The Well-Financed Effort to Marginalize and Intimidate Opt-Out Parents

Though she resigned as chair late last year, last week’s Tweet from Students First was pure Michelle Rhee:

Will the movement realize it’s fighting a losing cause?

In its Tweet, Students First links to an opinion piece from one of its Gates-funded allies, Teach Plus CEO Celine Coggins which appeared in Real Clear Education. Coggins naturally had a study commissioned by her group handy:

It is ironic that the opt-out movement has focused on the new assessments, designed to be more rigorous and of higher quality than prior tests, and to align with higher standards taught across the nation. Earlier this school year, we invited over 1,000 teachers from across five cities to an intensive day of studying the PARCC assessment.

A report we published earlier this month on their feedback reveals that overall, the teachers found PARCC to be a better assessment than their prior state tests, with 79 percent of teachers finding it to be a higher-quality assessment. Teachers also found clear alignment between PARCC and the standards they teach. The majority of teachers, 69 percent, believed that PARCC measures the critical thinking skills students need to be college and career ready.

If the end game is to end “toxic” tests in favor of better quality ones, the opt-out folks may have set their sites on the wrong target.

Coggins’  study was limited to the controversial PARCC exam and it was extremely easy for a professional educator to find it “better than their older assessment” and a “higher-quality assessment” which “measures the critical thinking skills students need to be college and career ready.” Such limited scope hardly represents those same educators’ position on the wisdom and utility of high-stakes tests.

The later “skills”  needed to be “college and career ready” are boilerplate industry common core talking points advanced by the Chamber of Commerce and testing corporations.

Coggins mischaracterizes the point-of view of opt-out parents as wanting to “end ‘toxic” tests in favor of better quality ones” and  falsely asserts that opt-out parents “reject the notion that schools should have any accountability for student learning to grade level standards.” Opt-out parents know that PARCC and all other current high-stakes exam are far more than “standardized assessments that provide data on student knowledge and learning to teachers, students, parents and the public at large.” They disempower them while permanently empower those who control the tests.

Coggins understands opt-out parents position and her professed “puzzlement” is disingenuous at best. Her piece is part of a larger effort to discredit and even intimidate opt-out parents. From Jacksonville Times-Union reporter Denise Smith Amos:

“Since the campaign of intimidation from the (Florida Department of Education) and from certain districts, we have seen our numbers explode,” (Opt-Out Orlando co-founder Sandy) Stenoff said. “We have grown from 1,700 to almost 3,000 in the last two weeks alone. That’s just the Opt Out Orlando group. The other groups are growing steadily by the day as well”

Recent letters from state officials to school districts and parents said opting out was not an option spelled out in state law. But instead of discouraging parents, the letters enticed some parents to join opt out groups, Stenoff said.

“It’s the law, to take the test,” said Claudia Claussen, an education department spokeswoman

The war over high-stakes testing has moved to another, larger stage. It was easy for dollars from billionaires to demean and demonize public school teachers as self-interested union hacks, but now they are having discredit and marginalize parents. It remains to be seen if the combination of characterizing opt-out parents as misguided – as did Coggins,  along with telling parents that they’ll do as their told – as does the FDOE – is a winner. But it is indeed puzzling when the same folks say “parents know best” and want “parental choice” don’t mean it all the time.



About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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3 Responses to The Well-Financed Effort to Marginalize and Intimidate Opt-Out Parents

  1. Sandra says:

    Having followed and documented the ed reformer narrative for six years, marginalizing any opposition has been a key element from the start. Ed reformers have ignored parent resistance and opposition for years, and so has mainstream media. It has only been through social media and blogs have parents recognized each other across the nation and irrespective of ideology, organized themselves in opposition to excessive, experimental punitive assessments STATE BY STATE. Parents have not been intimidated so far, have they. Facts are facts and Celine Coggins opinions are irrelevant, and most definitely high-financed.

  2. This is the sign that OPTING OUT is the way to fight this!

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