Opt Out and Opposition to State Education Policies Gaining in New York

Growing opposition to State Education Department and Governor’s policies in New York

This week, evidence of growing public opposition to the programs of the New York Stated Education Department, and the meddling of Governor Cuomo, is evident across the state.  Perhaps as many as 15% of parents statewide have had their children refuse to take the ELA tests, and on Long Island, with 120+ districts, it appears 43% of students refused the tests.  And these numbers are before final counts are in.  Now, observers are awaiting the opt-out numbers for Math, which starts shortly.  It could be that numbers for math will be higher.

Media Opinion Pages Starting to be Critical

Media sources, which have generally been low-key on educational issues in New York, are now noticing the disruptive behavior of the public, and editorial comments are beginning to reflect or at least highlight the public opposition.  They are no longer simply accepting the State Education Department’s efforts to down-play the opposition by suggesting the impact is neglible.  It’s not.  Two newspapers are particularly clear so far.  In Albany, Fred LeBrun, who writes for the Albany Times Union, regularly comments on education issues.  His April 18 commentary is “Way out of touch and out of their minds.”

Since this paper doesn’t permit full Internet access without a subscription, here’s a sample of LeBrun’s observations:  “Regardless how many show up for the math tests, what the parents have done so far is as strong a repudiation of national and state public policy as we have seen in a long time. These parents have given a resounding ”no” to the president, our governor, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and an entire ruling cabal of moronic billionaires convinced that public education can only be elevated by punitive measures and the cold imposition of numbers in a database.”

Tisch must step aside

The Journal News, a newspaper serving the Lower Hudson region, posted a call for the resignation of the New York State Board of Regents Chancellor, Meryl Tisch, on August 19.  This article includes several links to additional news about the opt-out movement, and prior editorials on the NY politics of opposition to testing.  They make several points.  The essential issue they identify is the arrogance of Governor Cuomo and State Education Department leaders who thought their reform programs could be forced upon school districts and parents around the state.  They write “But our state leadership has failed to sell its brand of change, and the fallout has been dramatic and potentially debilitating to the entire system. The arrogance of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former Education Commissioner John King and, yes, Tisch, has alienated too many parents and educators. The people who are responsible for educating our children each day – classroom teachers, principals, administrators, school board members – have railed for years against state policies that drive up local costs but fail to improve instruction.”  This editorial is worth accessing so that you can click to read other relevant links.

Common Core Gets Lost in the Controversy

Governor Cuomo is a strong backer of the Common Core State Standards.  Sadly, he has bought into the notion that they are appropriate means to measure teacher effectiveness, a task they were not designed to do.  He recently pushed through legislation that changes the percent that test results play in teacher evaluation, with little to no input from the State Education Department, which had worked hard with districts to design an evaluation system to meet Federal Race to the Top requirements.  Nor did his effort have input from the public, from educational researchers, or from educators in K-12 schools.  The pressure on school districts to teach to the new Common Core tests will be intensified, and as test results on the new standards are reported, scores will be going down, making schools look bad.

Parents, however, understand far more about their schools than the Governor, and this is reflected in parental confidence in Long Island schools, where the opt-out movement is strongest.  In many school districts, falling test scores do not reflect a decline in district effectiveness–they reflect changes in the difficulty of tests and in testing to Common Core standards before the standards had time to be effectively implemented.

One result is the nation-wide opposition to Common Core standards.  I support them, though I agree the implementation in most states was forced on them too quickly, and the development of instructional materials and retraining of teachers to address the Common Core lags badly almost everywhere.  Parents conflate testing with the  Common Core.  The failure of Common Core might well arise from parental awareness that the way testing has been used in teacher evaluation, due to Federal mandates, is destroying the broad opportunities for children to enjoy art, music, and a range of creative content in all classrooms due to the pressure of producing good English and Math scores.  Teaching to the test is destroying the broad quality of American schools and replacing it with scores in two subjects.  Parents know this is wrong.

It’s truly sad to see these developments, in which politicians are running public education on a corporate model driven by two test scores.  This represents a complete disconnect between educational policy and research on learning and what is being forced on public schools across the nation.

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