Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

05.03.17To Parents Who Have Opted Out of State Testing

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To Parents Who Have Opted Out of State Testing

I’ve read about and heard the anger and frustration you feel towards a school system that requires your child to participate in state testing. You believe testing is invalid or unhealthy or that it distorts the purposes of schooling. In opting out you have chosen to do what you believe to be in your children’s interest over what the system says is in the best interest of the greatest number of students.

I support your right to make that decision even though I disagree with it. Every parent should have the right to protect and provide for their child, especially when it comes to education. Nothing shapes the future they will inherit more. Nothing is more important.  So if, as a parent, you believe that what well-meaning people do in your child’s interest harms them or serves them poorly, especially in a way that affects their long term welfare, you have an obligation to act.

But now I ask you to recognize that the same principle operates elsewhere. Every day, other parents– usually with fewer resources than you–are mandated to submit their children to an education they believe is harmful to their welfare in deference to someone else’s definition of ‘greater good.’ Like you the argument that they must sacrifice for what the system, in all its knowledge, says is fair is not so compelling or just when it is their child’s welfare in the balance.

You see, by law these parents must enroll their child in the one school chosen for them by the system, and they have to send their child there regardless of whether that school matches their philosophy of education, regardless of whether it educates their child and prepares them to pursue  their dreams- or even, frankly, to read. They have to send their child there regardless of whether it will keep him or her safe.Those parents too wake up in the night unable to sleep. They too feel the anger of being unable to protect their children.

But unlike you they feel it every day of every school year. And for them the stakes for their children- failure in school, a life of economic marginality, being subject to violence or bullying, are higher- much, much higher.

If it is right for you to choose not to send your child to school today because it is giving too many tests it is surely right for them to not send their child to a school because their child is not learning there or is not safe there, or cannot study what they love there. Those parents seek—and have sought for some time—a combination of what you already have for your child and what you seek for your child when you say you are opting out. And it is hypocritical not to support them and the things they seek as well.

I said that these parents seek what you seek and also what you already have.  By ‘what you already have’ I mean school choice. You exercised school choice in your decision to move to a town or a neighborhood with good schools.  You see, even if you don’t realize that you chose, you paid extra for your home when you moved where you did.  You paid perhaps 5 times the per square foot cost for housing, perhaps more, for the right to send your child to a school that was safe and warm and bright and that stoked his or her curiosity.  You opted out, then, from the cold dark reality of the schools their children are required to attend and now even with the benefit of a good school, you wish to opt out again, so I am writing to ask you to examine your own choice and ask whether you can plausibly argue to deny all parents the same right to protect their child’s interest.

My argument is not merely moral—though it surely is moral in many ways.  One of the great benefits of choice is that it allows different schools to serve different constituents with different values and needs. If you support other parents’ right to choose schools that demonstrate academic results on assessments, say, the choices offered might also include schools that eschew tests or that emphasize the approach you yearn for and therefore better met your needs as well.  In the end, there is no one system that does not exert tyranny on some of its participants unless it allows for choice.  You feel that today as you choose to opt out of testing, though fortunately that tyranny lasts just three days.  Then your children will be back to their safe, warm, bright school. The question is, when that happens, will you remember the parents for whom the danger endures? Will you support their right to choose as well?

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5 Responses to “To Parents Who Have Opted Out of State Testing”

  1. Paul Hoss
    May 4, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    This piece presents a bit of convoluted reasoning against the opt out movement with regard to testing. If Doug had simply stated these parents were being used by New York state and local teacher unions to protect their members (teachers), it would have had more merit. New York teacher unions could not be more transparent. Too much testing? Baloney. Teachers are afraid of what the tests might demonstrate…that some kids are not learning, or some teachers aren’t getting the job done. While I appreciate and agree with Doug’s posture against the opt out movement, tell it like it is; why not simply call out the hypocrisy of teachers and their unions in this faux movement?

  2. Kevin Meldrum
    May 4, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    Paul Hoss, the point I see from this piece is that it is asking parents who opt out of testing to support school choice for those who currently do not have school choice. You have missed the point with your unsupported, anti-union response.

  3. Anna
    May 11, 2017 at 5:58 am

    Is there evidence of correlation between parents who are eschewing the tests and parents who do not support school choice for all?

    • Doug Lemov
      June 1, 2017 at 8:25 pm

      only that the overwhelming majority of opt outers are white suburban and upper middle class. this is also a group that dhas shown almost zero support for school choice (possibly because they already have it).

  4. Tenille
    May 15, 2017 at 2:14 am

    Does economic status dictate our choices? If so, is opting out of state testing an issue of privilege? Education opens doors to more options, and I agree EVERY child should have equal access to these opportunities. However, I’m not sure I completely see the parallel between the opt out movement and school choice. You got me thinking though.

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