A lobbyist for students

At the end of this intro is a rewrite, edited down in the neighborhood of a couple hundred words, of this original post. This shorter version appeared in the Cortland Standard on April 24th (page 6). Most important to me is that news media of all formats step up and begin to acknowledge that the “opt out” movement is more than a kerfuffle between a suddenly interested and active teachers’ union and an unpopular and self-interested governor. It is also more than helicopter parents that just don’t understand how good tests are for their children. While much is heard from leaders promoting value for struggling students in underfunded schools via tests, data and a building full of frightened and sad professional educators…many parents are now seeing the inconsistency, evasiveness, and dishonesty in leadership. “Opting out” is not just a fashionable trend. It was not driven by teachers afraid of accountability. It is a public declaration that citizens know they are being misled, that tests are neither truth or the answer. Tests should be the tool they once were-not a weapon of those with dollars in their pockets or dollar signs in their eyes. I like tests. I used to go and score state tests. I used to be able to use the information more efficiently to address student needs and make smart instructional decisions. My daughters are top scorers on these types of things, but that does not stamp a value on the school or their teachers. The misuse of these instructional tools by those with their own agenda in mind, the continued dismissal and disrespect of a profession by those not qualified to even enter the arena…these are the reasons my girls don’t “opt out”, they refuse.

Our leaders continue to defy research and evidence regarding the true needs of our students. Instead of providing more standardized funding and opportunity on the front end, they “opt out” of their responsibilities and hinge school reform on standardized outcomes on the back end-using state tests to enforce and evaluate the efforts of others. The tests and the corporations contracted to create them, meanwhile, are afforded more privacy, respect and protection than the students and teachers being subjected to them. While assessments can provide valuable information when educators are more involved, the current approach isn’t about that. Still, I am not a fan of “opting out”. Opting out is like saying “no thanks” to dessert, and doesn’t address “opting in” to the important stuff: collaborating with teachers, keeping track of progress, homework, behavior, bedtime… and so on. So my children don’t opt out of these tests. They refuse to take them.
But misuse of assessments by politicians isn’t about my kids. It’s about the growing number left behind in the economic competition model of public education. More kids are coming to school tired, hungry, emotionally and economically insecure, with school and academics low on their list of priorities. Children can’t eat tests. Tests can’t hug children. While our governor correctly stated the primary importance of parents and kitchen tables in a late campaign television ad, and has claimed to be a lobbyist for students, he was immediately back on the school attack once reelected. Students will benefit more when our leaders respect the people doing the work that they themselves are incapable of doing.
Whatever the path my daughters choose, I want them to be happy, productive, and smart…not victims of someone else’s plans. To that end:  I value parents, kitchen tables and teachers. I am a lobbyist for students.

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