Opt Out

Peter Greene Responds to Those Who Mock the Opt Out Movement

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Peter Greene, who apparently reads everything, has been following a Twitter thread where various people are making fun of the Opt Out movement. One of them, Mike Thomas, works for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence (since Jeb is running for President, his place has been taken by Condaleeza Rice). The basic line of argument is that there are things we have to do in life that aren’t fun, and you just have to suck it up and do those unpleasant things. Peter explains to Thomas why he is wrong. 

 

What is on his list of things you have to do whether you want to or not?

 

The list includes colonoscopies, teeth cleanings, lice checks, braces, lockdown drills, and watching romantic comedies with your wife, and it’s a swell list. It’s just that the list has nothing to do with the Big Standardized Test.

 

The items on the list only occur when there is a particular reason for them. You get a colonoscopy when your doctor, a trained medical professional, says it’s time. You get braces when a trained professional says they’re needed. You go see a movie with your wife when she asks you to (though if that’s a chore for you, you have other problems). And like all the other items on the wacky list, these are annoyances you endure because you know there is some good reason to endure them.

 

The “well, you just have to suck it up and do some unpleasant but necessary things in life” argument assumes the sale. It focuses on the “unpleasant” rap on testing so that it can pretend that the “necessary” part is not in doubt. But of course it’s the notion that the Big Standardized Test is necessary that is at the heart of the opt-out movement…..

 

Writers like Thomas have been reduced to justifications like this:

 

“And that’s why I’m an opt-in on testing. I want to know how well my kid is doing in algebra. I want to know how smart she is compared to all the other kids in the state. The same goes for reading, writing and science…This information will let me know if she is on track for being first in line when the University of Florida opens its doors to incoming freshman.”

 

Is Thomas suggesting that all students everywhere should be tested so that he can brag about his own daughter? Or is he suggesting that his daughter’s teachers keep all her grades, school work and achievements a secret from him? And does he really mean to suggest that he’s an opt-in, because if that’s what he wants, I’m sure we can find support for a system where people can opt-in to testing if they wish, but would otherwise be in a no-testing default.

 

That system would have great support, but it’s not what Thomas and FEE and other reformsters and testing corporations want– they want a system in which all students are compelled to test, not one where they have a choice (though oddly enough, they are huge fans of choice when it comes to charter schools).

 

Here’s the other thing about colonoscopies and braces– the government doesn’t compel you to have them, whether your professional expert thinks you need one or not. You opt-in, voluntarily, weighing the advice of trained experts and the advantages of the procedure. You don’t need to come up with a justification for not having a root canal today– you only have one if someone (or your tooth) presents a reason to opt in.

 

It is funny. I have four grandsons. I want to know how they are doing, and I learn about it from their teacher reports. I don’t care how they compare to children their age in the rest of the state or the nation. When my sons were young, that question never occurred to me. That’s the lamest possible reason for spending hundreds of millions on standardized tests. I suppose we should let Mike Thomas’s daughter take the test, as well as those who want to, and let others choose not to.

 

 

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