Thursday, December 17, 2015

School Scope: Did Cuomo Blink on Testing? NYCDOE Gag Order on Teachers Over Opt Out?

Submitted for publication Dec. 18, 2015 in The Wave (

School Scope: Did Cuomo Blink on Testing? NYCDOE Gag Order on Teachers Over Opt Out?
By Norm Scott

When 220,000 children, 20% of all students in New York State, didn’t take the tests last spring, the highest percentage of any state in the nation, politicians like Governor Cuomo take notice.

Did Cuomo blink over his draconian teacher evaluation policies when facing a growing parent opt out movement over the extreme testing policies in New York State? Well, the UFT leadership is crowing that Cuomo backed down, taking an undeserved victory lap since it was the actions of parents, not the UFT, that is making waves. In fact, the UFT/Unity Caucus leadership has opposed the opt-out movement and urges teachers to stay out of it.

UFT President Mulgrew crowed in yet another triumphant email (they’re also taking credit for the current warm weather) claiming, “Governor Cuomo's Common Core Task Force issued its report. “In essence, the task force report urges a fundamental reset of education policy in New York State, including a four-year ban on the use of state growth scores to evaluate both teachers and students.”

Not so fast, boys and girls. Some bloggers actually read the Cuomo task force report. Sullio, who writes “The Pen is Mightier Than the Person” blog led with this headline:

Don't be Fooled by Cuomo's Mea Culpa on Testing
“As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pretends to listen to parents and teachers, he hopes they don't know how to read. Buried at the bottom of a recent press release announcing the ‘recommendations’ of his education task farce is proof that Cuomo is open to changing nothing:
‘The Education Transformation Act of 2015 will remain in place, and no new legislation is required to implement the recommendations of the report, including recommendations regarding the transition period for consequences for students and teachers. During the transition, the 18 percent of teachers whose performance is measured, in part, by Common Core tests will use different local measures approved by the state, similar to the measures already being used by the majority of teachers.’ Yes, tests will still count for 50% of a teacher's evaluation….everything else in the Lobbyist for the Student's (Cuomo) infamous Education Transformation Act remains, including receivership and weakened due process rights. As Cuomo maintains, the law will not change. The test is still king.” Read Sullio’s full post:

Cuomo, trying to undermine an opt out movement which is partially fueled by parents’ objections to having their children’s teachers judged by test scores, is pulling a bait and switch by calling for a moratorium on “using state tests” to judge teachers but leaving other measures in place.

Opt Out, the Teachers’ and Parents’ Best Friend
Clearly, the opt out movement has become a major threat and with testing season coming in the spring, it will be interesting to see if the movement keeps expanding around the state, but more importantly, here in the city, which has had a much lower opt out rate, due in large part to repressive policies of the NYCDOE and a complicit UFT. On December 9, I attended a testing forum in District 15 (Park Slope and Sunset Park) which had the largest number of opt outs in the city last year. District Superintendent Anita Skop declared that teachers would be violating the law if they discussed opt out and the negative aspects of the testing all the time program with parents, equating discussing opt out with parents as being political. Parents in the audience objected. Filmmaker Michael Elliot captured the moment:
Change the Stakes, the leading opt out parent movement here in the city (full disclosure – I am on the steering committee), issued a statement.


In a grassroots effort, more than 1,000 parents whose children attend 228 schools (in every borough and in 31 of the city’s 32 school districts) signed a letter (attached) asking for a meeting with NYC’s Mayor and Chancellor to discuss their concerns about the absence of free and open dialogue around high-stakes testing in city schools, their request for engagement yielded no response.

Now, in an indication of the NYCDOE’s true regard for parents and parent rights, a superintendent has been caught on videotape telling families at a public forum that their children’s teachers and principals cannot share their honest and expert opinions of the state’s standardized testing program. The superintendent claimed that such speech would be “political,” and therefore prohibited by the state since educators are public employees.

“To form my own opinions about the state tests,” said Tim Dubnau, a District 15 parent who attended the panel, “I need to hear what my children’s principal and teachers think. They know my kids, and they have actual on-the-ground experience seeing how testing affects children and what goes on in the classroom.”

Parent Kemala Karmen sees this as a failure of the NYCDOE to prioritize the interests of children and their families. “By silencing educators, the NYCDOE and NYSED are making a conscious choice to deny parents information. If not, why did the de Blasio/Farina DOE refuse to amend the 'Parents’ Bill of Rights' to include the right of test refusal, even though the City Council voted unanimously in Spring 2015 to insert right to opt out language in the bill?” District 15 parent Johanna Perez makes clear why this omission is so crucial, “My sister was the only one in her Bronx school who had even heard of opt out--and that was only because I told her about the movement to opt out in her niece’s D15 school. Many parents, especially those in communities of color, aren’t even aware that they have a right to refuse!”

When a superintendent of schools says that teachers, as representatives of the state, cannot talk about the educational value of the tests that they administer to children, we have to question who exactly is being political. When Chancellor Farina and Mayor de Blasio define a conversation between parents and teachers about an educational matter as political, parents feel disregarded, and children lose.

1 comment:

  1. Everything a teacher says is political.

    Abigail Shure


Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating). Or because your comment is irrelevant or idiotic.