Are Teacher Unions in a “Terrible Situation” or in the Catbird Seat on Standardized Testing Issues?

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“The teachers’ unions are in a terrible situation,” he said, “because on the one hand they want to argue that expectations are too high. But the question that lurks behind that is, ‘So you mean teachers don’t have any impact on students?’ ”

That’s Jeffrey M. Stonecash, professor emeritus of political science at Syracuse University, in today’s New York Times article on teacher unions’ fight against standardized testing and the “diverse allies” they find in conservative Republicans.

The article illustrates that  teacher union leaders perceive no peril in their stance against standardized testing; instead, there’s almost a sense of glee in what some view as a victorious discovery of an issue uniting various factions. These factions include right-leaning protectors of state rights (a labor historian says, ““It is a powerful issue, by virtue of the fact that the right is also against it”);  “pressure within their own ranks” (the reference is to the Badass Teachers Association, 50,000 members strong, who describe their raison d’etre as “every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning”; and parents who resent testing, “particularly in wealthy suburbs and neighborhoods of New York City.”

“Does it give us a platform?” said Karen E. Magee, the president of New York State United Teachers. “Absolutely.”

The article cites critics of anti-testers (see today’s related Star Ledger article on a great “We Raise N.J.” conference, held yesterday) who say that “the unions are not acting out of concern for children but are trying to undercut efforts to institute tougher evaluations. Here’s Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children:

 “It’s right at the point when we finally actually have the kind of improved tests that so many folks petitioned for and advocated for for years,” said Jonah Edelman, the chief executive of Stand for Children, an advocacy group that supports charter schools and teacher evaluations that incorporate test scores. Mr. Edelman said that the organization supports legislation to reduce unnecessary testing, but “encouraging parents to opt out is not an effort to reduce overtesting.”

One quibble: the Times writers claim that NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT President Randi Weingarten “say they support parents’ right to opt their children out of the tests but have not gone as far as Ms. Magee and some local chapters in encouraging parents to do so.” Here’s Diane Ravitch:

BREAKING NEWS: AFT President Randi Weingarten Endorses Opt Out!
By dianeravitch
March 31, 2015 //
This is great news!

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted and wrote on her Facebook page yesterday that she supports parents who opt out of the PARCC tests. She had previously spoken out of behalf of opting out when participating in a parent-teacher rally at Fort Drum, New York. Yesterday she said that if she were a parent of children in the public schools of New York, she would opt out too.
“Parents don’t want their children to be treated with a one-size-fits-all education approach. And educators know that students are more than a test score, so let educators teach and put an end the toxic practice of punishing students, schools and educators based on test results.”

Sounds like encouragement to me.

Re: NEA, its February 15th Interim Implementation Report states that “NEA staff have worked with the United Opt Out and, through NEA’s regular communication vehicles, shared information on how to join a national resistance effort to the testing burden.” (United Opt-Out, however, says that the report didn’t go far enough for the “courageous educators who truly have taken a stand against these tests.”)

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