How the Anti-Standardized Testing Movement is Like the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Fifteen years ago the Center for Disease Control declared that measles had been eradicated in America. But now the CDC is warning that the U.S. could see a “large outbreak” in people infected because “there is growing evidence more parents are not vaccinating their children.”

Parents who decline to vaccinate their children, says Vaccine Education Center Director Paul Offit, tend to be “upper-middle to upper class, well-educated -- often graduate school-educated -- and in jobs in which they exercise some level of control.” These parents are making private choices that have public implications for other people susceptible to measles, like young children and those with compromised immune systems.

In this way, the anti-vaccine movement is like the anti-testing movement, which also draws its advocates from upper-middle to upper-class backgrounds and prioritizes private choice over communal value.  (A few citations:  Diane Ravitch says that “parents are outraged [about PARCC tests], especially in the suburbs.” Dana Goldstein notes that “much of the anti-test activism has been concentrated in suburbs, like Long Island and Westchester County, and at more privileged urban schools, like Garfield High in Seattle.” Economist Allison Schrager writes, “[o]pting out is more common among higher income families. “)

The anti-vaccine movement undermines the communal good of public health. The anti-testing movement undermines the communal good of public education by depriving families of tools to evaluate districts and depriving governments of the data necessary to allot aid and support to needy schools.

Four years ago, a paper was published about the impact of private educational choices on the communal good. These choices “are paid for by all of us, regardless of whether we use them, and must be controlled via democratic decision-making that reflects the will of the majority while ensuring equal rights for the minority. “

The author of that paper was none other than Julia Sass Rubin, Rutgers professor and founder of the Save Our Schools-NJ. (Rubin wrote that paper to argue that school choice -- allowing parents to, well, opt-out out of assigned schools and send their kids to charter schools  -- erodes the strength of traditional districts.) Ironically, SOS-NJ, along with its partner NJEA, is in the throes of a full-court press against annual standardized assessments, lobbying hard for the right of parents to make private choices despite the danger that those choices represent to the the mother of all communal goods, public education.

Those opposed to PARCC tests are passionate individuals accustomed to making their own rules, just like those who choose to not vaccinate their kids against measles. But the impact of opting significant numbers of  children out of PARCC tests (or, in N.J.’s case, passing a badly-flawed bill that requires districts to “opt-in” students) will mean that the entire system can’t be measured. That may work for SOS-NJ’s constituency but it’s bad news for everyone else.

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