Response to Sun-Times Article on My Opt-Out Blog Post

I just read the Sun-Times article about my blog on the PARCC. First, I am not in line with being portrayed as an “activist” principal.  I am a principal who publicly voices my professional knowledge in regard to education policy that affects our schools.  I’m no more an activist principal than the person who wrote the story is an activist reporter.

There were two parts to my blog post. The first was related to my support of the Blaine PTA opt out.  It was made up of my letter to parents–clearly stating that this opt out is a parent initiative and that I support it.  It also clearly stated that all parent decisions—either way—would be respected.

The second part was about my own professional beliefs in regard to testing.  This article took one analogy in my statement, ignored the rest–especially the content of my original letter–and made it look like we are attempting to coerce people into opting out, when our communications with parents–as demonstrated in the letter–clearly indicate the opposite.

The article also said I “ramped up” my “rhetoric” when I reported 55 percent had opted out.  This was not ramping up rhetoric.  It was a direct answer to a simple question the reporter asked me over the phone.  She asked me how many opted out, and I gave her our totals.  How that became “ramping up rhetoric” is beyond me.

The article is an inaccurate portrayal of the reality of what’s happening in our school. The omission of anything having to do with the original letter adds to the misrepresentation. I have developed great respect for the work of this particular reporter over the years, and am not certain how she came to understand the story in the manner it was portrayed. I believe it was an honest mistake. However, it was indeed a mistake.

Fortunately, the article contains a link to the original post.  I encourage everyone to just read it for themselves.

This small side issue has the potential to take away from the far more important big picture the post attempts to address. In the spirit of remaining focused on that big picture I offer what I believe is one of the most important sections of the post:

Over-testing has also given politicians a way to blame public schools for things that are clearly a result of the actions and inactions of the failed politicians themselves. When students in a low-income neighborhood show up on Day One of kindergarten three years behind their counterparts in a high-income community, that is not the result of the failure of public schools; it is the result of failed public policies; it is a result of a political system that has failed to deliver critical human services to the people who need them most. From Rahm Emanuel to most local alderman, our city’s politicians have failed low-income children from conception to kindergarten, and they use attainment based test scores to chastise public schools for picking up the pieces of their monumental failures.

So no.  We do not need to get used to this.  We need to stop this.

9 thoughts on “Response to Sun-Times Article on My Opt-Out Blog Post

  1. As a Blaine parent who doesn’t always agree with the goings on at Blaine and an educator I appreciate Mr. Laraviere’s candor. No one has discussed how all children are taking the test including ELL (English Language Learner) children who may or may not have the test translated in the language they speak and children in special education with the accommodations being longer time. We have 15 weeks of school left and I will be giving PARCC twice, NWEA (again) and REACH. As a parent said in the article “… Just bite the bullet…” How many bullets does it take to see if kids are learning? Ask questions, research it, know why your kids are being tested. While I will give the test my daughter will be sitting this one out. Thank you for speaking out for those of us who can”t.

  2. I run a business, I wish I could say “blame pubic policy if my product doesn’t work” or “don’t hold me to objective measurements.. I’ll tell you if we are doing a good job”. Teachers at Blaine and elsewhere haven’t had these tests before yet that hasn’t prevented decades of decreasing standards and students who are less and less prepared. Why are teachers internationally, able to test (in many cases more than here), teach, etc… while getting better results?

    1. Apparently you did not read carefully. I’m glad you used the business metaphor. I will use it to help you understand.

      If your businesses suppliers send you damaged goods, that is not the fault of your business. It is the fault of your supplier. As a business you could reject the damaged goods. Schools in low income communities don’t–and should not–have that option. At the same time the worth of these schools should not be measured by comparing the performance of their students against the performance of students who started school three years ahead of the low-income children BEFORE A SINGLE LESSON WAS EVER TAUGHT.

      Imagine being in a situation where you are forced to accept the damaged goods, sell them, and then have to take total responsibility for the condition of those goods despite the fact that you had NOTHING to do with the condition of those goods when they arrived. Your business was then measured by the comparing the condition of its goods with those of a similar businesses that received goods that were in pristine shape when they arrived. You did your best to improve the condition of the goods; in fact you worked miracles in a few cases. However, you simply could not get your goods in the kind of condition that your competitor’s goods were in. It should be clear to you that it is not the performance of your business that is being measured; it is the performance of your supplier.

      In my example, PUBLIC POLICY effects the conditions of students when they arrive on the first day of kindergarten. In that respect public policy–our society–is the supplier, and it is the greatest determinant of student performance. Schools that get students in Kindergarten who are at or above grade level do well. Schools that get students far below grade level spend years trying catch students up. I stated it in the article and I’ll state it again here: it is a failure of public policy. “Over-testing has also given politicians a way to blame public schools for things that are clearly a result of the actions and inactions of the failed politicians themselves. When students in a low-income neighborhood show up on day-one of kindergarten three years behind their counterparts in a high-income community, that is not the result of the failure of public schools; it is the result of failed public policies; it is a result of a political system that has failed to deliver critical human services to the people who need them most. From Rahm Emanuel to most local alderman, our city’s politicians have failed low-income children from conception to kindergarten, and they use attainment based test scores to chastise public schools for picking up the pieces of their monumental failures.”

      As far as my own school is concerned, we are the highest performing neighborhood school in the City of Chicago. Just three years ago we were the fourth highest performing neighborhood school in the city. Obviously, our standards have not gone down. They’ve gone up. You might want to do your research before posting.

  3. To read this article…is to breathe again. I am a special education teacher and art therapist in CPS at a South side Elementary School adjacent to a public housing project. It has become excruciatingly painful for me to administer tests and perform test practices that I know are harmful and psychologically damaging to my students. It is even more disheartening to know that systemically politicians and the powers that be happily “blame the victim” (the oppressed) for societies shortcomings. How anyone, cloaked in their self righteous indignation, can ignore the injustice of inequality. Flippantly point a crooked finger at the city’s impoverished, segregated schools located within marginalized communities that have been exposed to chronic institutionalized racism for ages and ignorantly decide that a school is failing based on a test…is beyond my understanding. I have seen children cry, shake uncontrollably, urinate on themselves and just give up when faced with the reality that they could not make sense of the test. Students who have IEP’s who have disabilities ranging from traumatic brain disorder (missing parts of their brain/gray matter), to anxiety disorders, cognitive learning impairments, learning disabilities, and autism are expected to perform on a standardized test when they are not…standard. Would you make someone who requires glasses to see, take a driving test without their glasses? It is time for the community to activate and protect our children. It is time for the community to take back the educational process. It is time for us to look deeply and to question and critique what makes a school substandard? A test score…or the absence of a library, art, language classes, or band. It is time for teachers and administers to breathe…again…to shake the numbness from our limbs and have confidence in our skills, assert ourselves as professionals and take back our schools. Thank you Mr. Laraviere. I know you do not see your self as an activist but if I may refer to the definition, it states: An activist is a person who campaigns for some kind of social change. Someone who’s actively involved in a protest or a political or social cause. Grassroots activism is needed instead of blind submission.

    “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.”
    ― Mahatma Gandhi

    Thank you for taking the stand and speaking your truth.

    1. Hello Rochele,

      I’ve received my share of responses that have moved me, but this one….

      I am not an outwardly religious man, but I don’t know how to express this any other way than to say that sometimes the power that put us on this earth sends us angels to let us know when we’re either off the right path, or on it. Thank you for being mine.

  4. Principal LaRaviere,

    First of all, I am coming to you from the Suburbs, Deerfield to be exact, and I want to say thank you! Thank you for speaking your mind and trying to right a wrong. Thank for you being a pioneer and not a sheep flocking with the herd. Thanks for having a voice, and using it. Amazed how many in power, don’t. This is chance for educators to take a stand and right a wrong. I would strongly urge anyone interested in hearing from a few educators to google the following :
    “Crawling out of the classroom, an open letter to my students.”
    “Storaasli PARCC testimony hearing”
    You will see passion from other educators, much like yourself, and the stress that this puts on teachers as well as students of all ages.
    I told our District 109 Deerfield Superintendent, Mike Lubelfeld, that it will take brave “Pioneers” and strong educators needed to take a stand and make a difference. I told him to take a stand and not to follow the flock- too easy to do that.
    You have done all of that with your words and actions, and that is appreciated greatly whether in the suburbs of Chicagoland or the great neighborhoods within the city limits.
    Again, thank you for your passion and taking a stand!

    1. People will come around in their time. It took me 3 1/2 years as a principal to get to this point. I had to work within the system and follow the chains of commands for quite awhile before coming to the realization that the politicians in charge of this system where acting with intentional malice toward our schools–that I would have to take a risk and reach out and inform the residents and voters of this city if I wanted to make a real difference. Again, others will come around in their time. In the meantime we have to be the best advocates we can be.

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