There were a slew of NCLB resistance articles published over the past few days. On March 26, Big Education Ape published a link to John Taylor Gotto’s Bartleby Project, which encourages kids to refuse to take standardized tests or to participate in test prep. March 25, Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet had a post by Mark Phillips with a similar theme. Phillips “wondered” why teachers, parents and students in America don’t resist standardized test and education privatization schemes more vigorously, and suggested that we would be justified in doing so. He proposed coordinated local actions across the country. Even Forbes got in on the action, publishing a piece by E.D. Kain: Opting Out of No Child Left Behind (March 25).
It is intriguing that Forbes and WaPo would both publish articles condoning or supporting deliberate subversion and perhaps it is a sign that the time is ripe for parents, teachers and students to start engaging in civil disobedience. For teachers, the risk is significant. Refusing to participate in NCLB tests could be seen as defiance or refusal to carry out ones job duties, grounds for disciplinary action. However, if large numbers of teachers participated, it would be difficult to discipline or fire them. Better yet, the unions should make this a campaign and start organizing their members to refuse and resist standardized tests. Of course this is not likely to happen any time soon. The unions are much too concerned with obeying the rules and forcing their members to do likewise, as we saw in Wisconsin, with the unions conceding pay and benefits cuts and then telling their members to go back to work, thus crushing the momentum and energy that had been building up for weeks in the streets and at the State House.
On the other hand, resisting NCLB could be a matter of preserving one’s job. The number of failing schools is increasing, precisely because NCLB was designed to create failure, not eliminate it (see No Capitalist Left Behind). As schools start to fail, NCLB allows districts to fire all the teachers or convert their schools to charter schools, either of which could result in outright job loss for teachers, or the elimination of existing contracts and union protections. Furthermore, when schools start to fail, administrators start to force teachers to work harder and longer to try to fix the problem. This deteriorates their working conditions and generally has little hope of success. Few schools overcome their “failing” label and, in California, 99% of schools are expected to be “failing” by 2014.
Teachers need to start organizing and encouraging each other to refuse and resist just to prevent their working conditions from stagnating further.
For students, the actual risks of resisting standardized tests are relatively small. Most of these tests (with the exception of exit exams and SATs) have little or no effect on graduation or college admissions). However, the perceived risks are high. Students are pressured, bullied and cajoled by administrators and teachers. They are told that their school might get shut down if they don’t show up and try harder. They are bribed with prizes and special treats for showing up or improving. However, if teachers and parents educated and encouraged them, it would be relatively easy to get them to resist. They hate the tests and will not need much coaxing. The exams and the test preparation activities are tedious, stressful and a waste of time.