Sound Familiar?  The Opt-Out Battle in New York makes Washington Post

Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss covers education and runs Washington Post’s, “The Answer Sheet blog.”

Today the Washington Post focused on the opt out movement in New York.  The unethical and abusive techniques being used by the New York State Department of Education and some local New York school officials sound eerily similar to the problems Connecticut parents are facing in some local school districts here.

The Washington post explains,

New York state has been at the forefront of the opt-out movement, with some 60,000 parents last year deciding not to allow their children to take these tests. Activists say they expect more this year, and as activity around this issue grows, so too does pushback from some school officials. This post, by Carol Burris and Bianca Tanis, explains what is going on right now in New York.

By Carol Burris and Bianca Tanis

New York is on the leading edge of a growing national Opt Out movement—a movement that galvanizes the energy of parents, teachers and administrators who are pushing back against the Common Core tests and standardized test-based reforms. Support for such practices has plummeted, with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s education reforms dragging his approval ratings down to their lowest level ever. By more than a 2 to 1 margin, New Yorkers trust the teachers union more than the governor, and less than 30 percent want test scores to determine teacher pay and tenure.

Last year the parents of approximately 60,000 New York students in Grades 3-8 refused to have their children take the English Language Arts and mathematics exams. This year, the New York State Allies for Public Education, a coalition of pro-public school, anti-testing advocates, are sponsoring more than 40 forums across the state, and parents are coming out in droves to express their dislike of Common Core test-based reform. One forum on Long Island, featuring Diane Ravitch, had nearly 1,500 attendees.  Other forums have drawn hundreds of parents and teachers who applaud Opt Out as the strategy to stop the attacks on public schools and teachers.

Opt Out has captured the attention of New York legislators as well. Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco is infuriated by what he considers to be obfuscation on the part of the New York State Education Department, as well as some school districts, in order to discourage test refusals. During a recent interview with ABC affiliate, News 10, he said, “They [NYSED and districts] should be providing parents with the truths and the facts and their rights. And their rights are yes, they can opt out of something they haven’t opted into. They can refuse something for their kids they’ve never opted into.”

Tedisco, a former teacher, recently introduced a bill that would not only make it easier for parents to opt students out, but would also make any repercussions on students or teachers illegal. He describes the purpose of his bill as means “to starve the beast of testing.” Democratic Assemblywoman and chair of the Education Committee, Cathy Nolan, publicly announced that she would probably opt her son out if he were subjected to these tests. She describes testing as “a mania” and announced that she is working on her own bill to reaffirm a parent’s right to refuse.

Teacher associations are becoming more vocal in their opposition to Common Core testing. Over 70 local teacher associations have signed the “I Refuse” resolution, which not only decries high-stakes testing, but encourages teachers to opt their own children out of the tests. Teachers have spoken in opposition to the Common Core tests at board meetings as well.

The Ken-Ton School Board is threatening to not give the tests, and to not use test scores in teacher evaluations. The school board of Fairport, New York is considering doing the same.

Meanwhile, the reactions of New York school districts to Opt Out have ranged from tacit approval, to discouragement and outright threats. Reactions are a result, in part, of the mixed, unclear messages sent by the State Education Department, which has insisted that Opt Out doesn’t exist because the tests are required by federal law. Although Deputy Commissioner Wagner told the press that parents do not have the right to refuse, he admitted, when pressed, that there is nothing that forbids parent refusal.

The Patchogue Medford School District firmly believes that parents should be the decision makers when it comes to Grades 3-8 state tests. The district website affirms a parent’s right to refuse and makes it clear that there will be no consequences for the student if they opt out. Southold Schools, like the majority of districts around the state, including New York City, will allow opt outers to read during the test. The Southold PTA has posted information on how parents can refuse the test on its Facebook page. Even the Williamsville School District, which took a “hardline” approach last year and required opt outers to “sit and stare” during the test, will now allow students to sit at their desks and quietly read.

Still others are attempting to stop Opt Out, using a combination of shaming, threats and misinformation. Some superintendents suggested that schools will lose state funding if they fall below 95 percent participation even though the New York State Education Department has stated that test refusal will have no effect on state aid. The Dobbs Ferry School District, while objecting to testing, claims that opt outers “diminish the excellent work of teachers” and unfairly penalize teacher evaluations, a claim that is blatantly untrue. There is no evidence that the much maligned “growth scores” are adversely affected by the exclusion of some scores, and if the number of test takers drops enough, the teacher does not receive a growth score at all.

In order to discourage Opt Outs, the superintendent of the Otselic Valley Schools made the claim that if fewer than 95 percent of students take the test, “the state comes in, runs the day to day activities of a school, and sends the district a bill for doing it.” However not only would it take three years before a school in good standing could be labeled a Local Assistance Plan (LAP) School, that designation would not result in a takeover by the state. Rather the school would be required to craft a plan to encourage greater test participation and there would be no loss in funding.

Otselic went even further in its quest to prevent Opt Outs. According to Charlene Smith, a parent in that district, when she sent an email to school staff politely informing them that her children would not take the Common Core tests, she received an email from the superintendent threatening to block her email address and informing her that he will not allow staff to respond to her email without his inspection and approval.

The Phoenix School District is using a “we’ll fix your wagon” strategy to discourage parents’ from opting out. Parents are told that if they refuse to have their children take the Common Core tests, the school will give their kids a “rigorous” alternative test during the state testing time and the test make-up time.

Whether superintendents tell their communities that they are just following orders, punish children with “sit and stare,” or promulgate false information about state takeovers and loss of funding, it is clear that the Opt Out movement is here to stay. The tactics of pressure, threats and obfuscation are infuriating legislators who are receiving parent complaints. Corporate reformers have overplayed their hand.   Parents and teachers have had enough and they are saying it loudly and clearly through Opt Out.

You can read the full blog at:

Madison Public School Superintendent Thomas Scarice makes national waves – again.

Thomas Scarice, the superintendent of Madison Public Schools in Connecticut, has been identified as a “Public Education Hero” by Diane Ravitch, the nations’leading public education advocate.  Scarice has been a leading Connecticut voice against “high-stakes test-based school reform.”

A few months ago, Thomas Scarice received national attention for a letter he sent to Connecticut State Legislators explaining why these “reforms will not result in improved conditions since they are not grounded in research.”

His latest commentary piece, “The greatest ‘crime’ committed against the teaching profession” was featured on Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post’s education blog this week.

Thomas Scarice writes,

On May 25th, 2006, former Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were found guilty of fraud and conspiracy in perhaps the most high profile scandal of corruption as a consequence of high stakes measures.  Lay and Skilling fraudulently inflated the company’s stock price to meet the high stakes demands of Wall Street’s expectations.  Not only did Lay and Skilling conspire to inflate stock prices, but they also distorted standard accounting practices to solely meet targets.  The seeds of high stakes schemes yield corruption and distortion.

The Enron case does not stand alone in the history of corruption and distortion amidst high stakes indicators, such as stock prices.  As academic scholars Dr. David Berliner and Dr. Sharon Nichols demonstrate in their work, the annals of corporate history are tattered with similar cases of corruption and distortion driven by high stakes pressures.  High stakes accountability and incentive system failures, as well as blatant fraud, at Dun and Bradstreet, Qwest, the Heinz Company, and Sears auto repair shops, illustrate that such schemes inevitably bring unintended consequences.  As people, we are free to choose our actions, but we are not free to choose the intended or unintended consequences of such actions.  As author Steven Covey has written, “When you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other end.”

The ubiquity of this principle is evident in the fields of medicine, athletics, higher education, and politics.  Quite simply, as the stakes rise, so do the occurrences of corruption and distortion.  Sadly, education is not immune to this principle.  Over a decade of high stakes accountability schemes thrust upon students, teachers, and schools have yielded sordid tales of outright corruption and cheating scandals.  Although such acts of indignity garner ornate headlines and self-righteous accusations about the lack of moral character, to which there is truth, given the inescapable unintended consequences of high stakes schemes, such corrupt behaviors and distortions of a given professional practice are inevitable and of no surprise.  Yet, we march on in the high stakes test-based accountability era with the high probability that posterity will ask an indicting question of how a generation of educators could commit such offenses when they knew better.

Beneath the surface of these obvious problems lies a more insidious threat to the quality of public education for all children.  This threat begins with the redefinition of a quality education and ends with a decimating blow to the professional practice of education.  While frivolous topics related to the common core are debated in the open arena, e.g. whether or not the common core is a curriculum, a redefinition of quality education has destructively taken root.  This redefinition, one that feebly defines quality education as good high stakes test scores, and quality teaching as the efforts to produce good high stakes test scores, leaves well-intended educators consequentially conflating goals with measures.  Without question, measures, qualitative and quantitative, representing a variety of indicators that mark the values of an organization, are necessary fuel for the engine of continuous improvement.  High quality tests, specifically used for the purposes for which they were designed, can and should play a productive role in this process.  But, measures are not goals.  Regrettably, just as Lay and Skilling did in bringing a multibillion dollar corporation to its knees, in this era, the shallowest of thinkers have passively accepted the paradigm that measures are goals.

And finally, we are left with the greatest crime committed against the professional practice of education as a result of the corrosive effect of the high stakes testing era.  In an effort to thrive, and perhaps, just to survive, in a redefined world of quality education, a soft, though sometimes harsh, distortion of pedagogy, has perniciously spread to classrooms, just as the Enron executives distorted sound accounting practices to meet high stakes targets.  This will indeed be our greatest regret.

Corruption and distortion as a result of high stakes schemes sealed the fate of Enron and many other organizations like it.  History will tell the story about the future of the high stakes test-based accountability era and its unintended consequences.  And again, we march on in this era with the high probability that posterity will ask an indicting question of how a generation of educators could commit such offenses when they knew better.

You can read the piece on-line at the Washington Post by going to:

Wait, What? makes Diane Ravitch’s blog twice today

America’s leading public school advocate generously featured two posts today stemming from Wait, What?

In “Steve Perry Loses a School and His Cool,” Diane reports on Wait, What’s investigative reporting on Capital Preparatory Principal Steve Perry and the coverage that information then received in yesterday’s Washington Post.

Diane also featured a Wait, What? post entitled “How Do You Spell Disaster? A Round-Up of Bloggers on Duncan’s Gaffe About the Moms” that highlighted the work of education bloggers from around the country and their coverage of Arne Duncan’s absurd claim that the problems associated with the roll-out of the Common Core Standards could be attributed to suburban, white moms who didn’t want to find out that their children weren’t that bright after all.

As always, it is a tremendous honor to be recognized on Diane Ravitch’s blog.

Hartford, Steve Perry and his threat make the Washington Post

Let the celebration begin!  Connecticut has made national news!

Oh, but wait… it’s not quite the type of news that will bring tourists to the Still Revolutionary state or induce businesses to move to Connecticut.

The story is about Capital Prep Principal Steve Perry and the controversy that has consumed Perry and his bizarre rhetoric and antics.

The media outlet:  The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet, the nation’s leading education blog.

Valerie Strauss begins her article with the Perry’s now familiar tweet;

The only way to lose a fight is to stop fighting. All this did was piss me off. It’s so on. Strap up, there will be head injuries.


And the Washington Post reporter then adds;

“That’s not a tweet that any school principal or teacher who I know could publish and keep their job, but for Steve Perry, the out-there founder and principal of the publicCapital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., it was just another day on Twitter.

Perry is a school reformer in the scorched-earth camp of Michelle Rhee, and has a Web site that identifies him as ”America’s Most Trusted Educator” and notes that  his “heart pumps passion and produces positive change,” and that he is “the most talked about innovative educator on the scene today.” He is the author of  the book “Push Has Come To Shove: Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve — Even If It Means Picking a Fight.” He is a  traveling partner with Rhee, a vitriolic union-basher, a prolific speech maker  and an even more energetic tweeter (he’s put out more than 31,000). His Web site also says he is a CNN and MSNBC contributor.

The tweet above was one in a fusillade that Perry unleashed after the majority of the Hartford Board of Education on Tuesday rejected a deal, supported by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and the school board’s chairman, Matt Poland, to allow Perry to stop being a public employee and run the public school, along with a second school, through a nonprofit charter management company that he founded and for which he serves as president. The Courant reported that Perry is listed in state corporation records as president of Capital Preparatory Schools Inc., registered in February 2012. The organization is also listed on Guidestar, an online information service specializing in nonprofit organization, as being at the same address in Hartford as Capital Preparatory Magnet School.

Perry originally started Capital Prep as a charter school, but  it became a grade 6-12 magnet school in the traditional public schools system because, he has said, he didn’t have enough resources to do what he wanted as a charter. He adopted a year-round school calendar along with a tough “no excuses” operational approach that some parents heartily support.

Perry’s Web site says: “Capital Prep has sent 100% of its predominantly low-income, minority, first-generation high school graduates to four-year colleges every year since its first class graduated in 2006,” though critics say that characterization shades the fact that the school has a high attrition rate; for example 35 percent of the students in the class of 2011 who entered as freshmen did not reach their senior year, according to a New Jersey teacher who authors a popular blog under the name of Jersey Jazzman and who has been writing extensively about Perry.

Perry is at least as well known for running a school as for making inflammatory statements about things he doesn’t like, especially but not exclusively teachers unions. For example, he said the following this year at a forum hosted by the  Minneapolis Foundation and co-hosted by Minnesota Public Radio, as reported by the Perry-friendly Education Action Group Foundation:

“I know in polite company, you’re not supposed to talk about the unions,” Perry said. “But I will. I know you’re here. I hope you hear me, because I’m tired of you. Every time you fight to keep a failed teacher in a school, you’re killing children, and that’s not cool.

“Every single time you make a job harder to remove someone who is simply not educating, and everybody in the building knows they’re not educating, you’re killing your profession, you’re killing our community and you’re making it harder on yourselves.

“It’s high time we call the roaches out and call them for what they are. I’ve been to too many cities where the excuses pile up, one on top of the other. You know what happens with those excuses? They kill our kids.”

His appearance drew heated criticism and praise, which you can read about here.”

The Washington Post’s Strauss then goes into a detailed review of Capital Prep’s and the fact that Perry’s rhetoric about the success of his schools fails to stand up to the most basic review.  You can read the full details here:  Principal gets mad and tweets: ‘Strap up, there will be head injuries.

And Strauss closes with the observation;

“Meanwhile, Perry keeps sounding off when the mood suits him, as Jonathan Pelto,  a former member of the Connecticut House of Representatives who now provides commentary on politics and public policy at his blog, Wait What?, consistently reports.  Assuming Perry didn’t mean to be taken literally with his “Strap up, there will be head injuries,” nonsense, his comments still beg this question: Why do his bosses allow him to say things that would get just about anybody else fired?”

You can read the full article here: