Critics of the controversial education reform Common Core rallied at Long Island University Post Campus Monday in the first such organized protest on Long Island this year against the Obama administration initiative and the latest in what has been a consistent and relentless campaign among opponents to halt the contentious standardized testing examinations.
Titled “Standing Together to Save Public Education: A Call to Action,” the gathering drew more than 1,000 parents, teachers, school administrators and anti-Common Core activists, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former gubernatorial primary challenger Zephyr Teachout, and was keynoted by renowned education policy analyst, historian and New York University professor Diane Ravitch.
Joining her onstage was a panel of distinguished educators including: South Side High School in Rockville Centre Principal Carol Burris, Comsewogue School District science teacher and Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association President Beth Dimino, Comsewogue Superintendent Dr. Joe Rella, New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) cofounder and Long Island Opt-Out Facebook administrator Jeanette Deutermann, and education advocacy group Lace to the Top cofounder Kevin Glynn, a teacher at Brookhaven Elementary School in South Country School District.
Each spoke about how the Common Core tests are damaging to children and echoed the need for attendees to “Refuse The Tests.” With more than 30,000 students across Long Island “opting out” and forgoing taking the exams last year—and with that number expected to increase significantly during the next scheduled round of exams this April—panelists found a welcoming and charged audience quick to respond with resounding applause and cheers. [Read About How Thousands Of Long Island Students Opted-Out Of Common Core Here]
“We are in the midst of a vast social experiment on the children of the nation and it is all tied to the standardized test,” Ravitch told the electrified crowd, many of whom held homemade posters and signs decrying the Common Core program.
Speakers also took turns addressing—oftentimes blasting—statements made by Gov. Cuomo in a recent edition of Newsday’s opinion section, in which he accused standardized test opponents of distracting citizens of the positive aspects of his education reform with “noise” and “cloud[ing]” up data within “the fog of protest.”
Ravitch argued against Common Core’s test-based teacher evaluations, encouraging parents to refuse to let their children take the state standardized tests that the controversial reform depends upon, and defending her position with factual statistics and figures.
“Long Island has a four-year graduation rate of 89 percent,” she stressed. “That graduation rate is far higher than New York State’s. Without Long Island, New York would have a graduation rate of 73 percent. Long Island has higher graduation rates for low-income students, for students with disabilities, and for students of color than the rest of New York State.
“Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo thinks that you’re hiding a lot of failing teachers,” continued Ravitch. “He created the current evaluation system and now he’s very angry that only one percent of teachers statewide were found to be ineffective. And since Long Island has been the epicenter of resistance to his flawed evaluation policy, he has ordered an investigation of Long Island’s teacher evaluation ratings.
“You must be doing something terribly wrong to have these high graduation rates,” she sarcastically added.
In his Newsday op-ed, Gov. Cuomo stated “In New York last year, about 99 percent of the teachers were rated effective, while only 38 percent of high school graduates are ready for college and careers.”
“How can that be?” he wondered.
Ravitch contended to the crowd that the cut scores [the grades set by the testing consortia to signify passing grades] were devised in such a way as to fail a set percentage of students and present an “invented crisis” in the education system. Based on her seven-year tenure on the governing board of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Ravitch described that the cut scores were based on proficiency levels set by NAEP, a threshold that a known minority of students were expected to reach.
“They knew well in advance that only 30 to 35 percent of students in most states have ever scored proficient by these standards,” she slammed. “The Common Core tests are designed to fail the majority of students and that is exactly what happened in New York State. But you have to understand that the cut scores are not based on science. They are not based on objective measures, but subjective judgment.”
Ravitch accused Cuomo of “holding children hostage” by threatening to withhold educational funding unless schools comply with teacher evaluation plans based largely on state standardized testing for English Language Arts (ELA) standards and math for students in grades three through eight. She also explained the flaws in basing teacher evaluations on standardized test scores, outlining the arbitrary nature of the basis of cut scores, wide spectrum of outside influencers on student test scores, and illustrating how emphasis on testing has ramifications on almost every aspect of children’s education. Among these, Ravitch argued that this narrows the curriculum only to what is being tested, cuts back on or eliminates the arts, and slashes time allotted for recess and physical education. Other subjects have likewise suffered as more time and money has gone to testing and test preparation, she said.
“When we place so much emphasis on the right answer, we penalize children who think differently,” challenged Ravitch. “We crush individuality and creativity. Test-driven culture rewards conformity and not creativity. We became the greatest, most creative, most dynamic economy and culture in the world because of our diversity.”
Teachout, a Fordham University law professor and vocal anti-Common Core critic during her gubernatorial candidacy, was called onstage to a rousing standing ovation. Although she did not have any prepared remarks, she gave an impromptu speech, blasting the tests as “grotesque” and “inhumane,” and stating that “Public education is the infrastructure of democracy.” A threat to public education then, is a threat to the very fabric of the nation, she explained.
Burris, the South Side High School principal, who authored a 2002 book championing the potential of the Common Core State Standards titled Opening The Common Core, has since abandoned her optimism of the national education reform.
“If you would have asked me two years ago if I would have said to you consider opting out, I would have said no,” she admitted to the audience. “But I’m not in that place any more. I’ve come to realize that the tests are the rock of which the erosion of local control and the undermining of our schools are built. They use test scores as weapons to demean our profession and our schools.”
Dr. Rella, superintendent of the Comsewogue School District, has been an equally vocal critic of Common Core. Most recently, he publicly supported Beth Dimino, an eighth-grade science teacher in his district who very vocally shared her decision to become a conscientious objector of the standardized tests by refusing to administer them to students. [Read About The #dominoeffect Here]
“Parents,” he pleaded, “exercise your right to decide what is best for your children! Don’t be intimidated or bullied. Although at times we may feel oppressed, depressed, demoralized, put down upon, this is not about us. This is about the children in our care. The barbarians are not only at the gates, they are inside the walls and we—all of us—are the only thing preventing an entire generation of students from being sacrificed to corporate greed.”
Lastly, parent and education advocate Jeanette Deutermann, of North Bellmore, delivered an impassioned request that parents act as “Upstanders”—a term coined by administrators of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County to describe those unwilling to remain silent in the face of intolerance, in all its forms—by prohibiting their children to participate in the standardized tests next month.
Upstanders, she said, “refuse because they understand that what is happening to our children and our classrooms is not okay.” Deutermann then rattled off a list of the ways she believes the education reform is harmful, including: “giv[ing] a test to special education students one, two, and three grade levels above the grade they are learning at, knowing 95 percent of them will fail, blam[ing] a teacher for an underfunded, overcrowded school environment, punish[ing] a teacher for taking a job in a school that has a significant population of struggling students because he or she wants to make a difference.”
Ending well after 10 p.m., attendees rushed the stage to take selfies with presenters and further discuss the ways in which they, too, had been affected by Common Core. Voices wafted loudly into the air, and though late, the energy in the room far from dissipated, the “noise” Cuomo so criticized in his op-ed ever-rising to a fevered pitch vowing to inundate classrooms with organized, universal defiance.