Education Revolution (AERO) E-News 7.9.11

Some items from the e-news of 7.9.11
Experiences at the Rethinking Everything Conference

I’m sitting at the Dallas-Fort Worth airline terminal. They say it is the biggest airport in the world, the size of Manhattan.

I’m returning to the AERO office in New York after presenting at a terrific conference for unschoolers, Rethinking Everything. It was my first time there. There were about 500 attendees at a hotel near the airport, most of them families who unschool their children. I did a pre-conference full-day immersion for people who want to set up unschool resource centers. That went very well and we were able to get into a lot of depth with the people who came for it. I also gave them access to information from our Start a School 101 online course. This year’s course starts in October and runs through January.

After the immersion, I did another workshop and began to teach table tennis on a table that conference organizer Barb Lundgren had arranged to bring in. People started pouring in to the conference. In the end I taught 55 people from age 3 through grandmothers and grandfathers.

I also had an AERO table and networked people interested in educational alternatives. For example, I discovered that there were five different alternative programs around Austin attending the conference and I worked on getting them together to possibly form a coalition. We sold out of the books I brought from the AERO bookstore.

There were some great presenters including Brent Cameron of Wondertree and Self-Design in British Columbia. He is doing some very exciting things, with 2000 students enrolled in their government-funded, unschooled distance-learning program. They are also starting a higher education program based in the state of Washington.

The hotel was full of children and adults in all sizes moving purposefully to the various conference sites or just forming their own groups. A 12 year old had organized the most popular site with the children, a Harry Potter Hogwarts room, with continuous activities throughout the conference. There was also a huge area for younger children, full of games and materials to play with. Just before I left I saw a big bank of tables in the main room covered with defunct electronic and mechanical gadgets to be played with and taken apart.

I met a woman of 16 who, at age 12, had organized a Sudbury School, Clearwater, which is continuing to operate in Austin. Her mother, who attended the AERO conference this year, told her to look me up. I met one of our school starters, Michael Carberry, whose new alternative school will open this year in Austin. It already has a waiting list. Actually I met many AERO related people there.

I had taught a lot of table tennis to a father and son from California. Toward the end of the conference the father asked me what else I did. When I told him that we helped people start new alternatives he was very excited. He wants to do that in California. He may enroll in the online school starters course!

This conference used to be for any kind of homeschooler but in recent years they became specialized in unschooling. After an initial drop in attendance, the conference is now bigger than ever, and a very special event.

Start a School Online Course Starts October 24

For the sixth year AERO is offering Start a School 101 for those who want to start a new educational alternative, such as an alternative or democratic school or homeschool resource center. There seems to be more interest in the course this year than ever before, and the interest is widespread, including those in several countries.  We understand that many people starting new alternatives are not in a great financial position, so we are allowing groups in the same location to have access for a single price, and can also arrange payments. Of course, the cost of the course is a fraction of what the school might receive from a single student.

It doesn’t matter where you are in your process or where you are geographically. We have participants who are just thinking several years into the future and others who have actually just opened their new alternative. We will take each member step-by-step through the process of starting their new learner-centered alternative. The entire course will be through a special online website accessible only to course members. There will be intense interaction between participants. We will go section by section, talking about vision, governance, finances, legal considerations, location, recruiting staff and students, etc. There are resources for each section including videos, audio interviews, readings that can be downloaded and assignments for discussion. Very little is in real time so you can do it at your own pace within each section, and even catch up later if necessary. Occasionally we will have real time online chats and live Internet radio call in shows.

“I feel that this course has been helpful. Mostly, it has given me the confidence to put my goal into action. Learning about other alternative schools, and seeing so many wonderful people with a common
vision for education, I was convinced that this is not impossible.” KW, School Starters student
“Highly satisfying to me as each day I feel more encouraged to work even harder and with greater sincerity. The opportunity of enjoying the networking ability of AERO  are of indispensable value and will form the foundation of where I can go with my ideas.” KD, School Starters student
In the last several years we have helped start more that 50 new alternatives. You can see some of them here.

For more information on the course or to enroll now go to:

For more information and to express interest and reserve a place write to

Information About Opting Out of Standardized Tests

Standardized tests: Time for a national opt-out
Parents have the power to break the stranglehold of standardized testing
By Shaun Johnson

Here’s an update to a clichéd philosophical question: If a test is scheduled and no one is around to take it, will this test matter?

The new school year for many public school teachers begins weeks before students arrive. Educators attend hours of workshops to discover that the newest acronym is simply a substitute for an older one. More importantly, piles of test data are pored over to both assess the previous year and to fully appreciate what is to come with a new crop of students.

With every new testing mandate, combined with recent scandals chipping away at the once impossibly smooth veneer of test-based education reforms, many teachers, parents and administrators are getting frustrated. Where have market-driven and data-obsessed policies taken us over the last 10 years? Are public schools necessarily better off than they were when No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was initially greeted with bipartisan support?

Another important question: What of education have we lost as a result of strict adherence to standardized tests? Many are answering, “Too much — and enough is enough.” The result is that more and more parents and educators are mulling what was once unthinkable: opting children out of state standardized tests.

For example, Tim Slekar, a professor of education in Pennsylvania, opted his son Luke out of his state’s tests last school year to “make my community aware and to try and enlighten them of the real issues.” This parent and professor’s plea is simple and forceful: “Stop treating my child as data! He’s a great kid who loves to learn. He is not a politician’s pawn in a chess game designed to prove the inadequacy of his teachers and school.”

In July, a large group of public school advocates organized the Save Our Schools March in Washington, D.C. to protest the continued, and in some cases stronger, embrace of standardized testing. Even amid budget shortfalls, millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on things like researching newer exams, test security, investigating lapses in that security, and manufacturing data collection systems. Meanwhile, schools must contend with smaller staffs and larger class sizes.

Educators are frustrated by the exclusion of teachers from the larger debate on education reform and policy in the United States. Individual classroom teachers and researchers have been highlighting for years the deleterious effects of focusing solely on success or failure with regard to standardized tests. And even now, with the revelation that high-stakes environments are perfect breeding grounds for desperation and resulting dishonesty, the dispiriting march through another year of test preparation must continue.

In a political and cultural environment that at best feigns listening to educators and at worst demonizes them, the most active public school advocates — like Mr. Slekar — are beginning to feel that opting their children out of completing the state tests is the only message that will get through. Those who began their research into the issue are finding it remarkably easy to do, despite the dissembling of school officials when asked for information.

Parents considering opting their children out of state testing are aware of the implications — that a diminished level of participation will affect the school’s ability to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). But the threat of no AYP does not appear as ominous as it once did. What is more, the Department of Education’s hemming and hawing over the reauthorization of NCLB, plus this whole business of granting waivers that states don’t even want, could mean that the punitive era of education reform is slowly coming to an end.

Growing groups of parents and public school advocates have decided to hit the contemporary reform movement where it counts by taking away the privilege of collecting coveted data. They realize that their children are more than just test scores. They now understand that a laser-like focus on testing and test preparation comes at the expense of numerous other facets of an engaging and well-rounded education. Most of all, these same folks are slowly but surely grasping the power that eluded them during the height of the NCLB era. Despite being largely locked out of the conversation on public education, parents, teachers, and parents who are teachers know they don’t have to give up the data any longer.

Opting-out groups are turning to social media to organize. A Florida-based Facebook group, “Testing is Not Teaching,” boasts more than 12,000 supporters. A similar, fledgling group called “United Opt Out” claimed 600 national members after just a few days of existence online. Local numbers for Maryland are elusive, and it’s too early to tell whether pressing the “Like” button will translate into actual opting out of test taking.

So, to come full circle: If tests were scheduled and no one took them, would it matter? It would probably be the exact opposite of the proverbial tree falling with no one around. Fewer students filling in fewer bubbles would sound an alarm akin to 1,000 trees falling in the forest. This time, one could not ignore hearing it. And the sincere grievances public school advocates have about the dominance of testing might finally receive an attentive audience.

Shaun Johnson is an assistant professor of elementary education in the College of Education at Towson University. His email is Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

Good afternoon.  Peggy Robertson here 🙂

I wanted to let you know about our website – We started our group online as a facebook group here Our goal is to save public schools by supporting people in opting out of the state test.  We gather opt out information by state, as well as additional resources such as opt out letters, legal resources, parent flyers and more.  In addition to being a depository for information, we are all about action.  We posted and launched our first action today, and there will be an action listed every Saturday morning along with support tools to complete it.

Here is our current action message from our website:

Our first action has been posted at our Facebook group page OPT OUT OF THE STATE TEST:  The National Movement.  Join us there for  support in completing the action – we have fellow writers available and  support docs to boot!  While we will continue to gather information per  state on opting out, make no mistake – we are not just a depository for  information – we are a launch pad for action – weekly  consistent action that will make it clear that we are DONE.  We are done  with corporate ed. reform eating our schools alive.  We WILL spread the  word. We WILL make OPTING OUT the name of the game.

Here is our first action.  A new action will be posted every Saturday.
Good morning everyone! Is your coffee in hand? Your fingers nimble  and ready to type? I hope so – because today we launch our first action.  Our first action will be to write op-ed pieces on WHY someone should  opt out of the state test. An op-ed is an opinion piece offering an alternate view. As we know,  the current view on testing is push the test….love the test…hooray for  the test…we need the test.

We represent a different view – we want to opt out of the test in  order to return a whole and equitable public education to America’s  children. Check out our Op-Ed supports document listed under Helpful reading and resources.  Scroll to #7. Morna has created a flyer which offers key points to  discuss why someone would opt out. I have also listed Shaun’s op-ed – if  there are more good examples post them on the comments in this strand  of conversation. Morna has also created a template for anyone who would  like a jumpstart.  We would like to submit these op-eds to our local newspapers no later  than September 1st at 9 p.m. eastern time. Be sure to mention our website in your piece.  If your piece is not accepted, then post it online or send it to us  and we will post if for you! Alright everybody – take action!!!

We would love your endorsement and support in spreading the word.  Our admin. team includes:  Peggy Robertson, Morna McDermott McNulty, Shaun Johnson, Tim Slekar and Ceresta Smith.  Please email if you have further questions and thanks.

Peggy Robertson
The Facebook group “OPT OUT OF THE STATE TEST: The National Movement” has a new website called

Here we provide information and resources to anyone wishing to work toward ending the high stakes testing assault on public schools in a collective effort to save our children, our public schools, democratic principles, and our communities.

A full description of our mission is available on the website. Please note that we just completed it and are in process of uploading documents and links so please give us time to get everything uploaded.

We ask that people who wish to contribute information helpful to our mission either:
a) post on the website, insert in the comments section for the specific state or on the home page; or
b) insert information at the state location on the FaceBook page
OPT OUT OF THE STATE TEST: The National Movement

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