Helping Explain #optout

Since October I have met with parent groups across the state of Pennsylvania to talk about the opt out movement.  I have been impressed by the strong desire on the part of many parents to explore opt out as a way to fight corporate education reform and the inhumane practice of using high stakes tests to hurt children, teachers, and schools.

My visits usually last at least three hours because there is just so much to talk about and the questions that parents have are always so thoughtful.  However, the most common questions typically take the form of a deep desire on the parents’ part to NOT want to hurt their community schools.

Here is an expert from a Facebook conversation where I try to answer some questions by concerned parents.  There is also a reference to a blog out of Pittsburgh—Yinzercation.  After reading this please take time to check out the FAQ about OPT OUT that Jessie Ramey of Yinzercation prepared for the families in the Pittsburgh area.

CONCERNED PARENT: I completely accept and agree that standardized testing is the bane of education today. My fear about an “opt-out” movement is that the highest scoring kids will not take the test– because those are the children of highly educated parents who have the time to read Yinzercation, agree with it– and take the necessary action. That means the lowest scoring kids will potentially be ghettoized into being the only ones taking the test in their schools. Not only does this place the responsibility for the failing scores markedly and publicly on only them– but it will result in ONLY failing scores. Then schools like Colfax lose teachers, librarians, art teachers, etc…and those kids whose parents have options move on “because they can’t let their kid suffer for the politics of the system” or something. It’s a Catch-22 par excellence, and it is an evil system that has created it. What to do??

TIM: All, Your questions and trepidations demonstrate your deep concern for your local community schools and not just your individual child. Thank you. If more people understood that this was about the entire system and not just our own children I believe we would move this mountain much easier.

But please don’t let your concern for your individual schools sway you from using opt out as a method of civil disobedience to stop the dismantling of all of your schools. One of the deterrents to the opt out movement is framed around the question of the children that will not opt out because of many reasons but mostly because their parents are overwhelmed with surviving and that these are typically students that struggle with the tests and that this will hurt the school and these students even more.

It helps if you see the opt out movement not as an attack on the tests but as an effort to take back our schools from corporations and the complicit state and federal government. Your school will fail if you opt out and your school will fail if you don’t opt out. The system was set up to “demonstrate” that public schools (all of them) are failures and need to replaced with something new-typically market driven charter schools with privately managed boards that make a profit off of the tax payers. In fact this is already happening in Philadelphia, Chicago, DC and other urban school districts. And we know that these a large majority of these charter schools come in and offer a sub par education devoid of arts, music, physical education, etc. They also turn the profession of teaching over to a temporary corp (TFA for example) to cut costs and turn a profit. For me this is why we opt out. We are doing it to bring attention to the fact that we don’t support a system that will eventually be used to hurt ALL of us. And we do it because our most vulnerable students are already being harmed by this system and our teachers are being demoralized.

This testing system uses our children’s data to dismantle our schools. You opt out to deny the data to the reformers. You opt out because you refuse to participate in a system that uses your child to provide data that will be used to label your school and your teachers as failures. You opt out because these are your schools and at this time in history only civil disobedience at the grass roots level has the potential to stop this insanity. It is because of the “OTHER” children that we opt out. If we don’t they will be the ones to feel the most pain in the new two tiered system of separate and unequal education.

It is extremely scary but everything you are worried about has already happened in many communities or is well underway. Remember the reformers’ point is to create a two tiered system of schooling–separate and unequal.

Opting Out is the greatest expression of love and care for ALL the students and the community schools in your district. If we do not stop this continued disaster all the “magical” schools will be sectioned off for only those that have the capital to survive in a choice based system. Talking to politicians at this point is also worthless. Understand that the testing corporations and charter schools have dumped tons of money into their re -election campaigns. It they dare speak out they simply have their funding cut. I know this sounds paranoid and conspiratorial but the evidence of this reality is everywhere. You just have to look.

We (parents) are the only ones that have the power to do something. At least we (middle class) parents have the means to help offset the damage and add to the educational experience of our own children.

Our less fortunate neighbors are the ones suffering right now the most and will be the ones that suffer extremely if we do not stop this purposeful take over of our public schools. This is about our own children, but more importantly it is about the children of those that do not have the social, economic, or political capital to stand up. This is the Civil Rights movement of our generation and “we have to carry each other.”

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  1. Alice in PA says:

    Thanks for laying out the arguments so clearly. These same arguments need to be understood by teachers during open and frank conversations. I believe that the message is slowly getting out there. As the 2014 looms just ahead, I find that many teachers here is PA are realizing that the ridiculous 100% proficient on standardized tests mandate is not going away and that every school will be labeled as “failing”. Also, the imminent use of the incoherent and unstable VAM based teacher evaluation system has brought the issue right into the classrooms of teachers who have not been part of the testing monster. While I like the idea of denying the monster the student data on which it feeds, I worry that the lack of data won’t matter. In the discussion of using VAM in the Pittsburgh schools, it was noted that there is no longitudinal data for over half the teachers, but the evaluation will go ahead anyway.

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