Opt Out Chronicles: Fighting Sabotage

Quick Reality Check! What will happen to all public schools in 2014 under the current NCLB regulations (100% proficiency in math and reading)? Answer: They will be declared failing and will be taken over by the state and sold to educational management organizations (EMOs). The staff and faculty will be fired and then rehired at a fraction of their original salaries. The EMOs will take over local control of public schools (no more locally elected school boards), and profit -- not education -- will be the goal of schools.

Since Michelle and I publicly announced our "opt-out" intentions for this school year, we have recently found out that parents and teachers are being misinformed -- the opt out movement is being sabotaged. Parents are now being told (by whom remains a mystery) that opting out of PSSAs in Pennsylvania will jeopardize their child's educational future. And teachers are being told (again by whom remains a mystery) that "opt outers" want to hurt the school and teachers.

Parents are being told that if they exercise their right to opt out of NCLB testing (PSSAs), their children will be placed in remedial sections the next school year. This claim is ludicrous because schools do not receive the results from the PSSAs until mid-fall the following year. Placements are done before school starts in August. Therefore it is impossible to use PSSA data to make placements. And, since we opted our son out last year, we know this is absolutely not true.

Also, parents are being told that the PSSA test, given to students in their junior year, is a graduation requirement. However, Pennsylvania specifically allows all parents the right to opt out of PSSAs. Directly from the PA Code,

If upon inspection of State assessments parents or guardians find the assessment in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied upon written request to the applicable school district superintendent, charter school chief executive officer or AVTS director.

Please notice that this unambiguous statement does not make an exception for the PSSAs given in a student's junior year. This means that parents of juniors still have the right to opt out. The only thing that is required is that an alternative assessment must be given for the opt-out students in place of PSSA tests. As an educator, an "alternative assessment" sounds fantastic! Maybe students will get to engage in something and show pride, effort and commitment in what they have learned over the years?!

Michelle and I also just found out that some of the teachers are being "educated" about the motives of the opt outers. According to this "education," opt outers' true intentions are selfish and we only want to hurt the school and teachers. I understand why there might be some confusion, however I have gone to great lengths to explain why opting out is not directed at the teachers, the school, or the community. Look here, here, here, here, or just Google my name. If you can find one piece that demonstrates that I am anything other than pro public schools and pro teacher please let me know.

Bigger Picture
Understanding "opt out" requires the ability to see this as a movement directed at the "education reformers" who are determined to dismantle the entire system of public education in America. The reform establishment treats students, teachers, and curriculum in ways that are harmful, unethical, and unprofessional. The reason we "opt out" is because our local schools (our schools) and teachers are not allowed to be responsive and change in the direction best suited for children and teachers.

Instead, "teachers are taught to shut up and 'teach,' as if they could do so in silence." Once this happens, teachers are no longer advocates for children. And, "when teachers cease to advocate, [they] cease to fulfill one of the most essential elements of teaching: the act of caring." - Eric Shieh

Therefore, opt out is not a negative reaction directed at local schools and teachers. It is a positive action in favor of local schools and teachers. It is an action directed at the true mechanisms and personalities that have dominated the discussions concerning teaching and learning -- corporate reformers. As far as I know United Opt Out is the only group advocating a movement in civil disobedience that demands an end to the current corporate-reform movement.

This is why opt out is pro child, pro teacher and pro public school. We want the end of punitive high stakes testing that labels children, teachers and schools as failures. We do not want our tax dollars going to the pockets of testing and data companies. We refuse to allow our community-based public school be labeled as "failing."

How is this bad for children? How is this bad for teachers?

I'd be more concerned by people that intend or stand to profit from the coming collapse of public schools. Blaming Opt Outers is a smoke screen.<