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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

The Cost of Achievement

By Peter DeWitt — August 12, 2012 5 min read
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New textbooks that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards...check.
Professional Development so teachers understand the Common Core...check.
New state mandated teacher and administrator evaluation tools...check.
Regional training to become certified evaluators...check.
An increase in the amount of testing in schools...check.
Cost of achievement...priceless.

There is an old saying about shared decision making, which is that in most cases, it doesn’t work. That is unless the committee shares in the decision of the person leading the committee. I’m not sure if I am completely on board with that logic but I do see it happening in the new rules of accountability that schools have to abide by, and it’s only getting worse.

Recently, in public education there have been many decisions being made about what constitutes achievement. Ultimately, those decisions at the top were made in an effort to receive Race to the Top money, which is understandable considering the cuts being made to education at the state level. States are going after the carrot in an effort to fund schooling. However, many school districts believe that the end does not justify the means because the RTTT carrot is more about grants than about equal distribution of funds. How can schools go after competitive grants when they lack the people to do the work?

In a time when most school districts have had to cut their budgets, which means a loss of programs, teachers and administrators; schools are being required to spend more money on accountability all in an effort to raise achievement. I often wonder what achievement means and whose idea of achievement we are really trying to measure? In addition, is an increase in the amount of high stakes testing the way to show achievement?

Educators and communities are in a place where they have to decide what they value but where new standards and accountability are concerned; there is not a great deal of public input. However, some parents are speaking out in many different ways. They feel that if the policymakers will not change the course of the new reform which includes high stakes testing, they will change the way their children are being educated.

Opt Out Movement
There are a growing number of parents, educators and administrators who are standing up in protest against the increase in high stakes testing that is happening in the United States, and they are joining the Opt Out Movement. More and more state education departments understand that they have to offer an opt out option because parents have the right to prevent their children from taking high stakes testing. Not all parents understand this option but there are many organizations that are leading the way and getting the word out.

United Opt Out National is an organization whose members are “parents, educators, students and social activists who are dedicated to the elimination of high stakes testing in public education.” They offer useful resources to parents and educators who would like to join the Opt Out Movement. Those resources are categorized state by state and the momentum is really growing. Achievement does not mean how a child scores on an exam. Achievement means that schools are focusing on the whole child, and testing is having a very negative effect on how that happens in schools.

In addition to opting out of high stakes testing, some parents are opting out of public education as a whole. In the past, there have always been a percentage of parents have chosen to homeschool their children. However, with the influx of high stakes testing and one size fits all curriculum, more parents are choosing to homeschool their children because they are concerned about the education their child is getting, which does not necessarily have to do with the school their child attends (Why Urban, Educated Parents are Turning to DIY Education), but it does have to do with the decisions that some state education departments are making.

With so many parents choosing to opt out of testing or public education, we will see major changes in how children get educated. Homeschooling may become the new public education while public education becomes the new corporate reform education movement. Policymakers need to look up from making decisions and see what is happening. An increasing number of parents are creating their own version of achievement and it has little to do with neatly packaged textbooks and high stakes exams.

A New Paradigm
School choice is alive and well with parents across the U.S. If the public school system is being forced to redefine what achievement means, many parents will redefine what it means to educate their children. Homeschooling is one of the ways they will do it and there is a plethora of resources on-line that will help them do it (Using Pinterest. OnlineCollege.org).

In addition, many parents are choosing to opt out of exams. They want to focus on a well-balanced education for their children which does not focus on testing. You can’t really blame for parents who want more, and can provide it, to their children.

However, given the nature of accountability, what will happen to schools? What will happen to high stakes testing if more and more parents choose to have their children opt out of the test? As much as this is a very positive movement for those who do not agree with high stakes testing, will the public school system be accountable for all of these parents opting out? What I mean is, will schools be held responsible if they have a large number of parents who opt out of testing?

What’s the bigger issue? All of these stories of opting out and homeschooling should be telling policymakers that the public is becoming less satisfied with public education. Policymakers should not be ignoring so many parents, teachers and administrators who are telling them that this current system of high stakes testing and one-sided accountability is taking us in the wrong direction. We are once again in a place where the word achievement means something very different to the public than it does to those creating the rules.

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Peter will be doing a free webinar for Corwin Press on August 7th at 1:00 p.m. PST where he will offer resources on how to safeguard LGBT students and create an inclusive school environment. Click here to register.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.