Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Sit While You Wait

I, for one, am pretty happy to see NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña acknowledging instances in which she might opt out her own kids. One is if the kid were a special education student who couldn't possibly keep up with the test requirements. Of course such a kid ought not to be taking a high stakes test, and indeed I've read reports of such kids taking them for many hours. Here's an anonymous complaint that was sent to opt-out activist Jeanette Deutermann:

I am a NYC teacher and I support the opt-out movement and will opt my own children out when the time comes. I proctored a practice ELA exam on Tuesday for the first time since it became untimed. One of my 3rd grade students with Special Needs sat with a 9 question test (6 multiple choice 3 short answer) for 4 hours and 50 minutes. From 9 am-1:50 pm she "worked productively" and continued to say she wasn't done. Lunch was brought to her in the testing room. It was child abuse, plain and simple. I am writing you for fear of retaliation in my workplace since this story pertains to my job and I imagine Ms. Fariña would not approve of me sharing it on social media. I don't know what else to say as there really isn't anything more to say other than repeat what I stated earlier. It's child abuse. The passages and questions were ridiculously inappropriate. Most adults would have had difficulty answering the questions.
 Consider not only the story, but also the fact that the teacher is too fearful to be identified. And this is where we are in NYC in 2016, even as the monopoly Unity Caucus celebrates our evaluation system. No child should have to go through such abuse, and Unity Caucus has repeatedly failed to support our cause, choosing to exercise talking points about how we could lose money if too many kids like the one above were to opt out.

The other category Fariña mentioned was newly arrived immigrants. That touched me a little as those are the kids I see every day of my working life. Of course they shouldn't be taking standardized tests until they acquire English. But that's a long process, and it's severely hindered by NY State's Part 154, which has reduced direct English instruction to high school students by a factor of 33-100%, depending on just how indifferent principals are to these students and their unique needs. It is also dependent on budget, and NY principals are not precisely rolling in cash these days.

I would love to see Carmen Fariña really stand up for these kids, but unfortunately that's yet to happen. I remain hopeful, of course. (I'm on a secret mission to get the UFT to oppose Part 154, and should anything come of it, I'll let you know. Again, I'm hopeful.)

But here's the thing. I think more students should opt-out than just those two groups. I'd use another two groups if I were to identify them. Specifically, I would opt-out male and female students. For anyone who doesn't fall into one of those categories, opting out could be optional. I'm very broad-minded, so I'm OK with that.

There's one more factor I'd like to bring up though. Parents don't need my OK, and with all due respect, they don't need the OK of Carmen Fariña either. It's up to them to opt out their kids or not. There are factors in NYC that make it a little more difficult. A big one is the lack of UFT support. In districts that have union presidents who support opt-out, they tend to work with parents and organize. Sadly, that's lacking here, but you'll soon have a chance to do something about it.

My hope is that both Carmen Fariña and Mike Mulgrew come to their senses and support opt-out wholeheartedly, as Regents Commissioner Betty A. Rosa just did. I hope you won't label me cynical when I tell you I shall certainly sit while I wait for that to happen.
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