Short Stuff 29.3

Long Island Teacher Boycotts Common Core Tests

Beth Dimino is an 8th-grade science teacher and president of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association in New York. She announced in February that she would not administer the Common Core tests to her students this spring.

Dimino is one of the leaders of a growing opt-out movement in the area and throughout the United States. Last year, more than 20,000 Long Island students refused to take the tests.

In a letter to her superintendent, Dimino said: “I will not distort curriculum in order to encourage students to comply with bubble-test thinking. I can no longer, in good conscience, push aside months of instruction to compete in a statewide ritual of meaningless and bankrupt test preparation. I have seen clearly how these reforms undermine teachers’ love for their profession and undermine students’ intrinsic love of learning.”

“The next logical step,” she told Long Island Press reporter Jaime Franchi, “has to be the movement of conscientious objectors.”

Charter Discipline Rules Don’t Meet Codes

Most of New York City’s charter schools have disciplinary codes that do not meet either state or federal requirements, according to a new report by Advocates for Children. “These are public schools, and we should be expecting them to meet the requirements of the law,” said Paulina Davis, a staff attorney with the group and the principal author of the report.

The group analyzed the disciplinary policies of 155 charter organizations—large networks as well as smaller, independent schools—out of a total of 183 operating schools publicly funded as part of the public school system in New York City during the 2013-14 school year. The report cites complaints from parents who said their children had been suspended from charter schools over minor offenses, such as wearing the wrong shoes or laughing while serving detention. Ultimately, though, the group said the main issue was legal.

Half of the policies examined by Advocates for Children let charter schools suspend or expel students for being late or cutting class—punishments that violate state law. At three dozen schools, there were no special rules covering the suspension or expulsion of children with disabilities, which violates federal law. And, in 25 instances, charter schools could suspend students for long periods without a hearing, which violates the U.S. and New York State constitutions, as well as state law.

This article includes reporting by Elizabeth A. Harris for the New York Times.

Black Girls Matter

African American girls face much harsher school discipline than their white peers, but are often excluded from current efforts to address the school-to-prison pipeline, according to Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected, a new report by the African American Policy Forum and Columbia Law Schools’ Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies. The report is based on national data and personal interviews with young women in Boston and New York.

The racial disparities in school discipline are even sharper for girls than for boys. For example, according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, nationally African American girls were suspended six times more than white girls; African American boys were suspended three times as often as white boys. “As public concern mounts for the needs of men and boys of color through initiatives like the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper, we must challenge the assumption that the lives of girls and women—who are often left out of the national conversation—are not also at risk,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, the report’s lead author.

SF Catholic Schools Fight New “Morality Clauses”

As many hail the Pope’s “strides toward acceptance,” teachers at many Catholic schools in the United States are facing increased repression. On Feb. 3, the archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, announced new language in the staff handbook that requires faculty “to conform their hearts, minds, and consciences, as well as their public and private behavior, ever more closely to the truths taught by the Catholic Church,” specifically church teachings that homosexuality, same-sex marriage, masturbation, pornography, birth control, artificial reproductive technology, and abortion are “gravely evil.”

Teachers at the four San Francisco high schools under Cordileone’s jurisdiction are unionized but, due to a 1979 Supreme Court case ruling that teachers in Catholic schools are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act, they lack the protections afforded by other teacher unions. The union contract is up in July, and Cordileone has also proposed contract language that would designate all school employees as “ministers of the church”—”ministerial roles” are exempted from federal antidiscrimination laws.

Last year, bishops in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Honolulu, and Oakland put similar language into teacher contracts. Despite community backlash, those schools lacked unionized opposition to the morality clauses; teachers who refused to sign were pushed out.

National LGBTQ rights groups and members of the school communities are fighting back. Students and parents at the San Francisco schools held two well-attended, well-publicized vigils. A petition opposing the handbook language and the classification of teachers as ministers has gathered more than 7,000 signatures. Local politicians sent a letter to the archbishop urging him to remove the language. And students are popularizing the hashtag #teachacceptance and speaking out against what they see as a contradiction between Cordileone’s language and the social justice values of inclusivity and compassion they say are fundamental components of their Catholic school education.

New Mexico Students Protest PARCC

Hundreds of high school students in New Mexico walked out of school the first week of March to protest PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers)—the new Common Core standardized tests. Albuquerque Public Schools told KRQE News 13 that 900-1,000 students participated in the walkout from cities all over the state, including Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Las Cruces, Carlsbad, Hot Springs, and Santa Fe. The protest built on a week of walkouts and demonstrations in Sante Fe the previous month that climaxed with a sit-in at the governor’s office.

Standardized tests are not news in New Mexico, but this is the first time standardized tests will be used to evaluate teachers and grade schools. PARCC is also functioning in the state as an exit exam for students who have not already passed one. “We’re more than just a grade, and we don’t have to be tested to determine if we get our diploma or not,” sophomore Josmar Venegas from South Valley Academy told KRQE.

PARCC, which must be taken on computer, was created by the education monolith Pearson and is expected to bring the corporation more than $1 billion in public money over eight years.

As we went to press, Pearson was facing a legal challenge in New Mexico from the American Institutes for Research, which claimed that the PARCC consortium “had an irreparable conflict of interest” in crafting requirements for the contract specifically for Pearson. Mississippi has already found that the PARCC contract there violated bidding requirements.