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

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 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 are armed with the necessary information  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 overlooking:  research focusing on best practices and lesson learned?   Are they failing to mention the increase of overly-disciplined students and/or expelled students or the increase of disproportionality in special education, including the increase of  overly-medicated students  in certain states, districts or schools? (Have they asked --- Is it student anxiety over testing (???) or being placed with an ineffective teacher 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 to prevent accountability from happening. That these same representives, however, 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. From this stance, the U.S. public school system has many on-going concerns to address but how to educate children well should always be its main focus without educators trying to distort the purpose of schools --- as if teachers are the reason schools exist. In this light, they must stop creating distractions for failing to support student success.  

Given these facts, there are a wide-range of reasons why parents should remain active and speak up. They should get involved to learn about the structures and processes for hiring school representatives before they are hired. For instance, it is probably a given that many school systems still have a problem with the promotion of clientelism or patronage in which politics stands out as the function of schools --- rather than its true function. (Whenever you see a parent administrator promoting knitting classes rather than teacher effectiveness then clientelism might just be the culprit.) In other words, if legislative hearings are still needed in 2018 to address this problem who can really say what is going on. . .? But this only happens when transparency and accountability structures and processes are ignored or when "money, power and positions" are deemed more important than student achievement decade after decade after decade. It's a shame that parents still have to pretend that what is wrong is right and what is right is wrong.  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, of course, know "by now" why the majority of parents still want student achievement 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. And, so when ceremonial stakeholder working groups, etc. are established, there's still a profound need, of course, for stakeholders to know if their voices have been heard, especially if the goals of the group are ignored or the specific goals to serve underserved children are not even in their state accountability plan. 

Why do parents and community stakeholders still want these questions answered? They are not interested in normalizing ineffectiveness or pretending that the public school school system is working when it is not. Trust, therefore, is one issue. . . but the real elephant in the room that no one wants to mention is racism. (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 these concerns (ineffective teachers/ineffective schools, etc.) yet these concerns cling to conservative positions on education that are passed on decade after decade like a baton to other racists who are too weak to admit why they cling to these racist 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, job, their education at top schools or their so-called expert status without any proof that they have ever addressed positive student outcomes. They should at least ask: 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 --- or without asking why some schools do not even have one proficient student in reading or math. In fact, t hey do not even address the concern that some teachers have never been prepared to implement their state standards. In fact, some states are not even monitoring their districts' implementation of their state standards
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. 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 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....