An Open Letter to Illinois State Board of Education Chairman, Reverend James Meeks
Part 3 of a three-part series on PARCC testing in Chicago
cc: Bruce Rauner, Rahm Emanuel, Christopher Koch & Barbara Byrd Bennett
As you are aware there is a strong PARCC testing opt-out movement in Chicago. You attempted to quell this movement by sending CPS a sternly worded threatening letter. After your letter was released our CEO, Barbara Byrd Bennett, sent a message to principals claiming parents could not opt their children out of the PARCC; that students needed to be presented with the test and refuse it themselves. She wrote, “Per ISBE, all schools are required to present PARCC testing materials to all eligible students and provide them the opportunity to test, for each unit.
ISBE & CPS have also claimed that even if a student refuses one of the nine units of the PARCC, schools must present each one of the nine individual units to students, effectively forcing them to refuse testing nine different times. This is in direct contradiction to ISBE’s own policy. ISBE has affirmed that all units of the PARCC are required to establish a reliable and valid assessment. If this is the case then the refusal of one unit effectively invalidates a student’s assessment. Thus, it makes absolutely no sense to present units 2-9 to students if their refusal of unit 1 invalidates the entire test. Why on earth would you attempt to force children to take a test that has already been invalidated? Your logic is incongruous from start to finish.
In your own letter, you state the following:
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will be held to the requirement to test all students with the PARCC assessment…. Finally, we are putting CPS on notice that if the district fails to administer the PARCC assessment to 100% of its eligible students, ISBE is authorized to withhold all of CPS’:
- Title I administrative and program funds [aid for students from low-income households]
- Title III administrative and programs funds; [aid for students for whom English is a second language]
- IDEA administrative and program funds [aid for students with disabilities]
Please be clear that loss of these funds is entirely within the control of CPS. If CPS administers the PARCC assessment, like every other district within the state, it will not be sanctioned in this way.
So Reverend Meeks, this is what gets ISBE to take a stand–testing?
This is what gets you to threaten to withhold money for disadvantaged students–PARCC?
ISBE has no credible record of standing up for the students in Chicago’s public schools.
When the Emanuel administration artificially boosted its graduation rates by giving high school diplomas to alternative programs that ISBE itself does not recognize as high school diplomas, ISBE stood idly by as CPS and the mayor instituted this practice aimed at creating a false mayoral campaign talking point. ISBE issued no threats. ISBE took no stand.
When Rahm Emanuel entered CPS into a financial arrangement with three of his campaign donors to give them $17 million in public funds that would have otherwise funded pre-kindergarten, ISBE issued no threats. ISBE took no stand.
When CPS announced it would pilot an initiative to extend its so-called “School-Based Budgeting” into the staffing of teachers serving special education students, and risk violating the rights of these students by understaffing their special education program—in violation of federal law and ISBE policy—ISBE issued no threats. ISBE took no stand.
When CPS expanded poor performing charter schools and marketed them to low-income communities, the achievement gap between those students and their middle income peers widened. Yet ISBE issued no threats and took no stand.
When CPS manipulated the test score data of those same charter schools, ISBE issued no threats and took no stand.
ISBE has stood idly by over the past two decades as CPS has made one policy decision after another that has been detrimental to the educational future of Chicago’s children. You made no threats, and you took no stand.
While ISBE is neglecting its responsibility to act on behalf of our children, testing technology companies and venture capitalists have publicly declared their intent to “disrupt” public education and use test scores to label it as “failing” in order to make way for parasitic market forces that waste our tax dollars on “solutions” to the problems that they themselves have manufactured. Billions of dollars have been siphoned from state and municipal education budgets to fund their failed strategies—accountability based testing being one of their most popular, but least effective and most disastrous strategies.
Now, when parents, teachers, and administrators across the state are moving to address this threat by opting their children out of testing–now you decide to act. You did not take a stand when student learning was at-risk, but you’ve decided to take a stand now that the profits of testing companies are at risk.
Now you’ve decided to act.
Now you’ve decided to take a stand.
Now you’ve decided to stand your ground.
ISBE is certainly standing its ground Reverend Meeks. It is standing in the way of our children’s education with its assess-and-punish agenda. Crassly, you claim getting every student to test is a “civil rights issue,” to prevent children from “getting lost.” Yet ISBE has been testing for decades and more children get lost every year. Your test-based accountability efforts have failed our children for more than a decade now and it’s time for ISBE to admit its failure and end this nightmare.
A Crash Course for the Good Reverend
I am aware that you came from the ministry and have no background in education, so I suggest you spend some time studying the works of educational practitioners and academics who’ve spent their lives studying and implementing practices that have actually been proven to work, instead of bowing to the will of politicians and businessmen whose only interest in our schools is to figure out schemes to get their hands on the tax dollars that are supposed to fund those schools.
Spend some time studying the work of Professor Michael Fullan who guided Canada from being in a position similar to the United States to one of the top five school systems in the world educational rankings. Here’s a short paper he wrote about what is most effective in driving educational change. If you don’t fancy yourself a reader, here’s a video of Dr. Fullan you can watch instead.
You might want to take a look at Lawrence Picus’ very influential Evidence-Based Approach to Estimating School Finance Adequacy. Former Deputy Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch’s book Reign of Error and Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World and How the Got That Way, can help you get a better understanding of both the dangers of the reform agenda you are blindly following and the practices of international school systems whose students are doing far better than ours. Here’s a video of Ms. Ravitch at Chicago’s City Club and a first and second video of Ms. Ripley discussing her book, which follows three American high school students to schools in three high performing school systems in Europe and Asia, and discusses the differences between those school systems and ours.
Speaking of international school systems, many politicians and their appointees often lament our students’ mediocre performance on international assessments. However one thing these politicians repeatedly fail to do is to look at the educational practices of the countries ahead of us. Ever wonder what their school systems are doing to get so great? Hint: It’s nothing like the agenda you, Rauner, and Emanuel are pushing. In fact, it’s the complete opposite, and none of them test their students anywhere near the amount we do. So I recommend you look at the research of the Center on International Education Benchmarking to get a sense of what these countries are doing. Here’s their last book. Here’s a related video summarizing the book, and you can visit their web page for their latest reports.
These practices might be a tough sell, because there’s little money to be made by corporations and investors when the goal is to actually educate our children.
For now, you appear to be content with digging in your heels and forcing principals and teachers to engage in ideological posturing with students and their families. As I wrote in my letter to Ms. Bennett, I will not be following ISBE’s ridiculous directives aimed at intimidating children and families into taking tests they do not want to take. Over 80% of our students have already refused the PARCC by submitting letters from their parents opting them out of the test. No child under my watch whose parents have opted him or her out of the PARCC will be sat in front of any computer to take it, nor presented with any materials. The test wastes enough time on its own. We are not wasting even more learning time by engaging in CPS’s and ISBE’s test-driven political theater.
Our teachers and students will be engaged in learning–not posturing. I suggest you pick up the previously mentioned readings, and do the same.