In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Green Party’s 2012 Vice Presidential candidate is taking a leading role in public school parents’ challenges to high stakes standardized testing. Cheri Honkala, the parent of a child in the Philadelphia public school system, is also the national coordinator of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.
In October, Honkala sent and published a letter to the principal of her son’s school requesting that he receive permission to opt-out of a number of state-mandated standardized tests. She wrote that “standardized testing is against our religious and philosophical beliefs.” Opting out of the tests would “allow [her son] to pursue other educational activities such as independent reading, book reports, research projects, volunteering in the library, etc.” Several weeks later, Honkala and her organization followed up by participating in a forum on standardized testing at Philadelphia City Hall.
Recently, organizing and publicity surrounding high stakes testing in Philadelphia has started garnering more attention. Last week, Honkala participated in a public forum on opting out of the tests, sharing the following image on her Facebook:
The “Test-In” was put together by a coalition of organizations in Philadelphia, including the Caucus of Working Educators, Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, Teacher Action Group, Philadelphia Student Union, Parents United for Public Education, & Action United. The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign is also part of the coalition.
The Examiner gave some context to the meeting:
The Opt-Out movement is growing in Philadelphia. After parents and teachers took a stand against standardized testing at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, there has been an informational informal meeting about how parents can opt out hosted at the district-wide Home and School Association and several articles written about the movement itself. Superintendent Hite just recently gave a statement that the School District of Philadelphia will make sure that parents receive information about their opt out options. The national outcry against testing and the inherent flaws are not limited to Philadelphia or the surrounding suburbs, but are evident in New York City and Chicago too. The fear and intimidation surrounding testing can render parents, teachers, and administrators silent and powerless, but now there is another opportunity to be informed of the opt out process that is available in Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, in a story that Honkala linked on her Facebook profile, the Washington Post is reporting that in nearby New York state, 60,000 students opted out of similar testing in 2014. For Honkala and PPEHRC, this is one more in a line of fights surrounding public education in Philadelphia. Last year, Honkala was arrested in an act of civil disobedience defending her son’s elementary school from being one of dozens closed by the school district.
More recently, the Green Party of Philadelphia has nominated Kristin Combs for City Council. Combs is competing against Republicans for one of two seats that must go to a minority party. She is a public school teacher and advocate against the ongoing cuts to Philadelphia public schools. Her education platform, which is central to her campaign, states that “every school aged child deserves access to a meaningful public education, and Philadelphia’s current climate does not allow for this.” Stay tuned for more on Combs’s campaign.