Archives for category: Parent Groups

With so much billionaire cash sloshing around California to promote charter schools and to disparage public schools, it can be difficult to know which groups are real and which are Memorex.

Here is one that definitely is not a real parents’ group. It is called Speak Up and it is populated with people who are embedded in the charter sector. It recently chastised L.A. Superintendent Austin Beutner for not moving swiftly enough to clamp ratings on every school, the better to close them with and set them up for privatization. How will parents know how to choose a school if the district doesn’t give it a grade or a rating? They say he is in danger of “breaking a promise” to the parents of Los Angeles, who are longing to have their schools rated.

Schools should be evaluated based on such issues as their class size; the experience of their teachers; the resources invested by the district, such as: does the school have a library with a librarian? Does it have a school nurse? Does it have classes in the arts for all students?

But Speak Up seems to be interested mostly in test scores. Are they going up or down? Most people these days recognize that test scores measure the demographics of the students enrolled, not the quality of the school.

So who is this group?

Its founder and executive director is Katie Braude, a former KIPP executive. Until recently, she was on the Los Angeles County Board of Education, which has the power to overrule the LAUSD Board of Education on charter school decisions.

On Speak Up’s board of directors is Russell Altenburg, who is also connected to KIPP, was a program officer at the Broad Foundation, and a fellow at the NewSchools Venture Fund. And he was part of the “inaugural cohort” at the Pahara Next Gen Network.

Mary Najera was a founder of the Los Angeles Parents Union, now known as the Parent Revolution, which used the Parent Trigger law to try to convert public schools into charter schools. Parent Revolution was funded by Walton, Broad, Gates, Arnold and other billionaires. She is “chief community officer” at the Extera Public Schools charter chain.

Rene Rodman is another member of the board of directors of Speak Up. She is a also on the board of the Palisades Charter High School, where she served as president.

Aida Rodriguez is Vice President of Advocacy and Government Relations at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, a charter school network. She too worked for Parent Revolution.

Speak Up is an organization led by charter school advocates. Twenty percent of the students in Los Angeles are enrolled in charter schools. Eighty percent are not.

Nowhere on Speak Up’s website does it list the names of its funders. One can only guess. Waltons? Broad? Hastings? Gates?

When you see a press release from Speak Up, remember that they are speaking up for Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, the Waltons, Bill Gates, and the charter industry, not for the 80 percent of students in the public schools.

A coalition of civil rights and parent groups spoke out against Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s proposal to create a voucher program, Chalkbeat reports.

The Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition, which champions policies that address disparities in education, said Lee’s plan to create education savings accounts would instead end up helping middle-class families. The accounts are a new kind of voucher that give families taxpayer money to pay for private school or other private education services.

The group charged that the proposed plan would exclude and discriminate against some students and questioned the state’s ability to measure the program’s success if participants are not required to take the same state assessments as Tennessee’s public school students.

Calling voucher bills moving through the legislature “a step backwards” for Tennessee, the coalition urged the governor to instead invest more money in proven school improvement strategies like Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, which gives additional resources and pays for extended school days to turn around low-performing schools….

The coalition’s diverse members include the Tennessee chapter of the NAACP, the YWCA, the National Civil Rights Museum, and education funds, foundations, or urban leagues in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga.

“Vouchers take critical resources away from our neighborhood public schools, the very schools that are attended by the vast majority of African-American students,” the NAACP said in a separate statement. “Furthermore, private and parochial schools are not required to observe federal nondiscrimination laws, even if they receive federal funds through voucher programs.”

Governor Lee met with leaders from the urban districts that would be affected by vouchers, and they gave him an earful.

“If this voucher bill passes, the private schools will pick the best of the best, and we will become a district of the academically and behaviorally challenged,” said Stephanie Love, a board member with Shelby County Schools in Memphis, recounting her message to the governor as she left the meeting.

In all, more than 20 board members and four superintendents from Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Jackson met with the governor, according to Tammy Grissom, executive director of the Tennessee School Board Association, which organized the gathering….

Meanwhile, the administration revised its proposed budget to move the $25 million previously allocated for the controversial program to go instead to fighting hepatitis C in state prisons. Lee’s finance commissioner, Stuart McWhorter, said the funding shift is not a sign of trouble for the governor’s education plan.






After months of threats and bribes and warnings, the New York State Education Department released a statement affirming that students have the right to opt out of state testing.

This is a victory for the Opt Out movement, the parents, superintendents, principals, and teachers who have said that the exams are flawed and of novalue to students.

This is the statement:


As students in grades 3 through 8 take New York’s state assessments this week, we appreciate the efforts of school leaders to ensure parents have all information to make a decision about the assessments that is right for their family. We would like to remind school leaders of the importance of honoring requests received by parents to opt their children out of the exams. While federal law does require all states to administer state assessments in English language arts and mathematics, parents have a right to opt their children out of these exams. To be certain, the vast majority of schools honor parents’ requests to have their children not take the tests; however, we have also heard of isolated but troubling reports of parents’ requests being ignored.
We thank New York’s parents, teachers, and school administrators for their support and understanding as we continue to work together in the best interest of all students.

The New York State Allies for Public Education issued this statement in opposition to State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia’s efforts to “bribe, coerce, manipulate, and threaten students and parents into complying with a broken assessment system.” NYSAPE has led the opt out movement for several years. About 20 percent of eligible students in grades 3-8 do not take the state tests. About half the students on Long Island boycotted the tests. In some schools on Long Island and upstate New York, more than 75% of students refused to take the tests. Commissioner Elia doesn’t listen to parents. She doubles down and tries to force them to take the tests, which provide no information about individual performance to teachers. The tests are meaningless other than as punishments for students, schools and teachers, and they require far more time than taking an SAT for college admission.




More information contact
Jeanette Deutermann (516) 902-9228;

Kemala Karmen (917) 807-9969;
NYS Allies for Public Education – NYSAPE


Link to Press Release


NYS Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia Creates a Culture of Fear, Intimidation, and Misinformation in our Schools


The Every Student Succeeds Act (the federal law known as ESSA) gives states authority to design their own unique accountability plan regarding the state tests. Unfortunately, Commissioner Elia has used that authority to misinterpret ESSA, and has used ESSA as an opportunity to impose a culture of fear on our administrators and teachers, and our children.  Under Commissioner Elia’s direction, the State Education Department (SED) at best turns a blind eye to, and at worst encourages, school districts to bribe, coerce, manipulate, and threaten students and parents into complying with a broken assessment system.

As we head into the first round of 2019 grades 3-8 state testing, NYSAPE is receiving an unprecedented number of reports from parents statewide about morally objectionable, educationally unsound, and in some cases, illegal policies and tactics that local schools and districts are using in attempts to suppress test refusal. Parents are reporting bribery with prizes, parties, and exemptions from district course finals. Students are threatened with removal from or ineligibility for honors programs, retention, and summer school; schools are threatened with closure.

Misinformation and scare tactics are coming from school districts, administrators, and even SED itself (see NYSUT’s rebuttal to the Commissioner), and range from claims that refusal students will be scored a ‘1’ and that the tests were created by teachers to statements that the assessments are “vital” and more. The New York City Department of Education even sent out letters–which they later had to retract–informing parents they could transfer out of their schools. Whether the city acted on its own or at the behest of SED is unknown, but SED’s endorsement of “public school choice” for the NY ESSA plan, along with its reductive test-based criteria for identifying these schools as in need of “Comprehensive Support and Improvement” (CSI) certainly paved the way for this debacle. The panic and humiliation caused by identifying schools as CSI was not limited to the city, but was felt in districts all over the state.

Most concerning is the resurgence of purely punitive policies like “sit and stare” (a cruel practice where test refusers as young as 8 must sit in the room with the testers with not so much as a book or a pencil to divert themselves with) and forcing elementary refusers to do old state assessments throughout the testing administration hours. Outraged parents have questioned these abusive actions, and the response many have received from their districts is that these tactics were suggested and encouraged, incredibly, by Commissioner Elia of the New York State Education Department.

A letter from the principal of the Oswego Middle School to her students perfectly illustrates that the NYS grades 3-8 testing system has gone completely off the rails. The sole purpose of the letter was to convince children “why you should say yes to the test.” Given out during the school day, for students to sign while still in school, the letter indicated they should “feel free to share with your parents.” It invoked a warped child psychology, attempting to manipulate students with phrases such as, “you love OMS, and we LOVE YOU! So, you WANT TO HELP!”  “If you take the NYS ELA Assessment…you can be exempt from the English Final Exam in June!,” and “Daily Drawings for FABULOUS prizes for all ‘YES’ slips.”  And, finally, as a way to single out any child whose parents had decided they wouldn’t be participating, “…a school-wide event if we can hit 100%! Something like a Spring Pep Rally….your favorite teachers will do something FUNNY ‘like’ KISS A PIG.”

Any policy that singles out, discriminates against, rewards, or punishes school children for the decisions of their parents is cause for deep concern. It’s appalling and disconcerting that Commissioner Elia/SED is encouraging these unacceptable policies. SED must immediately admonish these policies, and address the many flaws, complaints, educational issues, and legal questions raised by this deeply flawed testing program—for years the most highly boycotted state testing system in the nation.

NYSAPE calls on the NYS Legislature to pass legislation, before session ends, that reinforces a parent’s right to opt out, protects students from punishment, requires districts to notify parents at the beginning of the school year about those rights, and forbids SED and school administrators to bribe, punish, lie, and manipulate as a way to increase test participation. Neither students, administrators, schools, nor districts should suffer retaliation or negative consequences as the result of parents exercising their right to refuse the state tests.

NYSAPE and parents statewide will continue to monitor the policies and tactics encouraged by SED and implemented by school districts who have chosen to comply with misguided directives rather than advocate for the students in their care. We believe the time has come for the Board of Regents to bring in a Commissioner who values a whole-child education, respects parental rights, and places our children’s best interests at the forefront.


Michael Elliott, professional videographer and ally of every New York parent group that opposes high-stakes testing, filmed the events on March 16, when AOC joined a community discussion in Jackson Heights, Queens, about public education. With the help of Kemala Karmen, he has broken up the day into segments that you can watch at your leisure. Each of them is short–mostly 3-5 minutes.




Organized by Jackson Heights People for Public Schools

Recorded by @TurnOntheSound

New York City (Jackson Heights, Queens) | March 16, 2019

Part 1


Amanda Vender, Jackson Heights People for Public Schools

Opening remarks from lead organizer Amanda Vender (Jackson Heights People for Public Schools) kick off an inspiring convening of public school parents and community members; education activists; and local, state, and federal elected representatives.

Part 2


Robert Jackson, NY State Senator

Johanna Garcia, NYC Opt Out & New York State Allies for Public Education

New York State Senator Robert Jackson and his chief of staff Johanna Garcia, both of whom started out as public school parent activists, encourage parents in the room to seize their power. Garcia, who has organized with both NYC Opt Out and NY State Allies for Public Education, ends with a rousing call for parents to opt out of state tests.

Part 3


Maria Bautista, Alliance for Quality Education

Maria Bautista, campaigns director for the Alliance for Quality Education, makes the case for bills NY state can pass to make schools culturally responsive to their populations and break the school to prison pipeline.

Part 4


Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters

Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters on the myriad benefits of smaller class size, especially for children considered at risk; how class size has skyrocketed in NYC; and how a lawsuit, proposed legislation, and adequate funding could remedy this equity issue.

Part 5


Kate Menken, New York State Association for Bilingual Education

CUNY professor Kate Menken of New York State Association of Bilingual Education on the history and benefits of bilingual education, ways that federal and state law can be changed to bolster bilingual ed, and how high-stakes testing hurts language learners.

Part 6


Carol Burris, Network for Public Education

Carol Burris talks about waste, fraud, and discrimination in voucher schools and the charter industry; discusses how pouring money into privately controlled vouchers and charters drains funding from public schools; and announces an upcoming report from the Network for Public Education.

Part 7


Diane Ravitch, Network for Public Education

Noted education historian and author Diane Ravitch on the undue influence of billionaires on education policy, why there is no such thing as a “public charter school,” and the separation of church and state. According to Ravitch, the whole shaky edifice of 20 years of failed federal educational policy rests on high-stakes tests and parents should wield test refusal as David would a slingshot.

Part 8a


In her response to the education advocates who preceded her at the town hall, NY State Senator Jessica Ramos, who ran on a platform that prioritized “real public schools,” touches on: testing and opt out, education that is responsive to our kids’ needs, charter schools’ lack of accountability, bilingual ed, more.

Part 8b


In his response to the education advocates who preceded him at the town hall, NY State Senator John Liu deems schools “the most important things in our lives,” and talks about school governance/accountability and his leadership of the new subcommittee on NYC Education.

Part 8c


In her response to the education advocates who preceded her at the town hall, US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks about her own experience as a bilingual student, decries the pernicious reach of Betsy DeVos, and calls for a national movement on the scale of the Green New Deal to solve the systemic and structural problems of our school system.

Part 9a


Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, State Senator Jessica Ramos, and education advocates* respond to questions from the audience. The questions in this segment were about the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

*Advocates (fr L to R): Kemala Karmen (NYC Opt Out/NY State Allies for Public Education), Kate Menken (NY State Association for Bilingual Education), Diane Ravitch (Network for Public Education), Carol Burris (Network for Public Education), Leonie Haimson (Class Size Matters), Maria Bautista (Alliance for Quality Education)

Part 9b


Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, State Senator Jessica Ramos, and education advocates* respond to questions from the audience. The questions in this segment were about bilingual education.

*Advocates (fr L to R): Kemala Karmen (NYC Opt Out/NY State Allies for Public Education), Kate Menken (NY State Association for Bilingual Education), Diane Ravitch (Network for Public Education), Carol Burris (Network for Public Education), Leonie Haimson (Class Size Matters), Maria Bautista (Alliance for Quality Education)

Part 9c

Q&A III: “Diane Ravitch, what changed your mind?”

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, State Senator Jessica Ramos, and education advocates* respond to questions from the audience. The question in this segment was directed to Diane Ravitch re her metamorphosis from public education critic to champion.

*Advocates (fr L to R): Kemala Karmen (NYC Opt Out/NY State Allies for Public Education), Kate Menken (NY State Association for Bilingual Education), Diane Ravitch (Network for Public Education), Carol Burris (Network for Public Education), Leonie Haimson (Class Size Matters), Maria Bautista (Alliance for Quality Education)

Part 9d


Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, State Senator Jessica Ramos, and education advocates* respond to questions from the audience. The questions in this part of the Q&A were about access to NYC’s test-in “specialized” high schools. Later in the program, local Assembly Member Catalina Cruz also addressed this issue. These 2 segments are combined here although they were not directly consecutive.

*Advocates (fr L to R): Kemala Karmen (NYC Opt Out/NY State Allies for Public Education), Kate Menken (NY State Association for Bilingual Education), Diane Ravitch (Network for Public Education), Carol Burris (Network for Public Education), Leonie Haimson (Class Size Matters), Maria Bautista (Alliance for Quality Education)

Part 9e


Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, State Senator Jessica Ramos, and education advocates* respond to questions from the audience. The question in this segment was about how educators influenced the panelists/respondents.

*Advocates (fr L to R): Kemala Karmen (NYC Opt Out/NY State Allies for Public Education), Kate Menken (NY State Association for Bilingual Education), Diane Ravitch (Network for Public Education), Carol Burris (Network for Public Education), Leonie Haimson (Class Size Matters), Maria Bautista (Alliance for Quality Education)








Fred Smith is a testing expert in New York who worked for the NYC Board of Education for many years. He advises the opt out movement.

He writes:

“For five years, 2012 – 2016, Pearson Inc. had a free ride that cost taxpayers $38 million for tests aligned with the Common Core blah blah. Pearson was shielded in completing its run by the State Education Department, which allowed the company to operate without having to provide information about how its exams were functioning. There would be no timely or complete disclosure of data about test materials, such as item statistics, thwarting the opportunity for independent review of their quality; a gag order that prevented teachers from discussing flaws in the exams; top-down engenderment of fear and confusion among parents abetted by compliant superintendents and too many jittery administrators, denying parents information about their right to opt out, effectively keeping most parents marching along blindly to the annual testing beat; and all the while Pearson and NYSED flouting professional standards for educational testing, while most of the academic world watched silently.

“But by 2014 and 2015 a growing opt out movement arose on Long Island and upstate outside of New York City—brilliantly spearheaded by a few indignant parents activists who summoned the courage to say “NO” and drew on a well of leadership skills and organizing ability–the extent to which, perhaps, they did not know they possessed. And 20% of the children targeted for the tests sat them out. Evidence finally obtained from the state and the city revealed that the opposition the exams was fully justified. I urge readers of this influential tide-turning blog to Google a series of reports (“Tests Are Turning Our Kids Into Zeroes”) posted by the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives at SUNY, New Paltz.

“So where does that leave us? I would hope that parents and other interested parties draw upon our experience with Pearson. A two-stage plan of action is needed as Questar (Pearson’s successor) is about to enter the third year of its five-year, $44 million agreement with SED this April. Before this occurs, a reasonable demand by parents and advocates would be for immediate information about how Questar’s exams worked in 2017 and 2018. To date, such information has not been forthcoming. Lack of transparency and lack of accountability must no longer be accepted as SOP. Stage 2 would follow: If, in two weeks, we don’t get information that we know is already in hand, that should help drive home the message that opting out in April is a rational alternative and a direct way for the voice of parents to be heard. I believe that pushing back against the tests could unify grass roots groups throughout the city on a number of issues that focus the well-being of all children.”

Peter Goodman has been covering New York State and city education politics for many years.

In this post, he reports that Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is planning to punish schools that have high opt out numbers, treating them as”failing schools” even though they include some of the highest performing schools in the state.

Elia is out of control. She doesn’t know how to listen but she sure knows how to crack the whip.

On the teacher evaluation front,Goodman reports that the Legislature is prepared to turn the issue back to districts. It’s fair to say that the Legislature’s efforts to base teacher evaluation on test scores and computer algorithms has been a disaster.

Uncertain: even as teacher evaluation is returned to districts, Will it still be based on test scores, a measure proven to be flawed and inaccurate?

Parents are preparing for the teachers’ strike on January 10 by creating a FB page to support their teachers.

Parent Jenna Schwartz started a FB Page called “Parents Supporting Teachers.”

If you live in LA, join them.

Fred Smith is a genuine Testing Expert. He has the technical expertise to dig deep into the numbers and understand what they mean and what they don’t mean. He spent most of his career at the New York City Board of Education. Now he is a valued consultant to the Opt Out Movement in New York. He knows fraud in testing and he’s not afraid to call it out.

Fred Smith is a hero of American education, and he here joins the honor roll.

Read this article about him, which contains links to his latest work.

John Thompson, retired teacher and historian in Oklahoma, shares his thoughts about the Network for Public Education Conference in Indianapolis. He begins by trying to wrap his brain around my provocative claim that “We are winning.” After I received his post, I explained to him that everything the Reformers have tried has failed. Every promise they have made has been broken. They have run American education for a decade or a generation, depending on when you start counting, and they have nothing to show for it. I contend there is no “reform movement.” There is instead a significant number of incredibly rich men and women playing with the lives of others. The Billionaire Boys Club, plus Alice Walton, Laurene Powell Jobs, and a few other women. This is no social movement. A genuine movement has grassroots. The Reformers have none; they have only paid staff. If the money dried up, the “reform movement” would disappear. It has no troops. None. Genuine movements are built by dedicated, passionate volunteers. That’s what we have.

Thompson writes:

The Network for Public Education’s fifth annual conference was awesome. It will take me awhile to wrestle with the information about the “David versus Goliath” battle which is leading to the defeat of corporate school reform. But I will start by thinking through the lessons learned from retired PBS education reporter John Merrow and Jim Harvey, who was a senior staff member of the National Commission on Excellence in Education and the principle author of “A Nation at Risk.” Harvey is now executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable.

Merrow explained that charters are producing “a scandal a day.” Using the type of turn of a phrase for which he is well known, Merrow said that charters have had “too much attention but not enough scrutiny.” He says that some mom and pop charters are excellent, but online charters should be outlawed. Then he punched holes in the charter-advocates’ claim that rigorous accountability systems could minimize the downsides of charters.

Merrow says that one reason why it isn’t really possible to scrutinize the costs of charters is that there is no longer a real difference between for-profit and nonprofit charters. Choice has created a system of “buyer beware.”

Harvey added that journalists have been accused of cherry-picking charter scandal reports but “there are so many cherries.” Then he recounted inside stories on the writing of the infamous “A Nation at Risk” and how the report was “hijacked,” as he provided insights into how corporate school reform spun out of control.

As Harvey and Merrow discussed, before the report it was difficult to get the press to focus on the classroom. Conflicts over busing to desegregate schools would get the public’s attention, but Harvey didn’t think that “A Nation at Risk” would attract much of an audience. He thought that the key sentence in the opening paragraph hit a balance. The sentence began with the statement that the American people “can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people,” and the paragraph concluded with, “What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur–others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments. “

Had it not been for manipulations of the report by those who were driven by a political agenda, the words in the middle could have been read as intended. Harvey wrote, “The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

Harvey didn’t write the extreme statement that followed. In fact, he had edited out the sentence, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

Clearly the report became part of an attack on public education. In contrast to the social science which preceded it, and the research that experts like Harvey embraced, the campaign kicked off by “A Nation at Risk” blamed schools, not overall changes in society that resulted in some lowered test scores. NAEP scores were also misrepresented by categories,like “proficiency,” which facilitated falsehoods such as the idea that tests showed that 60 percent of students were below grade level.

President Ronald Reagan announced the report along with the false statement that “A Nation at Risk” included a call for prayer in the schools, school vouchers, and the abolition of the Department of Education. Then, as Reagan ran for reelection in 1984, it was clear that the report was being used demonize not just teachers but government itself.

And that leads to the emergence of venture philanthropy in the 1990s. As Merrow recalled, during and before the 1980s, donors such as Ford and Annenberg foundations tinkered around the edges in seeking answers to complex conundrums. They offered money without micromanaging school improvement. Since then, technocratic school reform was driven, in large part, by the Billionaires Boys’ Club. It “weaponized” testing in an assault on public schools.

Harvey attributed that unfortunate transition, in significant part, to the realization that education is a $750 billion industry with profits to be made. It attracted 25-year-olds who knew nothing about education, and soon they were running policy.

Had corporate reformers taken the time to scrutinize the evidence, they would have had to confront the research which existed before and after “A Nation at Risk,” and that its author respected. As Harvey and David Berliner have written, an evidenced-informed investigation would have considered “the 80 percent of their waking hours that students spend outside the school walls.” Had they looked at evidence, edu-philanthropists should have understood the need to “provide adequate health care for children and a living wage for working parents, along with affordable day-care.”

Whether we are talking about the obsession with test and punish micromanaging or the faith in charters, corporate reformers failed to consider the complexities of the school systems they sought to transform. But, they did their homework in terms of public relations. In addition to demonizing teachers, public schools, and other public sectors, corporate reformers stole the language of dedicated educators and civil rights. They’ve presented their teacher-bashing and privatization campaigns as a “civil rights” movement.

Educators must reclaim our language, and craft messages for a new, constructive, holistic campaign to improve schools. One step toward new conversations requires us to learn from the past. John Merrow and Jim Harvey are remarkable sources of institutional history and the wisdom required for the type of discussions that are necessary.