(A response from the United Opt Out organizers: Morna McDermott, Tim Slekar, Ruth Rodriguez, Peggy Robertson, Ceresta Smith and Shaun Johnson)
In the effort to stay “current” in reporting about the rising tide of the Opt Out movement (aka high stakes standardized testing refusal), journalists are eager to tell the story…but do they do their homework? Take for instance Greenblatt’s article for NPR.
Greenblatt in his NPR article creates a narrow and limited reporting of the Opt Out movement both in regards to who is representative of this movement and why it matters.
To the first point: it’s clear in the subtext that Greenblatt presupposes that the movement consists entirely of conservative minded folks focused on Constitutional rights and what he perceives to be their concerns with “their own child.” Under the sound bite narrative-style of reporting Greenblatt translates the entire opt out movement to that of the interests of “individualism.” While that may be the focus for some members of the Opt Out movement, Greenblatt assumes as many erroneously do, that libertarians and other conservative “momma bears” and “soccer moms” alone drive the effort, and that the concerns of one ideology speaks for us all. It is clear that Greenblatt is using the opt out story to discredit the Tea Party style initiatives including, as he so references, The Affordable Care Act. One wonders if his article’s purpose is to run defense for Obama’s policies by placing the Opt Out movement squarely in the arena of Tea Party-ism. While it is indeed true that push back against high stakes standardized testing does in many places around the country emanate from conservative fronts, the bigger movement to eliminate high stakes testing as the central driving force behind current education policy neither began with, nor ends, with a sole conservative “agenda.”
Case in point: Greenblatt identifies United Opt Out as a centerpiece organization in this movement, yet never contacted nor bothered to interview any of the six United Opt Out organizers. Our emails are publicly accessible on our website. If he had, he would have found that none of the six are in any way affiliated with conservative, libertarian or Tea Party ideologies. However that does not mean that “across the aisle” allainces are not being built in towns and cities everywhere. Many of us realize a common ground and move forward from that realization.
Additionally, many scholars, teachers and activists who hail from progressive, liberal, radical-left and socialist beliefs have been highly critical of the high stakes testing, top-down standardization movement for decades. The voices from “the left” have consistently been marginalized from current reporting on the Opt Out movement, as Duncan tried to do in accusing the Opt Out movement of consisting of “extremists” and “pissed off white soccer moms.” Perhaps Greenblatt and other journalists like him are trying to create the false illusion that resistance to testing belongs to “those Tea Party folks” and thus deter movement building with more moderate individuals or groups. Such misconceptions help to further alienate people of color from finding allies in the Opt Out movement. It might be that the status quo Democrats who have been cheerleading corporate-driven reform refuse to admit that many progressives themselves realize they’ve been sold out, and millions of us refuse to be associated any longer with their bogus policies. Maybe they don’t want the public to know that their own progressive constituents have abandoned their reform policies and are fighting to take public education back from the grips of predatory reform.
This leads me to my second point: the Opt Out movement is not, and cannot, be simply reduced to a culture of parents concerned with the individual rights of “their” children. Sure there are many in this fight for that reason. But there’s more, Mr. Greenblatt.
If Greenblatt had done his homework, hell if he had ever even visited our website he would have received a fuller and more informed picture of why the testing resistance is growing. By the way, the movement is not “small”– as indicated by the hundreds of teachers, parents, and students refusing the tests from Seattle to Chicago to New York, and every other city, town, and state in between. Maybe he needs to read the newspaper more.
The conservative voice is merely one voice in the resistance against high stakes testing. The voices and perspectives of testing resistance are far more many and varied than that. Who were the keynote speakers at the United Opt Out event in Denver? Glenn Beck? No. Our speakers included:
Dr. Sam Anderson, retired math professor and radical black education activist who sees education as a human right. Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish educator, scholar, and author of the book Finnish Lessons, who believes that equity must come before the promise of educational quality and that competition must be replaced with cooperation. Dr. Lois Wiener Professor at New Jersey City University, who was speaking about teachers unions and social justice. On Sunday Angela Engel stated that high stakes testing is a cancer on our education systems and that we need each other because “people matter.”
The movement to refuse testing demands cooperation, collaboration, and a notion of the “we.” In the words of Dr. Ricardo Rosa an education and social justice professor at UMASS-Dartmouth, who was another Denver keynote speaker, “Diverse social struggles can coalesce around issues of high stakes testing.” The Denver event was one of creating a sustainable and democratically/community-led movement for public education as a human right. Opposite to the notion of seeking our “individual rights” we convened to work with teachers, parents and students. We had leaders representing numerous national organizations including Chicago Teachers Union, Save Our Schools, Badass Teacher Association, Voices for Public Education, The Network for Public Education, Schools Matter, Coalition for Public Education, Fair Test, Substance News, and Uniting4Kids. Too bad Greenblatt didn’t do any actual investigative reporting about the things which he feels so privileged to judge.
Too bad he wasn’t there.
If anything screams “individualism” it’s a national policy called Race to the Top. Winners and losers. Of me I sing, Mr. Greenblatt. It’s a policy that pits child against child, comparing their data on humiliating “data walls” where they can be compared and tracked against one another. Opt Out is the resistance to a national policy grounded on competition, driven by corporate profits and data mining through which billions of dollars are funneled from public schools and go into the pockets of corporations like Pearson and inBloom. High stakes testing is a policy of greed, fear, and control. The high stakes testing agenda also leads toward the privatizing of public education. The communities most greatly harmed by testing reform are communities of color where high stakes testing scores are used to fire teachers, close community schools, and fragment the fabric of the schools and the quality of learning for the students. That largely white middle class moms are the media’s chosen “face” of the Opt Out movement rather than voices from urban black and brown communities who have been most greatly harmed by testing policies, says more about the racist nature of our media narratives. Or it requires we examine the continuation of privilege in our society where race, economic means, and political clout enable some people more able to speak out than others. Greenblatt fails to mention that many of us are in this fight for other people’s children, not only our own.
What else did Greenblatt fail to report? Sound documented research shows:
Legitimate concerns over data mining by private corporations who are getting paid millions of dollars to gather, and hold, thousands of data points of private student information.
That meaningful instruction is being replaced with hours and hours of increased test prep and testing, nearly one-third of the school year in some places.
That testing reform initiatives have never been proven to improve student learning, school equity or “career and college readiness” in spite of its rhetoric.
The damage that these policies are having on students and communities of color where increasingly public schools are being closed or teachers are being fired because of test score results.
The billions of dollars spent building new testing infrastructures while schools languish, unable to provide basic resources, lose libraries, librarians, nurses, and qualified teachers.
How testing, as the center piece for market driven reform, monetizes children, treating them as nothing more than test scores; scores which are used to sell, buy, and trade our public schools and students like stocks on Wall Street.
That standardized testing is grounded in an ideology of eugenics; increasing oppressive, racist, and biased policies and outcomes. Standardized testing, by its content, reinforces a Eurocentric world view and styles of learning.
The facts speak for themselves. It’s a shame Greenblatt didn’t do his own homework first. But again… this is the narrative the mainstream media doesn’t want you to hear about. Because if you knew the facts, you just might join us.