Obama’s big oops

It seems the parents, not the technocrats, knew best.

That has to be a hard rock to swallow for Pres. Obama and his outgoing education boss, Arne Duncan. There’s so much backpedalling going on, you’d think these guys were in a circus act.

Pres. Obama was first to deliver the news that high stakes testing, a practice that has practically defined American public education since the Bush years, was, well, maybe not all it’s been cracked up to be.

In a prepared statement, Obama all but admitted that the whole testing thing had gotten out of hand: “In too many schools, there is unnecessary testing and not enough clarity of purpose applied to the task of assessing students, consuming too much instructional time and creating undue stress for educators and students. The Administration bears some responsibility for this…”

Public schools have used some form of standardized testing for generations. But as concerns grew about the quality of American education, the idea that tests might not only provide a snapshot of student progress, but serve as a way of judging the performance of teachers, administrators and schools, took hold. Some called this accountability. But it also looked a lot like a way to undercut public school systems in favor of a for-profit business model.

High stakes testing came in with the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind initiative. It was then kicked up a notch or two with the Obama Administration’s Race To the Top.

Testing is now used to help determine everything from school funding formulas to whether teachers keep their jobs. Tests also eat up an enormous amount of students’ instructional time. A report from the Council of Great City Schools finds, on average, students take over 110 federal, state or locally required tests between kindergarten and 12th grade.

In 2009, Arne Duncan told educators: “I am a deep believer in the power of data to drive our decisions. Data gives us the roadmap to reform.”

The trouble with Duncan’s data, though, was that he, like his Bush-era predecessors, never aligned it with a coherent understanding of what constitutes a well-rounded education. This was like substituting a map for the actual landscape — a technocratic sleight-of-hand.

The result? Billions of tax dollars have been spent on testing that could have been used to help students do better in school.

The rage to test has underscored the distance between technocratic experts and parents in education.

But attentive parents have experienced the pitfalls of high stakes testing for years. In 2012, the Opt Out movement was created by a small group of Indiana parents who could see how their kids — and their kids’ schools — were being consumed by ISTEP testing. After trying unsuccessfully to get the experts to listen to their concerns, these folks simply chose to keep their kids home on ISTEP days.

The technocrats thought these parents were crackpots, or worse — effete snobs who would put their kids ahead of the state’s industrial-size reform effort. Now it appears the parents knew best.


Originally published at Nuvo.net

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