2 Good Reasons Not to Endorse Senate’s ECAA: Standardized Tests and Charter Expansion

First, there is no language whatsoever that softens the blow of standardized testing for children.  None.  For children, all standardized tests are high stakes and, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter whether these tests are foisted on them by their state government or the federal government.  It still detracts from their education.  Standardized tests merely measure, sort, and label — they don’t educate.

Second, nearly 10% of the bill is devoted to the expansion of charter schools.  The entire bill is 601 pages.  The first 11 + pages consist of a table of contents.  That leaves 590 pages of text.  Fifty-five of those pages — nearly 10% — outline a plan to expand charter schools.  I think the record is clear that charter schools are problematic.  Remember — the charter school movement emerged from the voucher and choice movement.   Milton Friedman’s own foundation — The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice — claims the charter school movement as a boon to the free market, competition driven ideology of neoliberals.  Charter schools = privatization.

Question:  So, what further provides impetus in the move to privatization?

Answer:  A steady stream of standardized tests to support the faulty logic promoted by A Nation at Risk — and barely challenged — that our entire public school system (which Friedman labeled a monopoly and socialistic) is a failure and in need of constant systemic reform.

How can anyone who supports public schools and the children they serve support this legislation?  And I anticipate the final bill that emerges from the House and Senate conference committee will be worse.

 

Test is a test is a test is a test

Subtitle:  You can put lipstick on a pig, but that doesn’t mean it ceases to be a pig.

For those clamoring to declare isolated successes amongst the political wranglings going on in Congress over ESEA/ECAA, I think it’s important to remember a couple of things.  First, whatever the Senate votes to approve, with whatever amendments are tacked on to the legislation, we still don’t know what the legislation will look like when it emerges from the conference committee established by the House and Senate.  Amendments get removed, House and Senate legislation is merged and — well, it’s sort of like making sausage.  So, as I’ve said before, it’s a little disconcerting when organizations endorse legislation before it’s been finalized.  It’s okay to point out the strengths of proposed legislation or the weaknesses, but an endorsement, qualified or not, of half-baked legislation is troubling.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, I think we should remember, as Gertrude Stein was fond of asserting, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”  It’s an existential concept.  There isn’t a point in which the rose ceases to be a rose — even after your memory of a rose fades or it has been described countless times and in different ways.  Many years ago now, in the years leading up to our current state of education reform, we were cautioned about the rise in standardized testing of our nation’s school children and the detrimental impact it would have on education (and our children).  Too few listened.  And the steady creep of standardized tests continued until it has now become the zeitgeist driving our curriculum and test prep dominates our daily lives in school.

So — as we’re on the eve of an ESEA reauthorization, we find policymakers parsing the language of tests.  We talk about  grade span testing versus annual testing and standardized tests vs. “high stakes” standardized tests.  And the big “win” is presented as the federal government sending the responsibility for governance over of education policy back to the states and local districts.

It may sound good on the surface.  But all the parsing of the language associated with ECAA/ESEA and killing the beast of NCLB doesn’t change the reality that we, as a nation, have waved the white flag of defeat when it comes to standardized tests.  Instead of saying, “Please, sir, I want some more,” while plaintively holding forth an empty bowl, we say, “Please, sir, I want a little less.”

Our current iteration of ESEA holds no promise of breaking the stranglehold that standardized testing has over education in the U.S.  To say that it is needed to equalize educational opportunity and educational outcomes is simply not the case.   To say limiting the number of hours children are required to sit for standardized tests will end the amount of energy expended on test prep is a simplistic notion.  And merely giving this authority back to states will not stop the abuses associated with standardized tests.

It’s time to say no.  Measuring is not teaching.  Standardized tests have no real purpose in education except to sort and label children.  They are constructed purposefully to create a system in which half of our children are deemed below average.  We do not live in Garrison Keillor’s mythical  Lake Wobegon, “where all the men are good looking, all the women are strong, and all the children are above average.”  That place doesn’t exist.

Test is a test is a test is a test.  How is it that we simply accept the assumption that we need standardized testing in order to educate our children?

I cannot support legislation that continues to make standardized testing the law of the land.

To Endorse or Not Endorse — That is the Question

This has been an interesting few days in education reform.  First the Network for Public Education (NPE) published their qualified endorsement for the ESEA/NCLB reauthorization package entitled the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA).  Then, the AFT announced their endorsement of Hillary Cllinton for president.

I will comment briefly on these two endorsements.  First, while NPE understandably seeks to provide leadership and guidance for public school supporters, I believe it is problematic to endorse a bill that does little if anything to limit the expansive role of corporations and entrepreneurs intent on, as Chester Finn once said, making a dime in the education sector.  An organization’s choice to endorse, or not endorse, or stay silent says a great deal about the organization’s leadership.  So, on one hand, I am thankful to know how NPE feels about the current rewrite of ESEA.  On the other hand, it makes me question their ability to compromise on so many important issues.  This is not an era in which compromise will benefit our nation’s children and public school system.  We should not be willing to accept crumbs at the policy table — hoping for something more in the future.  That day will never come as long as we elect corporate sponsored neoliberals.

Which leads me to another organization’s statement regarding ECAA: The United Opt Out Movement’s statement:  “Why UOO Opposes ESEA(ECAA) and Supports the Necessity of Revolution.   There is nothing tepid in UOO’s statement and no compromise.  And the Opt Out Movement is making a difference in the policy arena.  They are forcing politicians and policy makers to listen through their actions.  Corporations and privatizers understand one thing — the bottom line — money.  Pearson is feeling the pinch as states reject their tests.  I agree with UOO.  I will not support a bill that only offers the old adage — “education is  a states rights issue.”  A lot of damage has been done to children over the decades in the name of states rights.  That is not progress.  The federal government’s role has, in fact, been to protect our nation’s children from abuses in the name of states rights.

As far as AFT’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton is concerned — well, there should be no surprise there.  Randi Weingarten is on the board of Clinton’s PAC —  Priorities USA Action.  Facebook has been on fire since the announcement of AFT’s endorsement.  AFT members are outraged and, although I am not a member of the AFT, I also find it difficult to understand the need for such a premature endorsement of a candidate — except that Weingarten is loyal to one candidate for obvious reasons.