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Posted at 02:09 PM ET, 10/15/2011

Education activists seek to collaborate with Occupy Wall Street

A group of parents, educators, students and activists who have organized to work to eliminate high-stakes testing in public education is now seeking to collaborate with the Occupy Wall Street protest movement on specific demands regarding school reform.

The movement, called United Opt Out National , encourages parents to use “opt out” rules in their school districts that allow students to stay home when standardized tests are given. They say that the focus on high-stakes standardized testing in the No Child Left Behind era has failed to improve student achievement and instead has narrowed curricula, wasted public resources and caused anxiety and fear in children and teachers.

The opt-out movement represents one of a number of recent protests against corporate-based school reform, which include a teachers’ march in Washington last summer and California Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto on Oct. 8 of legislation that would have reduced reliance on standardized test scores to evaluate students and schools but that, he said, still relied on the scores in an inappropriate manner.

Among the leaders of the Opt Out movement is Shaun Johnson, an assistant professor of elementary education at Towson University who has taught fifth grade in D.C. and Silver Spring, and Morna McDermott, a Towson associate professor.

Now the group has advanced a plan to collaborate with the Occupy Wall Street protesters to protest next year, from March 30 to April 2, at the Education Department.

But unlike the Occupy Wall Street protesters, who don’t have a specific list of demands, Opt Out does. Its leaders have called for an end to all high-stakes testing and punitive policies, including the increasingly popular idea of basing teacher and principal evaluation on student standardized test scores.

Their demands also include the restoration or implementation of specific education initiatives, including making sure all schools have libraries and librarians, ensuring that all school buildings meet health codes and providing wrap-around services for schools that help poor children who come to school unprepared to learn.

The comprehensive list of demands represents an alternative version of today’s U.S. public education system, which has evolved over years across both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations.

This is the document being advanced by the Opt Out group:

We believe that QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION is a democratic right for all persons. It is through vibrant and fully funded school communities that all children have the opportunity to develop and grow into happy, successful, free, and active citizens. High stakes testing functions in opposition to QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION, as it is used to punish children, to malign educators, and to provide financial gain for testing corporations and their political sponsors.

THEREFORE, WE DEMAND AN END TO THE FOLLOWING:

*ALL high stakes testing and punitive policies that label schools, punish students, and close public community schools

*ALL high stakes testing that ties teacher evaluations, pay, and job security to high stakes test results

*Corporate interventions in public education and education policy

*The use of public education funds to enact school “choice” measures influenced and supported by the corporate agenda

*Economically and racially segregated school communities

*“Model” legislation that provides special rules to charter schools that are forced upon public schools

*Corporate run for-profit charter schools that divert public funds away from public schools

*Mandates requiring teachers to use corporate approved, scripted programs that sublimate and negate authentic and meaningful learning experiences imparted by varied and rich curricula

FURTHERMORE, WE DEMAND RESTORATION AND/OR IMPLEMENTATION OF THE FOLLOWING:

*Libraries and librarians to all schools and communities

*Teaching force educated through accredited college teacher education programs only

*School buildings in ALL neighborhoods that meet health codes including clean drinking water, heat and air conditioning

*Developmentally appropriate, problem-based, literacy-rich, play-based and student-centered learning, with the return of nap, play, and snack time for kindergarteners

*Smaller student-to-teacher ratio (25 or fewer to one)

*Wrap around services for schools that offset the effects of poverty and social inequality, including but not limited to: school staff such as nurses and health providers, social workers, community organizers, family counselors; free quality community daycare and preschool programs, healthy food availability, safe and healthy housing options, community social facilities, and after school programs to enhance learning and provide safe recreational spaces for all students

*Fully funded arts and athletics programs

*Recess and adequate time allotted for lunch

*New national funding formulas that ensures EQUITY in funding to ALL public schools regardless of zip code

*Requirement that a significant percentage of textbook or testing company PROFITS go BACK TO public education

*Requirement that all DOE positions are filled with qualified and experienced educators

*Requirement that Superintendents and school administrators have exceptional, extended teaching and school-based experience

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By  |  02:09 PM ET, 10/15/2011

 
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