10/18 – Public Education Nation, Part 1 of 2: High Stakes Testing & ‘Failing’ Schools

pub-ed-nat-3Last weekend, the Network for Public Education (NPE) held a Public Education Nation conference at the Brooklyn New School in Brooklyn, NY. JeffCo School Board Watch sent two of its members to the forum.  Today and tomorrow, they will report on what they found, heard, and learned there.

The NPE is focused on stopping the dismantling of public schools, and their growing privatization.

For many of us this may sound impossible – the privatization of schools?

Public schools are a cornerstone of our democracy. Although public schools did not spread across the U.S. until the mid-1800s , our founding fathers recognized the importance of education. Thomas Jefferson believed education should be provided by the government, free from religion, and free of charge. George Washington was also a supporter of public schools. John Adams wrote, “Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a human and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”

Our public schools have long represented our country’s freedom.  It’s promise.  It’s future.

Our desire to educate every child, no matter what race, religion, gender or economic status is a testament to our deep seated belief that All Men (and Women) Are Created Equal. This conference delved into how that system has come under attack.

A key discussion at the conference was the Opt Out Movement and mass stakes testing. JeffCo School Board Watch maintains a neutral stance on Common Core, but this discussion brought up some interesting questions for parents and educators to ask.

There is no doubt that schools need standards. And that metrics are needed to track those standards. But at what cost? And to what purpose?

The current standardized tests tell us what students are meeting standards. However, the NPE panel pointed out that the teachers are never given data on WHAT questions a student missed.

The tests are also used to decide what schools are ‘failing’. But rather than work to repair these schools, that failing grade is often used to simply close the school and disperse the students. And in doing so deprive them of their community and their community of it’s voice.

And finally, in some cases, the tests are used to measure our teachers. Regardless of factors that can affect the student’s test scores even more than the teacher:  If the child taking the test is gifted.  If English is their second language.  Or if the child is simply living in such a state of poverty that when they took the test they hadn’t eaten since the previous day’s lunch or they had slept in car with their family that night.  Yet, there are proponents for whom this is the only valid measure of a teacher.

Here is an analogy: Imagine you are an engineer for a car company. You build the car, manufacture copies of it and THEN send it to testing (remember most standardized tests are administered in the spring with results coming to the families weeks or months later).

The testing company tells you the car failed the safety test, but they do not inform you what failed. Did the brakes fail? Did the air bags not deploy? How can you fix the car if you don’t know the mode of failure? Maybe the problem is a simple one, that with extra training or extra resources, could not only be fixed, but amazing cars could be produced.

However, rather than dedicating the resources to fixing the problem, the CEO simply throw up his hands and closes the plant.

Our kids are not objects! They are human beings. They deserve better than a school district giving up on them, closing their schools, breaking up their communities and dispersing them.  And our commitment to them needs to be deeper than the a ‘return on investment’ calculation.

At the conference education and parent leaders pointed out that this is what has been happening to our inner city schools for years.

Labeled as failing, districts led by ‘reformers‘ are throwing in the towel, closing schools. Worse, there are ‘reformers‘ that deliberately look for ways to force schools into failing. They then replace them with private charters. Charters that do not comprise children from the community, but of a mix of students from all over the city, breaking up the neighborhoods, and fracturing their communities.

Many of these charter chain schools (not actual neighborhood-developed charters) are run by companies who intend to make a profit from running the schools.

And the boards that run them are not made up of parents nor are they community members.

These students and parents have lost their voice in their schools and in their communities. This sentiment was echoed throughout the forum. As the stakes of testing getting higher, they feel their only option is to stand up by opting out. (Again, the JeffCo School Board Watch is not taking a stance on this.  We are simply reporting the concerns of the NPE and the people who attended the forum.)

Quite frankly, we allowed these school takeovers to happen because we thought it couldn’t happen to us. Jeffco has great schools. Jeffco has a great community. And we elect our Board of Education. So it couldn’t happen to us.

But it did.

Now WNW is falsely labeling our schools as failing.

We have high schools with over 70% of the students graduating going to college, higher ACT scores than anyone else in the state, higher average AP test scores than the world. But Witt, Newkirk, and Williams say we are failing.

Do we have schools struggling? Absolutely.

Do we have schools that need help? YES!!!

But what is their plan for helping those schools, specifically?

When a school is at 170% capacity and the board offers no solutions, is that school being set up to fail? Are we, as a community, simply closing our eyes because that school has a Free/Reduced Lunch rate over 90%?

Now that we, as a district, are falsely labeled as failing, are we willing to wake up and see what this panel is fighting for? Not just neighborhood schools, but good public neighborhood schools (Note: We refuse to call them “district assigned.”  That is a blatant propaganda ploy by WNW, trying to turn our neighborhood schools into a cold sounding prisons.)

Presenter and New York Principal, Carol Corbett Burris, challenged the audience with Martin Luther King, Jr’s letter from jail in Birmingham.   She quoted this part of the letter, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.” We at the Board Watch implore our readers to follow these steps:

  1. Collect the facts.  Subscribe directly to JeffCo School Board Watch or ‘Friend’ us on our Facebook link.  Do your own research.
  2. Negotiate in good faith (which WNW seems incapable of doing). Send emails to the Board.  Ask your questions.  See what the answers are (if any).
  3. Self-purification – as Diane Ravitch pointed out, we elected this board.  We ignored other school attacks.  We bear some guilt.
  4. Finally, Direct Action – Come to a board meeting, talk to your neighbors about what is going on, put up a yard sign, give to Support Jeffco Kids or join Jeffco Exodus.

Finally, in the spirit of the edict presented by these school leaders, many who have had their schools hijacked for years, and in the words of Dr. King:

MLK speaking


“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. …. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.




Resources and References
Visit their website for more information on the Network for Public Education.

Other great resources include: Diane Ravitch’s blog.

And a new one that we discovered at the forum – speaker Yohuru Williams represented the BadAssTeachers (BATs) Association.  We recommend you start with his post:

All I Really Need to Know about Corporate Education Reform (and why we should fight it) I Learned in Kindergarten


4 thoughts on “10/18 – Public Education Nation, Part 1 of 2: High Stakes Testing & ‘Failing’ Schools

  1. In response to step #3: “Self-purification – as Diane Ravitch pointed out, we elected this board. We ignored other school attacks. We bear some guilt.”

    Well, no. I did not elect this board. I did not ignore what was going on. I wrote multiple letters to the editor supporting the other candidates, marched in multiple parades for the other candidates, and had signs in my yard for the other candidates. I do not feel guilty. I feel frustrated, and I feel frustrated partly by the fact that

    I hope Ravitch herself bears some of the guilt for this election because her no-holds-barred stance on inBloom definitely impacted last November’s election. When inBloom became a major issue, we had three candidates who were utterly opposed and three candidates who were cautious, had questions, and didn’t commit one way or the other. Ravitch refused to acknowledge that there might be a middle ground, that “we need more information before making a firm decision” might be a reasonable approach, and dismissed them as in support of inBloom despite the fact that none of the three said they unequivocally would vote to continue the inBloom program.

    I understand the concerns about inBloom, but this Jeffco parent certainly wasn’t willing to throw out our union and our great neighborhood schools and the many other great things our district has been doing for one issue. Ravitch was–and she even dismissed the union officials when they said they thought there could be a happy medium regarding inBloom and student privacy.

    I had an exchange with Ravitch herself on her blog in which I explained the facts and details of the discussion going on about inBloom in meetings. She largely dismissed that as well. There was one answer, and it was that inBloom had to go at all costs.

    Well, there WERE costs, and they were steep. inBloom isn’t the only reason these three were elected, but it certainly helped them.

    I don’t feel guilty about that. I did my best to argue for the big picture. I was shouted down.

    I’m still annoyed about it a year later because I wasn’t convinced inBloom would go forward anyhow, and a year later, given everything that happened across the country, I think it’s reasonable to say that inBloom would have collapsed regardless of who was elected last year. But Ravitch supported these three, apparently not realizing or not caring that some in Jeffco had cut off their nose to spite their face. (And hey, what did I know? I’m just a lowly parent without connections, even if I was actually at the meetings, had been for quite some time, and understood the nuances of the situation much better than people located 2000 miles away.)

    I was pleased to see that Ravitch finally acknowledged Jeffco’s issues, albeit more than a week after the protests were garnering national attention, but then in the comments someone said the students should also be protesting the College Board. Ravitch responded that they should be protesting for academic freedom and for the freedom to not be tested. Huh? Students CHOOSE to take AP tests–or not–near the end of the class–and their parents pay for those tests at that time. We’re merely asking to continue to have that choice, preferably without needing to strictly adhere to every last detail of Ravitch’s ideology. Also? I’d appreciate support when I stand up to my school board, rather than unnecessary commentary about what I should be writing on my sign or what I should be protesting.

    All that said, I know Ravitch has plenty of disciples and I want to acknowledge that her books are nuanced and detailed, and I’ve appreciated her research, perspective and documentation. Her blog, on the other hand, is a completely different story.

    I’m hoping the JSBW reps at the conference were able to better explain the details of the situation here in a way that might make it possible for those groups to better support the actual situation. What’s happening in Jeffco has a lot of parallels to what’s happening nationwide, but at the same time, there’s a lot of shades of gray that need to be acknowledged. Hopefully you were able to help them see what the situation looks like here.

    And don’t forget: VOTE!! We can’t afford to have anyone in this county sleep through more elections, so please return your ballot (and thanks!).

    • Many of us share your feeling and actions prior to last fall’s election, but obviously there are those who did not. In fact, many people now involved in one of the several groups organizing against WNW admit that they either did not vote or actually voted for them. We think what Ms. Ravitch was referring to was a collective guilt, and on that level, yes, we are guilty. For many of us, it simply seemed inconceivable that three such obviously unqualified, unthinking people would manage to get elected. So even while we voted, we did not really go out and ‘electioneer’ for their opponents.

      Your point on the inBloom is well taken, but there was also Amendment 66 too, which probably had an even bigger influence. The truth is that WNW got in based on an almost perfect storm: off-year election (which drives down turnout), two hot button issues that had the potential to become single-issue fodder, and a well orchestrated and funded targeted media blitz in the last weeks.

      Either way, the real purpose of the Self-Purification is to recognize our own level of societal responsibility for what happened, because then we also realize that as a society we have the power to correct it! On that level, we think we are on our way, led by our students.

  2. The American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC) is something you all should be aware of and vigilant about. ALEC is a far-right “bill mill” for state-level legislators who network, through ALEC, with corporations and industry to push laws that they want.

    A lot of what is happening in JeffCo is at least inspired by and, in at least one case, directly linked with ALEC model legislation.

    Your state is heavily influenced by ALEC given the number of state legislators who are members:

    House of Representatives
    Rep. David G. Balmer (R-39) listed as ALEC member while serving in NC House. [1]
    Rep. Kathleen Conti (R-38)[2]
    Rep. Robert S. Gardner (R-21); Civil Justice Task Force [3]
    Rep. Cheri Gerou (R-25); Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force[4]
    Rep. Lois Landgraf (R-21)[5]
    Rep. Carole R. Murray (R-45); Education Task Force[6]
    Rep Lori Saine (R-63)[2]
    Rep. Spencer Swalm (R-37)[7]
    Rep. Libby Szabo (R-27)[2]
    Rep. Mark Waller (R-15); Civil Justice Task Force[8] and Communications and Technology Task Force[9]

    Sen. Greg Brophy (R-1); Public Safety and Elections Task Force [10]
    Sen. Bill Cadman (R-10), State Chairman[11]; Civil Justice Task Force Member [12]
    Sen. Kevin Grantham (R-2)[5]
    Sen. Steve King (R-7)[13]
    Sen. Kent Lambert (R-9)[14][2]
    Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-15)[2]; Health and Human Services Task Force[15]
    Sen. Scott W. Renfroe (R-13); Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force[16]

    I’ve spent years studying ALEC and see their fingerprints all over some of your current issues.

    The following is a link to an exhaustive website and study of ALEC called ALEC Exposed. I’ve linked directly to the education task force because that’s most relevant to you.


    Also, here’s a link to a Denver Post article on why Colorado should cut ties with ALEC.


    Keep the faith, folks, you can take your schools back.

  3. Sorry. In my previous email I misnamed ALEC the “American Legislative Executive Council” — should be American Legislative Exchange Council.

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