United Opt Out covers some of the complexity of building a national opt out movement, county by county and state by state

"The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you'll get action." (Malcom X). Tim Sleker, United Opt Out, told the crowd "You are here because we need to leave here and talk to our neighbors who want to understand (what is happening in education) but rely on the media. This is a movement to get back the promise of a powerful education."

He then introduced Ceresta Smith, a veteran 23 year educator, National Board Certified Teacher, a teacher leader and mentor.

Ceresta talked about and compared two schools in Dallas Texas. One in a wealthy district and the other in a poverty stricken neighborhood. There is a huge football program in Florida which keeps black male kids focused and provides college opportunities. Football stopped privatization of inner city schools. Corporations are disenfranchising communities across the nation and trying to create a large, failing culture. We are seeing an increase in failure as an affect of the tests. United Opt Out equals parent involvement. Some school boards are realizing the corporate model of education is not good.

Testing is creating problems. The tests are not developmentally appropriate for elementary and middle school as well as inappropriate for high school math, science and literacy. The problems start at early education when kids are asked to do things that are abstract, not real. Students are given writing prompts and told to "use ideas of others two craft your essay." Asking students to write an original argument on topics with no background information results in sanctions and plagiarism.

Following her comments, the participants broke in to their working groups which included groups on unions, human rights, growing the movement, civil disobedience, media and other topics.

The next presentation was a panel discussion on growing the movement. Panelists included Anthony Cody, Cindy Hamilton, Fran Huckabee, Bob Schafer, Kathleen Jasper and Rick Roach.

Anthony Cody told the audience he had worked for 24 years in the Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high-needs middle school. Cody is a National Board certified teacher, who now leads workshops with teachers on Project Based Learning. He is the co-founder of the Network for Public Education (NPE) and the author of several books. His latest book, "The Educator and the Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges Bill Gates," describes his efforts to educate Bill Gates.

Cody described the necessity of having long term perspectives, organizing and grass roots work. "It's important to honor one another for the avenue we have chosen as activists. All are valuable contributors to our work." Any one community could emerge a a critical force at any time. Examples he included were parents and students in Colorado, Newark, New Jersey and the Providence Student Union. He described teachers as "sleeping giants" who need to educate one another and students.

The Network for Public Education is working on the legislative and official side. Diane Ravitch, who wrote the forward in his latest book, supports Grass Roots movements and gives Anthony's work national presence. They are organizing a conference, the end of April in Chicago which, will provide an opportunity for activists from all over the world to network. These people (at UOO15) are our allies and friends. We need to create relationships with one another. The URL for the NPE is...

Cindy Hamilton, one of three founders of Opt Out Orlando, described how they are reaching out to all districts and working to bring awareness to why anyone would want to opt out and why they (the opposition) welcomes everyone to stay out of politics. Opt Out Orlando helps people become aware by working with students, and legislatures are now looking for more information on the opt out movement. They send letters and explain their story to Florida state legislators about who and why they are.

Fran Huckaby, Ph.D. Texas University, has spent time in Chicago, New York and Houston working with groups including the Chicago Teachers Union to think how issues can be heard, and responded to, by people. She describes the process of starting with small groups then moving to larger groups of people. "People engaging in participatory acts of democracy". "I am documenting the resurgence of democracy." During her presentation, a video showed in the background, including clips with young Chicago activist Asean Johnson and Chicago, special education teacher Katie Osgood. She talked about fear. "Fear is prevalent but as people act it begins to decrease. First, groups grow and get more members. Second, "I show what I do and this helps people move forward." She talked about the act of telling dangerous truths. "We must tell what's happening, in education, collectively."

Robert A. (Bob) Schaeffer has served as Public Education Director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, since its founding in 1985, and is a member of its Board of Directors. He is author of Standardized Tests and Teacher Competence (School Voices, Fall, 1996) and coauthor of Standing Up to the SAT (ARCO/Simon & Schuster, 1989). He has also coauthored many FairTest publications, including Testing Our Children: A Report Card on State Assessment Systems, Standardized Tests and Our Children: A Guide to Testing Reform, Implementing Performance Assessments, The SAT Coaching Cover-Up, Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit, and Sex Bias in College Admissions Tests: How Women Lose Out. Bob described how "Fair Test forced our school board, last summer to OPT out of all standardized tests. It got the info out."

He talked about the tremendous progress across Florida counties to decrease the state's attachment to tastes. Some states have eliminated some exams, leading the way to building major road blocks to stop high states testing. The OPT OUT movements is a grassroots movement fighting the elite. Policy makers are the 1% and test makers are promoted by corporate media. "Testing policy is a political issue not an educational issue. Facts and morality are on our side. "It's politics that's testing our education away." Karen Lewis, President Chicago Teachers Union.

"It's necessary to over take policy making over testing. Our side needs to move in ways that are more affective. We need to change government policy." "We're all in the same fight together." He talked about action "First step is to bring pressure on US senators and legislature to take annual testing out of NCLB (No Child Left Behind). We need to get federal mandates off state and localities. This may break the momentum of testing."

Kathleen Jasper, Founder of, former Florida teacher and assistant principal, is "working to expose the truth of the 'evil' education system."

"This is a civil rights issue. Tests are designed for students to fail. When you are in schools and see what's happening to disadvantaged students you see the machine is designed to run this way. They want to keep minorities down. This is a hostile take over of education." Politicians want to keep their positions of power. "You need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable because what you are fighting is important for all children and civilizations. For me it's 100% civil rights." She talked about the importance of one on one communication. "Every time you see a politician, talk to them. It keeps people in certain positions. "Fear is not an excuse to do something." Civil rights is a push back against the machine. She said teachers and parents can get their stories to her at .

Rick Roach is running for Senate in District 13, Tallahassee, Florida. He is currently the only elected official to take the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) and publish his scores in the Washington Post. He's a 16 year member of the Orange County School Board.

"If you want to take the education out of politics, you need to put the education in politics," he told the group. "Look at the occupations of the legislatures. Half the general budget is education and only 5% of our legislatures are educators. We need to support them." He talked about candidates needing national support. "I need your financial help (to get elected). All politicians should take the 10th grade test (FCAT). He described his experience taking the test, failing it, sharing anonymously his experience with the Washington Post and then, because of overwhelming public support he came forward publicly. " 'The Drive to Test, Test and Re-test' Leads Famous School Board Member to Quit". "What we believe is not necessarily true."

Discussions during the Q & A period included the importance of kids learning from failure because it is an important learning experience. Tests are designed for a failure outcome. The Department of Education (DOE) has numerous educational resources. People can take sample tests and talk about the tests online. People are encouraged to read the disclosures on tests created by Pearson and McGraw Hill. The general consensus is "We're okay with testing if the way it's intended and designed to be used is followed".


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