Trip Packing… Whew, I’ll be glad when this is over!

We’re leaving tomorrow for San Francisco.  You won’t hear from me at all over the course of the next week.  This is a much-needed family vacation and we’re all excited!  I won’t be checking email, look at Facebook, or writing blogs.  I’ll be enjoying life!  I think I’ll be so bold as to give myself a big ol’ Woo Hoo!

I’m busy packing right now, trying to travel light you know… makes life a bit simpler if you have less stuff to worry about, and those pesky extra fees at the airport can sure add up!  But it’s hard to pack for four entirely different persons:  a man, a woman, a 5-year-old boy, and an almost 19-month-old girl.

My son’s version of necessities is entirely different from mine.  While I’m busy counting out the number of diapers I’ll need (yes I know I could buy them there, but as the diapers in my luggage disappear, there will room for fun stuff on the way back!!!), my son is slipping in all sorts of “needed” items.  Of the things I’ve had to quietly slip out of the bag are a monster truck, a map of the Netherlands, a field guide to the birds of New York State, binoculars, and a retired non-service flip phone.

I told my son he could choose one small toy to bring on the plane with him.  I asked him what he wanted.  The answer:  my handcuffs.  Yup, I bet those would make a good impression going through security 🙂

We’re going to have a great time!  See you all (virtually) when I return!

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We are what you made us to be.

Last night I had the privilege of discussing education with New York State’s next generation of educators! I was invited to introduce the documentary film, Race to Nowhere to a large roomful of education majors at one of the local colleges.  I gave a version of my introduction from an opt-out informational session that I co-hosted before state testing began.

My name is Danielle Boudet and I’m a parent in the Morris school district. My son is 5 and my daughter is 18 months old. When my son started Pre-K in the fall, I had no idea that I would come to have so many concerns about school. I began to research how new arrivals such as Common Core State Standards, APPR, STAR assessments, Pearson, and inBloom to name a few, would affect the type of educational experience my son would be getting in Pre-K and what my children would have to look forward to as they advanced through the grades. I knew I had to get involved.

I am here today as a parent and a member of Opt-Out New York–a grassroots movement that’s growing rapidly and working hard to reclaim education from policy maker, non-educators, and corporate interests.  I’m sure you’re aware that the NY state testing season for grades 3-8 is well underway. You may or may not be aware that thousands of students across the state, with the support and guidance of their parents, are boycotting these tests in an effort to send a powerful message to Albany that they’re sick of their children’s education being dominated by testing. And they’re sick of participating in a system that uses children as pawns to judge their teachers and their schools.

When it comes to the problems with the excessive use of standardized testing, there is far too much to detail right now. Among their many flaws, we know that these tests are culturally biased; they are a poor indicator of student achievement; and they cannot account for the many extrinsic factors that contribute to low test scores—things like poverty and domestic abuse, for example.

Children as young as 4 are being formally assessed in Pre-K classrooms, and when we look at all the tests and assessments combined, they can consume as much as 25% of our children’s academic year. When school is dominated by excessive testing and high-stakes testing in particular, we can expect to see curriculum narrowed and a teach-to-the-test mentality accompanied by a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and learning. Teachers are starved of the freedom to be innovative, and students are denied recognition of their individual needs and unique approaches to learning.  As future educators, this is a phenomenon you must recognize.

As a member of the Opt-Out movement, I will say that refusing high-stakes testing is one way to send a powerful message to the state that we are sick of the strangle-hold testing has over our schools.  Before the testing began I had the privilege of co-hosting an informational session to help inform the community about testing and their right to refuse. That day, it rained all day long.

As a stay-at-home-mom, one of the things I do for my family is grow a huge vegetable garden. On that rainy day, I got to thinking about rain and weather, and my garden. I thought to myself: a steady rain can germinate seeds and make things grow. Together with the proper balance of sunshine, it kickstarts spring into a flourish of green grass, budding leaves, and blooming flowers. A steady rain is natural. The earth absorbs it and things grow!

But not all weather is so nurturing. A massive storm can bring bursts of torrential rain that come too quickly and too harshly. The earth cannot absorb it or utilize it. It floods the land, eroding soil and washing away seeds before they can germinate and establish themselves. This is especially true of soil that has not been well stewarded. Storms can cause all kinds of damage. People are also at risk if not properly prepared. Storms can be dangerous.

So, I began to think that education is a lot like weather. It has the potential to nurture and grow the minds of our children. But the wrong kind of education has the potential to destroy. In this way, excessive testing—especially these high-stakes tests—is a lot like the destructive forces of a storm. We all know it’s coming. We can seen the sky darken in the distance and we are all worried. It forces us to do nothing except prepare and try to minimize the damage. But I ask you: How much enriching, authentic learning is going to be eroded? And how many students are going to fall victim to anxiety and to the potential of failure? Like misused soil, children already disenfranchised with learning are going to suffer the most. When a storm comes, it hampers activities that we’d rather be doing. Excessive testing replaces real learning, and forces a narrow focus on simply being as prepared as we can to weather the approaching event.

And we all know what happens when bad weather stays around for a while. We become depressed and impatient. We feel unmotivated and bored. And we wish we were doing something else! This is how our children and their teachers feel in school these days. They are caught weathering an extended season of testing and hoping the climate will soon change so they too can do something else—something more productive.

We need to have a conversation about education, and you as future educators need to be part of this conversation. Things need to change so we can provide the right educational environment for our kids, so that they can reconnect to learning and love to learn again. We need to provide them with a nurturing and well-balanced education so that they can truly grow and flourish. It’s time for the storm to end. And, it’s time to repair the damage so we can move forward into a sunnier, more hopeful educational future.

I was asked here today to introduce the documentary film, Race to Nowhere. This is a film that everyone should see—parents, educators, and anyone who cares about education. This film is a catalyst to start a conversation about education—a conversation that for most is long overdue. It challenges our notions about how we prepare our children for success and the many pressures we place on them in doing so.

Now, more than ever, the climate in our schools is less about learning and more about things like teacher evaluations, high-stakes testing, data collection, and other state, federal, and corporate agendas that starve both students and teachers alike in any real attempt at authentic learning and teaching.

Race to Nowhere tells some powerful and emotional stories. The film is both heartbreaking and empowering at the same time. But most importantly, I believe it opens the door to thinking about the type of educational experiences we want for our children.

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you. I hope you enjoy the film, and that it inspires you to think more deeply about education and perhaps start a conversation of your own.

At the end of the film, I helped to answer questions. Many expressed how moved they were by the film. Many were horrified to see light shed on what their future careers might bring them. And I think everybody agreed that it’s wrong to see children suffering the brunt of these burdons. I’m not sure how many of these future educators were aware of the revolution taking place in education right now, and there were many questions about the Opt-Out movement and how they would fit into all of this. They will be entering a profession currently dictated by fear and oppression, and it will be difficult for them to find a balance of ‘playing ball’ and maintaining moral conscience. But they will enter this profession informed and aware.  And they will add yet more voices to the growing chorus of outrage aimed at the degradation occurring in education.

As children of No Child Left Behind, these young adults can relate to much of what the film depicted.  But they were also confronted with statements by colleges and employers who are reporting a serious lack of critical thinking and creative problem solving skills.  One young woman in the audience summed it up perfectly.  She said:

Our generation is constantly accused of being lazy, of not working hard.  But we are what you made us to be.

And with testing in our schools and other time-consuming mandates overwhelming education, we have to ask ourselves some serious questions. What do we want our future to look like? And how are we producing the next generation who will steward this future?

From the Trenches

This is quite possibly one of the most stomach-turning stories of disrespect I’ve heard. Please read and share widely!

The Public Educator

The real world is finally intruding into the Tweed fantasy that most New York parents are sheep that can be easily manipulated and fooled. I am lucky enough to work in a diverse middle class district in New York City. Most parents in my district truly value education and want their children to achieve. What they do not want is a school system that wishes to destroy the self-esteem of children because a test is of more value than a student’s affect.

Today I received a call from one of my colleagues who unfortunately works in a high need middle school in another part of the city. Unlike my district, high need parents in New York have to deal with multiple challenges, but many also want the best for their children. She told me an interesting story. Her principal received a letter from a high needs parent of a mildly…

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For the Record

It’s Friday morning as I begin to type this.  I’m sitting on my porch, watching my children play outside.  My 5 year old son is doing an “experiment” as he calls it, with funnels, sand, and a small wheelbarrow.  My 18 month old daughter is running about, sampling the flora and mineral varieties that our lawn and driveway have to offer, and playing in her own toddler way. Everyone is happy.  The wind is blowing, but it’s warm enough to be outside without a jacket.

My son usually spends his mornings in his Pre-K classroom, but no longer.  Today we officially withdrew him from school.  This was not an easy decision for us to make, but it became more and more clear that he was not benefiting from being at school every day.

In the beginning, he loved it.  He made friends quickly and was eager to enter the classroom. There have been moments over the past few months, when our son has “gotten into trouble.” There was the my food is healthier than your food conversation that got out of hand during lunchtime one day and resulted in a phone call home.  There was the book swiping incident that resulted in him being brought to the office and a phone call home to mom.  And there was the I just want to be homeschooled conversation which is apparently taboo in the classroom arena and not fit for the ears of the other children.  We worked through all of these issues like responsible parents in whatever way was deemed necessary by the particular situation.  In general he was having fun.

It became a back and forth pull between him loving and hating school.  But as time went on, the time he spent complaining about school began to overshadow whatever good things he had to say about it.  The struggle to get him ready in the morning went from the duration of the five minute timespan to get coats and shoes on, to an all morning battle from the moment he opened his eyes and asked, “Do I have to go to school today?”  And then he started crying at the classroom door and trying to run away.  Of course, he stopped as soon as I left, but it started to wear on me.  After school, he was tired and the smallest thing would set him off and another battle would ensue.  This was not fun and this was not how I imagined my time with my 4-5 year old would be spent.  I started to think how unfair it was for the school to see him during his best hours, when all I got was tears.  By then he rarely had a positive word for school.  He did nothing but complain about going.  We were ready to withdraw him and we told his teacher this news.  She suggested we try half-days.  I was skeptical, but I thought I’ll try anything once, and my son also seemed keen to try this.  It was better.  There was less complaining and our afternoons together were fabulous.

Last week was the elementary spring concert.  The kids were to sing folk songs and my son had been practicing one at home.  I was told he would be on the left if I was facing the stage, so I took a seat in that area with his sister.  The kids took the stage.  Pre-K was in front, on the lowest riser.  This was to be the event that confirmed what I already knew–that my son was not being well-served in Pre-K.

I’ll get back to the concert in just a bit.  First I’d like to state some of the things I know, or at least things I think I know, or at the very least things the way I perceive them.  My son is an outgoing and independent little boy.  He is creative and articulate with a vocabulary for his age that would blow you away!  He does “his paleontology work” with rocks he collects… and yes, his pronunciation and understanding of the word is flawless.  He is naturally curious and wants to learn about all sorts of things: from what type of animal lived in the nautilus shell I’ve had since I was a child, to trying to understand why he (my son) “did not exist” 10 years ago when we lived in Buffalo.  “Was the world still making me,” he asked?  He is always asking questions… about everything.  Some might label him as “difficult.”  To be sure, he is a child that will question a given situation, and if he doesn’t like what he’s doing, he will certainly vocalize his feelings in that respect. He is high-energy and loves to play.  He has trouble with transition and if he likes what he’s doing at the moment, he can become so engrossed in the activity that events around him become non-existent. He doesn’t hear when you say “five more minutes.” He doesn’t notice that the light is off to signal journal time.  If he isn’t interested in doing a particular activity, he will rush through it.  And if he feels forced he has been known to answer incorrectly or do it inappropriately on purpose.  But when he is in love with what he’s doing, he is motivated and involved and will go great lengths to carry out his endeavor!

Here is what I perceive about his Pre-K classroom, in no particular order, and with minimal judgement intended directly at the school, his teacher, or the classroom experience at this point.  His teacher is sweet and cares about him.  I believe she was overwhelmed with the new Common Core State Standards she had to teach and that it clouded her vision and she added them to her curriculum in a less than inspired way.  Pearson worksheets come home weekly. My son hates them.  He is bored and I’ve heard other parents say that their children are bored as well.  The children get free-play.  They have a rotation of art, music, and gym.  And they have recess at the end of each day.  Besides art class, the results of which I’ve actually never seen, the children don’t do much art in the classroom.  Occasionally I see a self-made crayon or pencil sketch that my son made himself, but mostly they just use the crayons to color in the Pearson pictures, or some other pre-made coloring book type drawing.  They do this to build hand-strength for writing and pencil grip, and probably because it’s just easier and cleaner.   It doesn’t seem like they do art for art’s sake.  I overheard my son talking to my husband one night about why he wants to stay home.  “We never get to paint in school,” he said.  “We just color in those books.”  To continue, the classroom is very structured.  It is a small room and there are 20 children.  There are 2 aids.  I believe the overwhelming nature of adding Common Core to the classroom created a stressful situation in which the children were (more than usual) expected to comply and conform to the structure of the day.  There didn’t seem to be much patience for those who disrupted it by… oh I don’t know… acting like normal children.

In the beginning we felt like our son’s “behaviors” were being noticed, while his many unique and positive characteristics were greatly undervalued.  As the year progressed, we became satisfied that his teacher saw him more as an individual with a better understanding of what made him tick.  But we were already afraid that he was being labeled as “difficult.”  Of course, I understand the necessity for rules and structure in a classroom of twenty 4 and 5 year olds to avoid complete chaos.  We never advocated that our son just be allowed to do as he wanted all the time.  We always encouraged him to just try his best, even at the things he hated.  I thought we did a good job communicating with his teacher.  We thought it was important that we work together to try to find a way to encourage our son to find joy in school– to be respectful of his teachers and classmates while still maintaining his individuality.  It was a compromise in some ways.  We picked our battles.  While we opted our son out of his computer-based STAR assessments, we never complained about the Pearson worksheets.  While we allowed our son to eat pizza on Wednesdays, we weren’t about to have the school feed him breakfast and lunch just because that’s what was easiest for everyone else.  While I respected the methods of discipline imposed in the classroom, I wasn’t about to make a big deal about my son’s excessive tally marks for talking to his neighbor.  We took everything in stride.  We were involved, yet not invasive.

But there is a tendency in a classroom environment for favor to be given to the children to are more inclined to sit still, “behave,” and do as they’re told without question.  Children who have trouble with this, or are just not developmentally ready to sit still for long periods of time present a challenge, especially in such a young demographic.  These children don’t necessarily have behavioral problems.  They represent just one aspect of normal childhood development among their peers.  These tend to be boys more often than girls.  And sometimes, they become labeled as “trouble-makers,” “disruptors,” “bad,” etc.   And if one is made to feel “bad” often enough they may just start to emulate that behavior and become bad.  I am very concerned with what the ill-effects of labeling might be.  (Read here, here, or here.)  I always knew the moment I saw my son’s face if he had a bad day.  And someone was always quick to jump in with a reason that often placed my son’s behavior as the reason for the bad day.  Here’s one story I found troubling:

I picked my son up from school and could see immediately that he was upset.  Another mother picking up her daughter from Pre-K could also tell by my son’s face that something was wrong. I asked him and he said somebody punched him in the nose.  I thought, “Wow, I get a call when he tells his classmates that his lunch is healthier than theirs, but nobody lets me know that another child punched my son in the face.”  I asked him who punched him and he said he couldn’t remember.  I thought that was strange because he knows all of the kids in his class.  I kept asking for details, but my son could not provide them.  I wondered why.  There was no one to ask at the moment, so the other mother suggested that I call as soon as I got home to inquire.  That’s what I did.  Before I could even explain why I was calling my son’s teacher said, “the aid said you might be calling and told me to tell you that your son was kicking some girls.” Apparently this all happened under the supervision of the aids and the teacher was not witness to any of it.  The aid never mentioned my son being punched in the face.  His teacher proceeded to explain what she had heard, that my son was upset that one of the girls was in his spot.  As it turned out, he didn’t kick them in a beating sort of way but rather tried to slide the girl out of his spot with his foot.  But still no explanation of punching or how punching might have fit into this story.  I was starting to think that my son made up this story as a way to avoid dealing with his own behavior at school.  I asked him more questions that he could not answer. And then I accused him of lying to me.  Days later, the story came together from various sources and it became clear that my son was indeed punched in the nose by another boy for an unknown reason completely unrelated to the girl kicking incident.  I learned from the mother of a girl in his class the name of the boy who had punched my son. I didn’t ask my son directly because I didn’t want to prompt him.  So I asked him who he wanted to invite to his birthday party and then I started listing all of his classmates’ names.  When I finally spoke the puncher’s name, my son responded immediately, “That’s the boy who punched me in the nose!”  I asked his teacher again if she had gotten more of the story from the aid.  No, it never came out. And I wonder why.  When I picked my son up that day he was crying and his nose was red.  Even if nobody witnessed it, didn’t they think to ask him what was wrong?  And why did the aid tell the teacher to expect my call, but not tell her anything about my son being hurt?  Was it really just because he exhibited bad behavior?  My son never mentioned to me that he kicked anybody so why would I call about that?  It isn’t the incident itself that bothers me the most.  These things happen with 4 and 5 year olds.  We talked to our son about how inappropriate it was to kick girls.  But I falsely accused my own child of lying to me, when if fact he was telling the truth all along.  Nobody could or would confirm his story and I believed them.

And there have been other incidents as well where I was informed that my son was misbehaving during free-play.  I talked to two friends whose opinions I trust.  One is a mother of 4 boys, so she’s been around the block a few times in terms of boy behaviors and personalities.  The other is a sweet woman who provides daycare for several children in our town.  My son goes there now and then to get away from mom and play with his friends.  He loves it and he loves her!  Anyway, they both have experience watching several of the boys in my son’s class and they both had the same insight.  Often times, another child will instigate conflict in a way that goes unnoticed unless you’re a perceptive adult paying attention.  They might take a toy away when they think no one is looking, or they might say or do just the right thing to annoy another child… usually a series of small details that builds up until a child like my son who is very vocal will express himself and perhaps even become angry.  And that is what eventually calls attention to the conflict.  The acts that went unnoticed do not attract any blame to the other children, but the loud vocal child is seen as the “problem.”  Was this happening to my son?

Let’s get back to the spring concert.  My daughter and I were sitting up near the front of the auditorium near where my son was standing.  He was happy up on stage, laughing and smiling and doing a little dance or two.  He was also distracted by us, gesturing to his sister, not so much singing the songs, but still… it wouldn’t be an elementary concert without the child standing there picking his nose, right?  I didn’t mind that he wasn’t participating, but I thought to myself… if you have a child that is more inclined to be distracted from what he is supposed to be doing, why place him on the end like that?  Oh well, he was having fun and it’s Pre-K… who cares if he isn’t singing along.  Then his aid gave him a talking to.  I don’t know what she said, and it doesn’t really matter.  All that matters is that his smiled faded and he just stood there.  He began smiling again, singing a bit and then entertaining his sister.  Then another talking to.  Then back to having a good time.  This happened three times, but eventually he began having fun again.  But after the fourth talking to, I watched my son turn to the outside of the row of children, hang his head, put his hands in his pockets and just stand there despondently.  From my perspective as a parent, I had just witnessed my son’s spirit being completely crushed.  And why?  Because he wasn’t singing and doing the proper gestures like the rest of the Pre-K children?  Whatever was said to my son did not help the situation… it made it worse. I saw my son on the fringe, both physically and figuratively, and I didn’t like it. I wondered, is it just my son who isn’t singing?  I looked around at the entire Pre-K class, as well as the rows of other children in kindergarten and first grade.

Perhaps you think I am overreacting, but what I saw was my son’s future in school.  In each grade, the children at the center of the stage were singing and performing. These were the “good” kids.  On the sides of each row where the fringe children, mostly boys, not singing, just standing there.  You always have children who are less inclined to participate for whatever reason.  Why confirm the negative expectations of these children by consistently placing them on the fringe?  Why not mix these kids up?  Perhaps a child like my son would be less distracted and more inclined to participate in the activity if he were between two of the “good” kids.  But this was not just a coincidence in my opinion.  It was a pattern, and I could see my son’s future as I looked up through the rows of children and could foresee his placement in the years to come.  I can’t allow my son to be a victim to negative assumptions about his behavior and ability.  I pulled him out.  I withdrew him.

But it isn’t even the outcome of the past few months that prompts me to write this.  It is the false presumption that I am hearing that my son is not ready for school.  What does that mean anyway?  If it means that he is not ready to conform to an unnecessary mould at his age, then you are right.  If it means that he is unable to transition from the fun, developmental necessity of play to boring Pearson worksheets, then you are right.  If it means that he has no real desire to feign interest in coloring in someone else’s picture, then you are right.  And if it means that he isn’t adhering to standards that will prepare him to be nothing more than an obedient rule-follower and good test-taker, then you are right.  But it has been implied that my son is just not emotionally ready to go to school.  And this is just not correct.

For the record, my son is self-confident and outgoing.  He does not cry when I bring him to his babysitter; He rejoices.  It is not separation anxiety, from which he does not suffer.  And it is not shyness; He is not shy.  For the record, there is nothing abnormal about his behavior.  He is a happy, energetic, high-energy 5 year old boy who doesn’t like to sit still for very long.  For the record, I am proud to be raising an independent and curious child with a natural tendency to question the world around him.  My son is an individual with many beautiful qualities that I wouldn’t change for the world.  So when someone suggests that he is not ready for school, I only have this to say.  For the record, school as it currently exists is not ready for my son.

The Approaching Storm

Spring is here and with it comes rain.  Today, as I write, it has been raining all day long.  The sky is dark and gray.  I am a stay-at-home mom and an outdoor person.  I do a lot of things for my family.  Besides taking care of my children’s physical and emotional needs, I provide simple luxuries that we as a family agree enhance our lives.  I bake bread, I make yogurt, and I grow a huge garden that provides us with fresh vegetables all summer long and jarred food throughout the winter.

It is the weather that dictates my days and what I will be doing.  There is usually plenty to keep me busy inside or out, so I normally don’t complain.  On this rainy day, I got to thinking about rain and weather, and about the life waiting to emerge just under the surface of my garden.  A steady rain can provide the water necessary to germinate seeds and make things grow.  Together with the proper balance of sunshine, it kickstarts spring into a flourish of green grass, budding leaves, and blooming flowers.  A steady rain is natural, the earth absorbs it and things grow!

But not all weather is so nurturing.  A massive storm can bring bursts of torrential rain that comes too quickly and too harshly.  The earth cannot absorb it and utilize it.  It floods the land, eroding soil and washing away seeds before they germinate and can establish themselves.  This is especially true of soil that has not been well stewarded.  The harsh weather of a storm can cause damage to surrounding trees and man-made structures.  People are also at risk if not properly prepared.  Storms can be dangerous.

I began thinking that weather is a lot like education.  It has the potential to nourish and grow the minds of our children.  But the wrong kind of education has the potential to destroy.  In this way, excessive testing—especially the upcoming high-stakes state tests—is a lot like the destructive forces of a storm.  We all know it’s coming.  We can seen the sky darken in the distance and we are all worried.  We do what we can to prepare for it and to minimize its potential damage.  How much enriching, authentic learning will be eroded?  And how many students will fall victim to anxiety and to the potential of failure.  Like misused soil, children already disenfranchised with learning will suffer most.  When a storm comes, it hampers activities that we’d rather be doing.  Excessive testing replaces real learning, and we become narrowly focused on simply being as prepared as we can to weather the approaching event.

And we all know what happens when bad weather stays around for a while.  We become depressed and impatient.  We feel unmotivated and bored.  We wish we were doing something else.  This is how our children feel in school.  They are weathering an extended season of testing and hoping the climate will change so they can do something else.  We need to provide the right educational environment so kids can reconnect to learning, so they can learn to love learning once again.  We need to provide them with a nourishing and well-balanced education so that they can truly grow and flourish.  It’s time for the storm to end.  It’s time to repair the damage and move forward into a sunnier, more hopeful educational future.

NYSED’s minions say again, “you can’t do that…”

Parents, you just have to laugh at this….  It is becoming quite clear that NYSED’s minions are grasping at straws.  I mean, how many ways can they repackage the same bullshit?  It’s obvious they are the ones who should be scared because WE ARE NOT BACKING DOWN!  This is nothing we haven’t seen or heard before.  They still think they can control us.  You just have to laugh at this point.

Stay the Course, Revolution in Progress

Each day, we move eerily closer to the inevitable New York State tests for grades 3-8.  From what I hear all eyes are turned on New York to see how we react.  We are poised to make a difference, to send a real message to policy makers that we will not stand for the abuse excessive testing has performed against our schools and against our children.  I’d like to take a moment to say ‘thank you’ to every single person out there who is committed to refusing the tests this year!

Choose to REFUSE!

I can feel it in the air.  Something is brewing.  We ARE a movement.  We are a force with which to be reckoned!  If you’re currently undecided, I URGE you to take a stand in the fight for public education.  This IS happening!  And it’s happening NOW!  It is raw and it is exciting.  If you are already committed to opting out this year, I congratulate you for being part of the first wave that will take back our public schools.  You folks are amazing!  And I can’t thank you enough.

Every day I hear your stories of empowerment!  You send in your refusal letters and you know you are doing the right thing.  I’ve heard wonderful stories about enlightened administrators who understand your concerns and are supportive.  They are willing to accommodate your wishes to refuse and are willing to provide alternate activities for your children, or they are allowing your children to read after they have refused the tests.  We need to thank these administrators!

As stated in the SIRS (Student Information Repository System) manual, all schools have the option to allow reading.

Unfortunately, the most repugnant stories I hear are those of administrators who continue to regurgitate NYSED’s message that all children must be tested and how beneficial these tests supposedly are.  These same administrators seem bent on causing as much aggravation to opt-out parents as they possibly can, and they don’t seem to mind having a child sit for 70 minutes doing nothing but stare out into space.  This is child abuse!  They reply to parents as the mouthpiece of NYSED, stating they will not cannot honor the parents’ request.  They exercise their authority freely and expect parents to cower.  In these scenarios it might be tempting to back down. It might seem like opting out is more trouble than it’s worth.

It’s not!  Stay the course.  Be strong.  You are right, and you are acting in the best interests of your children!  Tell them that you’re sorry they misunderstood your letter.  Tell them you were not asking for permission.  Tell them you were simply informing them as a courtesy and that you STILL INTEND for your child to refuse the test!  They have the right to allow a child to read!  And if they refuse to do this, I consider this an act of aggression against the children.

These same administrators tend to be the ones touting NYSEDs message of comply or be punished.  They are scared that their school will lose funding.  NYSED makes it seem like this will be automatic and immediate.  But this is simply not the case.  Although schools are required to have 95% participation in the state tests, the financial penalty only affects Title I schools, and even still the school district doesn’t necessarily lose any money.  If these schools fail to reach 95% participation, then the district must set aside 5-15% of their Title I funding.  This money is intended to cover expenses if students ask to be transferred to another district.  It is unlikely that parents will transfer their children simply because their school participation rate on the state tests dropped below 95%.  In this case, the money stays in the district.  This is certainly complicated, and the fear of losing money is the driving factor behind uncooperative schools.  But there’s more to it.

New York State has granted schools a three-year waiver from failing to meet their AYP starting 2012-13.  Furthermore, Albany already expects our students to do horribly on these tests because they are so new and so much more difficult than the previous years’ tests.  Therefore they have also stated that no new districts will be identified as Focus Districts and no new schools will be identified as Priority Schools based on 2012-13 assessment results.  You can read their memo regarding this decision here.  Because of these reasons, it does not matter if participation falls below 95%!  We will not hurt our schools!  Now is the time to make a bold statement and REFUSE the tests!

I know some of you are still scared.  I know some of you are asking, “what if?”  So let me ask you some questions.  Are you happy with the education your children are enduring experiencing right now?  Are you happy with the huge percentage of the academic year being devoted to testing?  Are you happy with the increased amount of homework your children are bringing home?  Are you happy with the fact that your first-grader is stressed out and hates school because he’s being forced to learn material that your oldest child didn’t get until third grade?  Are you happy with the boring worksheet curriculum that has suddenly started coming home in your child’s backpack?  Are you happy with the unapologetic test prep your children have been performing?  Are you wondering why your child’s teacher, who you have always known to be a sweet person, seems cranky lately and began yelling at her students?  Are you happy that your school is about to become insolvent and possibly close its doors to its community?  Are you happy that you’ve noticed curriculum narrowing and becoming less creative?  Are you happy that art, music, and gym have been cut back?  Or, if you really stop to think about all the other changes you may have noticed over the past few years, do you find yourself frowning and shaking your head in disgust?

If disgust and outrage is what you feel, then it doesn’t matter if there is any truth in NYSED’s fear mongering.  We have to take a stand now, and we cannot allow ourselves to be complicit in the rape of public education.

Choose to REFUSE.  You have NOTHING to Lose!

Last year in Seattle there was a mass opt-out of several hundred students.  The threat of penalty was there of course, but it is noteworthy that no punitive action was ever taken.  Take a look at the brave teachers of Garfield High who refused to administer the MAP tests.  They were threatened with discipline for their actions.  But in the end, Superintendent Banda backed off.  My point is that we cannot be swayed by mere threats.  In an effort to call their bluff, we MUST act.  We must follow our conscience!  We must do what is right.  And I truly believe that we will prevail in the long-run.  I believe that these threats are empty.  But I also know that disgust and outrage at the things going on in our schools are growing rapidly.  If NYSED even dares try to punish one of our schools, there is going to be an immediate outpouring of public support for the schools and for change on the grandest scale.  NYSED’s ‘comply or die’ tactics are going to backfire.  We are being pushed too far.  We cannot back down.  Let us unite and make our move by REFUSING these tests!