Opt-out is whiter, more privileged and more clueless than we even suspected

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.

What do you think?
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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.

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