Teaching Profession

Unions, Teachers, and Opting Out: A Complex Calculus

By Stephen Sawchuk — October 07, 2014 1 min read
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Last week, Colorado teacher Peggy Robertson announced that she plans to refuse to administer her state’s standardized assessment and called on the teachers’ unions to publicly support teachers who take such action.

In The Washington Post‘s Answer Sheet column, Valerie Strauss picked up the ball and decided to get the two national teachers’ unions’ take. Per Strauss’ blog, here’s what they had to say.

Alice O’Brien, head of the National Education Association’s Office of the General Counsel:

NEA supports parents who chose to exercise their legal right to opt their children out of standardized tests. When educators determine that a standardized test serves no legitimate educational purpose, and stand in solidarity with their local and state association to call for an end to the administration of that test in their schools, NEA will support those educators just as it did in the case of the teachers who protested the administration of the MAP test at Garfield High School."

AFT President Randi Weingarten:

We supported teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle when they refused to give redundant tests. We supported early childhood teachers in New York when they shined the light on how abusive it is to give bubble tests to 5-year-olds. On the testing madness that's sapping the joy from our classrooms, teachers are the canaries in the coal mines, and we support their advocacy. Ultimately, though, it's up to parents to make the decision whether to opt out."

Both unions have had a role in fueling anti-testing sentiment, but these statements dodge some potential employment-law implications. Neither union says anything about the fact that administering these exams are part of the job requirements for teaching.

Strauss, in her piece, aptly characterizes the union’s support as “unclear.”

This topic gets even more complicated when you consider that some tests, like the one that the Colorado teacher refused to give, are required under the No Child Left Behind Act. The state must administer it in order to tap Title I funds for disadvantaged students.

On Twitter, this episode recently gave way to an interesting debate: When a teacher refuses to give a test, what are the legal ramifications? Is there an ethical argument to be made on the teacher’s behalf? Would that sway a hearing officer in a due-process decision, if a teacher were charged with insubordination for refusing to give the exam?

If you know more about the legal ramifcations here, do leave a comment. I’d be interested in hearing more on this topic.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.