What does it mean to opt out? The simple answer, in the context of the public school reform movement, is when a parent pulls their child from state mandated high-stakes testing. However, opting out is not limited to this action only. At United Opt Out we talk about opting out in even broader contexts. Writing a letter to the editor of your local paper expressing frustration with school reform is a way to join the opt-out movement. Attending rallies that support your community public school is a form of opting out. Offering words of support to parents that are "opting out" is another way to opt out. You see "opt out" is really just a way of resisting the corporate reform agenda being thrust upon our community public schools.
It's kind of interesting if you think about it, but opting out is simply supporting public schools. So while actually refusing to participate in high stakes testing is one form of opting out, there are many ways to opt out. You opt out whenever you simply question the direction of corporate education reform. By simply asking this question you are stating that you do not approve of the direction the corporate reformers are taking our public schools -- that is opting out.
But what about school boards? Can these elected representatives stand up and resist the corporate reform agenda? Should we expect the people we elected to make the best decisions for our kids, teachers, and schools to take an activist position? Do school boards have an obligation to resist policy mandates that are blatantly devoid of supportive research and will potentially harm our children, teachers and schools?
For example, in my home state of Pennsylvania, teachers and principals will have 50 percent of their future evaluations come from Value Added Measurements. Remember these are the measures that supposedly show how much a teacher actually "added" to a student's learning. As I pointed out in my last blog and as countless others have stated, VAMs have error rates that exceed 50 percent and should never be used as a measure of teaching effectiveness.
Therefore I decided to go to my local board and use my official three minutes (from the board handbook) and try to impress upon this elected body that they should "opt out." A week before, I sent the board some literature clearly stating that evaluating teachers using students' high stakes test scores was a seriously flawed idea. I drafted a speech and practiced its delivery to make sure I was under the three-minute mark (The handbook was very clear that at the three minute mark I would be asked to stop talking).
On the night of the board meeting I showed up early, took a seat. Some teachers showed up and sat behind me. And then the board members filed in and took their seats behind their engraved nametags. The meeting was called to order. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited. A moment of silence was observed and the minutes from the previous meeting were officially accepted. After finishing the meeting opening the board president announced that the board would begin by moving on to agenda item #1. I forgot to pick up an agenda so I didn't know that I was item #1.
The board president announced that, "We will now hear from Dr. Slekar." I stood up, pointed to the back of my shirt (I was wearing a Rise Against decal on the back of my shirt) and delivered the following speech...
I am concerned about the future of education in our schools.
Pennsylvania schools are about to adopt a teacher and principal evaluation system that will use the high stakes test scores of children in determining the so called "effectiveness" of our teachers and principals. As you can read in the hand-outs that I have provided this will do nothing positive for our children, teachers and principals. There is not a shred of research that supports such a drastic policy decision.
This board needs to understand that teaching to pass ANY high-stakes tests does not provide children with a quality teaching and learning experience.
I am speaking to the board tonight because I fear for the amazing teachers my children have had over the years. For example, last year and this year my daughter has had truly gifted teachers. She comes home and talks about what they did in school without any prompting. She eagerly shares papers and projects completed during the day. She asks questions about the things she learned during the day. She is using technology (on her own) to investigate other questions. She writes her own books. In other words, she is fully engaged.
Here is my question for the board: What has happened over the last two years that has produced a hunger for learning in my child?
The simple answer is that her teachers care deeply about learning and have helped her develop a love for learning.
This is the heart of quality teaching and it will never be measured on a test. There is no statistical operation capable of measuring a teacher's ability to instill a love for learning.
If our school and other Pennsylvania schools adopt this evaluation system, my daughters' teachers (IN FACT ALL THE GOOD TEACHERS) will have to change their approach to teaching and learning.
If the pressure for high test scores and the insane notion that "we" should hold teachers accountable for test scores continue to drive policy discussions concerning teacher effectiveness, the most valuable experiences associated with learning will be dismissed. The drive for test scores will suck the life out of teaching and learning.
The politicians and others that are pushing this new evaluation system have decided that they know what's best for our children. This top-down, condescending view of teachers, parents and local schools is disheartening.
If we (citizens, parents, business owners, community members and you the members of this board) care about the quality of our schools, then we need to be talking about the love for learning -- not test scores.
I am asking that this School Board to (and this is directly from the Board's webpage), "Provide for the education of all children and Set district policies and regulations" that oppose the use of test scores as an evaluation tool for our teachers and principals. Doing anything else would be disregarding all the evidence and research on teaching and learning and the valid use of test scores.
This past October, on Long Island New York. 1330 principals (over 73%) signed a position paper in which they protested evaluation by high stakes test scores and put millions of dollars in Race to the Top funds in jeopardy. WHY? Because this is what leaders do! What will all of you do?
Thank you for your time.
However, I did find out that the superintendent released a memo to the school community later that week (I guess I am not a member of this community since I did not get one). In the memo the superintendent stated that I was right but...?
Follow Timothy D. Slekar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/slekar