PTA is Opting Out of their Affiliation with Parents and Teachers

Today, Shannon Sevier, Vice President for Advocacy for the National PTA, wrote a post in the Huffington Post, titled, “I’m Opting Out of Opt-Out.” She begins her piece with her memories of when her daughters were in school: “I also remember some feelings of anxiety before the tests, but at the same time, the importance of the assessments in helping my children’s teachers and school better support their success through data-driven planning and decision-making.” I would just like to point out that according to Shannon’s LinkedIn, her daughters were in either 8th or 9th grade during the 2013–2014 school year, which is the first year that student test scores were included as part of a teacher’s effectiveness rating. Ms. Sevier may believe that she was helping her daughters’ teachers and school with all that “data-driven planning and decision-making,” but I don’t think that her daughters’ teachers felt that way.

Ms. Sevier continues to speak for the National PTA by writing that they do “not believe that… opt-out is an effective strategy to address the frustration over testing or that opting-out helps to improve a given assessment instrument.” As one of the many leaders of the opt-out movement in New York, I am confident in responding that opt-out is the most effective strategy that has given parents a voice in their children’s education, an education that has been co-opted by Bill Gates. You may be familiar with Bill Gates as he has donated up to $2.5 million so far to the National PTA.

Mahatma Ghandi once said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you.” For the first couple of years of the opt-out movement, they ignored us. The past couple of years they have laughed at us. After last year’s astonishing 240,000 opt outs in New York, they are now attacking us.

Ms. Sevier unsurprisingly delivers the oft-repeated threat of “non-participation can result in a loss of funding,” and includes such ramifications that “would impact minorities and students with special needs disparately, thereby widening the achievement gap.” First, there has been no loss of funding due to parents boycotting state testing. Last year, Chancellor Tisch, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (Chair of the Education Committee), and even the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo stated publicly that there would be no financial penalties to schools that do not meet participation rates due to opt outs. In fact, as recently reported in Capital New York, NYS Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia was quoted as saying, “Nothing would occur (financial penalties for opt outs) unless you, as Regents, want that to occur.” Second, there has been a widening achievement gap in New York, but it isn’t due to opt out, it’s due to the developmentally inappropriate Common Core standards and highly manipulated cut scores for the tests aligned to the standards. Award winning NY Principal, Carol Burris reported in the Washington Post, “In New York for example, one of the first states to roll out the new curriculum, scores from Common Core tests dropped like a stone — and the achievement gaps dramatically widened.”

Before Ms. Sevier closes her piece by encouraging “all” of us to work together to “ensure assessments are executed properly and provide valuable information to parents, teachers, and school leaders about the growth and achievement of students,” she reminds of us what the National PTA advocates for with regard to improved assessment systems by recommending states and districts:

  • ensure appropriate development
  • guarantee reliability and implementation of high quality assessments
  • clearly articulate to parents the assessment and accountability system in place at their child’s school
  • bring schools and families together to use data to support student growth and learning

As the parent of four school-aged children, the PTA’s recommendations seem to fall short of what they should be advocating for:

  • smaller class sizes
  • enriching curricula that includes music and the arts
  • funding schools fully, equitably, and fairly
  • supporting teachers in the classroom
  • decoupling student test scores from teacher effectiveness ratings
  • stopping the unfettered collection of our children’s personally identifiable information

The National PTA needs to put the “P” and the “T” back into the PTA instead of being a propagandist for Bill and Melinda Gates. If they do not, they run the risk of the PTA standing for “Profits and Testing Association.”

Founding member of NYSAPE, Elementary/Middle School Principal, father of four children, education advocate/activist & blogger. Follow me on Twitter @tfarley1969

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