Opt-Out of Common Core? Great! But Let's Opt-Out of All Government Programs


Public Domain

In response to my piece criticizing Common Core standards for threatening education choice by binding publicly funded schools to lock-step pacing and goals, Michael Petrilli, Executive VP of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and editor of Education Next, concedes the risk and suggests some schools should be able to opt out. Let schools opposed to rigid standards prove their mettle some other way, he says. Making Common Core standards voluntary down to the grassroots is a great idea, I think. But why stop there? We should be able to opt out of so many other government programs.

In his response to me, Petrilli points to an article in which he proposed that "there might be, say, 10 percent of the schools for whom the Common Core, or any state standards, may not be a good fit." Among those schools, he suggests, are high-achievers and schools that are philosophically at odds with standardized measures.

Which schools belong in this 10 percent? First, some schools of choice (including charter schools and magnet schools)—particularly those on the far progressive end of the spectrum—fundamentally don't believe in testing as a great measure of what kids need to know and be able to do. Their educational approach that is not a good fit with standards-based reform…

Another group of schools that should be eligible for the opt-out are uniformly high-achieving schools—those where virtually all the kids are high achieving and for whom the Common Core standards (or any other state standards) are actually well below where they're already achieving. These are largely going to be schools in our affluent suburbs or exam schools in our big cities.

Part of his argument is that many of these schools are really a lousy fit with standardized measures—often intentionally so—and need to be judged by different criteria. He also argues, though, that "the limited use of an opt-out will release some steam from the political backlash to standards and testing." That's because people tend to stop objecting to programs when they're not dragooned into them.

But doesn't that same logic apply to so many other government schemes?

Lots of people complain that they don't want Obamacare, or Social Security, or the surveillance state, or the war on drugs, or Medicare… These programs "may not be a good fit" for people who value privacy, self-sufficiency and personal freedom.

Exit sign

As for critics… A CBS poll shows that nine in ten Americans are "unhappy" with the federal government, with 43 percent flat-out angry. That follows on a Gallup poll showing that sixty percent of Americans think the federal government is too damned powerful—and a separate George Washington University poll that finds that many Americans want not just the government, but federal workers themselves, to get lost.

So…If letting people opt out of a program that is just a lousy fit for them, and that excites their vocal opposition, is a good idea, why should it stop at public school standards? Wouldn't it make sense, and settle some of the boiling political tensions in this country, if more of the government's growing menu of intrusive, presumptuous and expensive programs were optional?

What if we could say, either at will, or during a limited dis-enrollment period, "Umm, no, thanks. I'll skip the entire right side of the menu." We would escape rules and taxes, and open up new options—though we'd have to surrender the supposed protections offered by state programs, and the state would have to be serious about holding us to our choices.

Frankly, I'd go so far as too give up fire protection (you need a gander at the local department to understand) if, in turn, I wouldn't be bound by stupid building regulations. I'd surrender police protection if that would give me a pass on what I grow and smoke in my backyard, or tuck into a holster.

Opting out of Obamacare, Social Security and Medicare are no-brainers—I'll check those boxes, now, thanks.

Opting out of the security state will probably be a tougher sell, because of the rather nebulous, holistic protections the NSA and company claim to offer. But it is a lousy fit for me, and I insist, at least, on the right to encrypt the shit out of any data they try to grab. Let them try to figure out what I've steganographied into some photoshopped images of Joe Biden and James Clapper.

A good time will be had by all.

Letting critics of government programs opt out because they're a bad fit? Brilliant. That should be standard policy.