.                             The "Test & Punish" National Campaigns
         (Started by Teachers Unions) Are Malarkey
Stephanie D. Leigh Robinson COPACS
Summer Blog  2016 ( Updated in 2019 )

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. . .)
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The teachers'unions do not speak for the American public. By now, the public should know, without question, that " nearly half of the nation's 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 their decision to make? Why would they think that the public would ever support a culture of anti-accountability, on behalf of all public school students --- as though all parents are against testing?   
Do they really believe 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 must speak for themselves . But, they can only speak for themselves --- if they decide to arm themselves    with the necessary information  that will allow them 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 nation's landmark education law).

Is it any wonder then that 70% of districts (also, at last count) failed to meet the parent involvement mandates? Unfortunately, the  problems  at the local level cannot be solved if they are never truly acknowledged. Still, there are many telltale signs that stakeholders can review to better understand if school officials are failing to address educational concerns. For example, are teachers' unions, school officials and parent engagement administrators intentionally ignoring: oversight concerns (a longstandstanding problem associated with the public education system),  research that focuses on best practices and lesson learned, and fully implemented programming?   Are they creating school cultures that increase the number of overly-disciplined students and/or expelled students? Are they promoting the disproportionality of children of color in special education to compensate for their inability to understand certain classroom management skills? Are they recommending that students should be medicated even while ignoring the sudden increase of  overly-medicated students  in certain states, districts or schools?

Have they explored all of their options with parents and community stakeholders on a wide range of topics and chosen the best solutions before coming to a particular conclusion about certain students? For instance, in regard to test anxiety they might ask: is it student anxiety over testing (???) or being placed with an ineffective teacher who did not cover the research-based curriculum tied to the test (based on high-quality standards rather than low standards) that's causing the problem?

Clearly, accountability in classrooms should not lead to a wide range of remedies or excuses pulled from Pandora's Box. That these same representives rarely complain about school-based concerns such as teacher bias  against four and five year old children of color means that parents do not have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines when teachers make decisions about their children. From this stance, the U.S. public school system has many on-going problems to address but utilizing excuses used against children should not be one of them.  

Given these facts, parents must know and understand that speaking up and becoming active reconfigures the balance of power in states, districts and schools. With this said, they should "get involved" to learn about the structures and processes that allow them to hold all administrators and educators accountable for their roles. Since teachers' unions (not to be confused with individual teachers) do not like being evaluated this is a very pertinent question that parents in each state must ask. Moreover, whenever educators try to get rid of certain administrators and school officials, it is parents who must take on the role of comparing and contrasting what different individuals are saying about the person in question. They must always ask what that person has done to deserve the teachers' unions ire --- and always keep in mind that unions represent their members --- not children. In other words, their actions can end up turning into conflicts of interest. But, it is parents who must hold them accountable for their actions. For example, the teachers' unions do not mind contributing to the problem of teacher absenteeism, which their collective bargaining agreements prove. They make these decisions, however, without any consideration of the impact of their decisions on children. Many educators ask : "how can we hold schools accountable for the attendance of their students but not of their own teachers. . . ?"    

In the past, it did not help matters either when the teachers' unions decided that Secretary Arne Duncan should resign based on his belief in testing and teacher evaluations. Secretary John  King was also vilified based on testing. President Obama, of course, distinguished himself by standing firm on who he represented when the unions challenged him. Clearly, it was never in his DNA to abandon public school children or the purpose of the public school system in the first place so he was never going to give in to the unions ever --- while Hillary tried to appease them. It hurt her. (Note: Everyone is wondering who can be bought for votes in the next round in the ring. The games have already begun though with some presidential candidates failing to understand it is not a game that they should ever play. Moreover, winning without the popular vote just lands the POTUS in a hell on earth.)

And, then there is that problem with hiring people who use the public school system as a patronage factory.  
It is, probably, a given that "many school systems" across the nation still   promote patronage, a problem associated with many districts--- in which politics is the game that stands out as the function of schools --- rather than educating students --- its true purpose. (Whenever you see a parent administrator promoting knitting classes rather than teacher effectiveness then clientelism might just be the culprit. Whenever you see the same organization receving the same contracts year after year even as the number of students who are not proficient increases in a state ---something is wrong. Anytime you learn about these same administrators deciding on who they will work with so they will not be held responsible for their failure to serve children as if patronage and conflicts of interests are expected to go unnoticed --- something is wrong for the public will have multiple "huh" moment(s) based on bad policies.

For instance, if a parent center routinely supports the bad ideas --- or glaringly ineffective policies of teachers' unions and school officials (e.g. lower standards for children of color leading to a modified curriculum or a  lack of grade appropriate classroom instruction on any given day, including  racial disparities in  discipline standards leading to unfair expulsions and suspensions as well as school funding disparities leading to inequitable school experiences, etc.)something is wrong. These practices also include educational representatives who boldly promote unproven weak racist research to support their decisions.

Overall, if they follow the lead of the teachers unions who cannot distinguish between bad policies that lead to the school to prison pipeline --- from good policies that support parents in making mandatory "accountability demands" on states/districts/schools with a sense of urgency as Robert Kennedy wanted --- (by now, the same old same old demands --- now termed historical demands on school systems)  --- something is lacking in their ability to represent parents. This means if they are not  building the capacity of parents (in spite of the teachers' unions) to address the policies that harm the life chances of children and/or if they lack any sense of urgency in changing these policies that lead to the school to prison pipeline something is also terribly wrong --- with their abilility to grasp morality principles. 

Of course, many present-day politicians are wondering why these practices are still supported. They wonder why  union lobbyists who are special interest groups have the right to leave parents and public school children out of the equation focusing on public school decision-making. These politicians also question why everybody associated with the public school system has a lobbyist in the first place or. . . why everyone has become a special interest group --- but children, which means something has gone terribly awry in how the public  school system functions. They wonder why they have forgotten that they are public servants, first and foremost.  In other words, if legislative hearings are still needed in 2018 to address these on-going problems , including patronage concerns who can really say what is going on in public school systems that do not have strong oversight structures tied to public school governance, discourse and decision-making ---- or goals that focus on inclusiveness, openess and responsiveness?   

This type of culture then is only possible or could only happen if  transparency and accountability structures and processes are ignored and when "money, power and positions" are deemed more important than student achievement --- decade after decade after decade. It's a shame that the public must contend with these bad practices, in the first place, for these practices simply stand and go unchallenged for years --- unless parents and community stakeholders challenge them --- from conflicts of interest that allow ineffective administrators to represent them (or who have failed to carry out their responsibilities) to policies that harm the educational life chances of children --- practices that can lead to the school to prison pipeline, etc.  If transparency and accountability 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 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 by depending on the results of tests to tell them so.  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.

It also does not help  the case of school representatives when ceremonial stakeholder working groups, etc. are established that pretend to recognize the suggestions of parents and community stakeholders. Is it any wonder that after attending such meetings parents and community stakeholders still wonder  if their voices have been heard, especially if the goals of the group are ignored (before and after the fact) or the specific goals to serve underserved children are not even in their state accountability plans? 

Of course, parents and community stakeholders know when teachers' unions and school officials omit their voices from key discussions and try to normalize political relationships that close ranks around incompetence. Given these facts, the apathy generally attributed to parents and community stakeholders is, in turn, more about school officials and teachers lacking the competence and motivation to serve all children.     Trust, therefore, is one issue. . . but the real elephant in the room that no one wants to mention is racism and the lack of urgency in addressing it --- as if the educatonal lives of children of color are expendable. (I say racism since white children still receive an education in spite of politics.) This elephant --- (especially with Trump in office), turns its back on far too many key concerns (ineffective teachers/ineffective leaders, etc. Yet, these political stances that flood the world of public education are passed on to other likeminded educators decade after decade like a baton to other racists who are too weak to admit why they cling to these practices like a security blanket.  (This applies to people of color who support educational leaders who are ineffective at their jobs.)

What is surprising is that these same individuals want parents and community stakeholders to worship a particular educator's position, their education at top schools or their so-called expert status without any proof that they have ever addressed positive student outcomes. What have these educators accomplished or addressed when it comes to the achievement gap? What have they done to address the problems associated with failing schools in the U.S. --- problems that are long standing problems that have not changed in decades? 

Unfortunately, these same individuals will do anything to keep their jobs even if it means supporting racist practices --- although certain circles recognize these practices as simple norms and values (tokens, however, are alive and well in these circles , which includes the only one or two allowed rule --- even if "all" of the "would be tokens"are more qualified). In fact, it is common knowledge that many of these representatives rarely visit any low performing schools --- schools where not even one student is proficient in reading or math due to leadership incompetence. It is also strange that these same representatives who receive contracts do not place their programs in neighborhoods in close proximity to the parents and students that they serve, instead, they place them in areas hard to reach so the parents cannot find them. If they do not interact with the parents and students, on the ground, how can they make decisions on their behalf at all or make decisions about who should work with the parents? Moreover, if t hey do not even know what educational efforts have been fully implemented (based on the low number of proficient students across the nation or in their state) then what do they do, who are they serving and why? 
 
Clearly, educators such as Ms. Ravitch ( historian ), Randi Weingarten (AFT president), Lily Eskelsen García (NEA president), etc . protect this dyfunctional environment and 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. They even support policies that have been in place for decades that, in essence,  use funds meant for poor children to cover teacher salaries and have succeeded in rationalizing the practice.  (Watch  here  to learn more by scrolling to 25:39 and 1:16:00 or to better understand how they contradict themselves or downplay the ways in which " money is distributed in schools .) That they point to  Sean Reardon's research or similiar studies to explain poor students and income inequality --- (research that he is even confused about)  is shameful, too 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 poor whites, too --- or school-based concerns for the sake of fairness. 

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) set 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. 

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 questionable studies that clearly try to offer ineffective school leaders and teachers excuses rather than useable studies that actually seek to  improve student achievement ? In reviewing invalid and unreliable research findings and results, parents and community stakeholders must identify the 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 own roles, including the weak school-based practices that they promote (as if no one notices) or 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 then 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 or who have low expectations for poor students of color, and 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 when the should be placing effective teachers in the classrooms of children of color) 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 .)

White parents, in particular, do not think that they have to worry about their children's schools as long as they are attending predominately white schools. But, they are wrong since only  32 % of white (privileged?) 12th-grade students were proficient or above proficient in math while 68% were not proficient . Moreover, 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 zip codes, 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 teacher quality is needed across the board or, at the least, 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, who are 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. But has he reviewed the scores of white students? At best, he has forgotten to do his homework and is not qualified to speak about the real cause(s) 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 fails to mention how black students are treated in schools or the disproportionality of discipline practices in schools and 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. (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 --- if opportunities to learn or equity existed for all students? Would they finally start reviewing and implementing best practices tied to school effectiveness? Would they reach much higher as teachers, 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 are truly effective at education students.) 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 core content subjects tied to (uniform) high, quality standards and assessments  --- in support of high, quality classroom instruction?  

Sanders and Rivers in 1996 and Barber and Mourshed in 2007 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... and Effective Teachers/Student Achievement: What the Research Says By James Stronge.

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 or trade bona fide research for a (fad or) innovative plan masquerading as a 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 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 for all children --- a system free of racism and inequities --- a system that understands that all children count and matter--- anything less will not do....