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“During the discussion, a retired veteran educator sat silently during nearly an hour of civil back and forth between parents and district officials. She eventually interjected, commending the parents for taking a stand.

“I came tonight just because I wanted to thank you,” said Sarah (Sally) Butzin, who once taught at Florida High. “I really applaud you. It’s going to take parents, in huge numbers…. So, good for you, for starting this.””

The quote above is taken from a recent article, “LCS to adopt ‘best practices’ for opting out of state tests, which covered a meeting of parent activists and Leon County Schools Superintendent, Jackie Pons on March 24, 2015. As a result of that meeting, Supt. Pons committed to formally adopt ‘best practices’ to guide Leon County families in opting out of Florida’s mandatory high stakes tests. (To date, besides Leon County, only Seminole County and Brevard County have seen fit to provide leadership and guidance by establishing formal protocols for families who choose to opt out.)

Sally Butzin is a retired elementary teacher, program developer and author. She has written about high stakes testing in the Tallahassee Democrat: “Testing report needs ‘gobbledygook translator.” She has a Ph.D. in Elementary Education and taught elementary education prior to her career as the developer of the Project CHILD instructional system used by elementary schools around the country. She was the founder and director of The Institute for School Innovation before retiring in 2011. She continues to write articles, newspaper columns and recently published the book, Best Buddies Birthdays: The Complete Guide to Homegrown Parties for Ages 5-10 with her daughter, Charlotte Beal. And she supports the opt out movement.

We are proud to offer this respected educator’s perspective and insight into high stakes testing and the opt out movement. From the Tallahassee Democrat, retired educator, Sally Butzin urges…

Parents: Join the ‘Opt Out’ movement

By Sally Butzin, Ph.D.

The horrific news from Flint, Michigan sent shock waves throughout America. We were outraged that a city was intentionally poisoning its children with lead-tainted water. And even worse, there was a remedy that the politicians ignored for years.

We should also be shocked that all over America our children are being poisoned with a more subtle and invisible toxin called stress. The evidence is the epidemic of childhood obesity, juvenile diabetes, and over-medicating young children with drugs to inhibit their natural desire to move and play.

Starting this week, Leon County school children will sit for the next wave of standardized testing. These tests are life or death for advancing to the next grade, graduating from high school, determining school grades, and evaluating teachers. To prepare for the tests, students as young as kindergarten endure hours of homework and days of test-prep computer drills. Recess is gone as well as music and art classes, especially for low-performing students who require extra test-prep practice.

What started as a well-intentioned effort to set higher standards and hold schools accountable for improvement has morphed into a stress-filled nightmare. Most thoughtful people realize testing is out of control. Recently State Senator Bill Montford stated to a luncheon group that “we need to go on a testing diet.” But he also pointed out it is easy to gain weight, but hard to lose it. Nobody likes to diet.

So who will begin this testing diet? The schools and districts cannot do it because they must follow the laws dictated by the Florida Legislature and enforced by the Department of Education. Teachers fear for their jobs if they protest. And the Legislature is obviously not inclined to diet since they enjoy feasting at the banquet provided by the testing industry lobbyists. So it is up to us, the parents and grandparents.

Great reforms such as the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Suffrage began with civil disobedience. Likewise parents nationwide are leading the charge to start the testing diet by refusing to let their children participate in statewide assessment testing. This “Mommy Militia” is taking up the fight on behalf of their children. In Florida they are called The Opt Out Florida Network. A local chapter, Opt Out Leon County is getting organized. Contact Beth Overholt at overholtbeth2@gmail.com for more information.

Parent power can overcome incredible odds. For example, a group calling itself the “Recess Moms” from the Tampa Bay and central Florida areas came to the Legislature to advocate for a law to require 20 minutes of daily recess in elementary school. Their pleas at the school and district level had been rebuffed. But with the Recess Mom’s tearful testimony and evidence of the importance of recess, the Florida House passed the recess law 122-2. However, the Senate failed to take up the issue so it died in this session. But the moms were heard, and they will be back.

Many parents have opted out of testing by sending their children to private school and by homeschooling. Others like the Opt Out parents and Recess Moms want to keep their children in public school. Their civil disobedience protests are acts of courage to reform and save public education in this country.

As a student myself back in the sixties who marched for peace and civil rights, I applaud the Mommy Militias and hope that more “Granny Gladiators” like me will join them. It’s beyond time to quit poisoning our children with stress. It’s time to put public education on a testing diet. Our children need champions for change. Join the opt out movement. There is strength in numbers.

You may contact Sally Butzin at sally.butzin@gmail.com

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