OPTING OUT: One Way to Combat the Corporate Take-Over of Public Schools

Many parents of school children understand that the weeks and weeks of standardized testing being foisted on the public schools by both Republican and Democratic federal and state administrations are an utter waste of time and money. These tests provide no useful information, but they do so at an enormous cost. The tests have zero import to the students’ career and are being used merely as an excuse to rip the guts out of public education via a number of clever schemes cooked up in various think-tanks funded by billionaires – not by skilled, trained, accomplished veteran educators.
(It’s also the case that most kids finish the tests in a small fraction of the time allotted, and must sit there silently, not reading, not even drawing or writing or singing or sleeping, for the rest of the time, bored out of their skulls. And the questions themselves? Please — they are written by unskilled temps for minimum wage, and it shows. The questions do not come close to ‘measuring’ anything useful to anyone.)
(What’s more: We all know that the children of the hedge-fund managers, billionaires, and politicians who foisted this testing regime on us, both Republicrat or Democan, pay serious tuition every year so that their own children actually get a REAL education that involves sports, arts & crafts, drama, projects, foreign languages, real math & science & social studies & creative writing and much more — but NO week-long standardized testing sessions repeated multiple times per year. No, that sort of useless testing regime is solely reserved for kids who can only afford public schools, regular OR charter. And if the students are mostly black or brown, they might ONLY get “English” and “Math” that is nothing more than test prep, for huge fractions of the school year – whether they are in a charter school or a regular public school. And the results track the parental income and education levels with an amazing degree of accuracy — the correlation is close to 100%. Anybody with any life or educational experience could have predicted that: the more educated and wealthy the parents, the better the children do in school, in any country on earth, and vice versa. Duh.)
A number of parents in various places (but not enough IMO), even in Texas, are beginning to rebel. Entire school boards, and even superintendents of county school districts or principals, or entire faculties of some schools, are saying enough is enough. Bob Schaeffer has a lot of information on this. I think this is something that Tea Partiers and old lefties like myself can agree on.
I would like to encourage parents in Chevy Chase and in Brookland to OPT OUT.*
In principle, opting out here in DC and neighboring counties is simple:
1. Look at the school calendar.
2. On those mornings where your children will be otherwise wasting their time doing the DC-CAS or DC-BAS or whatever acronym they are using this year, you simply don’t send your kid to school until the testing is over.
3. When they come to school, mid-day, they come with a note from home explaining why.
4. Or, if you prefer, you can send the note beforehand, explaining why you are opting out, and get into good discussions with your children’s teachers and administrators, and your child can discuss it (or not) with his/her classmates.
However, one big problem obviously remains:
What do the kids do instead of going to school on those days?
Sitting home playing video games is not such a wonderful idea. Kids do too much of that already, and their social and physical skills are not getting the stimuli they need.
It occurs to me that more parents would opt out of testing if they had some interesting and organized thing that their children could do during those mornings.
Opting-Out activities would NOT have last all day long, but they WOULD need to be organized.
If parents (and others) could get it together, their children, the opting-out students, could:
1. Play outdoor, organized games (volleyball, soccer, softball, basketball, what-have-you) or
2. Go on field trips or hikes or bike trips of all kinds:
a. the Zoo
b. here in DC we have loads of free museums on science, history, art, and much more
c. go watch courtroom trials or debates on the Senate or House floors
d. nature walks
e. bike to Great Falls or Little Falls or Hains Point or whatever
f. visit parks and historic sites…
3. Plant or tend vegetable or flower gardens
4. Make stuff (an accurate scale model of our solar system, using a kickball or volleyball for the sun, will prompt a nearly mile-long walk, each way…)
5. Make art, music
6. Improvise or read skits/plays
7. Do hands-on math and science
8. Make music
9. Go canoeing…
Exactly the stuff that kids are very seldom allowed to do in public schools any more.
[I’m not exaggerating: at some charter schools I have visited, the children are essentially locked into a single room from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM, only leaving to go to the bathroom or to pick up packaged lunches out in the hallway. What are they training the kids for? Life in the Big House?]
If any group of parents feels like doing this, I am hereby volunteering to help out, gratis. As a retired, 30-year veteran, award-winning DCPS math teacher** with a grandchild on the way this summer, my pension is adequate (not a golden parachute, but we eat ok and pay the mortgage) so I’m not doing this to earn extra cash. I help run a similar, science-oriented, program on Saturdays called “First Light”, housed at the Carnegie Institution for Science at 15th and P Sts NW, so I know more than a little about such interesting, active, hands-on opportunities.
If we succeed in organizing this, parental help would be needed so that the student : adult ratio would at most five to one. We would need to coordinate transportation back to the various schools after the end of testing for that day. Other things to decide on: what to do about lunches, snacks, and breakfasts, release forms, legal clearances, and so on.
*I pick those two locations because I went to JHS, and later taught math, and still run a telescope making class, in Chevy Chase, and I’ve lived for 30 years in Brookland, where my wife and I raised our kids — who went all the way through DCPS and are productive and innovative, college-educated citizens, thank you very much (not hedge fund managers or other sorts of parasites).
**Photos of a pile of those awards (for me and my students) available on request. One of my teams even got mentioned in the Congressional Record by our non-voting DC delegate!
Published in: on March 17, 2013 at 2:53 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. I just left this comment on Diane Ravitch’s blog:

    Opt out of testing. Opt into learning: the way that technology can truly transform schools is not by replacing teachers with video “lessons” but by enabling each student to create a personal learning network and a self-directed portfolio of exemplary work which together enable real learning and simultaneously demonstrate its fruits.

    So while I support your notion of opting out and creating alternative activities outside of school, with lots of parental and volunteer involvement, I also think we need to advocate for more of this IN the schools: technology is not about replacing teachers, it should be about empowering students. I use the question, “Who’s telling the computer [or any electronic device] what to do?” This is, is the student simply supplying responses to a programmer’s/content developer’s prompts, or is the student creating their own content or learning how to do so, how to take control of the device and use its full capacity? Unless the student is being put in charge of creating something or expressing something, the device is likely wasting their time.


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