Support the ISAT Boycott in Chicago!

My head is spinning after two incredible days at the Network for Public Education national conference. It was their first conference – and plans are already forming for the next one. This gathering of education activists from around the country was inspirational and energizing.

We met folks who have had incredible successes – such as the Providence Student Union’s campaign to remove the requirement for passing the NECAP test for graduation in Rhode Island and TAMSA’s successful reduction of high school high-stakes testing from 15 to 5 exams in Texas.

We also met folks who are deep in the struggle right now. In Chicago Public Schools the teachers at two elementary schools have joined together to boycott the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). You can read more about what is happening in blog posts by CPS first grade teacher Michelle Gunderson here and here. Gunderson writes, “Educators and parents in Chicago joined forces this week to boycott the ISAT at two schools, Maria Saucedo Elementary School and Drummond Montessori. There are also over 1,000 parents at 37 other Chicago schools who requested to opt their child out of ISAT. They are supported in their decision by the Chicago Teachers Union and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE).”

The teachers have the support of President of the Chigaco Teachers Union Karen Lewis and AFT President Randi Weingarten – who were both at the NPE conference and have publicly stood up for the teachers in Chicago. The teachers also have the support of many parents. The school district has threatened to revoke teacher licenses (which they have no authority to do).

At DEY we encourage you to show your solidarity for this act of civil disobedience with the boycotting teachers in Chicago by signing their petition at Moveon.org. The petition states:

  • We support the teachers who refuse to administer and the parents who opt their students out from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).
  • We call on Chicago Public Schools and the Illinois State Board of Education not to give the ISAT test this year.
  • There should be no retaliation by the Chicago Board of Education against the parents, students and teachers who have taken action to improve students’ education.

Heroes in education – young and old

On Thursday evening, many educators gathered in Cambridge, MA to honor Jonathan Kozol as he received the Deborah W. Meier Hero in Education Award. The event was sponsored by our colleagues at FairTest – the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Monty Neil, FairTest Executive Director, welcomed us to the event with an uplifting account of the ground swell of protests to high-stakes testing that have emerged this school year – and especially this spring. The movement continues to be “embryonic”, though it does feel as though parents, teachers and students across the country have begun to find their collective voice of resistance. Chicago Public Schools cancelled a district-mandated assessment for their youngest students last month – this followed quickly on the heels of the “Play-In” protest a CPS headquarters and a boycott of the state-mandated Prairie Achievement Exam by high school students. These parents, students and teachers who are standing up, boycotting, rallying and protesting are also heroes in education.

On a related note, educators in New York are gearing up for a Rally for Public Education in Albany on June 8th.  They’ve asked us to spread the word. Below, see a Top Ten list of reasons for attending the rally – as well as a YouTube video to help spread the word.

TOP TEN reasons to March on Albany in the Rally for Public Education:

10. You have realized public education is being hi-jacked by for profit organizations.

9. You are tired of reading about how ineffective you are at your own profession by people who know nothing about education.

8. You believe high stakes testing is out of control in NY.

7. You believe you have not had enough time to learn the Common Core yourself, let alone have your students tested on it!

6. You believe your students’ personal information, including their state assessment results and their IEPs and other personal data should be kept confidential.

5. You believe your effectiveness rating should be kept confidential, and don’t want a link on the district web page to this information or directions given to get this information.

4. You believe that NYS should report to the public the amount of tax payer money spent on developing, administering, grading and reviewing state assessments.

3. The word PEARSON makes your skin crawl.

2. You work in Averill Park (Insert your own school district.)and have lost about a quarter of your faculty due to unfair state budget cuts!

AND THE NUMBER ONE REASON….

1. You are a caring professional who wants the BEST public education for your own students, children, and grandchildren and you know this isn’t it!

Michelle Smead, Averill Park Teachers’ Association

An Open Letter to Secretary Arne Duncan – from an Early Childhood Educator

This is an update to our previous post on the fantastic “Play-In” protest at the headquarters for Chicago Public Schools. The Play-In was organized to advocate for more appropriate curricula in Chicago’s early childhood classrooms and it had the support of the Chicago Teachers Union. In fact, Michelle Strater Gunderson, who is the Early Childhood Committee Chairperson for the Chicago Teachers Union wrote a powerful Open Letter to Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. She wrote:

“As an early childhood educator, I was thrilled to hear President Obama’s strong focus on preschool education in the State of the Union address. We have a preponderance of research evidence that tells us quality early childhood education makes a difference in the learning lives of children, and providing expanded opportunities for parents and children is a step in the right direction.

Yet, there are many concerns as this policy unfolds.

It is understandable that when the government spends money on a program that there should be accountability to the public. It is a grave concern, however, that most of the policy you create uses standardized testing as the measure of success in education. A regimen of intensive testing is counterproductive and against developmentally appropriate early childhood practice. Children do not need to experience their first feelings of defeat at the hands of a test when they are three.”

Read the entire letter here.

For a powerful visual of just how testing has taken over in the early childhood classrooms in Chicago Public Schools, check out this blog post from At the Chalk Face. Make special note of how few days are coded white – meaning there are no tests given. There are also days where three colors are overlapping – meaning teachers are juggling three different assessments at that time. When so much time is spent testing, how much time can actually be spent teaching?

Fighting the Good Fight

Here at DEY we are always happy to share news of parents, teachers and citizens standing up – to fight back against high-stakes testing and the corporate takeover of education.

On April 17th in Chicago, a group of parents, educators and children staged a “Play In” at Chicago Public Schools headquarters as a way to advocate for more appropriate curricula in Chicago’s early childhood classrooms. This inspiring event had one central message:  “less tests, more play”. Read here to learn how bubbles, play dough and puzzles can be used in a peaceful (even joyful!) protest.

In The Atlantic, John Tierney writes The Coming Revolution in Public Education. His article expertly outlines the criticisms of the current reform movement:

“… the reforms have self-interest and profit motives, not educational improvement, as their basis; corporate interests are reaping huge benefits from these reform initiatives and spending millions of dollars lobbying to keep those benefits flowing; three big foundations (Gates, Broad, and Walton Family) are funding much of the backing for the corporate reforms and are spending billions to market and sell reforms that don’t work; ancillary goals of these reforms are to bust teacher unions, disempower educators, and reduce spending on public schools; standardized testing is enormously expensive in terms both of public expenditures and the diversion of instruction time to test prep; over a third of charter schools deliver “significantly worse” results for students than the traditional public schools from which they were diverted; and, finally, that these reforms have produced few benefits and have actually caused harm, especially to kids in disadvantaged areas and communities of color.”

…as well as the ground swell of resistance! Check out the entire article here. It is a must read.

And one more thing…here is a letter of resignation from Gerald J. Conti, a social studies teacher at Westhill High School in Syracuse, N.Y. His letter was posted by Valerie Strauss on her blog, The Answer Sheet. Conti’s eloquent words and scathing review of the current education system help to paint the picture of what is happening to quality education in our country. “After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists.”