Activism in Education: Looking Beyond the PARCC

As the dates for the test get closer, it becomes less and less likely that NJ will join the many states that have bowed out of the PARCC. The conversation has turned to focus on how to compose a refusal letter and figuring out what each district will do with the children who have refusal letters on file.

In many ways, being a part of this movement has been inspiring. I have watched more and more parents getting informed and asking tough questions. There are so many Facebook groups that have formed on the national level such as “Opt Out of the State Test-The National Movement” (14,000+ members), the state level such as “Opt Out of the State Standardized Tests-New Jersey” (5,000 members), and at the local level such as “Ocean Township Cares About Schools” (177 members).

These groups have helped to disseminate research and articles. But they have also helped people to connect with one another in a very powerful way. No longer do people have to feel like lone rangers, but they can draw upon others for strength and support. It isn’t one person against one principal or superintendent or school board anymore. Through social media, the movement was able to start and continues to grow.

Radio stations like 101.5 have engaged in the conversation. Jim Gearhart has been instrumental in giving parents a platform to voice their concerns on his talk show. Newspapers both online and in print, have run articles and editorials giving the public a glimpse of the debate raging across the state and country.

This week there is a round of public hearings scheduled where people can register to deliver testimony about their views on testing in NJ. This will no doubt lead to even more media publicity for critics of the PARCC test, which will lead to even more people joining the struggle.

But the real impetus for parents will come when the PARCC starts and their kids struggle.

The test is too long. Many of the questions are too confusing and developmentally inappropriate. Many children do not have to typing or PARCC-specific computer skills to succeed. Pearson may not even find enough graders to score the test, since the company has resorted to advertising on Craigslist.  When those tests are scored, many are going to fail. And I was rooting for sit and stare, simply because the debacle it would have created would have further escalated the demise of the PARCC.

In a nutshell, the PARCC will in all likelihood implode itself without much more help. But what then? Does anyone really believe the obsession with testing and data-mining will end there? Education is a lucrative business and as long as it stays that way, our children are in jeopardy. This grassroots parent movement cannot just be a movement, because movements start, they grow, and then they die.

Diets don’t work, because they are not permanent solutions. To lose weight and keep it off you have to make a lifestyle change. The same goes for parents. You cannot send a refusal letter or shout at a few board meetings then go back to life as usual.

Just as high stakes tests will not eradicate poverty or give parents and teachers all of the answers they are looking for, ending them will not create a utopia in education. Our education system needs this activism to continue long after the PARCC test has come and gone. We need students, parents, teachers, administrators, board members, and politicians to keep talking, keep thinking, and keep moving towards one positive change after another.

It isn’t hard to organize a group of people against something that is detrimental to society, particularly with social media. But the real trick would be to get these people to then become a real resource for schools. These groups could share research, articles, and practices, then work together to put pressure on their administrators and school boards to adopt more progressive reforms. This should and could happen locally. We must stop looking to the federal government to fix everything.

If the goal is better schools, then simply rallying against the PARCC or other tests like it will not be enough. There has to be energy, effort, and activism put into alternative reforms and the best place to start are these small local groups that this fight has formed. Start the conversation by asking, “If we don’t want to see the PARCC in our schools, then what DO we want to see?”

What do you want to see in your schools? Please share in the comments below.

I know I want to see more field trips, more project-based learning, and more science and social studies in the elementary school curriculum…and that’s just for starters!


7 thoughts on “Activism in Education: Looking Beyond the PARCC

  1. Dana Dentino says:

    I would like to see a PTA that is just (if not more) concerned with the education our children are getting
    rather than what next function is on the calendar.

    Our schools are filled with uniformed parents….I really
    think it’s the responsibility of the PTA to give parents
    information to make informed decisions.


    • Dana, I have the same frustrations with PTA’s. The activities and functions are wonderful and create a closer community. But the education side is lacking. PTA’s raise money and do give money to fund teacher requests but the connection too often ends there. I think the way to go is to create a separate parent group that discusses education specifically. They have 2 groups besides a PTO here in Linwood. Education Association Committee and Linwood Education Fund. The first takes parent concerns to the administrators and the administrators respond. The second raises funds to pay for teacher grants. These groups are why we chose to move here. No reason why you cannot start your own!


  2. Jeanine says:

    The National PTA is involved in advocacy in systems change conversations on education reform. Not sure that they always are aligned with the interests of their membership or fully informing their membership about their positions. But they are at many of these tables. Why more local PTAs aren’t is not about the PTA affiliation, but rather about how the school PTA leadership wants to operate and the direction of its active members. Too often they see their only role as serving the interests of the principal and supplementing school budgets. Most PTA members participate out of self-interest and with very short-term views ((and there’s nothing wrong with doing stuff in the interest of your individual child). Rocking the boat by organizing around curriculum or assessments or instruction issues could have more repercussions than benefits in the short term. So, organizing parents along with community members (who do not have to be as concerned about administrator retribution), to be better informed about education issues, like the Linwood example, may be a better way for many communities, especially in NJ.


  3. I want all schools to have heterogeneous classes. I welcome no barriers to GT, IB, AP and Honor courses. I seek the removal of community barriers (city limits) that promote segregated school districts.


  4. seahawk318 says:

    I too would like to see more incidental learning, less technology based lessons. Let’s say It’s raining, this seems like a good time for an Earth Science lesson. Or, someone has a moldy sandwich left in their lunch bag, (hey, it happens!) let’s study it under the microscope! Why does everything have to be so regimented, documented, and Governmented (new word!).
    Thank you Paige for your continuing effort and enthusiasm to let our kids be kids! I’m off to read and rally your next post! Please don’t give up, or stop posting, your writing is inspiring, and totally thought provoking! I’m so grateful that at least one of my kids had you as her teacher, she and her friends still miss you and your powerful lessons. You truly are a dynamic teacher.


    • Incidental learning or as I like to call it…the teachable moments are the greatest. It breaks my heart that I had to resign so I try to make everyday I spend outside of the classroom worthwhile. I miss your girl and all of my students so much. They were as much as a gift to me as I to them.


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