To Fight for Public Schools Is to Fight for Democracy

Source: Huffington Post
Posted by: Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, Robin Hiller
Date: July 28, 2014

Friends, when a small group of parents and educators formed the Network for Public Education in 2013, we had a singular goal: to mobilize the allies of public education against the powerful forces supporting privatization and high-stakes testing. To advance that goal, we hoped to create a force to counter the large amounts of money that were being dumped into state and local school board races to undermine public education, to demoralize teachers, and to promote an agenda of choice, testing, and sanctions.

We knew we were up against some of the wealthiest people in the nation. We knew they included a bunch of billionaires, and we could never match their spending.

But we put our faith in democracy. We put our faith in the simple idea that we are many, and they are few. We believed — and continue to believe — that an informed public will not give away its public schools to amateurs, hedge fund managers, rock stars, for-profit corporations, athletes, fly-by-night entrepreneurs, and religious groups. Our goal is to inform the public, assuming that they would not willingly abandon or give away what rightfully belongs to the entire community.

We believed that we could exert influence if we established our credibility as genuine supporters of children, parents, teachers, administrators, and real education, as opposed to the data-driven, high-stakes testing policies that degrade education and to the consumer-oriented choice programs that divide communities and harm public schools.

Our budget can’t match the budgets of those who want to turn our schools into profit centers. But we believe in the power of our message. During our short existence, we have proven on several occasions that our message can beat Big Money. We have seen candidates in state and local races triumph over well-funded adversaries. We think that our support gave them added visibility and contributed to their astonishing victories.

We supported Sue Peters for the school board in Seattle, and she won. We supported Monica Ratliff in a race for the Los Angeles school board, and she won. We supported Ras Baraka in his race for Mayor of Newark, and he won. This past week, we supported Valarie Wilson in the runoff for the Democratic nomination for state superintendent in Georgia, and she won. All of these candidates were outspent, sometimes by multiples of numbers.

Some candidates we endorsed lost their races. But our message has been consistent and powerful. All credit goes to the candidates themselves, of course, but we are proud that we gave them support and hope when they needed it most, and that our endorsement may have helped their fundraising and campaigning.

We urge you to join us as we promote the principles that will improve our public schools and repel those who seek to monetize them. We want our children to have a childhood. We want our teachers and principals to be highly respected professionals. We want parents and educators to stand together on behalf of their children and their community.

We oppose the status quo. We seek better schools for all children. We will work diligently with like-minded allies until we can turn the tide, turn it away from those who seek silver bullets or profits, and turn the tide towards those who work to restore public education as the public institution dedicated to spreading knowledge and skills, advancing equality of educational opportunity, and improving the lives of children and communities, while encouraging collaboration and a commitment to democratic values.

Join us! With your help, we will build better schools and better communities for all children.

Diane Ravitch, President, The Network for Public Education
Anthony Cody, Treasurer, The Network for Public Education
Robin Hiller, Executive Director, The Network for Public Education

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Parents now allowed to view their child’s STAAR exam

Source: txedrights.net
Posted by: Admin staff
Date: June 27, 2014

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On June 27, 2014, Kyle and Jennifer Massey did something that the Texas Education Agency and local school districts had spent years denying was possible: they reviewed the STAAR assessment booklet and answer sheet that was administered to their child.  Previous requests by parents had been met with denials that ranged from “that’s not possible” to “that’s illegal.”  However, the Texas Education Code is very clear on this issue: “a parent is entitled to access to a copy of each state assessment instrument administered under Section 39.023 to the parent’s child.” (Sec. 26.005).  With four volunteers, the law firm ofArnold & Placek set out to see what would happen when parents decided to stop taking no for an answer and demand the legal rights the Texas legislature granted to them.

The answer came today: parents do have a right to review their child’s test booklet and answer sheet.  They are not confined to the unhelpful summary data on the STAAR scoring reports.  This right of access is the first step in ending the secrecy and almost mystical air that surrounds the STAAR tests.  Teachers are threatened with criminal charges or loss of their teaching certifications if they dare to even ask their students what problems were difficult for them.  But parents still have a voice.  We are not required to sit back and accept that it is not possible to know the content of the assessment that our state legislators have dictated will control our children’s futures.  The Texas Parents’ Educational Rights Network encourages all Texas parents to request and review the STAAR assessments administered to their children.  This guide will tell you how to do it.
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To close the achievement gap, we need to close the teaching gap

Source: Huffington Post
Posted by: Linda Darling-Hammond
Date: June 30, 2014

For years now, educators have looked to international tests as a yardstick to measure how well U.S. students are learning 21st-century skills compared to their peers. The answer has been: not so well. The U.S. has been falling further behind other nations and has struggled with a large achievement gap.

Federal policy under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Department of Education’s ‘flexibility’ waivers has sought to address this problem by beefing up testing policies — requiring more tests and upping the consequences for poor results: including denying diplomas to students, firing teachers, and closing schools. Unfortunately, this strategy hasn’t worked. In fact, U.S. performance on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) declined in every subject area between 2000 and 2012 — the years in which these policies have been in effect.

Now we have international evidence about something that has a greater effect on learning than testing: Teaching. The results of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), released last week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), offer a stunning picture of the challenges experienced by American teachers, while providing provocative insights into what we might do to foster better teaching — and learning — in the United States.

In short, the survey shows that American teachers today work harder under much more challenging conditions than teachers elsewhere in the industrialized world. They also receive less useful feedback, less helpful professional development, and have less time to collaborate to improve their work. Not surprisingly, two-thirds feel their profession is not valued by society — an indicator that OECD finds is ultimately related to student achievement.
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Class size waivers still rampant in Texas elementary schools

Source: Dallas News
Posted by: Terrence Stutz
Date: July 2, 2014

1A_class_size_RichardsonAUSTIN — Three years after Texas public schools were slammed with big funding cuts, hundreds of elementary campuses in North Texas and across the state are still struggling to comply with class size limits aimed at boosting student achievement.

State officials counter arguments in the current lawsuit brought by more than 600 districts by saying that adequate funding levels for schools have been restored. But the huge number of elementary schools with oversized classes in the just-finished school year tells a different story.

The Texas Education Agency excused 1,272 elementary schools from the 22-pupil limit in kindergarten through fourth grade. Most cited “financial hardship” or “unanticipated growth” in their requests for waivers.

That’s a slight improvement from the previous year, when 1,480 schools were exempted. But it’s nearly 30 percent of the elementary schools in the state. It is also more than 21/2 times the number of campuses that received waivers in 2010-11, the last school year before the Legislature dramatically reduced per-pupil funding in an effort to close a huge budget shortfall without raising taxes.

The Dallas school district received class size waivers for 72 elementary campuses. Another 16 districts in the area also received exemptions.

In seeking the waivers, Dallas school officials cited the large funding cuts from 2011. The Legislature restored some of the money starting with the current budget year, but per-pupil funding in Dallas is still less than it was in the 2010-11 school year.

Statewide, 5,870 classes were allowed to have more than 22 students in the 2013-14 school year. That means about 130,000 children were taught in oversized classes.

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Mother of HISD student refuses to allow son to take STAAR test

Source: ABC 13 Eye Witness News
Posted by: Pooja Lodhia
Date: June 17, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 9.10.50 PMHOUSTON (KTRK) — The state’s STAAR tests are no stranger to controversy, but one third-grader’s refusal to be tested is raising questions about what kind of say students should have in their own education.

Diego Geisler, 9, wants to be a scientist when he grows up.

“I really like my teacher,” he said. “He’s real good.”

Diego may never make it to fourth grade, not because of his grades or behavior. Both of those are fine. It’s because Diego never took the STAAR test.

“It’s morally objectionable to do so,” his mother, Claudie DeLeon, said. “I believe that it dehumanizes the student, makes them an object for the school district and teachers to get a score out of.”
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Taos teachers burn their evaluations

Source: KRQE News 13
Posted by: Katherine Mozzone
Date: May 26, 2014

TAOS, N.M. (KRQE) – Teachers are fired up over their new evaluations. The scores were released earlier this month, but many teachers say their grades don’t hold any water. It’s why a group of teachers in Taos are striking a match in protest.

Some Taos teachers say their profession is being stomped on, citing a laundry list of issues surrounding teacher evaluations. They argue the scores should factor in growth, they say they’re not even testing students on the curriculum they’re teaching and the test scores they’re basing much of the evaluations on are from last year. It’s why they decided to take a stand.

After sending students off for summer break, a group of elementary school teachers in Taos received their evaluations. Then they burned them.

“It was very freeing. It was a way for us to show that we’re not going to stand for this anymore.”
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Cy-Fair Superintendant: Tying high-stakes tests to teachers is harmful

Source: Houston Chronicle Outlook
Author: Mark Henry, superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District
Date: June 7, 2014

STAAR is a diagnostic tool; the process of learning is more than just taking state exams

Later this year, the Texas Education Agency will begin piloting the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System, a program tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluations, before launching it statewide in 2015. Use of such a system takes our state down a questionable path, as my experience has shown this to be ineffective, unnecessary and potentially harmful.

The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District chose to opt out of the state’s pilot program because of our philosophical concerns with this approach.

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