Friday, June 19, 2015

Opting Options

Language is funny-- it sometimes creates the illusion of parallels and conections when none, in fact, exist. I could say, for instance, that the fact that you order Chicken McNuggets is proof that you are lacking in bravery, that you are too chicken to stand up for what you believe in, or maybe that you are showing that you are rushing towards consequences, since you are paying for the chance to have the chickens come home to roost.

More than a few folks have observed that opting children out of the Big Standardized Test and opting children out of public school are two things that can be described by using the phrase"opting out." But there are some fairly important differences between the two options for opting.

First, the BS Test and public school are not equivalent. Public education, provided by and paid for by the community, is one of the greater goods upon which this country is built. The door swings both ways. In order for our democracy to function, our citizens have to possess some level of education. Also, as a democracy, we recognize every citizen's right to a full education-- we do not operate on the assumption that some people deserve a good education and other lesser people do not.

A BS Test, on the other hand, is not one of the greater goods at the foundation of this country. There is not even evidence that it is a lesser good, or even a fair-to-middlin' good. There's no indication that it is good at all. Certainly there is no argument to be made that, in order to participate in democracy, every citizen ought to take a standardized test. Nor is there no case to be made that every citizen needs to be tested in order to receive all their rights. "I could have really gone somewhere in life, if only I'd had the chance to take the PARCC," said nobody ever.

Public education is provided for the benefit of the individuals being educated, and it is provided for the benefit of society as a whole. BS Testing benefits test manufacturers.

Furthermore, opting out of the BS Test does not take anything away from anyone else. As currently structured, choice systems always strip resources from the public school for every student who "opts out." The loss to the public school is always in excess of the actual reduction in the public school's costs; ten students fewer does not equate fewer building expenses, fewer teachers, or less heat and light in the building.

I can actually imagine a system with multiple schools to choose from-- but that system only works if every school is fully funded. As long as we insist that we can fund one public school and three charters for the same total cost as one public school, choice will be a zero sum game, and public schools will be the losers. This means that every child who opts out of public school leaves the students in the public school with fewer resources. If Chris opts out, Pat is left in a worsening public school situation-- and Pat has no say in the matter.

Opting out of the BS Tests, however, affects nobody except the opt-outer. The testing experience of the students who are left behind is not affected. If Chris opts out, it doesn't change Pat's testing adventure in the slightest.

Finally, Petrilli is correct in saying that those are public dollars-- and a choice-charter system denies the public any say in how those dollars are spent. Granted, the democracy of elected school boards is sometimes problematic, and as with all political situations, some voices have to work extra hard to be heard. But that is still better than a choice-charter system where decisions are made by folks who don't answer to anybody.

So, no-- these opt outs are not the same. 

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