Carol Burris recently retired as principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center on Long Island, Néw York. She is now executive director of the Network for Public Education. She read recently that MaryEllen Elia, the new Commissioner of Education in New York, said that she would be “shocked” if any educators encouraged parents to opt out of state testing, and she said such educators (if they existed) were “unethical.”

Burris wrote:

“Well, Ms. Elia, be shocked. I am turning myself in to your ethics squad. I absolutely encouraged the opt-out movement last year. In fact, I did so right here on the Answer Sheet. I don’t think I could have been clearer when I wrote this:

‘But there comes a time when rules must be broken — when adults, after exhausting all remedies, must be willing to break ranks and not comply. That time is now. The promise of a public school system, however imperfectly realized, is at risk of being destroyed. The future of our children is hanging from testing’s high stakes. The time to opt out is now.'”

Yes, indeed, Burris encouraged opting out, as did many other administrators, both superintendents and principals.

Burris believed it would have been unethical to stand by in silence.

She wrote:

“It would have been unethical to not speak out after watching New York’s achievement gaps grow, indicating that the tests and the standards on which they are based are not advancing the learning of the state’s most vulnerable kids.

“It would have been unethical to ignore watching the frustration of my teachers whose young children were coming home from school discouraged and sick from the stress of test prep designed to prepare them for impossible tests.

“It would have been unethical to not respond to the heartbreaking stories that I heard from friends who are elementary principals—stories of children crying, becoming sick to their stomach, and pulling out hair during the Pearson-created Common Core tests.

“And it would have been unethical to not push back against a system of teacher evaluation based on Grade 3-8 test scores that is not only demeaning and indefensible, but also incentivizes all the wrong values.

“So if there is a place called Regents Jail, I guess that is where I will have to go.”

Burris noted that Elia would have to lock up her boss, Regents’ Chancellor Merryl Tisch as well, since Tisch recently said that if she had a child with disabilities, she would “think twice” about allowing the child to take the state tests.

Who is “unethical”? The educator who complies with orders regardless of her personal and professionsl values or the educator who refuses to do what she knows is wrong?