Friedrichs Decision

The Supreme Court issued a 4-4 decision today in the Friedrichs vs. CTA case. This was pretty much expected, although there had been some speculation that they would defer their decision until a ninth justice was confirmed.

The result of the tie is that the lower court decision stands, which means that the right of public sector unions to collect agency fees has been upheld.

As noted earlier, there are other cases working their way through the courts, so we may find ourselves in another existential battle before too long; but for now, this chapter is closed.

Stop The Abuse

A couple of quick thoughts on why we not only need to support the opt-out movement, but why we need to be visible doing it. Please note the important caveat at the bottom.

Why We Need to Support Opt-Out
I’m sure it’s not necessary to detail everything that is wrong with the current state of standardized testing (The tests are invalid, they aren’t developmentally appropriate, they are being used in ways for which they were not designed, they rob time from students, they force the narrowing of the curriculum, etc., etc. etc.) It’s all been said already, but I’d like to point out two other things that we cannot allow to get lost.

First, the topic of receivership. Amidst all the hoopla about the so-called moratorium, most people have not noticed that state tests are still being used to evaluate school districts. Yes, the same tests that have been deemed so unreliable that they won’t count against students or teachers for the next four years, will still be used to determine which schools can be taken over by the state and, potentially, turned over to private entities.

Just to give a little more perspective on what the playing field looks like, the state actually removed some schools from the receivership list based on updated Federal designations, but Students First, a pro-charter school group who stands to benefit from schools being put into receivership, is threatening to sue, saying that the state violated the letter of the law.  Maybe not my best analogy ever, but this is akin to a funeral home operators association suing the state to prevent emergency room workers from working too many overtime hours.

Second, we often talk about standardized testing as child abuse. And while some would say this is hyperbole, it is a very real concern that countless numbers of disabled and otherwise struggling children are forced to spend stressful hours of time suffering through tests that provide benefit, not to them, their teachers, or their parents, but only to the corporations that produce them.

But the abuse that’s happening in Florida isn’t hyperbole at all. Last year a parent who was attending to her comatose child (who died later that year) maddie.JPGwas forced “to provide documents proving that he was unable to take the Florida-mandated test,” and this year a child who has cerebral palsy and cannot speak was denied an exemption, with the state further denying a hearing to reconsider the decision. This is absolutely insane.

These are just isolated cases, and Florida is a long way from us (in more ways that one), so we could easily look away. But these incidents are emblematic of the abuse that is taking place all over the country.  And we, in New York, are leading the way in the opt-out movement. How it fares here will likely impact its fate across the country.

Make no mistake, the opt-out movement is the best hope for making real changes and getting public education back on track. While Commissioner Elia denies it, the legislators we met with made it clear: test refusals were the driving force behind all of the positive changes that have happened thus far.

Why Our Support Needs to Be Visible
Nobody knows what this year’s opt-out numbers will be. While some proponents are hoping for record numbers, there is a big fear that the news of the moratorium and promises of changes to the tests will cause the movement to lose steam. We can’t let this happen. There are parent groups out their working very hard to get the message out that nothing has changed, and they need our help.


Along the same lines, there’s this:


I’m saddened to think about the terrible things that must have happened in the cartoonist’s life to cause him to have such contempt for the entire teaching profession. But regardless of the falseness of this message, it’s out there. And as we know, a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. Making this worse, we’ve heard this not just from the usual teacher-bashing corners, but from people who should be on our side as well.

Obviously our opposition to these high stakes tests goes way beyond the connection to our evaluations. As many of you know, SWRTA authored a resolution to be presented at this year’s NYSUT Representative Assembly which reaffirms our opposition to the current testing regimen even if they are decoupled from our evaluations. But even if the resolution passes, that’s not until the first week of April, and it’s not like that will get a great deal of press coverage.


Critical Caveat

We need to support the movement, but our role here is broad, not local. You have the right to speak freely as a private individual who happens to be an educator. But in or out of your classroom, when dealing with our district’s students and their parents, you should not be seen as advising students to opt-out of the tests. Your response when asked (even if they see you at the mall wearing an opt-out t-shirt) is that the final decision belongs to the parent.

Fact Checking Newsday – With Newsday

ndNewsday likes to claim that the teachers’ union drove the opt-out movement, but of course those of us living in the actual world of reality know that’s not at all what happened.

This has bugged me for a while and started me wondering if maybe there is some way to prove that opt-out started out as a purely parent led movement. If only news stories from the past were somehow still available…

If you do a quick search of the Newsday archive for the terms Opt-Out and test, you’ll find the first mentions of the movement in 2013. In that search you’ll find stories like:

LI Families React to New Testing Program
“Jeanette Deutermann (center), surrounded by Elizabeth Sendrowitz, Kristen Lavelle, Joanne Trupo, and their children, stand in the back yard of her home in Bellmore. The mothers are trying to organize parents in boycotting the tough new state tests coming up in mid-April”

LI students, parents uneasy over more rigorous tests
Under the subhead “Some parents protest”:  “It feels like a big win for parents because it shows that our school district is listening to what the parents want,” said Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore mother who has led a standardized testing “opt-out” movement.

State test score drop could strengthen parents’ opt-out efforts
“Parents can see opting out as a legitimate option to use in our fight to take back control for our children,” said Jeanette Deutermann, 40, a parent of two children in North Bellmore, whose Long Island Opt Out page on Facebook has nearly 9,000 members. “The test results help our cause by forcing districts to publicly acknowledge the flaws in the state’s testing policy, instead of defending them.”

Long Island students’ state test scores plunge
“This year’s testing marks the second time in four years that the state has upped the academic ante — sparking protests from local school administrators and teachers, and a test boycott this spring, with hundreds of parents having their children “opt out” of taking the exams.”  Notice the construction of that sentence – the protests from administrators and teachers are clearly shown as distinct from the parents’ test boycott.

What you will NOT find in any of the coverage from 2013 is any mention, or even insinuation, of teacher involvement in the opt-out movement. That was a fabrication they (and others) created later on when it became expedient to put the blame on teachers and make our unions look bad.

At least you can say this for the Newsday editorial board – they’re smart enough to know not to waste their time reading Newsday.


Two Big News Stories

New Regents Chancellor
As expected, Regent Betty Rosa was elected today as the new Regents Chancellor, replacing the outgoing Merryl Tisch. This is great news as Ms. Rosa brings actual classroom experience to the post (in contrast with Ms. Tisch, whose primary qualification was that she is very rich, and so just knows what’s good for everyone else). Ms. Rosa wasted no time in helping define the contrast, telling reporters “If I was a parent and I was not on the Board of Regents, I would opt out at this time.”

As previously noted, the Education Transformation Act seriously limits the power of the Regents in certain areas, and there are still a number of reform minded non-educators on the board (including newly elected Vice Chancellor T. Andrew Brown, who is a lawyer). But this is nonetheless great news as, by any reasonable measure, Merryl Tisch was a destructive force against public education and Ms. Rosa offers hope that the interests of New York’s students will again be the primary concern of the Regents.

Great Legislative News (with qualifiers)
Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) introduced four bills into the Assembly that would undo much of the damage done by last year’s Education Transformation Act.  If passed, these bills would:

  • Decouple teacher evaluations from test scores and direct the Regents to create a new evaluation system created by a committee of certified New York State teachers.
  • Reduce the role of standardized tests, shorten the tests, and increase transparency.
  • Provide alternative paths to graduation for students who cannot pass Regents exams
  • Repeal the section of the law that allows the state to take over struggling schools (or turn them over to private entities)

Together, these bills are like a wish-list for saving our schools from Cuomo’s anti-public education agenda. The question is, are these bills actually viable, or is this just a political game? It’s not uncommon for bills to be introduced that have no chance of passing just to earn political points for the sponsor. Considering that Kaminsky is running for the seat of convicted Senate Leader Dean Skelos in a special election next month, that may be all this is: an empty ploy to squeeze out a few extra votes in a tight race.

Also, two weeks ago, when we were in Albany meeting with legislators, the message was pretty consistent – the focus is on the GEA and foundation aid, and there won’t be any traction for making changes to education law. Do these bills change the dynamic?  Or is the will just not there among our legislators to do the right thing?

Kaminsky is a Democrat who, like nearly all Democratic Assembly members, voted in favor of last year’s budget. Getting these bills through would mean a whole lot more Democrats would need to be persuaded to go up against the Governor, and the Republicans in the Senate would have to do the same.

That said, the bills are out there now, and this is an election year. With enough pressure it just may be possible to move these bills forward and get our legislators to act in spite of themselves. We’l be keeping an eye on this, and may very well be asking you to start contacting lawmakers.

Stay tuned.

Upcoming Events

There are a bunch of events happening in the next couple of weeks. Let’s try and get at least a few SWRTA members/retirees/friends to each of them. If you think you can go, let us know. And take pictures.

Public Education Forum Hosted by Students Not Scores
Featuring Dr. Joseph Rella (Comeswogue Superintendent)

Wednesday March 23rd, 7:00 PM
Ronkonkoma Fire Department,
505 Hawkins Ave, Ronkonkoma

Click here for more information and/or to reserve your seat


Reclaim Our Schools Rally
Informational picketing organized by the Hauppauge TA, Port Jefferson TA, Port Jeff Station TA, and Rocky Point TA, to continue the fight for the schools our children deserve.

Tuesday, March 29th from 4:00 to 6:00PM 
In front of John Harvard’s
Corner of Route 347 and New Moriches Road
Lake Grove

Click here for more information


Education, Inc.
Education Inc. a documentary about how money and politics are changing our schools is being shown at St. Joseph’s College, sponsored by Bayport-Blue Point TA, Bellport TA, Middle Country TA, Patchogue-Medford CT and Sayville TA. Click here to learn more about the movie. Tickets are free.

Tuesday, March 29th, 7:00PM
St. Joseph’s College Auditorium
155 West Roe Boulevard, Patchogue

Click here to reserve tickets


Following up on a successful event at Roosevelt Field, which got great press coverage, this event is being planned with parents in Suffolk for Saturday, April 2 at the SmithHaven Mall.  The purpose is to reach the community directly and target an audience that often would not attend one of the forums.

Because SmithHaven Mall is private property, this is technically not a demonstration, protest, or rally, but simply a group of people out for a morning of shopping who all just happen to be wearing the same T-shirt. There will be no signs, organized marching or leafleting. It’s a perfect opportunity to do something meaningful and fun about an issue of great importance, and maybe get a little shopping done in the process.

Saturday, April 2, 10AM to 12PM
SmithHaven Mall
Lake Grove

Click here for the flyer

Again, if you think you can attend any of the above, let us know.

The King’s Silver Lining

John King Confirmed
The Senate confirmed John King as Education Secretary yesterday by a vote of 49 to 40 (eleven Senators did not vote, including Cruz, Rubio, and Sanders).

Many SWRTA members, along with thousands of other teachers and parents across the state, had written to our Senators, imploring them to reject King. We are happy to report that Kirsten Gillibrand voted with her constituents and her conscience rather than her party – she was the only Democrat who voted against the nomination. This is actually a hard thing for politicians to do, so why not take a minute and reach out to Senator Gillibrand and thank her for doing the right thing?

Unfortunately, our other Senator, Chuck Schumer, took a slightly different approach, putting politics ahead of children, and turning a blind eye to what went on his state as he voted in favor of rewarding King for his arrogance, incompetence, and destructiveness. Feel free to let him know we don’t look kindly on his vote and are sick and tired of Democrats betraying public schools and taking our support for granted.


A Silver Lining?
A few weeks ago, teacher/blogger Peter Greene wrote about why he was hoping that King would get confirmed. And while sarcasm and snark make more than occasional appearances in his writing (his blog is called Curmudgucation), he makes a great point. It’s conceivable that King is more likely to hurt, rather than help, the reform movement:

“…in New York, John King did what dozens of pro-public ed activists failed to do– he got thousands upon thousands of parents and taxpayers to see just how crappy the reformster plan for education was… I’m just hoping that King can do for the nation what he did for New York. Spread opt out across the country. Galvanize parents. Tout reformster ideas with so little sense or restraint that even the most casual observers will start to think, ‘Hey, those seem like really bad policies.'”

Here’s hoping.

Changes in the Regents
Last week, the Legislature voted to fill the three vacancies on the Board of Regents. While there were some great candidates who did not make the cut (such as Marla Kilfoyle), this is still great news. The new Regents are “Elizabeth Smith Hakanson, a retired teacher … Nan Eileen Mead, a parent who has two students in public school [and] Luis Reyes, originally from Puerto Rico, who has championed bilingual education and was endorsed by leaders of the test-refusal movement.”

As Chalkbeat reports, “The Regents have gained seven new members in the last two years, and are set to elect a new leader in March — changes that are likely to shift the dynamics and policy direction of the board, which makes decisions about K-12 and higher education in New York state.”

Since the Education Transformation Act is still in place, there is only so much that the Regents can do, but it is still great to know that the pro-public education mindset is now in the majority. This is especially important since one of NYSUT’s main lobbying points is that the Legislature should be taking direction from the Regents in crafting or changing education legislation.

For the first time in a while, we have valid reason for some optimism.