Tuesday, September 1, 2015


On August 10, 2015 Wayne Au came to Los Angeles to speak at the Antioch University, Los Angeles' Education Department "Friends of Education Speaker Series" -- his subject: The Opt Out Movement.   Antioch is a great place -- refreshingly and progressively run by Dr. J. Cynthia McDermott, Ed Chapel,  and other progressive faculty. Dr. McDermott has taught in other countries and here in the U.S.  "Along with democratic teaching practices she has an intense interest in Children's Literature and began the Horace Mann Upstanders Children's Literature Award" where I first met her.  2015 Upstanders went to Eve Bunting and Justin Roberts, and Michelle Franke Meyering, executive director of the PEN center USA in Los Angeles.  I hope that many students can find their way to this Education program since it is one of the few in the country that reflect what is needed in public education, and actually support public education! 

From Antioch's publicity:  "Wayne Au is an Associate Professor in the Education Program at the University of Washington, Bothell, and he is an editor the social justice magazine Rethinking Schools.    His research interests include critical analyses of high-stakes testing, critical educational theory and practice, curriculum studies, and multicultural education. Most recently he co-authored the article "Rethinking schools:  Enacting a vision for social justice within US education" for Critical Studies in Education and co-edited Pencils Down:  Rethinking High-Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schools. 

Although this was the same night as the Los Angeles rally for Bernie Sanders, the audience consisted of a diverse group of students in the Education School at Antioch University and some professors. A few of us activist BATs (Badass Teachers Association), Larry Lawrence and myself, and friends of Wayne Au's also attended. Larry came all the way up from Carlsbad.  Wayne has lived in Orange County and Long Beach and now lives in Seattle, Washington.  Wayne talked about why he addresses the question of Opt Out and speaks often to groups of parents.  Outrage isn't too strong a word to describe what he shared with us while explaining the machinations of the high-stakes game.  "How vacuous they are with the use of data."
 Can I do this talk justice? I ask myself. Do I really understand what he is presenting? The Basics of Assessment:  Explicit Sampling -- that's what testing is."  We assume a correlation.  Infer from a sample. But there are hidden issues -- "hidden sampling" -- EL fluency, test logics, coping with stress, conditions of assessment:

Basics:  is it cold?  is a dog barking?  Critical point:  opposed to high stakes.  But any assessment is indirect. Causal relation we don't really know.  Limited. Imprecise.  Grades and test scores are inferences.

High Stakes Standardized Testing -- consequences attached to scores. Loss of job, grade retention, media scrutiny.  Standardized Tests are supposed to be uniform.  In order to enable comparison -- PISA and NAEP.  Sorting -- create hierarchies in our current system.

Assumption:  We tend to assume a strong correlation between teaching, learning, and the assessment (sample).

Theory of Action: consequently we tend to assume that we can infer the amount of learning and the quality of teaching and curriculum from the assessment (sample). So we attach consequences to the assessment, making it "high-stakes".  This causes basic problems:  narrows teaching - no recess, art, music.  Bad pedagogy.  Lecture more -- teacher centered.  Consequences - on low income, children of color corrupts validity. Culture of FEAR AND DISTRESS (emphasis mine).  Charters are gaming the system.  Exit exams - do nothing for students but increase jail time.  Tests:  CANNOT ACCOUNT FOR THE DIVERSITY OF LEARNERS.

TESTING'S TECHNICAL PROBLEMS:  cannot say that X causes Y.  Non-school factors correlate  with test scores.  70% are non-school factors.  20% are school related factors.  Not accurate, not precise.  35%  25%  VAM year-to-year instability -- teacher at top one year, on bottom the next.  Kid dependent.  80% of gain or loss due to random events.

Others:  Killing the profession of teaching.  Mega corporations need to make $$.  That's it.

Test scoring sweatshops -- Craigslist -- 60 seconds spent by a person with no knowledge of the student.

David Harvey's definition in 2007 -- de-regulation, free trade, -- divest from public sector.  Neoliberal Corporate Education Reform:  Pearson does what the state did.  Break unions. Public money moves to private business.  Business model -- with COO and CEO at the head, etc.

Narrowing the purpose of education to economics - pay attention to people's needs but now it's purely an economic reason.

Non-democratic bodies -- School Boards often appointed.  Charter Boards -- private - Corporate Education Reform.

Fabricant & Fine - 2013.  Hunter College -- "offer a compelling analysis of the promise, politics, and problems of charter schools.  $500 - $700 billion -- the New Gold Rush -- takes money out of our neighborhoods.  [Bankrupt our public school systems (mine)]

Testing and Audit Culture -  auditing of everything.  Efficiency, standards, production.

Attack on the Commons -- market system.  Neo liberalism. Helicopter parenting -- this is happening pre-nataly -- competition.  Pearson needs data crunchers.

Gates -- powerful market forces.  We only create standards in order to test!

Provides the fuel -- it all depends on test data.


Omi and Winant - p. 125 - Standardized Testing as a Racial Project.  Historically -- Binet -- but a crude misappropriation of it.  Tested adults.  Goddard, Terman, Yerkes -- all tested students and Terman followed some for many years.  Results reflected the social order -- race and class.  Used to justify EUGENICS movement -- brought these tests to the schools.  Taylorism -- Ford Motor Company. [Added by me because California was the epicenter of the Eugenics movement:  Stanford president David Starr Jordan originated the notion of "race and blood" in his 1902 racial epistle "Blood of a Nation," in which the university scholar declared that human qualities and conditions such as talent and poverty were passed through the blood.]

Objectivity, Meritocracy, Equity -- masks structural inequality.  Public school system is guilty of using testing as a racial project.  Testing framed as a civil rights issue.  Bush, Paige, Duncan, Obama, Rice -- all say it's a civil rights issue of our time.

High-Stakes Testing as a Racial Project:

-- greatest curriculum squeeze:  wholly different education than the affluent; loss of multicultural curriculum;  culturally relevant instruction gone.
The Culture = Discipline, punishment, surveillance, threats.

NCLB -- 13 years -- NO CLOSING OF THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP. All under the guise of equality.   Same results from 100 years ago! What are tests really measuring?

Jody Melamed -- Neoliberal Multiculturalism  -- post racist world -- testing is key!!

David Gilborn talks about England -- the same thing is happening there.

MATH CUT SCORES - SBAC - From the Northwest Lab.  Huge failure rates.  This is a planned failure rate!!  67% OF KIDS FAIL!!!

English Language Arts - SBAC -- same failure rate!! NAEP model.

Wayne tells PARENTS -- Go with the flow!!  PARENTS ARE POWERFUL!! - push the conversation forward.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! - Administrators don't know -- tell them to show you the law! Ask about research.  THERE IS NONE!!

A Masters program at the University of Washington finds admissions people don't know what is happening.

-- Support School Staff -- build relationships.

We have to push our unions.  Progressive leadership!!

 - Outright refusal!

OPT OUT NUMBERS ARE NOT FIRM -- 200,000 in New York, 60,000 in Washington state, 10,000 in New Mexico, 50-60,000 in New Jersey, 8000 in Wisconsin, 2000 in Portland, Oregon.

Arundhati Roy - DEPRIVE OUR EMPIRE OF OXYGEN!!!  Test scores are oxygen!

THE POWER OF OPTING OUT - the deformers use the data to justify everything!
OPTING OUT DEPRIVES THE SYSTEM OF ITS OXYGEN.  They can't monetize and profitize public education without data.  A paradigm shift forces the system to pivot on its axis -- they cannot handle it.

What is the aim of education?  Without data you have to look at the purpose of education differently.

PEOPLE -- OPT OUT!!!    UNITED OPT OUT  http://unitedoptout.com

FAIR TEST -- http://www.fairtest.org  

Wayne Au  wayne.wk.au@gmail.com