A Boycott Is Happening in Chicago—And This Time It Isn’t Teachers

High-schoolers skipped mandatory high-stakes tests in Chicago to protest school closures.
Chicago students are fed up with the district's move to shutter 54 school programs and 61 school buildings. (Photo: Getty Images)
Apr 24, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Students in Chicago have had enough with their school system.

A group called Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools boycotted the state-mandated test, PSAE, on Wednesday and protested citywide. Like many people against standardized testing, the students, which numbered in the hundreds, have had enough with test taking.

But their objections, however, go further.

They are also fed up with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the public school system’s leaders in their attempts to shutter 54 school programs and 61 school buildings, mostly in underprivileged and minority neighborhoods.

Brian Sturgis, a senior at Chicago’s Paul Robeson High School and an organizer of the boycott, wrote in an Education Week blog, “Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Board of Education are supposed to make the CPS system work for all of us. But instead they are putting too much pressure on standardized testing and threatening to close schools that don't have high test scores. When schools are under so much pressure to raise test scores it leads to low-scoring students being neglected, not supported.”

The protestors posted frequently on social media to keep people updated on their activities. Their Twitter feed shows a picture of students lined up, arms interlocked, in front of school. One student held a sign that said, “The best way to learn is by taking a test—No child ever said.”

The students’ activities haven’t sat well with administrators.

Earlier this week, the school district made robocalls to students’ parents, warning how important the test results are to a their children’s academic future.

Every student must take at least one day of the two-day exam to be promoted to 12th grade and graduate. The second part of the test, given on Wednesday, included science, math and reading. This part, in turn, gives a career-readiness certificate endorsed by employers to students.

Of course, as is the norm in America’s classrooms, the tests are also used to help evaluate each school and teacher.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the Chicago Public Schools CEO, said on Wednesday, “The only place that students should be during the school day is in the classroom with their teachers getting the education they need to be successful in life. Today's PSAE is one of the most critical exams our students will take. Every adult should support and encourage our students to make sure they are in school.”

Mark Naison, a Fordham University academic who monitors educational movements in the United States, compared the Chicago protest to the student lunch counter sit-ins that began in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960.

“In both instances, you had a situation that many people thought was outrageous—and yes, many people do think the level of testing in schools has become so intrusive and counterproductive that it is national tragedy—but people in elected office seemed unable to change, so young people decided to take history into their own hands,” he said. “I would not be surprised to see these walkouts and boycotts multiply next year.”

Last week, New York parents, teachers, and students participated in a similar protest when students decidedly opted out of tests administered by the state of New York. An overabundance of testing has, according to critics, contributed to a rise in cheating by teachers and administrators, a segregation of students based on test scores, high teacher turnover, and the decrease of classes that teach enrichment, such as the arts.

Some see these protests as a last resort to help students and teachers in a broken system with few benefits.

Shaun Johnson, a Maryland-based teacher educator, former public school teacher, and blogger for At the Chalk Face, feels that while a boycott to prevent data from being collected may not be the most effective tool, it’s perhaps all we have left.