Last night I had the privilege of discussing education with New York State’s next generation of educators! I was invited to introduce the documentary film, Race to Nowhere to a large roomful of education majors at one of the local colleges. I gave a version of my introduction from an opt-out informational session that I co-hosted before state testing began.
My name is Danielle Boudet and I’m a parent in the Morris school district. My son is 5 and my daughter is 18 months old. When my son started Pre-K in the fall, I had no idea that I would come to have so many concerns about school. I began to research how new arrivals such as Common Core State Standards, APPR, STAR assessments, Pearson, and inBloom to name a few, would affect the type of educational experience my son would be getting in Pre-K and what my children would have to look forward to as they advanced through the grades. I knew I had to get involved.
I am here today as a parent and a member of Opt-Out New York–a grassroots movement that’s growing rapidly and working hard to reclaim education from policy maker, non-educators, and corporate interests. I’m sure you’re aware that the NY state testing season for grades 3-8 is well underway. You may or may not be aware that thousands of students across the state, with the support and guidance of their parents, are boycotting these tests in an effort to send a powerful message to Albany that they’re sick of their children’s education being dominated by testing. And they’re sick of participating in a system that uses children as pawns to judge their teachers and their schools.
When it comes to the problems with the excessive use of standardized testing, there is far too much to detail right now. Among their many flaws, we know that these tests are culturally biased; they are a poor indicator of student achievement; and they cannot account for the many extrinsic factors that contribute to low test scores—things like poverty and domestic abuse, for example.
Children as young as 4 are being formally assessed in Pre-K classrooms, and when we look at all the tests and assessments combined, they can consume as much as 25% of our children’s academic year. When school is dominated by excessive testing and high-stakes testing in particular, we can expect to see curriculum narrowed and a teach-to-the-test mentality accompanied by a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and learning. Teachers are starved of the freedom to be innovative, and students are denied recognition of their individual needs and unique approaches to learning. As future educators, this is a phenomenon you must recognize.
As a member of the Opt-Out movement, I will say that refusing high-stakes testing is one way to send a powerful message to the state that we are sick of the strangle-hold testing has over our schools. Before the testing began I had the privilege of co-hosting an informational session to help inform the community about testing and their right to refuse. That day, it rained all day long.
As a stay-at-home-mom, one of the things I do for my family is grow a huge vegetable garden. On that rainy day, I got to thinking about rain and weather, and my garden. I thought to myself: a steady rain can germinate seeds and make things grow. Together with the proper balance of sunshine, it kickstarts spring into a flourish of green grass, budding leaves, and blooming flowers. A steady rain is natural. The earth absorbs it and things grow!
But not all weather is so nurturing. A massive storm can bring bursts of torrential rain that come too quickly and too harshly. The earth cannot absorb it or utilize it. It floods the land, eroding soil and washing away seeds before they can germinate and establish themselves. This is especially true of soil that has not been well stewarded. Storms can cause all kinds of damage. People are also at risk if not properly prepared. Storms can be dangerous.
So, I began to think that education is a lot like weather. It has the potential to nurture and grow the minds of our children. But the wrong kind of education has the potential to destroy. In this way, excessive testing—especially these high-stakes tests—is a lot like the destructive forces of a storm. We all know it’s coming. We can seen the sky darken in the distance and we are all worried. It forces us to do nothing except prepare and try to minimize the damage. But I ask you: How much enriching, authentic learning is going to be eroded? And how many students are going to fall victim to anxiety and to the potential of failure? Like misused soil, children already disenfranchised with learning are going to suffer the most. When a storm comes, it hampers activities that we’d rather be doing. Excessive testing replaces real learning, and forces a narrow focus on simply being as prepared as we can to weather the approaching event.
And we all know what happens when bad weather stays around for a while. We become depressed and impatient. We feel unmotivated and bored. And we wish we were doing something else! This is how our children and their teachers feel in school these days. They are caught weathering an extended season of testing and hoping the climate will soon change so they too can do something else—something more productive.
We need to have a conversation about education, and you as future educators need to be part of this conversation. Things need to change so we can provide the right educational environment for our kids, so that they can reconnect to learning and love to learn again. We need to provide them with a nurturing and well-balanced education so that they can truly grow and flourish. It’s time for the storm to end. And, it’s time to repair the damage so we can move forward into a sunnier, more hopeful educational future.
I was asked here today to introduce the documentary film, Race to Nowhere. This is a film that everyone should see—parents, educators, and anyone who cares about education. This film is a catalyst to start a conversation about education—a conversation that for most is long overdue. It challenges our notions about how we prepare our children for success and the many pressures we place on them in doing so.
Now, more than ever, the climate in our schools is less about learning and more about things like teacher evaluations, high-stakes testing, data collection, and other state, federal, and corporate agendas that starve both students and teachers alike in any real attempt at authentic learning and teaching.
Race to Nowhere tells some powerful and emotional stories. The film is both heartbreaking and empowering at the same time. But most importantly, I believe it opens the door to thinking about the type of educational experiences we want for our children.
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you. I hope you enjoy the film, and that it inspires you to think more deeply about education and perhaps start a conversation of your own.
At the end of the film, I helped to answer questions. Many expressed how moved they were by the film. Many were horrified to see light shed on what their future careers might bring them. And I think everybody agreed that it’s wrong to see children suffering the brunt of these burdons. I’m not sure how many of these future educators were aware of the revolution taking place in education right now, and there were many questions about the Opt-Out movement and how they would fit into all of this. They will be entering a profession currently dictated by fear and oppression, and it will be difficult for them to find a balance of ‘playing ball’ and maintaining moral conscience. But they will enter this profession informed and aware. And they will add yet more voices to the growing chorus of outrage aimed at the degradation occurring in education.
As children of No Child Left Behind, these young adults can relate to much of what the film depicted. But they were also confronted with statements by colleges and employers who are reporting a serious lack of critical thinking and creative problem solving skills. One young woman in the audience summed it up perfectly. She said:
Our generation is constantly accused of being lazy, of not working hard. But we are what you made us to be.
And with testing in our schools and other time-consuming mandates overwhelming education, we have to ask ourselves some serious questions. What do we want our future to look like? And how are we producing the next generation who will steward this future?