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Opt Out Chronicles: Organizing and Bullying

Parents are the only ones with the power to stop high stakes testing and take our schools back from the corporate reformers.
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In case you have forgotten, last year my wife (Michelle) and I decided to use Pennsylvania's opt out law to pull our son from the PSSAs (NCLB testing). It started with a very contemplative blog concerning the real possibilities of opting my son out of testing and finished with an interview on FOX and Friends.

This year Michelle and I are attempting to organize a local opt out movement. We hope to enlist a significant number (6 percent) of parents. It is my belief that the most effective way to start a national "opt out" movement is by enlisting parents and children (locally) and actually "opt out." As I have said in the past, parents are the only ones with the power to stop high stakes testing and take our schools back from the corporate reformers.

Michelle began by retooling the United Opt Out parent flyer specifically for Pennsylvania. After $200 in printer ink and a "few" flyers with the wrong phone number, we finally went to Staples and paid $40 for 200 copies of the Pennsylvania Opt Out parent flyer.

I also created a local Facebook Opt Out group and enlisted about 20 possible opt outers. I scheduled a time at the local public library and met with six families. We discussed the "opt out" procedures for Pennsylvania and our school. I reassured these parents that opting out of PSSAs was the right thing to do for many reasons -- mainly to make sure their children were not put through the pain, anxiety and stress of a test that will eventually label all of our children, teachers, and schools as failures.

In Pennsylvania it is legal to opt out for religious reasons and the schools must provide a space and alternative activities during testing times, thereby allowing working parents the ability to opt out. Therefore I decided to send an email to the building principals and let them know now (four months before March Madness) that there would be more children opting out and that the school should plan alternative activities. Michelle and I even volunteered to help. We want it to very clear to all observers that opting out is not an attack on our school. This is purely civil disobedience in support of our public schools.

Dear Elementary Principal and Middle School Principal,

Can we talk about the PSSA testing schedule? There are going to be more parents that "opt out" this year. The policy for opting out actually requires the school to provide a space and "alternative" activities for these children. I don't want you to have to deal with this on your own. I am willing to meet with both of you to help you plan and even help deliver some of the alternative activities.


I had no idea that hitting send on that email would push our superintendent into a bullying posture. I sent the above email on a Saturday morning. My intentions were genuine and I really wanted to make sure that the principals were not caught off guard when the PSSAs hit in March. On Sunday evening I received an email from the school superintendent. According to his terse email, Michelle and I were "premature" to think that more parents would join the opt out movement. In fact, according to the superintendent, the district would "educate" (frighten) parents about the "consequences" associated with opting out -- the district might not make AYP. Also, the superintendent was adamant that any issues I had with PSSAs in the future would only go through his office and he made sure that the school board was copied to the email.

Of course I was caught off guard. I did not (although I should have) see this coming. I immediately wanted to respond in a rage but luckily Michelle stopped me. Instead I forwarded the email exchange to a trusted mentor. My mentor sent me a quick email simply stating, "they're frightened." I'm not really sure this made me feel any better so I decided to draft a response to the superintendent and NOT send it to him. Instead I sent my mentor the draft. In five minutes I received the following response, "Send it." So I did.

Dear Superintendent,

Do you really believe that our school district will continue to meet AYP under NCLB? I know you are aware that by 2014 ALL students will need to be proficient in reading and math. I hope you understand that this will not actually happen and all the sanctions you reference in your email will befall the school district at that time. Isn't it obvious to you that NCLB is designed to prove that all public schools are failing?

Why is this so hard to believe? Why do you think parents that choose to "opt out" of the PSSA's are willfully hurting the district. Parents are the only ones that can save our schools considering the lack of bold leadership during this dark time in public education. Our children only get one chance at an education and it is abundantly clear (and you should know this) that the PSSA system (NCLB) is failing our children, teachers, and community. Test preparation is NOT an education. The national research is absolutely clear that NCLB has damaged our public school system and hurt students academically. Therefore we, as parents, must step in and protect our children since the district seems unable to do so at this time. We have no other choice. We must "opt out" of PSSA's.

Our children are more than test scores. Children are not data to be crunched by a system that will ultimately destroy real teaching and learning. Their scores will not be used to punish their teachers and label "our" school as failing. No one ever asked my permission if my children could be used in an experimental evaluation system. Therefore I must act as their parent and Opt Out. My role in this is strictly as a concerned parent and is not related to our professional partnership.

Please share this with the school board and let them know that I am willing to appear before the board to explain my position and take any questions.

Timothy D. Slekar, PhD.

"Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it." -Albert Einstein

I am still waiting for the superintendent's response. What do you think he'll say?

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