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Why the opt-out movement targets affluent white parents

anxious white parents

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In response to my Six Thoughts About The Opt-Out Movement and Beth Hawkins’ earlier piece at Minnpost Test Anxiety: Is it the kids or the teachers who are driving drop-outs? , a few people have wondered why teachers at the city’s best-performing high school (well, at least for white kids) would urge affluent white parents to opt their kids out of standardized tests?

I mean, aren’t these are the very students whose high test scores would make both the teachers and Minneapolis’ Southwest High School look good? So doesn’t this show that these teachers are brave and altruistic to go against their own self-interest here?

Great questions. But I think we need to look at the larger chess game,  Here are my five theories on why organizers for opting-out focus on affluent white families.

1) Affluent white parents have the most political power. So if your goal is to dump the data, you need to first discredit the tests with this key demographic by convincing them that these tests are bad, immoral and destructive to their own children .

2) If enough powerful white parents believe tests are harmful to white children, they’ll assume it’s the same for black and brown kids too. Which gives them one more reason to shrug off data about the achievement gap and keep the status quo intact.

3) Affluent white parents tend to be an oddly anxious bunch, convinced that their brilliant, creative children are extremely fragile creatures whose exceptional childhoods can be destroyed by an unkind word, a stressful bubble test, non-organic lettuce, I mean, the list goes on and on and on.  So if you want to make standardized tests into a new bogeyman, this is a great demographic to target.

4) Affluent white parents rarely worry that their kids may be two or three grade levels behind in reading or math because white kids tend to do very well in our traditional system which was designed for white people, by white people and employs mostly white people. So if you’re confident that your kids are academically on track, opting of the state tests isn’t a big deal.

5) Affluent white parents are rarely asked to be accountable for receiving state benefits—-like $14,000 a year K-12 education.  Accountability is for low-income people. Opting out is for affluent people.

You add these five factors up and you have a very white, mostly affluent opt-out movement.

In contrast, parents of color know their kids are heading into a hostile world where the odds are against them; so fragility is not an asset that tends to be coddled or nurtured. In general, I find affluent white parents want their children protected; black and brown parents want their children prepared.

Parents of color are acutely aware that the margin of error for their children is far slimmer than for whites. George W. Bush could be an aimless C-student, go to Yale, be alcoholic until age 40 and still be president.  Trust me, neither Barak Obama nor any other person of color, is usually given this kind of  extended latitude and forgiveness.

Instead, there’s a well-built pipeline to prison for kids of color who fall behind. Which is why standardized tests—and system accountability–still matter.

Should we make them better? You bet. Should we stop over-testing, over-prepping?  Of course. But white people opt-outing are living in a very privileged world and once again, it’s showing.

—–Lynnell Mickelsen

(originally posted March 25, 2015.  Edited for brevity and clarity, March 26th.)

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