Saturday, March 12, 2016


New York State United Teachers has issued a fact sheet  on parents opting their children out of this year's upcoming grade 3-8 state exams. In addition the NYSUT officers have sent a letter to local union presidents that covers opt-out. The link to the fact sheet is buried as part of the fourth story of the weekly NYSUT Leader Briefing. The letter is for members only.

First the good news:  NYSUT fully agrees with activists that school districts will not lose any funding if 95% of a district's students do not take the state tests.

From the NYSUT fact sheet:

The failure to meet the 95 percent participation requirement has no impact on a district’s state aid. SED is not authorized to withhold state aid based on assessments participation. 

That language is quite clear.

On parents opting their kids out of the exams, including members who are parents opting their own children out of the tests, NYSUT is "pro choice" as they say this in the introduction:

State tests will still be administered this spring, with the results used for “advisory” purposes only. NYSUT fully supports parents’ right to choose what is best for their children— including NYSUT members who decide as parents to opt their child out of state tests. 
On the issue of what we as educators can say to encourage the anti-testing movement to spread, here the news is kind of mixed.  Again from the fact sheet:

NYSUT encourages members to exercise their rights as citizens and professionals to speak out against the harmful effects of high-stakes tests in general and to consider refusing the tests for their own children.  NYSUT will defend teachers against disciplinary action if a district pursues 3020-a charges. (See page 5, below) 

Sounds good but when we get to page 5 below we see a note of caution:

What to do if You or one of Your Members Faces Disciplinary Action

 Locals and individual union members who advise parents or students to opt out of state tests may face risks. 

  •  A teacher who, in conversations with students or parents, takes a position on testing contrary to the school district’s educational program may potentially be subject to disciplinary action, e.g. charges of misconduct or insubordination. The Supreme Court has held that when a public employee speaks in his/her capacity as an employee, the speech is not constitutionally protected. 
  • However, because standardized testing is a matter of public concern, a local speaking as a union, or an individual member speaking as a parent or citizen, about educational concerns over standardized testing, for instance, in a letter to the editor or in a statement to the Board of Education, is protected by the U.S. Constitution at least so long as they are not encouraging other parents or students to opt out from a test. 
Nothing in there to say that the full force of a 600,000 member union will be there standing with anyone who is disciplined for speaking out. We don't favor a teacher who is a conscientious objector pontificating in a classroom or taking or even hinting at any kind of action against kids who want to take the tests but something stronger than this NYSUT fact sheet might help the movement. Maybe a fact sheet isn't the place for this but certainly President Karen Magee and the other officers could show their support for educators who take a stand on this issue.

NYSUT's officers did send a letter to local presidents on the testing issue. You need to be a member to access the complete letter but here is a part of it:

As yet another testing season gets underway, NYSUT continues to affirm the rights of parents who expressed their frustration in record numbers by opting their children in grades 3-8 out of the deeply problematic state assessments.
The decision to opt your children out of these assessments is an intensely personal one, and NYSUT’s policy is to stand behind those who make this choice on behalf of their children.  Our fact sheet assures NYSUT members that your union stands behind you if you choose to opt your children out and delineates members’ rights and responsibilities.  At the union’s last Representative Assembly, NYSUT delegates passed a resolution which directed NYSUT to ask all of its members who are parents to have their own children refuse the grades 3-8 assessments.  After informing yourself on the issue, including your local’s position and priorities, we ask you to consider adding your own children to the growing list of those who are refusing to take the tests.  Please reference the NYSUT fact sheet for what you need to know about opting out.  Note that the number of students opting out is one of many factors that could affect the decision to remove a school from receivership.  Because of these varying conditions at the local level, the resolution acknowledges local autonomy on this as in all issues.  

The officers ask members to "consider asking your own children to the growing list of those who are refusing the tests."  Not exactly a militant labor call to action.  Then they partially contradict even that mild statement by saying, "Note that the number of students opting out is one of the many factors that could affect the decision to remove a school from receivership." Instead of standing with the parents, they use getting out of the dreaded receivership status as a way to discourage opt-out in certain districts.

The letter and the fact sheet are not exactly ringing endorsements for union militancy but considering the source, at least they are going through the motions.

If members are concerned that opt-out isn't really a big NYSUT's priority, this fact sheet and the letter to local union presidents on opting out are at least a small step in the right direction compared to the UFT leadership not getting on board at all with the parents on the opt-out issue.


Unknown said...

CTU is going to shut Chicago down for a day. NYSUT couldn't shut down a Starbucks.

Anonymous said...

Or a Trump rally.