In what can only be called a blistering editorial, LOHUD–the newspaper of the Lower Hudson Valley in New York–called for Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor of the Board of Regents, to step aside because of her failure to communicate with parents and to insulate educational decision-making from the Governor. Tisch is a gracious person from a philanthropic family, but she has been the leader of the hated testing regime, convinced that testing will close achievement gaps. But, as we know after a dozen years of No Child Left Behind, tests measure achievement gaps, they don’t close them. The editorial board at LOHUD correctly understands that the opt out movement is not an effort by parents’ to shield their children from bad news (or, as Arne Duncan insultingly said, “white suburban moms” who are disappointed that their child is not so “brilliant” after all), but is a resounding vote in opposition to the state’s forced implementation of Common Core without adequate preparation and to its heavy reliance on testing as the primary vehicle for “reform.” The switch to Common Core testing–where the vocabulary level is two-three years above grade level and the passing mark is absurdly high–produced ridiculous failing rates in 2013 and 2014 that unfairly punished all students, but especially English language learners, children with disabilities, and black and Hispanic students, whose failure rates were staggering. Since we now know that these tests produce no information other than a score, it is misleading to claim that the results help children or guide instruction. They offer no benefit to any student and will be used to penalize their teachers unfairly. The editorial recognizes that many parents and educators fear that the tests are being used to advance a privatization agenda, although the writer doubts that it is true. Having seen claims by proponents of Common Core testing that the results would drive suburban parents to demand charters and vouchers, I am inclined to think that the concerns about privatization are well-founded, not a conspiracy theory. We have been testing children every year since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002; if tests created equity, we would know it by now. After all these years of testing, we know which students need smaller classes and extra help. Why are we not doing more to help them instead of doubling down on the stakes attached to testing?
Governor Cuomo loudly proclaimed his intention to break up what he calls “the public school monopoly,” and the Regents have not resisted the governor’s demands. They have meekly pursued a high-stakes testing strategy, and the Legislature shamefully acquiesced to the Governor’s anti-teacher, anti-public education demands. Under these circumstances, the opt out movement is the voice of democracy. The numbers are not final yet (the state won’t release them), but about 200,000 students refused the tests. This, despite the fact that state officials and many superintendents issued warnings and threats to damp down the opt outs. The numbers could grow higher this week when three days of math testing begin.
Skeptics will say that only 15% of students opted out. Expect their numbers to grow if leaders ignore them. We heard the same skeptics during the civil rights movement, who called its leaders “outside agitators,” we heard it during the anti-Vietnam war movement, when President Nixon appealed to “the silent majority.” The brave, the bold, and the principled step forward when rights are trampled, and government acts without the consent of the governed.
The opt out movement is the only way that the public can makes its voice heard. It is indeed a powerful voice. Now, when people who are disgusted with the corporate reform ask, “What can I do? I feel powerless,” there is an answer. Don’t let your child take the tests. Don’t feed the machine. Don’t give them the data that makes the machine hum. Contrary to their claims, the testing does not help children; it does not improve instruction. There is no value to these tests other than to rank and rate children, grade their teachers and their schools, and set them up for firings or closings.
The LOHUD editorial says:
The stunning success of the test-refusal movement in New York is a vote of no confidence in our state educational leadership.
Even as the numbers showed clear dissatisfaction with the path and pace of education “reform” in New York, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch downplayed the opt-out movement, and painted parents as confused patsies of a labor action, a misreading of the facts.
The Board of Regents sets educational policy for our state. The board needs a strong leader who is willing to guide education policy, communicate the mission clearly and stand up to meddling politicians. Merryl Tisch should cede leadership of the board and allow a fresh start for the board, and for education policy in New York.
We do not take this position lightly. Tisch is a dedicated public servant who has used her family’s influence to do immeasurable good. She has promoted New York’s “reform” agenda because she believes it is the right thing to do, particularly to help children in urban schools.
But our state leadership has failed to sell its brand of change, and the fallout has been dramatic and potentially debiliating to the entire system. The arrogance of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former Education Commissioner John King and, yes, Tisch, has alienated too many parents and educators. The people who are responsible for educating our children each day – classroom teachers, principals, administrators, school board members – have railed for years against state policies that drive up local costs but fail to improve instruction…..
It is a sad state of affairs when many committed, accomplished educators now believe that Albany’s true goal is “privatization” – or proving their contention that New York’s schools and teachers are failing so that more tax dollars can be driven to charter schools and mega-corporation, Pearson Inc. Are such conspiracy theories true? We doubt it. But mainstream acceptance shows state education leaders’ failure to communicate what they are trying to do. And blame for that lands squarely at the feet of the head of the Board of Regents, Tisch.