“Imagine a school where teachers are paid really well for their education and level of experience. That way we will have a mix of experience levels, and newer teachers can learn from colleagues with decades in the classroom. Imagine a school where class sizes are small — under thirty, so teachers have time to give individual students attention. Imagine a school where the facility is well resourced and modern, and teachers have the materials they need. Imagine the resources needed to support all this comes from public funding, from the tremendous wealth generated by the largest, most robust economy the world has ever seen. Teachers need not spend their own money, beg, hold bake sales or even write proposals to Donors Choose to get the materials they need to teach. Imagine teachers have the autonomy to develop projects, or to pursue other instructional models they feel will inspire their students and serve their community. Imagine student learning is demonstrated in all sorts of ways, and not reduced to test scores for purposes of false accountability systems. Imagine local communities like Bronzeville in Chicago are given real control over their schools, and their innovative proposals do not require people going on hunger strikes to be heard. Imagine corporate philanthropies no longer get to decide what is best for the rest of us and circumvent democratic processes to get their way.”
~ Anthony Cody
Anthony worked for 24 years in the Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high-needs middle school. A National Board certified teacher, he now leads workshops with teachers on Project Based Learning. He is the co-founder of the Network for Public Education.
We’re About Reclaiming Our Public Schools,
Not Abandoning Them
After the state-induced disasters of the 2014-2015 opt out season, public awareness about the corruption and profit surrounding high-stakes testing policies continues to increase. Of course, Florida’s movement has certainly been aided by three important factors this year. First, there are the numerous testing and technological fiascoes caused by the company that created and administered the FSA (see AIR’s mistakes here and here). Second, there is the flippant indecision by our state’s politicians about their own policies on testing and implementation (see here and here). And finally, there is the absurd fact that children, teachers, and schools are still being penalized by tests that are unscientific. In spite of the state’s “Validity Report,” the FSA has not been proven to be either valid or reliable (see here and here). No wonder parents are speaking out and taking action. Their children are being used, experimented on, and exploited by imbeciles.
Two words come to mind when we think about this past school year: greed and incompetence. And as frustrating as this ‘testing circus’ has been to students, teachers, and parents, we can be somewhat grateful (ironically) for all that we have witnessed. We say this because the people of Florida have been provided with the strongest possible evidence for why we must continue to fight to wrestle the control of the public schools from the hands of people who know the least about teaching and learning and who care even less about the well-being of our children, our schools, and democracy.
Now some people might assume that this greed and incompetence would cause The Opt Out Florida Network to stop supporting the public schools. Some might think that it would cause us to throw up our hands in disgust and turn our backs on the people who work and learn inside our schools. But this just isn’t the case. The truth is, the corporate and political ineptitude has had the exact opposite effect on us: we are clearer than ever that our work is about reclaiming the public schools – not abandoning them. This struggle is about EVERY child in public school – not just our own children – because we know ALL children are inherently valuable and that no test can measure them or their individual gifts. EVERY child benefits from creative, nurturing, supportive, and integrated learning environments that are supported and shaped by their communities. The opportunity for a good education is a right that should belong to every child in this country; it should not be a privilege enjoyed only by the wealthy. It is for this reason that The Opt Out Florida Network’s mission, motives, and aims remain steadfast.
The Opt Out Florida Network supports PUBLIC schools. We do not support any policy or practice that funnels money out of the public schools and into the pockets of private corporations and profiteers. This means that we oppose privately-run charter schools and vouchers. Charter schools are often run by for-profit companies, which means they draw vital funds away from our public schools so they can turn our tax dollars into their profits. This is unacceptable. Also, many charter schools discriminate against students: they refuse enrollment to those who do not score high on tests, and they turn away children who ‘cost too much to educate’, like English language learners or individuals with disabilities. This is deplorable. Finally, charters and vouchers allow private entities the ability to spend the public’s money but they do not have to be subjected to public oversight. This is unethical and anti-democratic. When these private charter schools fail, embezzle funds, or shut down, the public has no recourse. We call this robbery.
The Opt Out Florida Network is not “anti-testing”. The Opt Out Florida Network supports multiple measures of authentic assessments (like portfolios, project-based assessments, performance-based assessments, collaborative projects, etc.) that can be used to inform instruction and which do not result in punitive consequences for students, teachers, and schools. We want in-depth forms of assessments that reflect what children actually know. So, we are not anti-testing. We are, however, very much against the high-stakes that federal and state policymakers have mandated because they are accompanied by inhumane consequences, they take power away from local schools and communities, and they suck millions of dollars out of our already underfunded public schools.
Rest assured, companies and policymakers are using children’s data to ‘justify’ the damage they cause to our schools. They mandate the use of tests – like those created by Pearson or AIR – that are designed to trick and fail children, ruin our schools, or hurt students’ academic and social well-being. We, however, refuse to comply with the people and policies that cause harm to children. With that being said, The Opt Out Florida Network is in favor of cooperative acts of civil disobedience. In fact, that is exactly what opting out is. We advocate opting out of any high-stakes test and any invalid or unreliable assessment that fails to provide teachers with information they can use to design better instruction for their students. If the tests are faulty and if the data is going to be used against students, teachers, and schools, then we deny them the data.
Political action is the only answer for us: we, the people, must pay diligent attention to the affairs of our state and federal governments and act accordingly when they get out of hand. We cannot stress enough that The Opt Out Florida Network is political, but we are not partisan. We do not side with the democrats or republicans because, in truth, our public schools are being attacked by a cohesive left-right coalition. Think about it this way… No Child Left Behind was signed by G. W. Bush. Obama implemented Race to the Top and Common Core. Common Core has been strongly supported by Hillary Clinton and funded by Jeb Bush and many others on both sides of the political aisle, including the Gates Foundation (liberal) and the Walton Foundation (conservative). Our education policies just keep getting worse, regardless of political affiliations!
Now consider these points… The notoriously liberal Gates Foundation has heavily influenced Obama’s education policies, funded Common Core, and provided over $5 million in funding to Jeb’s foundation (Foundation for Excellence in Education). Meanwhile, Jeb’s company (Academic Partnerships) paid Hillary a quarter of a million dollars to provide a sales pitch at one of his corporate education events. Finally, Hillary has long been connected to and received support from both the Walton Foundation (conservative) and the Broad Foundation (liberal). Does this web of intersecting money trails make your head hurt? We could go on for hours. This bi-partisan web is huge, and the corruption and bad policies have nothing to do with being democrat or republican because all of these people are in each others pockets. The REAL problem has everything to do with money and who has the money to purchase enough power to shut the rest of us out.
See, wealthy people, corporations, and foundations don’t pay as much in taxes as we do because they have enormous tax exemptions. This means that you, me, and our neighbors are actually paying to fund the public schools. Aside from that, most of these people would never dare send their kids to a public school. This means that WE are paying to fund OUR schools. So, we have to ask why these people are so darn ‘vested’ (or invested) in the schooling experience of our children. Well, there is a really cruel trick at play here. While you and I fund our public schools, they use their funds, corporate clout, tax-exempt donations, and lobbying efforts to create laws that govern ONLY our children and our schools (Seriously, when was the last time you saw a mandate for private schools?). However, they simultaneously own the for-profit companies that sell the same programs (curricula, text books, tests, virtual schools, etc.) that their laws require our schools to buy with our tax dollars. So, essentially, this means:
- they get tax breaks for writing laws that effect only us
- their laws require us to purchase from them the programs they would never give to their own kids
- and, in turn, they use the profits they make off our tax dollars to write more legislation that amasses into more power for themselves.
The fact remains that there is nothing partisan about this. But let it be known that The Opt Out Florida Network is definitely political. We are an anti-high-stakes, anti-corporate, anti-charter, anti-voucher, pro-public movement in favor of authentic assessments, equitable school funding, engaging curriculum, equal access for all children, and democratic political action. To that end, we are against any policy that allows wealthy people, corporations, and foundations to use their millions and billions to buy the politicians and legislation that requires OUR schools to use their services (charters, virtual schools and universities, tests, and curricula) so they can turn a profit on OUR tax dollars while they harm children, teachers, and public schools.