Friday, January 8, 2016

Sea Change: Opt-Out Catching Fire in Communities of Color?

Of the 60 plus people in the audience, at least 70 percent were people of color, with the majority being African American, and over half the group was under 40 years of age.
Mark Naison reports on The BK Nation Forum on Testing and the Opt Out Movement, held at Judson Memorial Church in lower Manhattan Wed. night.
 [It} represented a powerful challenge to education policy makers who claim testing is a civil rights measure and that the opt out movement is strictly a white middle class initative.
Although the panel was excellent, including people like Jamaal Bowman, Aixa Rodriguez, Jesse Turner and Shamma Dee, the audience's commentary and participation made the evening special.
.....Mark Naison, BK Nation Forum Defuses Stereotypes About Opt Out as a "White Movement"
If opt-out catches on in NYC by growing beyond the relatively small white middle class and into black communities panic will range throughout the nation.

I learned first hand about the potential when PTA President Shamma Dee contacted Change the Stakes for a speaker to come to her school of mostly students of color to speak to a PTA meeting about opt-out. I was drafted and was so impressed not only with Shamma, who since then has become a leading voice for opt out, but with the large turnout.

I reported on this issue - that high stakes tests have an even greater negative impact on the black community -

High stakes testing impact on the black community - so-called civil rights test supporters - ignore at your peril

I believe the opt out movement will begin to catch on in middle class black communities just as it did in middle class white communities. I am not sure if it will then spread to the poorer communities this year where there is often less parent involvement. The powers that be - from the corporate world to fed, state and city education officials - will do everything they can to kill the movement in this city.

MORE's and its partner Change the Stakes having a leading opt out teacher and parent running for UFT president can't hurt. One interesting aspect of Jia Lee's candidacy is her Asian background. Asian parents seem to be the group least likely to opt out and Jia might get some traction going in those communities.

Mark Naison's report continues:
Anybody who thinks that Reform policies such as testing, school closings and the Common Core Curriculum are popular in Black and Latino communities needed to be in that room. Parent after parent, teacher after teacher, administrator after administrator spoke eloquently about how excessive testing and culturally insensitive curricula were making students in their communities hate school. Equally harrowing were stories about how excessive scripting and humiliating visits were making the best teachers in high poverty communities leave their jobs.
What came across loud and clear was that a climate of fear emanating from city, state and federal policies,, especially school closings and receivership, was creating a toxic atmosphere in many schools in Black and Latino Communities.
What people called for was less testing at all levels, the rewriting of curriculum to include the experience of students in their communities, more portfolio schools exempt from state tests, and adequate funding of schools to reduce class size and make sure students have full access to science, technology, the arts and sports.
Anyone who attended this meeting could not fail to be moved by the sense that the entire Reform Movement had made things WORSE, not better for students of color, and that testing and scripted curriculum had become a nightmare for students, parents and teachers in the communities represented in that room.
I think everyone at this amazing event felt empowered to know that they were not alone, that many other people around the city shared their concerns and were ready to WAGE WAR to see that all children got the education they deserved.
A Huge thanks must be given to Carla Cherry and Kevin Powell for organizing this event, and for everyone who attended and helped make it such an inspiring experience.

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