Gary Stern, veteran education writer in the Lower Hudson Valley, has an insightful well-informed understanding of the New York opt out movement. He knows why it started and why it continues: parents want real changes, not promises of change.

 

 

In contrast, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post ridicules the parents as crybabies who refuse to accept that their children are not so smart after all (shades of Arne Duncan!).

 

Stern writes that the State Education Department imposed the new standards and tests without adequate preparation. The result was distrust and opt out.

 

 

“The state should have anticipated this year’s high opt-out rates (in some places, even higher than last year when 20 percent of kids statewide sat out exams). We had Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who once passed himself off as the state’s “lobbyist for the students,” bashing the tests and calling them largely meaningless. We saw the election of a new Board of Regents Chancellor, Betty Rosa, who said she would opt out her own kids if they were still of school age. Plus, there has been so much upheaval during the past year or two — reviews of and revisions to education policies that few understood — that only wonks and activist-types could possibly keep up.
The flipflopping, the unknowns and the promises of future change made the whole thing reek of politics. The continued mess further frustrated those parents keenly watching the process, and likely overwhelmed many others. Why not opt out until things settle down in a year or two?

 

 

“Here’s what we need to see before we can anticipate an opt-in movement:

 

 

*New York standards. Revisions to the Common Core are underway, and must reflect what the state’s educators want. Rosa, the Board of Regents and Elia will have to explain and sell the changes they endorse, likely to be a difficult task.

 
*Clear goals. It’s not enough to chant that students must be “college and career ready.” It’s time to explain where our benchmarks come from.

 
*Better state tests. Elia has promised to cut the ELA and math assessments from three days to two, and to involve New York educators in the development of questions. The tests need to reflect what kids are learning, not the other way around.

 
*Useable or formative test data. We need test results that can be used to improve instruction, not merely to conclude whether students hit targets. Elia has pledged to release all future test questions and to produce results earlier, so teachers can address kids’ academic needs quickly.

 
*A review of testing and graduation requirements for special-education students. Many parents and educators believe that students with disabilities have fared worst of all during the reform era.

 
*A complete rewrite of the state’s loathed teacher- and principal-evaluation system. Elia agrees that it was designed to punish teachers. She has vowed to involve educators in rewriting it. But Elia and Rosa may have to take on Cuomo, who changed his tune on other education matters, but seems committed to the failed evaluation model he championed.

 
“The opt-out movement was created and energized by ordinary, well-meaning parents. It wasn’t the teachers’ unions, who jumped on the bandwagon late. And please don’t accept the stereotype of clueless, selfish suburban parents who refuse to accept their kids’ low test scores or worry their special snowflakes’ psyches would be damaged by rigor. Or that suburbanites don’t care about holding under-achieving urban schools accountable. It’s an offensive, cartoonish narrative that sells parents way short.

 
“Parents build strong connections with their local schools. When the teachers they know and the principals they trust were becoming demoralized by state directives, moms and dads started paying attention. Many didn’t like what they saw.

 

 

“New York’s “reform” agenda was dropped out of the sky by state officials, eager for the federal dollars attached, who were so convinced that they were right that they didn’t bother to prepare parents for what was coming….

 

 

“Former state Education Commissioner John King dismissed parents’ concerns, and former Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch could not seem to grasp them….

 
“The state will need to sell its changes — new standards, new tests and (please!) a new evaluation system. But it can’t expect parents to buy only promises of change. Some will need to see it before they send their kids into testing rooms again.”