In a recent article about American culture and the opt out society Alan Greenblatt described the growing and successful movement to encourage parents to refuse to allow their child to participate in national standardised testing as selfish individualism. It might be driven by a parents individual interest, he argues, but it is selfish and against collective interests:
It’s probably true that the time spent on testing isn’t going to be particularly beneficial to the kids, but it’s very beneficial to the system,” says Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Fordham Institute, an education think tank. “If you have enough people opt out of these tests, then you have removed some important information that could make our schools better.
I find this amusing because the whole corporate reform movement, for which testing is the centerpiece, is built on the neoliberal belief that the best solution to everything – prisons, health, education etc – is to turn everything into a market and allow competition and individual choice to drive better value.
In fact this was the prime motivation described by Kevin Rudd when he first announced the ‘school transparency agenda’ on the 21 August 2008 at the National Press Club. The speech has mysteriously disappeared but I am quite clear that Kevin Rudd said something along the following lines
“If parents are unhappy with their local school because of the information in MySchool, and decide to transfer their child to another better performing school, then that is exactly what should happen. This is how schools will improve, through parents voting with their feet.”
Now nobody who works in a struggling school thinks this is the way schools improve. Australia has run an aggressive market choice model of school funding for nearly 2 decades now and all we have to show for it is a highly class segregated schooling system and high levels of inequality.
So let me reassure parents who are concerned about our high stakes NAPLAN testing regime. Opting out of having your child participate in these tests is much more of a community act than deciding to send your child to an elite school.