As we complete the first round of counts for ELA and move into the first round of counts for math, it is important to remember why parents do this.
Make no mistake, this wave of civil disobedience is not just about Andrew Cuomo and his teacher evaluation plan. Cuomo is the flavor-of-the-month in a long line of ill-prepared, ill-advised education reformers, each worse than the one before. These sometimes well-intentioned reformers have nevertheless damaged an entire generation of America's schoolchildren going all the way back to No Child Left Behind.
Hundreds of thousands of parents are not making political statements, they are looking at crying, defeated children around their kitchen tables and demanding meaningful change. NY parents and teachers want education reform that is educator-driven, that is tested and proven, that addresses the real problems facing our schools and our children, and that is implemented with a modicum of competency.
A reduction of testing or evaluations does not address the underlying issue. NY parents want what parents have wanted since time began - a better education for our children.
Co-Founder, United to Counter the Core
The damage that is being done to children and schools goes well beyond overtesting and the endless test prep teachers must engage in to get children ready for those tests.
It's also being caused by the Common Core, which, if you're teaching EngageNY ELA curriculum, is an endless litany of close reading/text-based question drills that end with some argumentative writing.
There are no full books taught if you're using the EngageNY curriculum, just parts of books supplemented with movie clips.
For example, students don't read all of Romeo and Juliet anymore, they close read a scene in each act that they pick apart over and over by responding to text-based questions, then watch a bit of a movie adaptation to get them to the next scene that they'll be close reading and picking apart with text-based questions.
That's right - the days of students actually enjoying an engaging timeless story, identifying with or empathizing with archetypal characters or just getting lost in a story outside themselves is gone.
Also gone are classrooms where lessons can be spontaneous or fluid.
In my districts, we have an evaluation system that gives administrators the power to come in to your classroom unannounced for a mini-observation.
You never know when they're coming, so you have to be ready for them at all times.
You have to make sure that you have a dog/pony show ready for them when they come.
We have been told that effective lessons will contain
A) a DO NOW activity that is rigorous and text-based (experienced-based DO NOW writings are a no-no because, as ELA Common Core architect David Coleman once said, "No one gives a shit what your kids think or feel...")
B) A rigorous text-focused lesson in which students wrestle with difficult language they often don't understand and content that they have been given no context for
C) Constant assessment - every activity must have an assessment so that the teacher knows whether students learned what was being taught or not and teachers must know EXACTLY what student responses will be beforehand
D) A lesson plan that contains not only aim, do now, class activities, assessments for those activities, instructional objectives and "differentiation" methods but also the anticipated student responses for each of the assessments.
In essence, everything must be tightly controlled, from the DO NOW all the way to the EXIT SLIP and God help you if an administrator visits your class on a day and you're doing something that deviates from the imposed "effective lesson" blueprint.
I have no problem teaching the way they want me to teach some of the time, but I would like some autonomy to deviate from the imposed "effective lesson" blueprint once in a while, to do something creative, to do something different, to do something FUN.
Something happens in the news, something happens in the world or the school community, you want to spend a day having students talk about it, express their thoughts and feelings because A) it's good for them to be given opportunities to do this in a classroom setting where they can learn how to speak their minds while respectfully listening to others speak theirs and B) it builds community and rapport between students and teacher which leads to a more effective learning environoment overall.
But you can't do this anymore, not if you're concerned that an administrator with a laptop and the Danielson framework for dreary teaching and learning might come in and observe you.
I guarantee you, the discussion-based lesson I detailed above will lead to a negative evaluation rating.
Now I don't think the opt-out movement is going to bring about any change in how teachers are observed in their classrooms, but I do think the movement is very important to shine some light on just "assessment-based" and controlled teaching and learning is these days.
The damage that is being done to children and schools is not just an outgrowth of the overtesting and the test prep and test anxiety that goes with the overtesting - it's an outgrowth of the corporatization and mechanization of education that imposes control and measurement on every aspect of teaching and learning.
Teaching these days, I feel very much like the Little Tramp in Modern Times on that assembly line, under constant watch as I work on the widgets.
That is something I want to see changed and while opting out of state tests may not directly affect that, it certainly helps because it puts education reform and education reformers on the defense in the media after years of pushing their agenda with little-to-no pushback.