The more I think about the opt-out movement that has erupted over PARCC testing, the more I realize what a slippery slope it could unleash.
Just last night, Amanda Ripley, author of “The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way,” was having some fun on Twitter using the hashtag #optout as she and others (myself included) began to think of all the things we’d like to opt our kids out of. It was also pretty amusing to think back to all the things we would have wanted to opt out of as students.
Why stop with vaccines & tests? What else can we opt kids out of? Hamburger gristle? Lice checks? Let's do this people. #optout
— Amanda Ripley (@amandaripley) March 3, 2015
Can parents opt their kids out of movies-in-class? #optout
— Amanda Ripley (@amandaripley) March 3, 2015
Yeah, how about movies in class?
When my son used to watch the Grinch and Frosty each year before Christmas break, I would have appreciated the opportunity to opt him out. Why go through the morning drama of “where are my shoes, can you sign my reading log, I don’t want to wear this!” only to go to school and sit on the rug to watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”? We could have done that at home in our pajamas with none of the hassle.
To steal a line from many of the anti-PARCC testing folks, Christmas movie watching is certainly “not a meaningful use of class time.”
Sarah Blaine, a very vocal advocate and mom in the #OptOutNJ movement, said Monday night on CBS news that PARCC sets kids up to fail. I would argue that a pattern of frivolous movie watching leads to much greater risk of academic failure.
Where to Draw the Line?
Despite the humor that can certainly be found in this discussion, the concept of opting out of educational requirements is a serious one. For example, why not opt out of final exams?
Perhaps, like the anti-PARCC folks, a parent sees final exams as a poor use of time. Maybe he or she doesn’t like how “the exams drive instruction, cause anxiety and set kids up to fail.” This parent should be able to opt out too, right?
These hypotheticals might seem like a silly exercise, but they speak to a more important truth. There are droves of parents, myself included, who actually prefer objective measures and want to be able to compare their child’s achievement with the achievement of children in other cities and states.
For example, many of us who live in Rhode Island want to be able to compare our schools and student performance with that of Massachusetts or Maryland because they are the highest achieving states in the nation. What good does it do to compare ourselves to only students in our own state when, despite our high spending, we hover around 19th in student achievement?
The movement to opt out of annual testing forces us parents to look at ourselves and decide whether we believe we should have the right to opt our children out of anything and everything with which we disagree. Limiting parental rights to just one issue—PARCC testing—not only defies logic, but it unfairly favors one set of parental opinions over all the others.
My parents may not have thought I needed to climb the rope in P.E. or run the mile or even write a 5,000 word paper in 10th grade English. God knows the first two—to borrow a line from Sarah Blaine—set me up to fail. But never in a million years would my parents have felt entitled to opt me out. Nor would they have wanted to.
School prepares us for life. Sometimes we coast, other times we struggle. Some experiences are hard, others are a joy from start to finish. Some school assignments are crucial while others seem to be a baffling waste of time. It all matters because it prepares us for the differences of opinion, ability and perspectives we will inevitably encounter in school and work and life.
Have we really reached the point in America where parents feel so entitled to protect and shield their kids from any struggle or unpleasantness that they will push for a taxpayer-funded school system that isn’t accountable? A system where I shouldn’t be able to compare fourth graders in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to get a sense of how my son is doing?
The reality is that our children will have to sit for a variety of high-stakes tests whether they attend community college, a state university or Harvard. Their careers may depend on it, whether they want to be military officers, plumbers, doctors or firefighters. Our children will be even more anxious and scared as adults if they face this without any practice when they are young.
Making decisions out of fear is never a good thing. Neither is hiding the truth.