Tenicka Boyd Opts out of the Opt-Out Movement

This April Fool’s Day, Tenicka Boyd’s voice wafted over the Brooklyn Bridge from P.S. 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn—an elementary school whose kindergarteners enjoy visits from the likes of Betsy Lewin, a writer and illustrator of stories for children.

A parent at the school, she is director of organizing for StudentsFirstNY, a “leading voice for students who depend on public education for the skills they need to succeed, but who are too often failed by a system that puts special interests, rather than the interests of children, first.”  Among those who sit on the board of directors are Joel Klein, Eva Moskowitz, and Michelle Rhee.


Boyd had posted an op-ed to the New York Daily News. It began this way:

I was shocked not long ago to get an email bulletin from the PTA at my daughter’s elementary school, PS 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, attempting to rally parents against annual state testing of our kids. Now, the head of the state teachers union — a group that should be supporting rather than undermining education standards — is leading a crusade in support of this so-called opt-out movement.

The head of the state teachers union to which she referred is Karen Magee. In a recent interview, she had taken Governor Andrew Cuomo to task for botching implementation of the Common Core Standards and given her blessing to all the state’s parents to opt out of standardized tests. She called for multiple forms of assessment, ones that might have a prayer of getting to the heart of student learning and progress.

Here’s the gist of Boyd’s argument:

Whether it’s at a high-performing school like the one my daughter attends or at a struggling school, the push to stop kids from taking tests that measure their annual progress threatens to increase the already troubling disparities in our public education system.

I noted that the final phrase about the “troubling disparities” was hyper-linked not to any substantive research, of which there is plenty, but to another Daily News piece whose headline read: “De Blasio pleased new Albany budget deal lessens state threat to take over failing schools.”

Boyd then issued a call to action:

Parents who want to hold the school system accountable — and especially my fellow parents of children of color — should raise their voices in opposition to the heads-in-the-sand brigades…What this movement ignores is that without testing, there is no way to know whether our children are learning what they need to learn. Should I just trust that the system will take care of my daughter?

Boyd’s right: the system is not taking care of her daughter—or, rather other people’s children, who aren’t fortunate enough to go to a well-resourced, enlightened school like P.S. 321.  They’re forced to attend schools, like those in Brownsville,  where entire grades are behind the academic curve. “It is not the test that’s to blame for that abysmal figure,” she wrote. “In fact, it’s the test that shines a light on the failure.”

They shine a light on failure, all right—but of a different sort. Who’s got whose head in the sand, I wonder. Has anyone been paying attention to Linda Darling-Hammond, our foremost equity analyst (not that kind). In The Flat World and Education, she gives us nauseating details of Luther Burbank, an institutional plaintiff in a California lawsuit filed on behalf of low-income students of color in 2002. More than half a century after Brown v. Brown outlawed segregation, guaranteeing an equal education for all, Burbank was infested with vermin, cockroaches, and mice. Bathrooms were locked, and there were no computers. “Apartheid schools,” Darling-Hammond called them.  In an article adapted from the book in The Nation, she summed it up:

This is because of greater income inequality and because the United States spends much more educating affluent children than poor children, with wealthy suburbs often spending twice what central cities do, and three times what poor rural areas can afford.

Today, the kids in Brownsville get a double whammy. Not only do they live with one of the city’s highest poverty rates in a neighborhood left behind. They have to endure tests that Elizabeth Phillips, P.S. 321’s principal, has deemed unacceptable for her students of privilege. They’re “confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards,” she wrote in an op-ed piece in the New York Times last spring. Eight-year-olds were asked ambiguous questions. And, they were too long, she added: “none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes.”

It’s getting harder and harder to define what’s in the best interest of children these days.



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1 comment to Tenicka Boyd Opts out of the Opt-Out Movement

  • After having taught for the New York City Department of Education, many of those years at P.S. 321, I’m now working as an early childhood literacy consultant in a few Department of Education schools. Some are in upscale neighborhoods, some in high-poverty areas. In one of the high-needs schools on the Lower East Side, the principal is trying to give the children opportunities to learn through inquiry and exploration. She, of course, needs to get them ready for the tests and therefore must spend some time on test prep. That, however, is not the thrust of the curriculum in her school. In fact I just recently helped the first grade teachers transform a room, formerly a storeroom, into a block room for use by the first and second grades. After doing inquiry-based work in Pre-k through grades 2 at this school for the past six years, the children are learning to ask probing questions ,make interesting observations and use many resources to do research as part of their Social Studies and Science projects.

    The second school, located in East New York, bases the entire third grade curriculum on getting ready for the tests. The teachers are bored. The students are bored, turn off to academics and demonstrate aggressive behaviors. They do terribly on the standardized tests and they aren’t learning much of anything else. They certainly aren’t learning anything about being good, inquisitive and informed citizens in a democracy because there’s no sense of democracy in their school or classroom.

    I don’t feel like the standardized tests measure very much that is useful to anyone other than politicians who like to jump on the finger-pointing bandwagon without actually providing the economic support that the poorer schools actually need.

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