outsourced to a privately funded ‘Regents Fellows’ think tank. It is not surprising that the reforms put forth by this think tank advance the agenda of the wealthy ‘yacht set’ and corporate-linked groups that fund the Regent Fellows: The Robin Hood Foundation, Gates Foundation, and even Chancellor Tisch herself. When you replace a public service with a private organization that advances corporate agendas, New Yorkers know that is corruption,” said Anna Shah, Dutchess County public school parent and Schools of Thought Hudson Valley, NY founder.

“While the Governor has demonstrated blatant disregard for the will of the people by doubling down on the use of high stakes testing, the State Education Department and Chancellor Tisch similarly ignored parent concerns regarding inappropriate test content by forcing children to read passages on last week’s ELA tests that were up to four years above grade level followed by vague and confusing questions,” said Jessica McNair, Oneida County public school parent, Central NY Opt Out co-founder, and educator.

Fred Smith, testing specialist, NYC public schools retired administrative analyst, and Change the Stakes member said, “Instead of transparency and disclosure of complete and timely test data that would open the quality of the ELA and math exams to independent review, Tisch has ruled over an unaccountable testing program that flies at near-zero visibility–in a fog of flawed field testing procedures, age-inappropriate poorly written items, the covert removal of test questions after they have been scored, arbitrarily drawn cut off scores, and the misapplication of the results to reach unsupportable conclusions about students, teachers, and schools.”

“As seen with the budget debacle earlier this month, New Yorkers know when the ‘Albany Fix’ is in,” Eric Mihelbergel, Erie County public school parent and NYSAPE founding member. Mihelbergel went on to say, “We know that the opt out movement will ultimately invalidate the data and render these test scores useless. When some schools have opt outs as high as 70%, we know that any claims that opt out is “random” and that only a small sampling of test scores will yield usable data is illogical.”

To ensure clarity for all, NYSAPE calls for the following from the NYS Legislature & Board of Regents and will release a more comprehensive list in the near future:

1. A dramatic reduction of testing in grades 3rd – 8th, along with reasserting New York State’s authority to determine the education of its children by calling on the US Congress to reduce testing requirements and return to grade span testing. As former President Bill Clinton said we don’t need annual testing, “I think doing one [test] in elementary school, one in the end of middle school and one before the end of high school is quite enough if you do it right.”

2. Chancellor Tisch must immediately step down.

3. An independent review of the NYS career and college ready standards to ensure that standards are research based and appropriate. Establish a taskforce including parents, educators, and stakeholders to study the Common Core Learning Standards and make recommendations to adjust and adopt NYS standards.

4. Adhere to a public and transparent process for selecting a new NYS Commissioner of Education.

5. Fix the Cuomo budget legislation debacle by passing legislation that decouples student test scores and restores local board of education control over teacher evaluations.

6. Pass legislation that REQUIRES parental consent to share ANY identifiable student data beyond school district administrators.

We want to restore our classrooms with a well-rounded education and drive testing compliance factory reforms out of our classrooms forever.

###

– See more at: http://www.nysape.org/nysape-pr-ny-parents-have-spoken.html#sthash.WPxXvbWx.dpuf

Marla Kilfoyle is a National Board Certified Teacher and a leader of the Badass Teachers Association. She is also the parent of a 12-year-old public school student. She was surprised to hear Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch say that teachers and parents need the state tests because of their diagnostic value. In this post, she explains to Chancellor Tisch why the state tests have no diagnostic value. Her post contains a typical state test report to parents. It was returned months after the test, when the student has a new teacher. It has scores on it, but no description of the student’s weaknesses or strengths in any particular area. In the example she gives, the parents learn that their child scored a 1, the lowest ranking, but nothing about where the child needs extra help.

She compares the lack of diagnostic information on the New York State report to another test administered to students. It is called WIAT (Wechsler Individual Test). This test breaks down each student’s test performance on specific skills. It is returned to parents in less than a month. (The WIAT is owned by Pearson, which also created the non-informative New York annual tests.)

Kilfoyle is upset by Chancellor Tisch’s description of the opt out movement as a labor dispute. The many thousands of parents whose children refused the tests were not acting on behalf of the teachers’ union. They were acting as parents concerned about subjecting their children to a useless test.

Donn Esmonde of the Buffalo News sat down to talk with three of the parent leaders of the historic Opt Out movement in New York state. Although the mainstream media has trouble understanding that the movement is led by parents, Esmonde got it.

They don’t look or act like radicals. None dress in camouflage. All three are parents who vote, pay their taxes, stop at red lights and salute the flag. But Eric Mihelbergel, Christine Cavarello and Jodi Hitchcock – and thousands like them – form the roots of a revolution.

It would be one thing if they were a disaffected minority, a grumpy niche, a band of eccentrics. But their numbers have swelled to the point where they – and their message – can no longer be ignored. Not even by as large, autonomous and irrepressible a bureaucracy as State Ed.

The three are part of a mushrooming legion of parents who don’t let their kids take standardized state tests. Their numbers are startling: 70 percent of third- through eighth-graders in West Seneca; 58 percent in Lake Shore; 56 percent in North Tonawanda; and 49 percent in Lackawanna opted out of Tuesday’s English Language Arts (ELA) exam. Numbers were lower in other districts – but exponentially larger in most places than last year….

We sat Thursday in the living room of Mihelbergel’s tidy ranch house in Tonawanda. I wanted a better idea of the motives behind the movement. These parents didn’t strike me as irrational, uninformed or overprotective. Quite the contrary.

They have a huge – and, it seems to me, justifiable – problem with their kids being force-fed these now-annual exams of questionable content. The results are being more heavily tied by the governor into grading teachers and schools. At worst, it feeds a teach-to-the-test culture that undercuts learning, handcuffs teachers and disregards the strengths and interests of each kid.

“It’s a game nobody’s going to win,” said Cavarello. “You’re chasing test scores, to the detriment of really educating the kids … The teachers aren’t happy, but they can’t do much about it.”

When the testing tail wags the learning dog, parents stand up in protest. And their numbers are growing. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, “You know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Cuomo?”

The parents I spoke with aren’t rising up because they don’t know what’s happening in the classrooms, but because they do. Ramping up standardized testing, and its ripple effect in schools, has turned parents into rebels, solid citizens into outliers, the law-abiding into the rule-defying.

“The state has underestimated the power of that Mama Bear and Papa Bear instinct, when it comes to protecting our children,” said Hitchcock. “This fight isn’t easy, it takes a lot of work.”

This comment was posted on the blog by Peggy Robertson, founder of United Opt Out, in response to the New York Times’ article implying that the Opt Out movement is led by the teachers’ unions.

Peggy Robertson writes:

Opt out is led by parents, teachers, students and citizens. When United Opt Out National began over four years ago we were simply a facebook page with a file for each state. Within hours our FB group page was flooded with opt out requests and now we have opt out leaders all over the country and grassroots opt out groups popping up everywhere. I think Florida has 25 at this point – probably more since I last checked – and mind you they did this all on their own. UOO has simply been a catalyst and a support. What is even more fascinating, and sad, is that UOO has reached out to the unions many times, and never received a response. You will notice that United Opt Out National is rarely mentioned in recent articles. I think that’s because we represent the people. The power of the people. UOO has no funding (heck I paid for our website for the first two years pretty much on my own). When our website was destroyed last year guess who helped UOO fund/rebuild it? The people. No corporations. No unions. The people – the citizens of this country – for free – and with truth and heart – have helped us to create fifty state opt out guides. The citizens have helped us to continually update and alert folks to opt out situations across the country. The people have helped us create essential guides, opt out letters, and social media campaigns. The fact that this is happening by the people, for the people, with no funding, is true democracy and is a dangerous thing. Folks would much prefer that we are sheeple and that we are incapable of strategically planning a nationwide opt out movement. Guess what? We did it. All of us. That makes us dangerous. That makes the media/corporations want to co-opt and shut down our work. A mass movement of civil disobedience that is running through our country like a tidal wave in an attempt to save our democracy is indeed a powerful force that no corporation can shut down. Let’s keep pushing forward. Solidarity to all of you.

In a story published in the New York Times, Kate Taylor and Motoko Rich describe test refusal as an effort by teachers’ unions to reassert their relevance. This is ridiculous.

Nearly 200,000 students opted out. They were not taking orders from the union. They were acting in the way that either they wanted to act or their parents wanted them to act.

I emailed with one of the reporters before the story was written and gave her the names of some of the parent leaders of the Opt Out movement, some of whom have spent three years organizing parents in their communities. Jeanette Deutermann, for example, is a parent who created Long Island Opt Out. I gave her the names of the parent leaders in Westchester County, Ulster County, and Dutchess County. I don’t know if any of them got a phone call, but the story is clearly about the union leading the Opt Out movement, with nary a mention of parents. The parents who created and led the movement were overlooked. They were invisible. In fact, this story is the only time that the Times deigned to mention the mass and historic test refusal that cut across the state. So according to the newspaper of record, this was a labor dispute, nothing more. Not surprising that this is the view of Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the Board of Regents, and of everyone else who opposes opting out.

By taking this narrative as a given, the Times manages to ignore parents’ genuine concerns about the overuse and misuse of testing. Not a word about the seven to ten hours of testing for children in grades 3-8. Not a word about the lack of transparency on the part of Pearson. Not a word about data mining or monitoring of children’s social media accounts. To the Times, it is all politics, and the views of parents don’t matter.

The great mystery, unexplored in this article, is why the parents of 150,000 to 200,000 children refused the tests. Are the unions so powerful as to direct the actions of all those parents? Ridiculous.

How could they get it so wrong?

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