The parent leaders of New York state’s powerful Opt Out movement are taking the next step in their campaign to protect their children and their schools: they are supporting challengers to their own state legislators.
The stronghold of the Opt Out movement is Long Island, the counties of Nassau and Suffolk, where about 50% of all children in grades 3-8 refused to take the state tests. As it happens, Long Island is represented by Republicans who strongly support charter schools (but not in their own districts!), high-stakes testing, Common Core, and test-based teacher evaluations.
The parents have had enough!
Test refusal forces have taken an interest in the race for the state’s 5th Senate District, and they’re using the organizing tools that have been effective in driving New York’s test opt-out movement to try to oust longtime incumbent Republican Sen. Carl Marcellino.
“We’re using all of our skills that we’ve learned over the last four years and we’re applying that to helping candidates who are going to advocate for us,” Jeanette Deutermann, administrator of Long Island Opt Out and co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education, told POLITICO New York.
With the help of NYSAPE, an anti-Common Core coalition of parent groups from across the state, last spring more than 21 percent of the state’s approximately 1.1 million eligible third- through eighth-grade students refused to take the state standardized, Common Core-aligned math and English language arts exams.
The 5th Senate District, which includes portions of Nassau and Suffolk County, falls in the heart of the test refusal movement.
About 55 percent of public school students in Suffolk County opted out of exams in spring 2016, making the state’s eastern most corner a test refusal hot spot. About 43 percent of students opted out in Nassau County during that period.
Marcellino, who first won his seat in 1995, is the current head of the Senate Education Committee. His opponent, Democrat Jim Gaughran, has turned that position against Marcellino, running a campaign largely focused on education, setting it apart from most other races in the state.
Gaughran, the Suffolk County Water Authority chairman, has hosted listening tours on community education concerns throughout the district. Gaughran is announcing the end of his tour Wednesday, which included 25 events, at least one in each of the 17 public school districts in the Senate district, according to a news release provided to POLITICO New York.
Parents have no money to give, but they are supporting Gaughran with door-to-door campaigning and a social media campaign. They understand now after four years of organizing that they must fight for better leadership in Albany, where decisions affecting their children and their schools are made with no parent input, no evidence, no expertise, no knowledge. Petitions and rallies can be easily ignored. Real change requires better representation.