Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Comment on PBS NewsHour's Opt Out Coverage

William Brangham,

Thank you for covering Opt Out tonight. I'd like to clarify a few things that I truly wish would be made known to the public. First, Opt Out has been around for quite some time. My own personal involvement began over four years ago when I founded United Opt Out National along with five other individuals. United Opt Out National recognized back then that it was necessary to refuse these tests in order to stop the privatization of public schools. No data = no profit.

Now, the stakes have become much higher as there are so many tests tied to various levels of legislation (early childhood legislation, 3rd grade retention legislation, high school graduation, etc.). Opt out has become essential if we are to halt the test and punish system that is permeating every level of public education. Opt Out is essential if we wish to save the cornerstone of our democracy, our public schools. Currently, I watch children in kindergarten get labeled as failures at the age of five; it's hard to believe that our society has become conditioned to accept such punitive measures. We watch third grade students get held back due to one test. We watch charters kick out students who do not test well. Now, the testing is so extreme that we never stop testing. This year I counted three weeks at my elementary school in which my work with children was not interrupted by tests. Only three weeks. From January to May we did nothing but test.

The year was essentially over in Jan. due to the many tests and the exhausting interruptions that made it impossible to create any continuity whatsoever in my district. See here: http://www.pegwithpen.com/2015...  My school has a free/reduced lunch rate of approximately 78% and over 40 languages represented among our students. The children at my school are tested more than children in affluent areas due to language and due to lacking food, healthcare, and literacy rich environments at home. We struggle weekly to provide 180 food bags to our children who do not have enough food to eat over the weekend. When our school year came to a close last week the anxiety among many children was apparent as they saw their routine and their safety net coming to a close for the next two and a half months. And no one can answer my question: Why do we have money for chrome books and high stakes tests, yet we have no money for wrap around services, small class size, counselors, nurses, and more? They just continue to feed our children tests as that is where the profit is highest.

Regarding your question, was this led by teachers? It has very much been led by teachers and parents. Now, we have students leading too. I am a teacher in my 18th year of teaching and it was clear to me four years ago that United Opt Out National, our grassroots group, must have Opt Out guides for every state in order to support parents, students and teachers in reclaiming our public schools. When UOO started, 5 out of 6 of us were teachers. Our Opt Out guides were created by the people for the people. And when things cost money we dug into our own pockets. The unions were no where to be seen until just recently in re: to Opt Out. We now have approximately 80 Opt Out leaders supporting folks across the country as parents and students move forward with refusing the tests. We also help teachers who wish to refuse to administer the tests.

Finally, I do wish that someone would point out the following regarding Opt Out because this is by far the most important point: Opt Out is not an anti-testing movement. It is a movement to reclaim public schools and to demand that our schools receive equitable funding and a whole and developmentally appropriate education for all children. At UOO we state: We serve as a focused point of unyielding resistance to corporate ed. reform. We demand an equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, desegregated public school system for all Americans that prepares students to exercise compassionate and critical decision making with civic virtue. We demand that social policies be put in place to support communities and lift them up so that children are not hungry, tired and sick.

Mainstream media continues to focus on the testing as the issue - it is so much more than that. The test and punish system continues to point to an achievement gap (actually it's a resource gap) that no one wishes to actually do anything about; it's more profitable to continue to use test and punish to privatize our public schools. Quite honestly, all we need is zipcode to know how to support our public schools. The test and punish system keeps the propaganda of "bad teachers" and "failing schools" and "failing students" in place. What really needs to happen is that the test & punish system must be destroyed and legislators must be held responsible for creating policies which protect children from poverty and allow our students to learn and allow our teachers to teach - with support.

Opt Out is not new. Opt out has been around for quite some time and those of us working night and day for free to save public schools are rarely given a voice in mainstream media. Many thanks to you and John Merrow for allowing us to be heard. I hope this clarifies and helps answer some of your questions tonight. Thank you for covering Opt Out.

United Opt Out National has occupied the Dept of Ed. in DC twice which helped spark Opt Out across the East Coast. We then followed up with two years of conferences, one in Denver and one in Fort Lauderdale this year. We helped support the organizing of local activists during our two DC occupations and our two conferences. Chicago activists have always worked closely with UOO. Karen Lewis was one of our speakers at our last occupation of the Dept. of Ed. in DC. All the states you highlighted are states where UOO has worked closely with activists; grassroots organizing at its finest!

I do however wish you would have shown this map: http://unitedoptout.com/uoo-op... . We have had folks entering opt out numbers onto our map as "pins." They can add one child as a pin, a whole school or even a whole district; our goal is to get the numbers as quickly and as easily as possible. We hope to have concrete data when testing is finally over this year. We have some states still testing at this point. What I find fascinating about Opt Out is that it's much more than the "hard data" that the media always wants. Opt Out requires forming relationships with parents in order to create a successful Opt Out for a child. Sometimes I will spend an entire month talking with a parent to see Opt Out reach complete success. And guess what happens next? That same parent helps ten parents opt out in her community. Next, she creates an FB for her school district...and then it spreads like wildfire and we at UOO simply help when needed.

If you look at the posts on our website you can see where folks have reached out and we have responded to assist by posting advice. Currently we are assisting Kentucky where students are facing a sit/stare policy tomorrow morning. We have been tweeting all day to stop this policy. Again, grassroots organizing. Building relationships. And next year - Kentucky will be stronger! Also, next year our conference will be in Philly. Opt Out truly is a movement for the people by the people - that makes us quite dangerous. We have no funding minus the GoFundMe account we set up every year before our conference. And most of our Opt Out leaders work full-time jobs. Opt Out is not going away. We knew this year would be the tipping point and now Opt Out has become a part of family dinner conversation.

Our goal is to bring the test and punish system to its knees so that we may completely decimate a system that does nothing to support our children, our schools and our democracy. And when we destroy it, we expect our demands to be met. For the people by the people. See here: http://www.pegwithpen.com/2015/05/opt-out-is-peoples-movement_9.html

Many thanks again.
Peggy Robertson
www.unitedoptout.com, www.pegwithpen.com