.                             The "Test & Punish" National Campaigns
         (Started by Teachers Unions) Are Malarkey
Stephanie D. Leigh Robinson COPACS
Summer Blog  2016

Why States, Districts & Schools Need Strong Parent & Community
Stakeholder Participation to Address Power Imbalances in Decision-making
(with a focus on the "Test & Punish Campaigns in which "nearly half of the nation’s public schools ( an estimated 49%) failed to make AYP in 2011" or at last count, a number
that was/is probably worst since standards and assessments varied across the nation at that time. . .)
The unions do not speak for the American public. By now, the public should know, without question, that " nearly half of the nations public schools (at last count in 2011)"  were failing. The public knew they were failing (that is) before the unions declared war on objective testing measures --- or any type of information, penalty or sanction that had anything to do with teacher accountability in the classroom. But, was it really their decision to make in creating this culture of anti-accountability, on behalf of all public school students --- as though all parents are against testing?   Do the unions really think that the public wants to go backward in time, to the days, when school accountability measures were nowhere to be found or when 99% of U.S. teachers and,
in turn, schools were considered highly effective even when they were not?
(By the way, we still do not know what happened to those schools.)

In other words, parents and community stakeholders need to speak for themselves. But, they can only speak for themselves --- if they are armed with the necessary information  that they need to join the conversations focusing on meaningful choices and/or  informed decisions. That they still remain the missing link in public school discourse and decision-making is a travesty (decades after ESEA 1965 was signed by President Johnson as the U.S education law).

Is it any wonder then that 70% of districts, at last count, failed to meet the parent involvement mandates? Unfortunately, problems cannot be solved if they are never truly acknowledged.  We also know that politicians have a problem with clientelism or patronage. In other words,  support them. . . or donate. . . to their campaigns and they will give you a job. But this only happens when transparency and accountability structures and processes are ignored. If these mechanisms were in place or if states were ever in compliance with the parent involvement mandates (or if they ceased pretending that they were), school officials would, of course, know (by now) why the majority of parents still want objective accountability tests in place or tests that reach beyond the so-called student growth measures that only compare apples to apples and omit timelines. 

If social inclusion was important to school officials and teachers' unions then opportunity spaces would have been established long ago that promote discourse between parents, union lobbyists and school officials specifically focusing on high-quality state standards and rigorous curriculums for all children.  If they simply listened to all school stakeholders, these same school representatives would know why the majority of parents  still want to know if their children have mastered a lesson or not.  If they had engaged in conversations with parents and community stakeholders they would know that their expectations have never changed for they  still believe in student achievement and still want school representatives to be held accountable for school effectiveness. Why? Trust is the issue. . . but the real elephant in the room that no one wants to mention is racism. This elephant --- (especially with Trump in office), turns its back on these concerns (ineffective teachers/ineffective schools, etc.)  yet these concerns date back to Reconstruction and have ended up in the here and now --- and are passed on decade after decade like a baton to other racists (whether or not they realize it) who are too weak to admit why they cling to racist practices like a security blanket.  (This applies to people of color who support these same educators and expect parents and community stakeholders to worship their positions, education or their so-called expert status over educating children or who will do anything to keep a job even if it means supporting racist practices.)
Clearly, educators such as Ms. Ravitch ( historian ), Randi Weingarten (AFT president), Lily Eskelsen García (NEA president), etc . want poor parents, in particular, to take the fall for  all of the failing schools across the nation and point to income inequality as the culprit  (or Sean Reardon's research --- research that he is even confused about since the poorest 10% of Shanghai children outscore the richest 10% of U.S. children, including children  from private schools).  And still, Valerie Strauss, et al. like to use their imaginations to talk about the difficult home lives of all black children in the nation without discussing the home lives of whites. 

But has anyone noticed that they rarely discuss the burden of U.S. racism in public school systems and how it impacts the lives of poor children of color or their life chances? (I also do not think that they know that repeatedly saying that whites are better educated and have higher scores on national and international tests is simply an admission that equity and equality concerns have been ignored.) Their incomplete statements or their omissions show that they would rather not discuss how their own social constructs, interpretations and beliefs about children of color, (including what poor children of color can or cannot do --- before they even enter a classroom) sets the stage for invalid, unreliable if not unjustifiable conclusion(s). These unjustifiable conclusions reach beyond the typical low expectations that inaccurate research findings allow schools to use against children of color (or like Trump likes to say "these people"). 

Why then should people of color pay attention to biased studies that set out to harm children? Why should they pay attention to educators who promote research studies in which America's racist history is ignored, studies supported by white racists who routinely promote invalid and unreliable data rather than seeking  funding for studies that seek to  improve student achievement ? In reviewing studies, parents and community stakeholders must identify gaps or limitations in the data and/or how it was evaluated  (e.g. why low standards for children of color exist across the nation) and how this type of mobilization of bias is promoted and supported. These critical points, according to some researchers, are helpful in understanding decisions and actions --- for all campaigns are built on a foundation consisting of dominant values, norms and political myths (P. Bachrach, 1962)or --- in this sense, at the expense of children.

Their  test and punish campaigns then are malarkey since they fail to take into account their roles or weak school-based practices (as if no one notices), along with why these real life crucial details appear to be taboo subjects ---  subjects, for example, that pertain to the unfair distribution of effective teachers in schools across the nation that serve children of color, etc. It stands to reason that before they discuss poor children of color they should first step into a segregated school (DeVos, too)  without resources and study how ineffective teachers impact the lives of children, and then look  at a chart that shows how many inexperienced teachers are placed in segregated schools. Given these facts (including the one  in which they explain why the majority of inexperienced teachers are placed in segregated schools), they should discuss all of the reasons that they are truly using  to work against testing, including why they need to prevent the public from knowing why poor students were never taught the necessary lessons to  pass a test in the first place or taught from a content-rich, rigorous curriculum aligned with high-quality standards, etc., which means --- when all is said and done --- that the blame for student failure really does fall on school officials and teachers. 

The unions, therefore, are not really in a position to make any expert claims about the abilities of "all poor children" unless they can also guarantee that "all public school students" are, indeed, receiving an opportunity to learn based on effective classroom instruction. State, district and school representatives who support the lowering of state standards,  who have low expectations for poor students of color, who push children of color disproportionally out of schools are in this same boat.  Clearly, under the present circumstances, all school representatives must first demonstrate that equity and excellence  are priorities in their states, districts and states by proving to parents and community members that they are meeting these goals without gaming the system (i.e., comparing apples to apples or poor blacks to poor blacks) or pretending that they are serving all of their students with equity in mind --- when they are not. Until they do --- they cannot say that they are really serving the best interests of all of their students.

Why is this focus on equity and excellence an urgent need? Note: Only 7% of black 12th graders across the nation were proficient or above proficient in math on the 2015 NAEP assessment --- a test that tends to uncover what states are actually doing or not doing to support student achievement based on high, quality educational systems.  Strictly speaking then these scores don't mean anything ---  if state, district and school representatives failed to tell parents and community stakeholders that the students, instead, received instruction based on low state standards, a modified curriculum, weak classroom educational content or instruction that was never taught or aligned with the standards and assessments.

Why must state, district and school officials share this information (in a timely manner) based on the current ESSA state mandates? William Sanders, a statistician studying Tennessee teachers in 2010 --- "found that a student with a weak teacher for three straight years scored, on average, 50 percentile points behind a similar student with a strong teacher for those years." (This is not new information for W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Julian Bond, etc.  spoke about these concerns years and years ago... Unfortunately, parents and community members simply stopped thinking that they had to make demands on state and local school systems even though President Obama, Secretary Duncan and Secretary King said it was mandatory that they do so .)

In contrast,  32 % of white (privileged?) 12th-grade students were proficient or above proficient in math while 68% were not proficient . 46% of white students were proficient or above proficient in reading while 54% were not proficient  --- and, of course, all students must know how to read in order to learn. . .  What do all of these scores say about U.S. teacher effectiveness or Sean Reardon's research, especially if white students (who are not experiencing income inequality) have access to the best resources and/or the best teachers --- or  the best of the U.S. public school system and everything that  it has to offer, overall? It says U.S. Colleges of Education are failing their students or future teachers.   

If black and brown students, at least, had the best trained U.S. teachers (from the very start of their K-12 experiences) would their scores be higher than their white counterparts? Would there be such a wide achievement gap? (Note: Success Academy students, mostly low-income black and brown students, have outperformed every district in New York.) This point, in and of itself, shows that individuals such as Rep. Andy Harris , who recently spoke on this topic at a budget hearing, is knee deep in the world of stereotypes when he says the socioeconomic backgrounds of poor students remain the cause of school-based concerns. At best, he has not done his homework and is not qualified to speak about the real cause of student failure, especially if he ignores the inability of educators to educate. Furthermore, when he says teachers are afraid to discipline black students he does not mention the disproportionality of this practice or what happens to white students who are not disciplined for committing the same acts --- --- proving that he is accustomed to providing racist, biased, stock explanations without substance to explain his positions, showing that listening to him is a waste of time. Fortunately, Representative Lee corrected him on this matter.) 

In this light, would white scores still serve as the yardstick for black and brown scores --- even though white student scores are not competitive on a global scale or would educators finally treat black students like everyone else and have higher expectations for them, too? Would they finally start reviewing best practices tied to school effectiveness? Would they reach much higher, at least, from a moral stance and do more by trying to figure out how all students can thrive in the public school system? (Note: U.S.  white private school students did (somewhat) better on the NAEP in reading than white public school students --- but not enough to say that these private schools do not need to improve.) Better still --- would all students improve if all U.S. educational leaders finally made the decision(s) to do what the top educational systems around the world do, which includes but is not limited to: improving U.S. colleges of education and offering teachers something other than a generalized education and, at the least, focus on stronger professional development training programs tied to (uniform) high, quality standards and assessments  --- in support of high, quality classroom instruction?  

Sanders and Rivers in 1996  explained why this will always be important by proving that: 
" The negative impact of low-performing teachers is severe, particularly during the earlier years of schooling. At the primary level, students that are placed with low performing teachers for several years in a row suffer an educational loss which is largely irreversible. In some systems, by age seven, children who score in the top 20  percent on tests of numeracy and literacy are already twice as likely to complete a  university degree as children in the bottom 20 percent. In England, students that were failing at age 11 had only a 25 percent chance of meeting the standard at age 14. By age 14, the chances that a failing student would graduate with the expected minimum set of school-leaving qualifications had fallen to just six percent. Taken together, all the evidence suggests that even in good systems, students that do not progress quickly during their first years at school, because they are not exposed to teachers of sufficient caliber, stand very little chance of recovering the lost years. " From --- How the Best Performing School Systems Come Out On Top.... 

All of the top-performing systems recognize that " they cannot improve what they do not measure. Monitoring outcomes allows them to identify and spread best practices, to pinpoint areas of weakness, and to hold schools accountable for their results. In general, the intensity of the monitoring that is carried out is in inverse proportion to the overall performance, both within and between systems."  All of this explains why the U.S. is 42nd (out of 46 industrialized countries throughout the world) in supporting equity in its public education system. 
Moreover, until parents publicly declare that they have relinquished their right to “parent” or their right to know and understand what is going on in classrooms --- the unions and other school representatives cannot say that they were ever asked to speak on their behalf . They also cannot say that the test and punish campaigns were developed with parents and students in mind nor can they say that the majority of parents and community stakeholders support their stance on testing.  

To better understand what is going on in classrooms or to address the accountability gap ( some say the opportunity gap) , parents and students must make demands on school systems to ensure that their views matter and count --- anytime, anyplace and anywhere children of color, in particular, are discussed. They must ask questions and seek answers to figure out if their states, districts, and schools have high-quality standards (such as the Common Core) in place that meet their expectations. These standards should be aligned with the (expected) high quality (rigorous) curriculum (and lesson plans), the high-quality state assessments, the instructional research-based practices,  the leader and teacher "targeted professional development programs and reward structures," the high-quality classroom instruction, etc.

On any given day, they must know if the students were taught research-based, rigorous, competitive content and if the students mastered the content --- (measuring progress without timelines or reliable and valid data is not enough) --- or if the school officials followed through on their promises, goals and accomplishments. Moreover,  when school officials promote certain research for another (fad or) innovative plan they must ask how it  will serve children based on gold standard research --- or how it will advance quality instruction or the effective  implementation of best practices tied to high performing schools (i.e,  gold and evidence based leadership strategies that work,  gold and evidence based classroom instruction that supports children in mastering their lessons, etc.). They must have access to information about the fair distribution of effective teachers but, more importantly, they must understand teacher productivity or teacher payoff in relationship to student achievement. 

In this light, parents and community stakeholders must see the test and punish campaigns for what they are: political special interest ploys that have nothing to do with the interests of children. They must also never forget the words of the renowned union boss, Albert Shanker who said: "When children start paying union dues that's when I'll start representing the interests of public school students..."   (Unfortunately, " professional organizations of teachers, principals, and superintendents focus on collective bargaining and advocacy --- but not enough time setting evidence-based professional standards for educators." , a point that shows where their interests truly exist.

Parents and community stakeholders' then must keep Shanker's words in mind whenever the teachers' unions, etc. try to represent students without their input or when they attempt to minimize accountability concerns such as testing. As it stands, they are special interest groups who represent their members first and foremost. This fact alone turns a public school education into a civil right if not a human right issue that requires that parents must stay focused on equity and excellence in public schools ---  in spite of what union leaders such as Randi Weingarten says about the need for equity --- even as she supports policies that work against it.  

These crucial steps include recognizing student deficit models that are utilized to compensate for their ineffective teachers at the expense of children. With this information in mind, parents and community stakeholders must always be the first ones to take a seat at the table where decisions are made on behalf of children. They are, after all, a child's very first teachers, a child's most important lifelong teachers who must always show up and demand a high quality public school system --- a system free of racism and inequities --- a system that understands that all children count and matter,  not just some --- anything less will not do...