Opt-outers, don’t mistake arrogance for awareness

Years ago, I joined other parent leaders in my community to lobby our school board for a full-day kindergarten program, not because it would benefit my kids (it wouldn’t) but because it was an important investment toward closing the achievement gap in my economically and racially diverse community.

And I still remember this mom, a white stay-at-home mom, who argued against it with this rationale: My kids don’t need it. They are better off home with me, where we can play and engage in enriching activities, and they won’t be stressed out trying to sit still for six hours. And even if you make it optional, that won’t work because my kids will feel sad if they are pulled out midday.

“It doesn’t help me, so let’s not do full-day kindergarten for anyone.”

I think of this self-serving mom every time I read about how the opt-out movement has taken hold in in our whitest and most privileged communities in America.

They know their little precious ones are brilliant and creative, so they don’t need some standardized test to measure their reading and math progress.

They know their teachers must be top-notch, because their well-paying suburban schools hired them, so they don’t need a test to reassure them that those top-notch teachers are helping their students grow academically.

And we sure don’t want to include any test results in our teacher evaluations because that means those profiteering testing corporations and privatizing charter schools will conspire to fire our top-notch teachers and close our neighborhood schools.

“It doesn’t help me, so let’s not do standardized testing for anyone.”

I’m a mom too, and I’m just as driven by the need to do right by my kids. One of my daughters struggles with test anxiety, and while I don’t believe in shielding her from the possibility of stress and failure, I respect the right of a parent to make that individual decision for their child. (I also respect the right of high school juniors to take a pass on state exams and focus on their college-entrance tests, but that’s another post for another day…)

What I find deplorable is when those parents assume they know what’s best for all families and all schools and try to force others into their “movement.”

It started out innocently enough for Jeanette Deutermann, the opt-out queen of affluent Long Island. She was a mom trying to figure out why her son hated school, and she concluded, it must be the testing. Maybe it was, or maybe a child’s anxiety in school has more complex causes than a single annual exam.

But Jeanette’s parental concerns soon morphed into something far more insidious, and now she has become one of opt-out’s most visible evangelists, and she won’t be happy until every parent is drinking her cult’s Kool-Aid.

“The domination of high-stakes standardized tests in our education system will end,” she wrote in 2015. “We are awake. We are aware.”

Opt-outers, please don’t mistake arrogance for awareness. You don’t know what’s best for my biracial daughters. You 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.

Let’s call opt-out what it really is: a luxury, afforded to 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.

New York state was ground zero of #OptOutSoWhite, and nearly half of those exercising their privilege came from some of the toniest neighborhoods in Long Island.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could fast forward a few years and find out what happens when these children—long shielded from the stress of those evil standardized tests—hit their junior years, when the competition to land in the nation’s very best universities intensifies?

Will all those opt-out families hold true to their test-hating values and eschew the pressure to ace the SATs and Advanced Placement exams—and instead seek a place in one of the test-optional colleges that true-believer Monty Neill promotes on his Fair Test website?

Or will they shell out thousands of dollars for prep courses and tutors to ensure their children “win” in another rigged game–the college admissions process?

I don’t want to be cynical, but my bet is on self-serving hypocrisy.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?
The following two tabs change content below.
Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy loves to ask questions and write stories. She roots for the underdog, wants our nation to reimagine schools and the teaching profession, and seethes about how much school inequity she sees. She spent most of her career as a journalist covering schools and crime. She and her husband raised two daughters in a diverse suburb of Chicago. She currently runs an education foundation in her community and formerly served as managing editor of Education Post. After leaving journalism she explored her wonkier side communicating school research at the University of Chicago and the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. She is Californian by birth and a Chicagoan in spirit. She loves the outdoors and all animals, especially her spoiled "dingo" dog.

  3 comments for “Opt-outers, don’t mistake arrogance for awareness

  1. lfox328
    March 12, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    I’m kinda FOR the testing – without it, too many schools will give “fluff” grades and “fun” classes without all that yucky hard learning.

    I was tested maybe 4-5 times a year all through school. Didn’t hurt me – I learned to treat it like a game.

    • Tracy Dell'Angela
      Tracy Dell'Angela
      March 13, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      Thanks for reading and weighing in. I agree, we’ve been testing kids for decades, so it is indeed a little baffling why this is now treated as a new societal concern.

  2. Diana van Ek
    April 26, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    It’s not that we haven’t been testing kids for years and years, it is that the tests have changed. The practice for the tests has changed. The pressure on the teachers and students has changed. I have seen a difference in the pressures put on kids in the 5 years between my own kids’ school experiences. It’s the hours of bubbling in instead of dynamic, exciting teaching that disturbs me. How many opt -out parents have you actually talked to? I have talked to many in Houston, families of different backgrounds and socio-economic statuses. I find your editorial really short-sighted.

More Comments

%d bloggers like this: