The O’s had it this past week. First, Kathy Newman’s terrific op-ed piece on why she is not letting her son take the PSSAs went completely viral. Over 41,000 people shared the story on Facebook from the Post-Gazette’s site – and we know it spread much, much farther from there. Even more importantly, it generated a nationwide discussion of the consequences of high-stakes-testing with hundreds of people posting comments (the vast majority of which were extremely supportive).
The public response created its own wave of media attention as the story of our Opt Out action continued to race around the country. We wound up having a public dialogue with Gov. Corbett’s administration in the letters-to-the-editor section of the paper, as well as radio interviews and print articles ranging from the Washington Post to the San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s a run down of the media timeline:
- Dr. Newman’s original op-ed, “Why I Won’t Let My Son Take the PSSA” (Post-Gazette, 3-31-13), which stayed the #1 most emailed story for three days.
- As the piece gathered steam, Gov. Corbett’s office protested that we mentioned state budget cuts and the press secretary for the PA Department of Education wrote a letter to the editor claiming that this administration has actually increased school funding and that high-stakes-tests are good things. Our response piece dismantling these claims, “Opt Out Goes Viral,” was viewed over 3,000 times and shared over 850 times on Facebook.
- Mentions in Early Returns, 4-2-13; Pittsburgh City Paper, 4-3-13; Philly.com, 4-3-13.
- “Opinion Story on Opting out of PSSAs Hits Nerve with Parents,” (Post-Gazette 4-4-13). This follow-up story ran on the front page and itself was shared over 1,000 times.
- Delco Times (4-4-13).
- Tribune Review (4-6-13).
- “Classroom Realities,” Jessie Ramey, letter to the editor challenging the state’s claims about the education budget as well as PSSAs (Post-Gazette, 4-6-13).
- Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet in the Washington Post (4-7-13), ran a Q&A with Dr. Newman, and it was the 2nd most emailed story that day.
- The Associated Press published a story that was syndicated nationally (here it is in the San Francisco Chronicle, 4-7-13).
- The Post-Gazette editorial board chose our Opt Out movement as its “Issue One” to spotlight in the Sunday letters-to-the-editor section: “Tests are Overused” (Pamela Harbin, 4-7-13) and “Better Ways to Test” (Carole Skinger, 4-7-13).
- Radio interviews: Michael Smerconish show; Dom Giordano show, 4-4-13 (CBS/Philadelphia); Rick Smith show, 4-5-13 (Harrisburg); Lynn Cullen show, 4-8-13 (Pittsburgh); Mike Pintek show, 4-8-13 (KDKA/CBS Pittsburgh); NPR/WESA story, 4-8-13 (Pittsburgh); Essential Pittsburgh, 4-12-13 (WESA/NPR); Parenting with Playdate Parent (webtalk radio).
- The Times Herald (Montgomery County, PA), 4-7-13.
- Daily American, 4-8-13: story of the opt out movement in Somerset County where we have connected with parents to support each other.
- “How the Working Class Gets Schooled,” Working-Class Perspectives (Kathy Newman, 4-8-13).
- Philadelphia Daily News, 4-11-13.
- WPXI TV news, 4-11-13.
- Washington Post, 4-14-13 (top of the front page of online edition, 4-15-13), includes interviews with three Pittsburgh area opt out parents.
- RAND research posts an Op-Ed piece on high-stakes-testing, keeping the conversation going for a third week in a row (Post-Gazette, 4-21-13)
- And another round of letters keeps the issue in the Post-Gazette for a 4th straight week, including one from a teacher, “PSSA Pressures” (Joe Tighe, 4-28-13)
In the middle of all this media fun, a number of people from Yinzer Nation travelled to Washington D.C. for the Occupy the D.O.E. event, April 4-7. These included Ann Aldisert Becker and Marjie Crist of Mt. Lebanon, which was just ranked the #2 school district in the entire state, and has a particularly active group of families opting out of high-stakes-testing. [Pittsburgh Business Times, 4-5-13] Parents there are seeing the same effects of these tests as families in urban areas, with the narrowing of the curriculum and the loss of arts programs and even recess.
I spoke on Friday afternoon to an enthusiastic crowd gathered on the sidewalk about Pennsylvania budget cuts and the privatization of our schools – including school closure, vouchers, and tax credit programs – all legitimized by high-stakes-testing. I connected our fight for public education to the fight for our other public goods (such as transportation, infrastructure, and parks) to think about the way in which too many people have lost faith in the very idea of a common good. That loss of faith has allowed the rise of corporate-style reforms, backed by big money, and often the insertion of a far-right political agenda into state policy making.
Chicago Teachers Union president, Karen Lewis, spoke about the myths used to promote school closure – such as calling schools targeted for elimination “half empty” when they are not. And she insisted we stop calling them “failed schools” but rather “abandoned schools.” Early childhood education researcher Nancy Carlsson-Paige talked about the developmentally inappropriate use of high-stakes-testing on ever-younger kids, including practices that she characterized as child-abuse now being foisted on three and four year olds.
The students who led a walk-out of high-stakes-testing in Denver, Colorado also spoke and then managed to get an audience with a Department of Education youth outreach director. On Saturday, the education occupiers marched all the way to the White House. And this was no rag-tag group: the Occupy program included an astonishing list of education scholars including Diane Ravitch, Mark Naison, Stephen Krashen, Sherrick Hughes, Deborah Meier and many others. There is no doubt that ours is an evidence-based movement.
From one Op-ed that generated a national buzz, to dozens of local parents choosing the civil disobedience of Opting-Out, to Occupying the DOE in D.C. … our grassroots movement is fighting to put the public back in public education. It was a week of O’s, and here’s another: Outstanding work, everyone.