Education expert and influential author Diane Ravitch is calling on school administrators and teachers to halt standardized testing within their districts to regain control of quality education.
More than 150 Long Island educators — including administrators and school board members from Shoreham-Wading River, Riverhead, Mattituck, Southold and Greenport — attended a breakfast meeting Tuesday with Ms. Ravitch at the Hyatt Regency Long Island at Wind Watch Golf Club in Hauppauge.
In addition to promoting her newest book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” Ms. Ravitch, a New York University professor, former U.S. assistant secretary of education and Southold resident, said she believes schools need to join together in order to deter what’s come to be known as high-stakes testing.
She also said the current teacher evaluation system tied to student scores is particularly unfair to teachers whose classrooms include English as a Second Language students and students with disabilities.
“It’s time for civil disobedience,” she told the crowd. “If they tell you to do something you know is wrong, don’t do it.”
When asked after the meeting if she believed the crowd would reject standardized testing within their schools, Ms. Ravitch said she hopes “they have the backbone” to go through with it.
“I wish they would,” she said. “That would be wonderful. I think it would send a message to the nation.”
Although Southold Superintendent David Gamberg — who organized the event with Ms. Ravitch — and Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney declined to give definitive answers afterward about whether their schools would refuse to administer standardized testing, they agreed Tuesday’s talk with Ms. Ravitch has sparked a much-needed dialogue among educators and communities.
“She’s inspiring us to really think critically about the impact of this agenda on children,” Mr. Gamberg said. “Her strongest point made was that we report to our communities, not to [state Department of Education Commissioner John King].”
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a new set of standards that requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age. The Common Core standards were created by nonprofit organizations, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, as a way to better prepare students from across the U.S. for college and careers after high school.
Along with the federal government, Ms. Ravitch said the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded the Common Core initiative. She also said Pearson, a worldwide publishing and educational company, is the primary producer and seller of Common Core instructional materials.
In 2009, through the “Race to the Top” program, the federal government offered $4.35 billion in competitive grants to states that adopted Common Core standards and developed plans to improve state test scores and teacher evaluation results.
The following year, New York adopted the Common Core in order to qualify for a $700 million portion of the federal grant and later published lesson plans for teachers to help students meet the new standards. The state doesn’t mandate that schools use these specific lesson plans, but they are available online at engageny.org.
Earlier this year, the state did mandate that New York school districts develop their own teacher evaluation systems, known as annual professional performance reviews plan (APPR), or risk losing additional state aid.
Ms. Ravitch said she believes the country’s biggest problem with education isn’t test scores, but rather poverty levels, because there’s a direct correlation between low family income and low test scores.
She also believes funds should be allocated for student programs instead of evaluation and data collection systems.
“There are a number of billionaires trying to fix public education, even though their own children attend private schools,” she told the crowd.
While the state has claimed the Common Core program aims to better prepare students for college and careers, many educators have criticized the initiative because they believe it forces teachers to abandon true learning and “teach to the test,” which raises ethical questions.
Ms. Ravitch said she also seeks to help people outside education understand that the current system of rating teachers provides “false” results.
“You can have a superb teacher who one year has disruptive kids and then the scores go down, and another year has a cooperative group and the scores go up,” she said.
“The public needs to be educated that what the test scores reflect is who is in the classroom, not the quality of the teacher.”