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Back to School Doesn't Have to Mean Back to Tests

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Cross posted at The Innovative Educator Blog and Cooperative Catalyst.

Social media has become a mobilizing force in bringing together students, educators, and parents who are frustrated with the data-driven, standardized, one-size-fits all learning taking place in publicly funded schools today. Many of these groups have popped up with members joining and uniting against a system designed to reduce children to nothing more than standardized, easily measurable data to appear on a future chart that can bolster the ratings and egos of policy makers and business leaders. Despite the fact that many educational leaders, educators, parents, and students know this is wrong, parents like Gretchen Herrera are being forced to engage in practices that hurt children with threats of school closures and students being left behind or kicked out for failure to comply.

One of the biggest movements gaining momentum is opting out of state testing, with social media sites being created in the form of Facebook groups, Facebook pages, and Yahoo groups, which are connecting parents, educators, and students who are frustrated with forced government schooling policies. In the past there was little information available to the public when it came to opting out of tests. Not surprisingly this information was hard to access and inconsistent. This is, in part, what the government agencies are banking on.

Fortunately with the advent of social media and Web 2.0 tools, concerned individuals are able to unite to find, share, and collect information. One such effort to collect this information is The Opt Out of Standardized Tests - The International Movement Site. Upon joining, group members can find and contribute relevant information from their state or country.

I strive for a public system that welcomes everyone and helps to create learning communities that support both personal and communal growth through access to life long learning opportunities be them through schools, homes, community centers, libraries, parks, or any place that people young and old can gather to share in the co-creation of learning. I believe that for a healthy democracy and community that the system should be publicly funded and reject the ideas that we can standardized learning or teaching. We should look to support the well being of all humans not just those who can afford it!
- David Loitz | Cooperative Catalyst member | IDEA Community Organizer

While opting out is a step in the right direction to achieve the above vision, there is a deeper conversation that must happen to address what some have called the rapid deterioration of public schools. However, rapid deterioration is misleading as we also need not fool ourselves about restoring our system to "the good old days." Remember, in the good old days we implemented a factory model of learning, where schools were segregated, there were limited or no options for females to participate in sports, and it mostly only filtered men into subjects like math and science. The outdated education system of today needs not only an update, but a transformation requiring a paradigm shift. To do that we must not be afraid to engage in difficult conversations that challenge traditional ideas of education.

This is because even if some parents earn and exercise the right for their children not to take standardized tests, there are many other issues that will still exist and will need to be addressed and discussed which include:
  • Preparing children for the world, not just more school
  • Providing passion (not just data) driven learning
  • Reconsidering traditional school tests and grades
  • Ensuring students have the freedom to learn among a connected world
  • Measuring success in ways that benefit children
  • Rethinking homework
  • Thinking outside of traditional time and space constraints

We need to explore alternatives, give parents choice for how education dollars can be spent, and instead of demanding a one-size-fits all school model, allow parents and students to decide a learning environment that they feel is ideal for their families. This may mean alternative school settings such as a Democracy school like Summerhill or Sudbury where there are no grades or grade levels. It could mean a passion-driven model like Big Picture Schools. It could mean supporting home education options. It might mean investing in learning centers rather than schools as explained here by Connie Coyle and Linda Dobson in their visions for radical school reform. To do this we must act and engage in the often challenging work and conversations. Ones that will lead to giving choice to parents to ensure they have opportunities to provide the best possible learning options for their children without the control and imposition of government mandates which they do not support.

Okay, so now that the test is gone! Are we ready for some fun? Imagine it's the next day...
What type of learning community will your family be joining? What does it look like and value...? Think big, nothing is off limits! I mean really have some fun with it! When you are done, share it below, join our vibrant online learning group here and let's start making it happen!
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Want to learn more? Visit the original article here which contains additional resources and links to public education issues.