Bonnie Cunard Margolin in Florida reminds us of the brief rebellion in Lee County, Florida, when the school board voted to opt out of a crushing burden of state tests. One member rescinded her vote and the rebellion was crushed. But the fight goes on, led by Don Armstrong, a hero for children.

Bonnie writes:

As you remember, last Fall, Lee School Board Member, Don Armstrong, stood up in a bold move and opted his twin children out of testing. The entire county followed immediately after, setting off a storm of discussion about testing in Florida. His voice helped many but cost him his re-election here in Lee Cty.

The fight in Lee rages on. Armstrong is a large part of it. In fact, our superintendent, Dr. Nancy Graham (the super who gave us so much resistance during the opt out), just resigned amid sanctions for intimidation and bullying from the US Dept of Ed, Office of Civil Rights.

It stays hot down south here 😉 I thought you might be interested in Armstrong’s Sunday letter this week. He mentions BAT and Bob Schaeffer (also a Lee Cty, FL resident). Here is his letter:

Happy Sunday. As always I woke up Sunday morning, drank my coffee, and pondered the issues that we are facing in the Lee County School District. This upcoming week, we have some testing issues that we need to address at Tuesday’s 6 pm Board Meeting. Let’s dive right in and look at the issues, as well as some of the solutions.

Let’s start with a look at the new testing calendar. The Lee County School Board is required to approve the testing calendar by each October. This calendar was placed on last week’s agenda, page 99, for public review. When it became public, the proposed calendar really startled parents and teachers to see that the amount of testing has increased in Lee County this year, despite efforts by the community and our state representatives to reduce testing last spring.

So, why so much concern with this new Lee County testing calendar? Well, let’s see. Starting in the kindergarten, we have ridiculous amounts of testing. Our young kindergarten students must complete 240 minutes of testing (district and state). And, you can follow the testing all the way to high school, with older students facing over 30 hours of state and district tests in one school year.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard that right. 30 HOURS of testing in one school year. Yes, and up to 240 minutes of testing in kindergarten, alone. WOW. Kindergarten testing – and, I don’t mean Fun Friday Spelling Tests. I mean, 240 minutes of grueling multiple choice tests, some on advanced software platforms, and all with high stakes consequences for our 5 year olds.

Can you imagine? I remember when I was in kindergarten, the only thing we were tested on was on how not to eat the glue and whether or not we could sing the ABC’s. Now, all their time is being spent on multiple choice testing. This insanity is taking away from our children’s’ education. Our children should be blowing bubbles, not filling them in.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I fully understand that we need some type of testing to measure our students’ education, but this has completely spun out of control. As local resident, Bob Schaeffer, also National Director of FAIRTEST, pleaded at the school board microphone last Tuesday, “Enough is enough.” Lee County residents must stand up and put a stop to this nonsense.

So, let’s look at why there is so much testing. First, you have testing companies which make money. Then, you have lobbyists which make money and, of course, you have politicians who are pushing the testing because those same lobbyists are donating money to their campaigns. It is one big profitable scheme.

You see folks, there is one crucial piece to all that I just said that is missing: Teachers. Yes, you heard me right: TEACHERS. Why aren’t the teachers involved in the choice of tests? Wouldn’t you think that they are the ones who understand the children they teach? Wouldn’t you be confident that a professional, holding a college degree and licensed by state of Florida, would be the best choice to measure the needs of our students? Wouldn’t a teacher know best about where students need to be, academically, and how to get them there?

These questions bring me to the solution, and you know me: I am all about solutions.

I recommend we form a Testing Coalition across the state of Florida. This coalition is to be made up of teachers from Elementary, Middle and High School. Each of these teachers will be appointed by their peers. At the beginning of the year, they will collect data and at the end of the school year, they will work with the other 67 school districts in the state to analyze the data and recommend programs, professional development, and other needs. Yes, we would have to pay the members of the coalition and, yes, it would absolutely be well worth the money spent. The missing element in today’s crazy world of school accountability is the teacher’s voice. Let’s return teachers to the table of decisionmaking.

It’s simple. Their job would be to look at all the tests and decide which ones are working and which ones are not working. Then, they would go to the education committee in Tallahassee with recommendations.

Teachers have a voice and it is time we listened. Our Florida teachers are well educated on their craft and extremely well educated on the failures of recent reform efforts. Think about it, if you put a large group of teachers, especially intelligent, brave teachers willing to stand up to corporate, education reform, like BATS ( BadAss Teachers Association – 55,000 strong )In front of the education committee with recommendations, our leaders would have to be silly not to listen to them. The teacher’s are screaming for a voice. Let’s give it to them.

Remember, kids first not politics. Don’t put a $ sign on our kids’ education.

– Don Armstrong, Parent and Candidate for Lee County School Board