In Part I we talked with Javier Campos about the Alto al SIMCE campaign to stop the high-stakes test in Chile. In Part II, Javier talked about the impact of the campaign, some of its complications, and where they go from here.
R & P: Say more about the impact you have had and what have been some of the challenges and complexities as the campaign has evolved?
J: After Bachelet became president, she created a commission, but the commission defended the SIMCE and was made up of a majority of people who benefited from it. They kept the main character of the test but reduced the number of tests from 15 different subjects. At that time, they even had a SIMCE for physical education, another for use of technology. This was because one of the historical critiques of SIMCE from teachers’ organizations had been that the SIMCE didn’t measure everything the school was doing (just math, sciences, history, and language and communication). In other words, there was the critique that the SIMCE was too narrow, in that it didn’t measure enough! So under President Piñera’s first term, they expanded it to measure everything. That was the logic to have a physical education SIMCE. That’s why we raised the idea of high stakes, because they began to measure everything. It wasn’t just narrowing the curriculum, but it was impacted the life of teachers, students. We brought this other dimension in (the life experiences of students, parents, teachers).
Also, in parallel with Bachelet’s commission, a lot of “progressives” who sided with the AsS campaign during Piñera’s term, moved into the ministries and co-opted the campaign language to criticize the SIMCE, but without doing any significant change. They perfected the instrument, but still maintained its high stakes character and its “freedom of choice” market orientation. They didn’t argue with us; they closed the discourse. While Piñera was in power, every time we sent a letter or an op-ed to the newspapers, the papers were printing them, but then they stopped printing them. So we started imagining a different strategy.
Our escalation: boycotting the SIMCE. We were really aware that teachers needed to buy into the boycott because some teachers will lose money if they don’t give the test because students boycott [because teacher pay is tied to the SIMCE]. We realized that we had to include the full community in the boycott action—it wasn’t good enough if only one component of the community was involved. We did this by showing the possibilities of students doing this work by themselves.
We turned this over to students’ organizations. Some worked with teachers, some did not and just walked out. Students who walked out of the SIMCE were repressed by police, but because there was no press, it was really hard repression on them. We had to bring in human rights groups and lawyers to defend students. It was really really bad. On the other hand, in some high-scoring schools, when students didn’t talk with teachers but still boycotted the test and the schools lost the “bonus” money they would have received, teachers turned against the campaign. In this sense also, this contributed to breaking the community and solidarity. So after this learning, we decided to not pursue another boycott action, because the conditions were not in place and we didn’t have the capacity to do it properly.
After that, we continued the campaign, and then invited people from Chicago. We wanted to bring together people from the whole community, also in a way that is respectful of the differences that exist within the community and in ways that don’t reproduce the inequality system that is in place in society. How do we do this so that the existing differences, e.g., social class and racial differences between teachers and the community, don’t become a barrier to working together? We wanted to do that. This is what propelled us to extend the collaboration with Chicago and invite the Chicago delegation, because we thought you had done things along those lines from which we could learn. [In August 2017, we—Rico and Pauline, as part of Teachers for Social Justice—helped organize a two-week, 12-person delegation to Chile, with the Chicago Teachers Union and the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. The Alto al SIMCE collective organized all our activities in Chile.]
R & P: Where do you go from here?
J: After we pursued this path, an opportunity opened as the Valparaíso’s municipality decided to shift the focus of their local evaluation system towards a no-high-stakes system since they knew that the implementation of this logic was pushing out students from schools. It was kind of in parallel—that we were doing the work with Chicago, and after this boycott didn’t work, your delegation was coming here, and at the same time, there were these developments in Valparaíso.
There were progressive scholars who were in the government who were defending the system with social justice language. They were asking: “How are we going to know if the school is failing the students?” and were attacking our aim to stop the SIMCE. And we didn’t have an answer, or alternative. We had some ideas of how this could happen. And then the challenge to us was how to develop an alternate to the system that addressed these social justice ideas but would be completely different from a high-stakes test. So that’s when we started our last project.
So AaS split our energies. One focus is the work in Valparaíso, and we are also working on keeping to develop the narrative, in part to keep AaS alive in some kind of way. But at this time, we are pretty much focused on Valparaíso. But the AaS message is still there. Our narrative is now part of the common sense; it is part of the counter narrative. That the SIMCE is now being discussed in the national congress is part of what we did. We can still be somewhat involved, but most of our energies are focused on the Valparaíso project so we can create an alternative to what the government is doing.