The Next Front in the Battle to Make Public Education Public Again

Thursday, June 21, 2018

While our union and public sector unions across America deal with the potential damage a negative ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case might have on their rights, a battle is also being waged regarding the rights of parents and teachers to regain control of public education from reforms instituted by corporate interests in recent years.

The newest battle on that front is one concerning new regulations proposed to the New York State Board of Regents by our state Education Department (NYSED).   In a meeting on Monday, June 11, the Board of Regents gave their tentative approval to the new regulations.  The Board will now invite the public to comment on the new regulations over the next few months before making a final vote in September on whether or not to adopt them.






According to the state Education Department, the proposed regulations must be implemented in order to bring our state into compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a federal law enacted in 2015 that governs all state education programs in our nation.

Included in the regulations are restrictions on how districts can use federal funding if parents in those districts continue to choose to opt out their children out of state tests.  Rather than use this funding to support the academic needs of children from low income families and those requiring additional support services, portions of the federal funding granted under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), would be have to be used towards efforts to improve the rate of participation of students on state tests.

Representatives from NYSED, including state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, claim that the new regulations are necessary to meet the 95% participation rate threshold required by the ESSA.  Parents and educators disagree.

In an interview in Newsday, parent and chief organizer of Long Island Opt Out, Jeanette Deutermann, described the proposed regulations as a “declaration of war,” on a parents’ right to opt their children out of state tests.

Read the full article here:

In a recent press release, New York State United Teachers Executive Vice President, Jolene DiBrango, stated that the proposed regulations, “…make a direct frontal assault on the rights of parents to opt out their children from the state testing system.”

In a letter written to Mrs. Elia a few weeks ago, DiBrango cited specific language in the ESSA that permits parents to opt out their children and requires districts to inform parents of such a policy.

See the full letter here:

Mrs. DiBrango also makes references to the ESSA law that stipulates that while states should strive for a 95% participation rate on state tests, the participation rate need only be one of many factors states should consider when evaluating the success of a school district.  DiBrango cited several states who already have had their plans approved under the ESSA and did so without including test participation rates as a factor at all.

Needless to say, there is an apparent disconnect between what the state Education Department has proposed and the Board of Regents has tentatively signed off on, and what both parents and teachers feel is lawful and in the best interests of the students in their communities.  Without question, public education in our state finds itself in a quagmire, a possible stalemate of sorts with no clear solution in sight.

Parents have, for many years, objected to the adoption of Common Core curriculum and the inclusion of that curriculum in state testing.  Those who support the opt out movement also feel very strongly that no tests, including the state ELA and Math exams, should ever be used in the evaluation of a teacher or a school building principal.

It goes without saying, therefore, that any attempt by the state Education Department to in any way impose a punitive measure on districts that have a high percentage of opt outs is not acceptable.

Teachers across our state, have been continually frustrated by the fact that they have been given little to no input as to what curriculum or tests will be used with their students.  They have been caught up in a wave or corporate driven educational reforms that have forced upon them textbooks and exams that are developmentally inappropriate.  Today, in many districts, state exams are taken by less than half of the students.  Nevertheless, results from these tests are still used to generate scores that appear as Original Scores on teacher evaluations and are set to return as official components of a teacher’s APPR score in the 2019-2020 school year.

What needs to happen is a meeting of the minds between our state Education Department and the teachers to develop both curriculum and testing that is fair and appropriate for students.  If this is done, a combined effort could be taken to encourage a higher participation rate on state tests.  Instead, the state Education Department, with the regulations it has made to our state Board of Regents, appears to have doubled down on an effort to force compliance with educational reforms that over the last decade have done little to nothing at all to improve public education in our state.

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