By Carol Lloyd
Two events on opposite sides of the country in which schools became the site of rebellion and revolt caught our eye this week. But instead of the usual suspects taking to the streets – eg unionized teachers or education advocates -- it was two groups that rarely organize or raise their collective voices: parents and students.
In a suburb of Seattle, a group of at least 70 parents frustrated with the money and energy spent on standardized testing have gone on strike. They've announced that their children -- all students at Seattle Hill Elementary -- will not be taking the state tests this spring as mandated by Federal law. Instead of filling in bubble tests for a week, the children will be in other classrooms doing other lessons -- like art or science projects.
Although a few individual parents around the country have opted their kids out of standardized testing dictated by No Child Left behind laws, state officials say this is the biggest anti-test protest that's ever occurred in Washington, according to the Seattle Times. The primary point of the protest, the parents say, is to question spending on standardized tests -- to the tune of $47 million a year statewide -- when schools have been stripped of so many essentials. At Seattle Hill, for instance, art classes are now run by parent volunteers, class size has grown to 29, and there have been 7 half and 1 full furlough days this year.
For parents and the students, there seems to be no downside to avoiding the tests -- after all, what's not to like about another week of art and science while teaching your child the value of standing up for one's beliefs? But there could be a catch for the school: if less than 95 percent of the students take the test, the school may not be able to demonstrate "adequate yearly progress," which could lead to sanctions – and greater oversight and control from bureaucrats in Washington, DC.
In a more heartbreaking case of grassroots uprising, about 50 seniors at Detroit's Frederick Douglass Academy took to the streets to demand a better education -- and got suspended for their efforts.
Chanting "We want education! When do we want it? Now!" the students gave the Detroit Free Press and local TV newscasts a chance to spotlight what's become known as one of the worst performing school districts in the country
The students complained about teachers that take advantage of eternal sick leave, textbook shortages, and other signs of inadequacy. A parent of a senior told the Free Press that her son got an A in chemistry – even though he missed the final exam. Students reported that teacher absences are so common that the school sometimes has to congregate large groups of students in the gym, since there are no teachers or substitutes to teach them.
What's surprising about these protests is that they happen so rarely, when parents and students have so much at stake. Why aren't more people speaking up about flaws, corruption and misplaced priorities, and demanding better schools? The silence speaks to how powerless most parents and students feel in the face of big systems that put other interests before student learning.