Friday, April 12, 2013

In NY State, Those Who Once Attacked Teachers Have Parents in Their Crosshairs

Perhaps the most famous quote describing how most people looked the way during the rise of Nazism is the following

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

This statement has a chilling applicability to the top down, billionaire funded “School Reform” movement, especially in New York State. The movement began by demonizing teachers, blaming them for the failure of our public schools to prepare children for a global economy, and reduce racial disparities in educational achievement. In New York State, this campaign led to the Governor ramming through legislation requiring that teachers be rated on the basis of student test scores and removed if they had unsatisfactory ratings. Many principals and teachers warned that this legislation would result in a vast increase in testing in the state's public schools, and the institutionalization of "teaching to the test." Most parents in the state ignored these warnings, thinking that they were self serving and that greater "teacher accountability" would be in the interests of their children and families.

However, as this legislation began to be implemented, many parents began to discover that what teachers and principals warned about was occurring with breakneck speed. More and more, children were coming home bored and angry, telling parents they hated school because all that was going on was "test preparation," and that the activities they enjoyed most- art, music, recess, gym- were being cut to make room for it. Some were having anxiety attacks on the eve of the tests. Some had to be put under a doctor's care.

Small groups of parents in the state began organizing to protest what was happening. They discovered there was a national movement to "opt out" children from high stakes tests, and decided to create a version of this in New York State that could help their children. They approached school authorities and asked that their children be exempted from state ELA and Math exams.

The response to them, from New York State Education officials, was immediate and vicious. They were, and still are, told that Opting Out is illegal. Not only were they threatened with legal action by the State, their CHILDREN were threatened with everything from participation in extracurricular activities, access to special needs services, placement in magnet programs, even promotion to the next grade! These individual threats were coupled with an attack on the parental Opt Out movement in the media, describing it as a threat to the great progress the state has made in creating a great education for all children

The viciousness of the State's retaliation to parents and children who choose to "Opt Out" should be a warning that something profoundly undemocratic and destructive is happening in New York's public education system, and that the only way to do anything about it is for all stakeholders- principals, teachers, parents, students- to organize to dismantle the Test Machine being shoved down their throat

School Reform in New York State has become the smokescreen under which powerful interests, seeking profit or political gain, have launched one of the most far reaching attacks on popular democracy in recent memory. It is time to fight back before it is too late

No comments: