Friday, May 31, 2013

Unfortunate Allegations of Common Core Corruption

As I've mentioned, when our kids' school implemented the Common Core State Standards, I was optimistic. After the tests were behind us I was very pleased with the way my son's teacher had prepared them, both academically and emotionally. He came home happy that he had a break from homework. His most unpleasant experience with the state testing was after he had completed his tests, having to wait until the allotted time was over. I thought it all was behind us.

Then on May 24, 2013, we received the following from our City School District:

Dear City School District Parents:

On May 6, the City School District was informed by a parent of a possible testing irregularity with regard to the New York State Standardized Tests for English Language Arts and Mathematics. As soon as this allegation was brought to the District's attention, District officials immediately filed a report with the State Education Department and began an internal investigation on May 7. The District has since notified the Westchester County District Attorney.

The ongoing investigation has led to the administrative reassignment of two elementary school teachers from Osborn School and one from Milton School. It is alleged that the teachers provided improper coaching to a small number of students during the administration of the assessments in late April.

We are disappointed to be facing this situation here... We respect the integrity of the testing process and take this matter very seriously.

Frank R. Alvarez
Superintendent of Schools
Then, less than an hour later, we received the following letter from the school's principal:
Dear Parents...,
This is to inform you that [a new teacher] is going to be the substitute in your child's class until further notice. She is a certified teacher who has been substituting in the District for a few years. The grade level team and I have been supporting [her] in planning the lessons and coordinating the continuation of the instruction and assessment. Next week I will work with the technology department to create an e-mail address so you can communicate with [her]. If you need further assistance please contact my office.

Have a wonderful weekend.
A slew of concerned emails from concerned parents followed. One thing that immediately became apparent is that we're not the only parents of the class who are extremely pleased with our teacher's ability to nurture our child and maximize their development. While I believed I was in a more exclusive fan club, many parents reported how much their children had thrived with their teacher. The following Monday we received the another message:
Dear Parents:

I understand some of you have questions regarding Mrs. Mehler. I am unable to respond due to confidentiality reasons, but I can share the following:

We are unsure whether she will return before the end of the school year, but we will inform you should any changes arise. I plan to speak with the children about the situation by explaining that she has a different assignment and that we do not know when it will conclude.

I know this will be difficult for the children, but this is a challenge for all of us. The substitute teacher, school psychologist, teacher aide, and I will provide continuous support for the children during this time.

The district is legally required by New York State to regard such matters with the utmost importance and due diligence, as it directly impacts students. Reporting requirements are set forth by the NYS Education Department.

I hope you will respect our obligation to remain confidential in this matter, and I must therefore decline requests for meetings or other communication about her.
The subsequent emails from parents were emotional, to say the least.

Some parents seemed to think that portraying the teacher as having a different assignment was misrepresenting the situation to their child. However, as she was not terminated, this does not seem like an inaccurate portrayal to me, and actually preferable to elaborating on vague allegations that are still being investigated.

There seemed to be a common conception by parents that they deserved a lot of information about the specifics of the allegation(s) and well as their children's replacement teacher, even though we never get to chose our children's teacher in the first place.

Apparently some children were questioned about the allegations without their parent's consent. I can imagine feeling anything from troubled to outraged over such an action.

The consensus seemed to be that the teacher should not have been "reassigned" even though none of us actually have all the details on the allegations. Some complained that she should be considered innocent until proven guilty. While I certainly WISH she were still teaching her class, I can definitely understand why she may have to be removed while there's an active investigation of improper conduct going on. Furthermore, when you really think about it, removing her from the class does not actually mean that she is being considered guilty. It is just a necessary precaution.

An important point that should not be missed is why were teachers instructed to individually proctor their own class's exams, especially if the stakes are so high that an allegation could have such extreme consequences? Isn't the potential conflict of interest obvious? Haven't there already been numerous cases of teachers and administrators caught cheating? Will the district accept any responsibility for placing teachers in this compromising position, or will they use the teachers as scapegoats?

While my son seems to be doing fine with the substitute, I can tell he wants his old teacher back. I hope she's enjoying the break, but I suspect the accusations and uncertainty of the investigation must be miserable, not to mention being kept from the job she obviously loves so much.

I also feel for whoever reported the incident in the first place. I doubt they had any idea how things would unfold, and it would be foolish to fault anyone for reporting a potential impropriety. At points the emails from parents seemed to take on a mob mentality. I would imagine the reporter could feel very isolated, if not frightened for their well being and that of their child.

Apparently the decision to remove the teachers was made on a district level, and there are no established procedures stating that this is mandated. Some parents are planning to organize a petition to bring the teachers back. I'm not that optimistic that it will do any good, but it certainly can't hurt. Hopefully this can be wrapped up quickly and all can return to normal here.

Update: On June 11, 2013 I spoke at the school board meeting with many other parents to advocate for our teachers. (It was quite a scene!)

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