Step #1 – Dump the Common Core and its testing mania

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Step #2 – Focus on properly funding our schools and helping children overcome the educational challenges associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense [or wasteful education reform industry junk] than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”  – Martin Luther King Jr.

Common Core Opponents Voice Their Opposition (CT Newsjunkie)

 A handful of parents — some of whom were wearing red T-shirts that read “Stop the Common Core in CT” — expressed their opposition to implementation of the Common Core State Standards at the state Board of Education meeting Wednesday.

“We will have wasted billions of dollars on children’s education on an experiment which is not supported by any real evidence that it will succeed,” retired teacher Kathy Cordone said.

Cordone does not agree with the Common Core standards, which were written by the National Governors Association, the Council for Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, Inc. Instead, she would like for the rules to be written by Connecticut teachers.

[…]

Jeffrey Villar, executive director of Connecticut Council for Education Reform, pledged his support for the Common Core and said that the Common Core Task Force offered a rubric that will help track implementation of these changes.

Read the CTNewsjunkie story at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/common_core_opponents_voice_their_opposition/

 

Common Core? Try common ground for Pelto, Visconti

Coming from the left and right, the paths of two petitioning candidates for governor intersected Wednesday outside a state Board of Education meeting, where a dozen people staged a protest of the Common Core curriculum standards.

“We’re here to make a statement,” said Joe Visconti, a conservative Republican petitioning for a place on the ballot as an independent. “This is probably issue number one in Connecticut.”

Jonathan Pelto, a liberal Democrat also petitioning as an independent, said the concern over Common Core has blurred the standard left-right division in politics, bringing him and Visconti to the same place.

“There’s such frustration with government in Washington and Hartford, the establishment, that it’s redrawing the traditional lines,” Pelto said.

Read the full CT Mirror article at: http://ctmirror.org/common-core-try-common-ground-for-left-right/

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

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

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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: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/06/20/superintendent-the-greatest-crime-committed-against-the-teaching-profession/

Time for Connecticut to dump the Common Core

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Connecticut has wasted enough time and money on the unnecessary and wasteful diversion called the Common Core and its associated Common Core testing scheme.

It is time for Connecticut to scrap the Common Core and re-direct scarce resources to ensuring that all of Connecticut’s public school students get the education they need to lead fulfilling lives.

If elected governor, I’ll do exactly that.

While state standards for academic performance are an important part of a comprehensive public education system, and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with working to align standards across the states, the Common Core has become a vehicle for the massive waste of public funds, the loss of true local control of education and a stalking horse for the corporate education reform industry and their effort to make money and privatize public education in the United States..

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a pro-Common Core research and advocacy group, that is not associated with Fordham University, estimates that implementing the Common Core will cost U.S. taxpayers as much as $8 billion.

More neutral experts are predicting the cost of implementing the Common Core will be much higher.

A study in California predicted the cost to taxpayers in that state would be $1.6 billion and an assessment in taxes estimated the cost there would be $3 billion.

While Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and Malloy’s political appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education remain staunch supporters of the Common Core and the Common Core testing scheme they have never revealed how much it will cost Connecticut to pursue this poor excuse for a public education strategy.

Parents and teachers are learning that in addition to the extraordinary waste of money, the implementation of the Common Core has become a tremendous waste of instruction time as our public schools turn into little more than testing factories, and our teachers waste their energies “teaching to the test” rather than actually educating our students.

While some claim that the Common Core is a federal mandate and must be followed, they fail to recognize that only 44 of the 50 states signed up to participate in the Common Core project and a number of states are quickly backing away from the program that was developed by President George W. Bush and expanded by President Barack Obama.

Just last week, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation repealing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for her state.

Oklahoma Governor Fallin isn’t alone in recognizing the problems that the Common Core Standards are creating.

In recent months, citizens and organizations across the political spectrum have made it clear that the Common Core is not taking public education in the right direction.

While there has been a lot of publicity that the right-wing opposes the Common Core, the breadth of opposition goes well beyond a single portion of the electorate.

The Chicago Teachers Union recently voted against using the Common Core.   In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Teachers Association elected anti-Common Core testing champion Barbara Madeloni as their new president and adopted a resolution demanding a moratorium on implementation of the Common Core and its testing program.

And many Connecticut teachers are articulating how the focus on the Common Core is wasting time; money and energy that would be better spent improving the quality of education in the state’s public schools.

As Benjamin Franklin said more than 200 years ago, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

The Common Core and its Common Core testing scheme are not about teaching or learning.

We need to throw it out, along with its corporate education reform industry sponsors, and return our public education to the people and those who actually educate our children.

With a win in November, we can dump the Common Core and take back control of our public schools.

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

Group of New York Teachers refuse to give unfair standardized tests

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At great risk to their careers, 26 Teachers and Staff of International High School at Prospect Heights in New York City are refusing to give the NYC ELA Performance Assessment Test.  The comes after 3 teachers from the Earth School on the lower east side in Manhattan sent a letter of conscience to the NYC School Chancellor that they would not give the ELA.

In New York City, “Teachers will hold a press conference [Today, May 1, 2014] to announce their refusal to administer the NYC ELA Performance Assessment. 26 teachers and staff at Prospect Heights International High School are refusing to administer a new assessment that is part of the new teacher evaluation system pushed by Bloomberg’s DOE and the UFT last spring.  50% of parents have opted their children out of the test. The high school serves almost exclusively recently arrived English Language Learners.”

Their statement goes on to report,

WHY:  The test was constructed and formatted without any thought for the 14% of New York City students for whom English is not their first language. The level of English used in the pre-test administered in the Fall was so far above the level of our beginner ELLs that it provided little to no information about our students’ language proficiency or the level of their academic skills.

Furthermore, the test was a traumatic and demoralizing experience for students. Many students, after asking for help that teachers were not allowed to give, simply put their heads down for the duration.  Some students even cried.

Teachers at Prospect Heights are drawing a line with this test.  Standardized, high stakes test dominate our schools, distort our curriculum and make our students feel like failures.  This test serves no purpose for the students,  and ultimately only hurts them.

More about their effort at: http://standupoptout.wordpress.com/

The New York Teachers action comes on top of the ongoing effort by some teachers in Washington State to stand up and speak out about the flawed, unfair and inappropriate standardized testing system.

As the Washington Post wrote last year,

“Teachers in Seattle protesting a mandated standardized test that they think is useless have scored a victory: The test will, starting next year, no longer be required for high school graduation.

Still, teachers said, the boycott did not win a full victory because district officials are still planning to give the MAP two times a year in elementary and middle schools. “This fight is far from over,” one teacher said.

The boycott of the MAP test started in January at Garfield High School and has spread to a total of six schools in Seattle while earning student support and national attention. The Garfield teachers originally gave these reasons for boycotting the test:

We, the Garfield teachers, respectfully decline to give the MAP test to any of our students. We have had different levels of experiences with MAP in our varied careers, have read about it, and discussed it with our colleagues. After this thorough review, we have all come to the conclusion that we cannot in good conscience subject our students to this test again. This letter is an objection to the MAP test specifically and particularly to its negative impact on our students. Here are our reasons:

*Seattle Public School staff has notified us that the test is not a valid test at the high school level. For these students, the margin of error is greater than the expected gain. We object to spending time, money, and staffing on an assessment even SPS agrees is not valid.

*We are not allowed to see the contents of the test, but an analysis of the alignment between the Common Core and MAP shows little overlap. We object to our students being tested on content we are not expected to teach.

*Ninth graders and students receiving extra support (ELL, SPED, and students in math support) are targets of the MAP test. These students are in desperate need of MORE instructional time. Instead, the MAP test subtracts many hours of class time from students’ schedules each year. If we were to participate this year, we would take 805 students out of class during 112 class periods. The amount of lost instructional time is astounding. On average students would EACH lose 320 minutes of instructional time. This is over 5 hours of CORE class time (language arts and math) that students are losing. We object to participating in stealing instructional time from the neediest students.

[...]

*In addition to students losing class time to take the test, our computer labs are clogged for weeks with test taking and cannot be used for other educational purposes. For example, students who have a research project no longer have access to the computers they need to further their exploration into their research topic. This especially hurts students without computers at home. We object to our educational resources being monopolized by a test we cannot support.

*Even the NWEA itself, the parent company to MAP, has advised districts to carefully restrict the use of the test and its results. NWEA also cautions to ensure 100% random selection of students enrolled in any course if the test is used for evaluation and to take into consideration statistical error in designing evaluation policies. NWEA says that problems become “particularly profound at the high school level.” None of these or other criteria urged by NWEA has been met. We object to being evaluated by a test whose author suggests extreme caution in its use and warns against valid legal action if the test is used in personnel decisions.

*The Seattle Education Association passed a resolution condemning the MAP test that reads, “Whereas testing is not the primary purpose of education…Whereas the MAP was brought into Seattle Schools under suspicious circumstances and conflicts of interest…Whereas the SEA has always had the position of calling for funding to go to classroom and student needs first…Be it Resolved that…the MAP test should be scrapped and/or phased out and the resources saved be returned to the classroom.” We object to having to give it after such an opinion from our collective voice has been registered.

We are not troublemakers nor do we want to impede the high functioning of our school. We are professionals who care deeply about our students and cannot continue to participate in a practice that harms our school and our students. We want to be able to identify student growth and determine if our practice supports student learning. We wish to be evaluated in a way so that we can continue to improve our practice, and we wish for our colleagues who are struggling to be identified and either be supported or removed. The MAP test is not the way to do any of these things. We feel strongly that we must decline to give the MAP test even one more time.

You can read the full document at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/05/16/seattle-teachers-boycotting-test-score-a-victory/

Let Teachers Teach

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Teresa M. Pelham is the co-blogger for the Hartford Courant’s Mommy Minute blog and a well-known children’s book writer.

In recent Courant column entitled, Let’s Ditch Those Tests And Let Teachers Teach, Pelham eloquently put into words what many of us are thinking.

More Testing, Less Learning is not what prepares our children for the challenges and opportunities of life.  In fact, it doesn’t even make better workers for the 21st Century economy.

While many issues influence any particular child’s ability to rise to their true potential, we all recognize that teachers, not tests, were defining factors in each of our lives.

As Pelham writes,

It’s springtime, and that means it’s time to test the kids.

This spring, as our children endure Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Testing —- a test of the test —- much has been written about how we measure the effectiveness of our teachers.

Think about your own best teachers. They probably did things a little differently. Maybe they played loud rock music while you dissected something. Or maybe they taught you about clouds by going outside and actually looking at clouds.

[…]

A few years ago one of my son’s teachers asked if I could come to the classroom and talk to the kids about writing. Of course, I said, how about next week? No way, she said, laughing. Connecticut Mastery Tests were coming up in a month. They had no time to do anything other than prepare for the test (including learning how to write.)

That was the year I saw one of my kid’s third-grade classmates crying as her mom dropped her off at school. She was anxious that she might not do well on The Test.

In that same school, kindergartners are no longer let outside for recess. For real. There’s too much material to cover to prepare them for The Test, parents have been told.

Pelham adds,

So, what’s the point here? What’s our goal? We want to prepare our kids to compete globally in the workplace with kids who are somehow doing better than ours. So we test them. We compare them with children in other towns, in other states, and in other countries, such as Finland.

Yet everything we’ve learned about Finland’s wildly-successful educational system is pretty much the opposite of what we’re doing here in the U.S.

[…]

I’m confident that if my kids’ teachers are awesome enough to want to be teachers, they’re passionate about wanting kids to learn. I know I’m not alone in saying that I’d be willing to ditch the tests and trust teachers to do what they do best, even with Led Zeppelin playing in the background.

Please take a moment to read Teresa Pelham’s full commentary piece in the Hartford Courant at: http://www.courant.com/features/parenting/hc-common-core-testing-parenting-20140425,0,2684706.story.

And even better, share it with a teacher and your elected representatives… As the anthropologist Margaret Mead said,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Let’s Ditch Those Tests And Let Teachers Teach!

Still more standardized testing? Listen to the youth by Jacob Werblow

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Jacob Werblow, Ph.D., is a former standardized test developer and urban classroom teacher. He is an associate professor of Teacher Education at Central Connecticut State University. Jacob lives in New Britain with his wife and two girls, who will be opting out of high-stakes standardized tests.

Jacob Werblow has a great commentary piece in CTMirror entitled, Op-ed: Still more standardized testing? Listen to the youth.

Werblow concludes his piece with,

Over 30 years of research supports these students’ views that increased standardization of the curriculum decreases a teacher’s ability to meet the needs of diverse learners. Recent research shows that even the SAT is not a good predictor of college success. Students’ high school GPA is a much better predictor.

Parents do have the right to have their children opt out of standardized testing. A growing number of school boards around the country (including several in Massachusetts) have voted to no longer participate in the new high-stakes standardized tests. A new wave is building, one that needs to include youths’ voices about how students learn best.

You can read his entire commentary piece at: http://ctmirror.org/op-ed-still-more-standardized-testing-listen-to-the-youth/

Test Season Reveals America’s Biggest Failures (By Jeff Bryant)

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Fellow pro-public education advocate and blogger Jeff Bryant runs  the Education Opportunity Network, one of the nation’s leading advocacy groups in the battle to beat back the corporate education reform industry and take back control of our public education system.  By signing up on the Education Opportunity Network’s website will not only be adding your voice to the effort but will be getting access to critically important information about the battles around the country.  You can sign up at: http://educationopportunitynetwork.org.

In the meantime, here is a very timely piece that Jeff Bryant wrote,

Test Season Reveals America’s Biggest Failures (By Jeff Bryant)

It’s testing season in America, and regardless of how the students do, it’s clear who is already flunking the exams.

Last week in New York, new standardized tests began rolling out across the state, and tens of thousands of families said “no dice.”

According to local news sources, over 33,000 students skipped the tests – a figure “that will probably rise.”

At one Brooklyn school, so many parents opted their students out of the tests the teachers were told they were no longer needed to proctor the exams. At another Brooklyn school, 80 percent of the students opted out.Elsewhere in Long Island, 41 school districts in Nassau and Suffolk reported thousands of students refusing to take the test, and an additional district reported hundreds more.

Reflecting how the testing rebellion may affect upcoming elections, the Republican opponent to New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, Rob Astorino, announced his intention to opt his children out of state tests.

What is happening in New York is indicative of a groundswell of popular dissent – what Peter Rothberg, a journalist for The Nation and a New York City parent, called a “nationwide movement” – against the over-use and abuse of standardized testing in public schools.

One would think all this consternation begs some response from people whose job it is to react when the populace is enraged. But so far, major media outlets and an entrenched education regime that’s prevailed in policy making for over 30 years are proving they’re not up to the task.

A Storm Surge Out Of Texas Sweeps The Nation

Growing resistance to testing in New York follows a similar popular rebellion in Texas, where a grassroots movement led by parents abruptly undid over 30 years of test supremacy in the state’s education system, according to a new series in The Dallas Morning News.

“No state has been more important than Texas in the growth of standardized testing,” the News reporter noted. “And not just here. Gov. George W. Bush took the model and his education advisers to Washington when he became president. The Texas system provided the scaffolding for No Child Left Behind – and the seed of the new Common Core program that calls for even more testing. In Texas and across the nation, the push for more testing seemed unstoppable. Until it was stopped.”

Despite their success in thwarting the testing juggernaut, more Texas parents are still opting out, the News reported in another article. These parents claim, “An unhealthy focus on test scores has warped what happens in the classroom, so that too much time is spent on testing strategy and on drills that are designed to maximize test scores at the expense of other valuable skills.”

In Massachusetts, school districts that had been warned by the state not to allow parents to withhold their children from new state tests have been caving to demands and give parents permission to opt their children out.

In Connecticut, resistance to the state tests is growing so rapidly that “the state Department of Education released guidelines telling school districts just how to deal with parents who want to opt out.”

In Pittsburgh, hundreds of Pennsylvania parents who had opted their children out of state tests caught the attention of a local news outlet that interviewed one of the mothers leading the fight.

In Colorado, “a growing cacophony of assessment protests” has prompted public school officials to release new guidelines for opting out of tests because of so many “teachersparentsschool leaders and school boards have increasingly raised questions over the merit and amount of testing.” Dozens of activists in the nationwide test resistance movement gathered at an event in Denver to listen to speakers, conduct panels, and share strategies on resisting the tests. A report on the meeting noted that while only 1 percent of parents in Colorado opt their children out of tests, “the movement appears to be gaining traction.”

On the west coast, anticipating the rising test rebellion in Washington, thestate’s largest teachers’ union just “passed a motion to support parents and students who opt out of statewide standardized tests.”

At The Lost Angeles Times, one of the paper’s top editorial writers Karen Klein declared, “My family is opting out” of new tests in California. ” I’m not one for whining about standardized tests,” Klein wrote. “I had gone along with the mind-numbing academic program for far too long.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch called Klein’s column an important “defection” because of LAT’s previous editorial support of high-stakes testing and other features of the current education establishment. This turnaround “suggests,” Ravitch concluded, “that the patina of certitude attached to the standardized testing regime may in time crumble as more parents realize how flawed, how subjective, and how limited these tests really are.”

Media Either Mute Or Misrepresent

Outside of local news and blogs, the nation’s test rebellion has garnered little notice from major broadcast outlets, and when it has, the reporting has misrepresented the movement.

In reporting about the tests in New York, a reporter for The New York Times managed to find a few students who claimed the tests were easier – a claim not supported by any other accounts, anywhere, and refuted by the reporter’s own quote from a state official who said the tests were designed to be “more challenging.”

The reporter, Al Baker, minimalized opposition to the tests as “a growing, albeit relatively small, number of parents.” Rather than interviewing any of those parents, he chose to include a quote from a parent who said she was “she was eager to see” how her son did. Hey, too bad the only “results” she’ll see are a relatively meaningless score and percentile rank many months down the road rather than any item-by-item account that could revel something about her son’s abilities.

In its coverage, NPR chose to run an op ed equating parents who were opting out of tests to parents who refused to allow their children to be vaccinated for infectious diseases. For sure, withholding your children from vaccinations runs the risk of spreading whooping cough or measles. But the writer, Alan Greenblatt, never explained what the “risks” are to withholding students from tests. If he took the time to listen to the people opting out, he might learn that what’s posing the most “risk” to children and education is the tests themselves.

As The Nation’s Michelle Chen explained, there are very specific reasons for wanting to ditch the tests. “There’s something to hate for everyone in these standardized tests,” she wrote. “Students become miserable and bored with constant test-prep; parents and caregivers grow frustrated with curricula that seem to be failing their children … and teachers have raged against the imposition of formulaic, stress-inducing reading and math drills.”

In New York City, three teachers supporting parents opting their children out of tests wrote a letter to NYC school chief Carmen Farina explaining their decision. In the letter, posted at the Answer Sheet blogsite (not part of the paper’s printed editions) at The Washington Post, the teachers called their support “clear acts of conscience” to protest tests that lead to “ranking and sorting of children … encourage students to comply with bubble test thinking,” and “push aside months of instruction to compete in a city-wide ritual of meaningless and academically bankrupt test preparation.”

But the media outlet that scored an A for most tone-deaf coverage was the Beacon of the Beltway, The Washington Post. Choosing to completely ignore the rising chorus of teachers, parents, and students opting out, the Post instead chose to feature an op-ed by Michelle Rhee, the founder and chief executive of StudentsFirst, a lobbying group and prodigious donor to political campaigns.

Rhee stated that refusing the tests “makes no sense” because “all parents want to know how their children are progressing and how good the teachers are in the classroom.”

Too bad these tests don’t really do that. Responding to Rhee from her blogsite at The Washington Post (again, not part of the paper’s printed editions) Valerie Strauss wrote, “Parents who want to know how their children are doing can know — from grades and non-standardized tests their children take in class. The scores of the most important end-of-year standardized tests don’t actually come back to the districts until the summer, making it impossible for teachers to use the results to help tailor instruction to a particular child — if in fact the tests actually gave important information to the teacher. Which by and large they don’t because so many of the tests are badly drawn. Even Rhee admits this in her op-ed.”

The Education Establishment Pushes Back

While the media generally ignore or misrepresent what the testing resistance is all about, an education establishment long used to enforcing top-down mandates is resorting to misinformation and intimidation.

In New York, some school administrators discouraged parents from opting their children out, told them their children would be penalized, or made children not taking the test “sit and stare” rather than reading and drawing quietly.

In Connecticut, state leaders and school district officials have become so alarmed at the growing number of parents opting their children out of tests that they have resorted to misinformation and punishments, according to local blogger Jonathan Pelto, that include denying any “accommodations” for students opting out and withholding use of laptops or other electronic devices, something normally allowed.

Similarly in Chicago, when parents declared their intentions to opt their children out of tests, and teachers refused to administer tests, school officials responded by pulling school children as young as eight out of class and interrogating them about their parents and teachers who had opted them out.

The campaign of misinformation and intimidation goes all the way up the line to the halls of the Department of Education in Washington, DC.

Although the objects of scorn for these parents and educators are state required tests, their anger is not addressed at their state capitals alone. Parents understand that the tests are products of years of top-down mandates imposed from Washington, DC. Most states have competed for federal dollars from the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. And practically all states have been granted waivers to the federal No Child Left Behind law. These federal grants and waivers required states to institute vast testing regimes for the purpose of evaluating teachers and rating school performance. So states are intent on enforcing the tests so as not to lose their federal grants or the waivers that protect them from federal sanctions.

One of the states in danger of losing its federal waiver is Washington, where state lawmakers have yet to believe there is a valid reason to tie test scores to teacher evaluations. Few states are willing to run this risk – only Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon so far – so most other states are intent on imposing the tests.

Also, the new tests are alleged to align to new Common Core Standards, which have now become so hugely controversial that two states – Indiana and Oklahoma – have reneged on their pledges to impose them, and many other states are scrambling to rebrand the Standards as something other than a federal mandate.

This week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan did all he could in front of a U.S. House committee to back away from the federal government’s link to the Common Core and its aligned tests, stating, “I’m just a big proponent of high standards. Whether they’re common or not is secondary.”

But crack reporter Michele McNeil at Education Week was quick to point out, “The administration’s original $4 billion Race to the Top program awarded 40 points to states for developing and adopting common standards. All 12 of those winners have adopted the standards, and have not backed off. What’s more, a separate, $360 million Race to the Top contest to fund common tests was based on the premise that states needed help developing such assessments based on the common standards. But technically, aligning to the common core wasn’t required (you just probably weren’t going to win without it).”

Proponents of the Common Core now may want to decouple the standards from the tests that parents and teachers are increasingly rebelling against. But that’s becoming increasingly difficult to do. And misinforming – misleading, actually – people about how the two are so entangled is not going to be effective.

How About A Little Honesty?

What’s called for is an honest debate about the tests – how good or bad they are, what are the real limits to their usefulness, and whose ends are being served here (certainly, it doesn’t seem to be the students).

So far, only parents and teachers engaged in opting out seem to be having that debate while an entrenched education establishment does all it can to stifle opposition, and an apathetic media either misses the story or looks the other way.

One of those teachers Elizabeth Phillips, from PS 321 in Brooklyn, New York, wrote in an op-ed at The New York Times, “We were not protesting testing; we were not protesting the Common Core standards. We were protesting the fact that we had just witnessed children being asked to answer questions that had little bearing on their reading ability and yet had huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools … We were protesting the fact that it is our word against the state’s, since we cannot reveal the content of the passages or the questions that were asked.”

Phillips called for some transparency in a debate where the people in authority want to hold all the cards and the media act as indifferent bystanders. She suggested, “The commissioner of education and the members of the Board of Regents actually take the tests,” then explain why “these tests gave schools and parents valuable information about a child’s reading or writing ability.”

That might be a pretty good start, but why stop there? One wonders how Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan would do.

“When we buy something, we should get what we pay for”

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Ann Policelli Cronin is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education. She has taught middle and high school English, was a district-level administrator for English, taught university courses in English education, and was assistant director of the Connecticut Writing Project. She was Connecticut Outstanding English Teacher of the Year and has received national awards for middle and high school curricula she designed and implemented.

In a powerful commentary piece posted on the CT Mirror website and entitled, “When we buy something, we should get what we pay for,” Ann Cronin begins by laying out the harsh reality that faces our public schools.  She writes,

We, as U.S. taxpayers, spent $350 million for standardized tests to assess if students are mastering Common Core standards, and we are spending millions more at the state level to implement that testing. What we have been asked to buy is that teaching those standards and assessing them will make our students “college and career ready.”

But who knows? We need a warranty so we can return the standards and tests and get a new education for our children if they don’t work.

“Readiness for college and careers” will be measured by standardized tests given in Grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11. As a parent, good standardized test scores were not what I asked of my children’s public schools. Instead, I asked that their teachers tap into my children’s love of learning, motivate them to want to learn more, and help them to grow in both their knowledge and their skills in building their own knowledge.

Cronin adds,

Standardized tests give a very limited picture of a student, limited by the goals of the test-makers. What seems much more important, even in terms of college and careers, is that children enjoy a stimulating and challenging year in school and have ideas and skills in June they didn’t have in September, rather than receive a high score on a standardized test.

This standardized test of “college and career readiness” is particularly inappropriate and unreliable because not one teacher was involved in setting the learning goals. Of the 29 writers of those goals, called Common Core standards, 27 were employees of testing companies. People who know how to test but not how to teach decided exactly what our children need to be “ready” for and how they demonstrate that “readiness” each year, kindergarten through high school.

And Cronin concludes with,

But we in Connecticut are still buying the idea that learning can be measured by standardized tests. The cost is high – not just in money but also in the education our children are not receiving. As Carol Burris, an award-winning high school principal who first supported the Common Core but changed her mind after a year of implementation and testing in New York, said:

Eventually all of it will fail. But your child will not get another chance to be a third grader. We are on our way with the Common Core to creating a generation of students who will despise school before they get to college, ready or not. Our country and our children deserve better. (The Washington Post, April 7, 2013)

There is no warranty for the Common Core and its testing. Let’s look the governor, the commissioner of education and the State Board of Education in the eye and say: No Sale.

This MUST READ article can be found in its entirety at: http://ctmirror.org/op-ed-buyers-beware-of-common-core/

History Repeats Itself (Guest post by Alyce Roberts, Ed.D)

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One of the primary benefits of having an extraordinary group of readers is that they bring a wealth of knowledge and understanding to the debate. 

A growing number are stepping forward to comment on blog posts or offering up their own guest posts in the on-going effort to educate, persuade and mobilize teachers, parents, public school advocates and others to join us in our battle to push back the corporate education reform industry and take back control of our system of public education.

The following is just such a post.  In it, educator Alyce Roberts helps put the “Debate on National Standards and Standardized Testing in to context.”

History Repeats Itself: Context for the Current Debate on National Standards and Standardized Testing (By Alyce Roberts)

The Achievement Gap

The underachievement of minority adolescents remains one of the most discussed and studied phenomena in education.  According to a NAEP long-term trends report, the literacy achievement gap has been apparent since at least 1971, shortly after data collection began.  Black and Hispanic students in grade 12, on average, have the reading skills of 13-year-old White students.  Half of incoming 9th graders in urban, high-poverty schools read three years or more below grade level.  Without question, minority adolescents’ literacy needs are complex and demand attention.   One reason for the rise in literacy demands is globalization.

A Social/Political Response

The American educational system has a long history of neglecting to meet the needs of many of its students of diverse backgrounds.  Some contend that the primary purpose of school, as a social institution, has never been to provide a quality education to all.  (Until the 20th century, high school was mostly attended by a small number of White middle class and upper-middle class men.) 

Brown decision.  Efforts to bring equity into the education of minorities have not always turned out as anticipated.  The Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, for example, reversed a long-standing policy of separate but equal public schools.  Instead, schools reacted by putting a disproportionately high number of the nation’s minority children in special education.  Others were suspended, expelled, or attended public schools where teachers and the curriculum reflected a Eurocentric perspective.  Later, the social movements in the 1960s and 1970s raised awareness of the multicultural nature of American society.  Yet, despite protests, schools resisted and continued to impose the dominant culture on students, through teachers, curriculum, and daily school routines, showing little regard for differences in language or cultures.  Public schools traditionally have failed to meet the needs of many marginalized low income and minority students.

Neoliberal backlash.  Neoliberalism rose in the mid-twentieth century in an attempt to regain some of the power the ruling class lost to the working class, African Americans, and women during the rise of social democratic liberalism.  Neoliberalism contends that society works when individuals choose within competitive markets (like charter schools).  Further, it contends that social institutions, like schools, should exist to promote economic growth.  In practice, neoliberal policies often result in increased inequality with few provisions for public welfare.  The poor and working classes are often highly regulated, but corporations are only loosely regulated with conditions for accumulating wealth ensured.  For neoliberals, those in society who do not succeed are viewed as having made poor choices, which means society is not at fault and people have only themselves to blame.  Many assert that neoliberal political theory increasingly is influencing education policies.   

We have an educational system of testing and accountability whereby: (a) the curriculum is simplified and narrowed, (b) poorly devised tests lead to huge failure, and (c) students who score low are abandoned or pushed out of school.  Thus, it is not surprising the achievement gap for minority students has not only not narrowed, but, in fact, has grown since NCLB.  One must question whether reforms that emphasize high-stakes tests and accountability actually increase fairness and equality or, instead, use testing and accountability to portray public schools as failing and to push for privatizing education provided through competitive markets.  Evidence suggests that our education system is becoming more, not less unequal.    

Backlash Pedagogy.  Some have termed these neoliberal educational policies “backlash pedagogy,” arguing that it threatens the chances of educational achievement and social equity for large numbers of public school students of diverse backgrounds.  Historically, backlash practices have used race as a way to categorize and marginalize groups within the population.  White privilege and control are maintained through racial subjugation and inequality.  The status quo becomes a baseline for educational reform disguised as color-blindness.  The current educational backlash blames the educational crisis on teachers and on linguistically and culturally diverse and poor children.  Specifically, this backlash not only ignores the historical disparity people of color have experienced in our country; it preserves it.   

Educational policies derive from backlash politics and ideological and institutional structures that legitimize and maintain privilege, access, and control over the society, politics, and economics.  Backlash politics can be deliberate attempts to prevent changes in society or deceptive practices cloaked in the language of progress.  Backlash pedagogy attempts to erase differences that are known to affect learning and makes it more difficult for educators to implement what they know to be effective, culturally responsive practices.  Over the last 20 years, culturally responsive approaches to teaching have been marginalized and, instead, standardized curricula and teaching practices along with standardized testing have been put in place.  These neoliberal reforms are counter to culturally relevant and responsive instruction. 

Equity in Education

The current preoccupation with standardizing curricula and measuring output will have further negative consequences for students of diverse backgrounds who are already seriously cheated by the system.  These standards and assessments put pressure on school districts to standardize and emphasize prescribed content at the expense of other concerns.  Among the consequences of NCLB are a narrowed curriculum, a focus on low-level skills, inappropriate assessment of students with special needs and ELLs, and incentives to exclude low-scoring students to meet test score targets.  

Education should not allow the demands of globalization or the drive for a standardized curriculum and testing to derail efforts in how minority students are taught.  Moreover, education cannot allow the lure of a global society and global citizenship to diminish the need to take care of social justice issues closer to home that, to date, have never been adequately addressed.  It is imperative that schools provide equity in education for all students.  A hundred years ago, Helen Todd, a child- labor inspector in Chicago, wrote, “Would it not be possible to adapt this child . . . less to education, and to adapt education more to the child?”  For our students of diverse backgrounds, it is time we did.

Alyce Roberts, Ed.D has served as an English teacher in the Hartford Public school system for 13 years.    Before that Alyce had a successful career in the insurance field working for four major insurance companies in the Northeast.

Arrogance, Ignorance and the Myth of the “High Stakes” Test (Guest Post by Dr. James D. Trifone)

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Anyone who has been following Jonathan Pelto’s Wait What? Blog has read several posts regarding the botched rollout of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and most recently the software SNAFU that resulted in an eleventh hour rescheduling of the start up date for administering the SBAC test.  Many, including this blogger, have criticized the CCSS developers because educators were neither involved as participants in its creation nor consulted on its grade level validity, relevance and developmentally appropriateness.  Moreover, educators neither participated in the development of, nor consulted to review, the SBAC test items that will be eventually be used to assess CCSS competency of our nation’s children. As a consequence, the Common Core Standards are terribly flawed in their assumptions regarding the expected grade level competencies and guidelines that have been previously established by curriculum and developmental specialists.

In the wake of the NCLB initiative it has become clear that “high stakes” tests have had little to no impact in enhancing learning and thinking in American classrooms. Furthermore, “high stakes” tests have proven themselves incapable of assessing the essential critical skills and knowledge requisite to be successful learners and workers in the 21st century. Consequently, corporate reformers and their allies created the Common Core State Standards that they posit “might” better prepare our students to be “college and career” ready.  However, CCSS advocates have yet to define what they even mean by “college and career” ready.  If they had read any of the books or articles by Jonathan Kozol, David Elkind, David Sobel, Diane Ravitch, Daniel Pink, Thomas Friedman, Howard Gardner, Tony Wagner, Heidi Hayes Jacobs or Ken Robinson, to name but a few, they would have been able to clearly delineate the actual skills and abilities kids need today.  These learning experts have determined that to be successful in the 21st century classroom teaching needs to foster —empathy, self-motivation and initiative, ability to work collaboratively with others, ability to critically analyze abstract information to solve practical problems, as well as competency in using cognitive and metacognitive learning strategies to self-regulate and embrace a meaningful approach to learning—all of which cannot be measured by a standardized test.

Finally, the corporate reformers would have realized that their 19th “factory model” of “one size fits all” will not work in the 21st century. What they refer to as the “common core” is far too limited in its scope and relevance for today’s generation of learners. While some aspects of the CCSS have merit, many of the standards are age and developmentally inappropriate for many, if not most students (especially those in the elementary grades). If educators had been involved in the creation of the CCSS they would have maintained that many of the skills and competencies required to be effective learners and citizens are not necessarily cognitive. Rather, developing a positive attitude towards learning needs to occur first.  This attitude fosters using the imagination and creativity to explore the natural world. Children are naturally curious and love to learn.

The thrust of Waldorf and Montessori schools philosophy has been to offer children opportunities to explore the world using their natural curiosity and creative instincts.  Once children are provided with opportunities that build upon their natural learning tendencies in a positive context they are better prepared to learn the more academic subjects requisite to understand how the world works.  However, the current reform movement is mandating that children start learning the abstract and academic content in Kindergarten.  To wit, parents in my home town of Cheshire are petitioning the Town Council to approve a full-day Kindergarten in order to better prepare their kids for the academic needs of first grade! What ever happened to learning how to socialize and resolve conflicts and all the other things Robert Fulghum shared in his classic book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Education should be about developing the mind, body and spirit of learners. If schooling omits any of these, students miss opportunities to grow and mature into successful and happy adults.  Therefore, what needs to be considered “Common  Core” is something very different than what has been promulgated and foisted upon America. 

Fortunately, parents are now recognizing the inadequacies and flawed assumptions of the corporate reform movement and are finally standing up and speaking out to their legislators to demand a course correction for the misdirected national education policy. There is even a movement underway to eliminate the SAT’s. Colleges are now realizing that they have little predictive value for success in college. Rather, even the College Board acknowledged that the grade point averages of high school graduates are far more predictive of future academic success than the SAT. Therefore, the silver lining in the dark cloud we now find ourselves under is that foisting a poorly designed, non-educator vetted CCSS upon American schools has brought to light the myopic vision held by many of our politicians, as well as the real underlying agenda of the corporate reform initiative of the “billionaire boys club” (e.g. Bill Gates, the Waltons). To date Bill Gates has invested over $2 billion in grants to finance the creation of the CCSS and SBAC test, while the Waltons and the Broad Foundation have offered grant money to advocate for the privatization of education in America. Rupert Murdoch made their financial investment in education very clear when he stated the education “industry” represents a $500 billion dollar market that has only recently become tapped by the business community.

The real irony that has led to this travesty of a reform movement is that the corporate reformers have assumed that American schools are not only failing but are doing so primarily because teachers are not holding their students accountable for rising to the challenge of high academic standards. However, it isn’t that educators’ are not challenging their students.  Rather, today’s classrooms are overcrowded due to budgetary cuts, as well as becoming increasingly populated with children from impoverished backgrounds, who lack parental support and commitment to ensure they come to school well fed and prepared to learn. Moreover, today’s classroom teachers have to contend with a more diverse population of students as a result of the politically correct and egalitarian initiative to “collapse” ability levels and deliver a “one size fits all” curriculum to every student.

However, educators take umbrage with those who are most critical of public education. These critics assume they know how to ameliorate the problem simply because they were once students themselves. Educators, unlike Arne Duncan and Bill Gates, have been trained and have a wealth of experience in the art of teaching and, as such, are learning professionals. Therefore, reading articles citing Mr. Gates’ request that educators convince parents of the value in supporting the Common Core is no less ridiculous a proposal than pleading with physicians or lawyers to have their patients and clients support standards for their profession drawn up by individuals lacking expertise and experience in medicine or law.  Arrogance and ignorance are a dangerous combination especially if possessed by very wealthy and influential individuals who see themselves as social reformers. The time has come for educators to be recognized and respected as professionals who are the only individuals capable of creating and implementing authentic and effective educational reform.

Therefore, it is my hope that in the next few years we will see a major shift away from a reliance on “high stakes” testing and a resurgence of interest in promoting skills and knowledge that nurture the development of competent learners, good citizens, and capable workers who can critically analyze information, collaboratively work with others, effectively communicate their ideas both orally and in written form, appreciate and participate in the Arts, and cultivate their curiosity, imagination and creativity to be innovative and adaptive learners. That’s the America I wish for my grand kids to live in.

Dr. James D. Trifone is a 38-year veteran high school biology teacher, as well as the program coordinator for The Graduate Institute’s Master of Arts in Learning and Thinking Degree program in Bethany, Connecticut. 

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