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A letter to the powers that be

Why I'm pulling my kids out of public school (video)

Editor's note: More than 150,000 people have read a posting by Lynne Rigby, a 40-year-old Seminole County mother of five children, on her website, lynnerigby.com. Rigby, a former teacher, addressed it to Gov, Rick Scott and Seminole school officials. The following is a condensed version.

About the video: Rigby talked by Skype with the Times on July 3, after her letter had been read by hundreds of thousands of people. In it, she expresses her surprise at the reaction, but also speaks out about why she wrote it in the first place and why she's so disheartened. Listen to her, in her own words.

The letter:

I am a parent of five children in Seminole County schools, aged 4 to 16. My husband and I are deeply embedded in this community. We are both successful products of Lake Brantley High School. I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1995 and came back to Seminole to teach kindergarten; he is currently the pitching coach for the Lake Brantley varsity baseball team. We stayed here so our kids would be blessed with a similar educational experience.

This year has been completely disheartening for us. You see, I've been okay with FCAT … show what you know, I get it … some sort of accountability. That was until this year. My third-grade son, Jackson, has had mostly As, a scattering of Bs through his Bear Lake Elementary career, much like his brothers. However, he has had the Discovery Education tests added to his school year. I saw his score on DE in first grade and it was scary low, in the 20s. But his teacher said he was doing fine. Same thing in 2nd grade, though knowing that FCAT was looming, I began to panic a bit.

We read out loud together each night through the summer, talked about the books as we read, and I believed that would pay off on the first DE test of third grade because he was doing really well. I was wrong. His first DE test was similar to others, but now his teachers started panicking because their pay depends on it. He was sent to remedial LEAP and ultimately a math pullout group. All the while he has had mostly As and a few Bs.

Disconnect. That's the word that plays over in my head. How can he do all his homework on his own, never struggling with any topic and get such a low percentile on a test? Then, an epiphany. What is the validity of this test? How does it relate to our curriculum?

I am looking at a printout of Jackson's answers (B, A, A, C, D, etc) and the correct answers (C, D, A, C, B) and what does that tell me? Nothing. I can't see the test to see what he's done wrong, to see if the questions are worded well. He's being pulled out of normal classes for remediation because of this test, but he has all As and Bs! He's excelling from a curriculum standpoint, so I, as a former teacher, don't even know how to help him at home.

Jackson's brothers had 4s and 5s on all their FCATs, perhaps a 3 thrown in here and there. All of which I accepted without hesitation. They're smart boys, we are involved parents. But now I pause. Did Carson not make it into GEMS because of an inverse operation problem that my mother-in-law, a former high school pre-calculus teacher, said was flawed on the third-grade test? The problem that my husband, a Georgia Tech graduate, said that there had to be a typo because the right answer wasn't there? On a third-grade problem?

Suddenly I want to see my kids' tests, see where they went wrong, but parents aren't afforded that option and neither are teachers.

Fine. FCAT is over. But the "AIR" test is coming. What will that bring? Who knows? The teachers don't, the administrators don't. Oh wait, the state of Utah knows because Florida paid Utah $5.5 million to field test the test. Who's writing it? And just as important, who is grading it? The educational grapevine says that fifth graders will have 14 hours of testing. Fourteen! If you told me that I had to take 14 hours of testing in a two-week period, I'd shut down. And you want to do that to my 10/11 year old?

• • •

This brings us to the elephant in the room. Common Core, or the Florida Standards which are aligned to Common Core. The materials remain the same. Jackson has the same text books as his cousin in California. It all sounds great. It is nice that kids can move on a Friday from New Jersey and go to school in California the following Monday and pick up right where they left off. And every kid will be career and college ready at the end of high school and all on the same page? SIGN ME UP.

It sounds fantastic when you gloss over it like that. But let's really look at our implementation of Common Core. I've seen it first hand with my third grader this year. Jackson's first- and second-grade lessons were based on the older curriculum. This year a new curriculum is thrown in. Teach it with "fidelity," Seminole County tells teachers — that means that they used only the Pearson materials (you know, the Pearson that has spent nearly $4.4 million in lobbying in recent years) and only Pearson materials, for the first 12 weeks of the school year. And get this, then we'll use the FCAT 2.0 which is aligned with the former standards to decide if this group of third graders is worthy of fourth-grade placement.

Jackson had a passage on a weekly comprehension and vocabulary test that was horribly written. I typed the whole thing into a grade and reading level decoder and it averaged at 10th grade. For my 8-year-old. There is no rhyme or reason to the materials and curriculum. It's a joke, a joke being played on our kids.

We have had some amazing teachers. They've engaged the kids with creative projects, allowed the kids to pursue some topics that interest them. Though the Common Core standards purport to foster that kind of education, about 90 percent of the work Jackson brings home is worksheets, done in class and done at home. Everything I've seen this year is stand-alone, segmented. Nothing is deep; there is no time for kids to even consider what is interesting to them, because you're on page 168 today and you need to get through 170 by tomorrow.

There is nothing engaging about workbooks. Shouldn't our Florida kids learn about things like the Everglades and the delicate ecosystem with our many lakes, springs and oceans or all about hurricanes? Think about how engaged kids could be in the process and how meaningful it would be to them! Worksheets could still be used, but to reinforce skills, not as the entire curriculum. Pearson "with fidelity" does not allow time for such things; that's the problem with a nationalized curriculum.

• • •

Today's public school atmosphere is all about accountability and not about the actual needs of the child. Not everything in education can be quantified. Teacher pay is being affected by those factors, factors that they cannot control. Art and music teachers are being "graded" on how well the kids who come to them once every seven days do on their math and language arts FCAT. That is nonsense.

The goal of education is to foster the child's fullest potential. I'm lucky, I guess. My kids generally do fit into your perfect little box because they pass tests, they never get into trouble, they will do "fine" at whatever curriculum you throw at them. But I want them to be excited about some aspects of learning, I want my kids in high school to take some classes because the topic interests them without the threat of failing a standardized test associated with an elective.

The time that our kids could be pursuing their interests is being spent on test preparation. Weeks of standardized testing not only takes away instruction time, but it also does not give a complete picture of the child. My middle schoolers were on a "testing" schedule for 11 days during testing season. Do you know what that means? It means they sit in one class for three hours every morning while another group in the school is testing. Know what they did? Watched movies.

The test emphasis is coming from the higher-ups, the state and federal governments. I get it. I do not blame the school or the county. Obama's "Race to the Top" dictates these tests and Common Core through funding. But education is not a race — it is a journey. Why must we hurry it along?

I ask you, Seminole County, to reevaluate. You have a community base who live here for your highly rated schools, but by taking the power away from the individual schools and teachers, you are undermining your superiority. Allow your teachers to teach as they see fit for their students. Take away the script.

If you stick with this curriculum and these high-stakes tests, I fear you will be creating an even wider divide between haves and have nots. Parents who can afford it will put their kids in private school or homeschool them. The gap will grow; not shrink.

I can't change the educational environment by myself — at least not in the next few months — but I can take charge of my kids' education. For us, I've decided that Jackson and Lylah (entering kindergarten) will be attending a private school next year. This year was a Common Core Experiment and next year will be focused on figuring out the "AIR" test. I cannot in good conscience allow them to be the guinea pigs for a curriculum that has not been proven and be pawns in the testing game.

I am concentrating my efforts on my younger two kids and praying that my oldest three have had a strong enough educational base that they will survive and thrive in this new environment. Ultimately, I want my younger kids back in Seminole County schools; unfortunately at this point I do not think that they are the best choice for them and that breaks my heart. It's a shame because you're losing out on two pretty amazing kids.

To read the full version of this letter, plus followup posts, visit lynnerigby.com/blog/

Lynne Rigby with her husband and five children. “Today’s public school atmosphere is all about accountability and not about the actual needs of the child,’’ she writes in her open letter to Gov. Rick Scott and school officials. “Not everything in education can be quantified.’’
Lynne Rigby photo

Lynne Rigby with her husband and five children. “Today’s public school atmosphere is all about accountability and not about the actual needs of the child,’’ she writes in her open letter to Gov. Rick Scott and school officials. “Not everything in education can be quantified.’’ Lynne Rigby photo

Why I'm pulling my kids out of public school (video) 06/08/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 3, 2014 1:44pm]

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