Thursday, April 09, 2015

Good News! Good On Us!

It's easy to fall into despair over the democratic process and there are still plenty of issues on which we the people are being ignored, but there are also weeks like this one when the promise of self-governance seems to still be alive and kicking.

Back in February I wrote about Seattle's Nathan Hale High School Senate, a body made up of students, parents, teachers, and administrators, voting almost unanimously to refuse to administer the new high stakes Common Core test to 11th graders. The response from Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland, a man appointed to his position by the school board via a blatantly undemocratic process that specifically sought to minimize parent and community input, threatened the school's teachers with not just suspensions, but with a loss of their livelihood by yanking their teaching certificates. Despite this, public school communities throughout the Seattle region, from Edmonds to Tacoma to Bill Gates' backyard in Redmond, have issued formal objections to this testing.

What many of us have been waiting for is the response from the students, parents, and teachers at Seattle's Garfield High School. Two years ago, that public school community made national news, becoming the focal point in the pushback against the overuse of high stakes standardized testing by walking out on a state mandated test, which resulted in that particular test, the MAP, no longer being mandatory. Win! There has been much talk in the meantime about whether or not the Garfield community would refuse to take part in this first year of Common Core tests as well. The big question was whether or not the teachers would be willing to put their livelihoods on the line.

As Garfield's teachers considered whether or not they were willing to take the risk of opting out in light of the threats made against Nathan Hale's teachers "an amazing thing happened," in the words of Garfield teacher, author, and education activist Jesse Hagopian:

Parents began organizing a mass opt out campaign . . . We soon realized that the students who were being asked to take the 11th grade SBA are the very same class whose families helped lead the boycott of the MAP test when the students were in 9th grade back in 2013! I am excited to announce that the parent opt out campaign at Garfield High School has resulted in 221 students already opting out of the 11th grade SBA with two weeks to go before the test is supposed to be administered!

That's enough opt outs that the majority of students will not be taking the test, meaning that teachers will continue teaching instead of administering the test. Wow. I reckon this also invalidates the test for school and teacher assessment purposes. This is how to do it: an alliance of students, parents, and teachers. 

This is the sort of thing that needs to be happening across the country, and indeed is happening. There are already 60,000 students opting out of these tests in New York state alone, for instance, a place that was an early adopter of the disastrous Common Core national curriculum. 

Democracy is more than voting.

And this isn't the only good news. Earlier this year, I wrote about current Congressional efforts to reauthorize the federal No Child Left Behind Law, the legislation that sired the Common Core and our irrational obsession with for-profit high stakes testing. This week, Senators Lamar Alexander and my own Patty Murray announced a bi-partisan agreement on reauthorization legislation that. As education historian and author Diane Ravitch writes:

One may quibble with details, but the bottom line is that this bill defangs the US Department of Education; it no longer will exert control over every school with mandates. This bill strips the status quo of federal power to ruin schools and the lives of children and educators.

Holy cow! They're listening! I'm as surprised as anyone that democracy seems to even be working at the federal level.

There will still be testing, but it's left up to the state's to decide what to do with the data, which means that the federal government can no longer twist our arms behind our backs with the threat of withholding funding. Teacher assessments will be left up to states. Indeed, the entire bill seems to be telling Education Secretary Arne Duncan to take a long walk on a short dock. Peter Greene, writing on his blog Curmudgucation, has put together an encouraging summary of what he finds in the bill. I'm not at all happy with the big, wet sloppy kiss it gives to charter schools, but it appears that the dream of nationally standardized education is dead, and Common Core itself may now be on life support.

Of course, individual states may now very well impose similar or worse education policies, so that's where students, parents, and teachers need to turn our attentions because believe me, our deep-pocket opponents, those who will profit from children laboring in test score coal mines, are not about to stop. The promise of democracy is that "numbers" beats "money." In this case, at least, that appears to be the direction things are starting to go.

Good on us! Now on to our state capitols!

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1 comment:

Carolyn said...

Standardized tests don't tell us anything because teachers just teach for the test. Our high school had tests the students had to pass in order to graduate. They started in 10th grade. If they didn't pass them in 10th, they could try again in 11th and 12th. If they still didn't pass, they pulled them out of their regular classes and made them take a class just to learn things on the test. Some of them still didn't pass the test, which is absolutely ridiculous because they shouldn't have gone to the next grade until they mastered the work for that grade in the first place. If they couldn't master the work, they should have been placed in a school where they could learn a trade. Public schools are a mess because they teach to the lowest level, and push children ahead when they shouldn't.

My child couldn't go to grade school because she had OCD so bad that she couldn't even get out of the car. I homeschooled her but the only thing she managed was math three days a week for an hour. She is also an avid reader, reading a novel a day. She went to public high school and graduated with high honors, and children who had attended every class and grade couldn't even pass the simple tests she passed the first time she took it when she first entered high school. Something is seriously wrong with our public schools. I don't think it is all the schools fault either. I blame the parents for not helping their children learn or taking the time to read to them. My daughter is attending college now and we still read children's books together before bed sometimes.

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