What Does the Opt-Out Movement Want?

Charging that Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State legislature in "Albany failed to act in the best interest of the children of New York," NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) has issued a new manifesto for the opt-out movement - A New Framework for Public Education in NYS: Building a Vision that Serves ALL Students.

According to NYSAPE spokesperson Jeanette Deutermann, Nassau County public school parent and founder of Long Island Opt Out, "Grassroots organizations worked feverishly this spring to push for legislation to correct the mistakes made by our legislators and our Governor last year. Once again, the Albany leadership failed to respond to the growing tide of discontent. Parents will respond in kind this November. While others may celebrate this hollow victory of a fleeting reprieve, parent organizations will continue to fight for what is in the best interest of our children and the health of our public schools.  Our message has been loud, clear, direct, and unwavering. The time for excuses are long gone."

Bianca Tanis, Ulster County public school parent and educator, explained "Until we ensure that our schools have the resources to meet the needs of all children, test scores are meaningless and only serve to widen the opportunity gap, hurting the most vulnerable students. A test driven accountability system allows those in power to distract the public from their refusal to fully fund our schools and denies all but the wealthiest, a well-rounded and child-centered education."

The NYSAPE framework includes a list of what "NYS Allies for Public Education believes all schools must have in order to foster creative, critically thinking, confident, well-rounded, independent, self-motivated, culturally competent, and well-prepared students who can work cooperatively and excel post-high school, whether they choose to attend college or pursue a vocation." NYSAPE argues that in the United States today the "misguided focus on test scores distracts from critical conversations about what all students need to be successful and about the goals of public education." The focus on testing lacks educational validity and "most importantly, hurts students." 

The NYSAPE Framework is divided into sections on standards, curriculum, assessment, resources, the needs of children who receive special services, and the right of all children and families to privacy.

The key points in the standards section are that learning standards should be "based on developmental norms rather than a systematic back-mapping of any given college and career readiness benchmark"; Standards should be created by "classroom educators and content area specialists experienced in the grade level for which they are creating standards, with feedback from parents, community members, and where appropriate, students"; "Standards must be broad enough to allow local teachers, as professionals, to determine which methodology, content, and instructional practices and assessments will best suit the needs of the communities and students they serve"; and "Standards in all grades must address cultural, racial, religious, gender, LBGT, & class competencies."
 
Curriculum initiatives, according to the NYSAPE must be adequately funded, culturally relevant to students, include experiential learning, be infused with music, art, physical education, and technology, and "offer significant opportunities for students to exercise choice and direct aspects of their own learning."
 
Because of NYSAPE's leading role in the opt-out movement, assessment is a key part of the framework. They demand a significant reduction in the number and length of statewide examinations and that "federally mandated statewide assessments must be created by New York State classroom educators. This includes test question construction and reading passage selection. In a system that includes local assessment, classroom educators MUST have the primary role in constructing or selecting the NY should pursue joining the 'innovative assessment' alternative allowed under ESSA. This should include a significant reduction in the number of statewide exams (potentially to three grades) and the construction of a "system of systems" that relies primarily on local assessments (including consortia of schools or districts). Such a system could also use sampling techniques. Educators, parents and members of the community must participate in defining the goals for assessment and key criteria/standards for a "system of systems." In addition, they want to stop the "misuse of assessment data. "Statewide exams must be decoupled from any high stakes including but not limited to teacher and principal evaluations, grounds for school takeover or closure, use as admittance criteria to selective schools, promotion, programs, and retention." State officials and school district personnel have an obligation to notify parents and guardians of their "right to refuse standardized tests for their child(ren)." The Parent bill of rights should require that the outsourcing of student personal data to third parties by New York State or school districts "without parental consent be done with full transparency, identify of these third parties, and the reason for the sharing of student information."

NYSAPE is also demanding full and equitable funding for public schools, medical, dental, and nutritional services for students in need, reasonable class sizes caps, well resourced libraries staffed by full-time librarians, counseling support, modern technology, recess and lunch breaks for children, and high quality Pre-Kindergarten.
 
To improve teaching, NYSAPE wants the state to "prioritize the recruitment and retention of teachers from diverse background, provide teacher mentoring programs "to help new teachers navigate their first few years of service," and staff development to prepare teachers to address the needs of special and English language learners, and more cooperative planning time.
 
Questions, comments, and suggestions should be addressed to Bianca Tanis at nysapeframework4ed@gmail.com.

From July 8-10, educators, parents, and activists will rally in Washington, DC for three days of action in defense of public education. Featured speakers include author Jonathan Kozol, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, and Diane Ravitch. On July 8 there will be a People's March for Public Education and Social Jusice. Save Our Schools is organizing a conference for July 9 to be followed by a July 10 Coalition Summit and organizing session. The program for the rally and meetings includes full, equitable funding for all public schools; safe, racially just schools and communities; community leadership in public school policies; professional, diverse educators for all students; child-centered, culturally

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