Archives for category: Parents

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.

This letter arrived in my email from a professor at the University of New Mexico who is deeply disturbed by the over-testing of her children. The president of the local PTA did not want her to speak, she said. Even more shocking was her statement that teachers had to sign a pledge promising not to say anything negative to parents about the PARCC test or to disparage testing in general. I don’t know why, but I was reminded of the loyalty oaths that many teachers were compelled to sign during the McCarthy era in the late 1940s and early 1950s, to “prove” that they were not Communists.

 

 

 

 

Albuquerque PTA Smackdown

 

 

 

 

This is a redacted version of the talk I attempted to deliver at my children’s Elementary School PTA meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Tuesday, November 18, 2014.

 

The former PTA president had suggested that I ask the current president to put Standardized Testing on the agenda for this meeting, so my understanding was that the PTA was inviting me to speak on this topic.

 

In the five days leading up to the meeting, I was intimidated by emails from the PTA president and a phone conversation intended to censor the content of what I was going to present.

 

I knew that teachers’ freedom of speech on the topic of Standardized Testing had been curtailed, but until last week I hadn’t heard of parents being censored on this topic.

 

The president told me that the PTA officers had met in advance of the meeting, and that if they were going to allow me to speak (her words), they had the right to control the parameters of what I might say.

 

When I arrived on Tuesday night, the doors to the building were locked. When my husband, who had been misdirected to another building, managed to get in, he was told not to bother plugging in the projector for my powerpoint presentation, because they were not going to let me finish presenting.

 

While speaking, I was repeatedly interrupted by the PTA president’s attempts to cut me off. When PTA members called out “let her speak,” a vote was called and a majority voted to let me continue. Still, feeling harassed in the hostile environment the PTA president had created, I was only able to read about half of the following:

 

I would like to begin by thanking the PTA officers and the former PTA president for suggesting that I put Standardized Testing on the agenda for this meeting. The current PTA President has asked me to supply you with the means to get more information on this topic, so flyers with links to websites will be handed out.

 

I am Dr. Kimberle López and as Spanish professors at the University of New Mexico here in Albuquerque, my husband and I have had the honor and privilege of having many of this elementary school’s teachers and parents as our students. I am here not representing the PTA but as a parent and private citizen presenting the results of research I have conducted over the past year since attending a meeting at our neighboring elementary school.

 

I present this information so that you can draw your own informed conclusions. First I would like to present a little background on Standardized Testing.

 

The thing is, test scores can be used to argue opposite points, depending on how you interpret cause and effect. If you want to assert that people with lower incomes or different ethnicities are naturally less intelligent, then lower test scores can back you up. But if you say that testing favors those who have economic advantages, you will interpret the correlation between test scores and income level very differently, taking into account that not all students are given equal educational opportunities.

 

The increase in testing over the past decade and a half arose in part as a response to a supposed dramatic rise in test scores in Houston and other parts of Texas, which were soon proven to be the result of lies, cheating, and manipulation of data.

 

When I first learned about No Child Left Behind, what struck me most was that it seemed that when schools did poorly on standardized tests, the plan was to take money away from those schools. That always seemed backwards to me, since aren’t those the schools that need more resources and support?

 

There is a new test for this Spring that is causing a lot of consternation because of a format unlike that of any other large scale high stakes test given before.

 

Standardized Tests are designed from a model of what do kids need to know to go from high school to college into a career, and then that is trickled down into middle school and elementary school exams. The exams are designed and graded by individuals who do not necessarily have any training in child development nor classroom experience with children. The high school model is not developmentally appropriate for young children.

 

The letters ARCC in the acronym PARCC stand for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers, and this is the test that our 3rd through 5th graders will be taking in Spring.

 

The PARCC test is problematic on a technological level since from one question to another students have to switch between typing in answers, clicking on multiple choices, filling in blanks, navigating texts between split screens, dragging and dropping, highlighting, using a drop-down menu, etc.

This involves class issues and institutional racism, since children from affluent families who have their own iPads would be more familiar with dragging and dropping and using drop-down menus than children who live below the poverty line.

 

We all have concerns about “teaching for the test,” but up until this year, those concerns had to do with teachers having to take class time away from more appropriate forms of learning to teach the content of what would be on the tests. But this year with the PARCC a whole new level of concern has arisen—that we need to take time away from classroom instruction to prepare students for the technological format of the test.

 

Some schools in New Mexico have computer labs and computer lab teachers, but not all children across the state have equal access to computers. Many schools across our state don’t even have the computer facilities to administer the PARCC test, much less to prepare student for its technological challenges.

 

In addition to time spent preparing for the test, the administration of the PARCC test will take approximately 10 hours. Ten hours—that is more than twice as long as the MCAT college seniors take to get into Medical School or the LCAT they take to get into Law School.

 

I have heard that the PARCC will take time away from instruction and interrupt the school routine for six weeks in Spring. Even though the kids won’t be taking the test all day, I think we all know that if students are taking tests in the morning, they may not be as receptive to learning in the afternoon.

 

I would like to see our school keep our current high rating, but not because we have an unfair advantage over other kids across the state. Our neighboring school has an “F” rating that is affecting student enrollment, the ability to hire teachers, and property values in their district.

 

Why? Not because it is a bad school with bad teachers, but on the contrary, because they have a magnet Special Education program, and my understanding is that Special Education students must take the standardized tests corresponding to their grade level without reasonable accommodations.

 

Because test scores are tied to Teacher Evaluations and School Rankings, Special Ed teachers are more likely to be rated as “minimally effective,” get lower raises, and the schools that serve the most underserved children are ranked lower and risk having their funding reduced. So again, the kids who need the most help get fewer resources, and the teachers who work the hardest and have the most stressful job are the least rewarded.

 

New Mexico teachers have 50% of their Teacher Evaluation based on student test scores—no other state in the union has a higher percentage, and most count Standardized Testing as a significantly lower percentage of Teacher Evaluations. States risk losing federal funding if they don’t tie Teacher Evaluations to student test scores.

 

The rating of schools using A-F grades is particularly demoralizing to teachers, because teachers took pride in being “A” students when they were in school.

 

Schools having an F rating for a certain number of years risk closure. What is happening across the country is that Standardized Test scores are being used as a pretext to close public schools and then re-open them as corporate-run for-profit schools funded with tax dollars.

 

The process of privatization seems to follow this sequence: first, there appear headlines saying “Our Schools Are Failing.” If they repeat it often enough, we begin to believe it. Then they use Standardized Testing to give failing grades to school, then after a few years they close them and replace them with Corporate Charter Schools. Last year in Chicago alone, 50 public schools were closed, and in Chicago the for-profit corporate charter school industry is booming.

 

When I say corporate charter schools, I am not talking about the grassroots charter schools run by dedicated educators who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and rolled up their sleeves ready to work to contribute to educate our kids and make our communities a better place. No–I am talking about multi-billion dollar corporations that run for-profit schools using our tax dollars.

 

They use the top-down corporate model that pays administrators top dollar while treating teachers like lowly assembly line workers, underpaid and overworked. The administrators making educational decisions are businesspeople not educators.

 

New Mexico, like other states, is moving toward the privatization of education. The privatization of public education means that, like the private prisons, our tax dollars would be used to pay for-profit companies to run our schools.

 

If you haven’t heard about these issues, it may be due to the fact that teachers are discouraged from discussing testing with parents. It surprised me to learn this, since one would think that it would be a professional obligation of teachers to critically examine the tests and discuss them with parents. Instead, it is a taboo subject and teachers are led to believe that they might lose their jobs if they talk to parents about something so relevant to their students’ educational wellbeing. We want teachers to teach our kids critical thinking, but they are discouraged from applying critical thinking to examining the circumstances in which they practice their own profession.

 

[The day after this PTA meeting, I attended a School Board meeting where I learned that New Mexico teachers who would be administering the PARCC had all been obliged to sign a waiver saying that they would not speak disparagingly about the PARCC.]

 

It is because teachers have been intimidated and made to feel fearful about discussing the topic of Standardized Testing that I feel compelled as a parent to speak. Teachers are threatened with losing their jobs, but parents still have the right and the obligation to monitor their children’s education.

 

[I didn’t think that parents were also censored on this topic, but by this time the PTA president had interrupted me several times and was trying to cut me off. A vote was called and a majority voted to let me continue. The PTA president set a timer for two minutes so I didn’t get much further]

 

The topic of Standardized Testing makes teachers very nervous. Students pick up on this, and it makes them nervous as well. Anxiety is running high–although it is only November, kids are already coming home and telling their parents about a big test they will be taking next Spring.

 

What causes a lot of teacher stress is the top-down corporate model of education. The idea is that a school or a school system is basically like a business and should be run like one, with the administrators at the top being paid top dollar and the teachers being not just the lowest paid and least appreciated, but also those whose opinions are least taken into account when educational decisions are made.

 

Instead, decisions that affect our children most are taken by business managers without taking into account input from those who know the most about what is best for our kids, their classroom teachers. I would venture to guess that what is most demoralizing to teachers is not the low wages or the ever increasing workload (teachers are used to being overworked and underpaid) but the fact that the administration fails to draw on teachers’ extensive experience when making decisions that affect our kids.

 

The main reason this corporate model is flawed is that a school is not like a business. A business runs to produce a product and make a profit. Our school system has tried to copy this model with the student as the “product” and the teachers as the assembly line producers. Standardized Testing has grown as its own multi-billion dollar industry in response to the need to measure educational “production.”

 

Standardized Tests have never been proven with independent research (not funded by the publishing companies that produce and sell the tests) to be an accurate measure of students’ knowledge. The only thing Standardized Testing has definitively been proven to have achieved is to have enriched the coffers of the publishing houses that design and produce the tests.

 

New Mexico has dedicated $9.8 million to the online PARCC tests for this Spring, and it has cost our public school system $1.3 million to add a testing coordinator at each of our schools this year. The state reforms are forcing our most experienced teachers out of the classroom while we are adding testing coordinators and computer experts to prepare students for these exams.

 

Ten million dollars could be better spent on something directly contributing to education: 10 million dollars could fund thousands of teacher salaries, buy thousands of computers and hundreds of thousands of books for our schools.

 

Although it is common knowledge that teachers are underpaid and overworked, they are often treated as if they were overpaid and underworked, and each year they are loaded up with new bureaucratic tasks that don’t translate into more meaningful classroom experiences for their students.

 

If you lined up 10 teachers and asked them whether they would prefer to have a higher salary; less work; or the right to have a say in decisions that affect education, and the knowledge that the work they were doing was not bureaucratic busy work but meaningful work that contributes to education, I believe that at least 9 of them would accept their current salary and workload if they knew that they were respected for their experience and their opinions were taken into account in educational decisions.

 

At the meeting over a year ago at our neighboring school, a highly esteemed teacher who works tirelessly for students at our school, said that our “B” rating is due in part to the fact that our faculty have figured out how to say what bureaucracy wants to hear when they fill out the forms set up for ranking schools. Someone in the audience replied that it is unfortunate that we have put our teachers in the position where they have to jump through hoops. Indeed, jumping through hoops is something we train circus animals, not professional educators, to do. It is appalling that teachers need to spend so much time on meaningless bureaucratic tasks, taking time away from doing the meaningful work they were educated and hired to do.

 

Most of us just let this happen because we figure there is nothing we can do about it. The public school system doesn’t make parents aware of the fact that they can opt their children out from testing. And if we do happen to find the opt-out form on line, we read language that aims to “guilt” parents into not signing the form. Our form says that opting out may “hamper instructional planning for my child” but if the tests are taken in Spring and results are not received until the next school year, it is simply not true that these tests help instructional planning for my child, who will be in a different class with a different teacher by the time my kid’s current teacher receives the test scores.

 

Many parents feel torn about “opting out” of standardized testing—even if parents think that opting out is best for our children, they are told that it will hurt our schools. The only reason it would hurt our schools is because the system is arbitrarily set up to base teacher raises and school rankings on standardized test scores. Why should parents be forced to choose between what is best for our schools and what is best for our kids? Shouldn’t what is best for our kids and our schools be the same thing?

 

This video was made by NYC public-school parent and film-maker Michael Elliot. It is a powerful video that expresses the views of parents and students.

 

It is available on Youtube and vimeo.

 

 

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