Friday, January 30, 2015

Representative Frederick Protects Parents' Rights

Oregon Save Our Schools encourages those who support a parent's right to opt his or her child out of high-stakes standardized testing to contact the Oregonian Editorial Board and let them know that testing is not providing the information and support needed, either in the classroom or in the home.  Also, contact your legislators and encourage them to support Lew Frederick's HB 2714 which supports a Parent's Right to Opt Out for any reason.  Finally, check out Opt Out resources from Oregon SOS here.

                                                        Dr. Rex Hagans

Your Editorial titled "Misguided bill would nudge parents to say 'no' to state testing: Editorial Agenda 2015” sarcastically attacks Representative Lew Frederick for sponsoring House Bill 2714, which provides that parents have the right to excuse their children from state wide assessment and directs that the school districts must provide notice of that right to parents. As one of the Co-founders of Oregon Save Our Schools, I am here to tell you that Representative Fredericks is, once again, simply doing the right thing.

It is no secret that high stakes testing has grown increasingly onerous over the years, forcing a narrowing of the curriculum, putting children and their teachers under great stress and literally sucking all the joy out of learning.

Or that the so-called "Smarter Balanced” tests have shamefully and secretively developed by non-educators and rushed to market in a red hot hurry by the huge testing concerns who stand to make billions of dollars from them. Quick - before parents (and the public at large) come to understand just how damaging they will really be.

Parents know this, and in rapidly increasing numbers, are becoming very concerned about the impact on their children. Like their children’s teachers, they know that this is a recipe for disaster.

But instead of responding to this deep concern, and following the example of many other states in calling for a pause in this ridiculous process, our Governor and his minions on the Oregon Education Investment Board have launched an all out campaign, orchestrated from the very top, to convince parents that they should not exercise their best judgment in this matter and to frighten them with thinly veiled threats of negative repercussions for their children's schools of they do decide to opt out.  

The Editorial Board now contributes to this campaign in its editorial by describing these parents as "disgruntled"- a belittling word which the dictionary equates with such terms "sulky', "peevish" "petulant" and even "malcontent."  How about “responsible”,"worried" and “informed” instead?

And for what?  There is absolutely no evidence that these tests or the standards they are intended to support will produce anything. William J. Mathis, a noted researcher from National Education Policy Center writes "No studies support a true causal relationship between national standards and economic competitiveness, and we know that nations with centralized standards generally tend to perform no better (or worse) on international tests than those without. "

Your editorial concludes "In what universe does it make sense to invest billions of dollars in a sweeping educational enterprise without any expectation that it deliver a verifiable return in the form of smarter kids?"  Wrong question.

You should be asking, "In what universe does it make sense to invest billions of dollars in a sweeping, poorly planned and disruptive educational enterprise without any evidence that it can deliver a more vibrant and engaging education to our children?" And to that question as you so glibly put it, "Surely not this one, Frederick's colleagues must agree."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Oregonian's Misguided Push to Restrict Parents' Rights

Oregon Save Our Schools encourages those who support a parent's right to opt his or her child out of high-stakes standardized testing to contact the Oregonian Editorial Board and let them know that testing is not providing the information and support needed, either in the classroom or in the home.  Also, contact your legislators and encourage them to support Lew Frederick's HB 2714 which supports a Parent's Right to Opt Out for any reason.  Finally, check out Opt Out resources from Oregon SOS here.

                             by Kathleen Jeskey

The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial board published this yesterday. What is truly misguided is The Oregonians defense of an attempted government takeover of our local schools from the top down. Our public schools should be democratic institutions, with elected school boards and community oversight. They should not be controlled by people from far away who do not know our children.

Lew Frederick’s bill allowing parents to opt their child out for any reason is the right thing to do. Parents have not just a right, but a responsibility, to protect their children from harm. 

If significant numbers of parents around the country, both “conservative” and “liberal”, believe these new Common Core tests are not in their children’s best interest, they should be listened to. 

When both parents and teachers are telling you something is not in the childrens best interests, its time for our lawmakers to listen. 

When respected administrators, professors and historians of education in Oregon, like Professor Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon, and across the country Joseph Rella  of New York, Stephen Krashen of California, and Diane Ravitch, former assistant Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton (to name just a few) say it, having the Oregonian mock those parents is insulting. 

Also insulting is the Oregonians insistence that these tests hold any value for evaluating teachers and schools. Principal Carol Burris disagrees. So did the Washington state legislature, which refused the federal waiver from No Child Left Behind because it required the states teachers to be evaluated based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The resulting threat from the US Department of Education to withhold federal dollars from the state again points up the overly intrusive nature of the federal government in local matters of education.

This should not even be a question. Parents should have the right to opt their child out of standardized, high stakes testing. Email your legislator, and support HB 2714, Lew Frederick’s Opt Out bill! 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

SWOOSH! It’s Good To Be Queen

by Kathleen Jeskey

On Thursday, the Oregon State Board of Education approved a rule change which will require many districts to increase instructional time, also known as seat time, for students.  This decision was made in spite of the Board hearing from Oregon State Employees Association (OSEA) the Oregon Education Association (OEA) the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA) the Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA) and the Oregon Parent Teacher Association (PTA) that this rule change should not be made at this time.

While all of these organizations representing Oregon school employees, teachers, principals, superintendents and parents agree that we need to make this change for our students, all were also united in stating that it should not be done without serious study of the fiscal impact this would have on schools and districts, since no increase in funding is attached to this rule change. Many representatives of these groups are concerned because some Oregon districts that have chosen to preserve programs such as PE and music, or retain smaller class sizes rather than increase instructional hours, may be required to add as much as three weeks to their school calendars with no additional funding. The result of this would then be cutting programs or increasing class size due to the necessity to lay off staff; as one Oregon teacher said when she heard the news of this rule change, Just when things were starting to get slightly less horrible.

The rule change was adopted very quickly, with a timeline of only about three months between the initial reading of the proposed amendment and its adoption. There were only a handful of public hearings. You can read testimony from the December hearing (held three days before Christmas) here.

Some concerns result from the language of the hastily adopted amendment. For example, many believe that language that states that “ ‘Instructional time means time during which students are engaged in regularly scheduled instructionworking under the direction and supervision of a licensed or registered teacher…” will eliminate counting Outdoor School as instructional time. This would virtually kill the Outdoor Science School program that has been a capstone activity for over 200,000 sixth graders and a valuable learning experience for over 50,000 high school students who have served as counselors throughout Oregon since 1968.

Other examples of language in the rule change that is concerning include the requirement that 80% of students must receive minimum hours of instructional time. This fails to take into account special education students who may need to be on a reduced schedule, alternative education students whose schedule may be different, or students in poverty who may need to work in order to help their families make ends meet. Setting an arbitrary requirement of 80% does not allow schools flexibility to meet the needs of diverse student populations. Additionally, non-academicfield trips and assemblies will no longer count as instructional time. This is vague language that might result in some principals fearing that they must eliminate many or all field trips and assemblies in order to be in compliance.

With all these concerns, with all these organizations united in the request for nothing more than a deeper study of these rule changes prior to implementation, why did the State School Board decide to forge ahead? Could it be that the original complaint was brought by the Portland Parent Coalition, a group which counts among its members none other than Julia Brim Edwards? In case you are unfamiliar with Ms. Edwards, let me introduce you. She currently is employed by Nike as Senior Director of Global Strategy & Operations; Government and Public Affairs. She also serves on the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) to which she was appointed by Governor Kitzhaber. You can view her LinkedIn profile here.

The undue influence of Nike and the Oregon Business Association on our governor and his appointed Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton, and apparently the appointed State School Board as well, is unacceptable. When one small group of parents can push through their agenda over the protests of virtually every group representing all of Oregons students, this is cronyism at its most blatant. But hey, its good to be queen.

Its time for us to take back our schools. Please contact your legislators and let them know how you feel about this rule change. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Who's Threatening Our Kids' Future?

by Kathleen Jeskey

Jonah Edelmans recent opinion piece in The Daily Beast is a classically beautiful batch of snake oil. The thing that makes it so beautiful is that it combines just enough truth and righteous indignation (over things about which one should be righteously indignant) with the deception of a slick ad campaign to make it palatable and easy to swallow. But like any classic snake oil, we shouldnt expect it to offer relief from the problems it purports to cure.

Edelman begins by informing us that Congress may be about to actually do something and rewrite the long-overdue-for-renewal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) known in its current form as No Child Left Behind. Those of us who have been waiting and hoping for a reauthorization and renewal of ESEA since 2007, one that might correct the errors in its incarnation as NCLB, begin to feel hopeful.

Next he invokes the history of ESEA, which has its original roots in Lyndon Johnsons War on Poverty and was born during the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s. And clearly, we continue to face those same issues today. Once again, there are those who wish to deny assistance to people who live in poverty and blame the poor rather than the system that creates their living conditions. Once again, there are those who would like to have a separate schooling system for their children. Once again we have those who are trying to ensure that all children have access to equal educational opportunity no matter their address, income, or the color of their skin. But today, those lines of conflict are not as clearly drawn. They have become quite blurry, and some of us believe that might not be an accident.

Edelman continues to speak about NCLB and even defend it somewhat, since after all, it exposed grossly unequal educational outcomes and motivated a range of efforts across the country to address the low performance of low-income children and children of color. He then says that the law was nonetheless flawed, and particularly in its stated goal of 100% proficiency by 2014, which he rightfully mocks as ridiculous.

But then come the corporate reform talking points: The federal government has offered incentives; they want to offer more choices to parents; they want to strengthen teaching through more accurate educator evaluations. We are reminded that these reform ideas are all state-based, however. And of course, we need more rigor in there somewhere.

He then returns to a statement with which I and many others agree: that there must be some accountability to federal law by state and local schools, since without meaningful federal oversight many children will be put at risk of not receiving an equal educational opportunity. However, I and many others are beginning to wonder if the current brand of federal oversight is capable of providing the equal opportunity that should indeed be its responsibility. It seems to be working in the opposite direction. I believe the definition of meaningful must be what Mr. Edelman and I disagree on.

And then comes the deception. Theres also talk by states rights advocates of no longer requiring annual testing by states, which would deny parents and educators valuable information about whether students are on track, reduce the ability to measure and improve teacher quality, and make it harder for administrators to know how schools are doing and when they need to intervene. Ironically, this is being proposed just as smarter assessments come online that will more accurately measure student learning, including their ability to think critically, solve problems, and write.

Really? States rights advocates?  Not teachers and parents. Its those states rights advocates.  The ones who want little to no federal oversight.  I know those people exist, but Edelman paints everyone who disagrees with annual high stakes testing for every student in America on the same set of standards with an incredibly broad brush. And then hes right back to the corporate reform talking points: How will parents and teachers know if kids are on track without those tests? How will we measure teacher quality without those tests? How will we know how our schools are doing without those tests? And come on! The tests are smarter now. I bet he thinks theyre more balanced as well.

Clearly we have known since at least the 1960s that children who live in poverty need more support. When will we stop measuring that fact and start to actually do something about the roots of poverty? Clearly there continue to be those who wish to deny the civil rights of all children. But just who are those people? Are they the ones who believe that the federal government should serve and support communities and require a democratic process for decisions made about our schools? Or are they the ones who are attempting to sell us snake oil, a Common Cure for what ails us?

He ends by mentioning the sign that famously sat on Harry Trumans desk: The Buck Stops Here. Sadly, today that sign would probably be sitting over the door to the banks where the snake oil salesmen deposit their money.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Lights, Camera, Action: Oregon SOS Opt Out

Oregon SOS Opt Out Video

With the Smarter Balanced tests looming this spring, teachers are now being advised to give kids practice time to get used to the test; teach keyboarding, not for research projects--but for the test; order curriculum that helps with being comfortable online--for the test; teach writing--for the test; it is time to really start thinking about not only the increased cost to implement this test, but also, more importantly,  the lack of validity and value that these tests provide to teachers and students.

These tests have been piloted, but not calibrated.  The Portland Public School Board has so far voted to not have the SBAC count as a valid measure in their Achievement Compact.  The Oregon Education Association has been allowed by Arne Duncan to not have teacher evaluations tied to the results of the tests--yet.   OEA members have demanded a moratorium on these tests until they are researched and evaluated.

The tests are taking hours beyond expected.  Students are overwhelmed and frustrated.  Teachers have had little or no time to understand and learn what the SBAC expects, let alone teach students how to prepare for it--even though, many argue, teaching to a test isn't teaching authentically.  And then of course, there is this: quality instructional time being lost in order to have students learn how to prepare and perform for a test that has no strong calibration set yet, has technological difficulties, is unreliable, and has an extremely high failure rate.

So those that are truly left to struggle and feel the negative effect--are the children.  The students.

This is nothing but disgraceful.

In light that the adults and school districts in this get a pass until the process is evaluated, one has to wonder why this is allowed?

The only answer really seems to be that the testing company needs more data to strengthen their need to calibrate.  This means,  students are guinea pigs.  The testing companies get to use our students to put their product on trial--at the expense of taxpayers, money not going into the classroom, and children feeling stressed and demoralized.

However, until legislators, school board members, administrators, and superintendents start to question and stand up for our children (teachers have a harder time as they could lose their job) parents do have the power and the right to opt their child out of these tests.

Check out our easy to access opt out information here. Oh, and enjoy the show of our Opt Out video that reminds us why opting out of high-stakes testing is important.

“There is something deeply hypocritical in a society that holds an inner-city child only eight years old "accountable" for her performance on a high-stakes standardized exam but does not hold the high officials of our government accountable for robbing her of what they gave their own kids six or seven years before.” 
― Jonathan KozolThe Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Can You Judge a School By Its Report Card?

by Elizabeth Thiel,

teacher, parent, member of Oregon Save our Schools

A lot of people look at state report cards to a get glimpse of what a school is like, especially when they’re considering a new neighborhood. If you looked at the recent report card for Vernon Elementary, you might have been shocked or disturbed to see that our neighborhood school received a score of one, the lowest possible score.

I am writing to tell you that this score is deeply misleading; it reflects not the caliber of the school but instead the defective nature of the state’s evaluation criteria.

In case you haven’t spent time at Vernon lately, let me tell you a little about it. Vernon is a thriving, diverse neighborhood school. My two daughters go there, as do about 400 other children from this neighborhood. We have fantastic teachers, engaged parents, and dynamic students. We also have a International Baccalaureate program, a garden that stocks our cafeteria with greens, rich after-school offerings through our SUN school, and art, music, and Spanish and Mandarin language classes during the school day.

This year, Vernon’s state report card score was docked two points from a three to a one. The reason is simple. A growing number of Vernon parents have – in protest – been opting out of the state’s high stakes, standardized testing protocol that ranks and punishes public schools. Whether you agree or not about the value of the testing itself, parents exercising their right not to participate is a punishable act under the current system.

In the 2012-2013 school year, five students opted-out of testing. Last year, eighteen students followed suit. The state’s response to this small protest by individual families has been to deduct a point from the state report card for each year that families opted out. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of education at Vernon.

In Oregon, parents have the right to opt their children out of high-stakes testing, just as they have the right to opt their child out of any school activity they believe is harmful or inappropriate for their child.
The reasons that parents make this choice are varied and personal, but in general, parents are acting on deeply-held beliefs about education and social justice. In opting-out of high stakes testing, Vernon parents are joining a much larger national movement to reject top-down education policies that are harmful to students and communities.

High Stakes Testing Undermines Public Schools

Some parents opt-out of high-stakes testing because they don’t want to participate in a system that is undermining public schools.

Since the No Child Left Behind policies of over a decade ago, states have been required to ramp up standardized testing to a level never before seen in American schools. The intent of these policies may have been to ensure a quality education for all students, but the result has been the opposite.

One reason these tests are considered “high-stakes,” compared to past standardized testing, is because the fate of a school is tied to its scores. In the last decade, over 4000 public schools across the country have been closed using test scores as justification. The overwhelming majority of these closures have been schools that serve low-income families and students of color.

A fundamental flaw in the system of judging schools by test scores is that test scores reflect a student’s family income more than it reflects the quality of their schools and teachers. Across all states, and all school districts, students in poverty tend to score lower than students with more home resources, even when those same students go to affluent “successful” schools. Yet, test scores are often used to label schools as “failing” or “ineffective,” and even to justify their closure or privatization.

High Stakes Testing Narrows Curriculum

Some parents opt-out of testing because they do not want their child to equate their learning with a single number. Beginning in third grade, new tests this year are expected to consume eight hours per child each year. These tests create unneeded stress for students, resulting in a single label of “meeting” or “not meeting” standards. They also take away precious instructional time from meaningful learning experiences. Because of the high stakes for schools, testing encourages schools to narrow the curriculum to the tested subjects.

Opting out of high-stakes tests is a concrete way for parents and students to voice their disagreement with these policies.

Looking Beyond the Score

In our neighborhood, report card rankings are often the only information a family has about a school before they enroll their child. I challenge parents to look beyond these numbers and spend time in their neighborhood school before judging perpetuating false perceptions that Vernon – or other neighborhood schools – are “bad schools.”

I feel so fortunate to be part of the Vernon family. It is invaluable to have a great school within walking distance, to be part of a village of parents here in our neighborhood, and to see my children thriving academically and socially in our diverse and unique community.

I am proud of Vernon parents for standing up against a system that is undermining public education. It is one more reason that I am proud to be an Owl.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why, O, Why? All About the Bias

Kathleen Jeskey

On Sunday, October 19, Portland area teachers held a party in Pioneer Square. 

The Quality Education Festival included a book giveaway, a pumpkin give away, free face painting and henna tattoos, and a booth from Outdoor School among the activities designed for family fun. There were also performances from local area schools which included theater, music and dance. 

Oregon Save Our Schools sponsored a booth at the event designed to educate parents on their rights to opt their children out of high stakes standardized testing (also handing out stickers, pencils and clown noses to the kids). 

The overall theme of the Festival was that our students are more than a test score and that they deserve to be a priority when it comes to funding. It highlighted many of the programs that students enjoy, which make school meaningful to them, that our schools have lost due to funding cuts and an inordinate focus on test scores as the only possible measure of student achievement.

Many volunteer groups that participated paid for their booths at the event, including ours, which was provided by our own Joanne Yatvin. The funding for the event came from local area teachers associations membersdues. Hours and hours of volunteer time were put in by local teachers, as well as support from Oregon Education Association staffers and leaders (whose salaries are also paid by the local teachersdues) to organize the event.  The event was on Pioneer Squares calendar as well.

The calendar the event was apparently not on was the calendar of the Oregonian. 

Many teachers and other local volunteers who helped organize the event, including members of Oregon Save Our Schools, eagerly awaited the Oregonians coverage to see if their picture, or their childs picture, appeared in the O. But in spite of the fact that the Oregonian routinely prints news about events in Pioneer Square as well as stories which question the quality and commitment of Oregons teachers  stories which question the quality and commitment of Oregon’s teachers not a peep was heard in the Oregonian about this event.

The OEA staffer who was designated to communicate with the Oregonian about the event tried three or four times unsuccessfully, as reported to this writer, to have news of the event included somewhere in the paper. Those attempts included the following: a request to submit a guest opinion promoting the Festival and its mission, an invitation to send a reporter and/or photographer to the event, a follow up reminder prior to the event, and a press release after the event.

After all the hard work that many community members put into this event and not so much as a human interest report on it, educators and their supporters are troubled by an impression of editorial bias from the Oregonian. 

We hope that as a news organization, the Oregonian will report all sides of the complex education issues that face our state, not just those with which its editorial board agrees.