Category Archives: Common Core

Retribution: A Teacher Union President Faces Unsubstantiated Claims For Dismissal

Merrie Najimy

Many readers may be aware of the plight of Merrie Najimy, a third grade teacher and president of the local teacher union in Concord, Massachusetts.  She has been a teacher in Concord for 25 years, having always received glowing satisfactory ratings from her past principals.

With the advent of a new superintendent’s administration, a new principal was appointed to her school with an apparent mission to rid the school of veteran teachers and those active in the union.

Now, before anti-union readers dismiss Najimy as a nefarious due-collecting chief, it should be noted that teachers and students in Massachusetts have gained the distinction for having some of our nation’s highest standards AND achievement.  If Massachusetts were its own country, its students’ performance on the international TIMS and PISA would rank near the top, with Finland.  Concord is no exception to this trend of Massachusetts performance, and Najimy’s work over the past few years has helped facilitate the continuation of this trend.  It is safe to say that Najimy’s work as a union president has been beneficial to the education system.

This is why it was so shocking to Najimy, her colleagues, parents in the community, and students, when she suddenly received less-than-satisfactory ratings this school year, was put on an improvement plan, and was ultimately recommended for non-renewal of contract.  Najimy’s struggles have since become publicized by the Boston Globe, and on Diane Ravitch’s Blog.  It has also led to public protests at Najimy’s school, and at the office of her superintendent.  Finally, a petition has gone viral, with 1,342 signatures, to support the reinstatement of Najimy’s position as a teacher in Concord.

In an interview with atthechalkface.com, Najimy speculated that the targeted retribution was politically motivated because many of the superintendent’s initiatives (essentially turning the system into an “assessment warehouse”) are unpopular with teachers and the community, and that she was in the best position to oppose those measures.  Removing Najimy would allow the superintendent to act unilaterally, without input from teachers and community members.

This interview is very much worth reading, and demonstrates the danger of leaving policy decisions that govern teachers and students solely in the hands of administrators – and no input from professional educators and taxpayers in the community.

To read the interview, click HERE.

North Carolina 6th Grader Opts Out of Common Core Test, Is Escorted Off School Grounds

NC Department of Public Instruction

Zoe Morris is a straight-A sixth grader at McDougle Middle School (Orange County, NC, near Chapel Hill), who generally scores in the 99th percentile on standardized tests.  However, she has been dismayed by Common Core curriculum.  According to her, the Common Core tests have only served to dictate the curriculum.  She claims that this has stunted the quality of her educational experience.

In an act of civil disobedience, she approached her father about opting out.  With his blessing, she notified the school of her intentions and was led to believe that nothing would happen to her.  However, when Zoe attended school on the day of the Common Core test, she was escorted off school grounds by her principal.

Alaina Athans of the local ABC 11 News picked up the story.  If you are interested in reading more about Zoe’s act of civil disobedience, click HERE (the link also includes a video interview with Zoe and her father).

Indiana Votes To Halt Common Core Implementation

Say No To Common Core Pins

Scott Elliott of the Indianapolis Star reported that the Indiana General Assembly has revised its A to F rating of schools and temporarily halted implementation of the Common Core.  The vote to revise school ratings affected students who were attending schools rated as D to F, and expanded the eligibility of who could benefit from public funds in transferring to other schools.  Elliott wrote that:

Vouchers, which allow public school dollars for more than 9,000 low-income children to be used for private school tuition, would be expanded. New provisions would extend the benefit to siblings of those already using vouchers, students in special education or those living within the boundaries of a school rated a D or F by the Indiana Department of Education.”

What came as a surprise to many observers outside of Indiana was the decision to temporarily halt the state’s implementation of the Common Core standards (effective May 15), which are a set of education standards that have been adopted by 46 states in the union.  At the core of the controversy are critics’ sentiments that the Common Core standards were inferior to the state standards they replaced.  However, supporters of the Common Core have pointed out that textbook publishers and college entrance exams have already begun reflecting the Common Core curriculum.

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss noted that Indiana’s vote in the General Assembly simply reflects the slowing down of Common Core momentum, writing that:

Indiana is one of the handful of states that are either pulling back or considering halting the standards, including Alabama, South Dakota and Georgia. The Michigan House recently voted to strip all funding for the Common Core, though the governor, Rick Snyder, says he supports the standards.”

While it is hard to gauge the impact of Indiana’s vote on the Common Core movement, it is safe to say that the opposition towards it has grown significantly.  After all, Indiana has long been known as an “education reform” state.

If you would like to read Scott Elliott’s article in the Indianapolis Star, click HERE.

If you would like to read Valerie Strauss’ commentary in the Washington Post, click HERE.

Has Testing Reached A Tipping Point?

Principals List Pencils 2 11-9-12

The Teachers’ Free Press ran across an article from this past January, posted by Sam Chaltain, who questioned whether the national obsession with high-stakes test had reached its peak.  He noted how, at one time, it was a lonely endeavor to voice dissent to the idea that high-stakes testing was a disservice to our children.  However, the momentum seems to have shifted as the public backlash to testing has hit a new high.  For evidence, he pointed to a couple of “mini-rebellions” such as the Garfield High School protests (Seattle, Washington) that have spread to neighboring systems, calls by superintendents for a moratorium on testing, and a proposed bill in Texas to limit the number of standardized tests required for graduation.  Had Chaltain written his piece more recently, he could have also included the widespread opt-out movements in Western New York and on Long Island.

Chaltain harkened to the author, Malcolm Gladwell, and his concept of a “tipping point,” where an idea has spread to the point that significant action takes place.  Chaltain then noted that it is not entirely enough for teachers and parents to speak out against the idea of testing, but that they would have to come up with viable alternatives to measuring the excellence of public schools.

He wrote:

To convert their opponents from hostility to acceptance, educators will need to clarify more than what they’re against; they’ll also need to propose specific and realistic alternatives. Josh Starr is off to a good start: he proposes creating assessments for Common Core-aligned curriculum by crowdsourcing their development and letting teachers design them — rather than the private companies. And the good news is there are other big ideas out there, and other places where effective alternatives to standardized testing already exist.

These are interesting concepts.  One can only wait to see if the tipping point of ideas against high-stakes testing is complemented in the future with a tipping point of ideas for alternatives.

If you would like to read more, click HERE.

Saratoga Springs School Board (NY) Passes Resolution to Urge State to Rethink High-Stakes Testing

Saratoga Springs City School Board

On April 11, 2013, the school board in Saratoga Springs (NY) passed a unanimous resolution to urge the New York State Education Department to rethink the use of high-stakes testing.  The board claims that the current tests cut into student learning time, narrows the curriculum, and undermines teacher morale.

According to the Times-Union:

The resolution will not be binding, and won’t exempt the district from the state’s requirement that every child take the English and math exams. But the public push-back against the state is a highly unusual move for a school board.”

However, superintendent Michael Piccirillo believes that surrounding school systems will also likely begin to voice their own form of opposition to the state tests.

To read about Saratoga Springs’ decision to vote, click HERE

To read about Saratoga Springs’ unanimous vote, click HERE.

20 Percent of Students in Rockville (NY) Opted Out of Common Core Exams

Less testing more teaching

On April 24, the Long Island Herald reported that about 20 percent of students in grades 3-8 opted out of this year’s New York State Exam that is based on the Common Core standards.  The Long Island Herald broke down the numbers to demonstrate how the opt out movement grew over the course of three days of testing:

Of the 1,637 students in grades 3 through 8 who were scheduled to take the ELA test, 309 opted out on April 16, the first day of testing. That number grew to 328 the following day and 338 on April 18. The majority of those students — more than 200 — were students at South Side Middle School.”

The students who opted out were permitted to sit and read during the test.  Nonetheless, the superintendent Dr. William Johnson has stated that he does not believe that the schools in the district will meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which requires at least 95% participation.  The penalties for not meeting AYP is still unclear, but the school system is bracing for those consequences.  Those consequences will not likely affect the students, and more likely affect the status of teachers employed in the system, as test scores will take a more prominent role in teacher evaluations.

To read the article on this subject in the Long Island Herald, click HERE.

Rochester City School Board Member Opts Out Her Child From State Test

Willa Powell

Willa Powell, a member of the Rochester City School Board (NY), has decided to take a stand against the newly implemented New York state test that is based on the Common Core standards.  On April 12, she announced her decision to opt out her own child from taking the exam.

In a statement, she noted that “I don’t need more feedback. This test won’t give me more feedback because it’s based on a common core curriculum that hasn’t even been taught in the classroom.”

Powell has been applauded by many parents in the area for taking a stand.  However, the reception to her decision has been mixed, where some members of the school board have taken a stand in favor of the test.  Furthermore, Powell’s decision to boycott the test has even generated a response from Denise Thompson (New York State Education Department), who is quoted as saying: “Parents who keep their children from taking these tests are essentially saying I don’t want to know where my child stands on the path to college and career readiness, and that’s doing them a real disservice.”

To read more, click HERE.

[Updated] Parents and Students Face Retribution For Exercising their Right To Opt Out Of State Exams

gifted and talented NYC

There has been a growing movement among informed teachers, parents, and students to reject high-stakes testing as an unnecessary burden of stress that is deeply flawed in design and usage.

Parents have seen through and rejected attempts to pass “Parent Trigger Laws” in California and Florida (also see this link).  Teachers and students at Garfield High School have organized, and honored, for a boycott of the Washington State test.  The Providence Student Union in Rhode Island engaged in successful political theater and challenged accomplished adults to take the exam that high school students must pass in order to graduate.  The appalling results by those adults, who were outperformed by students, resulted in Boston Globe’s endorsement of the idea that the exam’s use as a high school graduation requirement would need to be rethought.

As these movements take place and gain success, there has also been a loosely organized movement among parents throughout the country to opt their children out of taking their respective state’s high-stakes test (also see the links to The New York Times, CBS Philly, and The Notebook).  Parents cite the undue stress that these tests have caused in the educational experiences of their children.  They also criticize the close partnership between corporate test makers and school systems, the design of tests, and the high-stakes usage of their children’s scores.  In addition to that, Pearson, the largest test maker in the nation has been embroiled in a history of poor performance, faulty exams, and questionable practices, for which it has been fined millions of dollars.

With the rising solidarity between parents, students, and teachers, some school boards and administrators have been put pressure on educators to not inform parents of their right to opt-out.  In at least one case, this has led to a veiled threat by the New York City schools, as informed by union President Iannuzzi.  In an e-mail to local union leaders, he relayed a list of school system’s threats to any teacher informing parents of their rights (see this blog post):

  1. Locals and individual union members who advise parents or students to “opt out” of state tests may face risks.
  2. A teacher who, in conversations with students or parents, takes a position on testing contrary to the school district’s educational program may potentially be charged with misconduct or insubordination and could be subject to disciplinary action.
  3. A local speaking as a union or an individual member speaking as a parent or citizen about educational concerns over standardized testing for instance, in a letter to the editor or in a statement to the Board of Education is protected as long as they are not encouraging parents or students to opt out from a scheduled test.

States and local school systems are also beginning to clamp down on parents, holding their children’s test scores as hostages to the well-being of their local school system. This was the case in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C.  In each of these three jurisdictions, students who do not show up for tests will receive failing grades.  Additionally, they warned that failing scores will be problematic for a student’s future efforts to graduate from high school on time.  States and local school boards have also reminded parents that a minimum percentage of a school population must take a test, or risk losing accreditation by the state.

As if that was not enough, Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington D.C. threatened students and parents alike by instituting a policy of “no test, no sports” if parents choose to opt their children out of the already problematic DC-CAS exam.

With teachers’ freedom of speech under grave threats, proponents of high-stakes testing have turned their attention to parents and students engaged in their right to opt out of exams.  If they succeed, there will be a prominent narrative written in the story of public education that all parents, students, and teachers agreed (or at least conceded) to the requirements to follow the policies established by the industrial-education complex.  Democracy is under attack.

[UPDATE: The principal of Woodrow Wilson High School, Peter Cahall, rescinded his original policy of "no test, no sports" on Friday, April 26, 2013.  You can read more about this reversal HERE.]

Parents Sue School and State For Punishing Son’s Decision to Opt Out of Testing

Keep Calm and Refuse the Test

Parents in Rochester, New York, have filed a lawsuit against their son’s school (Burger Middle School), district (Rush-Henrietta School District), and state for violating his right to free speech, equal protection under state law, and free public education.  The issue stemmed from an incident earlier this month when their son refused to take the state test after his parents wrote to the school to explain their decision to opt out.

Nonetheless, the school punished their son for insubordination, and coordinated with the local sheriff’s department to send deputies out to the baseball field to discourage the son from playing in extracurricular sports (practice and a game).

The legal complaint is grounded in the parent’s belief that they were exercising their right to free speech, as they did not believe in the validity of the Common Core exam, nor did they believe that it served any educational benefit for their son.  Additionally, their complaint noted that there was a disparity in the treatment of New York students who opt out of testing.  Students who opt out in some districts may do so without reprisal (such as in neighboring Churchville-Chili Central, Rochester City and Wayne Central school districts), while students who opt out in other districts might face punishment.  According to the legal counsel advising the parents, this was a violation of the state’s responsibility to provide equal protection under state law.   Finally, the suit claims that the unequal level of punishments levied on students who opt out throughout the state amounted to a denial of the son’s right to a free public education (as guaranteed under Article XI of the New York State Constitution).

In the preparation for the lawsuits, the parent’s attorneys uncovered a number of other alarming examples in which their son’s school district punished students who opt out of testing.

  • Rush-Henrietta School District denied recess to a student who refused to take the exam on directions from her mother.
  • Rush-Henrietta School District threatened a parent in saying that they might call Child Protective Services if her child was excessively absent on testing days.

The decision to opt out from the New York State Exam reflects a growing trend among parents across the United States who have begun to question the appropriateness of high-stakes testing.  According to the Times Union (Albany, NY), the topic of opting out is a hot one on Facebook and on local blogs.

According to the Courthouse News, this lawsuit not only seeks to call the school system to the carpet for acting contrary to its duty to protect rights listed in the state constitution, but it also seeks a “temporary restraining order to bar punishment for opting out of the April 25-26 math tests, and a preliminary injunction barring any further disciplinary action. They also seek court costs and attorneys’ fees.”

To read the Courthouse News article in its entirety, click HERE.

 

The Coming Revolution in Public Education

John Tierney

John Tierney is a retired professor of American Government at Boston College.  Nowadays, he contributes as a correspondent with The Atlantic Magazine.  On Thursday (April 25, 2013), the magazine published an outstanding commentary by Tierney about public education.

In the article, Tierney criticized education reform movements that have either sought to strengthen the educational bureaucracy, or relegate schools to free market pressures.  These movement served only to harm the teaching profession and, ultimately, our schoolchildren.  He noted that history teaches us that these efforts will only fail.  So too will policies of standardization, along with any other policy that lacks any trust for teachers’ work.  Tierney also criticized the idea that judging teachers by the performance of students was “substantively and procedurally flawed.”  Finally, he blasted a notion that TFP often refers to as, “the industrial-educational complex,” or corporate profits being made off of the school system.  Just as outrageous, according to Tierney, is the fact that these profits are being gained by businesses (like Pearson) that are not held accountable for their own quality and practices.

As parents, students, and teachers begin to realize the true and detrimental nature of these reforms, they begin to talk, advocate, and organize.  This has already happened.  Tierney pointed to student refusals to take tests, the growing opt-out movement, blistering commentaries by teachers, and the turnaround of Diane Ravitch (from high-profile proponent of accountability to high-profile critic).

Tierney humbly explained that he did not know what a revolution might looks like, but he suspected that our society is near a critical moment in which the education reform movement will be called out.

Indeed, revolutions do create images of sudden change, of overthown rulers and the like.  But revolutions can be incremental, steady but always challenging the status quo.  For some, a revolution is too strong or too scary of a word.  Perhaps.  But we cannot deny the fact that an awakening is surely at nigh.

If you would like to read Tierney’s commentary, click HERE.