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

Sunday, April 03, 2016

NPE's Attempt to Coopt Opt Out

The world of anti-corporate education reform is a small one, and the fiercest and most effective elements are represented by the non-negotiating and in-your-face teachers, students, and parents who comprise the high stakes testing opt out movement. 

Their disobedient presences have been the tiny drops of life in a dead sea of testing, from Long Island to Colorado, from Florida to Washington State.  But one thing is for sure: when these overwhelmingly out-financed troublemakers sweat or bleed or cry into that vast dead standardized ocean, the colors change, the sun can once again be seen beneath the surface, and the waters start to move again with life. 

In New York, for instance, hundreds of thousands of parents, in defiance of unjust laws that would require abusive tests for their children, have opted out of tests in recent years without legal permission to do so.  Last year, 20 percent of New York children refused to take the racist, classist, and, otherwise, useless tests that are mandated by law.

The end of the testing fixation, however, poses a trillion dollar threat to the testing-industrial complex, which is comprised of the textbook and testing companies, the technology companies, corporate foundations, Wall Street politicians of both parties, and the professional development and management industry with its innumerable spinoffs.  

Because the survival of the corporate unions depend upon the graciousness of politicians who owe their survival to Wall Street, the heads of the NEA and AFT have become tools of the billionaires who are interested in increasing revenue streams and pursuing "market solutions"  in public schools. The union misleaders' chief task, then, in recent years has been to present and control the false image that they are acting on behalf of students and the teachers who send them hundreds of millions of dollars every year. 

Enter, once again, their good friend, the ever-dependable Diane Ravitch, and her Network for Public Education (NPE):
After careful thought and deliberation, the Network for Public Education is calling for a national Opt Out because of the harmful effects of annual high-stakes testing on children and schools.  We enthusiastically support those parents who refuse to have their children take the 2016 state exams.  

The alleged purpose of annual testing, federally mandated since NCLB was passed in 2004, is to unveil the achievement gaps within schools, ostensibly to close them.  Twelve years later, there is no conclusive evidence that NCLB high-stakes testing has improved the academic performance of any student... 
First off, someone needs to proof the copy that the NEA and AFT lawyers have prepared for Ravitch, the historian.  NCLB was signed into law in 2002, and it has been fourteen years since that time.  

More importantly, let's look at the timing of this "call" for a "national opt out." In most states, testing is already underway or already done--as in Massachusetts.  In New York, state testing starts tomorrow.  If this were a decision arrived at "after careful thought and deliberation," would NPE have waited until testing was either done, underway, or about to happen to call for a "national opt out?"  I think not.

Then, there is this caveat offered in the NPE statement:
We acknowledge that there is a legitimate role for standardized tests, if they are limited in frequency and time, developmentally appropriate, well-designed and reasonably scaled with realistic cut scores and provide useful instructional feedback. High-stakes tests given for school accountability purposes, [sic] do not meet those standards. They are undermining the public school system that is the pillar of our democracy. We believe that opting out of state tests as an act of direct protest will help turn the tide and eliminate damaging policies.
This is so classic NEA/AFT that it could have been written by either legal team.  In fact, the same caveat was offered when NEA and AFT embraced NCLB testing and value-added testing for teacher evaluations.  Sadly, of course, we know that the majority of the tests were and are junk tests, and that corporate union stipulations meant nothing, either then or now, except, of course, as a way to remind angry members that the unions never really endorsed the awful system that came to be but, rather, a fair system that didn't. 

And then there is this invitation to not opt out but, rather, to speak out:
We recognize that some parents will find it difficult or impossible to have their children refuse the exam due to punitive state laws or district policies.  We urge those who cannot opt out to speak out and demand their right to do what is best for their children in the face of harmful testing. The brunt of testing for school accountability is falling on children. Our elected leaders must address this broken accountability system and provide relief. 

For those who can, we ask that they break ranks, join us and not comply with testing. Policymakers cannot ignore the voices of the public when we speak together. Opt Out gives us that voice.
What's amazing about this "call" to opt out, at least where "punitive state laws or district policies" preclude such action, is the sheer meaningless of the rhetoric, since the ESSA, which Ravitch supported until after it was passed, requires states to have 95 percent of their students to take the tests.  Any "punitive state laws or district policies" will be necessarily aligned with the federal requirements that Ravitch and the unions supported all the way to passage.

The time to urge parents to press their elected officials was last year during the writing of ESSA.  Unfortunately, that was when Ravitch was pressing for passage of the Alexander plan, and there was no mention by Ravitch, FairTest, NEA, or AFT about including a statement on the rights of parents to opt out.  Nothing. 

Now that the ESSA is a done deal, are parents supposed to call their congressmen and begin asking for change??  Changing the law that Ravitch and FairTest embraced just a few weeks back that had the 95 percent testing requirement in it?  Or are the brave parents now supposed to defy the law that NPE supported? Or maybe that would be too "difficult or impossible," in which case parents may come to Raleigh later this month to speak with Diane about their plight.

This kind of counterproductive nonsense may satisfy the autograph seekers and the hangers-on that make up Ravitch's network that she has put together to benefit NEA and AFT, but those who are in this fight to end testing, segregation, and corporate control will not be appeased.

In the end, this NPE "call" for a "national opt out" represents another attempt by the corporate union and their spokesperson, Diane Ravitch, to water down and coopt the opt out movement by presenting a false and confusing image of testing resistance. 

Ravitch surely knows our elected leaders will only change when they have to, and the most effective way to force change is to defy the unfair and immoral laws that require children to take these tests.  And that is exactly the required action that NPE seeks to tamp down with more circuitous rhetoric and bullshit proclamations.


  1. Peggy Robertson and the original United Opt Out leaders started this movement after the rally in DC in 2011.
    That was five years ago. It has taken parents, teachers and students to finally be at the boiling point a whole five years later to feel the Bern. The train is leaving the station. Ravitch is now riding caboose. She just didn't quite understand how bad things really were, on the ground, where teachers live. Her rose colored glasses have finally come off. It's sad.

    However, she has done a great deal to educate everyone with her blog and tireless speaking, writing and engaging.
    Whatever it takes, let's just end this madness once and for all this summer. It's time to unite.

    There is too much at stake.

    Divide and conquer has worked well in schools and communities where administrators, teachers and parents have been pitted against one another and in the resistance movement where people's egos sometimes get in the way of pragmatism.

    There are splintered groups fighting the same battle all across the country on many fronts. It will be won some day because the status quo is unsustainable for human existence. Education matters.

    1. There are many who share your view that the task at hand is too large to be fighting among those who share the same goals. I am one of those people. What is clear, however, is that those who supported ESSA do not at all share the goals of those who are advocates for inclusive, integrated, and high-quality public education for all children.

      The new ESSA law represents the culmination of conservative efforts to return federal education dollars to state control, where they can be diverted from their original ESEA purposes of serving the needs of the neediest. This return to states rights rule in education policymaking masks a grander scheme, too, which is steered by the right-wing corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council to provide states with the identical racist and classist bills to push through bought legislatures. The effect, I'm afraid, will be national policy developed and disseminated by neoliberal ideologues and profiteers of the testing-technology complex, who care not whit for justice--or learning. Meanwhile, the teachers' unions and the "progressive" outposts that they control in the media and blogosphere (Ravitch and Basecamp), led the public relations campaign to make passage of ESSA inevitable. This betrayal, one can only hope, will lead to repudiation of corporate unionism by members and the sweeping out of the dissemblers and collaborators from among the corporate education resistance. If you believe in big tent resistance, the tent has to cleared of arsonists.

      ESSA was a litmus test that exposed where the true alignments are and who is carrying matches. Those who supported it, both Republican and Democrat, should be viewed with the same disdain as the bill, itself. If you believe that ESSA doesn't matter and that we can proceed with the resistance, along with the same people who supported it, then I can only suggest to you that there is some serious thought disorder going on.

      And yes, I am a Deweyean pragmatist, which is to say I believe in what works for everyone, not just the union misleadership and their complicit stooges.