Monthly Archives: February 2015
After one week of protests against state testing, the Opt Out movement in New York State can count many important victories. First of all, thousands of children in the state, from Long Island, to New York City, up the Hudson Valley, to Western New York and the Adirondacks, refused to take the ELA and Math tests put in front of them, sometimes doing so alone, sometimes as part of large groups in their school. They did so in spite of the State Education Department’s insistence that such acts were illegal, and in spite of some awful examples of intimidation by school authorities. This showed that parents activism around high stakes testing could not be
discouraged by threats and in fact that such threats would backfire.
Secondly, the movement got considerable news coverage, first locally and then nationally, with stories appearing on cable outlets throughout the state, passionate discussions taking place in local newspapers, and finally stories appearing in the New York Times. Washington Post and on Yahoo.com. Now most parents in New York state, many in the Tri-State area, and quite a few in other parts of the country know there was a major Test Revolt in New York State. It puts an action once inconceivable within the realm of possibility.
Finally, for the first time that I know of since this movement started, Opting Out parents were able to secure representation from civil liberties lawyers in cases of harassment or intimidation of their children. Three different lawyers, including the most respected civil liberties lawyer in New York State, have stepped forward to help embattled Opt Out families. This is also something of national significance, as Opting Out parents in other parts of the nation have had little success in securing such assistance
When you look at all these developments, you have to conclude that a movement launched by a handful of parents, with no funding, and no support from elected officials, has inspired a public discussion of great power and significance about the dangers of standardized testing and has awakened parents in the state and the nation to the importance of their voice in determining what goes on in the schools they send their children to.
Perhaps the most famous quote describing how most people looked the way during the rise of Nazism is the following
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
This statement has a chilling applicability to the top down, billionaire funded “School Reform” movement, especially in New York State. The movement began by demonizing teachers, blaming them for the failure of our public schools to prepare children for a global economy, and reduce racial disparities in educational achievement. In New York State, this campaign led to the Governor ramming through legislation requiring that teachers be rated on the basis of student test scores and removed if they had unsatisfactory ratings. Many principals and teachers warned that this legislation would result in a vast increase in testing in the state’s public schools, and the institutionalization of “teaching to the test.” Most parents in the state ignored these warnings, thinking that they were self serving and that greater “teacher accountability” would be in the interests of their children and families.
However, as this legislation began to be implemented, many parents began to discover that what teachers and principals warned about was occurring with breakneck speed. More and more, children were coming home bored and angry, telling parents they hated school because all that was going on was “test preparation,” and that the activities they enjoyed most- art, music, recess, gym- were being cut to make room for it. Some were having anxiety attacks on the eve of the tests. Some had to be put under a doctor’s care.
Small groups of parents in the state began organizing to protest what was happening. They discovered there was a national movement to “opt out” children from high stakes tests, and decided to create a version of this in New York State that could help their children. They approached school authorities and asked that their children be exempted from state ELA and Math exams.
The response to them, from New York State Education officials, was immediate and vicious. They were, and still are, told that Opting Out is illegal. Not only were they threatened with legal action by the State, their CHILDREN were threatened with everything from participation in extracurricular activities, access to special needs services, placement in magnet programs, even promotion to the next grade! These individual threats were coupled with an attack on the parental Opt Out movement in the media, describing it as a threat to the great progress the state has made in creating a great education for all children
The viciousness of the State’s retaliation to parents and children who choose to “Opt Out” should be a warning that something profoundly undemocratic and destructive is happening in New York’s public education system, and that the only way to do anything about it is for all stakeholders- principals, teachers, parents, students- to organize to dismantle the Test Machine being shoved down their throat
School Reform in New York State has become the smokescreen under which powerful interests, seeking profit or political gain, have launched one of the most far reaching attacks on popular democracy in recent memory. It is time to fight back before it is too late
This is an amazing moment in the history of Public Education discourse. Our own Melissa Tomlinson, a long time public school teacher from New Jersey known to all BATS as “Love Light” has engineered a media breakthrough of unimaginable proportions. Not only has her story of being bullied by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie been on numerous national media outlets, not only did she present her side of the conflict with great eloquence on the Ed Show, but her letter to Governor Christie has, of this moment, registered 115,500 views on my blog and is being posted on a growing number of education websites.
Think about what just happened. A public school teacher, with no name recognition and no official position has, through courage and force of intellect, made herself a major figure in public discourse about education policy. This is something which, to my knowledge, has almost never taken place in recent years. A representative of the one group who has been excluded from policy discussions about education has crashed the policy makers party. And done so with grace, dignity and eloquence. What she has done reminds me of what the great Rosa Parks did in Montgomery Alabama nearly sixty years ago. Though she was not arrested for her actions, she demonstrated her clear moral superiority to the powerful official who tried to silence her and became a symbol of resistance to thousands, perhaps millions, of others in her position.
I feel proud to have known and worked with Melissa Tomlinson. And so proud of everyone who has made the group she is part of such a force on the national scene
This is a huge breakthrough for every teacher in the country whose voice has been silenced and whose competence and right to speak on the issues of the day has been mocked
Hello, just read your post about teacher abuse. I’m always putting students first, but wanted to share something. I work in a semi-urban elementary school in …….. Last year was one of the worst years I ever had. Many students were dealing with serious family issues or mental problems. It was bad. My heart felt like it was coming out of my chest. My dr. Put me on some anxiety meds. It helped. The year got better for various reasons and i weaned myself off the meds. The week after the test many students were behaving very poorly. again family or severe ADD and mental problems. It was at this time in the year I drove home each day sobbing. The stress of the tests, common core, teaching with boring materials, Pearson’s Reading Street and the dreadful GO Math really gets to you. Ii also discovered that three other teachers in my building were on meds because of the stress. How many others out there are seeking help to deal with the incredible stress placed on teachers right now. I bet it is more than we could ever imagine. The rigorous curriculum is turning kids off to learning. It is dry boring! Just wanted to share a personal story. Feel free to share anything I said to discuss the high level of anxiety in teachers. Just don’t use my name:) Have a great day! One day at a time!!!!!
I teach high school economics. Due to our absurd scheduling policy anyone can end up in this class, anyone from freshmen to seniors. Before I begin to tell the plight of my students it would be pertinent to mention that I am dual certified in social studies and special education, and I’m finally teaching what I am certified to teach. Out of all my IEPs a whopping 60% are out of compliance, and this is AFTER the blitz we had recently to make sure everything was up to code. Instead of telling you sweeping statistics I want to tell you about one of my students “J”. J is a sweetheart more than anything. He has an IQ of 50, has a difficult time remembering who rode the bus with him that morning, and is registered for 5 regents level classes. FIVE. Five classes in which he is completely wasting his opportunity to learn life skills which he will desperately need in his lifetime. Five classes in which he feels like he is disappointing his teachers because he doesn’t pass the regents tests given in actual exams. Five classes where he gets physically upset because he is expected to independently write a regents level essay. Let’s keep in mind that when he fails the regents he takes the same classes the next year. Let’s also keep in mind that he has so much extended time to take the tests that the teachers are scheduled to stay until 8pm. And then let’s realize that this is child abuse. To demand from a child what they physically cannot do is abuse of the highest form. These students want to make their parents and teachers happy. They want to do well but are not given the opportunity because they are forced to do work way beyond their level. Please keep J in your heart. Especially around regents time (January, June and August). And please keep his teachers in mind. They are contractually obligated to read this exam to them countless times and not explain a thing. The only thing I can do is not in my contract… To give them a hug when they’re so defeated they finally crack mid test.