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Who is driving the opt-out movement? The answer might surprise you

Shannan Muskopf via Flickr

Members of the country’s growing opt-out movement aren’t necessarily who you think they are.

According to a report released Tuesday, they’re not all parents of public school students. Many don’t have children at all. And they’re worried about more than the effect of high-stakes testing on students. The reasons why they support boycotting the tests runs the gamut from opposition to federal overreach to concerns about the role of corporations in public schools.

The report from Teachers College at Columbia University surveyed 1,641 supporters of the opt-out movement across 47 states, including 588 from New York, in an attempt to answer fundamental questions about who they are and what they want.

Some of those findings aren’t surprising. “The typical opt out activist is a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average,” states the report. The median household income of respondents surveyed was $125,000, compared with the national median, which was $53,657 in 2014, the most recent year available.

But it’s the breadth of the movement that’s noteworthy, explains Oren Pizmony-Levy, one of the report’s authors.

“It’s not just about the tests. They’re saying something bigger about the direction of education reforms in the U.S.,” Pizmony-Levy said. “It does bring together all sides of the political spectrum.”

The most common reason opt-out supporters cited for boycotting the tests was opposition to using test data to evaluate teacher performance, with 36.9 percent of respondents listing that as one of their top two reasons to support opting out (45 percent of the respondents work in education). That was followed by concerns over teaching to the test (33.8 percent), opposition to the growing role of corporations in schools (30.4 percent), fears that the tests cut into instructional time (26.5 percent), and opposition to Common Core standards (25.8 percent).

Roughly half of those surveyed self-identified as liberal, while nearly 18 percent identified as conservative.

The authors noted that there is some potential bias in the data because it depends on accurate self-reporting, and was disseminated electronically, which largely excludes those who don’t have internet access.

But Pizmony-Levy said the survey still begins to sketch out a more detailed profile of who opts out and why. (On the most recent math and English exams, 21 percent opted out across New York state, as did 2.5 percent in New York City.)

“I think what this is telling us is activists disagree with the current direction of education reforms [which include] … ideas about accountability from the business world,” he said. “They’re saying maybe there are other directions we should go.”

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