That's the pretense. However, this event was one of a series of meetings funded by NJEA in order to convince parents to refuse standardized tests for their children in order to undermine the state’s ability to link a tiny portion (10%) of student growth to teacher evaluations. South Brunswick parents happen to be right in opt-out lobbyists’ wheelhouse: non-minority, suburban, and relatively wealthy.
According to the flyer for the event, speakers included Assemblyman Kip Bateman (regularly endorsed by NJEA), two officers from Save Our Schools-NJ (which partners with NJEA to lobby against testing and charter schools), Mark Weber (aka Jersey Jazzman, a fervent opponent to accountability), and Deborah Cornavaca, Associate Director of Government Relations at NJEA.
This series of meetings is funded by NJ Kids and Families, an NJEA PAC. The website for NJ Kids and Families links to a "refusal toolkit": sample opt-out letters, step-by-step instructions to opt out of PARCC, and statements like “school should be a place where students master the curriculum and learn the skills they will need to become happy, healthy, productive adults. The PARCC turns schools into high-stakes testing factories and students into units to be measured and compared with other units.”
On the other side of the Hudson on Long Island, epicenter of New York’s suburban opt-out movement, NJEA’s anti-testing comrade-in-arms, NYSUT, is engaged in similar tactics. Newsday reported last week from West Babylon, a mostly-white Suffolk County suburb on Long Island:
West Babylon School District residents got an official-looking white mailer from the West Babylon Teachers Association last week. Emblazoned on the front were the deceptive words “IMPORTANT NOTICE,” which made it look like it came from the district.
Inside were two full-page versions of a “2015-2016 NYS Refusal Letter,” one in English, the other in Spanish, ready to fill out and sign. The forms allow parents to easily opt their kids out of both the state’s third- through eighth-grade math and English assessments and various other tests, and to support a list of objections to testing. They include:This phenomenon -- teacher union leaders actively pressing parents to undermine state ability to measure student growth -- is, as Newsday puts it, ”not grassroots parent activism. That’s professional educators pushing, and in some cases fooling, the residents who provide their salaries into doing their bidding.”
The West Babylon letter also demands that parents not be contacted by administrators trying to change their mind, or as the letters put it, “push forward the corporate takeover of public education.”
- the tests are harmful, expensive and a waste of time and valuable resources,
- the parents oppose any assessments whose data is used to determine school ranking or teacher effectiveness, and
- the parents feel they have no other choice but to opt their kids out.
This thinly-veiled lobbying against accountability is, at best, unprofessional and, worst, manipulative and deceptive. Union leaders demean hundreds of thousands of New York and New Jersey teachers who value clear-eyed measurements of student growth. What other profession would undermine such attempts? Would doctors reject CAT scans? Would architects reject blueprints? Would lawyers reject discovery?
This sort of divisive duplicity -- paid for, by the way, by mandatory teacher dues -- damages educators' reputations and hurts schoolchildren, particularly those not privileged enough to live in South Brunswick and West Babylon, Anti-testing sentiments will subside, but unions risk long-term damage to the reputations of their members.