Earlier today a group of parents, students, education advocates, organizers, and other members of the community gathered together in Montclair to launch the latest mini-documentary, “The Other PARCC: Parents Advocating Refusal on High-stakes Testing,” by filmmaker Michael Elliot. This mini-documentary is being released as teachers, students, parents, and public schools all over New Jersey are preparing to begin the first administration of Pearson’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) performance based assessments (PBA).
Capturing the humanity and voice of the interviewees, Elliot weaves together a short, yet emotionally compelling piece to touch the hearts and minds of all. Their narratives give us a snapshot of why these individuals have either chosen to refuse the PARCC for their children, or why they are thinking about refusing. We hope you find our narrative moving and engage in this push back. This goes far beyond how our individual children feel stressed out, but rather how these individual stories are part of a larger pattern of reforms that are attacking what we know of childhood, child development, and learning. The stress our children are feeling and experiencing are just very human responses to being dehumanized through corporate reform and standardization.
Check out the video here:
It was almost three years ago when I first saw the sample test questions for the PARCC. The text complexity, confusion, and difficulty led me to conclude the test was a set up for our students, teachers, and public education. As a mother of two children, one of which who is school-age, and the other who is yet to begin, I knew there was something I should do to not only question these new assessments, but their origins, purpose, and potential implications on all children.
It was the summer of 2012 when I first met two of my warrior-sisters, Jean Schutt-McTavish, and Sue Schutt (the founding organizers of Opt Out of State Standardized Test NJ) at the Save Our Schools March Conference in D.C.. It was there that I connected with so many other edu-advocates and learned about the Opt-Out movement. Since that summer, I have been forever connected to Jean and Sue and many others I have grown to admire. Throughout this time, they have remained consistent in their pushback, and have inspired me to continue even when I’ve wanted to give up. What started out with just Jean and Sue has organically morphed into something no one could have created on their own.
And every time I contemplate giving up, because I feel little to no hope, the universe shows signs like this, this, and this, to renew that hope within me. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that these victories have come because of the efforts of parents, students, teachers, and many other concerned citizens who refuse to sit in silence.
Working together with a broad and diverse group of education activists, community organizers, parents, and other concerned citizens, the Opt-Out movement is on the move, growing beyond our imagination, and uniting people across race, class, gender, religion, and political parties. This unity we are witnessing is only the beginning.
As parents and students, we are taking a stand to push back against high-stakes standardized tests and corporate reform efforts in our public schools. In New Jersey, as we near closer to the PARCC we are seeing our test-refusal numbers increase tremendously. We can no longer sit back and allow the opposition to feed the public a false narrative, and at the same time, we can no longer sit back and say all is well with public education. As we continue to push back, we must demand that our schools become more democratic spaces and learning environments for our children and teachers. It is not just the responsibility of school boards to make this happen, but this is the responsibility of our students, parents, teachers and staff members, along with their unions, teacher training programs, and communities.
For many people in this country, the first institution they encounter is the public school. If our democracy is to thrive (I actually have questions about its actual existence), we much rethink our schools to reflect the true democracy we need and not the authoritarian dictatorial institutions they currently are. In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times “Make School a Democracy,” David Kirp highlights the success of Escuela Nueva, a cadre of democratic schools in Colombia that have been around since 1975. He states:
Another Nobel-winning economist, Amartya Sen, posits that political repression impedes economic growth — that prosperity requires that social and economic well-being be tethered to democratic values. Escuela Nueva turns the schoolhouse into a laboratory for democracy. Rather than being run as a mini-dictatorship, with the principal as its unquestioned leader, the school operates as a self-governing community, where teachers, parents and students have a real say in how it is run. When teachers unfamiliar with this approach are assigned to these schools, it’s often the students themselves who teach them how to apply the method. “In these schools, citizenship isn’t abstract theory,” Ms. Colbert told me. “It’s daily practice.”
It is about time that Americans ask ourselves how democratic are our schools. Our schools must reflect the democracy we intend to promote. We cannot stop at refusing standardized tests because they are a distraction from the larger issue under attack: our democracy.
So what’s next?
Our communities need to start asking questions. What can we do to rethink schooling, and learning environments? How can we design our schools to reflect the democratic values we
claim to have in this country? And lastly, what are “we the people” going to do about rethinking and reimagining our schools? I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait. And although I know these conversations are happening now across the country, I want to challenge the rest of Americans to have more of these conversations. If you aren’t already having this dialogue, make this happen now. It is not enough to wait for the bureaucrats or politicians to make this change for us; they can’t do that. It is not their role. Furthermore, the corporations cannot have this dialogue because their sole purpose is to increase profits no matter how damaging they may be on our children. Therefore, this needs to be a collaborative effort that involves the entire ecosystem of our communities. We can do better. We must do better. We will do better.
Also, please check out Michael’s video from last year which featured NY parents:
To learn more about the movement, connect with these FB groups and websites:
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