"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"nothing left to do but opt out"

From Tim Slekar posted at HuffPo:
"If you oppose state testing, please contact your Senator and Representative... they can change, what we cannot." Superintendent.
Since our district's superintendent has decided to actively fight the opt-out movement I have tried to engage him by sending him articles that document the folly of high stakes testing and writing letter's explaining the opt out motives. I thought that we might enter into a civil discussion concerning government mandated public school reform as defined by the corporate elite.

I came across a Marion Brady article posted by Valerie Strauss. The Brady article hit some excellent points so I decided to forward it to the administrators of our district -- superintendent included. I received a response rather quickly to the Brady article from our superintendent.

The superintendent said that he agreed that research does not support high stakes testing and even mentioned listening to a Yong Zhao speech. However, according to our superintendent, the problem was our politicians. In fact he said, "The politicians are deaf to hearing about research."

This is a super observation because it is absolutely true. At this point in time, I also have no faith that our politicians have any intentions of "listening" to research challenging the failing school narrative and halting the high stakes testing regime. Therefore I sent our superintendent the response below.
Dear Superintendent,
You are absolutely right. However, the bigger problem is that politicians are not going to start listening to research anytime soon. You've met with them. I've met with them. They're not going to budge unless something forces them to budge. Take a look at their campaign contributors. All the major testing companies are funneling millions of dollars to the politicians. Research doesn't stand a chance against a system that is designed to ignore research.

That is why I want you to understand that the parents that opt out are not doing it because they want to hurt you, the teachers, or the school. They're doing it because politicians have taken you and the teachers out of the equation. You're not allowed to speak up against this misuse of resources that is designed to hurt our school. If you do, politicians will paint you as a "status quo" educator.

Whatever you think the "opt out" motivation to be, please be certain that it is not to hurt "our" school. It is the only thing left to do as a parent. Once we know the research concerning high stakes testing and the damage it causes, how do we as responsible parents allow our children to take part in a system that was never based on solid research and instead was imposed by political operatives, lobbyists, and think tanks that only want to get at the money tied up in public schools and declare the public system a failure?

Opting out of the PSSAs is the only action left. We want our public schools back. We want you, the principals and teachers to make the decisions. You are the experts.

After sending the email above I immediately crafted the email below. I just did not feel that the response above captured the emotions that I was feeling. It was factual and slightly passionate, but it was missing something. I wanted the superintendent to get a sense that the "opt-outers" were only engaging in this form of civil disobedience because the politicians have forced parents to take a more radical stand.
Dear Superintendent, I would like to start this note out from a more positive place than our last exchange. Let me clear up a misconception. I have no desire to hurt the school district, the town, or you personally. I love our town and I love the school district. My actions are actually being done in support of this small town and it's wonderful school system. You may question the opt-out tactic, but what is left to do instead?
I have sat with state and federal representatives and talked about the damage high stakes testing (NCLB, PSSA) is having on our children, teachers and schools. I have written these same representatives and detailed all the research that demonstrates the train wreck that is NCLB. I have written numerous Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor in local and national papers. I write a national blog for The Huffington Post. I have spent 5 years on local AM radio. I have been on CNN and FOX. None of this has changed anything.
I still walk into classrooms daily (all over the county) and I still see teachers wasting time on PSSA preparation. I talk to these same teachers. They are demoralized because of the deprofessionalization they have had to endure during NCLB. I know 30 veteran teachers that easily would have taught for years to come but tell me they're leaving because they can't take it anymore. They simply can't take not being able to teach. I have worked with teacher education students for 13 years. Each year it is clearly evident that they are products of the NCLB system. They have no ability to think or maybe worse, they have no desire to think.
There is nothing left to do but opt out. Will this action stop unneeded high stakes testing? I really do not know. However, I do know that if I do nothing it will continue until the entire public school system is dismantled.
Question: Am I just a misguided radical that should try to work within the traditional bounds of citizen engagement? Is opting out too extreme? Should I give up and try meeting with my representatives again? Maybe this time around they will start to listen, right?

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