An open letter: Opt-out Movement

I have been watching the opt-out movement across the US with fascination.  What I find most remarkable is the reaction of many in the education reform community to the growing chorus of voices pushing back on current reforms.  Many of us have been worried about the direction of reform for years, but it was easy to ignore us as naysayers.  Now that students and parents have taken matters into their own hands and pundits like John Oliver have taken up the cause the concerns are not as easy to ignore.

But what I find astounding is that many in the education reform community still don’t get it.  Sure there are small elements of this movement that are about conspiracy theorists trying to claim “government intrusion” into state education affairs.

Maybe there are some students trying to get away with not taking tests they don’t like, and the occasional parent trying to game the system by opting out of tests that might lower her child’s GPA.  But unless you are really determined not to pay attention, you have to see that what is propelling the opt-out movement is something far more fundamental.  It is the outpouring of a malaise that has been eating away at many of us for years; it is the public manifestation of an uneasy sensation that the education system is actually not serving students – not just “underprivileged” students, but all students.

I watch the continued admonishment by self-proclaimed “Reformers” from the US Department of Education all the way down to legislators at the state level and what I hear is not an understanding that something is really wrong and that there is a sincere desire to do something about it.  What I hear is concern that all of the efforts of the last fifteen years might be undone.  That response is an extension of the self-righteous indignation that has come to be the hallmark of many in the education reform community.  It demonstrates a complete lack of ability to be self-reflective and self-critical in the face of mounting concerns that the system that they have been working to build is doing more harm than good.

I think, however, that the somewhat vague values of the opt-out movement reflect a need for those of us who are concerned about the current direction of reform to more clearly articulate the values, ideals, and evidence that drive our concerns.  It is also to put forward an alternative vision of what can be built.

This open letter is an effort at articulating what I stand for. It is not perfect.  It is probably not complete.  But it is my effort to start a conversation about why we want something different for our children.  Each set of statements is a blog post (or more) in and of itself.  Check back each week as I take each statement and build out the ideas a bit more.  I welcome responses – favorable and constructive.  The only way to move forward is to start this conversation in earnest.

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