Yesterday was my children's first day back to school. Instead of my annual tradition of hosting a "Back to School" coffee for all of my fellow moms where we enjoy the peace and quiet by making loud conversation and interrupting each other, I went up to the state board meeting to testify on my friends' and our children's behalf. In return, my friends cheered me and toasted their coffee for me. It takes a village.
Someone needs to speak up as the true parents because these "reformers" are doing plenty of it for us and that just makes me hopping mad. If there's any commonality among all of the things that these politicians keep saying, it's that these changes/ "reforms" are occurring because they are "for the children". When our teachers speak out against this, they are accused of trying to "defend the status quo." So it really is up to us parents to tell our stories and explain how the laws at the state level are negatively affecting our kids' educational experiences. We need to explain what we want in our schools. The problem is that many parents don't really know how to connect these dots between our supermajority and high-stakes testing, for example. That's why many of us across the state are advocating and making noise.
Yesterday's board meeting was standing room only. On the heels of the Tony Bennett email-gate, the press was very interested to hear what Glenda Ritz and the D.O.E. were going to do with the A-F grading system of schools. Right before I got up to speak, I was told that I had to limit myself to 2 minutes. UGH! My whole speech (which I will paste down below) was about 4. You can see and hear what I got to say, if you go to the website and click on Part 2 of the August 7th meeting and go to minute 60:24. Right after I spoke, came my "BFF" (best Facebook friend) Phyllis.
Phyllis Bush, public education advocate extraordinaire and founder of the NEIFPE group, drove the two and a half hours to Indy on her birthday with several other devoted members of her Fort Wayne lime-green brigade. Phyllis did an excellent job, saying that she is really bothered by this "faux accountability" that we are going for in our state. She asked the board to put a "pause" on this system and first talk to the teachers, parents and kids who are impacted by these grades.
In the end, Ritz said that there was definitely manipulation of the formula last year (hell-o Tony) and that there were investigations that needed to continue.
I was really bummed not to give my whole speech. Ah well. I'm sure there will be another time. You readers can support our kids by being sure to write to these board members. And the governor. And your state legislators. Join my organization, ICPE-Monroe County. Get active. These reformers who demean and marginalize Glenda Ritz, who continue Tony Bennett's agenda despite our votes, and who continue to tote "let parents choose for their child," are failing to get our message: WE CHOSE GLENDA RITZ TO LEAD. We must vote OUT these obstructionists to Ritz's policy in 2014 and 2016. Here's what I was going to say in its entirety:
"Good morning. My name is Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer. I'm here today instead of getting my kids off to school on their first day back because, after watching the last board meeting online and reading the newspapers lately, I decided that it was important for you all to hear back from parents.
I have 4 children and the youngest one is in 3rd grade this year. It is become of this, the fact that he will begin the massive testing of IREAD3, ISTEP and so on, that I felt compelled to come today.
There's a drastic difference between what school was like for my oldest, who is 19, as compared to what it's like for my youngest, who is nine. When oldest was in third grade, there was time for hands-on projects, science experiments, and recess. His day was an hour shorter and after school we had time to play in the creek behind his school with friends before we returned home to snack and homework.
My nine year-old is in school from 8:30 until almost 4 o'clock and he gets one recess of about 22 minutes a day. He brings home fill-in-the-bubble sheets every week. There is very little sign that he is doing any science and social studies because so much time is devoted to assessing and benchmarking his progress to show growth for the ISTEP. When he gets home, it is time for homework and then I am making dinner. He has no down time to explore a leaf floating in a creek. And this is a direct result of testing. More than that, it is a result of the high stakes attached to them.
If our schools weren't afraid of failing test scores, and the fear of repercussions from the state, we might not have had our school day extended so that they can fit 90 minutes straight of instructional time on reading that is demanded by the state and test prep to ensure results. Any educator can tell you that test scores are not the end-all, be-all of learning. Any parent can tell you that her child is so much more than a test score.
I want my children to learn to think outside the box, not fill in the bubbles. I want them to be able to discover their passions and be creative--those things cannot be found on a test. I want them to respect differences of opinion and resolve conflicts peacefully and other traits of good citizenship...but without playtime and recess, how will these skills be learned? I want my teacher to be free to follow children's interests and create her own assessments. I want my teacher to not be afraid to go off script but to be able to meet my child where he is in his development and go from there. Instead, our state has enacted the IREAD3 which determines my little boy's future. Why should a 40 question test from the state decide if he goes on to the fourth grade instead of his teacher.. who has been evaluating his progress and knows his level best?
I voted for Superintendent Ritz because she understands that kids (including my own) are losing the joy of learning because of the emphasis and overkill of testing. I fear we are raising a generation of children who think if it's not on the test, it's not important. Also, we are raising kids in a pressure cooker of testing.
I heard about a child who told his teacher before the ISTEP, "Don't worry, teacher! I've got your back! I'm going to do well on this test so you don't lose your job!" This is unacceptable for a kid to feel that so much is riding on his testing performance. Another friend's child was paralyzed with fear that the NWEA was going to determine whether or not she would on to the next grade. Why should kids feel this much pressure? And THIS is why so many parents voted for Glenda Ritz: we want educators who know what is developmentally appropriate to be guiding our children's education.
We don't need an A-F system to show us the magic that is going on in schools. Parents did NOT ask for this system. We already knew the test scores. It's not a surprise that the schools with the highest concentration of poverty are the ones with the lowest scores. My kids eat a well-rounded breakfast every morning. Many kids go hungry. My kids have been read to every night since they were infants. Many kids are not. Do we honestly believe that doesn't make a difference? Do we honestly believe than an F describes the magic of how teachers take kids from hunger and chaotic backgrounds.. and inspire them and teach them self-regulation AND to read??! Regardless of the speed with which it happens!
If we are going to grade our schools, we parents prefer that they be graded on something other than test scores. Someone decides that cut score. Let's grade our schools on whether or not they are offering a broad curriculum. Do they have enough funding to have small class sizes? Do our schools all have art, music and P.E.? There's not enough money for that in many districts. Do our schools have a certified librarian in a library? Do our kids have free time that is child-directed? Is there recess? Does the teacher have a degree in education is able to understand different developmental levels and learning abilities and how to bring them all to their full potential? Because it is not just content; it's how to get it across to that unique little boy or girl. $46 million spent on testing could be way better spent on ensure these other things.
At the last meeting, I saw you [look right at Dan Elsener] stopped Superintendent Ritz in mid-sentence. I wanted to hear her proposal to tweak the IREAD3. So did my friends. We want an end to this testing as punishment. My son who has started 3rd grade today only has one shot at childhood. And the policies that many of you have supported are threatening the quality of that. I'm here asking you to let our Superintendent, a professional who is the expert here in literacy and who knows how to assess that progress, lead us...with YOUR FULL COOPERATION.