An Open Letter to the New York State Legislature and Gov. Cuomo about Education Policy

Generally, I have no problem with the majority of the State Budget as the proper spending benefits everyone greatly. There will always be disagreement about individual expenditures and that is ok as it is natural to the system.

I do however have great issue with bad policy decisions tied directly into the budget that undermine the ability for children to succeed and the state to compete on the national and international stage.

There is absolutely no reason to undertake some of the outlandish educational decisions proposed when they are generally disagreed with by both voters and parents, which is why the opt-out rates are so high, by teachers, school administrators and educators in general which is why both unionized and non-union educators alike nearly universally reject it and by independent researchers throughout the world who prove using scientific process and not emotional opinions to reach conclusions.  Since you yourself and most of the elected representatives are not educators and have no education background I would expect that if you and the rest of the representatives were actually doing your jobs you would have already reviewed the vast knowledge base that says explicitly many of the proposed policies are flawed and detrimental to the long term success of students and the education system. Clearly, somewhere along the line that’s not the case because the bad policy is part of the centerpiece of the budget proposal. 

Amrein & Berliners from ASU, the Boston College Study, The Assessment Reform Group of the UK’s study, the Norwegien Government’s study, the Diamond & Spilaine study at Northwestern, National Educational Longitudinal Survey assessment by Reardon & Galindo, the NEA study all contain information about the problems with increased emphasis on testing as it relates to students performance.  I would summarize them for you but that’s not my job, what you need to know is I agree with the overwhelming assessment that testing is not the answer to producing better students and I object to my tax dollars being wasted on an endeavor that’s been proven ineffective.  I can find you even in a simple Google search of articles that go back to 2003 with the New York Times investigative research demonstrating back then it was problematic or a 2001 piece in the Washington Post stating the same thing and yet here we are in 2015 shoving the same broken policies at students.

Furthermore, there’s no evidence that linking student’s test scores to teachers is actually evaluating teacher performance.  Remember, even simple correlation when it can be found is never proven actual causation and many of the correlative effects come with caveats of the analysis not controlling for influences outside of teachers. The American Statistical Association pointed out the correlation problems and studies like Darling-Hammond, Baker, Guisbond, Mass Working Group and one put together by the Swedish government among others have demonstrated further even more of the problems trying to make false assumptions based on test scores and how the poor use of the system negatively impacts good teachers which has received coverage in the LA Times, New York Times, Boston Globe and others through their deep investigative reporting.  The Glazerman Mathematical Policy Research study, the Cocoran study for the Annenberg Institute, and the Harvard study by Goodman and Turner all demonstrate the tactic of tying student performance particular standardized test scores to the ability of teachers is completely flawed.  

And the problem with teacher evaluation scemas like this is they’ve been shown not to work for decades. Merit pay studies by Vanderbilt and Northwestern Universities demonstrated they didn’t work and the Stanford Business School and Harvard  provided an indepth analysis on why merit pay performance is a myth in general, even in the business world. the National Academy of Sciences provided several studies on how valued added proposals over the years were flawed and produced inconsistent and poor results when they were even able to find correlation and several business schools including Stanford and Penn have both demonstrated flaws in the evaluation systems being tied to performance, particularly performance of students as a way to judge teachers abilities.   There’s also quite a bit of investigative press coverage including by the New York Times, USA Today, the LA Times and many others, some dating back over two decades.  

What’s more is these tests are created and administered by private corporations who purpose is not to produce ready for the workforce students but return dividends to their shareholders.  They lack the transparency which devalues the public service they should be providing.  They thrive on poor performing tests in order to have a reason to sell preparation and tutorial materials.  They devise schemas to increase testing in order to reap more public funds to be funneled into their for profit private enterprise including the compliments of additional tests.  And, in order to ensure the tests produce profits they actively engage in fraud, produce tests with errors, score tests improperly and generally reap profits rather than providing actual value ads to the educational system.  The obvious coverage by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Bloomberg, PBS/NPR and several UK sources including the BBC that are all very easy to find on a Google search and it’s easy to find articles dating back the the 1990s but that’s just the tip of the iceburg.

Boston University released a study documenting how bad some of the tests were, several other academic studies exist as well as the Stroup study, but because these for profit companies are allowed to function with no transparency the types of research that should be done documenting the flaws in testing are few and far between.

There are several lawsuits regarding the opaque nature of these companies and the poor performance they provide in their supplied materials including against major players like  Walden, ETS, Pearson and others.  The problem is systemic and ongoing and yet it is continually allowed to happen because the profit driven entities are not being held effectively accountable and the only recourse is costly legal battles that will never give these children and their teachers back the time lost.  

And, now using all of this the State wants to turn around and farm out teacher evaluations that are already shown to be flawed to private organizations who have already show they cannot be trusted and do it with taxpayer money?  What possible logical justification could there be for such a reckless decision?

Furthermore, the State wants to allow public funds to be funneled away from the public education system for which the money was earmarked to private schools, some of which are run by for profits and some of which are run by religious organizations.  Removing money from public schools again has been demonstrated to be detrimental to those systems which have done it by reducing student population diversity, reducing the funds to public schools that allow for educational enrichments (such as through the arts, sports and other programs) as well as stripping needed funding away from struggling schools that in turn makes them struggle more.  I could cite all of the media coverage and investigative reports that were done once again but if the representatives were all doing their jobs they would already have read all of those articles that span case studies throughout the US from recent ones in Kansas to failed attempts in Chicago over a decade ago and the many examples that were cited during Bush’s push to try this during this Presidency.  

For starters, much like the previous discussion about for-profit testing initiatives the for-profit education world is mostly a bust.  For profit GED programs have been shown in a number of studies to produce less than High School qualified students and those student’s success rates when tracked throughout the workforces are well below their HS completed peers.  For profit universities continue to churn out less than valuable students which resulted in a string of lawsuits against big names such as Univ of Pheonix, Walden, DeVry, Corentian and others and is also under fire from the current presidential investigation.  The NACAC doesn’t approve of accrediting for-profit education and the investigative news coverage includes everyone all sides of the spectrum from Fox to PBS to the New York Times to Wall Street Journal to CNN exposing the fraud and profiteering.  If you think for one minute that somehow these problems are not going to proliferate elementary and secondary school privatization the representatives are being willfully blind to the facts.  Not only can it happen, it actually has with some privately owned charter schools, for example.  the LA Times and Washington Post have both covered examples locally for their readers and failed for-profit schools in NYC demonstrate this as well, but a more comprehensive study by integrityineducation sums it up nicely as a more authoritative reference.  

Secondly, private religious institutions receiving public funds through grants and vouchers seems like it would funnel money to a select few denominational systems who provide elementary and secondary education rather than spreading the available monies to all religions more equally and could be viewed as a violation of the first amendment by allowing the State to indirectly favor one set of religious ideas to another. Even if you reject the Constitutional violation argument, which, by the way, isn’t a settled debate since the a several of State Courts presented with the issue have said it is a violation of at least their own State Constitution when implemented incorrectly if not also the US Constitution as have many of the Federal District Courts that weighed in and even the most recent SCOTUS decisions was a 5-4 contentious split, there’s still another reason to reject funneling public education funds to private religious institutions and that is those schools lack any type of oversight or transparency in their processes and teachings and would be immune inherently to any attempt at trying to dictate what can or cannot be taught.  The opaqueness would be allowed because these organizations could say that any attempt at controlling how public money was used by them could place an undo burden on their ability to have their own religious beliefs.  It severely hurts minority religious views when the only voucher options are religions that are invasive to their beliefs.  It hurts LGBT youth when the only voucher options are religious organizations that believe they are lesser human beings.  It hurts young women when the only voucher options are religious organizations who impose paternalistic and mysogninistic viewpoints on them.  And, it hurts society as a whole when public funds are specifically to advance the religious beliefs of one as part of a core educational experience at the expense of the secular society we all must function in.   Organizations like the Anti-Defimation League, the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, SPLC, PFAW and others have information on their research into these problems and why vouchers and other money funneling isn’t a solution to the educational system.  

The final point of note I wish to make is that of a mother opting her children out of testing. Not just any mother, but Jessie B. Ramey, Ph.D. who is a member of the Unitarian Universalist faith who more eloquently breaks down the flaws of not only her own local testing philosophies in Pennsylvania but speaks to all the wrongs of the current structure including that of here in New York.

My point by now should be quite clear.  I, as well as all the sources I provided, reject the blatant attempts to undermine the health and well being of the New York State educational system as presented in the current budget.  It is my understanding that Assemblyman Jim Tedisco’s bill would address at least some of these concerns.  I implore you to take the time to consider what the current state of education is and how much negative impact the decisions in the Gov’s budget will be in light of the research here and reams of data available invalidating the assumptions used to allow the bad ideas in the budget to get this far.  

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About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny: https://thedmouse.wordpress.com/about-thedmouse/
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