One father’s fight against Common Core’s excessive testing

When Eric Mihelbergel’s young daughter told him that she was taking “bubble tests” for gym, art and music class in September of 2012, he was astonished. An active and involved parent, Mihelbergel went to his daughter’s school and asked why and what a “bubble test” could possibly measure in art and gym.

Mihelbergel was told that the excessive testing was not designed to measure children’s knowledge but to evaluate teacher performance. His child being used as a tool to do the job administrators used to do; evaluate teachers’ performance.

Concerned about what appeared to be excessive testing, Mihelbergel, began understanding the extent of the education industrialized complex and the government layers and players.

Mihelbergel started his inquiry with his kids’ teachers, then the school administrators and then the school board. By all of their accounts, the excessive testing was required by the State of New York.

So, he went to officials with the New York Board of Regents. Three members of the Board seemed to share his concerns. However, the Board passed the responsibility for the excessive testing onto the federal Department of Education.

Finally in July of 2013, Mihelbergel, who sends his two daughters to public “to receive a full comprehensive education,” started New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE).

NYSAPE is an alliance of education advocacy groups ranging from the Coalition for Justice in Education, to NY Parents Opposed To Data Sharing Without Consent.

Although the groups have differences, they focus on the similarities; a dedication to public education and opposition to excessive testing and data mining.

And that focus is the key to their success.

In communities across the country, many small groups, who because of their small numbers, have limited influence outside of their geographic sphere. If they, like NYSAPE, would focus on their similarities instead of their differences, they could grab public education away from the powers that comprise the educational industrialized complex and regain control of their schools, including curricula.

According to their website, the NYSAPE members “firmly believe in the power of public education and its fundamental link to the success of a thriving community and democratic government.” As an umbrella for so many small groups, NYSAPE is made up parents, community advocates, graduates, teachers, professors, and “unrelenting supporters of public education who believe excessive testing and inappropriate sharing of private student data without parental consent threaten the future of our students, our schools,” and the state of New York.

Mihelbergel, from Tonawanda, NY, just north of Buffalo, testified before the NYS Senate Committee on Education in 2013, that NYSAPE helps “advocacy groups work together to have a more unified voice for children.”

The 20,000 member strong NYSAPE does not object to testing in general. Instead they believe that “while meaningful assessment is an essential component of a world-class education,” they take exception to the new standardized assessments related to Common Core which they say are “aligned with unproven reforms neither supported by rigorous research nor vetted by educators and parents.”

After hearing the compelling testimony before the Wisconsin Legislation this year, it became very clear that opposition to Common Core and data mining is not really partisan in nature, as the mainstream media and others would like it to be.

Brad McQueen, a school teacher and author of The Cult of Common Core says, “The Common Core gathers data through data suctioning systems and testing not to so much to measure academic growth, but to ensure compliance with the ideologies that Common Core Central espouses. This data includes grades, test scores, lesson plans, and other personal student data which is linked to each of their teachers and their performance evaluations, which are in turn linked to teacher salaries.”

“More than half of what I impart to my students, things like true critical thinking, empathy, responsibility, organization, leadership, and a respect for and knowledge of America’s exceptionalism will never be measured on a test, but will be a measure of who my students becomes as citizens contributing to our society,” concludes McQueen.

This week, as the Chicago teachers union condemned Common Core, the Southern Poverty Law Center was pushing propaganda; anyone who was opposed to Common Core, according to SPLC, had to be a racist. This claim was made despite the fact that the union membership is 24.3 percent African American, 18.6 percent Hispanic, and 49.7 percent White, with “Multi-Racial,” and ‘Unknown” groups making up the remainder.

In his testimony before the Senate, Mihelbergel said, that after hearing from thousands of parents he found that their biggest concern was “the high-stakes nature of testing.” He claimed that the “high-stakes nature of testing encompasses so many of the problems we are facing in education.”

Mihelbergel said, “Parents across the state have had overwhelming experience with the negative effects of the high-stakes nature of testing. As soon as we attach test scores to teacher evaluation it immediately shifts the focus from student centered learning to teacher centered teaching and administrator centered administrating.”

“I have found that we have awakened a sleeping giant,” Mihelbergel told the Committee members. “This sleeping giant is parents. A year ago I was very much in the dark about what was happening in our schools. I trusted our schools to do what was best for my children. Then I started to wake up. I started to see what was going on. I started to ask serious questions and take action. Thousands upon thousands of parents across the state are doing exactly the same thing. We have awakened a sleeping giant.”

Mihelbergel warned that his experience taught him that “giant will not go back to sleep. This giant that has been awakened will continue to get stronger and stronger until changes are made. I believe that this is a good thing for education. I believe that nothing can help our schools more than to have more active parent involvement.”

He has concluded that the “sleeping giant will continue to grow at least until the time that the high-stakes nature of testing is removed from classrooms. I suspect that, due to the extreme negative impacts students have faced from high-stakes testing, parents will forever remain more involved in the education of their children. This is beginning to take on historical significance.”

Mihelbergel asked, “When we are spending millions of dollars to produce very controversial tests, why can’t we spend a small amount of money to see if what we are doing is working?”

Mihelbergel shared a snippet from William Bruce Cameron, the sociologist, who wrote in his book entitled Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking, “It would be nice if all the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

“All of which makes a child whole, real, valuable, and unique cannot be measured. All of which makes a teacher effective cannot be measured,” testified Mihelbergel. “When we define the worth of our children solely by that which can be measured, then their worth becomes the measurement itself, their life is no longer their own, and the owner of the measurement dictates child worth. Parents are not opposed to testing. Parents are opposed to the high-stakes nature of testing.”

Mihelbergel appears to be correct; the giant is awake. It is much like the “mama grizzlies” Sarah Palin refers to so often. It will fight to the death to protect its children.

It will be indomitable once disparate groups across the country learn about each other, commit to focus on their similarities, run for local school board seats, and work with legislators committed to public education.

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