New York Common Core Opt-Out Movement Gains Steam

The author of the Common Core Parental Refusal Act, which was introduced in the New York State Legislature in March, believes it should be obvious to everyone that standardized, mandated testing has gone too far.

“When schools are sending home notices to parents to help third-graders cope with test anxiety then you know the pendulum on testing has swung too far,” said Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco.

“No child should have such stress over a test at a young age or ask their parents if they need to take extra ADHD medicine before test day as one constituent relayed to me.”

The parents of at least 183,000 children in the state of New York agree with Tedisco.

They boycotted the annual English Language Arts exam that began April 14. The abstention levels were close to 80 percent in some Long Island and upstate school districts according to figures released by United to Counter (U2C), one the groups involved in this statewide civil disobedience protest.

Last year, 60,000 parents in New York State “opted out.”

Tedisco and three other Republicans in the New York Legislature worked through the month of March to make sure parents knew they had the right to “opt out” of the standardized Common Core testing.

Tedisco’s legislation would also protect school districts and individual schools from having state aid withheld or any other punitive measures by the state. Teachers could not be penalized due to a lack of student participation or performance on the exams.

The legislation also ensures students are not punished or rewarded for their participation or lack thereof in the exams and would set aside alternate study activities for those who refuse the tests so they are not forced to “sit and stare” in the same room as their peers who are taking the tests.

“The Common Core test-a-thon madness has got to stop,” Tedisco said. “That’s the message sent loud and clear by thousands of parents across New York who rose up against a top-down, one-size fits all approach to education that focuses on the over-utilization of high stakes Common Core standardized tests and refused to have their children be any part of this culture of testing.”

He also said the New York parents who pulled their children out of the test the first week of April gave Gov. Cuomo, the New York Legislature and the state Education Department “a failing report card on their efforts to engage children in actual learning and not teaching to take developmentally inappropriate tests that only measure how well children take exams.”

Another Republican, New York Sen. Terrence Murphy, told reporters at a news conference he believes it is the right thing to do.

"As a legislator, I will do everything in my power to try to make sure that we bring education and the right education back to New York – and to be quite honest with you, bring some common sense approach back to New York and the education department.”

Not a single Democrat has joined Tedisco and the other Republicans in support of the Common Core Parental Refusal Act. But teachers are beginning to rally against Common Core, and in support of legislation similar to Tedisco’s.

The nation’s largest teachers'  union, the National Education Association, at first supported Common Core. But in February 2014, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel called the rollout of the program “completely botched.”

The New Jersey Education Association, representing close to 200,000 teachers, came out in support of allowing parents to pull their kids out of Common Core testing in January 2015 and less than a month later unveiled four 30-second videos criticizing the standardized tests.

“Parents are fed up, and they’re ready to speak up,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer.  “This ad campaign gives parents and teachers a voice in a debate that’s been dominated for too long by people with no connection to what’s really happening in classrooms today.”

While teachers' unions have spoken out against Common Core and the concept of standardized, mass testing of students, some school-system administrators are pushing back against the grassroots pushback.

James Crisfield, the superintendent of the Millburn Township Public Schools in New Jersey, wrote in NJ Spotlight that he believes giving parents the right to “opt out” could be dangerous for public school education.

Crisfield wrote that he understands why parents might have a problem with the tests, because he shares their concerns. He believes they take too much time to administer, thinks it is unfair to use them to compare districts’ performance, and considers the tests to be a very unreliable way to judge teachers.

But, Crisfield also wrote the opt-out movement was leading New Jersey public education “down a very dangerous path.”

“Coming out of all this political hysteria is a fast-brewing notion that it is a right to opt out of things happening at school with which one doesn't agree,” Crisfield wrote.

“If we don’t stop facilitating and/or encouraging all this ‘opting out’ or ‘refusing’ (or whatever it's called), we might as well set up a la carte public schools,” Crisfield added. “Opting out of Common Core? There go all of the child's language arts and math-class activities. Every. Single. One. Everything we do in language arts and math is aligned to the common core!”

It is not like Tedisco does not understand what happens in the classroom.

His website shows that from 1973-1982 Tedisco worked in the field of education, first as a guidance counselor, varsity basketball coach and athletic director at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School in Schenectady, then as a special education teacher, resource room instructor and varsity basketball coach at Bethlehem Central High School in Delmar, N.Y.

“It’s long past time, that those who should have had a say in the implementation of Common Core at the onset in this representative democracy,” said Tedisco, “have their say now in defense of their parental rights as it relates to their children’s educational best interests.”