Opt-Out: White, Wealthy and Willing to Dictate to Other People’s Kids

#Optoutsowhite = So true.

A study released this week confirms it: The nationwide movement to boycott annual assessments that reveal the yawning racial disparities in schools is led by wealthy whites whose largest concern is teacher evaluations.

I knew it, but I’m still gobsmacked to learn just how wealthy and just how white. Researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University surveyed more than 1,600 opt-out movement adherents in 47 states. Turns out 92 percent are white and their median family income is $125,000–more than twice the national median.

Nearly half—45 percent–are educators. Two thirds are either teachers or opt out because of the influence of a close teacher friend. No surprise, then, their highest ranked concern is the use of student outcomes in evaluating teachers.

So the people with the means to send their children to the most desirable schools, which are staffed with the most experienced teachers, are seeking to shut down the data pipeline. Which revealed the immoral racial disparities in students’ access to quality teachers.

Oh yeah—and a majority describe themselves as progressives.

A better way to evaluate schools, survey respondents overwhelmingly opined, is to rely on teachers’ observations and on students’ grades.

Um, self-serving much?

Nowhere is this staggering privilege more on display than in Minneapolis’ wealthiest, whitest high school. This year just 12 of Southwest’s 11th graders took the required state math test. Twelve. Less than 5 percent of the class.

My son was one of the 95 percent who didn’t take it. He reminded his teachers that he planned to take the test every time they asked him where his “opt-out” form—to be taken home and signed by a parent—was. Even the teacher who stood in the doorway demanding to know why he wasn’t opting out.

But then… the test just never happened. In years past Southwest students were called to the library in alphabetical order. But this year? The other parents I checked who declined to sign the form also found their kids were involuntarily opted out.

The number of district employees this likely required boggles. At other schools and in years past, when students miss the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments makeup sessions are scheduled and kids are tracked down. But I suppose that kind of diligence has to go by the wayside if your end goal is to shut down the collection of data.

In what world is this okay? In what workplace would staff simply refusing to perform a key function of their job be—I don’t even know what verb to use here—accepted? Overlooked? Countenanced? Where the hell was the principal? The area superintendent who oversees that principal?

It’s not like they can’t find kids when it suits them. Last fall my son’s Southwest guidance counselor—who he had no previously met—tracked him down to ask him to fill out an application for free lunch because the school was on the verge of losing federal Title I funding, which goes only to schools with concentrations of impoverished students. They were trying to find enough overlooked poor kids to turn the fiscal taps back on.

In 2016 school administrators know in real time how many kids are sitting for exams. And they know the problems a data-free future poses for efforts to propel better outcomes for impoverished students of color. Because in addition to highlighting the disparities in teacher quality that routinely put the least effective teachers in front of the neediest kids, the data in question also illuminate classrooms where poverty is a surmountable challenge.

Just two of the 16 schools identified by the Star Tribune as having an opt-out rate of 20 percent or more are programs typically thought of as impoverished. Hopkins, St. Louis Park, Farmington, Stillwater also had high opt-out rates.

Because gee, those tests are so burdensome, and prepping for them is choking the creativity out of the American classroom. What bullshit.

Because here’s something else we know about Minneapolis’ wealthiest, whitest high school. This year every single 11th grader at Southwest took the ACT, the college-entrance exam, most of them after two test prep sessions. Many took it again a few weeks later in an effort to get a higher score—some of them on particular subsections of the exam.

Results in hand, their anxious parents—some of the wealthiest in the state, certainly in the city—shepherded them from one college information session to another, trying to divine the exact mix of ACT score, grade point average and essay-writing brilliance to gain entrance to an exclusive college and the attendant social capital.

These same students know their class rankings. They know how to calculate the weight of the elements of their grades. They sit for the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams that add luster to their academic resumes.

In short, the kids aren’t scared of tests. And so long as the numbers confer an advantage, parents and teachers prize the results.

You know what I think? I think if we cancelled this category of assessment, if we really and truly opted kids out of all the tests, the insurrection that would follow would make opt out look like a playground skirmish.



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