The opt-out outrage

The opt-out craze is an “outrage,” writes Checker Finn on Gadfly. Education isn’t just a private good, he writes.

. . . when they expect the state to educate their children at public expense, the public has a right to know whether those children are learning anything (no, not whether Johnny and Mary are learning, but whether the children of Waco—or Scarsdale—are learning); whether taxpayers are getting a decent ROI from the schools they’re paying for; and whether their community, their state, their society will be economically competitive and civically whole in the future as a result of an adequately educated populace.

Testing isn’t perfect, we can’t judge learning by seat time, graduations or “teacher-conferred grades,” Finn writes. Other assessment options are “subjective, expensive, impractical, or all of the above.”

Better tests are coming, but that doesn’t excuse “opting out” now. It’s not a legitimate form of civil disobedience. And it’s probably not legal, either. If you really find state tests odious, put your money and time where your mouth is—and stop asking taxpayers to educate your children.

Requiring students to take state exams is like requiring vaccinations, Finn argues. “Maybe your kid is healthy today but the classroom needs everybody’s kid to be inoculated lest an epidemic start.”

Of course, there’s an opt-out movement for vaccinations too.

About Joanne


  1. PhillipMarlowe says:

    The PARCC tests that kids are taking this year will not be used for their instruction program next school year.
    The NCLB tests that students are taking for the last time this year will not be used for their instruction program.
    The NCLB exams that kids have been taking over the past decade have not been used to design their educational program in the subsequent year.
    The NCLB and PARCC tests were preceded by tests (at least 2 times since start of school) that were used to get the kids ready for the NCLB.
    Mr. Finn is upset because some see the emperor without his clothes and are ready to blow down his house of cards.

  2. Test results for Scarsdale are only minimally reflective of the school; they reflect the student population and the value parents place on academic (and other) achievement. Tutoring is rampant – by parents, private tutors, Kumon etc – I’ve heard parents say that almost every kid is tutored, starting by first grade. For that school population, the state testing (including Regents) is pretty useless, because there is no discrimination at the top of the curve and most Scarsdale kids are at the top of the curve.

  3. Mike in Texas says:

    Funny how he’s all for parent choice, until parents make a choice he doesn’t like.

  4. Crimson Wife says:

    Is there any evidence that students who are at or above grade level proficiency benefit from being tested annually, rather than every 2-3 years? Yes, taxpayers need to hold schools accountable, but why does that have to mean testing every single year?

    As a taxpayer, I’d like to stop wasting money overtesting smart students.

    • Smart doesnt mean they will stay at or above grade level with no instruction. Annual testing by an outside source reveals the school s decisions…did they teach all students and advance them in knowledge, or did they only focus on the ‘at risk’, leaving the parents of nonremedial students scrambling to hire tutors?
      My child’s third grade class for ex, was a ful ly included class. They did the exact same ss projects that his kindy had done. I had to teach math at home, as the class never advanced out of addition w no regrouping even thogh half the class had started multiplication the year before. No state testing that year to reveal that the school choose to cheat a subgroup.

      • Crimson Wife says:

        Who says no testing = no instruction? I just think it’s a waste to spend several weeks each year testing kids when >80% of them make it to the “proficient” level, and almost half of them make it to the “advanced” level. Yes, the struggling students should be tested every single year, but leave the rest of them alone!

        • “No testing = no instruction” is the administrative motto here. Nothing that is not required is to be offered with taxpayer dollars.

          If you have a cohort where over half are testing ‘advanced’, without outside tutoring, then you have a test that is inappropriate, and likely a classroom setting too. All children should be advancing a year in academics for a year’s worth of their time, imho. No child should be ignored.

          • Crimson Wife says:

            No $#*+, the test is too easy. That’s why I’m objecting to wasting time every single year from 2nd through 11th (which is what our state requires) on it. Every other year would be fine for the 30% who score “proficient” and every 3rd year would be fine for the 50% who score “advanced”.

          • Objecting to the test allows lawmakers to ignore the issue of the inappropriate educational level of the classroom. Consider pressing them for allowing all children to learn while at school, rather than just the disadvantaged or nonEnglish speaking.

          • Consider eliminating all wasted days, not just the testing days.

            Consider advocating that ALL children have 180 academically meaningful days.

  5. The totalitarian impulse feels entirely natural to these people. It seems an odd thing to me to teach all children that it’s right and normal for the state to subject a citizen to extensive measures of each citizen’s mind, with whatever technological or psychological sophistication they are able to command.

    A student should comply with the testing needs of any particular course he or she signs up for, so far as those needs relate to the purposes of that course. Any other testing should be viewed as suspect, and I would really like to see large-scale rebellion against the current testing regime, notwithstanding the feelings of little controllers, such as Finn.

    Eventually, I think parents will learn to accept no money from the state for whatever schooling they want for their children, just as churches should maintain economic independence from government. Accepting funding from the state always, eventually, leads to loss of freedom.z

    I read an argument by Joseph Kinsey Howard back in the forties that those who feared that federal dollars in education would lead to attempts at federal control over education. He mocked people who expressed that fear as paranoid and delusional, and cited the enabling legislation which formed the State of Montana and which reserved control over education to the state, forever.

    There was no conceivable way the federal government would ever try to influence or manage k-12 education. Heh.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    In the current environment, choosing to opt out of pretty much any government ukase has a certain appeal irrespective of the facts of the case.
    There are too many, their utility is not always explained, the explanations don’t see consistent or logical, and they range from annoying to damaging.
    And, even more to the point, there is little recourse or public input into beginning them in the first place, nor much of a pathway to avoid them save simple avoidance.
    They are impositions, large and small, and resistance to one might be in part the result of cumulative frustration with the aggregate.

  7. Apparently Finn’s spent way too long in Washington D.C. because he has all the explanation he needs to understand those “opting-out” parents and why there’s not much point in belaboring them.

    When Finn writes, “when they expect the state to educate their children at public expense, the public has a right to know whether those children are learning anything”, he’s obviously right and just as obviously incapable of understanding the situation.

    It certainly is proper for the tax payers to have some confidence that we’re getting what we pay for in the public education system and it’s just as proper for parents to tell the tax payers to go piss up a rope.

    Parental responsibility is to the child, their child. Not to children in aggregate. From a parent’s point of view there’s no benefit to their child in taking the test designed to tell the tax payers we’re getting what we pay for so why would a parent want their child to take the test?

    Finn’s implication is that the needs of the many automatically trump the needs of the few and the few had damned well better fall into line.

    Trouble is, we don’t live in a country in which the needs of the many automatically trump the needs of the few.

    When things are working properly it’s the many who are forbidden to use our greater weight of numbers and authority to enforce our will on the few. At least not without going through the proper channels and the proper channels haven’t been navigated to mandate the taking of accountability tests. So Finn uncorks some idiotic hyperbole with his invoking of anti-vaxxers to try to recast test-taking into an ethical imperative. Sorry Checker but that’s not going to work on parents either and mostly because it’s such a silly effort.

    Accountability tests will emerge because parents will want to know the educational quality of the schools they’re considering but those tests will have to have a light footprint. Schools will have to balance the preference of parent’s of currently enrolled kids for as little testing as possible that doesn’t provide some benefit to their child with the needs of the parents of prospective enrollees need to qualify the school. But that situation will only occur within the community of schools that can be chosen by the parent.

  8. Kirk Parker says:

    Is that an accidental typo with Finn’s first name, or are you mocking him thereby?

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      His given name is Chester Evans Finn, Jr. but most people know him as Checker. Honestly.

    • Come on Roger, Kirk’s displaying his disdain for my views by focusing on a triviality. Not coincidentally he doesn’t have to go to the effort of making a substantive reply were he able.

  9. cranberry says:

    Those in power have a duty to use that power responsibly. When they violate that trust, they should expect resistance.
    The current testing in public schools is too intrusive, too time consuming, and it’s warping instructional practices. Although it’s presented as a means to check school’s performance, only the students can improve a school’s performance. Thus, all the pressure rests upon the students. Ed reformers don’t want to admit this. However, as currently constituted, teachers and administrators in schools have every incentive to hector and push and ratchet up the pressure on students. Parents have their children’s best interests at heart. Teachers may want to, but the system is aligned against allowing teachers any freedom of action.

    The argument, “those children are ours, because we’ve paid for them,” is not convincing. It’s offensive.

    If the system really wanted to check on school function, it would administer random tests at random times to randomly selected students in random grades.

    I notice certain ed reformers, like Rhee, are quoting the “1.7%” figure for class time devoted to testing. This figure convinces precisely no one on the other side of the issue. The time which elapses while students place pencil to paper for the actual test is a tiny fraction of the instructional time devoted to test prep.