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Can the Left and Right Find Common Ground on Common Core and High-Stakes Testing?

I recently wrote about an event called Occupy the DOE, where many of the speakers espoused radical views on education and society. While I disagreed with the extreme left-wing views of many of the speakers, I didn’t disagree with everything said during the 4-day event. In fact, several times I had to remind myself that I wasn’t listening to a Tea Party event or homeschool conference as speaker after speaker railed against high-stakes testing and the Common Core.

Parents and activists from across the political spectrum object to excessive testing and the implementation of Common Core in their states; there is much common ground to be found. But it's important to dig beneath the surface and consider exactly what you're signing up for when you join a movement to eliminate high-stakes testing or block the Common Core. Some groups have more than just the best interest of your child as their top priority and you may inadvertently be drafted into the public school monopoly-protection movement.

A group called “United Opt Out” organized the Occupy the DOE event in front of the Department of Education in April. Their mission statement claims that they are “dedicated to the elimination of high stakes testing in public education," saying that high stakes testing is

destructive to ALL children, educators, communities, the quality of instruction in classrooms, equity in schooling, and the democratic principles which underlie the purposes of public education.

There is a lot to unpack in that statement, but hyperbole aside, many parents whose children attend public school do have legitimate complaints about high-stakes testing and its negative influence on education. In fact, the testing culture is sometimes cited as a reason parents remove their children from public schools for homeschooling or private schools. As states march forward with the implementation of the Common Core standards, teachers, parents and even many unions fear that schools will double-down on the worst aspects of the testing culture and lose even more local control, so in many aspects, parents and activists on both side of the political spectrum can find areas of agreement.

Timothy Slekar, a former teacher, is now an associate professor of teacher education at Penn State Altoona. At the Occupy the DOE rally he described a parent-teacher conference where he and his wife were told that their son had failed a writing test because of a technicality. They felt that the formulaic requirements of the writing test were stifling their son’s creativity and they decided then to opt out of all future high-stakes testing for their son. “This disastrous system was forcing his teachers to comply with the powers that be.” He said,

The [tests] were forcing Luke to parrot sentences in a pre-ordained structure so that a low-paid temp worker would be able to score it. ... Our son was not going to take part in a system that forced the teachers to comply with educational mandates constructed by politicians. ... We were opting out.