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Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform.

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RHSU Classic: Understanding the Opt-Out Movement: A One-Woman Play (In Five Acts)

By Rick Hess — February 18, 2020 1 min read

This month marks the 10th anniversary of Rick Hess Straight Up, making it a propitious time to revisit some favorites from the past decade. For each of the Top 20 which run this month, I’ve offered a quick reflection or thought as to why it remains a personal favorite.

One of the nutty things about the opt-out movement as it took off in 2014 and 2015 was how seemingly smart school reformers could not grasp why responsible parents might want to opt their kids out of eight-hour assessments. I heard a lot about selfishness and union misinformation but little interest in what parents were thinking. I heard that parents take their kids to the pediatrician and the dentist, and that this was just like that. Except that, if you notice that pediatric visits run more like 30 minutes; involve personal, real-time feedback; and entail talking with a professional about how to address any issues, it’s clearly nothing at all like a state assessment, which will yield an impersonal score and a school grade six months later. Since my efforts to make this point were enjoying little success, I hoped this little five-act play might do better. Now, on to number 9, originally published on June 8, 2015.

(Curtain rises. A 30-something mom is loosely holding a newspaper. Visible is a headline reading, "Officials uncertain about impending impact of Y2K.") Act 1: (Actress stares morosely into distance.) Sheesh. It's the year 2000 already, and I still have no credible way of knowing how well my kid is doing, or even whether our school is doing OK. And I majored in statistics at State—I know the numbers we have are garbage. Act 2: (Actress smiles winningly.) That No Child Left Behind Act seems like a good idea. I know it's really only about reading and math, but that stuff matters. Now we'll all know how Scooter and his classmates are doing and we'll be able to keep an eye on the school. This kind of spotlight makes a lot of sense. Act 3: (Actress wears a rueful look.) Geez, it feels like our school has gone a little test-crazy. The school is always giving "formative" tests, telling us how kids are doing on the state tests, and holding rallies to focus kids on the tests. Testing for reading and math makes sense, but this is all a little too much. Act 4: (Actress looks frustrated.) So now they're saying the solution to test overload is longer, better tests—because teachers can't teach to them. I'm not sold. First off, I'm not sure these new tests are so great. Second, sure seems like the school is still obsessed with them. Act 5: (Dry ice helps steam rise from actress' ears.) Ten hours of testing! Seriously?! I'm glad we're trying to help kids who've been left behind. But when are we going to talk about the arts or science or what I want for my child? That tears it. I think we should have Scooter skip the state test this year. (Curtain falls.)

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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