The typical opt-out activist is educated, white, married, and a liberal with money

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Alex Zimmerman at Chalkbeat took an intensive look at who is driving the Opt Out movement, wherein parents pull their kids out of the standardized tests that allow districts and states to assess school performance:

The report from Teachers College at Columbia University surveyed 1,641 supporters of the opt-out movement across 47 states, including 588 from New York, in an attempt to answer fundamental questions about who they are and what they want. Some of those findings aren’t surprising. “The typical opt out activist is a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average,” states the report. The median household income of respondents surveyed was $125,000, compared with the national median, which was $53,657 in 2014, the most recent year available.

Policymakers have long suspected that #OptOutSoWhite, and now there’s empirical proof. Knowing this is important. Folks who want to escape accountability in schools say that we’ve always known which schools are bad. That claim is at most part right. While there are some schools that are obviously weak, there are other schools – namely those in the same suburbs with high concentrations of Opt Out participants – where accountability identifies massive gaps between white students and non-White students. There are myriad schools with intra-school segregation, and it is impossible to identify the deleterious effects of these schools when a bunch of the privileged White families take their toys and go home. Only privileged people get to Opt Out of accountability, and don’t let anyone tell you that these parents are “actually” defending the interests of more vulnerable kids. That’s not what they were doing when they moved to the suburbs in the first place, and it’s not what they’re doing when they pull their kids out of tests for political reasons.

Glad I got that of my chest. In other news, Sharif El-Mekki, the principal of a neighborhood school that happens to be a charter, shares why he’s baffled at “either/or” discussions in education

Some public schools serve their neighborhoods, some don’t, whether they’re traditional or charter. I am proud to work in a charter school that serves the same neighborhood I grew up and live in. The vast majority of our students reside in the 19131 zip code, and Shoemaker is right up the street from my alma mater. In fact, I even went to Shoemaker for summer school one year. The chasm of difference between what it was then and what it is now is tremendous. Shoemaker was once the second-most violent school in the city, and likely the state. That is no longer the case. Same community. Same kids. Different adults with very different results. Today, it’s one of the top schools in Philly.

Emma Brown at The Washington Post covers a group of state lawmakers who just released a new report on what the United States can do to become more competitive on international education benchmarks:

The group examined 10 nations that fare well on international comparisons, including China, Canada, Singapore, Estonia, Japan, Poland and Korea, and discovered common elements: strong early childhood education, especially for disadvantaged children; more selective teacher preparation programs; better pay and professional working conditions for teachers; and time to help build curriculum linked to high standards. It also says that high-performing countries tend not to administer standardized tests annually, as the United States does, but instead at key transition points in a student’s career. The assessments emphasize essays over multiple-choice in an effort to gauge students’ complex thinking skills, according to the report. And the tests cost more than states are used to paying for standardized tests, but “these countries prioritize this investment as a small fraction of the total cost of their education system, knowing that cheaper, less effective, less rigorous assessments will not lead to world-class teaching or high student achievement.”

Sounds great, but we’ve seen reports with these exact findings before. It seems that the problem has less to do with technical know-how and more to do with mustering political will in a country that delegates education decision-making to thousands of localized education authorities. I’d love to see someone solve THAT problem.

Finally, David A. Graham, writing at The Atlantic, summarizes the horrifying findings in the Justice Department’s review of the Baltimore Police Department:

The document lays out, in often sickening detail, the many ways Baltimore police abused the law, the people they were meant to serve, the public trust, and their own brothers in arms. In the wake of the failed prosecution of six officers for the death of Freddie Gray, the report serves as a reminder that rather than an isolated crime, the Gray case was symptomatic of a force that regularly arrested people for insufficient reasons, or no reasons at all, and used excessive force against them—but particularly, and uniquely, black citizens of the city. The Justice Department makes clear that African Americans in Baltimore were targeted and abused by the police, making this report a twin to the department’s report on Ferguson, Missouri, which my colleague Conor Friedersdorf wrote indicated a “conspiracy against black citizens.”

Graham’s piece includes myriad excerpts from the report, which is worth reading in its entirety. While visual evidence of police violence justifiably points us towards expressing outrage at murdering unarmed citizens, this report brings into sharp relief the point that the entire policing system is broken.


The movement to end student testing is whiter than you think

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Opt-outers tend to consider themselves “progressives” so they don’t like to see themselves as the privileged few who put their kids’ comfort ahead of the needs of other school children.

But it turns out that’s exactly who they are.

According to this recently released national survey about opt-out conducted by the Teachers College at Columbia University:

The typical opt out activist is a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average. The movement brings together Democrats (46.1 percent), Republicans (15.1 percent), Independents (33.3 percent), and supporters of other parties (5.5 percent)

It also turns out opt-out is not much of a grassroots “movement” of parents. Some promoting the benefits of opting out don’t even have school-aged children. The Columbia survey demonstrates the opt-out movement was dominated by teachers’ responses and their concerns about tying student test results to evaluation:

Interestingly, almost one‐fifth of respondents (19.5 percent) did not have school‐aged children. Thus the opt out movement consists of a broader range of activists than just parents who opt their children out of tests. The movement includes parents, parents who do not opt out, and parents whose children are not in the public school system, as well as non‐parents.

Not progressive and not grassroots

And it is driven as much by fear of low scores and inconvenience as it is by philosophical opposition to testing. As The 74 summarizes:

A closer look, however, shows that opting out-of-state tests—administered in grades 3-8 and one year in high school—has appealed only to a narrow demographic.

It also seems to have occurred, at the high school level especially, out of convenience rather than in opposition to testing.

In states with the largest number of opt-outs, students who chose not to take tests were mostly white and affluent; a large percentage were 11th-graders, whose crowded spring testing calendars also included college-prep and Advanced Placement exams.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Opt-outers don’t know what’s best for the families who are the real victims of the anti-accountability movement—black and brown students, disabled kids and students learning English, students from low-income families, all those students ill-served by our nation’s worst schools and some of our best schools too.

We now have the data that reveals opt-out for what it really is: a luxury, afforded to white, affluent taxpayers and parents who are blessed with well-funded schools, stable teaching staffs, and some assurance that their privilege will pave the way for their child’s success.

We’ve known for a long while that the opt-out epicenter is in Long Island, New York, where nearly half of the students in two of the wealthiest counties refused to participate in testing. And a recent New York Newsday editorial rightly points out that many of the complaints cited by the opt-outers are no longer valid, given the changes made to the New York state tests and the lack of any consequences for teachers:

Test results for individual students are more detailed and are released earlier to teachers. The percentage of test questions released has tripled. All questions are scrutinized by teachers before the tests. The tests are shorter, and their time limits are gone. All learning objectives have been reviewed to assure they are appropriate. Strong teaching tools are in place. And the teacher evaluation method that created so much fear among educators and parents, based partly on student achievement on the tests, is in a four-year moratorium.

What the “opt-out” activists could reasonably expect to achieve, they have.  So now it’s time to end the opt-out movement.

Time will tell whether common sense prevails in Long Island and nationwide. I’m not holding out much hope that these privileged parents will see the light and start to think about the needs of children less fortunate than their own. But if they stubbornly persist, some of these tony schools will be penalized for low participation with failing ratings. And that will hurt the property values of the #OptOutSoWhite crowd.

Perhaps this is the only message that will work for these self-described progressives: An appeal to selfishness and their own financial interests.

Tracy Dell’Angela is a veteran journalist and parent living in Chicago. She blogs at Head In The Sand.

NYC: Letitia James is wrong on opt-out

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New York City’s Public Advocate Letitia James sends a tone-deaf message on educational protests that threatens to hurt Black and Latino children most.

This week, millions of students across America will adjourn from their regular primary school classes to take standardized exams in reading and math. These tests are designed not only to gauge proficiency levels among individual students but also to determine the effectiveness of instruction at schools while holding teachers and school administrators accountable for student performance. In a shocking and disappointing move, James recently issued a public statement that essentially condoned the controversial practice of “opting out” by parents who choose to prevent their children from taking these standardized tests. The practice of opting out has become a version of educational protest of the worst kind, and to have New York City’s second highest ranking elected official come out in tacit support of opting out sends a horrible message that threatens to set a dangerous precedent.

The movement toward opting out has been fueled mainly by white suburban parents and teacher unions. The former group, usually from well-funded and high-performing areas, essentially promotes this practice while being blind to their own privilege. On the other hand, most of the teachers and teachers’ unions in favor of opting out are seeking to skirt responsibility and avoid concrete measures of their effectiveness. Although their motivations may differ, the effects of opting out are generally the same and have the potential for a disparate impact on a very specific group of learners: Black and Latino children from underserved school districts.

Federal and state funding can be withheld from school districts where the percentage of students who do not take the exams rises to certain levels. The districts that would be hurt most are often the ones that can afford it the least. Those districts are already struggling with failing schools that enroll hundreds of Black and Latino students who have few quality school options in their areas.

What’s worse is New York’s well-publicized and troublesome history with opting out. Despite a substantial number of students—an estimated 240,000 last year—across the state whose families chose to allow their children to sit the tests out, only 2 percent of the students who opted out were from New York City. If school districts in Brooklyn and the Bronx, where there are significantly higher numbers of Black and Latino students, lose funding, they can thank the 98 percent of those who chose to opt out from the suburban comforts of Westchester and Long Island, both of which have much better funded schools—and wider options for families—to begin with. Other leaders, such as Al Sharpton, have pondered the question of opting out for our community’s schools and haven’t fallen for the rhetoric many of its proponents attempt to advance.

As public advocate, James is undoubtedly aware of New York’s history of opting out and the potential consequences it has for New York City schools. It is shameful and deplorable that from her official seat, she would steer families away from a practice that promotes teacher and school accountability, as well as high standards of learning for our kids. Other proponents of opting out insist that the threat to withhold funding is a bluff and criticize the common core method upon which the tests are based. But no single method of education reform is without flaws. Until we make greater strides perfecting this system or inventing a new one, why should we jeopardize valuable and necessary resources of the students and schools that arguably need it most, particularly when they are not the ones typically responsible for putting that funding at risk?

The discussion on opting out contains strong underpinnings of race, class and privilege. This fight is brought on mostly by groups who will never feel the real effects of what opting out can do to our schools and who are ultimately empowered to remove their children from failing schools and place them in better performing ones without major inconvenience. Conversely, these tests are one of the best available barometers to determine what—and who—is really working in our schools for our kids.

James has an otherwise stellar career as an elected official and public servant who has always done right by communities of color. It’s terribly unfortunate that she has gotten this fight wrong in such a major way. Opting out is not the way to go.

This article was originally published in The New York Amsterdam News.

Black folks been trying to “opt-out” for years, but y’all won’t let us

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Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!

– Marcus Garvey

If you didn’t know, today is officially Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C., a holiday celebrating the end of legal slavery in the nation’s capital.

For all of us edu-fighters, reformers, activists, liberationists, and people who talk about education as the “civil rights movement of our time,” it’s a holiday worth cheering because it holds history, sociology, economics, and politics in one important story.

But the folks who might benefit most from observing this holiday are the opponents of school reform, and their noisy cousins in that national festival of privilege that we call the opt-out “movement.”

For as long as there has been such thing as organized education in the United States, black folks have been trying to reform it to meet the needs of our people – with our biggest need being freedom from white power – or trying to opt out of it to save our children. Our history offers a call and response between racism and our retorts to it.

When teaching black people to read was forbidden by law, we met beneath the cover of big trees, out of view, and we devised the earliest systems of peer learning.

In case the institutionalized racism of that time isn’t clear to you, and by that I mean to account for the possibility that you have been abused by what passes for history in public schools, this excerpt from the Virginia Revised Code of 1819 is a good example of what black folks were opting out of:

That all meetings or assemblages of slaves, or free negroes or mulattoes mixing and associating with such slaves at any meeting-house or houses, &c., in the night; or at any SCHOOL OR SCHOOLS for teaching them READING OR WRITING, either in the day or night, under whatsoever pretext, shall be deemed and considered an UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY; and any justice of a county, &c., wherein such assemblage shall be, either from his own knowledge or the information of others, of such unlawful assemblage, &c., may issue his warrant, directed to any sworn officer or officers, authorizing him or them to enter the house or houses where such unlawful assemblages, &c., may be, for the purpose of apprehending or dispersing such slaves, and to inflict corporal punishment on the offender or offenders, at the discretion of any justice of the peace, not exceeding twenty lashes.

Back then a person could get twenty lashes for teaching us to read, but times have changed. Today fewer people believe it is possible for us to learn so lashes are unnecessary.

Back when white schools didn’t want us, we built their own schools. In fact, with the help of Sears and Roebuck, Booker T. Washington built over 5,000 schools across the South that were arguably more responsible for the emergence of the first black middle class than any other contributor. Black communities, poor and facing all forms of trauma, determined themselves capable of building schools with their own hands, their own nickels and hammers, and electing their own teachers from their own communities to be held to their own account.

Again, times have changed. Today we would tell them their poverty and trauma were insurmountable and that they should succumb to subordination.

Back when white educators couldn’t or wouldn’t teach us, we taught us. When integration failed, we created our own space.

On this Emancipation Day we can celebrate the fact that we’ve come a long way.

Today, when new schools hold lotteries, we overwhelm the process. We try desperately to opt out of our captivity in educational ghettos. When you give us options, we take them with a quickness.

It’s a bizarre irony, then, that education, once alleged to be the great weapon against bondage, has now become something of a sad plantation where marginalized people are captured again and treated as 3/5’s a person.

Our new overseers, and the private associations that represent them, fight fiercely to restrict our movement by eliminating choices. They bellow weird slogans like “those new schools are not better for you than our schools.” It’s like that moment in “What’s Love Got To Do With It” when Ike tells Tina she’ll never succeed without him.

It was once said that the cruelest of all masters were those that were kind to their slaves. It’s true, those middle-class folks living off the dying educational system which seems to still be forbidden from teaching black people to read have recast themselves as nurturing revolutionaries fighting those evil outsiders who come to confuse enslaved people, with options and access to smaller, cleaner, better functioning schools.

In truth, the system workers are not revolutionaries. They are middle class agents of the state in revolutionary drag.

I’m reminded how Northern industrialists and missionaries came to the South with wild eyed claims of freedom for enslaved people. The competitive response of the southern plantation owners was to tell people in slavery not to trust the Northerners. Those “missionaries” were only looking for wage slaves and their promises of freedom were only pipe dreams iced with the profit motives of greedy business men.

Only the plantation owners have ever truly cared for enslaved people, right? Of course there was no profit motive in maintaining a plantation where owners and overseers alike could draw their wages, right?

This is the updside down state of education debate we live in. Our middle class overseers cheat usbeat us (or worse); and help hasten our transition from their educational starter-prisons to the adult correctional authorities; and then talk about us as if it’s all our fault, or the fault of the “heroes” and “missionaries” who come to free us, and as if the plantation system of education isn’t to blame for any of it’s predictable injustices.

That system is fine. You Negroes are not.

In truth, many speakers before me have said our schools are not failing, they are doing exactly what they were designed to do. But the “workers” in the system seek an escape from indictment in their part of our oppression, going so far as linking proposals to make them accountable through student assessments to Eugenics and slavery,

All of their plans, taken in total, would offer us little more than status as attended wards of the state, with low expectations being our cages, and belief in the system being our bars.

So, on Emancipation Day, I leave you with this quote from Doris Lessing, a famous contrarian:

“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”

Why opting-out of student assessments isn’t best for kids or communities of color

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There’s a new movement occurring in schools across the US, “opting out” of annual assessments in local schools.

As the Executive Director of the Faith and Education Coalition of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and a Christian parent of two girls, I spend a great deal of time encouraging parents to “opt in” all year long. I invite parents to get involved, to support teachers, volunteer in classrooms, and to get to know school administrators so they can voice concerns in person.

So my concern was evoked this spring as well-meaning organizations began urging parents to “opt out” during annual assessments in local schools. As background, every state plans its own annual testing window, usually in the spring, to shed light on the progress students have made since the previous school year. As parents ask me about opting out of assessments, I ask them to consider the implications of such a choice.

What would opting out actually accomplish for students? Will children’s educational experiences improve as a result? How can we improve student achievement if we don’t assess areas of strengths or identify areas needing additional support? And especially for students in low-income areas in which children already have to overcome numerous challenges, does opting out only serve as another hindrance by withholding critical feedback needed for future achievement?

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, has shared his thoughts on opting in for students: “If we believe the truth sets us free, then we must shine a light on the very real gaps in student achievement in the U.S. Opting out of annual student assessments only buries the truth about education inequity. Opting out turns a blind eye to minority and poor students who are not receiving the same education opportunities as wealthier peers in other neighborhoods. We can be the light for a generation by tirelessly seeking the truth about student achievement. I urge all parents to opt in for biblical justice.”

Rather than fearing annual tests, I hope parents will opt in for accountability and truth in our public schools. Since we believe the truth sets us free, then we must stand unafraid to measure what is true about educational outcomes.

As annual testing rolls around in your state, remember that annual assessments are just one measure. In combination with report cards, teacher feedback and classroom work, you can create a more complete picture of students’ progress. If you have concerns with how teacher assessments are connected to students’ tests scores, the power for change lies with your state legislators and I urge you to advocate accordingly. But let’s not equate the assessments themselves with how each state uses the information, those are two separate issues.

After spending time praying over this issue of opting out versus opting in, I began to see that annual assessments can be an opportunity for celebration, remediation and discipleship.

An Opportunity for Celebration:

If your child excels in a subject area on his/her annual assessment, celebrate that accomplishment! Remind them how God has created them with many gifts, including their minds, and that they have a unique opportunity to love the Lord with their whole heart, soul, and mind.

An Opportunity for Remediation:

If your child didn’t meet the standards for a particular subject area, it shows teachers and parents where extra support is needed. Rather than moving forward with gaps in their learning, remediation can be provided to help the student succeed in that subject area. The truth about learning gaps sets students free to make changes for real success. We cannot afford to have one more year of social promotion and ignored educational gaps.

An Opportunity for Discipleship:

Annual assessments are designed to measure progress in a particular subject area, not to measure a child’s worth. Our children’s identities are founded in Christ — not in the results of any test. If your child feels anxiety over testing situations, you can walk them through understanding that the Lord, not tests, define worth and that when we see tests for what they are, a mechanism to provide valuable feedback on strengths and gaps, then we can release the fear.

I personally struggled as a young student with believing my value came from test results and am profoundly grateful my parents took the time to disciple me to a deeper understanding that tests only provide information and our worth comes from Christ.

Assessments shed light on both strengths and gaps within our schools. If your local school system needs improvement, large or small, you can become a change agent without walking away from valuable feedback.

As parents choose to opt-in, all students, especially poor and minority students, benefit from the feedback provided to parents, teachers, and administrators. Let’s opt-in by embracing valuable feedback, thus equipping our students to reach their academic best, and ultimately supporting them to love the Lord with the entirety of their minds.

Dr. Andrea Ramirez is the Executive Director of the Faith and Education Coalition – NHCLC. She and her husband live in Austin, Texas, where they are raising two daughters. This article was republished from The Christian Post.