Friday, April 29, 2016

SILENT NO MORE: Why We Opted Out of the AzMerit

I learned important lessons this month:

1) I disagree with the contracts teachers are required to sign that force them to remain silent.

2) I can be brave and I will speak up.

If you've ever been a teacher in this country, you will know that a teaching contract actually takes away your right to speak up about your opinions regarding educational laws and political choices that influence education.  When you sign a contract you have the impression that you will lose your job if you EVER cross this line, so you train your self to be tight lipped about the way you feel.

You know what?  This is wrong and it's extremely damaging to individuals.  It also creates a negative environment to work in that stifles creativity and expression.  The damaging effects of this restriction is actually something that lasts in your life far longer than the last day you have a teaching contract.  For me, the damage has lasted for 7 years.

Now don't get me wrong - I can definitely understand the importance of being neutral in the classroom so the children can formulate their own opinions, and to allow them to skip out on controversy when they need to focus on reading, writing, & arithmetic.  But to force an adult to remain silent in staff meetings and in the community on issues that are closest to their heart is detrimental not only to these amazing educators as individuals, but it's detrimental to our educational system.  The way I see it is that differing opinions can tug and pull to find a happy middle ground that can benefit everyone.  The way it works now is that instead of having the tug and pull of differing opinions of individuals who are IN THE TRENCHES of education, they are SILENCED and instead, all of the decisions are spoken about & influenced by outside sources who are not involved in the daily effects & consequences of all the political decisions that rule the classroom.

I also have seen from experience that not everyone completely follows this rule to remain silent - especially not in staff meetings, and especially not as union members.  Typically I have seen that people who agree with the political ties affiliated with educational change will speak up of their approval, and I have also seen them to paint individuals who might disagree as "haters of education".  Politically this usually translates into - "if you vote for Democrats, we like you, if you vote for Republicans you must not care about children".  In the classroom setting you must tow the line very carefully.  In the classroom setting all of this contractual business translates into, "if you promote liberal ideology that's okay, but if you hint at conservative/moral principles, you'd better watch out."  For example, in a social studies lesson a long time ago, a student asked me if abortion was the same as miscarriage and I responded, "Miscarriage happens naturally, but abortion is a choice."  I got called into the principal's office over this - a parent complained - apparently not everyone views this topic that way.  I've never forgotten that because it made me feel like in the classroom you're not even allowed to give clear definitions - and THAT is insane.

As a Conservative Republican and LOVER of EDUCATION, I am going to "fly my freak flag" & explain why I chose to "Opt Out" of the Az Merit.

I am not against Standardized Testing.  I am against the data-mining that is allowed for psychoanalysis of our children.  I am against the way this test allows personal information to be stored on our children & sold to third parties, but that everything is hush-hush if the parents want to know.  This data mining of information on our children means that the test results can be used FOR OR AGAINST them for any reason under the sun at any time of their life.

No, I'm not crazy.

No, I don't hate children or education.

As much as I believe that Big Brother needs to get out of my life, and as much as I wanted to stand up for this, I have to say that I was very scared to do so.  I was more afraid to face my peers than I ever have been in my life.  I was afraid to stand up for what I believed and opt out of this test because I didn't want my colleagues to demonize me as a hater of education.  There are so many people I respect who have different opinions than I do, and I was afraid of what they would think of me.  So to ease this conflict, I stifled my feelings and I put my son on the bus on the 1st day of the AZ Merit testing.  My friend Laurie, who was also conflicted about the test was going to send her son to school also, and we were texting back and forth.  As I watched him get on the bus and as I thought about the reasons I was choosing to do what everyone else was doing and ignoring what I believed about this test, I thought, "Am I choosing the easier wrong instead of the harder right?"  In my heart, I knew that the answer was yes - for me and my family and what I knew about this test and for the cowardly reasons of not wanting to face my peers with my true opinion, the answer was yes.  I rethought my decision and was going to go down to the school to pick my son up, but by the time I called it was too late to pull him out on that first day of testing.

My friend Laurie was super brave.  She was the first one in the history of the public school our kids attend to ever stand up against the AZ Merit.  Unfortunately she received a lot of heat for her decision - including a grueling 45 minute conversation with the principal.  I'm proud of her, because she forged the path, and she made it easier for me to stand up for what I believed in.  After some things my son said when he came home from the testing I knew I couldn't do that again, and after the feeling I had when I sent him, I knew I needed to stand up for what I believed in.  So I wrote a letter to the principal, and even though I knew what I needed to do, I had a really hard time taking this stand.

I probably stared at the send button for about an hour and a half before I chose to send it.  Not kidding.


"Hi (Principals' Name)!

I have been conflicted about the AzMerit Test.  

I am not against standardized testing, and I recognize the need to have a benchmark standard & assessment. I have even viewed the sample questions and am fully aware that the content of the test is grade level appropriate and in line with what the kids have been learning at school.  However, I am not happy with the way our children's constitutional rights & privacy are being ignored with this test.  

There are many statements by those who created the test that my husband and I both find worrisome.  They talk about data-mining with the test results--storing the results for years and allowing outside companies access to our children's information even though parents are not allowed access to their answers.   By executive order, some of the data that is allowed to be stored can include hand writing samples and other bio-metric information of our children.  They can even perform psychoanalysis on the test results for whatever reason they so choose.  I feel that the government has absolutely overstepped their bounds in respect to their control of the educational system, the rights of our children, and the rights of the parents.

On Tuesday, I almost did not send Tyson to school, but I put him on the bus anyway.  In the following half hour I was rethinking my decision & planned to come pick him up from school to opt out of the test.  When I called the school shortly after 9am, however, I found out the test was already being administered, so I chose to not make a ruckus.

When he got home from school, I asked him how the day went.  I also asked him about the test.  I asked him if he was asked to write on a controversial topic or just a normal topic.  He gave me vague details, and it sounded like an age-appropriate/grade level sort of writing exercise.  But then he said, "We should be careful about talking about the test, because one of us could get arrested." 

I wondered why he would have that impression. 

I know impressions like that don't come from either you or (his teacher).  (She) is one of the most supportive teachers of parents & family that I've ever encountered.  She's been amazing.  (She also provided the website for the sample questions, which I appreciated.)  I've also seen you in action as the Principal in meetings, at events, & assemblies and know you exemplify quality character for my kids to see, which I absolutely appreciate.  

The impression my son got that he's not allowed to talk to his parents about what happens at school came from whatever he was told in the testing instructions.  We discussed the importance of not talking to friends about test information because that's called cheating & it's wrong.  But at the end of the day, no matter what happens at school - a test, an interaction, a lesson, whatever it may be - if a child feels like they aren't allowed to talk to their parents about it, it's overstepping the boundaries & purpose of the educational system.  It's wrong, and we don't need to be a part of it.

With all of that being said, Tyson told me that he has to pass the Reading portion in order to move on to 4th grade, but I also heard the schools don't get the test results until after the next school year begins, so I need to know which of those is true.  If Tyson doesn't take the Reading portion of the AzMerit, please let me know what other provisions are in place to ensure he will move on to 4th grade?  

Lastly, please also let me or my husband know if we need to send Tyson to school to read in the front office or some other location while the testing happens or if he needs to just stay home.

Thank you so much!..."

My experience turned out better than my friend, Laurie's.  I only had to speak to the principal for 20 minutes, my son's teacher said that she completely understood my concerns, but that she's "just a job with no opinion".  And then she was very kind each day to send me a message as soon as the testing was over so that Tyson didn't miss more school than he needed to.  Because the principal preferred for us to keep the kids at home, we did, and we made some fun memories as I guess I was apparently teaching my son what it meant to be "civilly disobedient".

I will say that on the 2nd day of testing, I had a ton of other feelings...feelings like, "Am I crazy?"  But I will tell you right now - the feelings I had after I opted out felt so much better than the feelings I had on the day I opted in.  I do not regret my decision for one second.

I decided not to renew my teaching contract when I had my 2nd child because I wanted to stay home with the kids and raise them - even with less money I felt it was important for our family to do that at that time.  All the years that I have not worked full time have clipped by quickly.  But what hasn't left quickly was the subconscious feeling that I should remain silent on educational issues.

One decision I made that I have regretted was the choice of not giving a public endorsement of Eddie Farnsworth when he was last up for election.  I have obtained signatures for him to be on the ballot before, but last time he was running, I was afraid to have my name connected with his online because I was afraid to stand up to my peers in education.  I didn't want to take the heat for what they might say.  I was conflicted on the issues that were happening.  I was also so busy being a mom, and I didn't feel well enough educated on the issues to feel like I could defend myself with reasons that would make me NOT look bad to my peers.

Well, being a busy mom is not a free pass to be silent. 

And if you're a mom (or dad), you had better be more invested than you've ever been in the things that affect your children's education or you will find your children indoctrinated with whatever the government chooses.  If you stay out of political issues because you think you're so busy raising children, you will actually find yourself in a position with no power to make changes that will help your kids.

So I would just like to say that I vote for Eddie Farnsworth.  I like him because he is unwavering on conservative principals.  Some people might say he's too much.  But he is passionate.  Some people say you need to "reach across the aisle", but usually when they say that, what they really mean is that you need to change your opinion and do it their way--usually the people I have heard say that have been liberals who don't like conservative politics.  I do agree with the statement of reaching across the aisle in regards to being kind and I do feel that in government it is a blessing to have differing opinions so that that all people and views can be represented.  Sometimes because there is a tug and pull in opinions you end up with a happy medium in the middle.  Well the problem that has been increasing over time in politics is that the conservatives are continuously compromising, and the liberals are not.  In the end the conservatives are not protected or made to feel that their voices are even allowed to be spoken because it differs from what's "politically correct".  Well anyway, I like Eddie because he is conservative always - he is not a wavering conservative who turns moderate, and then eventually liberal.  You know what to expect with him, and he speaks up for the principals that resonate with me.

In AZ education, public school people like to demonize Eddie Farnsworth because he runs the Benjamin Franklin charter schools.  I have been involved in our local school district's "Zero-Based Budgeting Committee", and I cannot tell you how many negative things were spoken of in regards to charter schools.  I would even go so far as to say that during that time as I was around all those people--the people who actually shouldn't have really been expressing their opinions because of their contractual agreements but who voiced their opinions anyway-- I also began to believe that charter schools were ruining my life in regards to the public education of my children.  But this is the thing - charter schools have actually improved the quality of the options public schools now offer.  Public schools have to compete with charter schools and so it improves the educational standard as they cater to the "customers" needs and wants.  

I personally do not like that charter schools have affected our sense of my boys' church classes, among about 10 kids or less you might find that the kids attend 5 different schools even though we all geographically live within the same square mile.  It's hard for the sense of community.  It's hard that our kids have neighborhood friends, church friends, and school friends.  It's hard that they feel like they only have a bunch of acquaintances instead of a core group of friends that they do everything with.  The sense of community is so dramatically different than the way I grew up as a kid, and I am not happy that it is this way for my children.  At any rate, that's not going to change back - we will never be able to go back to the way things used to be.  As time goes on, however, I have realized in a better way why people are fleeing public schools and going to charter schools or home-schooling.   

I have realized that it's because parents feel like they have better rights in regards to the education of their children when they go to charter school or when they home-school, and they don't feel so safe or as protected by the education system at the public school that is now so extremely affected by the federal government (as we have seen with our experience opting out of the AzMerit and the federal regulations that rub me wrong about Common Core and what our federal government can do with the results).  It is true that even the charter schools have to take this test, but over all throughout the school year at a charter school, the parents feel like they have more rights in regards to the education of their children, and that is why I believe so many people go there.

The message folks, is that charter schools are not the problem.  Eddie Farnsworth (or any other person who is connected to a charter school whether they are in politics or not) is not the problem.  The funding lost to public schools because of the large groups of people who are going to charter schools is not the problem.  

The budget issues you see are a SYMPTOM of the LARGER PROBLEMS.  One major "larger problem" in particular is that the government is overstepping its boundaries.  The federal government is trampling on the constitutional rights of students and parents, and they are trying to control our lives with the strings of money that are attached to all of the things they do.  The federal government has been doing this for years, and people are slowly but surely fighting back.  

You'd better believe that I am one of them. 

I am still supporting my local public schools, but opting out of this test is something I really needed to do for myself and for my children, and I am so glad I chose to do it. 

Opt Out AZ.