Saturday, August 8, 2015

Report: Badass Congress 2015 WaBATs Meeting with Legislators
By:  Karen Adlum

WaBATs met with our legislators with 15 questions gleaned from our FB members. We took their suggestions, combined a few and pared down the rest. The following are the questions and then the responses from Senator Patty Murray, Senator Maria Cantwell, and Representative Adam Smith.

1. In your opinion what value does VAM have for our students?
2. What is your stance on local decision making?
3. What is your opinion on the role of corporations in public education?
4. Who do you  believe has the right to make decisions for children in regards to          high stake testing? i.e. Opting OUT
5. What is your perception of the new FERPA laws? And do you feel it protects our     students data? How is data from the tests used? Who uses it?
6. What is your opinion about the amount of money spent on testing and do you feel it's justified?
7. Would you accept an invitation to come and take the SBAC ELA and Math practice tests with a group of BATs?
8. Why did 24 writers of CC end at Algebra 2 if they are supposed to be College and Career ready, especially with a focus on STEM? Are you aware that the only mathematician serving on the validation committee did not sign off on the standards? Does that give you pause?
9. Do you realize how inappropriate it is to compare a group of students from different years?
10. How should we address that teenagers are their own entity and will fail the test just because they feel the test isn't a valid measure of their understanding of the material they have been taught?
11. What do you consider a well rounded education?
12. What are your favorite memories of school? Do you want kids to have memories like that?
13. Do  you have any idea why teachers are leaving the profession in droves? Do you realize very few people are choosing education as a profession? Do you have any ideas to turn this around?
14. Do you know how much American taxpayers provide annually to support our system of education? And do you understand the powerful financial interests seeking to privatize our public schools? Do you support that effort?
15. Explain how comparing high poverty schools to low poverty schools is beneficial.

                                        SENATOR MURRAY
We did not have the chance to question Senator Murray herself but rather we met with her Senior Education Counsel, Amanda Beaumont. a former teacher, turned lawyer, turned education counsel. She stated she switched careers to be able to set education policy to truly make a difference to the kinds of kids she felt she had not been able to help in the classroom. So the responses I am writing will be Ms. Beaumont speaking for Senator Murray.
1. Ms. Beaumont stated Senator Murray was aware of the controversies related to VAM. When asked if the Senator thought it was a good measure and how to address those teachers not in tested areas her response what that it would only happen if states approved it and that Washington did not use VAM.
2. Senator Murray believes in keeping important accountability things in Federal prevue but to return others to the state. She thinks states should identify schools in need and the interventions they plan to implement. Those interventions and supports need to be targeted to the needs identified. We questioned what the accountability should be based on and why Senator Murray supported the Murphy amendment. She said we didn't fully understand the Murphy amendment and that there was some good things in it. She agreed to send some more information about the amendment. She also stated that basing anything on HST alone is not responsible.
3. Ms. Beaumont says Senator Murray is opposed to vouchers and portability and that she thinks corporations can supplement federal dollars but is against the corporate takeover of public education.
4. Senator Murray believes in parents rights and thought it was helpful to allow opt outs in WA.
5. Ms. Beaumont stated that congress has not changed FERPA in years and that there was a bi-partisan bill coming to update FERPA to limit the previous interpretation by Arne Duncan.
6. Senator Murray agrees that testing has gone overboard and should be reduced. Ms. Beaumont says their are funds set aside to do auditing to see if districts are overdoing or using low quality tests, with a pilot program to devise and choose better, higher order thinking tests VS bubble tests.
7.She will pass on this as she cannot speak for the Senator.
8. Skipped due to time constraints
9. Senator Murray has concerns about this issue and has fought to include student growth measures over a year and to allow computer adaptive tests.
10. Tests should not be all, end all. Tests are not the only factor to judge teachers, schools, and students. There needs to be multiple measures; assessments, graduation rates, some other measure at elementary level, school quality, climate, dual enrollment, absenteeism, etc.
11. After school programs, art, music, PE, improved access, nutrition services, more engaging curriculum and that there is a full community school program in the bill.
12. Skipped due to time constraints
13. Yes the Senator is aware of this and fells it is because of working conditions, testing, and pay. She claims it will be a topic with the higher ed act.
14. She is aware of this lobby group and that the bill will include a rider to prevent funding to implement this if it is EVER approved. 
15. She does not view it as a comparison, that data on different schools is important so parents have that information when choosing a school. She believes that best practices should be looked at if low poverty schools show success so those practices can be replicated.

                                          ADAM SMITH
Adam Smith was to meet with us but was held up on the floor. So instead we met with his communication director, Benjamin G. Halle. We met in the hall as there didn't seem to be an office for us to sit in and have a discussion. It was a pleasant conversation and he was a friendly young man with a mother for a teacher. In some ways, it felt like we accomplished little but I guess you never know. We talked to him about the detriment to students with high stakes testing, the variety of ways to measure students and teachers besides HST, and hold us all accountable, and that poverty was the reason most kids fail. We also mentioned the high costs of those tests. Then we talked about the high levels of stress to teachers because of the unfair pressure to get high tests scores and talked about the number of teachers leaving the profession because of these unfair expectations. We also mentioned the study done by AFT and BADASS Teachers citing the Booker Amendment. We discussed the narrowing of the curriculum to focus on tested subjects and that the achievement gap has always been due to poverty and current research still bears that out. He was very agreeable and promised to relay our concerns to Representative Smith.

                                      SENATOR CANTWELL
We sat down with Senator Cantwell and her senior advisor, Rosemary Gutierrez. We we given a shortened appointment as she was expected somewhere else. She did leave her advisor to continue the discussion for a few more minutes.
Senator Cantwell stated at the beginning of the conversation that states need to have some accountability measure. She thinks the 5 lowest performing schools should be identified and then allow the states to decide how to fix them. Senator Cantwell seemed confused by many of our questions (we did not get through them all) and continually asked to explain what we meant.
1. What we already have is good. Students acquire different levels at different times and then she screwed up her face at the House ESEA bill.
2. She thinks local control could be good, could be bad but that DOE should support but not mandate states.
3. What corporations she queried? She believes there should be no corporate lobbying.
4. She stated that parents should be allowed to OPT OUT but HST is important for accountability. At that point she said she needed to leave. We all stood up for a picture and she left. We continued the discussion for a few more minutes with 
Rosemary who pushed back about HST. She claimed (as she was walking us out of the office) that her children were very different and without the testing she would not know how her younger daughter was doing COMPARED to the rest of her class. 

        Meeting with Senator Murray on her coffee with Patty day
Before the round of meetings with our Senators and legislator we met with Patty Murray at her Tuesday Coffee With Patty. We went around the table and introduced ourselves. When Becca Ritchie said she was a member of the Badass Teachers, Senator Murray acted like she had never heard of us and asked Becca to explain the group. We all feel she was pretending, We all have written her before and mentioned our group. In any case Becca asked her to explain how the Senator believed the Murphy amendment helped students and schools and to explain why she had voted for it. Without much real explanation Senator Murray proceeded to say how it was a much misunderstood amendment and that it did not say all we thought it did. She claimed it gave a lot of leeway to the states and was not a testing amendment. She was never clear what is really was and it felt like a revisionists tale to keep the truth from us. She did say she would follow up with greater detail which she did with a handout from her aide when we met with her on Wednesday.

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