Andy Smarick is a reformer with a low opinion of public schools, like other reformers. But in some of his writings, he has shown a willingness to challenge the formulaic party line of corporate reform.
In this post, he disagrees with his fellow reformers who scoff at parents who opt out. As he shows, the reformer party line is that parents who opt out are white suburbanites who fear accountability for their children and their teachers and don’t care about closing the achievement gap.
Smarick says that the opt out movement is a test of reformers’ humility. Will they stop scoffing at parents long enough to hear them?
“I don’t want to infer too much about these individuals’ [reformers] intentions. But I’m worried that such statements, when taken together, give the impression that education reform believes that the opinions of white or middle-class families should be viewed with skepticism or antipathy.
“Non-poor, non-minority families love their kids and have every right to participate in the public debate about public education. I’m a strong supporter of assessments and accountability, and I wouldn’t opt out. But I think it’s unfair to discount the views of those who disagree, and it would be untoward to suggest they don’t care about other kids or are insensitive to issues of race and income.
“My reading of the situation is that a significant number of American families have misgivings about what’s happening in their public schools. Most of the issues about which they have concerns—whether it’s standards, assessments, teacher evaluation, or something else—are policies developed at the state or federal level.
“Had these policies been created locally, families could petition their local school boards for redress. But now, unable to change decisions made by faraway state and federal policymakers, these families are employing a kind of civil disobedience. They are using the power they do have—to decline participation in state tests—to demonstrate their frustration with the status quo.”
I salute Smarick for recognizing that opt out parents are not tools of the unions, racists, dolts, or helicopter parents. He deserves credit for acknowledging that parents who opt out have no other way of making kmown their opposition to the status quo of high-stakes testing. When these decisions are made by politicians who would be unable to pass the tests they are imposing, it is doubly galling.
It would be good if reformers showed understanding of what is happening on the ground. Children as young as eight take tests in reading and math that may require 7 or 8 hours. Does that seem right? Why should a test in basic skills require so much time? Many adults would find it hard to sit for so long being tested.
Many teachers have reported that the tests are two grade levels above the students’ actual grade. This guarantees a high failure rate?
Teachers also criticize test questions with more than one plausible answer or passages that are confusing.
Do reformers agree with the testmakers’ demand that test questions never are released, that neither teachers or students are allowed to discuss the tests? Do they think it is reasonable that the tests report a score but release no individual report about what the student got right or wrong?
Why is it valuable to have a score for every student but nothing more? How can these scores, when aggregated, improve curriculum or instruction or help students?
I appreciate Andy Smarick’s willingness to listen. I hope he continues to do so.