.                             The "Test & Punish" National Campaigns
         (Started by Teachers Unions) Are Malarkey

Summer Blog  2016

Or.... Why States, Districts & Schools Need Strong Parent & Community
Stakeholder Participation to Address Power Imbalances in Decision-making
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The unions do not speak for the American public. By now, the public should know, without question, that the nation had 43, 000 failing schools , at last count, or before the unions declared war on objective testing measures --- or any type of information, penalty or sanction that had anything to do with teacher accountability in the classroom. But, was it really their decision to make  in creating this culture of anti-accountability,  on behalf of all public school students --- as though all parents are against testing?   D o the unions really think that the public wants to go backward in time, to the days, when school accountability measures were nowhere to be found or when 99% of U.S. teachers and, in turn, schools were considered highly effective even when they were not? (By the way, we still do not know what happened to those schools.)

In other words, parents and community stakeholders can speak for themselves --- when they are armed with the necessary information to make meaningful choices and/or
 informed decisions. That they still remain the missing link  in public school discourse and decision-making is a travesty (decades after ESEA 1965 was signed by President Johnson as the U.S education law). Is it any wonder then that 70% of districts failed to meet the parent involvement mandates at last count?  If  they had ever been  in compliance with
the parent involvement mandates (or if they had ceased pretending that they were),
school officials would, of course, know (by now) why the majority of parents still want objective accountability tests in place or tests that reach beyond the so called student growth measures that compare apples to apples and omit timelines.

If social inclusion was important to school officials and teachers' unions  opportunity spaces would have been established long ago that promote discourse between parents and school officials specifically focusing on high quality state standards and rigorous curriculums for all children.  If they simply listened to all school stakeholders, these same  school representatives would know why the majority of parents  still want to know if their children have mastered a lesson or not.  If they had engaged in conversations with parents and community stakeholders they would know that their expectations have never changed for they  still believe  in student achievement over mere student progress, which means that they will always prefer clear classroom instructional goals tied to student achievement and will always need and want school representatives to be held accountable for school effectiveness.
 
Clearly, educators such as Ms. Ravitch ( historian ), Randi Weingarten (AFT president), Lily Eskelsen García (NEA president), etc . want poor parents, in particular, to take the fall for
all of the failing schools across the nation and point to income inequality as the culprit  
(or Sean Reardon's research --- research that he is even confused about since the poorest 10% of Shanghai children outscore the richest 10% of U.S. children, including children
from private schools).  And still, Valerie Strauss, et al. like to use their imaginations to talk about the difficult home lives of all black children in the nation. But has anyone noticed that they rarely discuss the burden of U.S. racism in public school systems and how it impacts the lives of poor children of color or their life chances? This omission shows that they would rather not discuss how their own social constructs, interpretations and beliefs about poor children of color, (including what poor children of color can or cannot do --- before they even enter a classroom) set the stage for invalid, unreliable if not unjustifiable conclusion(s) --- beyond the typical low expectations that research findings show are generally reserved for poor children of color. Analyzing their mobilization of bias is, therefore, a critical step in understanding their actions for their campaigns are built on a foundation consisting of  their dominant values, norms and political myths (P. Bachrach, 1962) at the expense of children.

Their  test and punish campaigns then are malarkey since they fail to take into account their roles or weak school based practices, along with why these real life crucial details
appear to be taboo subjects ---  subjects, for example, that pertain to the unfair distribution of effective teachers in schools across the nation that serve children of color, etc. It stands to reason that before they discuss poor children of color they should first step into a segregated school  without resources and study how ineffective teachers impact the lives of children, and then look  at a chart that shows how many inexperienced teachers are placed in segregated schools.) Given these facts (including the one  in which they explain why the majority of inexperienced teachers are placed in segregated schools), their only real complaint against testing is that the public will find out that poor students were never taught the necessary lessons to  pass a test in the first place, (based on a rigorous curriculum aligned with high quality standards, etc.), which means that the blame really does fall on school officials and teachers.

The unions, therefore, are not really in a position to make any expert claims about the abilities of "all poor children" unless they can also guarantee that "all public school students" are, indeed, receiving an opportunity to learn based on a rigorous curriculum tied to high quality research-based standards. State, district and school representatives
who support the lowering of state standards,  who have low expectations for poor students of color, who push children of color disproportionally out of schools are in this same boat.  Clearly, under the present circumstances, all school representatives must first demonstrate that equity and excellence  are priorities in their states, districts and states by proving to parents and community members that they are meeting these goals without gaming the system (i.e., comparing apples to apples or poor blacks to poor blacks) or pretending that they are serving all of their students with equity in mind --- when they are not. Until they do --- they cannot say that they are really serving the best intersts of all of their students.

Why is this  focus on equity and excellence an urgent need? Note: Only 7% of black 12th graders across the nation were proficient or above proficient in math on the 2015 NAEP assessment --- a test that tends to uncover what states are actually doing or nor doing  to support student achievement based on high, quality educational systems.   Strictly speaking then these scores don't mean anything ---  if  state, district and school representatives failed to tell parents and community stakeholders (advocates, etc.) that the students, instead, received instruction based on low state standards, a modified curriculum (i.e., weak classroom educational content or instruction that was never taught or aligned with the NAEP standards) and/or unmet classroom high, quality goals due to an ineffective teacher. Why must state, district and school officials share this information (in a timely manner) based on the current ESSA state mandates? William Sanders, a statistician studying Tennessee teachers in 2010 --- "found that a student with a weak teacher for three straight years scored, on average, 50 percentile points behind a similar student with a strong teacher for those years." (This is not new information for W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Julian Bond, etc.  spoke about these concerns years and years ago... Unfortunately, parents and community members simply stopped thinking that they had to make demands on state and local school systems even though President Obama, Secretary Duncan and Secretary King said it was mandatory that they do so .)

In contrast,  32 % of white (privileged?)12th grade students were proficient or above proficient in math while 68% were not proficient. 46% of white students were proficient or above proficient  in reading while 54% were not proficient --- and, of course, all students must know how to read in order to learn. . .  What do all of these scores say about U.S. teacher effectiveness or Sean Reardon's research, especially if white students (who are not experiencing income inequality) have access to the best resources and/or the best teachers --- or  the best of the U.S. public school system and everything that  it has to offer, overall? If black and brown students, at least, had the best U.S. teachers (from the very start of their K-12 experiences) or the same teachers would their scores be equal to their white counterparts? Would there be such a wide achievement gap?

Would white scores still serve as the yardstick for black and brown scores or would we reach much higher and try to figure out how all students can thrive in the public school system? (Note: U.S.  white private school students did (somewhat) better on the NAEP in reading than white public school students.) Better still --- would all students improve if all U.S. educational leaders finally made the decision(s) to do what the top educational systems  around the world do, which includes but is not limited to: improving U.S. colleges of education and offering  teachers stronger professional development training programs tied to (uniform) high, quality standards and assessments  --- in support of high, quality instruction?  

Sanders and Rivers in 1996  explained why this will always be important by proving that: 
"The negative impact of low-performing teachers is severe, particularly during the earlier years of schooling. At the primary level, students that are placed with low performing teachers for several years in a row suffer an educational loss which is largely irreversible. In some systems, by age seven, children who score in the top 20  percent on tests of numeracy and literacy are already twice as likely to complete a  university degree as children in the bottom 20 percent. In England, students that were failing at age 11 had only a 25 percent chance of meeting the standard at age 14. By age 14, the chances that a failing student would graduate with the expected minimum set of school-leaving qualifications had fallen to just six percent. Taken together, all the evidence suggests that even in good systems, students that do not progress quickly during their first years at school, because they are not exposed to teachers of sufficient caliber, stand very little chance of recovering the lost years." From --- How the Best Performing School Systems Come Out On Top....   And, all of the top-performing systems recognize that " they cannot improve what they do not measure. Monitoring outcomes allows them to identify and spread best practices, to pinpoint areas of weakness, and to hold schools accountable for their results. In general, the intensity of the monitoring that is carried out is in inverse proportion to the overall performance, both within and between systems."  All of this explains why the U.S. is 42nd (out of 46 industrialized countries throughout the world) in supporting equity in its public education system. 
   
Moreover, until parents publicly declare that they  have  relinquished their right to “parent” or their right to know and understand what is going on in classrooms --- the unions and other school representatives cannot say that they were ever asked to speak on their behalf . They also cannot say that the test and punish campaigns were developed with parents and students in mind nor can they say that the majority of parents and community stakeholders  support their stance on testing.  

To better understand what is going on in classrooms or to address the accountability gap, parents and students must make demands on school systems to ensure that their views matter and count --- anytime, anyplace and anywhere children of color, in particular, are discussed. They must ask questions and seek answers to figure out if their states, districts and schools have high quality standards (such as the Common Core) in place that meet their expectations. These standards should be aligned with the (expected) high quality (rigorous) curriculum (and lesson plans), the high quality state assessments, the instructional research-based practices,  the leader and teacher professional development programs, the high quality classroom instruction.

On any given day, they must know if the students were taught research-based, rigorous, competitive content and if the students mastered the content --- (measuring progress without timelines or reliable and valid data is not enough) --- or if the school officials followed through on their promises, goals and accomplishments. Moreover,  when school officials promote certain research for another (fad or) innovative plan they must ask how it  will serve children based on gold standard research --- or how it will advance quality instruction or the effective  implementation of best practices tied to high performing schools (i.e,  gold and evidenced based leadership strategies that work,  gold and evidenced based classroom instruction that supports children in mastering their lessons, etc.). 

In this light, parents and community stakeholders must see the test and punish campaigns for what they are: political special interest  ploys that have nothing to do with the interests of children. They must also never forget the words of the renowned union boss, Albert Shanker. who said: "When children start paying union dues that's when I'll start representing the interests of public school students..."   (Unfortunately, " professional organizations of teachers, principals, and superintendents focus on collective bargaining and advocacy --- but not enough time setting evidence-based professional standards for educators." )

Parents and community stakeholders' then must keep Shanker's words in mind whenever the teachers unions, etc. try to represent students without their input or when they attempt to minimize accountability concerns such as testing. As it stands, they are political representatives of special interest groups who represent their members first and foremost. This fact alone turns a public school education into a civil rights issue that requires that parents must stay focused on quality classroom instruction in spite of what union leaders such as Randi Weingarten say about the need for equity --- even as she supports policies that work against it.  

These crucial steps include recognizing student deficit models that are utilized to 
compensate for their ineffective members at the expense of children. With this information in mind, parents and community stakeholders must always be the first ones to  take a seat at the table where  decisions are made on behalf of children. They are, after all, a child's very first teachers, a child's most important lifelong teachers who must always
show up and demand a high quality public school system --- a system free of racism and inequities --- a system that understands that all children count and matter,  not just some --- anything less will not do.