This is my third post concerning the NYSED memo (see here and here) and I apologize if it seems like I’m having trouble moving on. I guess I was having a bit of trouble as this memo kept rearing its ugly head. So I decided it would be beneficial for me to get a lot of frustrations off of my chest by writing a letter directly to the author of said memo. I wonder if I’ll get a response. Maybe I’ll send one certified letter per week until I do!
To: Steven E. Katz
From: Danielle Boudet, concerned parent of a public school child
RE: your Memo dated January 2013 “Information on Student Participation in State Assessments” http://www.p12.nysed.gov/assessment/ei/2013/student-participation.pdf
Dear Mr. Katz,
I am writing today to express my concerns about the memo you sent to New York State schools back in January. I found the content and the tone of the memo to be peremptory and disrespectful to the rights of parents. It is a disgrace that you and the New York State Education Department are not listening to parents concerning the excessive amounts of testing our children must endure in public schools.
In recent years, there has been so much education reform thrown at our schools that they are struggling to keep up. Teacher morale is at its lowest. Stress among students has risen drastically. Budgets are being shaved and programs are either being cut or are under constant threat. And never in our nation’s history has there been so much testing in our public schools as there is today. It sickens me and I will not play the pawn in this game of progress and accountability. And neither will my children.
My son is only in Pre-Kindergarten and although he is not yet subjected to the torture of high-stakes state testing, he is already a victim of a number of corporate-created computerized assessments. Although the ostensible purpose is to help the teacher gauge the progress of his or her students, I find it a complete waste of time and money, and far too much classroom time is being devoted to measuring progress through one assessment or another. I have opted my son out of these assessments and will continue to do so. And yet, his classroom teacher is still able to successfully monitor his academic progress without the test–Go figure!
It is not my intent to detail the demerits of excessive testing as there are many. Rather, the purpose of this email is to state that I will continue to opt my children out of all state-mandated and corporate-driven tests, and any testing method that isn’t used solely for the individual classroom teacher. Among the many reasons we will boycott these tests lies the great financial burden on our local districts, and the homogenization of education as creativity and individual teacher innovation are replaced with a one-size-fits-all approach. Know that I am not alone and every day more and more parents are waking up and becoming disgusted with current education reforms and excessive testing.
I am an informed, responsible, and involved parent! I act as the best advocate for my children. Historically there has been on the part of parents an unquestioning trust in our schools and teachers that the right decisions were being made for our children. This used to work. Parents and schools were allies, working together to give students the best possible education. Sadly, there is little local control over education today and the decisions are being made by God only knows what bureaucratic office. The best interests of my children are ignored when their teachers’ hands are tied, and their administrations and Board of Education have become only ‘yes’ men. Unfortunately, tactics like your memo force parents and schools to divide and become enemies.
Parental rights in the area of education are broadly protected by various Supreme Court decisions. In the case of Meyer and Pierce, it was repeatedly held that parents posses “the fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children,” and “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” As I understand it, religious objection is a widely accepted and legally protected reason for opting out of many practices, such as dissection or testing. My research-based and philosophical abhorrence of these testing practices is tantamount to religious reasoning. I strongly feel that opting out is the moral and ethical thing to do and I will exercise my parental rights to make this decision for my children.
It would be unthinkable for a school to ignore such deeply seated beliefs and wishes. It is a school’s right to support a parent’s choice. I will go further and state that it is a school’s responsibility to uphold such parental wishes. The legal framework for ignoring such parental decisions has yet to be fully laid in New York State, but I believe that parents’ civil rights to direct the type of education their children receive will continue to be upheld in a court of law and that informed and involved parents will win favor in the court of public and media attention.
The January memo that you sent to the Superintendents and Principals of New York State Schools was an audacious move to drive yet another wedge between schools and parents. How dare you presume any governing power over the decisions I make for my own children? How dare you bully schools into not respecting parental wishes? Why are you threatening to punish our schools? In your memo you stated, “The failure to comply… …will have a negative impact on a school or school district’s accountability, as all schools are required to have a 95% participation rate in State testing.” I understand that schools must answer to NYSED. But our school has done nothing to break your rules! Schools across the state exist in too much fear to oppose your mandates. But if they simply honor a parent’s request, it would be unconscionable to impose ANY sanctions. Explain to me how it would be fair (or productive for that matter) to punish 94% of students if 6% choose to dissent because of ethical and moral reasons?
Mr. Katz, I am realistic. Although I am disappointed with the direction of current education reform, I do not expect my letter to sway your policies in any way. I do not expect this letter to have any impact on the current curriculum being developed. I do not expect a sudden moratorium on standardized tests. I do not expect a sudden realization that the Common Core is coming at us too fast and with too little research into the efficacy of such standards. And, I do not expect a genuine scrutinization of APPR and other such mandates. As much as I disagree with much of the reform taking place in education, I see it as a train riding at full speed. We need to put the brakes on, but stopping will take some time.
But I do expect something and this is what it is: I do expect support and respect for parents that have a different set of beliefs than your own. Your January memo was grossly misguided. And now the right thing to do would be to issue another memo to New York State superintendents and principals. This time you must set the record straight. You must tell school administrations to honor parental decisions and respect parental input when it comes to the educational experiences our children are getting. Schools should be allowed to listen to parents without the fear of repercussion. Retract your threatening memo, Mr. Katz! It is the moral thing to do. And it is the legal thing to do. I will repeat: Our schools have done nothing to disobey your mandates. You should not punish them!
Sincerely and in the best interests of my children,