Friday, February 6, 2015

My response to John Merrow

I do hope you will respond as well. See his latest post here: What a Difference a Dash Makes! 

Well John, as you know, the numbers are much greater than a few hundred. New York had easily 60,000 refuse the test last year and this fall in Colorado we had 5,000 refuse the senior CMAS test. On our general FB group page for United Opt Out we have been adding hundreds a week. On the Indiana page they added 1,000 this past week.
I appreciate your comment about a democratic society – because that is what we, the opt out movement, are attempting to preserve. There will not be a free and democratic society if the privatization of public schools continues, using high stakes tests, which promote fear-based school environments – an environment which teaches solely to the test and is completely void of practices which create a democratic school or classroom.
At my school, we have testing all year (DRA2, MAPS, CMAS, PARCC, BAS, ACCESS, PALS. TSGOLD). I believe I’ve had perhaps two weeks this year in which I wasn’t somehow involved in administering a high stakes test and/or had my schedule interrupted due to a high stakes test. I have refused to administer the PARCC, but of course there will be someone to take my place. In addition we’ve been instructed to have daily PARCC practice. And we are desperately trying to stay true to the goals of a democratic , inquiry-based public school – can you imagine how exhausting it becomes to try to do the right thing, when everyone is asking you to implement curriculum and tests that truly amount to educational malpractice?
We know how to assess. We’re teachers . We have portfolios, report cards and we actually talk to parents. And if everyone is so terribly concerned about how we are doing we also have the NAEP. All of this testing is a distraction from the true issues that plague our public schools – poverty. And of course the learning is most narrow in our high poverty schools where these mandates are used to shut down our schools. I work in a so-called “failing” school (we prefer the term abandoned school). Our children are smart and creative and there are over 40 languages represented in our school . But our children are also hungry. We attempt to fill 180 food bags weekly in the midst of all this madness of teaching to the test and testing which takes us away from the inquiry-based learning that creates engaged, problem-solving students .
So – how big is the movement? It’s big and it’s picking up speed fast. The only way I can quantify it for you is to state that I help parents opt out before work, on my way home from work, and each evening. United Opt out has approximately 70 opt out leaders who support parents in their respective states. In addition, if you ever visit our FB group page you will see immense numbers of comments, questions, and support offered as parents find out how to refuse the tests. Another facet of opt out that is most frightening to the reformers who wish to privatize our public schools is this – when a parent becomes educated around the issues of high stakes testing they find their voice and they become an advocate for public schools and for their children. It’s empowering, and it is grassroots organizing at its best. We build relationships while the reformers continue to tear them down as they destroy public school communities and create policies which fail children and fire teachers. We’ll keep fighting back and we’ll keep growing in numbers – there is something to be said for speaking with truth and heart, John. I watch those who make policy and those who pontificate about public education speak with such arrogance – arrogance backed up by money – and the truth is they know nothing about education. And in a mainly female profession, it does not go unnoticed that many of those who pontificate and create policy are males. It’s time that public school teachers are respected for what we know, based on our education and our experience in the public schools. We will continue to fight back. And those of us who opt out – well, we have a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws. And this spring, you can watch it firsthand.
Peggy Robertson, United Opt Out National

Thursday, February 5, 2015

What it Will Take to Win

The one thing I have learned over the past four years is the importance of keeping one's focus. For myself, and those at United Opt Out National, the focus has been strategic and free - simply refusing to take the tests.   Right now we are working on a three-pronged approach - parents refusing to allow their children to test, students refusing to take the tests (typically older students), and finally teachers refusing to administer the test.

Right now I have one fear. I fear for the future of a generation of children living in a country void of democracy.

The harm that has been inflicted is already so great and so extreme, I can't fathom allowing any more harm to come to these children.  Doing nothing  - saying nothing - is like rolling out the red carpet for privatization to occur. So - fight without fear. The fear is what is allowing them to move at such a fast pace to destroy our public schools. I'd rather go down fighting for a win, then stand fearful as they continue to strip away our democracy. 

And we could win. The revolution is in progress.

We are at the tipping point. The question will be - can we work hard enough - and fast enough to increase the momentum for opt out? Can we work hard and stay true to what is honest and in the best interests of all children? I've watched quite a few activists get lost along the way  due to ego, a shot at a career on the dark side or a chance to make a profit in some shape or form.  It can get ugly out there. And as this war on public schools picks up speed it's essential that we do not lose our focus - do not be distracted by compromises or empty debates that ultimately take away all of your time. Time is our precious commodity. I protect mine fiercely.

My focus is simple. There is absolutely no need to make this complicated. The fact that it is so incredibly simple is what frightens them the most. 

No data = no profit. 

Opt out - targeting it through parents, students and teachers is the key. We are making mainstream media these days and that coverage is the spark we needed to push this forward.  As the crowds get bigger - as the stakes grow higher - it will be very easy to get lost. Take your pulse daily and remind yourself of your focus. There are many ways to fight back - but right now - truly - opt out is the golden ticket.  Opt out saves public schools. Every opt out by a teacher, parent or student is a vote for public schools. 

Build relationships and be ready to hold up folks who are tired, bullied and fighting hard against immense pushback. Our greatest challenge is the pushback - will we be ready for this? Do you have your activist crew in place to handle the phone calls, emails, and text messages as folks are told to obey unjust laws? As teachers are told to commit educational malpractice? As children are forced to labor for the corporations and while poverty is ignored?

I plan to keep my message simple.  I opt out/refuse the tests because I have a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws. If folks want to know how unjust these laws are - I am happy to provide them with information, stories, and more.

I'm ready.

The next few months quite honestly are everything. Or nothing. The next few months are an open door to save our public schools and our profession. If we do not walk through this door - fearless- and ready to fight - hands joined - then we will be in great danger. The door will not open quite so widely next time. Eventually they will nail it shut.

Now is the time to schedule your opt out meetings - meet at a coffee shop if you can't afford to rent a room. Meet at a house, or a park - whatever works. Canvass your neighborhoods. Use social media to get the word out to #defendchildren as we #optout #refusethetests. 

Understand that right now  - we will get the biggest bang for our time by getting our feet on the ground and talking face to face with those in our communities.  Because we have no money, time is our gold. Use social media to advertise and educate - but then,  meet in person to plan strategy and in order to lift one another up in what will be one of the hardest times in our activist lives.  We will need one another to get through these next few months. Stand strong and stand together.