Comparing NY and NJ’s Opt-Out Fever

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New York and New Jersey are neighbors, but you’d never know it, at least judging by disparities in their anti-testing movements.

Today EdWeek quotes N.Y. (actually national) anti-accountability activist Leonie Haimson:”Until the standards are revamped completely, the tests are redone completely, and all stakes removed from these exams, the opt-out movement will continue.” And, indeed, parents on Long Island,  N.Y.’s epicenter of opt-out,  are still refusing Common Core-aligned tests for kids in high numbers/

But N.J.’s opt-out furor, last year pitched high, seems subdued. Even in wealthy white Princeton, the superintendent reported that “refusal numbers appear to be lower than last year.”

Although we won’t have accurate numbers on test refusals until August (if you’re interested, a Long Island-based group called “United to Counter the Core” has a spreadsheet that relies, in large part, on word of mouth), it’s not too early to try to divine reasons for the disparities in opt-out fever between the two states.

State Educational Leadership:

New York’s is a hot mess. Governor Cuomo, once a fierce advocate for data-based teacher evaluations, high standards, and accountability, is now the most flaccid of reformers. Originally, 50% of teacher evaluations would be informed by student outcomes — too high, but you had to love the ambition. Now it’s 0%, at least during the four-year moratorium. The Common Core itself is under review and the Board of Regents has been taken over by union pet Betty Rosa. Even New York City’s Chancellor Carmen Farina advocated opting out of state standardized tests before she was dressed down by state school chief MaryEllen Elia.

In contrast, New Jersey’s state leadership has been steadfast and solid. Commissioner David Hespe hasn’t wavered in his support of both Common Core and PARCC. (Christie flip-flopped on the former but now he’s not even here so who cares?) The State Legislature passed a bill in 2012 that tied 30% of teacher evaluations to student outcomes, but Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz smartly collaborated on a pull-back to 10% last April. The State Board of Education, N.J.’s version of the Regents, has been consistently supportive.

In other words, leadership at the top matters.

Union Role:

NYSUT is all in.  Last year Chalkbeat reported that New York’s teacher union President Karen Magee told  Capitol Pressroom host Susan Arbetter, “I am saying that I would urge parents at this point in time to opt out of testing,”  Earlier this week NYSUT issued the following press release:

Sending a strong message to Albany that more needs to be done to stop the harmful over-testing of students, some 2,000 delegates approved resolutions calling for a complete overhaul of the state’s grades 3–8 testing program; swift implementation of the Common Core Task Force’s recommendations; and new assessments that are created with true educator input to provide timely and accurate appraisals of student learning.

Sometimes the broken-record-strategy is effective, if educationally-unsound.

While NJEA maintains its anti-PARCC activities, leaders stop at the line of directly advising parents to opt-out. There’s also the matter of funding: last year NJEA spent $15 million on an ad campaign attacking PARCC but this year I haven’t seen TV spots or heard radio ads (although the union is offering free anti-testing lawn signs). NJEA  maintains opt-out resource pages on the website of its PAC called “NJ Kids and Families,” however the unified outrage so distinctive last year has receded.. Maybe it’s the fact that the first year of data-linked teacher evaluations identified only 3% of teachers who were either “partially effective” or “ineffective” (a sign that 10% is too low but perhaps a necessary transitional strategy).

There’s just no getting around the fact that the Garden State survived PARCC and teacher evaluation reform.

Parent Advocacy:

N.Y. has an extremely active group called NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE). This is a joint venture of many anti-reform groups in NY  including Movement of Rank and File Educators, Save Our Schools, Stop Common Core in NYS, Change the Stakes, Class Size Matters, ParentVoicesNY, Time Out From Testing, Edu4. Opt-Out Long Island.  NYSAPE  has even prevailed on some school superintendents to support its activities. That’s a phenomenon unseen in N.J.

N.J. does have parents that urge test refusals. The primary group is Princeton-based Save Our Schools, and it continues to offer, in collaboration with local unions,  a series of “Take the PARCC” sessions intended to show parents that PARCC is too hard or too inappropriate or too unlike testing from past generations. This tactic seems odd to me: do parents really want our kids to learn the same material that we learned as schoolchildren? Is pedagogy and course content so static?

 N.J.’s anti-reform blogging contingent remains active, but its messaging, so consistent last year, seems, at best, diffuse. Bob Braun is raging about non-existent lead-poisoning conspiracies in Newark and Mark Weber is making graphs. Where’s the outrage?

Apparently it’s coagulated on the other side of the Hudson River.

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