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Open Letter to Ms. Donna Bahorich and Texas SBOE Members- ‘Next Generation’ Assessments and Accountability

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October 29, 2015

Texas Education Agency

Ms. Donna Bahorich, SBOE Chair

1701 N. Congress Avenue

Austin, Texas, 78701

 

RE: Open Letter to Ms. Donna Bahorich and Texas SBOE Members

Good morning, Ms. Bahorich.

I wanted to extend my thanks for the opportunity to attend the forum on Tuesday.

Texas Next Generation Assessments

I am still not clear on why the state has chosen to adopt “Next Generation” Assessment and Accountability.  As I mentioned in my correspondence earlier this week, everything I have found on this concept originated in common core and pertains to the globalization of education, or at a minimum, nationalization.  Based on the numbers this week, common core appears to be failing our kids, nationwide; unless, of course you are Arne Duncan and want to blame the recession that Barack Obama says we are not having.

The pressing question that I did not get to ask at the event pertains to the students.  While the assessment and accountability system focuses on the schools, the students are STILL ultimately left behind.

The domains look nice in charts and refer to the tracking and measuring the growth of students, but this is not accountability to or for “the student.”  When a school fails there is a path of repercussions. When the school fails to educate a child or group of children, there is no recourse.  None.  Do you have plans to address this through the new Commission or Legislature?

Our mainstream, regular ed, or academic kids are being left behind due to the ever evolving policies, rules, standards, experiments, etc.  It was upsetting to hear Katy ISD’s Allison Matney use the word “rhetoric” referring to parents being concerned and upset about assessment, accountability and standards.  It was clear she has not had to watch her child struggle or spend a year and a half thinking that her child had a learning disability, when in fact the child was being used as a guinea pig, by people that haven’t seen the light of a classroom in years.

Further, there are so many subjective aspects to the indicators in the domains, who will police them to ensure the schools are not over congratulating themselves on their success, while Johnny still can’t do math?

The measurement struggles are real in every subject, taking teacher time away from the kids and putting their focus so tightly on the numbers that the kids miss out on real instruction.  When the weekly quiz or test scores are not up to snuff, we have to measure and re-cut and try again in the next unit, never really giving the kids a chance to master what was done in the previous unit.

Surely, over the course of time that could work itself out to produce something worthwhile, but no one knows how long that could take. Meanwhile, our kids are missing out on formative years of their learning.  Our teachers are not afforded the opportunity to be creative or use their own gifts to convey the lessons.

As one teacher put it, “These reforms have increased the importance of spreadsheets, columns of data, evaluations by inexperienced observers, and the accounting of data in every teacher’s life.  The focus has gone away from people, students, parents, teachers, staff, volunteers, and onto data.  The most important elements of teaching cannot be quantified onto a spreadsheet and put into a power point. When data is given importance above all else, time and resources are directed as such.”

The math process standards are clearly the greatest behemoth.  Our kids went from learning one method of math to another and are now being taught multiple methods, some of which are subjective.  Math is solid, factual and unchanging, or it is supposed to be.  This is creating chaos and confusion in the minds of our children and preventing our teachers from succeeding.   Research shows that material is being introduced at levels inappropriate for the developmental age of the child.   The students that have endured these multiple transitions have missed valuable building blocks to their math foundation.  There is no recourse for that.  The SBOE is not going to feed those kids when they can’t earn a living in the future.   The legislature can’t write a law to mitigate the damage.  The judicial system is not going to provide reparations to them. Unelected committees and commissions will not make them whole.  Meanwhile, we just keep experimenting, tweaking and writing pretty policy to justify the positions and seats that people hold who are disconnected from the kids that they are supposed to be serving.

It was said by someone at Tuesday’s SBOE forum, “Sometimes it makes me think we should just cross through the math TEKS and start over.”  What harm could it do?  Surely no more than the damage that is being done. Ultimately, no one really knows at this time where our kids stand.  18 to 24 months is just a “guesstimate” so that there is some benchmark to work with.

While some board members concur that they understand many students throughout the State may have gaps of 18 to 24 months in their learning, I have yet to hear a solution of recourse or remediation.  One suggestion by an administration official at Katy ISD was that parents will have to work with teachers on a case by case basis to remediate them.

There are two significant problems with this:

  • Some of the school districts, such as Katy ISD, have not been forthcoming with or proactive in acknowledging these student deficits. Countless parents do not yet realize that their children have been subjected to this failed system.  Recourse… there is none.  The districts have not been forced to be “accountable” and acknowledge this information.  Parents are floundering, many of whom think that their kids have learning disabilities, others who just think their kids cannot meet the changing standards.  Communicate!  The districts are clearly not going to take ownership for this.  The SBOE gladly accepts the perks of the authority that comes with the job and should have to be “accountable” and honest with the people in this state about the real status of education.  There is not a lawyer in this country that will sue in favor of “regular ed” kids.  You have no reason to fear repercussions.

 

  • Why can’t you just be honest with people?  …not a select group of people; not the few that are fortunate to get invited to private, invitation only forums so that we can check off the parent/community box, but the public.  Just inform and advise.  It really is very simple.

 

Teachers do not have the time to assess and plan remediation for all of their students.  A teacher with 150 students hardly has the time to teach, while he or she is plugging answers into measurement spreadsheets to figure out how many students chose the right a, b, c or d answers on a weekly unit test.  It would take grade level assessments for years prior to the present grade of the child to be able to determine where that child is in each of his core subjects. Teachers do not have the time nor authority at this point to be able to administer such an undertaking.

So, we are back to no recourse.

The most disheartening thing I witnessed during the presentations was the casual references to what the Department of Education wants from the states.  When and if this gets corrected and we restore education to its proper role in our communities and our government, the states will not be aligning themselves with nationalized education or breathing a sigh of relief over some silly fact sheet that does not ultimately result in reduced testing.  Ms. Bahorich, Texas has done a wonderful job of convincing parents that we wear the big boy pants around here and that we don’t conform to the Feds.  We pass legislation outlawing common core, only to have one of our largest school districts in the state tell us during a board of trustees’ presentation that the reason some of their curriculum has to be common core based is they are limited to the choices that the SBOE allows them.  They further went on to say that their analysis of the TEKS standards showed that TEKS aligned roughly 65% with common core standards. The truth is really this: We do not have the courage to stand up to the Federal Government or the Obama Administration and truly reclaim education. We don’t have the courage to be the ones to mean what we say. 

Department of ED Fact Sheet on Testing Action

  • That factsheet ultimately does NOT lead to less testing or less pressure on the classroom for testing.  It is a feel good, “nudge” from the administration to make you feel better about sticking these programs to our kids and teachers.  It is simply another form of manipulation by this administration to make us all one big happy family. If you are not happy, be quiet and sit down because you look like the bad egg because you do not see how wonderful we are for agreeing with you.

 

  • New data released this week by the NAEP (surely you know the Obama posturing on testing over the weekend was about to lead to bad news, right?) indicates that for the first time since the 90’s there have been declines nationally in scores. It further indicates that yes, we are closing the achievement gaps between white children and minority children; however, this is due to the white students declining and the minority children remaining flat. This is exactly the prediction that was made when parents had tantrums concerning nationalized standards.  There will be two classes of students if this continues… the exceptional GT type student and the low achievement students.

 

  • Minority groups throughout this nation should be up in arms over these findings.  How we could sit and pat ourselves on the backs Tuesday night because Barack Obama agrees we are testing too much is entirely too much for me to fathom.

 

We do not have the guts to call the Department of Education what it is… Unconstitutional.  We do not care enough about our citizens to brave the fight and spare our children from the overrun of nationalized/globalized education.  We do not have the desire to insist that our taxpayers fund education at a state level instead of having to get on our hands and knees and grovel to the federal government to send our citizens’ money back home to educate their children. At least, up to this point, we have not.

 

Trillions of dollars have been spent through the federal system trying to “improve” education.  While it began as a valiant effort, it has allowed corporations who have no bonafide interest in our kids, other than their profits, to drive what happens in the classroom and has given government a monopoly on our kids’ minds.  We must regain control of our taxpayers’ money, the education and privacy of our children and most importantly, the future of our country.

 

While networking with teachers throughout the state, the consistent messages are, “…we cannot teach under these conditions, our kids are not learning a foundational education and we are concerned for the future our nation because our average kids have now become the at risk kids.”  Teachers’ hands are tied and their voices are silenced while lobbies such as TASA and TASB (AASA on a national level) teach their superintendents and board members how to quell dissension.  Teachers fear for their jobs and their reputations.

 

Parents are using family time at home, after working all day, to teach and re-teach kids, doing the best they can to ensure that what is not getting taught in school (or is being taught with unnecessarily confusing methods) somehow gets conveyed to the children.  Others are paying as much as $50 per hour for math tutors, as parents whom are educated in math or whose professions are dependent upon math cannot help their children with their lessons.

 

Meanwhile, kids are leaving the public school system for college to pay for remedial math and reading in their freshmen years. My grandfather came home from the war, built indoor plumbing for his mother and went off to work for Humble Oil.  He helped engineer the Baytown refinery for Exxon.  He never went to college.  He helped contribute to building America with his high school education, but kids are leaving high school and can’t perform basic math to graduate into a freshmen level math class?

 

When Elijah Cummings targeted an innocent American citizen, using government as a weapon, Lois Lerner had the opportunity to say no. Yet, she didn’t.  When she chose to continue to perpetrate unethical actions against an innocent citizen, no one on her staff spoke up.  They dutifully carried out their respective orders.  When the agency of the IRS invoked other agencies, such as the FBI, OSHA, EPA and the ATF to target this innocent citizen, no one spoke up.  No one stopped it.  No one raised the flag that it was wrong. One person could have changed it all.

 

If one person in a position of influence in education has the fortitude to stand up and say the direction that we are going is wrong, they will not have to stand alone. If we have one maverick who says that we will stop writing our policies and developing our plans based on what the federal government nudges us to do or lobbies and corporations pressure or buy us off to do, there will be an army of parents and teachers to help lead the charge.

 

Perhaps if you all take the time to listen to the kids, parents and teachers (the rhetoric that Matney referred to) instead of focusing on the “experts” in school administration, business and lobbies who stand to gain financially from guiding your decisions, we can get back to educating our kids.  The alternative is to continue the path you are on, giving speeches about how wonderful a&a really are for the school system, when ultimately, that is what will destroy it and our kids’ futures.  Not sure how you sleep with that at night.

Sometimes less is more and Texans are looking for less federal government intervention in the business of rearing our kids and we expect you to stand with us.

Parents are catching on and will be assessing and holding our elected representatives accountable, at every level.

 

Sincerely,

K.M. Belcher

Kim Belcher

All the course choices and stadiums in the world cannot compensate for the loss our children have suffered. It is time to send our children back to school in our neighborhoods, to be taught by people they know, under the eyes of parents and a small number of administrators who themselves are part of a community of norms, beliefs, and learning. Let the children walk to school and, from there, take a bus to the stadium or the auditorium, and not the other way around. There will, of course, be some local schools that fail and that is something the parents, teachers, and administrators in that area must work to improve, while those of us able to help do help, as we can while respecting local self-governance. The results will be imperfect, as are all products of we flawed persons. But right now, in the name of national standards, national goals, and a national ideology, essentially all of our schools are failing. And that is a tragedy we can and must address.”  Bruce Frohnen 

 

 

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