Sunday, August 17, 2014

The evidence accumulates not to trust data from NY State Education Department

On Friday afternoon I got a call from the Daily News reporter Stephen Rex Brown, who told me that the NY State Education Department had provided him with data purporting to show that this spring, more than 22,000 NYC kids opted out of the NY state ELA exams and more than 26,000 the math exams  – out of a total of 66,000 statewide.   Here is the data straight from NYSED:




% State Non-Participation
State Wide






Rest of State





% State Non-Participation
State Wide






Rest of State


As you can see, the number of “non-participating” NYC students appears to have ballooned four times or more since 2013, so it was unlikely to be explained away by truancy or simple absence.   

As much as I would have liked to believe the opt out figures were this high, I expressed skepticism to Stephen– and explained that I thought the numbers of students opting out  had been far higher on Long Island and Westchester than in NYC.  In the suburbs, in general, parents are more organized, enjoy well-funded public schools with high college-going and graduation rates, and have erupted in justified incredulity  when the state tried to convince them their schools were failing and their kids were not “college and career ready.” 

Stephen also told me that the state was holding firm, despite the fact that the city was arguing that less than 2,000 students had opted out, according to their data.

The next day, Brown’s article appeared in the Daily News, but the story had now changed:

State Education officials were scrambling to determine Friday why test data appeared to show more than 20,000 city students did not take math and English exams…. The figures were more than triple the previous year’s numbers. State officials suspect there was an error in the way a large group of city students were coded in the state database of third- through eighth-graders who took the tests.

My response to all this: with such erratic and unreliable information, how can anyone trust any of the test score data from NYSED?

I admit to being discouraged by the sadly ritualistic appearance of Mayor de Blasio and the Chancellor Farina, celebrating the small increase in scores in the city based on these highly faulty and unreliable exams as evidence of progress.   The Mayor was even moved to give credit to Bloomberg for his support of Common Core and his supposed “investment in our schools”, though school budgets have been cut to the bone and we have the largest class sizes in 15 years.

Before the new Common Core tests, we  had ten years of state test score inflation in NY that was obvious to anyone paying close attention, but year after year was ignored by the powers that be, because it was politically convenient.  Each year Mayor Bloomberg and  Chancellor Joel Klein, sometimes accompanied by Randi Weingarten, would ritualistically bow down to the supposedly infallible test score gods and celebrate the results as showing that their reforms were working.  And then the entire imaginary edifice came tumbling down in 2010, when the educrats finally admitted that an enormous test score inflation had occurred, somehow without their knowledge and complicity.

It is too early to assume that the small rise in test scores this year were due to similar manipulations , but a decade of experience should teach us to be open to the possibility. Merryl Tisch predicted that more kids would pass this year – and they did.  In any event, we have overwhelming evidence from teachers and principals that the tests were poor quality and a lousy judge of real learning. 

The state’s release of data showing thousands of opt outs in NYC is just one more piece of evidence showing how skeptical everyone should be about any data our government officials supply.
These tests were designed to show that the majority of students across the state are failing, and are wrongly aligned with NAEP proficiency levels that were never meant to signify college readiness.   Indeed, the test scores feed into a narrative of failure that is being manufactured by the privateers to attack job security for teachers and expand charter schools.   

They are central to  a “shock doctrine” strategy, engineered to make parents believe that their children’s schools are deficient, to enable privatization and instruction to be outsourced to corporations.  Whether test scores go up or down, parents should beware not to drink the Common Core Kool-aid and allow themselves to be convinced by faulty data -- either produced by incompetent bureaucrats or skewed for political ends.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Parents and Educators Reject the Tests, the Scores and Corporate Agenda of NYSED & Pearson

If as many as 60,000 students opted out as John King admitted today, that means the participation rate statewide was less than 95%.  Remember to (re) read the classic, the Common Core Kool-aid by Rick Hess.  Also my Shock Doctrine: 5 reasons not to trust the state exams.

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  August 14, 2014

More information contact:
Eric Mihelbergel (716) 553-1123;
Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190;
NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE)

Parents and Educators Reject the Tests, the Scores and Corporate Agenda of NYSED & Pearson

Today Commissioner John King and Chancellor Merryl Tisch released the test scores of the state exams in 3-8th grades, showing that, more than 68% of the state’s students were judged not proficient in English Language Arts (ELA) and more than 64% not proficient in Math.  The overall results were largely flat with little to no change year over year with only small gains and drops for specific demographic groups. 

Members of the New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), a coalition of more than 50 parent and educator advocacy groups, challenge the quality of the tests, the accuracy of the scores, and the motives of those who have manufactured these results.  This past spring, NYSAPE estimated that at least 44,000 students had opted out of the state exams; today the Commissioner admitted that the number was as large as 60,000 compared to 10,000 in 2013. 
As the growing problems with New York's excessive and speculative testing reforms are exposed, parents across the state are outraged and calling for an overhaul at the state education department.
Lisa Rudley, Westchester county public school parent and founding member of NYSAPE said, “Though Commissioner John King assured us that the new Common Core state tests would be a much better reflection of the skills students will need for ‘college and career’ success with the release of 50% of the questions last week, we learned what educators were forbidden by law from telling us:  these were flawed tests, riddled with vague questions, inappropriate reading passages and multiple product placements. In its new Pearson contract signed amidst a financial crisis, NYSED doubled annual spending on testing and even worse, eliminated the transparency of the previous McGraw-Hill contract.  Where is the management from NYSED and the oversight from the Board of Regents?"
Dr. Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School on Long Island said, "Considering the more than $28 million taxpayer investment in curriculum modules, this paltry increase in scores is one more indication of the ineffectiveness of State Education Department's reforms, and the inappropriateness of the Common Core tests. Parents should take heart in knowing that the ‘college readiness‘ proficiency scores have no connection with reality. My high school and many other well-resourced high schools in NY have proven records of preparing students for college success that are no way connected to the state's newest measure of proficiency."

Eric Mihelbergel, Erie County public school parent and founding member of NYSAPE said, "If the released questions are this bad, you have to wonder how much worse the other half were.  I have no confidence in the results released today. Parents now demand new leadership for a Board of Regents and Commissioner of Education who repeatedly fail to adequately respond to their legitimate concerns.”
“Many of the multiple choice questions required up to five steps and compelled 8 year olds to flip back forth between numbered paragraphs. The question becomes more of a measure of attention, memory and test taking skills rather than their deep understanding of a text. The commissioner has stated that education should not be about test prep, but these tricky assessments all but ensure that test prep will continue -- to the detriment of real learning,” said Bianca Tanis, an Ulster County public school parent and special education teacher.

Jeanette Deutermann, Nassau County public school parent and founder of Long Opt Out said, “This past spring, 55,000 to 60,000 New York State students were spared from yet another year of test scores that were designed to show a large majority of failures. The number of opt outs will steadily grow until NYSED takes the concerns of parents seriously and makes the necessary changes to our children's excessive high stakes testing regimen. High stakes testing and the Regents Agenda have hijacked our classrooms, and every day more parents become aware of how they too must protect their children from these harmful policies.”
Jessica McNair, Oneida County public school parent and educator notes, "Until the NYSED acknowledges that these developmentally inappropriate exams take time away from instruction, cost taxpayers, and set kids up to fail -- in an attempt to perpetuate the false narrative of Governor Cuomo’s ‘death penalty’ for schools -- parents will continue to refuse to allow their children to participate in these state tests.”

“The test content was not sufficiently disclosed and there was no quality assurance or mechanism for parents or educators to obtain valuable feedback. The bottom line is that students are getting hurt, money is being wasted and precious time is being spent on high stakes testing at the expense of more meaningful instruction. The system surrounding the NYS testing program is dysfunctional to say the least,” said Anna Shah, Dutchess County public school parent.

Fred Smith, a test specialist formerly with the NYC Department of Education (DOE) stated, “The State Education Department took a half-step by releasing 50 percent of the English and math questions from the April 2014 exams. It was a half-step not just because it falls halfway short of full disclosure, but also because SED fails to provide data at its disposal that would enable objective evaluation of the questions, each of which is a brick in the wall of the testing program.”     

“Like many other parents, I see how flawed the tests are as a measure of learning, and fear for all those millions of students who are told, unjustly, and at an early age, they aren’t ‘college and career ready’. These tests which ask our children to prove the existence of Big Foot and expose them to numerous and inappropriate product placements are the furthest from rigor one could imagine.  I question the motives of the bureaucrats and the testing companies who are forcing these inappropriate exams onto our children – to try to prove to the public that our schools and children are failing, so they can better pursue their privatization agenda and the outsourcing of education into corporate hands,” said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Tish James on need for better capital plan & improved space utilization formula

See below letters from Public Advocate Tish James to the Deputy Mayor and the NYC Chancellor,  on the need to expand the capital plan, ensure equity in the distribution of school space, improve collaboration and efficiency on the Blue Book task force, and reform the Blue Book so that the school formula includes all the necessary components of a quality education.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My speech when I received the Parent Voice award in DC on Monday night

Me with the board members of Parents Across America

On Monday night in Washington DC, I received the Parent Voice award from Parents Across America for my work defeating inBloom, at a dinner co-hosted by the NEA.  I was very moved and overwhelmed to receive this award, especially from fellow parents for whom I have so much respect and have worked closely with on many occasions.  Here is what I said:

I'm tremendously honored to receive this award from Parents across America - a wonderful organization that provides great tools for parents to resist damaging policies and to strengthen our public schools - and to speak up for parents in the national stage.  I am also incredibly honored to be given this award by Helen Gym, who is one of the foremost parent activists in the entire country and deserves her own award every day of the week.  I also want to thank the generosity of the NEA for co-hosting this dinner; parents and teachers working together can stop the runaway train of corporate education reform.
The inBloom saga was a hard fought battle but there is no way we could have defeated it without the  parents from all the nine inBloom states who stood up in horror and refused to take the bland assurances of their state and local officials and the Gates Foundation that this was all for their kids' benefit and their own.   
As soon as parents found out that the plan was to gather all their kids most sensitive and confidential info including their names, addresses, phones, disabilities, grades, test scores, health conditions and disciplinary records, store it on an insecure data cloud, and offer it up to vendors without their knowledge or consent, they were rightly furious and just wouldn't allow this to happen. 
Parents of all political stripes fought back and many who had no political affiliation at all and simply wanted to protect their children's privacy and safety and didn't think the potential benefits of data collection, sharing and mining were worth the risks.
I want to acknowledge some of those here tonight who helped us win this battle, including Khem Irby of Guilford NC, who stood up before her school board to protest the handing over of her children data to Bill Gates, Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch.

Robin Hiller of Voices for Education in Arizona, also Executive Director of Network for Public Education, who had me in her radio show several times to talk about the threats to privacy from inBloom and other schemes still in our future like the PARCC testing consortium.
 Rachael Stickland of Jefferson  Co Colorado who really did an amazing job organizing parents in her community against this violation of privacy.
Julie Woestehoff who scheduled briefings for me and others to speak to the editors of the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times, and co-hosted a forum for parents  that persuaded Illinois and Chicago to essentially cancel their involvement in inBloom in less than 24 hours from my arrival.
There are countless more parents and teachers who helped us fight this behemoth but couldn't be here today- activists in Louisiana, the first state to pull out, Georgia, and others. In NY, we had most of the district superintendents and school boards on our side as well, making it a lot harder for the inBloom apologists and flacks to argue that we were just naive and dumb parents who didn't understand how great this plan was and all the opportunities it would provide.

This is a template for the future that we will now use to try to strengthen the federal privacy law known as FERPA . Last week Rachael and I launched a new Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and we are visiting key congressional offices this week to get our point across that FERPA, which had been rewritten twice to essentially take out most of its privacy protections, must go back to what it was previously - a strong law that requires parental notification and consent before sharing the most intimate details of a child's life with any third party.
We will need all your help going forward, so please join us at
But more than anything else the story of inBloom provides proof that pissed off parents can achieve miracles - we can take down an $100 million project of the Gates Foundation when we work together, organize and have right on our side.