When Is It The Right Time

I’ve been watching and reading with great interest the number of tweets and blog posts regarding standardized testing, opting out, refusing to pander, etc. The conversations with Lee Kolbert and Will Richardson were the ones to trigger my blog post. You can read their posts here:

Will Richardson – A Pep Rally for Tests? What We Need is a ‘Prep’ Rally

Lee Kolbert – Dear Will Richardson

Will Richardson – Opting Out (with comments thread)


Will often advocates for more revolutionary action from public school teachers, as well as parents. Lee counters with the fact that many teachers’ hands are tied, and that it’s more difficult to be revolutionary when you’re actually IN the classroom.

My thoughts and questions:

  • When is it the right time to stop abusing kids in the classroom with testing? Yes, in its current state, it IS abuse.
  • Standardized testing is not the only “evil” in public education. Scripted teaching, mile-wide and inch-deep curricula, and standardized expectations (i.e., all kids need the exact same education) are crippling our students’ potential.
  • Corporate takeover of public education via charters or other options is a travesty and will be the demise of a free education for all. Think I’m overly dramatic? Read what’s happening in Philadelphia.
  • When it is worth sacrificing your job to stand up for what you believe?


Nothing is going to significantly change in public education unless it comes from parents, students, and educators. 

These are the greatest numbers of people, yet they are the ones whose voices are not being heard. Politicians, corporate big-wigs, and people with power (read here: money) are the ones making the decisions. The few are leading the many, and the “few” in this case are the least informed about what is best for the education of children. It’s time for the many to take a stand, make themselves heard, and put the power back where it belongs.

This cannot happen unless parents opt their students out of standardized testing and demand changes to curriculum, standards, etc. This cannot happen if students are not given opportunities to share how they learn best and voice their own needs and wants. This cannot happen if educators stand by passively (or silently) and continue to do what they’re directed to do… even when they know what they’re doing is not in the students’ best interests and can do more harm than good.

This cannot happen unless parents, students, and educators support each other in this endeavor.

For educators, what does that mean? Refuse to follow the law? Disregard the directions from the superintendent/school board? Or might it be a calling to activism at the state and federal levels to change the laws? All of these options can (and usually do) create huge risks for public school educators.



For every point I made above, I also feel torn with “yeah, buts.”

Parents’ rights are often negated by local, state, and federal legislation. Some school districts have required internal, state, and/or national standardized tests for graduation. To appeal this requirement takes time and, too often, money. Many parents don’t even realize they have rights to oppose what is being done to their children or to opt out of these requirements. There are parents who believe that regular standardized testing is good for their kids, because of the amount of misinformation they’ve been fed for so long.

Children have little to no say in their own education: how they learn best, what they WANT to learn, etc. Throughout their K-12 education, they will be told what to learn, when to learn, how to learn, and how to demonstrate what they have learned. For most students, the idea of revolting is not even a glimmer in their eyes. The definition of school has become something that is DONE to kids. You suffer through it, so that you can move on and begin your real life. For those who would consider speaking up for themselves, it is not worth their efforts to demand better. Fear of reprisal is too great. They may be threatened with punishment or that they won’t be allowed to graduate. Why rock the boat when so much is at stake?

Educators are really stuck between a rock and a hard place. Those who have not invested many years in a school district usually leave. They head for private schools with fewer mandates or to areas outside education. They leave mostly unscathed. The majority of educators, however, have their hands tied. How many people can afford to quit their jobs on principle? And what about the educators who have decades invested in a state retirement system? They are truly stuck. Their retirement is based on years of employment in that state. Moving away or, for some, even out of a specific school district would result in a considerable loss of income after retirement. How can these people be boat rockers when the public education system essentially holds them hostage?


My reflection:

I feel the pain on both sides of the arguments. Many of my friends in public education all around the US are stuck where they are because they can’t afford to leave their jobs or move elsewhere.  They feel helpless, so they do their best to help their students in spite of the requirements. They hold testing pep rallies. They dedicate hundreds of hours finding ways to make the best of situations out of their control. They need our support, not our criticism.


When has it gone too far? When it is a moral/ethical obligation to speak up and say, “no more!”

Because I was in a place in my life where I could pick up and move, I was able to find a school I felt valued the needs and wants of children in their education. I left the public school system last year to teach in a private school where the rights of students and families are not only considered, but valued. Everyday, I go to school knowing that I have the opportunity to help my students learn in an environment that encourages them to grow as individuals. (Shouldn’t kids in public schools have the same opportunities?)

I know that there are many who are not exactly in a place to do what I did…or who have the guts to start their own school,  BUT…

As an educator, it should be our role to advocate for the rights of students. If we don’t do what’s right for kids, we’re no better than the ones making the poor decisions. My friend, Jackie Gerstein, posted a photo of a Desmond Tutu quote tonight: If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. What is happening today in public education is nothing less than injustice for the children of this country.

When is it the right time for us to do something about that?






2 thoughts on “When Is It The Right Time

  1. Hi Michelle,
    Thanks for your post and continuing the conversation. I agree with everything you said. The time is NOW and there are lots of things teachers (and especially parents) can do. I’ve already expressed my concerns with teachers being expected to buck the system but bringing awareness to the right people is something everyone can do. Encouraging their school boards to sign a resolution denouncing the impact of high-stakes testing is another. I’m pleased to say our school board did just that last week. http://alturl.com/m8i99

    There’s plenty of other things teachers can do; many of which are so eloquently shared by other passionate educators.

    My problem is with those who are quick to say that’s its an easy problem to fix and continue to blame teachers for being part of the problem.

    Will Richardson and I will be sharing the “stage” to continue the conversation in a Google Hangout hosted by Brian Mannix on May 17. http://www.edhangout.com/

    Thanks again for a great post.


  2. Chris McGrath

    Following from my twitter tweet just now, I would Just like you to know that this kind of testing and pressure is also the norm in my neck of the woods namely London, England. Here children are tested, and privately tutored out of school hours, from the age of 4 to prepare them for hugely demanding tests at the age of 11. We are no longer accompanying the children in their learning; we are no longer helping them be the people they were born to be; we are just pushing them all down the same narrow path. Keep fighting the good fight.

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