Why the Opt out Movement Is Crucial for the Future of Public Education
Many parents and educators are outraged by the over-testing and misuse of testing that has been embedded in federal policy since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002. No high-performing nation in the world tests every child every year in grades 3-8, as we have since the passage of NCLB.
Young children sit for exams that last up to 15 hours over two weeks. The fate of their teachers rests on their performance. Parents remember taking tests in school that lasted no more than one class period for each subject. Their tests were made by their teachers, not by a multinational corporation. Parents can’t understand how testing became an endurance trial and the goal of education.
Politicians claim that the tests are necessary to inform parents and teachers and the public how children in one state are doing as compared to their peers in other states. But this information is already reported by the federal test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Parents have figured out that the tests don’t serve any purpose other than to rank their child. No one is allowed to see the test questions after the test. No child receives a diagnosis of what they know and don’t know. They receive only a score. In every state, the majority of children have been ranked as “failures” because the testmakers adopted a passing mark that was guaranteed to fail close to 70 percent of children. Parents have learned that the passing mark is not objective; it is arbitrary. It can be set to pass everyone, pass no one, or pass some percentage of children.
In the past 14 years, parents have seen the destruction of neighborhood schools, based on their test scores. They have seen beloved teachers fired unjustly, because of their students’ test scores. They have seen the loss of time for the arts, physical education, and anything else that is not tested. They have seen a change in their local public schools that they don’t like, as well as a loss of control to federal mandates and state authorities.
In the past, testing companies warned that tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were designed. Now, these corporations willingly sell their tests without warning about misuse. A test of fourth grade reading tests fourth grade reading. It should not be used to rank students, to humiliate students, to fire teachers and principals, or to close schools. But it is.
Communities have been devastated by the closing of their neighborhood schools.
Communities have seen their schools labeled “failing,” based on test scores, and taken over by the state or national corporate charter chains.
Based on test scores, punishments abound: for students, teachers, principals, schools, and communities.
This is madness!
What can we as citizens do to stop the destruction of our children, their schools, and our dedicated educators.
Opt out of the tests.
Use the power of the powerless: Say NO. Do not participate. Withdraw your consent from actions that harm your child. Withdrawal of consent in an unjust system. That’s the force that brought down Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Vaclav Havel and Lech Walensa said no. They were not alone. Hundreds of thousands stood with them, and the regimes with their weapons and tanks and heavy armor folded. Because the people said no.
Opting out of the tests is the only tool available to parents, other than defeating the elected officials of your state (which is also a good idea, but will take a very long time to bear fruit). One person can’t defeat the governor and the local representatives. But one person can refuse to allow their child to take the toxic tests.
The only tool and the most powerful tool that parents have to stop this madness is to refuse to allow their children to take the tests.
Consider New York. A year ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo was in full attack mode against teachers and public schools, while showering praise on privately managed charters. He vowed to “break the monopoly” known as public education. The New York State Board of Regents was controlled by members who were in complete sympathy with Cuomo’s agenda of Common Core, high-stakes testing, and evaluating teachers by test scores.
But in 2015, about a quarter million children refused the state tests. Albany went into panic mode. Governor Cuomo convened a commission to re-evaluate the Common Core, standards, and testing. Almost overnight, his negative declarations about education changed in tone, and he went silent. The legislature appointed new members, who did not share the test-and-punish mentality. The chair of the New York State Board of Regents decided not to seek re-appointment after a 20-year career on that board. The Regents elected Dr. Betty Rosa, a veteran educator who was actively supported by the leaders of the opt out movement.
Again in 2016, the opt out movement showed its power. While official figures have not yet been released, the numbers evidently match those of 2015. More than half the students in Long Island opted out. Federal and state officials have issued warnings about sanctions, but it is impossible to sanction huge numbers of schools in middle-class and affluent communities. The same officials have no problem closing schools in poor urban districts, treating citizens there as chess pawns, but they dare not offend an organized bloc in politically powerful communities.
The opt out movement has been ridiculed by critics, treated by the media as a front for the teachers’ union, belittled by the former Secretary of Education as “white suburban moms” who were disappointed that their child was not so bright after all, stereotyped as privileged white parents with low-performing children, etc. There are indeed black and Hispanic parents who are part of the opt out movement. Their children and their schools suffer the greatest penalties in the current testing madness. In New York City, where opt out numbers were tiny, parents were warned that their children would not be able to enter the middle school or the high school of their choice if they opted out.
Thus far, the opt out movement has not been discouraged or slowed by these tactics of ridicule and intimidation. The conditions have not changed, so the opt out movement will continue.
The reality is that the opt out movement is indeed a powerful weapon. It is the one weapon that makes governors, legislators, and even members of Congress afraid of public opinion and public action. They are afraid because they don’t know how to stop parents from opting out. They can’t control opt out parents, and they know it. They offer compromises, promises for the future, but all of this is sham. They have not let go of the testing hammer. And they will not until opt out becomes the norm, not the exception.
In some communities in New York, opting out is already the norm. If politicians and bureaucrats continue on their reckless course of valuing test scores more than children, the opt out movement will not be deterred.
Save your child. Save your schools. Stop the corporate takeover of public education. You have the power. Say no. Opt out.
This piece was first published on Diane Ravitch’s Blog.