Those controversial tests your child is about to take in school? You can opt them out.

There is a lot of debate about Common Core and how it's been implemented.

The time has come, my friends, for Common Core testing. You may have heard of it. It's made numerous news segments recently because not only is Common Core controversial, but loads of parents and kids are actually choosing to NOT take the tests (which are happening now-ish). The refusals are happening in nearly every state that's adopted Common Core tests, but one of the biggest opt-out states so far has been New York.

Before we go into that, you'll need some good starting information about Common Core. With so much confusion, a lot of parents just don't know where to start. There are many links throughout this piece that you can follow to help get you up to speed. And there's a video at the end if you don't feel like reading, but the breakdown here is a good place to start.


What Common Core is:

The idea is to have a national set of standards, or a "common core," for students to meet before college admission. Before this set of standards it was up to each state, and colleges were getting kids who all graduated high school but had completely different proficiency levels in reading and math.

It's easy to see why a national standard appeals to people. It helps to develop college curriculums that make our upcoming workforce and talent competitive with the workforce and talent of other countries by ensuring that college-track kids get to about the same place by the end of high school.

Here's what Common Core is not:

It's not a specific curriculum. How districts choose curriculums to get kids to the established benchmarks of proficiency is their choice. While that's good in a way, it's also been confusing for districts because the tests have been enacted before the schools had sufficient time to research and implement new curriculums. Some districts have even been preyed upon by for-profit companies claiming to sell curriculum packages (textbooks and workbooks) already aligned with Common Core, which are actually about the same as previous textbooks, but with a “Common Core approved" sticker slapped on.

Here's why some people are super into Common Core:

Common Core has been touted as a better way to:

  • Teach kids to separate fact from fiction: Having kids compare two versions of something and pick apart which is more likely to be true is a tenet of reading comprehension benchmarks.
  • Allow states to collaborate on textbooks and digital tools: Having uniform standards means that each state doesn't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to developing systems.
  • Incorporate technology into learning seamlessly: By placing emphasis on tech skills throughout the learning and the testing, it aims to prepare kids for the work skills they'll need.
  • Teach speaking and listening skills: Starting in kindergarten, showing an understanding for rules of conversation like taking turns and asking questions is part of the benchmarks.
  • Teach critical thinking skills: By including questions that push students to make callbacks to the reading material, the tests aspire to hone critical thinking abilities.
"Common education standards are essential for producing the educated workforce America needs to remain globally competitive."

— Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel Corp.

Why some people are really against Common Core:

In terms of how Common Core actually shapes up in the classroom, there are a lot of valid concerns. Interestingly, the criticisms come from progressives and conservatives alike. Here are some common themes.

"I have come to the conclusion that the Common Core standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation."

— Diane Ravitch, education historian who was U.S. assistant secretary of education under two presidents and formerly supported Common Core

That's a boiled down version of the basics of the Common Core debate. And here's where it leaves us.

What is clear is that it's crucial to figure out a healthy way to challenge every child to their true potential and to remain competitive with students from other countries.

What is less clear is whether Common Core is the right vehicle to get us there.

If you like Common Core and think the testing that goes with it should move ahead, there's good news for you. It is being implemented across most of the country this year. It is here and it is happening.

But what's a parent with concerns (or flat-out objections) to do?

It turns out, there's an option for them, too.

It's called the United Opt Out movement, and it's growing in popularity.

It's pretty much a huge wave of parents across the country — stronger in some of the 43 states enacting this testing than others — that is telling the schools that their children are not going to be taking the tests. New York parents have gotten the movement started, and in Long Island, 65,000 of approximately 144,000 students opted out of the tests as of April 2015. The bet here is that if state departments of education can't get enough compliance with the tests, eventually states will revise their tactic and choose another way.

As with any serious decision involving education, there are some pros and cons to making this choice, but it's good to know that parents and students actually have an option.

If opting out of Common Core testing may be the right choice for your family, take some time to find out your state's stance on it.

You can do that by checking out the opt-out guides and choosing your state from the drop-down menu.

In some cases, it's as simple as sending a letter to your child's school.

And if you do take that route, you're not alone. Check out this video that covers some of the protests happening:


There's a lot to consider here, but the the best place to begin is with information. It might prove helpful to show this to other parents you know and see what they've been thinking about this. It's our nations' kids' education for the next ... really long time, potentially. It's kind of a big deal.

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Whenever someone's words or behavior are called out as racist, a few predictable responses always follow. One is to see the word "racist" as a vicious personal attack. Two is to vehemently deny that whatever was said or done was racist. And three is to pull out the dictionary definition of racism to prove that the words or behavior weren't racist.

Honestly, as soon as someone refers to the dictionary when discussing racism, it's clear that person has never delved deeply into trying to understand racism. It's a big old red flag, every time.

I'm not an expert on race relations, but I've spent many years learning from people who are. And I've learned that the reality of racism is nuanced and complex, and resorting to a short dictionary definition completely ignores that fact. The dictionary can't include all of the ways racism manifests in individuals and society, and the limitations of dictionary definitions make it a poor tool for discussing the topic.

Since "racism" is such a loaded term for many people, let's look at such limitations through a different complex word. Let's take "anxiety." According to Merriam-Webster, "anxiety" is defined as "apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill."

Now imagine thinking that you understand everything that encompasses anxiety from reading that dictionary definition. Imagine thinking you could recognize the signs of anxiety in someone based on that definition alone. Ridiculous, right? The dictionary doesn't explain that some people's anxiety manifests as anger, even though it does. It doesn't say that anxiety sometimes manifests as withdrawal or aloofness. It doesn't say that you often won't see obvious signs of fear or nervousness in someone experiencing anxiety.

The dictionary doesn't offer anything close to the reality of what anxiety is or looks like. It would be silly to say that someone isn't experiencing anxiety because they're not clearly showing signs of nervousness like the dictionary definition implies. Just as the dictionary definition of anxiety is not comprehensive, neither is the dictionary definition of racism. Yet people keep using it to "prove" that something or someone isn't racist.

Fox News analyst Brit Hume just pulled that trick on Twitter to try to back up his claim that Donald Trump's "go back to" statements to four Congresswomen of color weren't technically racist.


The first Merriam-Webster entry for "racism" reads "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

Merriam-Webster

First of all, I'm not sure how this definition actually makes Trump's statements not racist. A belief is not always conscious, so even assuming that his racism is unconscious, a white man telling four women of color to "go back to" their countries of origin—despite three of them being born in the U.S. and the fourth being a naturalized citizen of the U.S.—is pretty objectively racist. No one knows exactly what is going on in the President's head, but such statements only being made to women of color would certainly be consistent with the behavior of someone with a belief in white people's inherent superiority.

But that simple definition isn't truly definitive, either. Shortly after Hume's tweet, Merriam-Webster pointed out a usage note for the word "racism," which clarifies that dictionaries do not provide the be-all-end-all definition of words.

Anti-racism advocates have tried time and time again to explain that racism is not as straightforward as someone saying, "I think I'm superior to people who don't share my skin color." Racism is almost never that blatant, and yet oodles of Americans refuse to call anything less than that kind of bold statement "racism." We have a long history showing exactly how white supremacy—the origin of racism in the U.S.—exerts itself in both strong and subtle ways, and thousands of hours and pages of education from experts describing how racism works on an individual and societal level. But people still insist on the simplistic narrative of "Racism=hating people of a different race."

I've seen many people, including Brit Hume, argue that the word racism has lost all meaning. Frankly, that's a copout. Racism—as both a conscious or unconscious belief of racial superiority and as a system of racial prejudice blended with power dynamics—has a broader meaning than one person hating another person for the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it meaningless.

I've also seen people complain that "everything is racist these days," but no, it's really not. We simply understand more about racism now, thanks to the field of race studies and to people of color offering their time and energy to explain it, so it's easier to identify in its various forms. In my experience, when someone's understanding of racism reaches a certain stage, they start recognizing it in places where ignorance or unconscious bias may have caused them to miss it in the past. That's not imagining racism where it doesn't exist or "calling everything racist these days"; that's simply seeing reality more clearly.

When you really dive deep into the historical, psychological, and sociological reality of racism in America, it becomes painfully obvious that racism is far more prevalent and enmeshed in our society than most people think. Until defensive, mostly-white folks stop automatically denying racism every time the word is used and stop throwing around dictionaries to avoid having to do that deep dive work, we're not going to make real headway on this issue.

Let's stop pretending that the definition and supposed overuse of the word "racism" is the problem, when the problem is racism, period.

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