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

Monday, April 14, 2014

Why the Growing Opt Out Movement Puts Fear into the Antiquated Losers of Corporate Education Reform

I was chatting today with someone I had not seen in a while, and told them about my work in support of United Opt Out and how it could 6 percent of parents keeping their children home on test days could make the tests unusable for the sorting and punishing they are intended.

Brilliant, she said.

Brilliant, indeed.  That is why the creaky dean of CorpEd, Chester Finn, has offered his own "love it or leave it" message to all parents who insist that public schools should be about learning, rather than testing and corporate profits.

The responses at Finn's own website should tell him what he already knows--that racist, classist, and anti-democratic high stakes tests are on the wrong side of history, along with eugenics, corporal punishment, chairs bolted in rows, and privileged white businessmen making education policy.

This is the latest acknowledgement of current reality, published today:

UPDATED:   04/14/2014 11:28:08 AM MDT

At the Civil Rights Summit celebrating the Civil Rights Act's 50th birthday, everyone agreed that equal opportunity to education was a civil right. If that's true, then who are today's Freedom Rid-ers and who is standing in the schoolhouse door? Education reformers see themselves as mod-ern-day civil rights heroes, but the real continuation of non-violent protest can be found in the parents and students in the grassroots opt out movement that is refusing to take standardized tests.
In this fight, the power is almost all on the side of those who assume you can make a pig heavier by weighing it a lot, to put it in terms LBJ would have liked. And without any sense of shame or embarrassment, those who created this testing culture see themselves as his descendants.
"On the issue of education, we're dealing with the meaning of America, and the extent of its prom-ise, and in this cause the passion and energy of Lyndon Baines Johnson still guides us forward," said George W. Bush in his speech at the LBJ Presidential Library.
Bush started it with No Child Left Behind, but Barack Obama's Race to the Top is no better. Edu-cation Sec. Arne Duncan called Common Core "the single greatest thing to happen to public edu-cation in America since Brown v. Board of Education."
One of the problems with this policy discussion is that the pro-testing crowd can't understand how anyone could be against using tests to measure learning.
"It's hard to imagine anything so basic could be so controversial," said Bush. "I fear that the soft bigotry of low expectations is returning, and for the sake of America's children, that is something we cannot allow."
Public education advocates don't oppose high-stakes testing because they want to go back to the way things were in the '70s. They're against over-testing because it's not working. Under No Child Left Behind, our students have lost ground to the rest of the world.
Even Sandy Kress, the architect of No Child Left Behind who now lobbies for Pearson, thinks there's a problem.
"You've got drilling and benchmark testing every six weeks," Kress said. "Clearly, there's a lot of overtesting in a lot of places. It's just awful, and it draws really negative reactions from parents, teachers and communities. Tests weren't intended to be treated that way."
But the answer from the pro-testing crowd is always "standardized testing now, standardized test-ing tomorrow, standardized testing forever." To folks like Bush, Duncan, and Kress, there is noth-ing wrong with testing that cannot be solved with "better and more rigorous standardized tests." The problem with testing is never the tests.
That's why a surprising number of parents and students have chosen non-violent resistance as a last resort. If you want to find the people integrating lunch counters these days, check out the folks refusing to take the tests, or "opting out" as a form of protest.
Opting out is in. In New York State, at least 33,000 students skipped the Common Core tests in protest. In Seattle, 600 high school students opted out a year after their teachers refused to ad-minister en masse. Some schools in California have seen nearly 90% of students opt out.
No one should compare students opting out of standardized tests to students risking their lives on the Freedom Rides, but it's definitely non-violent protest. Parents who decide to opt their children out face pressure and threats from school administrators. Some schools forbid students who opted out from reading during the tests, forcing them to sit silently and stare at walls for four hours.
A Denver high school kept a student from returning to class after skipping the morning tests. In Utah, a teacher was fired for letting students know they had the right to opt out. In New York, a 13-year-old was suspended for telling her classmates the same thing.
The opt out movement is part of the Education Spring revolt taking place nationwide against the testing culture. In another 50 years, we might hold another summit to honor this new civil rights movement. But if that happens, the heroes we celebrate then probably won't be the ones who are creating the problem now. 

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. Follow Jason on Twitter @JasStanford.

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