Whether you’ve heard the term before or not, you probably know what a MacGuffin is. Popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, a MacGuffin is (in short) something that everybody wants but nobody understands. Take, for example, The Maltese Falcon, or “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane, or “the box” in Kiss Me Deadly (which is, by the way, available on Blu-ray at the Lewisville Public Library).
The MacGuffin has been a popular plot device in movies for decades, but most people don’t notice how often it is used in politics as well. One issue in particular has become a hot topic in recent school board campaigns in our area: “open enrollment”.
But before anyone gets any ideas as to whether they support or reject this idea, let’s figure out what it is and isn’t. Open enrollment, as actually practiced by most public school systems that have implemented it, refers to a district’s policy of allowing children from outside the school district to attend school there. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the ability to choose which school your child goes to within the district. Regardless as to how many people claim this is about “parental choice”, it has absolutely nothing to do with that and everything to do with using kids as cash crops.
In that sense, “open enrollment” is a misnomer in almost every case, since only certain students qualify for these programs. For example, to enroll in Coppell ISD’s extremely limited program (PDF) a student must:
- Have 95% attendance from the most recent grading period (six weeks/semester).
- Have passed every TAKS/STAAR test in the last year and every class in the last semester.
- Have “no more than one disciplinary infraction” from the last grading period.
In other words, if you can sit down, shut up, and pass a standardized test, we’ll take the state-appropriated money that comes with you. Otherwise, take a hike. Additionally, enrollment is on a year-by-year, case-by-case basis. If one sibling qualifies but the other doesn’t, too bad. If a student fails a standardized test, regardless as to how many years he or she has been in Coppell schools, it’s back to the old district.
After all, no district in LISD’s position could ever let every parent choose where his or her kid goes to school. Who would ever go to the “poor” schools? Rather than address the serious issues our district is facing (i.e. the massive lack of funding from the state, courtesy of Republican lawmakers hiding under the cheap guise of “efficient spending”), advocates for this idea see it as a business-like, “market-based” cure-all. There are two problems, however: Firstly, it only shifts the problem around without fixing it (something we see in the private sector quite often) and secondly, it ignores one crucial fact: A school is not a damn business.
If ever a political issue could be called a MacGuffin, it would be this one. So many officials and parents have spent so long chasing this issue that nobody remembers what it’s for, nor do they care to find out. Too many people, especially elected officials, use the gravitational pull of words like “open”, “choice”, and “market-based” to lure parents into thinking they can miraculously solve their problems without funding education properly. In movies, MacGuffins like these never pay off for the characters searching for them: The falcon is a fake, “Rosebud” is a cheap sled, and “the box” contains an unstable nuclear device. There’s no reason to think our own MacGuffin would turn out any differently.