How One Organization Is Resisting Corporate Education By Getting More People to Opt Out of High-Stakes Tests
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Late last month, over 100 teachers, students, and parents from across the country gathered in Denver for the United Opt Out National Spring Action, a conference aimed at growing the resistance to corporate education reform and high stakes standardized testing across the nation. Throughout the weekend, the education activists brainstormed and planned in area-focused work groups, interspersed with talks from, among others, a Finnish teacher and education scholar, a parent turned education activist, and a high school senior. All of it revolved around one central theme: organizing resistance to the global corporate education reform movement.
The event was organized by United Opt Out (UOO), an all-volunteer organization of parents, teachers, and students dedicated to ending the use of high stakes standardized testing in schools by creating organized, large-scale refusal to participate in high stakes testing regimes. UOO originally formed with the intention to increase the number of people "opting out" of high stakes standardized tests - whether parents preventing their students from taking them, students refusing to take them, or teachers refusing to administer them - but it has become much more.
While the opt out strategy remained central, the conference attendees participated in weekend-long discussion groups focused on devising even broader strategies to build a broad-based movement aimed not only at stopping the corporate education reform machine, but at transforming and democratizing public education as a whole. The groups focused on a number of areas from winning back local control of school boards to strengthening teacher unions to educating the broader public about the effects of corporate reform on their communities and their children's futures. Their aim is nothing short of a revolution in the public education system.
Revolutionary Transformation of Education Developing
"This is the education revolution," said high school senior and conference speaker Alex Kacsh. "We are creating a better tomorrow."
How is not taking or administering a school test part of the revolution? High stakes standardized testing is the cornerstone of the neoliberalism's corporate education reform agenda - and also its Achilles heel.
Reshaping of education systems as privatized, competition-based markets instead of public, collaborative infrastructures for educating a society's young people all relies on high stakes standardized tests to measure "success." Test scores then become the weapons that corporate reform policies use to privatize public schools, standardize curricula, break teacher unions, and pick winners and losers in the "competition" it creates among schools.
And as Dr. Ricardo Rosa, a Cape Verdean immigrant and scholar who spoke during the weekend, reminded the group, dismantling that weapon is striking a blow in the global fight against imperialism: the US has been exporting these education policies around the world not as a way to better educate the next generation, but as social and economic policies rigged against the people they're foisted upon.
Defeating corporate education reform here in the US could save millions of young, critically thinking minds around the world. And figuring out how to grow a movement that can prevent the destruction of that vital resource for the revolution is what kept the education activists at the UOO gathering energized all weekend.
Growing Mile High Grassroots Resistance
Since it was formed parent and teacher activists in 2011, United Opt Out began a campaign of educating students, teachers, and parents across the country on strategies and protocols for opting their children out of state testing as well as supporting teachers who refuse to administer the test.
A staple of that campaign has been the annual UOO national conference, of which the Denver gathering was the third. The previous two gatherings served as educational and networking events where parents, student, and teacher activists from across the country could support and learn from each other and share what was working and what was not. But this year, UOO came to Denver to take the opt out movement to the next level.