Parent Opt-Out Movement: Engine of Common Core Unraveling?

05/07/2015 01:13 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2016


You've probably heard about the thousands of parents all over the country who are "opting-out" of the new Common Core state tests. These tests are state and federally-mandated, but somehow breaking the law seems reasonable to a lot of otherwise law-abiding people. In many districts, such as in New York, Louisiana, Missouri and Massachusetts, parents have chosen to have their kids "sit and stare" instead of taking the tests. While their classmates take the test, all they can do is sit and stare at their desks. This seems pretty extreme when students have ostensibly been preparing for weeks, if not months, for these assessments, and the scores may not count against the student - at least for this year. How bad could they be? And where is all this fierce parental passion coming from?

The word I hear on the ground is that hatred of the new tests is nearly universal - whether that hatred results in a boycott is another matter. Mandated K-12 testing is not new to our country, but fierce parent opposition to it is. And though the testing of the No Child Left Behind Act was also considered "high-stakes," parents were at least initially very supportive of those state-developed tests and of their schools being held more accountable for educating their children.

The reasons for opting-out of the tests are nearly as diverse as the people of this country. Some, in Utah for instance, are opting-out because they see the new tests as commandeering their God-given right to direct their child's education. In New York, for example, many refusers align the tests with a "corporate takeover" of the public education system. Others, such as parents of struggling learners, simply object to holding their children to academic standards that they believe they can't, or haven't been taught to, meet.

I'm a Common Core supporter because I believe that U.S. students need to meet higher standards to compete on the global stage, but what's clear is that whatever the boycotter's rationale, there are many practical reasons for parents - and teachers - to dislike the tests. I would argue that most of those practical problems (e.g., teaching more complex curriculums, learning more advanced curriculums without adequate foundation, computer glitches, adapting the standards to disabled students) will be resolved in time.

The question of teacher support for the tests is more complicated. Teacher's unions have been obligated to support the Common Core outwardly but have covertly (and not so covertly as of late) urged some of the parental opposition against it because student performance is tied to teacher evaluations. But in the long run many parents and teachers may grow to support the Common Core. Parents, because they will see that their children are mastering more difficult skills, and will ultimately be able to qualify for better jobs. And teachers, because the curriculums are more interesting to teach - there's more hands-on learning and potential for creativity. Would they really want to return to "drill and kill"?

Sure, there will continue to be strong opposition to the Common Core in some quarters, but the fierceness of the opt-out movement in places like New York will hopefully be a temporary entry in the short history of parental civil disobedience. In the meantime, from where I sit more parents are fleeing to private schools with the hope of escaping the standards - whether they can afford to self-pay or they will come to support school vouchers in greater numbers.