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The Conflict Over Standardized Testing Is a Consequence of Government-Run Schools

The use of standardized testing in government schools—as mandated by George W. Bush’s 2001 No Child Left Behind Act and supported by the Obama administration—has triggered “an expanding revolt against high-stakes standardized tests and the use of students’ scores to evaluate teachers, schools, districts and states,” writes Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post. Strauss reports that teachers at a Seattle “public” school have refused to administer state-mandated tests; parents around the country have disallowed their children from taking standardized tests; and “thousands of people have signed a national resolution protesting high-stakes tests.”

The stakes for parents are high in this conflict, and their children’s education is not their only concern. In New Jersey, as NorthJersey.com’s Leslie Brody reports, “One parent [who boycotted standardized tests] said her district warned her last year that it might file truancy charges if her children were absent repeatedly on test days, but none was filed.” As for teachers, their jobs could hinge on “drill-and-kill test prep” (also called “teaching to the test”) rather than their ability to educate students.

Set aside the pros and cons of standardized testing as an evaluation tool. The fundamental question is: Why are politicians empowered to impose these tests in the first place? The reason is that government finances and thus controls the schools.

If parents had full financial control of their children’s education, they would judge for themselves the methods and policies of a given school; and if they disapproved of some aspect of a school (whether its testing procedures or anything else), they would be free to work out the issue directly with the school—or, if they deemed it necessary, move their child elsewhere.

Likewise, a school would be free to establish whatever methods or policies its owners saw fit, including testing methods and employment and teacher evaluation standards. There would be no central planners or government-mandated tests; there would be only purse-string-holding parents and financially accountable schools deciding educational matters, including whether and how to employ tests.

Conflicts over standardized testing and myriad other issues in education are a direct result of government funding and control of education. Government involvement in education allows any group that gains the political upper hand to impose its ideas on others who may disagree. The solution to such conflicts is to remove government from the realm of education. (For ideas on how to do this, see “The Educational Bonanza in Privatizing Government Schools” and “Toward a Free Market in Education: School Vouchers or Tax Credits?“) Under the resulting free market in education, parents and educators would be free to contract voluntarily to mutual advantage, or to go their separate ways.

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