Saturday, March 12, 2016

How Come Buffalo Students Don't Opt Out?

Speaking at today's Forum on Receivership and Test Refusal at Buffalo State, Dr. Barbara Nevergold raised the question of why Opt Out fever hasn't caught on in Buffalo Schools. While choosing her words carefully she seemed to be trying to avoid accusing the Opt Out leaders of ignoring Buffalo yet she said the conversation needed to take place and that people needed to be honest about it. 

I got my English degree from UB in 1986 so maybe it's been a while but I think the past 28 or so years spent teaching English and reading constantly have kept me sharp enough to know what I am hearing when someone is giving a message in less than direct language. A woman in the audience likewise asked the moderator what his goal was with refusal and pressed him to explain in specific terms what his goals were. She seemed to want numbers or percentages or to show that he wasn't serious if he didn't have any to give her. She continued to say that the teachers in Buffalo don't seem to care much for connecting with the community or at least that's the perception she had of them. Some teachers informed her that they'd canvassed city neighborhoods last summer and they'd knocked on 5000 doors to speak with known registered voters who'd shown up for school board elections. Her response was to ask if anyone came to Masten District and they informed her that they had. She then said nobody came to her door. Why such antagonism you might ask? Why hasn't Opt Out taken root in Buffalo? you may also ask. Fair questions. 

And for whatever reason nobody in the subsequent commentary mentioned the $64.000 word: DPCC. The recognized "parent group" of record in Buffalo has, since its inception, maintained an anti-teacher, anti-teacher's union position. They've painted teachers as self serving and mainly interested in financial gain and their own perks ahead of the good of students. Mr. Radford and Mr. McIntyre as frontmen of DPCC have allied themselves with groups like Buffalo Reform Ed and Students First while advocating for more charter schools and the closing of schools considered to be "failing." And as the primary "parent group" for the entire city, the leadership of this group has set an anti-teacher anti-union tone that seems to reverberate pretty loudly. They've been slow to welcome parents who didn't march in lockstep with all of their beliefs and marginalized parents who weren't part of their clique. Parents have shared with me their frustrations in trying to gain a foothold in the group only to finally admit it was a closed club and there was no point attending meetings where anti teacher skits were being performed while insiders smirked and snickered. 

If we're going to "have the conversation" as they love to say these days, I say fine. Let's have it. But it needs to start at the beginning. If anyone wants to look at suburban districts where Opt Out has caught on like wildfire they will see very quickly that it's not because of teachers but parents. Or in the words of the inimitable Beth Dimino who also spoke today, "NYSED and Co. angered the mommies." But in Buffalo the Test and Punish regime of NYSED has a formidable firewall against such a conflagration with the DPCC acting of its own accord in lockstep with the anti-student, anti-education corporate education reform agenda. It's pretty hard to ignite the same spark that lit up suburban parents around New York and the rest of the nation when the parent group of record is working overtime to put it out. Mr. Radford is recently involved in another parent group calling itself NYPALS. Its agenda is Pro-Common Core, Pro-Testing. Here's a sampling of Radford's rhetoric from PoliticoNewYork: 

“The point is that we have really a minority of people who have taken over the conversation without factoring in that the vast majority of people have opted in,” said Sam Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo and one of NYPALS’ founding members. Radford referred to last spring, when more than 20 percent of the state’s eligible third- through eighth-grade students refused to take the state standardized, Common Core-aligned math and English language arts exams."

So let's be honest and lets' "have the conversation." There's a lot more to it than pointing one finger at the Opt Out movement leadership and another at teachers. Parent involvement drives Opt Out not BTF or NYSUT or my kid's homeroom teacher. My three youngest sons have never taken the New York State Assessments and they never will. That's the spark that starts this thing rolling. And parents are the only ones who are going to spark it. 

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