An impromptu parking lot interview reveals the thinking of Republican NY State Senator John DeFrancisco on a tricky issue – how can someone simultaneously decry Common Core testing standards and at the same time support competition between charter schools and district schools that is judged by the same flawed testing?
It happened in Nyack, outside a Republican fundraiser where Roger Stone was the guest of honor. I was there to cover a protest, as a dozen or so locals loudly booed Stone across the street from the Nyack Seaport restaurant.
Into the public lot comes an official vehicle and out pops NY State Senator John DeFrancisco with an aide. I knew he pushed vouchers in New York, even before Betsy DeVos made it a national issue. I approached with my TATM News lanyard and my trusty iPod, and asked a few questions.
As an education watcher, I was curious how top state Republicans might defend the Trump/DeVos attack on public education when so many parents around the state feel that privatization used fraudulent metrics in pursuit of our hard earned tax dollars under both Presidents W. Bush and Obama. DeFrancisco has thus far sided with Trump, but Trump has already broken his campaign vow to “end Common Core”, with the tests due to return in 2018.
Just a few minutes before the mini-protest broke out, I asked Sen. DeFrancisco about the three big education issues in New York – charter schools, standardized testing, and the Common Core. The audio is edited for brevity, but the conversation was fascinating.
The Senator’s response on charter schools was a significant contradiction to his response on the testing, which is used to compare charter schools versus public schools.
First, the Syracuse area Senator advocated for privatizing schools (including for-profit charter schools), as long as the “results” are as good or better than high-performing district schools around the state.
So I asked about the metrics used to measure results in New York, the Common Core test scores. His said the Common Core tests had “questions that make no sense” and had “little if any relationship, in my mind, to determining how far a child is advancing”.
He said he supported the opt-out movement “when they opted out”. He must know “they” are still opting out today, about 1 in 5, as the same tests are being used. They have seen that the tests waste millions, narrow and slow learning, and cause parents and students to boycott in nation-leading record numbers, every year since 2013.
I did not have too much time with the Senator so I interrupted him to ask “where do they go” when he completely dismissed disruptive, chronically-suspended students.
That’s when he changed the subject to the NYC “rubber room” moments before the interview came to an abrupt end.
I was unable to follow up and ask why we would ever expand charter schools if the metrics used to judge quality were as “abysmal” as he said. He’s right – the formulas that produce the “results” have not been scientifically vetted by the state, or the teacher unions, or the legislature, or the Board of Regents (who predicted a 2017 review but has not yet delivered). Instead, the decision to greenlight more charter schools and tests seems like fulfillment of a quid-pro-quo request from “swamp” donors (such as ALEC, Eli Broad, the Waltons, Kochs, Mercers, and DeVoses, to name a couple) looking to privatize public schools.
Does the senator believe the tests somehow improved since the “first iteration” when opt-outs first ballooned over 20%? They did get a new name, but the underlying “Core” standards have not significantly changed. The standards actually worsened in K-2 while teachers around the state spoke out against the Commissioner’s staged “listening tours” where the standards, and particularly the aligned tests, were panned as valueless corporate pork.
Numerous academic and legal challenges to the validity of the secretive scoring regime rely on a body of evidence the state has never rebutted. In a stop-gap “optics” move, the state removed time limits for testing in 2016. Twisting logic, they claimed this was to “ease pressure,” but it actually resulted in students testing for hours longer than the years before.
Even worse, the tests use the same “hidden” formulas, which were already ruled “arbitrary and capricious” by the NY State Supreme Court, to rank students.
JUNK SCIENCE 101
Bigwig politicians are often unconcerned with details like this, but in New York, after the tests are already taken, the state does two things to eliminate any scientific validity or reliability the tests might have had. First, they subjectively adjust the “cut scores” (the pass/fail thresholds) — using completely hidden criteria.
Then, they “norm” the scores (meaning apply a curve) based on disability, poverty and language status. State law requires the formulas to be “transparent and available” yet the criteria is completely hidden from scientific reviewers, educators, and taxpayers. To this day, they remain “redacted” — even after losing a NY State Supreme court lawsuit. The million-dollar proprietary algorithms have never been seen by those who paid for it, through years of boycotts, protests, and a multi-year statewide moratorium
REFILLING THE SWAMP
No doubt there were corporate lobbyists there that night, funding the Republicans who control the NY Senate in a Trump-Albany love connection. They want more New Yorkers to join a national push for charter schools, for-profit “education providers,” and funding for religious schools. Roger Stone (who lives in Westchester) is Donald Trump’s not-so-secret bag man, looking to spread around the ziti.
The good news is that Senator DeFrancisco is half right, so thank his grandchildren for that, but not for his failure to stand up to the billionaires pushing charter schools.
It’s New York’s students who suffer most when adults put stock in faulty tests, but this is the post-Citizens United reality where money talks and pretzel logic substitutes for research-based decisions.
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