Monday, March 23, 2015

Opt Out in the black community: Meeting With a Brooklyn Elementary School PTA

Others talked about how their children loved school - until they hit a testing wall - and started not liking school in the 3rd grade. The very same stories I hear coming from white parents.... My Report from a PTA meeting.
There is a common assumption that opting out of tests in urban areas is for the gentrified white middle class - the Arne Duncan line - but also something I hear from my friends on the left.

And gentrified areas are certainly where opt out started here in NYC, with the hot beds being Washington Heights and Park Slope.

We all recognized that from Day 1 but I eschewed the supposed reasons - that the black community wanted tests and the idea they viewed the opt out movement with suspicion would turn out to be overblown as the negatives of the tests were impacted their own children. After all, just look at the outcomes of the one-test judgement in the specialty schools like Stuy and Bronx High? Not a lot of their kids make it to those schools, though at Brooklyn Tech there always was a higher level of black students (including a bunch I taught in the 70s). I think even that level has dropped in recent years.

Change the Stakes made a conscious effort to start reaching out to the communities of color -- by sending reps to speak at district monthly Community Education Council (CEC) meetings - even if they are poorly attended. Newly posted-
Slowly, CTS has been making headway and when a Brooklyn elementary school PTA President asked Change the Stakes to send a representative to speak about opting out to parents at a PTA meeting last week, no parent was available that morning and I was asked to represent the group.

Two parent activists from Brooklyn New School (PS 146) also signed on to join me. BNS PAC web page materials: http://www.bns146.org/content/parent-action-committee-pac.
About 15-20 parents showed up to the meeting and almost all of them were black. I knew the school and had assumed it was more of a racially mixed school. It is a Title 1 school. My guess is that there is a strong middle class component amongst the black parents at this particular meeting - a key group in extending the opt out movement. I'm guessing we will see opt out hit black schools in eastern Queens and possibly Canarsie before places like Brownsville and East NY.

As for the charter schools inundating the city, choice is no choice when it comes to opting out. A parent opting out in an Eva school will be opted right out of the school.

I shared some of my personal experiences with the impact of high stakes tests in my own school with a principal who pushed testing above all else. Stories came flooding back to me of how students were impacted and how my teaching was affected. The BNS parents answered questions about opting out.

It was a lively discussion. One parent talked about how her child was impacted and suffered anxiety and depression. Another said her daughter would do fine and didn't have a problem. The BNS parents said their kids would also do fine but for them there were bigger issues. They didn't expect everyone to see it that way but they were there to make sure people knew their options to opt out. Others talked about how their children loved school - until they hit a testing wall - and started not liking school in the 3rd grade. The very same stories I hear coming from white parents.

I was very impressed with the PTA president - for her leadership and her ability to articulate issues. The school is very lucky to have her and her crew.

The principal was there for part of the meeting and sent her AP over to cover the rest. Both seemed like decent people -- but who really knows. After the meeting, she asked me to take a quick tour of the school with her to demonstrate they did not do constant test prep -- she felt my presentation about my principal might have given the parents the wrong impression.

My instinct was that this a school where the PTA is not controlled by the administration. A very good thing. The PTA president asked me to drop off a dvd of our film, The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman, which I hope she shows at a future meeting. We became facebook friends and I am hoping she brings her talents to CTS and helps extend the outreach of the anti-high stakes testing and opt out movement.

She said she would see us at this Saturday's demo at Cuomo's office - and she was bringing her 3rd grade daughter.

ADD-ON:
Brownsville DID have a school with a big opt out last year! Parents from PS 446, Riverdale Community School joined with parents from BNS and Arts & Letters (Brooklyn's D13) for a joint press conference. Here is a link to video of a 446 parent at that event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7gNvimLp-k.



2 comments:

  1. Hi Norm,

    thanks for the report. One correction: Brownsville DID have a school with a big opt out last year! Parents from PS 446, Riverdale Community School joined with parents from BNS and Arts & Letters (Brooklyn's D15) for a joint press conference. Here is a link to video of a 446 parent at that event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7gNvimLp-k. Unfortunately, she has moved out of NYC so we've lost her leadership, but BNS parents are re-connecting with the school. We'll see what happens!

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