Donn Esmonde of the Buffalo News sat down to talk with three of the parent leaders of the historic Opt Out movement in New York state. Although the mainstream media has trouble understanding that the movement is led by parents, Esmonde got it.

They don’t look or act like radicals. None dress in camouflage. All three are parents who vote, pay their taxes, stop at red lights and salute the flag. But Eric Mihelbergel, Christine Cavarello and Jodi Hitchcock – and thousands like them – form the roots of a revolution.

It would be one thing if they were a disaffected minority, a grumpy niche, a band of eccentrics. But their numbers have swelled to the point where they – and their message – can no longer be ignored. Not even by as large, autonomous and irrepressible a bureaucracy as State Ed.

The three are part of a mushrooming legion of parents who don’t let their kids take standardized state tests. Their numbers are startling: 70 percent of third- through eighth-graders in West Seneca; 58 percent in Lake Shore; 56 percent in North Tonawanda; and 49 percent in Lackawanna opted out of Tuesday’s English Language Arts (ELA) exam. Numbers were lower in other districts – but exponentially larger in most places than last year….

We sat Thursday in the living room of Mihelbergel’s tidy ranch house in Tonawanda. I wanted a better idea of the motives behind the movement. These parents didn’t strike me as irrational, uninformed or overprotective. Quite the contrary.

They have a huge – and, it seems to me, justifiable – problem with their kids being force-fed these now-annual exams of questionable content. The results are being more heavily tied by the governor into grading teachers and schools. At worst, it feeds a teach-to-the-test culture that undercuts learning, handcuffs teachers and disregards the strengths and interests of each kid.

“It’s a game nobody’s going to win,” said Cavarello. “You’re chasing test scores, to the detriment of really educating the kids … The teachers aren’t happy, but they can’t do much about it.”

When the testing tail wags the learning dog, parents stand up in protest. And their numbers are growing. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, “You know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Cuomo?”

The parents I spoke with aren’t rising up because they don’t know what’s happening in the classrooms, but because they do. Ramping up standardized testing, and its ripple effect in schools, has turned parents into rebels, solid citizens into outliers, the law-abiding into the rule-defying.

“The state has underestimated the power of that Mama Bear and Papa Bear instinct, when it comes to protecting our children,” said Hitchcock. “This fight isn’t easy, it takes a lot of work.”