Sunday, March 27, 2016
Opt Out is grassroots, parent led.
There have been several articles in newspapers across NYS that have inaccurately portrayed the opt out movement. Today, the Buffalo News, which has been completely pro-corporate education reform,had a misleading and inaccurate article painting the parent-led opt out movement as driven and influenced by the state teachers' union NYSUT. I will not link to that article, but here is my response the reporter and the newspaper editor.
Dear Ms. Lankes,
I have several concerns about your article published in today's Buffalo News. As someone involved in education policy at several levels I can tell you that two of the four main points contain misleading statements in your piece.
"Driving the replacement of reform-friendly members of the Board of Regents – including former Chancellor Merryl Tisch and former local representative Robert M. Bennett – and shifting the makeup of the group to one that predominantly favors NYSUT’s agenda."
In third week of January 2016, NYS Allies for Public Education(NYSAPE) crafted a press release calling for parents to contact members of the Board of Regents and to support Betty Rosa for Chancellor. NYSAPE also encouraged parents to contact their legislators to advocate for several new Regents candidates as well. It would not be until around February 23rd that NYSUT put out a Member Action Center alert for teachers to contact their legislators. Parents were far out in front in their advocacy for the Board of Regents selections resulting in only Rosa submitting her name as a candidate for Chancellor, most likely due to public pressure led by parents. In the replacement of Regent Bennett a year ago, a similar parent-led pressure was far out in front of NYSUT.
"Fueling a parent-generated opt-out movement that led to 20 percent of New York students sitting out of standardized tests last year, the highest number in the country."
NYSUT President Karent Magee called for parents to opt out at the very end of March 2015, virtually at the midnight hour as the testing started in only two weeks. The vast majority of families had already made their decision to boycott the assessments by this date. NYSUT was late to the party and had little influence on the massive boycott. The term "fueling" is very misleading. In fact, NYSAPE leaders had been trying for months in 2015, and in 2014 as well, to get NYSUT leadership to support opt out. It was the families of NYS that "fueled" the opt out movement. To give NYSUT credit for playing a significant role in increasing the number of opt outs is inaccurate.
"Along with its 600,000 members, NYSUT had access to another key resource – parents. The teachers union and parents led a movement to opt students out of standardized tests.
The union encouraged parents to direct their anger to local state representatives, flooding them with emails, phone calls and letters to show their discontent at the polls."
Again, NYSAPE and parents using social media were far ahead of NYSUT, yet you portray the state-wide union as being the driving force behind the force for change in the Board of Regents that was clearly led by parents.
How am I aware of this information? I had a front row seat as a co-founder of NYSAPE and a union Executive Board Member of the Hamburg Teachers Association. Several times over the last year or so, I would share with my fellow Hamburg teachers action alerts from NYSAPE and then follow up weeks later with a similar action that was released by NYSUT. Many times NYSUT was absent from advocacy related to testing and Common Core while parents in Facebook groups around NYS were organizing their efforts. Many teacher union members complained on social media about the lack of advocacy on the part of NYSUT leadership to fight testing, Common Core and teacher evaluations.
Your article gives NYSUT far too much credit for the resistance to the Regents Reform Agenda put forth by former Commissioner John King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. You are correct that NYSUT did use its money to influence elections, similar to other employee unions, business associations and big-moneyed advocacy groups but the opt out movement and changes to the Board of Regents were driven by parents. There are Opt Out Facebook groups both state-wide and regionally that total over 50,000 members. These social media groups have been the driving force behind education advocacy that has been resisting to harmful education reform movement.
Sadly, in my opinion, this is another article that is part of the continued bashing of teachers and their unions by the Buffalo News. I also believe there is a concerted effort by state education officials, state and national "AstroTurf" groups, and some individuals locally here in WNY to paint the opt out movement as union controlled or influenced. A balanced article would have sought out one of the many opt out parents here in WNY to see who influenced their decision to boycott the state assessments and advocate for changes in Albany. As a parent, educator, and union member, I can tell you that opt out is a truly grassroots movement free of union influence.