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Timothy D. Slekar Headshot

Public Schools Are Not Negotiable

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"I'm not opting my kids out of testing again this year to bring focus to the tests. I'm doing it to take away the data from the advocates of choice and privatization. I'm saying NO! You will not use my kids in your attack on public schools. You will not use my kids to dismantle the entire public school system." -- Me.

"Cant we all just along?" "Don't we want a "big tent?" "Shouldn't we be "inclusive?" Yes. Sometimes. But there are moments when some issues must remain divisive.

My ultimate goal as an advocate for public schools is to make sure that the institution (American public education) survives the ruthless attack by market-based reformers that only have an interest in taking advantage of the money that remains locked up in the public system of education. Make no mistake about my position. Market-based reforms being pushed by a crowd of people unfamiliar with teaching and learning are trying to destroy the American public school system. And if they succeed democracy will soon follow. If public education is dismantled our last barrier to free thought will be gone. This is a horrible prospect. Therefore, a group of committed advocates has decided that "opting out" of state testing is a way to save public schools.

In less than a week, United Opt Out has recruited over 600 members, developed a website, created a Twitter account, launched a blog campaign. And somehow managed to irritate "choice" advocates who also want to end high stakes testing.

You might wonder how the same objective -- ending high stakes tests -- can be met with disagreement. I mean, shouldn't we take this momentum and target "big testing," Democrats for Education Reform, Bill Gates, and Arne Duncan? Maybe. Maybe not. You see, it is possible to have the same objective but have an entirely different goal. Ending high stakes testing is an objective for United Opt Out. Ultimately, our goal is to take back public schools from advocates for a "choice" based system of education. However, according to some of the advocates for "choice," they would like to join with United Opt Out because of their hatred of standardized tests.

United Opt Out is not promoting "opting out" as a form of civil disobedience to just stop standardized testing. We are targeting testing and the misuse of the data testing provides because these are the weapons being used by market-based corporate reformers to dismantle the public school system. We want to Save Our Schools and give them back to the students, teachers, and Parents Across America. However, it seems that some "choice" advocates would like to end standardized testing as a way to show their distrust of government intrusion into the education of their children. They are advocates for a "choice" based system of education. This is an unacceptable end game and joining forces makes absolutely no sense.

United Opt Out has been specific enough and has said that parents, homeschoolers, teachers, students and even Klingons are all welcome as long as it is understood that our passion is being directed at state tests because the tests and the data are the tools being used by corporate reformers to dismantle public schools. We are not focused on opting out to further the cause of more choice -- which will ultimately lead to privatization.

I do respect a parent's right to direct the education of their children. However, when they advocate a "choice" movement and market-based reforms to take the place of a system of public education, my tolerance evaporates. When it comes to schooling in America, if you do not see a thriving, community-based public school system situated within diverse settings then "we can't get along," "there is no room in the tent," and "you are not included."

"And that is what so scares those of us who see traditional public schools as vital to democracy: that they will become repositories for the poorest, most troubled children." -- Michael Winerip.