Friday, February 21, 2014

Opting Out

This week, the Washington state legislature put it's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal funding in jeopardy by defeating a bill that would have mandated the use of student standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. According to Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, who voted against the bill, "Nationwide we are a leader in the teacher-principal evaluation system. Why would we allow the federal government to break a system that is working?"

Whether or not it is working is a matter I'll leave up to my public school colleagues, but I'm proud of my state for standing in opposition to the growing nightmare of the corporate-style education "reform" being forced upon our nation's children.

On Monday, I wrote a post about the emotional and psychological toll being exacted from kindergartners and their parents by the drill-and-kill testing regimen. In response to the flood of parents asking what they could do to push back, I wrote a follow-up post in which I (inadequately, I think) attempted to provide some advice. After a few days of investigation, conversation, and reflection, I've come to the conclusion that the most powerful thing that parents can do is simply opt out of standardized testing altogether.

Opting out does not damage your child's educational prospects, it's perfectly legal in most states, and it likely won't mean that they get to also opt out of the "test prep" (i.e., teaching to the test) that eats up more and more of the classroom day, but at least it removes you and your child from the stress of the tests themselves. And more importantly, it sends a message to schools, school boards, state legislatures, and ultimately the federal government. The more people who chose to opt out, the stronger the message will become.

You don't need to be alone in this. Here are some organizational and informational resources I found through Fair Test:

Opt Out of the State Test: The National Movement (Facebook page) and this link is to their website.  
"Members of this site are parents, educators, students and social activists who are dedicated to the elimination of high stakes testing in public education. We use this site to collaborate, exchange ideas, support one another, share information and initiate collective local and national actions to end the reign of fear and terror promoted by the high stakes testing agenda."

"This page was created to inform parents, kids, and other interested community members about the overreliance on standardized testing to make high stakes decisions in education. It includes posts and links to information on opting out."

"This site was created to collect and share information on state by state rules and experiences related to opting out of standardized tests. This is an open community for any parent, student, or educator interested in finding or sharing opt out information, irrespective of personal decisions regarding political party, religion, or learning choice."

"The Bartleby Project begins by inviting 60,000,000 American students, one by one, to peacefully refuse to take standardized tests or to participate in any preparation for these tests; it asks them to act because adults chained to institutions and corporations are unable to; because these tests pervert education, are disgracefully inaccurate, impose brutal stresses without reason, and actively encourage a class system which is poisoning the future of this nation."

Parents Across America (website) and this link takes you to their Facebook page
"A non-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization that connects parents and activists from across the U.S. to share ideas and work together on improving our nation’s public schools. PAA is committed to bringing the voice of public school parents – and common sense – to local, state, and national education debates."

Save Our Schools (website) and this link take you to their Facebook page
"A grassroots movement dedicated to restoring educator, parent, student, and community influence over education policy and practice. We are a varied group of people with different perspectives, experiences, and views on education. But we agree that those who know the most about education, our schools, and our communities—the educators, students, families and communities in and around them—should be the ones to have the most influence over education policy and practice."

And, of course, Fair Test itself is a valuable resource, including this fact sheet on the dangers of using these tests to evaluate teachers. Here's the link to their Facebook page.

Of course, if you do chose to opt your child out of testing, there will likely be some pushback from your school. NCLB funding requires 95 percent of students to be tested, so if more than 5 percent of students opt out, that funding is in jeopardy. And, of course, if your child is bright or has shown test taking skills in the past, the administration will not want to "lose those test scores," as a colleague of mine was told when she withdrew her son from his school.

And this brings me to the choice many readers have apparently made or are considering making: opting out of public school altogether. Frankly, I can't blame folks, even though it pains me to see dedicated, involved families turning their backs on public schools. On the one hand, there is so much more than just standardized testing to hate about the corporate agenda that is tightening its grip on our schools, from union-busting and the de-professionalization of teaching, to standardized curricula being promoted through such things as Common Core State Standards, larger class sizes, increased "instructional hours," more homework, and the endgame objective of privatizing the whole thing, turning our children's learning over to for-profit corporations. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine our democracy thriving without public schools and the truth is that for the time being, most families have no choice. So even if you chose to opt out altogether, we are still in this together. I urge you to remain engaged with your public schools. We still need you. We need our local schools to know that they will get you back if they too reject the corporate agenda the way the Washington state legislature recently did.

You see, I still believe in public schools. We need them to work. We need them if we are going to continue our experiment in self-government. But we need schools that focus on the skills, knowledge and habits of citizenship, like critical thinking, creativity, and community-building, rather than the increasingly narrow focus on test taking and those mythical "jobs of tomorrow."

I still believe in public schools, which is why I continue to fight. I urge you to do the same.

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Suchada @ Mama Eve said...

Thank you so much for this post. My son is in a public pre-school program at our neighborhood school, and I'm growing increasingly concerned about standardized testing and other mandated policies that affect our children. I believe strongly in public schools, and am committed (for now) to ours. We have a new, enthusiastic, open-minded principal; dedicated teachers; and an impressive community. Your blog and the resources you've provided will be such a big help for me.

Diane Streicher @ Diane Again said...

Opting out of public education does not, as you imply, correlate with opting out of democracy. Goodness. Homeschooling families contribute to each others' success and to society as a whole in countless ways. Let's lay down the stereotype of isolated families locked up in their homes and hunkered down around the kitchen table. Homeschooled students and their families are often passionately engaged in their communities and devote significant time and attention to civic responsiblities.

Just to be clear, homeschoolers are not defined by their lack of faith in public schools. We are driven by the conviction that there is a much more effective and joyful way to learn.

Sharon said...

Thank you so much for speaking up and for the follow up articles with some specific actions we can take. My first question was "what can we do??" and you have helped answer that. I shared your posts on my FB daycare page and my website and I'll continue to do what I can to share information and speak out. Again, thank you!

Anonymous said...

So if we all opted out, the schools would lose some of their funding, and that would benefit our children? I'm not able to follow the logic through here. It would punish schools, but schools aren't the ones mandating the testing in the first place...

Gypsy said...

If you want to support Australian parents in the same position you can sign this petition:

Teacher Tom said...

@anon . . . Well, for one thing it will help the children who opt out and are no longer subjected to the stress and waste of time represented by these tests. As for losing federal funding, that is the way the Dept. of Ed. has set it up -- you do it our way or you're screwed. There is no built-in feedback method on these tests. Corporations like Pearson create curricula, then create tests that "prove" their curricula are working. It's a guarantee of profit, without any assurance that education is being delivered. The only way for parents to push back is to object to the tests themselves and the only way to do this is to opt out. If even 5 percent opt out, it will represent a crisis that the the feds will have to address. Also, I think it is highly unlikely that funding will be withheld due to parent protests. They are our government -- they sure as hell better listen.

Ilona Harvey said...

In england we were told the only way we could opt out was to leave and come back next year so their funding would not be effected so we did and never went back and homeschooled

heather said...

But 5% opting out in any one school will not be a crisis for the federal government - just a crisis for the school. For opting out to work as an effective protest, it would have to be extremely organized and able to mobilize people across the country. You would have to get 5% to opt out in a huge number of districts - I would want it to be something like half of all districts - for the federal government to start feeling it as a crisis. Opting out saves your kid, but short a broad and deep commitment, you can only save your child the testing stress while potentially jeopardizing school funding. Living in a really poor school district, I worry a lot about making this choice.