The Opt-Out Movement: Whose kids are really at stake?

By Nicole Brisbane, DFER New York State Director

The levels of irony in the “opt-out movement” are almost too many to count. Traditionally, unions have been the organizing force behind generating positive change for the voiceless. In this case, they are trying to maintain a status quo that has been inherently unfair to low income and minority students.

Standardized tests have shined a light on the real quality of education kids are receiving across the country. The testing data has helped identify a number of crucial issues that most Democrats and frankly most parents care about: a measure of how my kid is doing, a measure of how my school is doing, the state’s measure of how much aid a district needs to increase performance and a measure for federal Title I dollars. But the reason why this opt-out movement is most offensive is the absolute disregard for the progress our country has made identifying and addressing the achievement gap between low income and affluent students.

In fact, the call for a set of normed, improved tests came from teachers and unions themselves. Well, here we are with the improved, normed standards and tests in place. Yet, there is a movement led by pockets of affluent communities to quit…state tests but not all standardized tests. The same parents are opting-in for other standardized tests like the ACT (not mandatory), the SAT (also not mandatory) and the Specialized High School Admissions Test (also not mandatory but absolutely necessary if you want your kid to go to a “choice” high school in New York City). Affluent parents aren’t opting out of optional tests, so why opt out of the state exams? Maybe it’s because the results aren’t what they wanted to hear. That their kids, or their kid’s teacher or their beloved neighborhood school isn’t performing as well as they expected. Part of the draw of the suburbs is the high performance of local schools. How will suburban communities maintain their draw if there isn’t a measure of how the schools are actually doing in comparison to those across the state?

The reality of the data is that its sparked so many positive changes for low income students. Rather than continue that progress, we now want to opt out of the tests? Having the data about school performance has led parents to have the power to make informed choices about their child’s education, about choosing a school based on real data, not warm fuzzy feelings.

Any movement, be it the civil rights movement, the criminal justice reform movement, the climate change movement, should depend on real data that gives credibility to where we invest and why. After all, information (maybe the word data freaks people out) helps us make smart, better, informed choices. The same rings true in education and if the unions want to back this denial for low income students and parents then they have more soul searching to do than I thought.