A MUST READ on Common Core Testing Mania by John Bestor

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Published in today’s CT Mirror, John Bestor’s commentary piece entitled “Connecticut’s lawmakers must see through the ‘edu-profiteers’ and testing maniais a MUST READ!

John Bestor writes;

I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it is, as a public school employee and practicing school psychologist, to have federal legislation written that continues to allow our students to be assessed by an unproven and invalid standardized test process and also enables the charter school industry to take funds allocated for public school students and divert them to their own private business interests.

I object to the testing mandate on many levels.

I can assure you that our elementary school students are tested three times a year on standardized measures in both reading and math as mandated by state legislation; in addition, they are also required in grades 3 through 8 and again in 11th to sit through 7-to-10 hours of further redundant testing in the same subject areas.

At least the testing that takes place three times a year —  at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the school year — informs and drives instruction.  The 7-to-10 hours of high-stakes Common Core-aligned testing has no other purpose than to serve as a town-by-town scorecard. It neither informs instruction of a student nor assists in planning educational interventions.

Unfortunately, the battle over Common Core-aligned testing has taken on a life of its own. It is strongly advocated by so-called reformers and the business interests that they support.  At the same time, it remains highly controversial to professional teachers and educators who fully understand the dangers inherent in “teaching to a test” and also understand that there are multiple ways to evaluate what students are learning and that students are more than a test score.

When Connecticut first adopted the CMT/CAPT as standardized means for monitoring student progress, it was administered to students in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10 and special education students with individual education plans could be opted out by decision of the school’s planning and placement team.  This saved these vulnerable learners from the frustration and torment of a test beyond their already carefully-monitored skill levels.

Of course, this more reasoned approach ended with No Child Left Behind.  Since NCLB, the pressure for test results has affected learning for students in all communities.  Middle-to-high-performing school districts could absorb the intrusion caused by testing more readily than low-performing districts.

These low-performing districts then proceeded to narrow the curriculum and over-emphasize “teach-to-the-test” methodologies in order to prove their effectiveness, even though such strategies were unlikely to motivate their students to learn for the joy of learning.

As a result, more students in low-performing districts were driven away from learning and sadly many discontinued their education well before graduation.  As Thomas Scarice, the out-spoken superintendent of the Madison (CT) Public Schools, has repeatedly stated: “We’ve wed ourselves to a high-stakes testing model for well over a decade, and it’s shown to corrode education rather than improve it.

I also strongly object to the federal government’s continued willingness to provide private businesses access to scarce tax-dollars to fund charter schools that are then allowed to flaunt the rules and regulations that traditional public schools are required to follow.

The track record of charter schools in our state and across the nation reflects a highly contentious image that borders on, at worst, criminality and at best questionable practices, many of which would never be allowed in traditional public schools.  The supporters of charter schools have been allowed to prey on parents who are seeking clean, safe, well-supplied facilities and are willing to accept strict disciplinary practices that emphasize military-style punishments while blindly putting their trust in an unsubstantiated promise of future results.

It is unconscionable that states, like ours, are allowed to underfund their local school districts annually while somehow investing significant financial resources into the coffers of private enterprise that will suspend students for numerous, sometimes quite minor, behavioral infractions and may shut their doors suddenly on students when no longer profitable.

I understand that wealthy benefactors and major donors to all political campaigns have supported a “cottage” industry of think tanks, lobbyists, and high-profile media figures posing as experts, but it is the obligation of our U.S. senators to see through this self-serving charade and work to amend and pass federal legislation that will support the majority of public school children and their families.

Many of my colleagues and I have written to alert our two senators of the continued dangers embedded in this re-authorization bill.  I also understand that the art of passing legislation involves compromise, but simply replacing one flawed law with one that is similarly flawed is UNACCEPTABLE.

In the current legislative climate, it is too risky to pass laws that fail to address the “core” issues impacting the inequitable distribution of educational opportunities across our state and nation.  Having thought considerably about the trade-offs involved in the Every Child Achieves Act as recently passed through the Senate HELP subcommittee, the cons continue to out-weigh the pros enabling edu-profiteers unfettered access to a market that should remain within the public trust.

I can only hope that our Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy will hear the voices of teachers who work directly with children in our classrooms and to those who advocate for our public school students.

Please consider carefully, the insidious role that reform lobbyists, misguided philanthropists, and self-serving business interests have had in shaping and destroying one of our most revered bedrock institutions: the American public school system.

You can read and comment on the piece at – http://ctviewpoints.org/2015/04/24/connecticuts-lawmakers-must-see-through-the-edu-profiteers-and-testing-mania/

Will CT elected officials enact appropriate safeguards on student privacy this session?

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The Connecticut General Assembly will soon be acting on House Bill #7017, An Act Concerning Student Data Privacy.

However, as of now this critically important legislation is little more than an empty shell and it falls far short of what is needed to ensure that Connecticut law properly protects the state’s children by instituting appropriate safeguards on data collected by the state and school districts about students.

Although few parents are presently aware of the problems, as a result of federal action, the Common Core testing frenzy and the ever increasing desire to collect and warehouse massive amounts of data on everybody and everything, the notion of protecting student data at the federal, state and local level has been severely undermined.

Today student data is not properly protected.

In response to these developments, states all across the country have passed new laws aimed at putting appropriate safeguards in place on student data.

This year alone, 41 states have or are considering legislation that would increase the level of protection on student data.

The Connecticut’s General Assembly’s opportunity to step forward and protect Connecticut’s children rests with House Bill #7017, but significant changes would be needed if the legislation is to have a significant impact.

Jennifer Jacobsen, a long time educator, mother of three, a founding member of Connecticut Unites for Student Privacy and a member of the Connecticut Parental Rights Coalition has been a leading voice in the effort to ensure that Connecticut improves its laws on student data privacy.

In a recent letter Jennifer Jacobsen highlighted the steps needed to update loopholes with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), to institute appropriate provisions for dealing with online and third party vendors who contract with the state and schools that collect student data, and changes needed to ensure proper procedures for regulating Connecticut’s “state longitudinal data system,” known as P20-WIN, so that there is transparency, accessibility and protection in place.

The proposed law needs to include the following provisions;

  • Clarification that All student records are the property, and are under the control of, the parent or legal guardian of the child, and may be held in trust by the local board of education. The local board of education shall safeguard the privacy of student records, and shall protect student records from all unlawful release to third parties, in accordance with state and federal statutes and regulations.
  • A requirement that, upon request, the local board of education shall provide immediately to the student, parent, or legal guardian, a copy of any student record, or data of any kind, that is in the possession and/or control of the local board of education and its agents and the state longitudinal data.
  • Adding language ensuring that certain data elements cannot be disclosed to third-parties without parental consent including; (a) Juvenile court delinquency records; (b) Criminal records; (c) Student biometric information; and (d) Student medical Records.

In addition, tougher provisions are needed to limit the likelihood of a data breach and ensure that proper steps are taken if and when a breach of data security occurs. As Jacobsen notes, the legislature should add that:

The State Department of Education and its agents, and the local board of education and its agents, shall notify the student and parent or legal guardian of a student of any unauthorized access, or suspected unauthorized access, to any student record or data of any kind that is collected, maintained, or in the possession and control of the State Department of Education and its agents, the local board of education and its agents, and any other authorized third party.

Each unauthorized release of, or breached access to, any student record or data of any kind that is collected, maintained, or in the possession and control of the State Department of Education and its agents, the local board of education and its agents, and any other authorized third party, shall be considered a separate violation, punishable by (add appropriate penalties- fines, denied access to data systems, etc).

Upon notification of an unauthorized release or breach, or suspected unauthorized release or breach, of student records or data of any kind, the State Department of Education and its agents, the local board of education and its agents, and any authorized third party, immediately shall ensure that all necessary corrections are made to prevent further release or breach, and shall repair and rectify all harm caused by the unauthorized release or breach.

These additions are necessary to update Connecticut’s law on protecting student data.  As Jacobsen explains,

“These proposed changes and additions allow third party vendors and state agencies the opportunity to ensure their proper handling of the data they collect with ultimate responsibility to safeguard the students behind the data while still having access to de-identified data for research or product development purposes.

These recommendations also permit parents the access they need to ensure the accuracy of the data collected on their children and assures them that the state has taken every measure possible to protect their children’s information with serious consequences for those who would either intentionally or unintentionally misuse that information.”

The Connecticut General Assembly should add these provisions, Connecticut’s parents and students deserve nothing less.

Educators 4 Excellence – Because teachers NEED their own “Education Reform” front group

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Some teachers and public school advocates have heard about Educators 4 Excellence, aka E4E.  For those that haven’t, you probably will as the organization continues to expand across the country.

Calling themselves Educators 4 Excellence (E4E), they claim to speak for teachers – although most E4E organizers don’t have more than a year or so of teaching experience – and what little actual teaching experience they have is usually the result of a short stint with Teach for America.

But the New York-based Educators 4 Excellence, originally created in 2010 using funds from the Gates Foundation, managed to pull in over $7.4 million from the corporate education reform industry in their first two years of operation.

Among the “teacher advocacy group’s” major funders is Education Reform Now, another corporate funded advocacy group that spends its money promoting charter schools and an end to tenure and “seniority-based layoff.”

In 2010 Education Reform Now ran a rather infamous television commercial in New York State that included a “parent” saying, “Stop listening to the teachers union.”

E4E’s fundraising has reportedly skyrocketed since 2012 allowing them to expand, including into Connecticut.

The Gates Foundation alone dropped another $3,000,695 into E4E’s coffers in July 2013.

Here in Connecticut…

When Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy took to the microphone on April 17, 2015 to announce that he was dropping the word “interim” from Dianna Wentzell’s title as “interim” Commissioner of Education, Educators 4 Excellence was quick to announce their support for the Common Core and Common Core testing aficionado writing,

“Dr. Roberge-Wentzell…was a critical member of [former Education] Commissioner Pryor’s team, which worked to secure funding for struggling schools where resources are needed most….We look forward to working with her in the years ahead…”

The reference that Wentzell deserved to be appointed Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education because she was a “critical member of Commissioner Pryor’s team,” the co-founder of the Achievement First, Inc. Charter School Management Company, reveals a lot about Educators 4 Excellence’s mission and purpose.  Public funding for charter schools skyrocketed as a result of Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor’s policies over the last three years, with Pryor’s charter school management company receiving the lions’ share of the money.

With co-CEOs each enjoying compensation packages in excess of $150,000, Educators 4 Excellence explains their reason for existence by saying,

“For far too long, education policy has been created without a critical voice at the table – the voice of classroom teachers. Educators 4 Excellence (E4E), a teacher-led organization, is changing this dynamic by placing the voices of teachers at the forefront of the conversations that shape our classrooms and careers.”

Educators for Excellence now has chapters in Connecticut, Chicago, Los Angeles and Minnesota and the have pledged to expand even further.

According to their “official” version of events, Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) began,

“As a group of New York teachers who wanted to change the top-down approach to policy-making, which largely alienated teachers like us from crucial decisions that shaped our classrooms and careers.”

Their propaganda fails to explain that their initial funding came in November 2010 when the Gates Foundation funneled $160,000 through Stand for Children, a multi-million dollar corporate education front group to set up “Educators 4 Excellence.”

According to the grant announcement, the Gates Foundation explained that the group was being funded to, “build an authentic, alternate teacher voice.”

Stand for Children is a leading player in the “education reform” movement, with a special focus on moving corporate funds into political campaigns in order to reward candidates who support their cause and punish those who aren’t on the school privatization  bandwagon.

Jonah Edelman, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Stand for Children, says the organization now has eleven state affiliates (AZ, CO, IL, IN, LA, MA, OK, OR, TN, TX, and WA).

According to Edelman’s biography,

“Jonah’s personal stand for children began during college, when he taught a six year-old bilingual child to read.”

Like a number of his fellow corporate education reform industry elite, Edelman graduated from Yale University (Class of ‘92) and attended Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship.

If that wasn’t enough for the financiers of the education reform frenzy, the Chairperson of Stand for Children’s Board of Directors is Emma Bloomberg, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s daughter.

When Bridgeport Connecticut Mayor Bill Finch engaged in his failed attempt to do away with Bridgeport’s democratically elected board of education and replace it with one that he would appoint, a coalition of corporate education reform groups and corporate elite, including Mayor Mike Bloomberg, dropped in enough campaign donations to make it the most expensive charter revision campaign in Connecticut history.

In Connecticut, Educators 4 Excellence use a New York public relations firm, the same PR firm that collected much of the money in the failed Bridgeport campaign and has been used by a number of other education reform groups in Connecticut to engage in advertising in favor of Malloy’s education reform initiative.

A Connecticut E4E press release out last summer by the New York firm opened with, “Teachers, Joined by Bridgeport Superintendent Rabinowitz, Call for Needed, Pro-Student Improvements in Professional Development at E4E Roll-out Event.”

The press release went on to read,

June 11, 2014 (Bridgeport, CT) — Educators 4 Excellence, a national teacher-led organization that seeks to elevate the voices of teachers in education policy discussions, formally launched its new chapter in Connecticut Wednesday with a kick-off event in Bridgeport and a call for sweeping changes to existing professional development. This major policy proposal, written by a team of working Bridgeport public school classroom teachers, proposes a number of changes to this pressing issue. These include increasing the opportunities for teachers to weigh in on and even lead professional development topics and personalizing the experience so that trainings better meet the needs of schools and individuals. The full proposal can be seen HERE.”

The press release adds,

“Over the past several months, a team of nine E4E-CT Bridgeport members has been developing recommendations to improve the quality of their professional development. The recommendations, which they released Wednesday, seek to inject the ideas of actual classroom teachers into the policy changes the Superintendent is currently considering.”

The release conveniently made no mention of E4E’s funders or whether any of the advocacy group’s money was spent developing or lobbying for their “teacher led changes.”

This year Educators 4 Excellence is ramping up their Connecticut presence.

The corporate education reform industry group recently advertised for a Vice President of Regional Operations, which the posting explained may be housed in Connecticut.

According to the advertisement for the job, the Vice President of Regional Operations responsibilities will include, “Designing and leading high level issue based advocacy campaigns.”

To ensure a proper understanding of life as a classroom teacher, the organization lists the preferred qualifications to be a,

“Bachelor’s degree and at least one year of professional experience as a Pre K-12 classroom teacher preferred; some form of teaching, school-based professional experience, student-based professional experience or previous work with educational non-profits.”

The required skills include, “Political savvy and keen interest in/understanding of education policy, the education reform movement broadly, and the power and politics of the education landscape both locally and nationally.

E4E explains the right candidate must also have “Tenacity” and “grit.”

In Connecticut, the organization is also looking for a new Executive Director for Connecticut,  whose job will be to oversee Connecticut’s E4E operation.

According to the job post, lobbying legislators will be one of the Executive Director’s responsibilities, along with working to, “Establish E4E-CT as a go to source for the opinions and perspectives of progressive educators on issues that impact Connecticut’s classrooms.”

Again the entity says that, “At least one year of experience serving as a Pre K-12 classroom teacher” is preferred,” as well as the requirement for “Tenacity” and “grit.”

Apparently E4E is also looking for a Managing Director of Outreach in Connecticut.

The job postings don’t explain where the present Executive Director Ranjana Reddy is heading, although after a sting with TFA she headed to Newark, New Jersey to help create Rise Academy charter school, a position she left to attend Yale Law School.

At Yale she proudly reports that she worked for John White, who took over from Paul Vallas in New Orleans and Commissioner Stephen Pryor in Connecticut.  Her biography explains that when working for Pryor she, “spearheaded the writing of Connecticut’s No Child Left Behind waiver.”

From charter school founder, to Yale, to writing Connecticut’s NCLB waiver… What a testament to the corporate education reform.

And as the saying goes, all this is just the tip of the iceberg –

Just wait till you hear what else E4E is up to in Connecticut.

You can read more about E4E in Connecticut via the following Wait, What? posts Another faux pro-public education group targets Connecticut (12/18/12) and  Teacher-led organization that gives teachers a meaningful voice in policy is expanding in CT! (5/23/13)

CT Teachers Unions schedule rally in May – But no mention of opt out!

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The Connecticut Education Association (CEA) and the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter (AFT-CT) have scheduled a rally on Tuesday, May 12th at 5:00 p.m. at the State Capitol in Hartford — but unfortunately their effort IS NOT related to stepping forward to support Connecticut’s growing SBAC opt-out movement.

Instead the planned teacher union rally is focused on promoting the union’s proposed legislation (Senate Bill 1095) which is a well-intentioned proposal to “phase-out” the SBAC Testing, but contains a series of issues and problems of its own.

The CEA and AFT-CT proposal seeks to phase out the Common Core SBAC testing scheme and replace it with a different statewide testing system that would still result in assigning every child a series of “scores” and then rank order children, schools and school districts based on those scores.

For example, one of the oddest and most disturbing aspects of CEA and AFT-CT’s legislative proposals would be the creation of a “Creativity indicator” for every child.  The union’s plan would be to assign each student a “Creativity indicator” score based on, “the weighted sum of students’ ability to utilize interdisciplinary knowledge to address questions and challenges, simulate situations to estimate outcomes, explore new innovative approaches to interests and issues, research and design or develop new ideas and scored as determined by the commission on student learning and school quality…”  According to the union plan, 15 percent of a school’s performance index would be based on the cumulative student creativity indicator scores.

While it is great news that Connecticut’s teachers unions are taking a more aggressive stance against the SBAC testing scam, parents seeking to opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC test need and deserve the support of the teacher unions and progressive groups right now.

The union-sponsored rally won’t even be held until Connecticut’s public schools are more than two-thirds of the way through the SBAC testing period.

The material being sent out to teachers about the union rally refers to legislation that the Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee held a public hearing on back on March 19th, 2015.

However, the Education Committee failed to use any of the unions’ suggested language when they passed the bill out of the committee.  Instead the Education Committee merely endorsed the concept of a study about the Common Core SBAC testing and, even then, failed to include the test’s validity as an issue to be studied.

Dumping the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC test is a critical part of derailing the corporate education reform industry’s unwarranted attack on teachers, students, parents and public schools, but Connecticut’s teachers unions should make it a priority to speak out on behalf of parents’ right to opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC test …. while working to implement an alternative system.

The Common Core SBAC test is nothing short of a scheme designed to label the vast majority of Connecticut public school students as failures and it is rigged to undermine Connecticut’s students, teachers and public schools.  

It is great news the teacher unions want to have a rally about doing away with the SBAC test but their voice on opt-out is needed now!

Opt Out growing – Now decouple Common Core test from Teacher Evaluation Program

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Parents across the nation are rising up against the Common Core testing scheme.  More than 200,000 parents in New York State have already stepped up and refused to allow their children to be abused by the unfair Common Core tests.  The number of opt-outs in New York could easily exceed a quarter of a million by next week.

Although Governor Dannel Malloy, his State Board of Education, most state legislators and the leadership of Connecticut’s two teacher unions are refusing to step forward and support Connecticut’s parents and children, the opt out effort is growing here as well.

As in New York, the Connecticut opt out effort will skyrocket after parents receive their children’s scores next summer and learn, first hand, just how inappropriate and discriminatory the Common Core test really is.

As parents are slowly coming understand, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC testing program is intentionally designed to fail the vast majority of children, including a projected failure rate of over 90 percent for students requiring special education services and those that aren’t fluent in the English language.

The Common Core SBAC pass/fail rate is so rigged that 3 in 4 African American and Latino children will likely fail the 8th grade English/Language Arts portion of the SBAC test and the failure rate for 8th grade math will exceed 80 percent for African American and Latino children.

What most parents still don’t understand is that the gross absurdity of the Common Core SBAC test is the fact that not only is it designed to fail students but under Governor Malloy’s “Teacher Evaluation Program,” the twisted results are to be used to “judge’ teachers.

Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform initiative included a new mandated teacher evaluation program.  According to the propaganda produced by Malloy’s State Department of Education;

“Excellent schools begin with great school leaders and teachers. The importance of highly-skilled educators is beyond dispute…”

[…]

“The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) is committed to raising the overall quality of our schools’ workforce….”

[…]

“Educator evaluation is the cornerstone of this holistic approach and contributes to the improvement of individual and collective practice. High-quality evaluations are necessary to inform the individualized professional development and support that an educator may require. Such evaluations also identify professional strengths which should form the basis of new professional opportunities. High-quality evaluations are also necessary to make fair employment decisions based on teacher and leader effectiveness. Used in this way, high-quality evaluations will bring greater accountability and transparency to schools and instill greater confidence in employment decisions across the state…”

The term “high-quality” evaluation is repeated over and over and over again by Connecticut’s State Department of Education.

But in reality the Connecticut State Department of Education’s “Teacher Evaluation Program” is anything but high quality.

The Connecticut State Department of Education explains,

“Informed by research, including the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study … [The Gates Foundation is the major force behind the Common Core and Common Core testing]… Connecticut’s System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED) is a model evaluation and support system that is aligned to the Connecticut Guidelines for Educator Evaluation (Core Requirements), which were adopted by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) in 2012 and revised in 2014…”

However, what the rhetoric skips over is that reality that foundation of Connecticut teacher evaluation system actually uses the faulty Common Core SBAC test scores.

The Malloy administration’s “teacher evaluation program” is based on the following factors:

Student learning (45%),

Teacher performance and practice (40%),

Parent feedback (10%)

School-wide student learning or student feedback (5%)

The formula looks reasonable enough until one learns that half of the “Student Learning” portion of the evaluation system is derived from the Common Core SBAC tests meaning that all Connecticut teachers, no matter how good they are, will be punished because the Common Core tests intentionally define the majority of students as failure.

Teachers who work in urban and poorer communities, those that work with students of color, those that work with English language learners and those that teach students with special education needs will be especially punished under the new teacher evaluation system.

Imagine, instead of developing a teacher evaluation program that is actually designed to evaluate teachers, Connecticut’s elected and appointed officials have concocted a bureaucratic nightmare that relies on the untried, untested and faulty Common Cores SBAC tests results.

The new teacher evaluation program is only absurd and unfair but counterproductive because it will produce a disincentive to work in more challenging districts and with more challenging student populations.

The fact is Connecticut’s elected officials; the teacher unions and all who believe in public education should be doing far more to support parents who are opting their children out of the Common Core testing.

And equally important, those same people and groups should be de-couple the teacher evaluation program from the Common Core tests and demand that the Connecticut State Department of Education develop a fair, appropriate and effective teacher evaluation programs.

Good teacher evaluation programs exist; there are even experts in Connecticut who have developed outstanding models that could and should be utilized in Connecticut’s school districts.

The powers that be need to stop the Common Core testing madness before they do even more damage to our children, our teachers and our public education system.

Please take the time to read these recent Wait, What? blog posts

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Important – Massive Common Core opt-out movement continues to grow in New York State and Connecticut parents are standing up for their children as well

Staples High School newspaper observes – “it’s pretty hard to take a test if you don’t know anything about it.”

Another MUST READ by Wendy Lecker: Charter schools — civil rights rhetoric vs. reality

Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) explains why Common Core testing is so important

Dianna R. Wentzell – Misleader of parents on Common Core SBAC testing named Connecticut Commissioner of Education

Careening down the wrong path as Education Reform Industry spends more money to buy public policy

Common Core SBAC testing – Open letter to the Connecticut Working Families Party

But in Connecticut – “No one dared disturb the sound of silence.”

Yes we are failing our children…especially here in Connecticut

Important – Massive Common Core opt-out movement continues to grow in New York State

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With just under two-thirds of New York State’s school districts counted, the New York State Allies for Public Education, a pro opt-out group of parents and teachers that are counting opt-out students district by district, announced yesterday that 177,249 students had already been opted out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing scheme.

It now looks certain that New York State will not reach the minimum 95 percent level that Common Core test proponents claim is “mandated” by federal and state law.

The unprecedented anti-Common Core test uprising by New York parents has the full support of NYSUT (New York State’s teachers union) and more than 120 local New York teacher union chapters, as well as the New York Working Families Party and a variety of groups on both the left and the right of the political spectrum.

Sadly, while the opt out numbers are growing in Connecticut, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter (AFT-CT) and the Connecticut Chapter of the Working Families Party (WFP) have all gone missing on this critically important citizen movement, leaving Connecticut parents, students and teachers without the support and help they need and deserve.

But such isn’t the case in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island where opt out efforts continue to grow exponentially, all with the support of teacher unions and progressive organizations.

In New Jersey, at least 15 percent of all high school juniors opted out of that state’s Common Core test and the opt out rate in Montclair, New Jersey exceeded 40 percent.

Back in New York, the Journal News of the lower Hudson Valley reported that, “roughly 20 percent of students on average opted out of the exams in 41 of 54 districts…”

The newspaper reported that in Mahopac, New York 50 percent of eligible students were opted out of the Common Core tests.

Long Island based media reported added that, 40 percent of all Long Island [grade] 3-8 students refused to take last week’s ELA Common Core state tests.”

And that, “Numbers in some districts reached well over 70 percent, with at least one district exceeding 80 percent….”

Today, Juan Gonzalez, the liberal columnist for the New York Daily News and co-host of Democracy Now!, wrote,

Remember the number 999.

It’s the computer code that keeps track of what will go down as a historic grass-roots movement in public education in New York State.

Tens of thousands of parents rebelled this week against years of standardized testing from the politicians in Albany. They joined the national opt-out movement by refusing to allow their children to take the annual state-mandated English Language Arts exam.

Whatever the final number, it was a startling act of mass civil disobedience, given that each parent had to write a letter to the local school demanding an opt out for their child.

The movement has grown so rapidly in recent years that the state instructed teachers beforehand to bubble in “999” as the final score for any child refusing the exam — the code for opt out.

[…]

Whatever the final number, it was a startling act of mass civil disobedience, given that each parent had to write a letter to the local school demanding an opt out for their child.

It’s even more impressive because top education officials publicly warned school districts they risk losing federal funds if nonparticipation surpasses 5%.

“To react to parents who are speaking out by threatening to defund our schools is outrageous,” said Megan Diver, the mother of twin girls who refused their third-grade test at Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

To Diver and other parents, the politicians like Gov. Cuomo have ignored more than a year of huge town hall meetings across the state where parents voiced frustration with the constant testing and the new Common Core curriculum the state now uses.

Back in 2009, the old state tests showed 77% of students statewide were proficient in English. The next year, the pass level was raised and the proficiency percentage dropped to 57%. A few years later, Albany introduced Common Core and the level plummeted even more — to 31% statewide.

Same children. Same teachers. Different test.

The politicians created a test that says all schools are failing, not just the ones in the big cities, then declare a crisis, so they can close more neighborhood schools, launch more charter schools, and target more teachers for firing.

Meanwhile, the private company that fashioned this new test, Pearson, insists on total secrecy over its content.

This week, test instructions even warned teachers not to “read, review, or duplicate the contents of secure test material before, during, or after test administration.”

What kind of testing company forbids a teacher from reading the test he or she administers?

Little wonder so many parents decided the only way to be heard was joining the opt-out movement. Next Tuesday begins round two — the state math tests.”

The opt-out movement will not go away.

Parents are sick and tired of the grotesque efforts of the corporate education reform industry to undermine public education, denigrate teachers and jeopardize the well-being of our children.

Here in Connecticut, the Common Core testing system is the result of Governor Malloy’s anti-teacher, anti-student, anti-parent, anti-public education initiative.

Adding to the damage caused by a so-called Democratic governor, the wounds are only made more severe by the fact that the leadership of Connecticut’s two teacher unions and other key progressive organizations refuse to step up to support Connecticut’s parents, students and teachers.

But we will continue to move forward on our own…

And the harsh reality is that parents who don’t opt their children out of the destructive Common Core SBAC tests will wish they had when the results are delivered next summer and they are inappropriately told that their children are failures and that the unfair label will be inappropriately added to their child’s academic record.

The opt out process is simple.  Just write an email or note to your school’s principal and say my child is not allowed to participate in the Common Core SBAC test… period!

Staples High School newspaper observes – “it’s pretty hard to take a test if you don’t know anything about it.”

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Take a look at the following – The students who write for Westport, Connecticut’s high school newspaper are right, Jack Bestor is right and the best thing a parent of a high school junior can do is to opt their son or daughter out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC testing scam.

It’s pretty hard to take a test if you don’t know anything about it.

Out of the mouths of babes, as well as elementary, middle and high school students, come the most profound questions…and adults would do well to listen, especially those who are make public policy.

A recent editorial in Westport, Connecticut Staples High School newspaper is just such an example.

Inklings is “Staples High School’s eighty-one year-old scholastic news source— representing a journalistic tradition that is alive and well in Westport, Connecticut.  Inklings has, throughout its history, been a publication that is written, edited and published by students, with the objective of expanding the boundaries of scholastic journalism. Inklings Online pursues this goal with the additional elements of multimedia, social media integration, and constant updates.”

John Bestor, a regular guest commentator here at Wait, What? sent over the Inklings editorial and his follow up response.

The recent editorial in the Westport High School paper observes;

SBAC is a test. It’s taken on the computer, and it’s for juniors. But what else do we know about it?

Students know more about quantum mechanics, William Shakespeare’s personal life and the culture of Burma than they know about the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

No one is giving us straight answers about SBAC. And it’s pretty hard to take a test if you don’t know anything about it.

Connecticut’s now former Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, said at a public hearing back in March 2014, “I don’t believe that there’s any specific provision in law regarding consequences [of opting out].”

However, in a March 4 statement, Connecticut’s Interim Commissioner of Education, Dianna R. Wentzell, sent out an email to superintendents saying, “Both state and federal laws require the administration of annual assessments in our public schools in certain grades and subjects. These laws do not provide a provision for parents to ‘opt-out’ their children from taking state tests.”

The Board of Education [BOE] backed up Wentzell at its March 9 meeting when the BOE presented a PowerPoint stating, “Students are required to sit for the test beginning with [the] Class of 2016.”

But then Superintendent Elliott Landon said in an email interview with Inklings, “If a parent elects not to have his/her child participate in this mandated test, the child will be required to sit quietly in a non-testing area and may read, do homework, or use his/her computer. No educational alternative will be available for that child during the testing periods.”

Though their messages seem to contradict, most overwhelming of all is that Pryor, Wentzell, the BOE and Landon are all correct.

The Inklings editorial concludes;

We know we have a lot of questions, but we deserve some clear, succinct answers.

This is our education, after all.

If you’re going to change it, if you’re going to implement Common Core and replace CAPT with SBAC, explain it to us, just like you’d explain Einstein’s theory of general relativity, Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter and the four major language families of Burma.

We don’t like taking tests. But if we’re going to take one, let us know the details.

In response to the editorial John Bestor writes;

KUDOS to the Staples High School Inklings staff:

I have just read with great interest your reporting (April 7, 2015 Edition) on the upcoming SBAC tests that you will be directed to take when you return from April break.   I too have been questioning the purpose and integrity of this new, highly controversial, computer-adaptive testing experiment.  You are, indeed, entitled to answers and need to question what you are being told.  Your teachers, building administrators, and district leaders are required by the State Department of Education to comply with the mandates of the flawed No Child Left Behind law.  So, as a result, they are unable to answer your excellent questions honestly and fully.  Just like the SBAC website itself, school administrators and teachers only know what they have been told by the test company promoting its product.

There is, however, a great deal of controversy surrounding the tests, both SBAC and PARCC, as to whether they have been properly vetted and trialed according to psychometric principles of test development and design.  As a result, there are unanswered questions as to validity and reliability criteria and whether the SBAC even meets research specifications of a standardized measure.  The quotations in your piece that were taken from the SBAC website: “meaningful feedback”, “actionable data”, “specifications from the test blueprint”, and “sufficient information to provide accurate scores” are unsubstantiated in their own research and are totally unproven.  And, to make matters worse, the former Education Commissioner agreed to set a cut-score which establishes an arbitrary level of proficiency such that only 30% of students taking the test will meet that passing standard.  That means conversely, 70% of test-takers will fail to reach proficiency standard.  Now, it is suspected that students in a high-achieving district like Westport will perform more successfully, but – even if the Westport results reverse the algorithm, such that 70% are considered proficient and 30% fail to meet passing criteria – that is a significantly higher failure rate than had ever been measured on district CMT/CAPT in the entire past history of those tests.  You must decide now whether to touch that SBAC keyboard and risk having your score applied (as a sticky label) on your Cumulative Permanent Record Card and entered as a data-point in your personal state longitudinal data record (for eternity) as failing to meet the unsubstantiated college and career readiness standard of this statistically invalid test.  Entering your Senior year and learning that you are not college or career ready on a test that is unproven and has yet to quantify what “college- and career-ready” even means will not instill confidence as you enter the highly competitive college search process.

So much for the test itself.  You asked whether the district would lose funding if students refuse to take the test.  There is a statewide expectation that 95% of students in each district must take this test or the district may be identified as an “in need of improvement” district and risk “setting-aside” federal Title I funds.  However, the requirement to “set-aside” Title I funds will only occur after a district fails to meet the proficiency standard repeatedly.  It is unlikely that the Westport Public Schools receive much in Title 1 funding and, even in the likelihood of an unacceptable test participation rate, Staples has an off-setting high graduation rate with a large percentage of students going to college after H.S. graduation.  The threat of lost funding is simply an empty, scare tactic designed to deceive and frighten parents and district taxpayers.

Even Governor Malloy knows that testing 11th grade students poses the biggest challenge to his authority and that of the State Department of Education because it is this group of students who now think for themselves and are more likely to push-back against unreasonable demands placed upon them without clear understanding and a reasoned explanation as to why it is in their best interests to take these redundant tests in addition to the SATs, ACTs, AP tests as well as final exams at the conclusion of their Junior classes.  It is also this group of students that understands that over-emphasis on standardized tests re-defines the joyful pursuit of acquiring knowledge, stifles innovative problem-solving and creativity, and detracts from any natural curiosity inherent in the learning process.

Some see the refusal to participate in SBAC testing as an act of courage and conviction; they see it as willful push-back against flawed education reform policies that since the passage of NCLB have failed to improve education in America’s public schools and yet continue to be promoted by special interests who seek to profit at student, parent, and taxpayer expense.  Others see it as the only way to hold government accountable, to prove that it is ineffective teachers who prevent student achievement, not poverty, segregation, and language barriers.  Your compliance with this SBAC test will maintain the lie that our schools are failing while ignoring the reality that the government’s Education Cost Sharing formula has been underfunded since its inception, thereby leaving more impoverished communities without equitable financial resources.

I applaud your questions … and can only ask that you keep asking them until you receive satisfactory answers.  My colleagues and I are proud of the small part we have had in nurturing your independent thinking and willingness to pursue answers that will make sense.  Some may say that the points made above are over-stated, over-simplified, or perhaps do not fully reflect the whole story, but I believe they provide a solid starting point.  Unfortunately, corporate education reform is incredibly complicated and has sadly been rife with misinformation, conflicting viewpoints, and hardened political agendas.  The thoughts expressed in this response, though shared by many, are solely those of this writer and do not represent those of the Westport Public Schools.

Admiringly submitted,

Jack Bestor

LLS School Psychologist

Another MUST READ by Wendy Lecker: Charter schools — civil rights rhetoric vs. reality

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Perhaps the greatest indignity perpetrated by the corporate education reform industry is their fallacious claim that they represent the “new civil rights movement.”

Nowhere, including here in Connecticut, do they talk about tackling the terrible growth of child poverty that is destroying our society or the challenges faced by children who require special education services or need help with their English language capabilities.

None of the corporate education reform groups are willing to acknowledge, let alone address,Connecticut’s unconstitutional school funding formula or the fact that Connecticut public schools aren’t provided the resources necessary to support the children who walk through their front doors.

Instead of providing a meaningful solution to the problems the country faces, the charter school company owners and their allies, under the guise of “school choice,” demand more public funds while creaming off a sub-set of children and refusing to educate those who are English Language Learners and those who require additional special education services.

Claiming to be vehicles of opportunity for children, these fraudsters run schools that are more segregated and less egalitarian than the true public schools in their communities.

Chanting slogans of civil rights and wrapping themselves in the image of Martin Luther King Jr., the education reform industry is the antipathy of King’s message and the policies and practices that could heal this troubled and divided nation.

In her latest piece, education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker dissects the utter failure of Connecticut’s charter schools to be part of the solution when it comes to reducing racial isolation.

Charter schools — civil rights rhetoric vs. reality (By Wendy Lecker)

First published at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Charter-schools-civil-rights-6207481.php

Education “reformers” often proclaim they are carrying on the tradition of great civil rights leaders, employing the rhetoric of that movement while in reality pushing measures that exacerbate inequality and impact most harshly on children and communities of color-like school closures, privatization, and over-testing. Last week, noted civil rights expert Gary Orfield, of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, issued a report on Connecticut school integration that included an indictment of the practices of Connecticut’s most-practiced purveyors of civil rights doublespeak — charter schools. The report also called out state officials for their willful blindness to charter school practices.

The report, titled “Connecticut School Integration,” praised the state for some of the strides made in desegregating schools. However, it noted the well-documented “hyper-segregation” of charter schools, which undermines Connecticut’s progress on integration. The report further remarked that national education policies, including the expansion of charter schools, ignore race and poverty and have “consistently failed” to meet the goal of improving education for our neediest children.

Connecticut law on segregation is far-reaching. While the federal constitution only prevents intentional segregation, our Supreme Court, in the 1996 decision in Sheff v. O’Neill, prohibited “unorchestrated,” i.e. de facto segregation. Thus, state officials have an affirmative obligation not just to prevent intentional segregation, but to eliminate even unintentional segregation.

Most Connecticut charters are intensely segregated. They routinely fail to serve English Language Learners, students with disabilities and often our most impoverished students.

Yet, as the Civil Rights Project writes, Connecticut state officials have refused to do anything to stem the tide of charter school segregation. The report observes that the education commissioner could require changes in a charter if that school does not make measurable progress in reducing racial, ethnic and economic isolation. It remarks that the state board could make this goal a prerequisite to granting a charter. Yet, as the report goes on to note, these state officials, those with the express obligation to reduce segregation, have consistently chosen to do nothing to prevent charter school segregation and its effects, including exacerbating racial, ethnic and economic imbalance in the host school districts.

Indeed, one wonders if Connecticut officials had forced Hartford’s charters to abide by desegregation policies all along, would the city have reached its Sheff goals long ago, saving the state millions of dollars?

School integration is fundamental to advancing the democratic purpose of education. As the court noted in the Sheff decision: “If children of different races and economic and social groups have no opportunity to know each other and to live together in school, they cannot be expected to gain the understanding and mutual respect necessary for the cohesion of our society.”

Decades of evidence prove that school integration achieves this goal, reducing stereotypes and enabling adults to function successfully in a variety of settings. The benefits of school integration are more lasting and meaningful than the empty pursuit of higher test scores.

In 1996, our highest court clearly articulated the state’s responsibility to reduce segregation. Yet almost 20 years later, state officials allow charter school segregation to flourish. The State Board of Education continually rubber-stamps charter applications, trampling community opposition, and ignoring their duty to prevent charter school segregation and over-concentration. Even a new policy the state board announced, which applies to charter renewals only and not initial approvals, fails to require that charters serve the same students that their host district public schools serve.

This session, the legislature’s Education Committee considered a bill that would have placed a moratorium on charter school approvals. Yet, our political leaders did not even have the will to move this bill out of committee. And now the governor wants the legislature to fund new charters while refusing to provide public schools with any ECS increase.

In his report, Dr. Orfield exhorts the state to bring charter schools in line with Connecticut’s law and policies against segregation and to ensure that charter operators live up to their “civil rights responsibilities under state and federal law.” He even suggests pursuing litigation against charters that receive public funds, yet operate segregated schools in violation of Connecticut law.

Given the unwillingness of state leaders to do anything about charter school segregation, communities may have no choice but to look to the courts. In December, the Delaware ACLU filed a federal complaint against charter school segregation. One can only hope that a civil rights organization here will follow the lead of the Delaware ACLU and pursue a real civil rights agenda when it comes to school segregation in Connecticut.

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Spring Wait,What? Fundraising Request

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