Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Paper of Record Talks Opt-out

I was pretty amazed to read this piece in the Times. Based on the testimony of very few people who attended the massive anti Cuomo demonstration a few weeks back, they zapped out an article.  Apparently, two sets of parents oppose testing but are not opting out their own kids. On this basis, the Times saw fit to propel an entire article. As someone who finds it absurd when Chalkbeat NY writes up 100 signatures E4E collected to support more work for less pay, or whatever Gates told them to support this week, I find the Times article outlandish beyond belief. For one thing, they didn't even bother to cover the demonstration in question. It's unbelievable that they muster they audacity to criticize opt-out based on a rally they didn't even deem worthy of mention. And opt-out is alive and well despite what papers would like us to believe.

On the heels of the Grey Lady is the Daily News, which also failed to cover the anti-Cuomo rally. The News believes, evidently, that opt-out is some sinister machination of the teacher union, and that it's not really to help public school parents. Apparently, we seduced public school parents with our evil ways. Pictured is Karen Magee, who kind of went rogue with opt out. Here in NYC, the real power in NYSUT has refused to consider not one, but two opt-out resolutions, and didn't even bother to offer up their own watered down nonsense, the one that supported "multiple measures" (read junk science) to evaluate teachers. According to DN, these tests are the only objective way to rate teachers. Yet the American Statistical Association says teachers only affect test grades by a factor of 1-14%, and that rating teachers this way may have adverse effects on students. Campbell's Law says pretty much the same.

Errol Louis underlines the DN editorial message, saying that teachers don't want to be rated, we don't care, we're unreasonable, and so on and so forth. Louis says nothing about the relative validity of the tests or lack thereof. There is no mention of how cut scores are set to prove whatever point the people in power wish to make this week. But the most incredible line, in my view, in his message is this one:

Parents who object to any type of high-stakes testing, especially now that New York has adopted the challenging Common Core standards, should realize that high-stakes testing is, for better or worse, the norm in our complex modern society. Universities base admissions decisions on SAT and ACT scores; graduate schools do the same with LSATs, GREs, MCATs and more.

The assumption that everything is fine because everyone's doing it is a poor one, to say the least. In fact, studies indicate that teacher grades are a better indicator of student success than SAT scores. Truth be told, I was a terrible high school student but a very good test taker. I woke up in college, but it took me a little while. I know students who are the opposite--I would vouch for them, write them beautiful recommendation letters, and help them any way I can. Kids I know, though, lack fluency in English, and are years away from fluency in standardized tests.

All of these pieces give a message that the opt-out movement is negative, a tool of the union, or at best hypocritical. I'd argue the opposite. I have seen parents speak with incredible passion about this, even as Mike Mulgrew offers to punch you in the face if you lay a hand on his precious Common Core. I have seen parents outraged that their children are faced with developmentally inappropriate tasks, and outraged that reading material their kids loved was prohibited in classrooms in favor of non-fiction books on The History of Cement, or whatever.

My own daughter took a standardized test in kindergarten, and had I been pre-warned, I'd have opted her out for sure. The results, which I received by mail, showed she excelled in reading but had no skills whatsoever in English. How could that be? I happened to know she did not know how to read, and I was happy to let her learn with her peers in first grade. I asked the teacher, who told me her pattern was common. Day one was the reading test. Day three was the English test, by which time all the kids were sick of taking tests.

I'm sorry, but Michael Mulgrew is the President of the UFT, and he thinks the agreement Cuomo rammed down the open throats of our state legislature is excellent, thank you very much. He told us in an email that I've yet to make heads or tails of. And even if, by some chance, the UFT passes its crappy watered down opt-out resolution tomorrow, it will be too late to have any effect.

We are behind the times, going the wrong way, and almost supporting the papers that hate us and everything we stand for.  It's a sad state of affairs. The Times has the worst education coverage in the city, and the quality of that article almost proclaims they're proud of it. I wish the News editorial board and Errol Louis were right, and that we were doing something.

But Karen Magee does not speak for Michael Mulgrew, and if he tires of her in 2017 she'll be gone in a New York UFT minute. That's a fact, Jack. And whatever the papers say about opt out, it is alive and growing.
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