October's News You Can Use: Wednesdays are for the Fair Tax; remote learning & surveillance; SAT diploma requirements in a pandemic?

In this issue:

  1. Fair Tax amendment: Help us make that call--every Wed. night, including tonight!
  2. Remote learning, surveillance and student privacy
  3. Why hasn’t IL waived the SAT requirement for seniors?

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1. Fair Tax amendment: Make that call!

It’s a month until Election Day. Early voting has begun around the state. But there is still a ton of misinformation and confusion surrounding the Fair Tax amendment at the top of everyone’s ballot. Millions are being spent on both sides of the issue, but ads and signs don’t have the same impact that volunteers reaching out one-on-one to voters does. That’s why we’re doing a virtual phonebanking event every Wednesday night in October to talk to voters about why the Fair Tax matters for our public schools and the public good. 

What you can do now: Sign up to phonebank on Wednesday nights, starting tonight Wed. Oct 7th. And bring a friend! Every conversation helps. (Loathe phone-banking, but don’t mind screen time? Let us know, and we can set you up to text bank with us!) You can also read and share info from our slides on the Fair Tax and education funding. Need help debunking a particular argument, you keep seeing on social media? Email us! [email protected]


2. Remote learning: issues with student privacy and surveillance

The ability to create virtual classrooms via the use of technology in student homes has been literally life-saving in the pandemic. But it has also presented a vast extension of ed tech beyond the bounds of the school building and a slew of privacy issues that school policies weren’t written to handle. Some of these issues have come up before (e.g. see the case in 2010 of a Pennsylvania school district activating cameras and taking pictures via school-owned devices in students’ homes). But with tens of thousands more devices sent home with students this fall and dozens (or even scores) of new apps in use, many specifically intended to stream live video, new issues have arisen. 

Chicago Sun-Times: CPS teachers could look inside students’ homes — without their knowledge — before fix

What you can do now:  The first step is to educate yourself. The Advancement Project and the Alliance for Education Justice had a great Know Your Rights: Online Learning and Student Surveillance webinar with a coalition of groups working towards police-free schools last week (recording and slides) that’s worth watching. Our frequent partner the national Parent Coalition for Student Privacy has helpful back-to-school tips for protecting children’s privacy. And if this an issue that you’d like to help us advocate on, we’re forming a working group, so please get in touch: [email protected]


3. Pushing back on high-stakes testing in the pandemic: SAT requirement for graduating seniors

Last spring the federal government waived testing requirements in the wake of the almost complete shutdown of K-12 school buildings which coincided with what’s now known as testing season. Illinois requires schools to administer the IAR to 3rd through 8th graders annually, and the PSAT and SAT to 9th through 11th grades. Most of that testing is to comply with federal requirements under ESSA. In addition, Illinois law requires that students participate in the school-administered SAT in order to receive a diploma from a public school. 

Even though testing was waived in the spring for juniors, Illinois hasn’t waived this diploma requirement for those students that would have fulfilled it---but for cancelled tests in the spring. This isn’t something IL needs permission from the federal government to end; it could be fixed by the state alone. 

Chalkbeat Chicago: Many Illinois schools are closed, but the SAT goes on. Why that’s a problem for some.

It’s understandable that some seniors who have had trouble finding a place to take the SAT this fall and summer want or need administrations in their own school district. Even though hundreds of colleges and universities have newly announced test-optional (or even test-blind) admissions policies this year, some students still need an SAT score to apply for admission or scholarships. 

But making this mandatory has meant compelling students to go back into school for a test they may not really need for anything but the diploma requirement---even in districts that are fully remote right now for health reasons. At least one of the administrations in CPS two weeks ago resulted in a COVID-19 exposure. Another administration is to be held this coming week.

The only beneficiary of making this test obligatory rather than optional is the College Board. And it’s long been clear that they don’t have the best interests of Illinois students in mind.

Whether the feds will waive 3-11th grade testing requirements again this year very much depends on the outcome of the presidential election. Stay tuned for more advocacy opportunities on this in the coming months.

What you can do now:  Let your state legislators know that the state shouldn’t be requiring seniors to take a test that the feds said states didn't even have to give last spring! This makes no sense. Schools should make it crystal clear that these fall sittings are optional.

ISBE should make sure schools encourage seniors who don’t absolutely need a score this fall to wait til spring. ISBE should lobby the IL General Assembly and the Governor to waive the requirement. And the GA should put removing this requirement for 2021 graduates on their list of tasks for veto session next month. Call and write your state rep and state senator and tell them this. Find them here


[Graphic used via Creative Commons]