NYC Moves to Gag Teachers in Debate Over High-Stakes Testing

The New York Times reports that New York City teachers are being pressured to remain silent in the debate over the impact of high-stakes testing on children and curriculum.
03/25/2016 09:41 am ET Updated Mar 26, 2017

The New York Times reports that New York City teachers are being pressured to remain silent in the debate over the impact of high-stakes testing on children and curriculum. At least one district superintendent accused educators who encourage parents to have their children opt out of high-stakes testing of using their official position to promote political action, which is supposedly a violation of public policy. The superintendent was videoed at a public forum in December 2015 saying that teachers and school administrators "have no right to say this is how I feel." According to the superintendent, "no person who is a public figure can use their office as a bully pulpit to espouse any political perspective." However, in apparent violation of the "law," newly elected State Education Chancellor Betty Rosa recently support for the opt-out movement saying if she had school-age children scheduled to take the tests she would refuse to have them tested.

Common Core testing in math and reading for third through eighth graders is scheduled to start April 5. In response to pressure from opt-out groups that include parents and teachers, New York State shortened the exams, removed time limits, and will not evaluate teachers based on student test scores.

According to the Times report, several school principals claim they were instructed by either New York City School Superintendent Carmen Fariña or by district superintendents that they and teachers in their school were not to encourage parents to have children opt-out of the tests. A spokesperson for the city's Department of Education acknowledged that teachers were free to express themselves on public matters as private citizens or as parents, but that they would be disciplined if they did this as a representative of the city school system. In the past, the teachers union has also cautioned teachers not to advise parents to opt-out. However, how any individual teacher could be mistaken to represent the school system was unclear.

Fariña claims she does not want to prevent discussion of the legitimacy of the high-stakes tests, only to keep discussion more balanced. However, in apparent violation of her own policy, Fariña told a February 2016 State Senate Education Committee hearing, "I am not a fan of opt-out." While Fariña has instructed principals to respect the will of parents, she also makes clear "I believe that everyone needs to be assessed."

My recommendation is that teachers who oppose high-stakes testing meet with parents off-school grounds and outside school time and wear buttons or t-shirts that make it clear "I am a private citizen who opposes high-stakes testing."