by Chuck Hoven
Over fifty people attended the second Breakfast with Cleveland Teacher’s Union (CTU) President David Quolke and Cleveland Teachers Union leadership held at the Walz Library at 7910 Detroit Avenue on January 24th. Common Good Ohio and its staff Rowena Ventura and Pastor Aaron Phillips organized the meeting.
CTU President Quolke said he hoped these meetings would help build a coalition to “make sure schools are held accountable.” He said in the past, the CTU has reached out to parents and community members during crisis or at times when a levy is on the ballot. He hoped, with these breakfast conversations, to dialogue with parents and community members about issues they are concerned about on a regular basis. He hopes that if parents or community members are seeking help about a problem in the schools, he can, at least, point them in the right direction.
Quolke said the American Federation of Teachers, to which the CTU belongs, is making an effort to unite with communities across the country.
Like the first Breakfast with the President, a major topic was the amount of high stakes tests students are taking, and what parents can do to help their children prepare for the tests. Cleveland Teachers’ Union President Quolke also talked about the readiness of Cleveland students to take the high stake tests and an effort to get the State Legislature to agree to a three-year moratorium on high stakes tests attached to the Common Core standards just being put in place.
Tracy Radich, 1st Vice President of the Cleveland Teachers Union, spoke of the stress that students were experiencing because of the sheer number of high stakes tests they were now required to take. She explained that the Common Core is a set of standards that the state legislature has mandated that teachers teach. While Radich believes the Common Core standards are good and will help students, she believes the state mandated PARCC tests being implemented to go with the standards are excessive.
As an example she said her seventh grade students would be required to take eleven PARCC tests between the beginning of February and the end of the school year. The testing she noted takes away more and more teaching time with students often missing other classes because of the length of the tests.
Radich said that students from the 3rd to the 9th grade would be taking the PARCC tests this year. However, the third grade guarantee will be based on the OAA test this year and begin using the PARCC test next year. Students currently in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades will continue taking the Ohio Graduation Test during the remainder of their time in the school district.
In response to a parent’s question about resources available to help engage with their children around the test, Radich said so far PARCC has not come up with anything but an online practice test. Radich passed out a sheet she prepared with websites and information about engaging students in a conversation about what they are learning in school. She said when students have to explain something to another person it increases their retention rate.
She suggested going online and using the practice tests would help make students more comfortable taking tests online. Many of the tests students will have to take will now be online. The website for the sample tests is www.parcconline.org.
Radich said the Cleveland Teachers Union also has a new tool parents can sign up to get answers to questions on their phones. To sign up she said to send a text to: 81010, and then text the following code: @ce535a.
Asked if students are being prepared for taking online tests with instruction in keyboarding, Radich said students at her school, Gallagher, were being given keyboarding instruction as part of their reading intervention classes. She also said that there are free keyboarding websites where students can learn typing – some of them have games that students like.
Asked whether special needs students would be required to take the test, Radich said depending on what their IP says special needs students may be given unlimited time to take the test, be tested in smaller groups, be able to use a calculator, and have the test questions and answers read to them. Quolke added that depending on the IP, students also might be able to request an alternative assessment.
Asked if anything can be done about the excessive amounts of tests students are required to take, Quolke explained the tests had their origins in the federal No Child Left Behind law, which began in the George W. Bush administration. Under the law every state must do an annual assessment in order to continue receiving federal funds such as Title I which provides pay for many teachers and Title II which provides funds for support personnel in the schools. Quolke said he sees NCLB as a punishment law that rates schools and punishes them.
Quolke said that the Cleveland Teachers Union is working to try to get the State Legislature to institute a three year moratorium on the PARCC tests to give school districts time to figure out the challenges with technology and other issues associated with the new tests. However, he says that is an uphill battle. He also noted there have been discussions with key Republicans and key Democrats in the legislature a he said there are “logical people in both parties that believe we are testing too much.”
Quolke noted that in many suburban communities children are on computers at age 3 or 4. They have the skill set to take online tests. He said in Cleveland we should be offering keyboarding to help our students gain these skills, and the state should put up funding for that.
Quolke talked about the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s budget and how that relates to charter schools. He said that charter schools receive about $6,000 per student from the state allocation given to the Cleveland schools. This amounts to about $130 million out of $400 million the district receives in state funds.
CTU President Quolke said that Republican State Auditor David Yost released an audit of how charter schools count students. As part of the audit his office randomly visited charter schools and counted students – then comparing the student count to the number of students claimed by the charter school. In one charter school audited, Quolke said the school claimed to have 95 students, but there were no students in attendance on the day of the audit. Some of the charter schools audited in Cleveland only had 30% of the students in attendance. Quolke said many students return to the public school after leaving a charter school, the funding remains with the school they started the year at.
Quolke talked about teachers trying to organize a union at two local charter schools last year that were fired on the last day of school. He said that teachers’ voices were not welcome in these charter schools. He called for the voices of teachers and parents to be united on issues pertaining to children’s education.
Parents and community members had a number of additional questions about various issues including the costs of standardized tests, a bus driver regularly not showing up on time to pick up a child for school, and State Board of Education rule changes.
As to the rule changes proposed by the State Board of Education to no longer require that schools offer 5 of 8 different classes or services such as art, music, school nurses, guidance counselor, and library services, Quolke said that the union had instituted in its contract protections such as that art, music and physical education must be offered in each building. A parent from Louisa May Alcott asked Quolke to check on why that school was in violation of the contract by not offering an art class. Those in attendance not getting a chance to ask a question were invited to write their question on a card with contact information so they could receive a response.
Larry Bresler of Organize Ohio was invited to speak about the state budget and the efforts of Northeast Ohioans for Budget Legislation Equality (NOBLE). Bresler talked about the critical need for increasing funding for public education in the state of Ohio budget. He talked about trying to change the state policy that leaves funds at a charter school even though a student has returned to their public school. Bresler said while we don’t have the money that a charter school operator like David Brennan has, we sure have voices. He urged parents, community members and Common Good Ohio supporters to join in NOBLE’s effort to lobby the state legislature for changes in the budget. He said NOBLE planned to take busloads of Clevelanders to Columbus to lobby the state legislature in March. He promised to update Common Good as the date of departure comes closer and invited all to join in the effort.
Rowena Ventura said the next breakfast meeting with Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke would be on February 21st from 10 a.m. to noon. She said because of the increasing size of the group attending a location had not yet been determined. For more information call Common Good Ohio at 216-795-5375 or email firstname.lastname@example.org