ISBE threatens to investigate opt outers.

Why do we need a law in Illinois that protects parents, students and teachers who advocate opting out from persecution by the crazy testers?

Because  the Illinois State Board of Education is coming after parents, students and teachers.

Can we expect the Illinois version of The Spanish Inquisition over opt out?

The Illinois State Board of Education has launched an investigation into why so many kids in certain districts skipped state exams last year — which may include questioning parents and even students after several hundred schools failed test participation requirements.

The process — which one critical administrator likened to the centuries-old Inquisition — comes on the eve of 2016 state testing, when families are once again deciding whether to pull their kids out of state exams.

When delegates offered a resolution at last year’s Illinois Education Association Representative Assembly to support the only opt-out legislation before the General Assembly, the IEA leadership shot it down.

They argued that federal education sanctions would hurt school districts. That hasn’t turned out to be supported by the facts.

(Cassie) Creswell, of the opt-out movement, thinks the number of families opting out likely will rise this testing season, given that so far there have been no sanctions on schools or districts when students don’t take state exams.

“The state has cried wolf for two years now. You (districts) are going to lose money, you’re going to lose money. Maybe they’ll ratchet up enough threats that people will be scared, but others will be more angry,” she said.

The article on the unions and opt out that they wouldn’t print.

The editors of the journal Monthly Review requested the following article and then decided not to print it. I reprinted their raggedy explanation letter in the previous post.

The balancing act between defending the Common Core State Standards and supporting  member concerns about the amount of standardized assessments and national testing we and our students have had to endure has been a difficult trick for both the American Federation of Teachers and the larger National Education Association.

It is difficult because curriculum and assessment are not fundamentally divisible. It helps to understand the process if you conceptualize curriculum, instruction and assessment as a spiral rather than linear. The conceptual difference between a spiral and a straight line is the kind of thing that is more likely to be discussed in a university seminar than at a union convention.

For the two national teacher unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, the Common Core State Standards and the standardized testing that is used to assess it are two very different things.

The most extreme defense of Common Core State Standards came from New York’s United Federation of Teacher President Michael Mulgrew at the 2014 national convention of the American Federation of Teachers in Los Angeles.

Mulgrew stood at the microphone with sweat pouring down his face, looking more like a street corner bully than head of a union of professionals, as the AFT likes to call itself. He was debating an anti-common core resolution introduced and supported by members of the Chicago AFT affiliate, the Chicago Teachers Union.

“If someone takes something from me,” he growled, “I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine. And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers’!”

AFT President Randi Weingarten stood at the microphone, arms folded and smiling. She appreciated the efforts of her attack dog, Mulgrew. Engaging in that kind of belligerence, however, is not her style.

There are many factors to consider in understanding the AFT and the NEA’s defense of Common Core.

Corporate philanthropies like those of Eli Broad and Bill Gates have been generous in their contributions to both national unions. They don’t spend foolishly.

At the national level, the two unions have close ties to the Democratic Party. The national Democrats’ education agenda has been hijacked by corporate think tanks and organizations like Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

The Common Core issue is also made complicated by the fact that it is supported by national Civil Rights organizations who see it as a way to level the field and hold public schools accountable for equity. It is also opposed by many on the extreme right who see it as a form of federal control and dictatorial power. They attack it on the basis of states’ rights. States rights have historically been code words for segregation and racism.

Standardized testing, however, is viewed as a different issue than curriculum by the two unions. Particularly since the results of the tests taken by students are now being used by states to evaluate individual teachers. Whatever the failings of standardized tests to assess student learning, the CCSS were never designed to be used as measures of teacher effectiveness. This turned standardized testing into a labor/management issue and not just a pedagogical one.

Even the union’s criticism of the misuse of individual test scores to evaluate teachers is confusing and sends mixed messages.

In 2011, Illinois applied for one of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top grants. The Democratic governor of Illinois at the time, Pat Quinn, appointed Audrey Soglin to chair the committee which would write the grant. Soglin was, and still is, the Executive Director of the Illinois Education Association. For years she worked alongside of the IEA Excutive Director who preceded her, Jo Anderson. Anderson left the IEA to work as a senior advisor to Arne Duncan.

There were four requirements for a RTT grant to be considered by the DOE. One of the requirements was that the states must have a common metric in place to measure teacher performance. The metric had to include a VAM, or Value Added Measure, as proof that the teacher increased student learning in some measurable way. The easiest, although least accurate and least ethical way, was to use the state standardized test scores of the students.

The problem for IEA Executive Director Soglin was that for Illinois to have value added measures in place for teacher evaluation and to qualify for a Race to the Top grant, the legislature had to pass a law. With her backing, and the backing of the IEA, the state passed PERA, the Performance Evaluation Reform Act. It required that up to 50%, and no less than 30%, of a teacher’s performance review use individual test scores as part of the evaluation.

The Illinois legislature did enact Soglin’s PERA .

Just in time for the November elections of 2010, Stand for Children came to Illinois. Stand for Children began in Oregon as a parent-based school reform group, but was soon taken over by corporate reformists with Jonah Edelman as its leader.

Arriving in Illinois, SFC identified nine key legislative races and dropped nearly a million dollars on those election contests. This got the attention of the long-serving Speaker of the Illinois House, Michael Madigan. The Speaker also serves at Chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. He runs the House with an iron fist. Speaker Madigan is known for being more concerned with power than ideology. His greatest skill is in counting votes and building his campaign war chest.

Following the election, Madigan established the House Education Reform Committee as a platform for SFC, and only a massive email campaign by the state’s teacher unions and the legislative clock kept the General Assembly from passing a bill that would outlaw teacher strikes and end seniority rights.

That bill returned the following year when the General Assembly passed a bill drafted by a committee that included Edelman and the IEA’s Audrey Soglin. Senate Bill 7 diminished tenure and seniority rights, expanded the evaluation procedures established in PERA and demanded a 75% vote by Chicago teachers for strike authorization.

Of course, we remember that the Chicago Teachers Union received a 90% strike authorization vote of its members and walked off the job in September of 2012 in a historic and forceful challenge to the rule of corporate Democrat Rahm Emanuel.

One evening in 2011 I was surfing the internet and found a reference to a talk that Stand For Children’s Jonah Edelman had given at the Aspen Conference earlier that year. I immediately went to the Aspen site and there Edelman was.

In the video, Edelman told the story of SFC coming to Illinois and how he bamboozled the teachers union into supporting SB7, including the use of standardize testing to evaluate teachers.

“And so this was the strategy led by the IEA. The Illinois Education Association has a history of pragmatism and they led on this negotiation. They really kind of brought the other unions along. Jo Anderson, the former head of the Illinois Education Association, now works with Arne Duncan in the Department of Education, and his son Josh is the head of Teach for America in Chicago, and the new (IEA) director, Audrey Soglin, is very pragmatic. I doubt this tape will ever get to her, but I would say that I’m interested in talking about whether or not she at the end of the day was happy to get these issues resolved. I don’t think she liked defending a seniority-based system.”

I posted a link to the Aspen site and to the Edelman video. Within hours the video was taken down. Nothing is really taken down from the internet and it didn’t take long for my techie internet friends to find it and copy it. I posted it on my blog site and soon it went viral. It was a huge embarrassment to Edelman and the unions.

Edelman was forced to send me a long apology that I posted to my blog.

“I was wrong to state that the teachers’ unions “gave” on teacher effectiveness provisions when the reality is that, indeed, there were long productive negotiations that led to a better outcome than would have occurred with them.”

An Amtrack train departs from Union Station in downtown Chicago at 7AM, if you’re lucky. It arrives at the state capital in Springfield about four hours. The station is walking distance from the capitol building.

Because I was riding on a senior ticket, I didn’t have to wait in line in the station.  I get to board early, along with those who are handicapped. It pleased me that on that early Spring morning I was required to show photo I.D. as proof of my age.

Once on board I ran into others who were going to Springfield to lobby for HB306, the opt out bill It was the very first bill introduced by the newly elected reform Democrat, Representative Will Guzzardi.

We were all riding the train bound for Springfield for a Lobby Day organized by the parent activist groups, Raise Your Hand and More than a Score.

There were no representatives from the teachers unions on the train, although the Chicago Teachers Union and the state union it is affiliated with, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, both support the legislation.

The larger of the two state teachers unions, the Illinois Education Association, was formally neutral, but has serious concerns about the Guzzardi bill. Since the IEA is neutral, its large staff of lobbyists will do nothing to support the bill, which is read as opposition by most legislators.

Those of us who came by train walked over to the Capitol to meet up with other parents and a few teachers from around the state to plan out the day of lobbying efforts. I spotted an IEA Region Chair from downstate sitting across the room. Otherwise we are a group of parents with a few retirees mixed in. The orientation meeting was led by the tireless Chicago school activists, Wendy Katten and Cassie Creswell.

We were organized into teams and handed lists and maps of office locations of state reps. For two hours we dodged and weaved among swarms  of men and women in business suits who are lobbyists or legislative employees, kids on field trips and dozens of those in wheel chairs in bright orange  t-shirts in town for another Lobby Day issue. We were seeking out co-sponsors for the opt-out bill

In one conference room I noticed Skokie Representative Laura Fine sitting in a committee meeting. I waved  and hand signaled, mouthing if she could come out of the meeting and meet some of us. In the past Laura and I argued over state public employee pensions, but she comes over and warmly greets the parents, promising to put her name on the bill.  Later I find that she did. Other Democrats who had promised they would, didn’t.

In the end, HB 306 did pass the Illinois House. It remains bottled up in a Senate committee as I am writing this. Even if it passes the Democratic Party controlled Senate, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner will likely veto it.

At around noon, Representative Guzzardi and Democratic State Senator Willam Delgado, a long-serving progressive Democrat from Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood held a press conference along with parents from Raise Your Hand and More Than a Score. I pull out my cell phone and called the head of Government Relations for the IEA, Jim Reed. I told Jim that I am in the Capitol with parents and I asked if he could come talk with us.

He agreed and we met by the statue in the Capitol rotunda.

When he arrived I introduced him to the parents and I jokingly asked him if, as chief IEA lobbyist, had ever been lobbied by parents and teachers before. Jim laughed and admitted that he had not.  His explanation for the IEA’s refusal to support the parent opt-out bill is one I had heard before. He explained that the IEA had fears of losing federal funding, even though not one state that had failed to meet the 95% testing requirement established by Obama’s Department of Education had been punished with the loss of federal education dollars.

What Jim did not bring up was other discussions I have had with him and other local and national union leaders. How should our unions respond in the face of the accountability demands of corporate school reform.

Neither the American Federation of Teachers led by its President, Randi Weingarten, nor the National Education Association, presently led by its President Lily Eskelsen Garcia have been willing to fully break with the dominant education policies of national Democrats. It would appear that the positions of the two unions on standardized testing and a national curriculum has less to do with what is good for teachers and students and more to do with loyalty to the national Democratic Party.

The leaders of the two unions will chip away around the edges with a critique of what the NEA calls toxic testing. They remain supportive of the Common Core curriculum agenda, even as those on the right who were early supporters such as the Fordham Foundation, pull back from the Common Core State Standards.

Over the past four years, the position of the two national unions has become a little sharper in opposing what NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia calls toxic testing.

Each year the NEA national meeting, the Representative Assembly, passes resolutions condemning the misuse of testing for purposes of teacher evaluation and supportive of the parent opt-out movement.

Yet when I and other Illinois union members went to the floor of the state convention to ask IEA support for the Guzzardi opt-out bill, we were ruled out of order and the union’s official position of neutrality stayed in place.

“When we go out on strike we ask for, and often receive, parent support. Now parents are asking us to support their efforts to end the mania of standardized testing. If we don’t support them now, how can we ask them to support us later?” I asked from the microphone.

Our words fell on deaf ears and we could not bring our motion to the floor.

The mixed message coming from the two teacher unions on testing and opt-out is a symptom of a larger problem. The teacher unions, like all public employee unions, are under assault. The leadership’s response has been from a position of being on the defense and reaction. In order to defend themselves they have felt the need to strengthen their ties with the Democratic Party and corporate philanthropies when that has not been the best thing for members and students.

What’s up with Illinois’ opt-out bill.

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State Representatives Will Guzzardi (left) and Laura Fine (right).

We invited State Representatives Will Guzzardi and Laura Fine to our Skokie Organization of Retired Educators luncheon at Zhivago’s restaurant last Wednesday.

Laura represents a north suburban district where many of our retirees live.

Will represents me and those who live in Logan Square and the north west side of Chicago.

State reps run every two years and so Will is collecting signatures to run again.

Nobody has announced that they will run against him. But those opposed to the progressive electoral movement in the city have spent thousands of dollars on glossy mailers in the last few weeks targeting Will

When Will beat the Democratic Machine two years ago it gave a major shot in the arm to the progressive electoral movement in the City. 35th Ward Alderman Carlos Rosa built on the electoral base that supported Will to beat the pro-Rahm incumbent, even as the Mayor himself defeated progressive Chuy Garcia.

Rosa is now collecting signatures to run for Democratic Ward Committeeman.

Guzzardi impressed many when among his first acts in Springfield was to introduce and sponsor HB 306, a bill that strengthened the rights of parents to have their children opt out of PARCC and other state standardized tests.

The Bill passed the House but is now stalled in the Senate. Pretty much everything has stalled in Springfield since the governor has made union busting a requirement for anything to get his signature.

We asked Will about HB306 at the luncheon. He said that there were discussions with the new state superintendent of doing by ISBE action what parents would have received as a result of his legislation. Guzzardi said he actually would prefer that.

One of the obstacles to getting the bill passed was the financial threat to school districts.

The IEA used this alleged threat to block support for the bill when we brought it up at the state convention.

When I and a group of Chicago parents were lobbying for HB306 in Springfield I gave the IEA Director of Government Relations a call to see if he would meet with the parents. Jim Reed joined us in the Capitol Rotunda. There we experienced the oddity of having to lobby the union’s chief lobbyist to lobby for a bill supporting parental rights.

By the way. The financial threat was and is a bogus issue.

In spite of hundreds of thousands of parents opting out across the country, no district has been penalized by the feds.

Catalyst is reporting the same thing.

The IEA is simply on the wrong side of this issue.

And we will be working to return Will Guzzardi to the Illinois House.

Illinois opt out bill is now headed for the Senate.


Tim Furman notes a rare vote from House Speaker Madigan. 

My state Representative Will Guzzardi’s testing opt out bill seemed to have more setbacks than last years Bears defense.

A week or so ago it seemed to be headed for a committee graveyard.

But parent and teacher activists didn’t give up.

Raise Your Hand and More Than a Score mobilized their activist base to call, email and travel to Springfield.

Did RYH’s Wendy Katten and MTS’s Cassie Creswell rent an apartment down there? It seemed like it.

Yesterday the House came through and voted overwhelmingly to pass HB 306 with both Democratic Party and Republican votes, sending the bill to the Senate side of the Capitol.

I watched the debate on live streaming. While some observers praised it as a genuine policy debate, I was once again shaking my head, listening to so many of these politicians display such total ignorance on a issue they were about to vote on.

It brought back memories of my discussions with them about pensions.

It is rare for so many to have the power to make decisions that impact people’s lives and know so little.

Outside of the U.S. Congress.

As someone who has spent a lot of time having face-to-face sessions in Springfield lobbying on a range of issues, this comes as no surprise.

To his credit, Will Guzzardi calmly repeated the same truth to the same repeated questions.

“No, this does not encourage parents to opt out. It simply codifies their rights.” 

“No state has been penalized by the feds, and the feds have been less than forthcoming in saying whether they have the right to penalize a state.”

In the end the vote was 64 to 47 in favor of the Guzzardi bill. It was the first bill Guzzardi introduced after he was took office in January following his defeat of the incumbent Toni Berrios, daughter of the Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios.

He ran for the Assembly seat promising to work for a progressive agenda.

Chicago’s Democratic Party African American legislators could be found on both sides of the issue.

Several took to the microphone to express concerns over how the confluence of over-testing and lack of funding, services and technology put their constituents’ children at a disadvantage.

The House Democratic majority’s leadership was also divided.

Hyde Park liberal Barbara Flynn-Currie, who is House Majority Leader, voted no.

Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan, who rarely votes on a bill at all, voted yes.

Teacher unions were also divided.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers supported the bill.

The Illinois Education Association, which voted to support the concept of opting out at our state Representative Assembly, took no position on the Guzzardi bill, but voiced concerns over threats to funding and threats to teachers who might face disciplinary measures for advocating for opting out.

IEA and NEA talks out of two sides of their mouths on opt out.

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There is was on my Twitter feed.

The IEA had posted an article from EdWeek on how opting out was gaining traction. As if the IEA supported opt out.

The Newsday newspaper in New York reported late last month that in two Long Island counties, roughly 32,700 students out of 67,600 eligible students in grades 3-8 (48 percent) refused to take the math test.

United 2 Counter, a group opposed to New York’s common-core tests, reported in late April that statewide, there were about 193,000 opt-outs from the English/language arts test, and 151,000 opt-outs from the math exam. The statewide K-12 enrollment is about 2.7 million, with 1 million in New York City, although not all of those students are eligible to take the common-core test.

The group cites news media, union representatives, school officials, and parents as sources, but doesn’t always put a name to them. Asked to what extent the public should trust the organization’s numbers, Loy Gross, the group’s co-founder and a math tutor in upstate New York, responded that, if anything, United 2 Counter undercounts the real tally of total opt-outs. She explained that parents involved with the group, for example, are told to count heads on three testing days and report the lowest of the three opt-out numbers.

Ms. Gross said schools have become “shackled” to the common core and aligned tests.

And while the IEA leadership presented a mushy-mouth opt out resolution at our state meeting, they have been steadfast in refusing to support the opt out legislation now before the Illinois General Assembly – a bill that faces an uncertain legislative future and a likely veto by the governor.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia spoke to the opt out movement when she joined Diane Ravtich and AFT Presdient Randi Weingarten at the recent Network for Public Education Conference in Chicago.

She dismissed the movement, saying the opt out movement wouldn’t have any impact on stopping standardized testing.

Granted, Randi Weingarten’s response was even more strange.

She advocated for parents who wanted to opt out or opt in.

She was for choice, she said.

Opt out courage, threats and cowardice.


I was proud that my newly elected State Representative Will Guzzardi’s first bill was one that clarified and supported the right of parents to opt their children out of high-stakes tests like PARCC.

With Will Guzzardi working with his Springfield colleagues and pressure from parents around the state, HB306 got out of committee. It appears to be headed for a floor vote in the House in next couple of days before going over to the Senate side.

Greg Hinz is reporting today that the Governor has threatened to veto the bill.

Guzzardi, in an interview, said children nationwide are balking at tests “and will continue to do so” whether officials like it or not. Rather than creating “chaos in the classroom “—and “bullying” students by forcing them to sit in an empty classroom for a day if they refuse the test—officials should recognize reality and let parents have the final say, Guzzardi said.

But Rauner has a different take. His secretary of education, Beth Purvis, late today sent lawmakers a memo saying that the state could lose $1 billion a year in federal aid and control over federal anti-poverty funding if more than 5 percent of students refuse the tests.

“While this administration understands concerns that parents, educators and lawmakers have about how students are evaluated, (Guzzardi’s bill) is the wrong vehicle through which to address these issues and has the potential to significantly disrupt the education of Illinois children.”

Guzzardi said federal law is “unclear” on financial penalties and said he hopes to call the bill for final action tomorrow. The bill so far has drawn an eclectic coalition of co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, including Chicago progressives such as Greg Harris, conservative Republicans like Ron Sandack and Barbara Wheeler, and African-Americans such as Democrat Mary Flowers.

This is an important piece of legislation. It should be passed and enacted.

However there is a lot of symbolism being played out here.

A new progressive legislator courageously proposes what he promised he would do.

A rare thing in Springfield.

If the law is passed, Rauner has threatened to make it the target of his very first veto.

And the state’s largest teachers union, the Illinois Education Association, stands on the sidelines claiming neutrality. IEA President Cinda Klickna gave the same argument as Purvis in explaining the IEA refusal to support the Guzzardi bill.

A story of courage, threats and cowardice.

Springfield. Opt out, charters and bad optics.


Rauner’s Budget Director Tim Nuding.

Yesterday morning I reported the news that State Representative Will Guzzardi’s parent opt out bill was in trouble.

We had all expected it to move out of committee and on to the House floor where Will had told me he thought it had 60 votes for easy passage. Then on to the Senate, where it would likely pass.

There was even talk and hope that it wouldn’t face a Rauner veto.

Then yesterday morning we received word that the committee voted 3-2 not to send the HB 306 to the floor. Hyde Park Democrat Barbara Flynn Currie, who normally does not vote on the committee, replaced downstate Republican Representative Bill MItchell and voted no.

In yesterday’s post I reported that the HB306 was on life support.

But not dead.

Supporters of the bill sprung into action. Parents headed for Currie’s district office to protest. Mitchell was flooded with phone calls and emails. Meanwhile Guzzardi talked to his fellow lawmakers.

By yesterday afternoon the committee met again and took another vote. Mitchell was back. Currie was gone. And the bill was passed out of committee on a 4-1 vote.

That’s good news.

There is more good news in the House passing HB 397.

HB 397 cuts the power of the state’s notorious Charter Commission.

The Charter Commission was created with the power to overrule local school districts if the local board of education rejected a charter application. If the Commission approved the charter over the local district’s objections, local taxpayers were still on the hook for the cost of the charter.

Representative Linda Chapa LaVia’s bill to abolish the Commission surprisingly failed last year.

This year HB 397 allows the Commission to exist. But the bill takes away its power to overrule a local district’s decision.

It passed 60 to 40 with expected Senate approval.

Governor Private Equity, who has never seen a charter he hasn’t liked, is expected to veto the bill.

Lastly there is the weird Rauner apology.

The Springfield Journal Register is reporting this morning that Rauner’s Tim Nuding is apologizing to legislators for his miscommunications. 

Nuding’s apologies are a result of the blow-back on $26 million dollars in cuts to social services.

Even Springfield politicians are capable of doing things that they feel embarrass themselves. Like acting to cut support for autism services on Autism Awareness Day.

You know. Bad optics.

Anyway, the Journal Register is reporting:

A bill has been introduced that would restore $26 million in social services and public health grants recently suspended by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Dan Kotowski. The Park Ridge Democrat cites “shared concern” by lawmakers for funding grants that pay for the funerals and burials of public-assistance recipients, smoking cessation, teen programs, autism, and HIV and AIDS programs.

Rauner suspended the grants as part of his push to reduce a $1.6 billion shortfall in the state budget.

Rauner’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on whether it supported the legislation. Speaker Michael Madigan’s spokesman said the House would review the proposal if it is passed by the Senate.