Once again, New York teachers, parents and legislators are at each others’ throats over how to educate public school kids. And no one is talking to the kids.
Tuesday marked the beginning of Common Core testing for many elementary and middle school students across New York, but the arrival of Common Core hasn’t come without its detractors. Thousands of parents have chosen to opt their kids out of taking these tests, with educational activists leading the charge.
But advocates of Common Core aren’t too worried, calling the situation a blip on their radar because the majority of children are going to be tested.
Michel Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, has led the battle in New York City over the rushed implantation of Common Core by public schools in the five boroughs. During testimony in front of the state Senate in November of 2013, Mulgrew said that he supported Common Core, but wished that teachers were properly trained first before adding it to their responsibilities.
And the rallies against Common Core haven’t stopped since.
Several groups of educational activists have started to engage in mass opt-outs. The New York State Allies of Public Education have gone so far as to devote a page on their website detailing how to opt out, offering easily downloadable letters and forms for parents to sign. In certain districts in Westchester, 25 to 50 percent of students have already opted out of Common Core testing. Late last week, educational activist Diane Ravitch wrote a letter on her blog that went viral among supporters and detractors alike that asked for parents to opt their kids out of Common Core testing.
“The information provided by the tests is worthless,” wrote Ravitch. “It is a score. It offers no information about how to help students improve. It gives a score and a ranking compared to others in the state.
“There is nothing individual in each student’s report. The teacher can’t see what the student got right or wrong. The teacher and parent learn nothing except the student’s score.”
Ravitch also said that the belief among Common Core’s advocates that the tests will affirmatively show how children are progressing academically and that teachers will use that information to tailor lessons to the needs of children is false. However, individuals such as State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher are simply lamenting how the debate has become a tug-of-war, with the kids stuck in the middle.
“When it comes to whether students should opt out of standardized testing, no one is actually talking about what’s best for our kid,” said Zimpher in a post on SUNY’s blog. “Standardized tests have become a pawn in political debates about teacher evaluations, and we have lost sight of what they are: a way to measure what students know so we can help them improve. For too long, our education system has failed to track students’ progress toward college and career readiness.
“Parents, educators and policymakers have an obligation to use standardized assessments to shine a light on how best to support students,” Zimpher said.
According to Zimpher, less than 40 percent of New York students are considered college-ready when they graduate high school, and community colleges in the SUNY system spend more than $70 million on remediation. That’s 20 percent— or $93 million—of financial aid being awarded to community college students going toward remedial classes and $163 million taxpayer and tuition dollars annually going to high school graduates who aren’t yet ready for college.
But the real fear for some is that relying so heavily on test scores will result in corruption among teachers and administrators, if only to keep their jobs. In Georgia, almost a dozen Atlanta public school administrators were sentenced to prison for widespread cheating on exams taken by students. Bernice King, CEO of the King Center and daughter of the late Martin Luther King Jr., said in a statement that harsh prison sentences won’t solve the problem.
“While I agree that conspiring to change test scores is unethical and our laws clearly express that it is a crime, I don’t believe that 15- to 25-year prison sentences align with the crimes that were committed by the ‘APS 11,’” said King. “There are people who have committed far more egregious offenses that have severely harmed humanity who have not served such lengthy prison sentences.
“Further, these educators were themselves the victims of a corrupt education system,” King continued. “The systemic issues that have plagued APS and other educational entities should be considered when weighing sentencing. Teachers are under tremendous pressure to meet standards and ensure that students pass tests, even to the extent that their jobs, their livelihoods may be threatened.”