In the Name of Profit

I think most people can appreciate that it’s not good when large corporate entities drive a market of any kind.  I think we all know they’ll do whatever it takes to turn a profit.

I’m looking forward to a talk by a community member.  He’s going to talk about seed-saving.  We’ll discuss heirlooms & hybrids.  We’ll talk about GMOs and the evil impact of the corporate monster Monsanto.  I won’t go into details… if you’re interested in learning about Monsanto’s role in agriculture, you’ll take it upon yourself to do some easy internet research.

The man who will be giving this talk is also a school board member.  And what strikes me is that he cares so deeply about preserving real unadulterated & sustainable agriculture, yet he fails to see that the Common Core is to education what Monsanto is to agriculture.  Just a thought on this Easter Sunday…

Share the Pressure

Taking a public stand for what you believe can seem like an uphill battle.  You put yourself out there for all to see.  You feel alone at times.  It is normal to feel self-doubt now and then.  It is common to question whether or not what you’re doing is worth it.  Activism can be overwhelming, and being an activist takes courage.  It’s easy to think, someone else will handle this.  Or, things aren’t that bad yet so I have time.  Or, I won’t really be able to make a difference.  So, is it worth it?  I’m here to tell you that it is!

People throughout history have sparked remarkable and positive change in the world.  There are many names that we will never forget.  We remember them and celebrate their lives as great leaders and champions of social justice.  We look to their charisma and are inspired.  We make change one person at a time.  Enormous changes came about because of the motivation of individuals who were not afraid to speak out against a system they saw as flawed.  Perhaps most famously, Martin Luther King Jr. sparked monumental changes for African-American civil rights in this country because he had the courage to take the public stage.  Nelson Mandela spent 20 years in prison for his opposition to apartheid.  Rosa Parks courageously challenged the status quo in  1955 by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man.  In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn and was arrested 10 days later.  Betty Friedan became known as the mother of second-wave Feminism.  And most recently, Lily Ledbetter set the stage in the fight for equal pay for women in the workplace.

Admittedly, my list skips around and leaves out many deserving individuals and groups of people who have worked against “business as usual.”  My goal here isn’t to talk about history so much.  I am certainly here to acknowledge the achievements of these individuals.  But more importantly I’m here to give thanks to the many unknowns who worked alongside their famous counterparts, advocating for what they believed was fair and right.  This supporting cast were integral in the successful challenges against various forms of hegemony.

You might have already seen the following video about first followers.  If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

There is a strong movement occurring right now!  Activism is blooming and it is beautiful!  I am thrilled to be part of it, however small my part may be.  I believe that the opposition to current education reform has momentum.  We are growing and organizing and getting better at our work every day!  Each day across the state of New York, more and more people decide they’ve had enough with the excessive testing at their schools.  Regional groups of outraged teachers and parents are popping up!  This might get ugly, but we will make change!

I can’t help but ponder how future historians will review and record this fight for public schools.  Who, will it be determined, are our leaders?  Who inspire us?  Who will go down in the history books, never to be forgotten?  To be sure, people like Diane Ravitch should be recognized.  Her efforts are tireless and the Network for Public Education is a uniting force.  There are many that have left an important mark and there will be many more who become our motivators.  There are teachers like Kris Nielsen, whose public resignation went viral.  And of course, we all recognize the faces when celebrities like Matt Damon or Jon Stewart speak on education.

Again, I’d like to draw attention to the many unknown people out there making a very real difference with their actions, both big and small.  These are parents, teachers, students, and concerned citizens.  They are all ages and come from all walks of life.  Whether they work in education, have children in the system, or just see the true value of public education being deflated before their eyes, they take action.

Whether you’ve been in the fight for quite a while now, or if you just joined yesterday, YOU are important!  Whether you just started asking a few questions at your child’s school, or if you are relentlessly making phone calls and writing letters, we need YOU.  Whether your voice is loud and constant, or soft and seldom, we want to hear it!  We need everybody to consider how public education is being damaged, and in your own way, say that this is NOT acceptable.  If you’re out there nodding your head in agreement, but are afraid to speak up.   I understand.  It’s scary to stand in opposition to a system that the “powers that be” say is necessary, especially if your job is at risk and in light of the many fear tactics about funding cuts being used to scare us into compliance.

I recently had a conversation with a teacher.  This teacher has been very vocal against excessive testing and the many mandates imposed on his school.  He’s worn out.  He’s been warned.  “Tone it down… or else…”  He’s frustrated because he’s the one putting himself out there for critique, and for potential reprimand.  He’s fighting for his colleagues and for his students, and he knows he has a lot of support out there.  But he’s starting to wonder why he’s risking it all while so many do not dare to speak out publicly.  Teachers are in a bind right now.  Most (almost all) can’t just publicly resign to make a bold statement.  They need these jobs.  And the threats they face for speaking out of turn is very real.  Do they act in support of their employer?  Or do they act in the best interests of their students?   Teachers who are also parents are in the toughest position, especially if their kids attend the school where they teach.

Parents are scared too.  It’s hard to go against the grain, especially when you’re the only one in your district voicing concerns.  They are quickly seen as the thorn in the school’s side.  Schools and other parents are pressuring activists to back off or risk hurting our schools.  Nobody wants to be the one to cause pain to our schools, and hence to our children.

And so I say, “share the pressure!”  What I mean is that not everybody has to be the relentless activist putting everything on the line.  Do we need those people?  Absolutely!  But if you can’t be that person, that’s ok.  What you can do, teachers and parents, is express your concerns.  Do it and then fall back into the crowd and let someone else state their concerns.  Make a small challenge to the status quo.  Do what you can.  Do what you’re comfortable with.  But if you are concerned, please don’t be silent.  We need more people saying the same thing.  That is what will validate the loudest voices–the leaders!  When these small challenges become more common place, their cumulative effect makes it easier for everybody to speak up.

Mark Naison is Professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and a staunch advocate for quality public education.  His recent comments impressed me.

Because the NY State Education Triumverate, Gov Andrew Cuomo, Regents Chair Meryl Tisch, and State Education Commissioner John King, have no sound arguments to justify the non stop testing they are imposing upon the children of New York and the teacher evaluations based on them, they can only resort to threats and intimidation when communicating with parents, teachers, principals, and local school officials. It’s a pretty ugly scenario, and in the long run, one that will backfire.

A whole lot of people are gong to be surprised-none more than school reformers, the politicians that back them and the billionaires that fund both of them- by the mass movements that are going to erupt in response to school closings and abusive testing. These movements are still in their infancy, but in the next three or four years they are going to lead to massive disruptions and force many who have thus far been silent to take a stand in favor of the protesters. Mark my words. I can feel something building. And not just in Chicago. Parents all over the country are totally fed up with have their children’s school experience ruined by testing and test prep and by the way their voice is totally ignored in decisions about school closings and charter school co-locations.

I can feel something building too.  We’re angry and we just can’t take it anymore.  I urge you to be ignored no longer!  Take a stand.  Do what you can.  We’ll all share the pressure and take back our public schools!

More Resources for Parents

I updated the “Opt-out Resources for Parents” page, at the top of my blog.  Check out the new “refusal” letter New Yorkers can use, as well as some commonly asked questions and answers, and lots and lots of online resources for everyone!  This movement is growing thanks to the hard work and selfless efforts of all the activists out there.  Thank you!

An Interesting “Conversation”

I love how technology allows us to rapidly spread ideas and communicate differences.

In the comment section of a recent article highlighting a Buffalo, NY Opt Out event, Dave and I were able to have a little debate about the pros and cons of standardized tests.

Dave:

I wish the author/producer of this story would have fact checked and interviewed a counter position. Shame on you.

My daughters will be taking the state assessments. It is important that we know what they know and what they don’t. If we remove standardized, then how will we know the students are learning the standards? Or does Opt Out think educational standards are optional too? Once I visited a 3rd grade classroom in 2004, the year before standardized tests moved to grades 3 through 8 inclusive, where the teacher was upset because she could no longer spend four months on ancient Egypt. Granted, her students would know nearly everything about ancient Egypt but at what cost? What other curriculum were they missing? In this case, the teacher was not held accountable.

I embraced the adding the 3, 5, 6, and 7th grade assessments. Think about it this way, a student could perform admirably on the grade 4 tests and not be retested until the end of the 8th grade. If there were any deficiencies, students received Academic Intervention Services in the high school by attending an extra class or were scheduled in a remedial, double period (or two year sequence) math and/or English course. What a way to kick off high school? If students score a 1 or 2 on the state assessment, the student will receive remedial assistance within the next school year and not 4 years later in high school.

I know these tests could cause higher anxiety for children, but the teachers’ behaviors could help diminish those fears. How does Opt Out suggest a teacher identify strengths and weaknesses of numerous standards (more than 50) for a class of 25 students without testing? Or is that not important? How can we as citizen of this country ensure our students are learning? International tests such as NAEP suggest that the US education system is lagging way behind many other countries.

Wouldn’t you want to know if your son or daughter was career and college ready?”

Me:

standardized testing does not ensure that children will be more ready for the challenges that face them. They are also a less than ideal way of holding teachers accountable. I do not believe that anyone in the opt out movement is against high standards or against making sure we have good teachers in the classroom. They just recognize that these tests are flawed and it is unfair to judge a student, a teacher, or a school based on the results of one test score. The negative effects far outweigh any benefits in my opinion and I support parents that are ready to take a stand in defense of their children.

Dave:

What data do you have to suggest the tests are flawed? Do you have proof that the tests are unfair?

Me:

Information is everywhere, both anecdotal and scholarly. I’ll include one link to get you started (more and my comment will probably be considered spam!). It will give a taste of why many are opposed to standardized testing as the main form of holding everyone accountable. http://www.fairtest.org/facts/…

Dave:

Thank you for the website. However, I do not see any references to scholarly journals where controlled experiments were done. Just because a website states “fact sheet” does not mean these are facts. I am not trying to be difficult, I just wish to educate myself. If there are studies proving that tests impair the learning of our students, I want to read about it.

In reading the page, they did seem to focus on multiple choice tests and suggests essays were better measures. If, in fact that is true (I would think it is), then don’t we do that already with our ELA and Math tests. Students have multiple booklets to complete over a few days and only one day is multiple choice while the remaining questions are open response such as essays.

Me:

Yes, that was just a fact-sheet. There is far too much and in too many different places to list it all. I understand you’re not trying to be difficult and neither am I… We just disagree right now! Fairtest is just a place to get started and if you look around the site, you will find links to sources of all kinds. Agreed that one must look at more than a fact sheet to find “truth.” But I believe they’ve done the legwork in a believable way and so it is a good starting point. The director of the site, Monty Neill, has been working since 1987 on testing being used in K-12 which gives him in my opinion a fair deal of credibility. There are some other people with earned rights to be called experts in their fields, such as Research Professor of Education Diane Ravitch, lecturer and writer Alfie Kohn, as well as many dedicated parent and teacher organizations that fight hard for the public education in various ways. The point is that we don’t just disagree with high-stakes testing lightly. It is much more than, “we just don’t want our kids to take a test.” We have done our research and happen to agree with the facts that we have uncovered. One might also add that just because the government says it is in our best interests doesn’t necessarily make it so. Could I ask you to tell me how you base your pro-testing stance? Again, not being difficult… all in the name of open & honest dialogue!

Dave:

I have had the pleasure of seeing Diane Ravitch in person at a conference in Jersey City a few years ago. Ok, here is some of the data supporting tests:
This website does a good job of identifying pros and cons:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/…

http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWeb…

http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWeb…

Me:

Thanks! The PBS article does a good comparison of pros and cons. I’ve read all of these points before on both sides of the coin, and obviously happen to believe more that the negative effects of testing far outweigh the positive. The point for point comparison is too neutral in my opinion to really delve into any side of the matter. So, I’m assuming the government’s research on testing is what sways you? As it does a lot of people… because that’s the only information they get. It gets passed down to the schools and administrations, and then regurgitated to the public. I guess that sort of answers your original comment on this article. You stated you wished the author would have interviewed a counterposition. The counterposition for testing is ubiquitous, and until now largely unquestioned. It is the growing masses of people, like those in the opt out movement that are creating their own platforms for discourse because they are largely ignored by the bureaucracy that makes the rules and refuses to listen to a counter-perspective. Anyway, I guess we will agree to disagree! I really did enjoy this debate. Far too often comment sections are filled with emptiness or antagonism. Thanks again!

I appreciate someone who is willing to engage.  (So does my husband… maybe that’s why the Jehovah Witnesses come for him at least once a month… unlike me he didn’t hide in the house with the curtains drawn… They conversed, and now they just won’t stop!)

Really, Mr. Katz….

Familiarize myself with the Common Core?

Well, Steven Katz finally offered this response to my letter.

Dear Ms. Boudet:

Thank you for writing and sharing with me a parent perspective regarding the administration of the New York State Testing Program’s Common Core assessments in English language arts and mathematics in Grades 3-8.

State testing is an important part of instruction in education programs. It provides an evaluation of student mastery of content and skills in various courses of study and helps shape future instruction.

With the exception of certain areas in which parental consent is required, such as Committee on Special Education (CSE) evaluations for students with disabilities and certain federally-funded surveys and analyses specified under the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (see 20 U.S.C. 1232h), there is no provision in statute or regulation allowing parents to opt their children out of State tests.

Each child’s school will decide how best to provide a sound educational environment for each child while the State tests are being administered. Schools do not have any obligation to provide an alternative location or activities for individual students while the tests are being administered.

As someone with a keen interest and concern for children’s education, I hope you will take the time to learn more about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), on which the new State tests are based. The CCSS offer rigorous and researched-based learning benchmarks that help teachers guide students in their grade-by-grade progression toward college and careers readiness. To gain a better understanding of these standards that have been adopted by 45 states including New York please see the Common Core Toolkit for Parents and Families. (http://engageny.org/parent-and-family-resources) The Toolkit provides a collection of materials and resources that will help parents and families understand the Common Core itself and New York State Common Core implementation.

Again, thank you for writing and sharing with me a parent perspective on student participation in the new State assessments.

Sincerely,

Steven Katz

I can’t wait to write him back with my research-based reasons why the Common Core State Standards are a giant sell-out of public education. I can’t wait to tell him again that I don’t care what provisions there are or are not.  I can’t wait to tell him all about the “importance” of his state tests.  And I can’t wait to say once more that MY CHILDREN WILL NEVER EVER TAKE THESE TESTS, and there really isn’t a damn thing he can do about it.

When I first published this post there were less that 200 member in the Opt-out NY Facebook group. Now we are just shy of 1000, with new members every single day. Someone recently asked me about this post, and so I thought it relevant to reblog!

The Plain Satisfactions

Hello parents out there!  If you’re like me, new to the school system and trying to understand it all, maybe you had a WTF moment like I did.  It’s not hard to see how confusing it all is when trying to decipher all the acronyms.

When the USDOE announced RTTT, they offered grant money  to LEAs that wish to apply.  The LEA must then submit their APPR to NYSED and are held accountable according to new SLO.  How is this different from NCLB, I wondered, where schools were required to show AYP?  Are schools still at risk of being labeled SINOI?  Would they then be assigned a TFA teacher?  Many schools sytems are using VAM to evaluate teachers, and this has led to the implementation of many sort of standardized tests.  I was familiar with the ACT and the SAT, but had a…

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