Lets Reconstitute Our Arguments!
Fighting the Federal education plan on the correct
Published in the September 2001 issue of Curriculum Administrator
I would like to blame the education bill moving through
the House and Senate on President Bush, but the education reform bill
(probably passed by the time you read this) is the result of bipartisan lunacy.
This is not your garden-variety annual education appropriations bill. It is
a reform bill. In 2001 reform apparently means threats
and punishment. If schools dont clean-up their act(s) then funds will
be withheld (or added its impossible to keep track), educators
fired and schools reconstituted. It appears as if strategies applied
toward rogue nations like Iraq are now being applied to Americas school
children. This is easily one of the most mean-spirited periods in Americas
Such educational policy decisions will be based on a standardized test. Yes,
thats right one test! Disadvantaged schools will get poorer and
affluent schools will be forced to abandon sound educational practices in order
to drill for yet another annual test.
A recent article in the Los Angeles Time (July 24, 2001), Belatedly, a
Front is Forming to Fight Education Legislation, caught my eye. I was
optimistic that a powerful coalition against nationally mandated annual testing
was forming. My hopes were dashed when I read the comments of organizations
including the National Education Association and the Council of Great City Schools.
While any educator worth their chalk can list countless reasons why a greater
reliance on standardized testing will have a negative affect, lobbyists for
powerful education organizations, always referred to derisively in the press
as special interests, quibble over the plans details and sound defensive.
The Council of Great City Schools voiced no opposition to greater testing,
but was concerned that it would be difficult to reconstitute (re: takeover)
than 10% of Americas public schools. The NEA, always at the ready to announce
that their jobs are too hard and its members poorly suited for the profession,
argues that failing schools should be selected by more than a new annual test.
They suggest that class size and the qualifications of the classroom teachers
should be used when deciding to reconstitute a school. This whining and splitting
of hairs plays right into the hands of politicians like Senator Evan Bayh who
can then complain that Everyone is for accountability until it actually
gets put into place and applies to them. Surely one of his Indiana constituents
can explain that the hog doesnt get any fatter while its standing
on the scale.
It serves neither the interests of teachers or students when leading educators
provide ammunition for their critics who wish to portray them as lazy, defensive
and resistant to change.
Let me state for the record that I am all for literacy and numeracy. Frankly,
I think you should be able to teach a gerbil to read and write in twelve years
of school. The rich experiences in art, science, social studies and music, often
sacrificed to the god of accountability, play a huge role in the learning process.
Adding more fear, threats and drill to the learning environment is unlikely
to achieve the desired results.
Rather than fight the good fight, groups of educators are lining up to choose
whether their Kool-Aid will have the taste of wild cherries or the cool sensation
of refreshing mint. Quibbling over the details is a capitulation to forces with
worrisome agendas. Adding yet another standardized test to the school year and
labeling schools as failures based on that one test is a terrible idea. All
concerned citizens should fight it on the following grounds.1
Education is a not a federal concern - What sort of conservatives choose
reading textbooks and believe that schools should be run from Washington D.C?
Standardized tests measure the wrong things - Life is not a multiple
choice test nor can the complex reasoning skills required by participants in
a knowledge society be measured by norm-referenced tests designed by clandestine
The testing process costs a fortune Neither the human or fiscal
cost of these tests ever seems to be addressed. It has been reported that California
spent $1.9 BILLION this past year on the administration of the (flawed by their
own admission) SAT-9 test. Add the costs associated with test-prep curricula
for six year olds, P.D. for teachers and district-level testing coordinators
and you could buy yourself quite a few band directors, field trips and library
Standardized testing wastes time Children lose days and sometimes
weeks taking these tests not to mention the instructional time sacrificed for
Good teachers are turned into zombies - The current remedy for school
reform seems to be fashion a strategy to drive the good teachers out of the
profession while doing nothing to improve the quality of the weakest teachers.
Making gifted educators follow a script leading to test readiness does little
to inspire young people to learn.
The test producers are unaccountable Ironic, eh? Many test publishers
refuse to answer questions from parents and teachers. From California to New
York, catastrophic decisions have been made based on test scores incorrectly
generated by the testing monopolies.
The tests frequently include inaccurate, irrelevant, confusing and biased
There seems to be an epidemic of the Lake Wobegon Effect - It is immoral
to tell a poor kid in a school they know is deficient that she needs to score
above average on a test 50% of all children MUST fail. If all of the students
in a school score between 96-98% correctly on a norm-referenced test, half
those children must fail the test. The following year the politicians will
undoubtedly want to know why the students didnt improve their scores.
These tests do nothing to inform practice - In many states it is a crime
for teachers to even LOOK at the test. The feedback received after the tests
may only be a numerical score. How does that help someone improve her teaching
The tests are anti-democratic Local governments, school boards,
parents and educators closest to the needs of the children have virtually no
voice in this process and change in Federal policy.
The tests are punitive The educational system gets meaner and
more cautious every year, as we add zero tolerance and threats to a human enterprise.
There is little evidence that reconstituted schools work The
results of state school takeovers is mixed at best.
You can't eat just one! - States and local districts already use all
sorts of these tests. Weeks of important time for learning are sacrificed by
existing tests. My bet is that the new testing requirement will add to this
burden, not reduce it. Schools already give practice tests for practice tests
for standardized tests years in the future.
Doing more of the same louder won't change the result.
The stigmatizing of communities by the publication of test scores is unfair
- Saul Rockman has said that it you want to measure teacher quality based on
standardized tests then you should just get richer students since parental socioeconomic
status is the greatest predictor of test scores. Others have remarked that you
may predict a kids' SAT scores by taking the family income and dividing by 100.
(The Volvo Effect = SAT scores directly related to the percentage of Volvos
in the parking lot at back-to-school night)
Good is never good enough! What will our kids have to endure during the
next election cycle?
For much more thorough arguments consult Alfie Kohns
book, The Case Against Standardized Testing.