Friday, April 27, 2012

New York: Bringing Parent Opposition and Resistance Out of the Shadows

From zero reporting on parent opposition to excessive testing, news stories published in mainstream press are popping up here and there - a good sign.
AP Buffalo covered parents opting out in that area:
"A small but growing number of local parents are deciding to have their children opt out of the state standardized tests in English and math."

The news report describes the reasons parents give for opting out:

  • Too much stress on the children

  • Exaggerated test-centric learning environments

  • Narrowed curriculum and exclusion of development of critical thinking skills, hands-on learning, and other significant learning opportunities such as social studies and art

  • Concerns over testing quality and outsourcing testing to Pearsons

Notably, in contrast to the recent school-based threat made to a Long Island parent to report opting out to Child Protective Services and proceeding with testing in spite of parent request otherwise, no such threats or punishments for making this decision were reported in this article. In fact, parents sent their students to school and the students simply left the sheet blank. The test is not scored.

In an ABC News article, Opting Out of Standardized Tests, also covering New York, a spokesman for the state indicated that opting out has ramifications for the schools and the districts. Poor scores mean the schools could close or staff changes made.
Oddly, no comment made on the benefits of testing for children, except confirming parent rights:
"There are no ramifications for parents or students who keep their children home from grades 3 through 8 tests."

Parents remain generally unaware of the rights; but as the awareness grows that opting out is possible for parents, expect this movement to grow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Testing Perversion: Parent Threatened and Parental Rights Violated in NY

This story does not require much introduction. The correspondence between the parent and the school officials speaks volumes and confirms the depth of the high stakes testing perversion.

4/21 UPDATE: The threat to call CPS stems from unexcused absence applied to refusing to take the test. Keeping the child home would then be considered truancy and on that basis a report to CPS. Neither State nor Federal law require parents to submit their children to testing. There is considerable U.S. Supreme Court decisions on parental rights to support a parent request to opt out. The parent listed them in her correspondence. There is no "compelling" reason for the State to impose this requirement. There is a developing legal complaint on behalf of U.S. parents who have been threatened, intimidated, or punished in anyway over opting out.

Schools and districts handle these situations in a variety of ways - some in the extreme as this one, and others simple respect it. There is no code, they cannot report, the school takes the hit on accountability, and everyone moves along. Reporting has nothing to do with the child or parent rights.

UPDATE: Did the school officials understand the regulations? See my added comment on NY Administrative Rules.

The letter from the parent on her reasons for choosing to opt out her student from standardized testing: (highlighting in red is added for emphasis by Grumpy Educators)

From: [parent name removed]
Sent: Sunday, April 15, 2012 10:38 AM
To: Thomas M. Capone; Donna Gales
Subject: opt out.
Please be advised that my son [name removed] will not be taking the New York State assessments on April 17-19 and April 25-27. After watching [name removed] struggle and listening to his concerns, we have decided to opt out of this unnecessary testing.I am requesting that [name removed] be given an alternative real learning opportunity option.
[parent name removed]

The response from school officials:

Dear Ms. [name removed],
This letter is in response to your April 15, 2012 email and follows up today’s telephone conversation. In your email, you requested that the Oceanside Union Free School District (“District”) not administer the New York State English Language Arts (“ELA”) and Math Assessments to your son, [name removed]. During today’s telephone conversation, you reiterated this request. Upon my informing you that the State Assessments are not optional, you indicated that you planned to either: (1) keep [name removed] at home for the period during which the State Assessments were administered, (2) keep [name removed] at home for the portion of each day during which the State Assessments were administered, or (3) send [name removed] to school with instructions not to take the State Assessments.I remind you that, pursuant to the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education, all public school students in grades three through six who have not been deemed eligible by the CSE to take the Alternate Assessment, and are not parentally placed on home instruction, must take the ELA and mathematics elementary assessments. See 8 N.Y.C.R.R. §100.3(b)(2). As you know, [name removed]does not qualify for the Alternate Assessment. The Regulations contain no
“opt-out” provision, which would authorize a parent to have his or her child not
participate in the State Assessment. It is the District’s obligation to
determine all eligible students’ proficiency levels through the administration
of the State Assessments. As such, taking the State Assessments is mandatory
for [name removed].
If without medical justification, [name removed] is absent from school on any dayduring the Assessment period, the District will deem this absence as unexcused.Further, if you keep [name removed] home from school during the Assessment period,without medical verification, it is within the District’s discretion to deem these absences as indicia of educational neglect, which would leave the District little choice but to contact Child Protective Services (“CPS”). Pursuant to the New York State Education Department’s 2012 School Administrator’s Manual, a student will receive a final score of “999″ and will be counted as “not tested”if: (1) he is absent from the entire test; (2) he refuses the entire test; (3)he is absent for any session; or (4) he is present for all sessions, but does not respond to even one question on the test. Accordingly, if Joseph engages in any one of these activities, he will receive a final score of 999, he will be counted as not tested, he may receive an unexcused absence, and CPS may have to be called. If [name removed] does not participate in the State Assessments, the District will use other formal or informal assessments to determine his proficiency level. If [name removed] participates in the State Assessments, he will of course be provided with his IEP-mandated accommodations.I hope the above has clarified any outstanding questions you have about [name removed] obligation to participate in the State-mandated Assessments and your obligation to make him available for testing. We look forward to having [name removed] participate in the State Assessments.

The parent responds:

Dear Mr. C:
I have referred your letter to my attorney. However, I have been advised and would like to take this opportunity to share with you the fact that parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents posses the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399). In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158)
Since state law is superceded by Federal Law, parents are given the final say in matters of education and I shall have the final say in my son’s education.

And then she must write again when she learns her child was forced to test, ignoring the parent request and out of compliance with existing Individual Educational Plan documentation:

[name removed] advises me that he was forced to take the assessment today against his wishes and mine in a separate location, thereby resulting in emotional and physical stress. He is now complaining of a headache and “knots in his back”.
Not only have you violated my parental rights, but now you are failing to implement my son’s IEP, which as you know is a legal document.
I specifically direct you to pages 11 and 12 of [name removed] IEP (the testing accomodations section) wherein it states he is to begin exam in mainstream setting with significant proctor attention to reduce test anxiety.
While I do not feel the need to threaten you, I must advise you that should this situation occur again, I will be forced to contact the authorities.
Parent Signature (removed by Grumpy Educators)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Florida Charter School "Boom": Warning Signs

There is a charter boom going on with too many oddities:

1) 15 of 30 "F" schools in Florida are charters. "Then last year in Florida, charter schools received 15 out of 31 of all the failing FCAT grades that went to public schools. Charter elementary and middle schools were seven times more likely to get an F than traditional public schools."
Read full article here.

2) VP Joe Biden's brother is associated with charter Mavericks HS, which has accounting and performance issues - plus a desire to open 100. Third whistle blower on alleged fraud emerges. Frank Biden has real estate experience.
Read full article here.

3) Parents signed up for an arts-oriented charter, but were not told of its association with Scientology.
Read more here.

4) Duval School Board, in North Florida, followed the rules on charter applications and denied an application. The charter took it to an Charter School Appeal Board established by the State School Board. The appeal board sided with the school board and against the charter. The charter took it to the State Board (all members are appointed), which overturned the appeal board and the district. The district is taking this one to court. What are the rules? Who decides? Murky. More loss of local control?
Read more here.

5) Then there was the recent Parent Trigger mess. Florida residents were denied opportunity to speak at committee meetings and at hearings to give opposing views, while proponents from outside the State were given that access. This is hardly an example of democracy. The good news is that the bill failed. It deserved to fail...the "devil is in the details."
Read more here and here.

6) Florida took RT3 funding and school districts are under strain trying to meet the requirements.

7) In Florida, former Governor Jeb Bush and his Foundation exert too much power.  The Director of his foundation, Patricia Levesque, is adviser to Governor Scott. Her husband is also General Counsel to the Florida House. When voting on charter bills, he advised no conflict of interest nor ethics violation for legislators with personal ties or ties via family to vote on those bills IF the bill did not affect only that family business. Read more here.

8) Last week the Florida DOE issued a report on public charter progress. While some point to the report as clear evidence that charters are "better" than traditional schools, the report itself does not identify variances. One critical factor is that of the total number of public charters in Florida, the performance of only 40% are included in the report. The remaining 60% are not required to be "graded" because the size of the student population is too small to be statistically relevant and under Florida law are excluded. So while we applaud student achievement, growth, and progress wherever it exists, taxpayers still have no information that affirms the disruption leads to any return on investment. There are too many unknowns to recommend Florida's charter boom as a scalable model to replicate.
Read more here.

What happens in Florida is worth watching. These initiatives are heralded in other states as models to follow; however, they do not hold up under scrutiny. Legislators should analyze carefully what is in the best interests of their states students, parents, community members, and taxpayers. Careful deliberation and legislative accountability is not a sign of being anti-charter nor anti-accountability; but rather a sign of doing the job they were elected to do.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

2012: States Where Parents Oppose Excessive Standardized Testing

April 13, 2012 - 282 Texas school districts have now signed the resolution opposing high stakes assessment.

UPDATE March 29, 2012 - 219 Texas school districts have now signed the resolution opposing high stakes assessment.

UPDATE March 24, 2012 - School districts sign resolution opposing excessive high stakes assessment. So far 151 have signed, numbers increasing.

Texas in the news. Parent opposition to excessive testing and teaching to the test continues to grow, and they are not the only ones it seems.

The New York Times quotes Robert Scott, the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency on describing testing in Texas schools this way:

“perversion of its original intent”

The NY Times article is one of the few that brings national parent opposition out of the shadows. Texas parents are saying enough is enough finding opting out the only way to stop this "perversion."

Click on the map to see it larger.

Washington State: Parent Opposition Out of the Shadows

April 13, 2012 UDATE: CBS News Seattle coversthe Snoho,ish School District parents who opted out of expensive, excessive standardized testing. Ninety students opted out.

April 10, 2012 UPDATE: More Washington State parents opt out of standardized testing. A Washington State Senator has taken notice. The Snohomish School District islocated in Olympia, Washington. A school district spokesperson says this about the opt out movement:
"Parents always have the decision to opt their students out of these tests. We respect the decision these parents are making and we’ll see where that takes us.”


The Seattle Times notes a "rebellion over standardized testing in the Seattle Hill neighborhood of southeast Everett echoes a larger uprising around the country."

Parents may opt out in Washington and have acted on this option over time, but not in the larger numbers seen now. This newspaper report may be one o f the first, if not the first, to acknowledge the mounting parent disgust over excessive testing. While bloggers have reported these events and a handful of education-oriented columns, mainstream reporting has ignored the uprisings.

The Texas Association of School Administrators reports Over 200 school districts in Texas have voted opposition to the testing "perversion."

How much longer will parent, community member, and taxpayer opposition to expensive, experimental, and excessive testing be kept in the shadows? Hopefully, this article is an indication of change.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pearson fattens in the global elearning sector

REPUBLISHED: Originally published October 15, 2011

Pearson has recently added a few new initiatives taking the lead in all things virtual.

First, Pearson acquired Connections Education, "an accredited provider of high-quality, highly accountable virtual education for students in grades K-12, and online learning solutions to educational institutions globally. Through tuition-free public schools, full-time and part-time private school programs, and turnkey online courses for bricks and mortar schools, Connections Academy delivers superior, personalized education for students, accessible anywhere." According to the Pearson press release published in The Street, Connections Academy runs in "21 states in the US—serving more than 40,000 students in the current school year. These virtual charter schools are accredited and funded by the relevant state and are free to parents and students who choose a virtual school in place of a traditional public institution or other schooling options." Connections Academy already uses Pearson digital and curriculum materials.

According to reports, the private sector chair of ALEC's Education Task Force is Connections Academy, a private corporation based in Baltimore that offers free online classes through contracts with charter schools, school districts, or governmental entities. Sylvan Ventures (the venture capital arm of the for-profit Sylvan Learning Systems) started Connections Academy in 2001.

Secondly, Pearson has partnered with Google Apps for Education to offer all universities a free learning management system (LMS) called OpenClass. While the code is free, universities will still require developers to customize the LMS and will be required to purchase Pearson digital content and textbooks. This is precisely where Pearson will make money:
By offering a system that sucks colleges and universities in, then offering content that costs money but that integrates oh so conveniently into that system, they hope that the money they spend to offer the learning management system is more than made up by the additional content they'll sell.

For over a decade, Blackboard has dominated the university market by selling a license to use its LMS. According to Inside Higher Ed, it looks like Pearson is set to dominate the market in K-university e-learning.
"the media conglomerate Pearson controlled a shade over 1 percent of the market for learning management systems (LMS) among traditional colleges, according to the Campus Computing Project.This year, Pearson is taking aim at the other 99 percent."

The momentum to capture has not come without criticism. The NY Times reported that Pearson paid for trips taken by State Education Commissioners to Brazil, China, Singapore, and Finland and also won lucrative state testing contracts. Kentucky recently was awarded a $58 million contract and Kentucky State Education Commissioner went to China and Brazil on a Pearson paid trip. A Kentucky blogger, Education Voodoo asks:
One of these days, The New York Times will have a story about education in Kentucky that doesn’t make us look like a bunch of dummies. Maybe it will happen when pigs fly.