03/25/2011 02:01 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Supportive, but Now Leery, of Testing Boycotts

Small patches of resistance to standardized testing are sprouting lately. And if not actual refusal of standardized testing, there is at least a looming populist ethos against high-stakes assessments. I'm wholly supportive of boycotting the testing culture that ruins educational experiences for many, particularly in elementary school. I'm starting to notice something, however.

I don't have human children (two dogs, two cats), so therefore I'm not a parent in the traditional sense. And no, this is not my revelation, in case you were thinking that I at one point thought I had kids, but somehow misplaced them. But I'm noticing that those safely permitted to express their impassioned and explicit disapproval of standardized testing are parents, more likely than not. If they are teachers or education faculty, they are also parents. Parents can commit the ultimate act of civil disobedience on behalf of their children by removing them from testing. As for me, I have to be content watching the action from the sidelines.

Do not get me wrong: I've argued that parents are better suited to organize testing boycotts. Classroom teaching and faculty jobs are at stake, but little can be done to the parents or caregivers who refuse because they are the ultimate guardians of their children. From my perspective, if schools or administrators gripe about the lost participation, they can get bent, I suppose.

There are two issues that I'm beginning to find problematic as I read more calls for boycotts. First, I'm stuck in the middle. As an education faculty member who works with various elementary schools in a teacher preparation program, I must keep my true feelings silent. As I have seen schools over several years completely mobilize for test season, I just have to sit and take it, lest I alienate the school and we lose them as a place to train new teachers. Trust me, training grounds are not easy to come by these days.

Second, I'm worried that parental leadership may backfire against classroom teachers, and this is just speculation on my part. It's been my belief for some years that the erosion of teaching's professional prestige is partly due to the public's dubious claim that they have expertise on the educational process because, a) they were once a student or, b) they have a kid or more in school. I don't claim medical expertise because I've had various appointments with physicians or that I played one on TV (I have not). Teachers are then not entirely in charge of their professional knowledge and training if every layperson out there can claim it. Teaching expertise then becomes general knowledge, common sense, or conventional wisdom. Practicing teachers thus simply become overly pampered babysitters who prattle on about stuff anyone with a pulse already knows. They're just holding on to our kids for a few hours everyday while we do the important things.

I'm worried that parental resistance of standardized testing will become part of the rationale for greater school choice, which in extreme cases is antithetical to public education. I'm also concerned that newfangled resistance of standardized testing will dovetail with the anti-teacher animus. That is, those with limited knowledge of how our education system works will blame the teachers for abdicating "real" teaching in lieu of test preparation. Or, if public opinion starts to sway more forcefully against test-driven reforms, then political and corporate allies in the war on public education will co-opt this message and toss that hot potato in the laps of teachers. I'm telling you, one day that music is going to stop and I can almost guarantee that, whatever ultimately happens to testing, educators are more likely to lose this game unless they take charge of their own resistance.