TIME magazine lost the confidence of many (or most) public school teachers with two cover stories in recent years. One was the cover story in 2007 portraying newly appointed D.C Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who allegedly knew “How to Fix America’s Schools” and was battling “bad teachers” so she could “transform American education.” The cover showed Rhee with a broomstick, looking stern and grim, about to sweep out the Augean stables of the school system. Then there was the recent “Rotten Apples” cover story about the Vergara trial and American teachers, asserting that it is “nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher,” because of tenure (i.e., due process).
So, what a surprise to discover an article in the same magazine that favorably explains the opt out movement. It is not perfect, for sure. It attributes the powerful opt out movement in New York to the unions, which is untrue. Nearly 200,000 parents opted out, and they were organized by parents like Jeanette Deutermann of Long Island, Lisa Rudley of Westchester County, Bianca Tanis of Ulster County, and Anna Shah of Dutchess County. Parent groups like New York State Allies for Public Education have been working on opt out for three years. In fact, the unions were not on the same page about the opt out movement. Karen Magee, the president of the state union (New York State United Teachers) supported opting out, as did some locals; but other locals remained silent.
The real story, which critics of opting out want to obscure, is that the movement is a grassroots, parent-led rebellion against a tsunami of testing and against tests that provide no information whatever to help their children. The test results provide no individual information other than a numerical score and ranking, not any description of what the student got right or wrong. Defenders repeatedly misinform by claiming that these tests are useful to teachers; they are not.
Christina A. Cassidy (AP, not TIME staff) writes:
In deep-blue New York, resistance has been encouraged by the unions in response to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to make the test results count more in teacher evaluations.
In Rockville Centre on Long Island, Superintendent William H. Johnson said 60 percent of his district’s third-through-eighth graders opted out. In the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca, nearly 70 percent didn’t take the state exam, Superintendent Mark Crawford said.
“That tells me parents are deeply concerned about the use of the standardized tests their children are taking,” Crawford said. “If the opt-outs are great enough, at what point does somebody say this is absurd?”
Nearly 15 percent of high school juniors in New Jersey opted out this year, while fewer than 5 percent of students in grades three through eight refused the tests, state education officials said. One reason: Juniors may be focusing instead on the SAT and AP tests that could determine their college futures.
Much of the criticism focuses on the sheer number of tests now being applied in public schools: From pre-kindergarten through grade 12, students take an average of 113 standardized tests, according to a survey by the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban districts.
Of these, only 17 are mandated by the federal government, but the backlash that began when No Child Left Behind started to hold teachers, schools and districts strictly accountable for their students’ progress has only grown stronger since “Common Core” gave the criticism a common rallying cry.
“There is a widespread sentiment among parents, students, teachers, administrators and local elected officials that enough is enough, that government mandated testing has taken over our schools,” Schaeffer said.
Teachers now devote 30 percent of their work time on testing-related tasks, including preparing students, proctoring, and reviewing the results of standardized tests, the National Education Association says.
The pressure to improve results year after year can be demoralizing and even criminalizing, say critics who point to the Atlanta test-cheating scandal, which led to the convictions 35 educators charged with altering exams to boost scores.