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Portraits of Protest in Florida: How Opt-Out Makes the Personal Political

by Elizabeth Currin, Stephanie Schroeder & Todd McCardle - 2021

Background/Context: Opting out of high-stakes standardized tests, a phenomenon so widespread in the United States as to be regarded as a movement, is nevertheless a misunderstood and often maligned force in educational politics.

Purpose: This article offers a counternarrative of opt-out activism—a more thorough and vivid account of what we view as an unfairly maligned movement with tremendous potential for improving and preserving our nation’s schools.

Participants: In-depth portraits introduce three members of the Opt Out Florida Network: Cindy Hamilton, an unabashed leader whose children have graduated; Sandy Stenoff, her partner in protest whose children remain in the system; and Susan Bowles, who grapples with conflicting roles of pedagogue and protester.

Research Design: As a critical ethnography, this study uses a qualitative approach to expose and challenge the unjust treatment of the opt-out movement, guided by the following research questions: 1) How do opt-out activists understand and explain their journeys to activism? 2) What experiences, concerns, and commitments guide them in their daily fight against high-stakes standardized testing?

Data Collection and Analysis: Using transcript data from focus group and 1-on-1 follow-up phone interviews, the research team composed and analyzed narrative portraits, which offer models of resistance to neoliberal education reform.

Conclusions: Contrary to their portrayal as passive, anti-test, anti-accountability parents solely focused on their own children, the opt-out movement is an active community of highly informed individuals dedicated to effecting positive change in education. The nuance of narrative captures the messy realities of activism, illustrating how parents and teachers must work together, guided by a view of citizenship as shared fate, to fight for more equitable and educative schools.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 5, 2021, p. 1-22
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23666, Date Accessed: 7/27/2021 6:08:16 PM

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About the Author
  • Elizabeth Currin
    University of South Carolina
    E-mail Author
    ELIZABETH CURRIN, Ph.D., is a teacher educator at the University of South Carolina. Her work with practitioner-scholars in the Curriculum Studies Ed.D. program aligns with her scholarly interest in teacher research, particularly in terms of how teachers’ stories both intersect with and challenge historical and popular culture narratives about education. The Journal of Practitioner Research recently featured her extensive review of teacher research literature, entitled “From Rigor to Vigor: The Past, Present, and Potential of Inquiry as Stance.”
  • Stephanie Schroeder
    Pennsylvania State University, University Park
    E-mail Author
    STEPHANIE SCHROEDER, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of social studies education at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park. Her research interests include elementary teacher education, democratic approaches to education, and elementary-level social studies. Specifically, her work focuses on the cultivation of civic agency in teachers and students, as well as the educative impacts of civic and political engagement, particularly in online spaces. A recently co-authored manuscript, “Expanding the Learning Network: How Teachers Use Pinterest” was published in the Journal of Research on Technology in Education.
  • Todd McCardle
    Eastern Kentucky University
    E-mail Author
    TODD MCCARDLE, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at Eastern Kentucky University. His research interests include the roles of diversity and issues of social justice in public schools and teacher education programs, as reflected in a recent article in Education and Urban Society: “Race Tracks: Career Aspirations and Feelings of Isolation in the Mainstream Classroom.”
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