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.