Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rules, ethics, and opting out

In the last few days, I've been prepping for the start of another school year.  My 29th, which boggles my mind a little.  And although I wouldn't turn down another three months of vacation, there's a part of me that's enjoying getting my classroom cleaned and ready, going through lessons and support materials, and wondering who's going to be in my classes this year and what joys and challenges they will bring along with them.

And as New York State teachers head toward the on-ramp, our Commissioner of Education is already beginning to polish up her own rhetoric in support of the Common Core and standardized exams, and against the opt-out movement.

This will be Commissioner MaryEllen Elia's first full school year in New York.  She comes to us from Florida, replacing Commissioner John King, who brilliantly illustrated the Peter Principle when he was promoted to the position of senior advisor to federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  King, a toe-the-line demagogue who wouldn't hear any criticism of the haphazard fashion in which the Common Core and its attendant exams were rolled out in New York, is now in the position of seeing to it that the entire nation goes the same way.

Elia, unfortunately, seems cut from the same mold.

Three days ago she launched a campaign to fight the opt-out movement, which last year saw over 1.1 million participants across the state.  But instead of admitting that if the parents of over a million children are objecting to a policy, it might be time to reconsider it, she doubled down on her own stance -- and implied that the parents in the opt-out movement were simply uninformed.

"As you get more people involved in the process, you have more people understanding what’s going on and why you have assessments," Elia said.  "There are a lot of people that don’t know what the Common Core is...  We’re trying to pull together a tool kit, if you will, to support superintendents in how we can communicate in a much more effective way to people across the state.  I want the superintendents to understand the reflections and law that they can use as an information piece when they talk to people in their community … It’s important for them to be able to say, ‘Listen, it’s the law.’"

The problem is, it's not the law.  There is no law that mandates that students take tests, standardized or otherwise.  Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, a vocal opponent of the standardized test movement, made this abundantly clear last year.  "They [NYSED and school districts] should be providing parents with the truths and the facts and their rights," Tedisco said in an interview.  "And their rights are yes, they can opt out of something they haven’t opted into. They can refuse something for their kids they’ve never opted into."

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

As far as the parents who choose opt-out being uninformed, Elia may have stirred up a hornet's nest.  Jessica McNair, co-founder of the advocacy group Opt Out CNY, said, "I think she has a lot to learn about the parents in New York State.  We’re not going to back down until we see tests that are developmentally appropriate, and tests that are decoupled from the teacher evaluations."

But for the teachers who are participating in the pushback, Elia had even harsher words.  Such behavior, she said, was unethical.

"I think opt-out is something that is not reasonable," she said, at a meeting of Educators4Excellence.  "I am absolutely shocked if, and I don’t know that this happened, but if any educators supported and encouraged opt-outs, I think it’s unethical."  She has even hinted that teachers who recommend opting out to students or parents could be charged with insubordination.

It's unethical to follow the deepest core value of education -- to do what's best for children?  I have been unequivocal in my support for the opt-out movement; at this point, it's the only leverage parents and educators have against an upper administration that has a long history of being blind and deaf to the concerns of the rank-and-filers who spend nine months of every year on the front lines, and who know best the needs of their students.  They have chosen instead to take away the rights of the local districts to oversee their own assessments and teacher evaluations, and ceded that power to corporations like Pearson Education, who have over and over demonstrated that they are incapable of providing metrics that mean anything.

As Carol Corbett Burris, former principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre School District and winner of the 2010 New York State Educator of the Year Award, put it:
(T)here comes a time when rules must be broken — when adults, after exhausting all remedies, must be willing to break ranks and not comply.  That time is now.  The promise of a public school system, however imperfectly realized, is at risk of being destroyed.  The future of our children is hanging from testing’s high stakes.  The time to opt out is now.
In other words, if Ms. Elia believes that such actions are unethical, then we as educators should welcome that label as a badge of honor.

If that makes us insubordinate, so be it.

And to Ms. Elia, I can only give a warning.  If you think that by demeaning teachers and parents as unethical and uninformed you can break our resolve, you have a lot to learn.  You think 1.1 million non-compliant children is a lot?

If you don't back down with the rhetoric, and look at how the system itself is failing children, you haven't seen anything yet.

1 comment:

  1. Gordon, if you haven't seen "Don't Stay In School" by Boyinaband, on youtube, I recommend it.