School Choice

There are episodes in history by which one is judged and from which we may not shirk or wait for the safest moment to speak. History, I believe, more often finds us in such moments than we are wont to acknowledge. John Randolph of Roanoke wrote in 1813 that,

I have said, on a former occasion, and if I were Philip, I would employ a man to say it every day, that the people of this country, if ever they lose their liberties, will do it by sacrificing some great principle of free government to temporary passion. There are certain great principles, which if they be not held inviolate, at all seasons, our liberty is gone. If we give them up, it is perfectly immaterial what is the character of our Sovereign; whether he be King or President, elective or hereditary – it is perfectly immaterial what is his character – we shall be slaves – it is not an elective government which will preserve us.

We ask each of our students to consider daily how their character will be reflected in all of their decisions. To behave with less conscience than this as a school would be not only hypocritical, but ultimately, unconscionable. To my mind, the state of Colorado has embarked upon a foolish and irresponsible path by electing to adopt the Common Core and commit nearly 757,000 students to taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams. Of these students, 89,000 attend charter schools. Charter schools are schools of choice. That is their raison d’être – parents and students have chosen them rather than laboring to complete curriculums they disagree with and be indoctrinated into ideas they do not endorse because of the happenstance of where they live. Charter schools form a partnership between teachers and parents by providing an education that is respectful of the values instilled in the home. In exchange, parents and students often make certain sacrifices like foregoing hot lunches and bussing in favor of solid academics and an education better suited to their child.

This is precisely what the Colorado Charter Schools Act of 1994 permitted parents. It was freedom won back from the state, and for a time, a parent’s right to choose was more or less protected. This was true even for parents who could not afford to forfeit the money they had paid towards education through property taxes and spend tens of thousands more on a private school for each of their children simply in order to escape the state and the amoral mediocrity it attempted to impose upon their children.

If there were only a single lesson that could be learned from the state’s involvement in education, it would be that the more involved, the lower the standards. As bad as this is, it is made worse when it operates as a system under a single set of standards. A large part of what has made America successful is devolution and local control. Charter schools are almost as local as control can get. They are among the smallest units of the “laboratories of democracy” described by Justice Louis Brandeis in 1932. This competition and the freedom inherent therein are what the Colorado State Legislature recommitted itself to protecting in 1994 when it wrote that granting local control over schools included “diverse approaches to learning and education and the use of different, proven, or innovative teaching methods,” and allowing “the development of different and innovative forms of measuring pupil learning and achievement.”

Freedoms wax and wane. Nothing is ever permanently guaranteed, and on 10 December 2010, the board members of the Colorado Department of Education effectively imperiled a parent’s right to choose their child’s education once again.

The board of directors of Ridgeview Classical Schools has recently drafted a resolution declaring their general opposition to the imposition of the Common Core State Standards. They have done so in part because they recognize that a poor test (the PARCC) will obligate students to study a poor curriculum (Common Core). Owing to the increased costs of administering tests, the decreased amount of instructional time dedicated to our students, the significantly diminished standards, the ideological slant of the materials presented therein, the intrusiveness into our students’ lives, and the diminishment of autonomy inherent in a national curriculum, the board is opposing this most recent attempt to re-yoke our schools with an ever more convoluted bureaucracy.

Ridgeview is unafraid of accountability. We are happy to be tested according to what we teach. The source of the school’s opposition is to be found in the fact that there is a great unfairness inherent in being tested according to a standard that we not only do not teach, but one which directly contradicts the school’s mission and philosophy. Not least among these is our commitment to freedom. I refer you back to the opening quotation by John Randolph. Does the right to choose the education for your child not seem to be one which should be inviolate? If it is a right, has elective government preserved it? Ridgeview’s is a mission and philosophy you have chosen derived from a freedom you cherish. It is yours as much as it is ours to defend and we respectfully invite you to attend the aforementioned meeting in order to more fully understand what is underway and what is at stake.

Mr. Anderson