By May 5, 2015 Uncategorized 8 Comments

If you are a teacher or school administrator, you understand very well the stresses associated with high stakes testing, particularly during these grueling, pressure-filled weeks which comprise the testing season.

So, if you are like me and need to resolve some of the lingering angst you’re harboring about weeks of disrupted learning, wasted instructional time, frustrated students, and ridiculous testing requirements, I encourage you to take the next 18 minutes to bathe in the hilarious words of HBO’s John Oliver.

In this recent episode, Oliver presents a complete lampooning of the entire standardized testing industry, running the gamut from silly test pep assemblies, to misleading international test results, faulty value added models, to poorly designed assessments, the Pearson monopoly, testing security madness, and the practice of hiring test graders on Craigslist.

Oh, I almost forgot–he also discusses dancing monkeys.

As John says, “there is no scenario when the words ‘here comes the monkey‘ can fail to pump you up.” I think you will agree.

Not unexpectedly, it did not take very long for the pro-reform crowd to release one of their own “dancing monkeys” to attack John’s take on standardized testing.

Peter Cunningham, a former Arne Duncan wordsmither and current Eli Broad sycophant, who now runs the Education Post, a rapid response war room style operation, published this headline and accompanying article today:

John Oliver Throws Poor Kids Under the Bus

It is a sign of the times that the truth-tellers of the new millennium are comedians rather than journalists. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and now John Oliver are the most trusted news sources for Millennials, so they should be at least somewhat accountable for showing us reality.

So here’s a little reality for John Oliver, who devoted 18 tedious minutes to attacking something that protects students at risk from being neglected, ignored and condemned to second-class citizenship. While there has been some progress over the last decade, its not nearly enough:

  • There are more than 1,000 high schools in America that graduate less than 60 percent of their students. About one in five kids each year drop out.
  • There are no states where the graduation rate for African-American, Hispanic or economically disadvantaged students is above 90 percent, but 10 states where that is true for white students.
  • Achievement gaps between African-American, Latino and low income kids compared to white kids are depressingly large.
  • Less than 10 percent of low-income kids earn a four-year college degree compared to about 50 percent of kids from high income families.

We know these things because we force the educational bureaucracy to test kids, publish results and take action. Until we demanded real accountability, many states, with a few exceptions, simply ignored these kids.

Today, teachers unions, and their mostly white middle-class allies, have an organized, well-funded effort underway to retreat from accountability and evade any responsibility for educating disadvantaged children. Their strategy is clear:

  • Deny the public the data that shows which schools, teachers and students are struggling.
  • Blame the parents for being poor.
  • Deny those parents an opportunity to enroll their kids in schools of choice, some of which are doing a much better job preparing their kids for college and for life.
  • And endlessly and relentlessly demand more resources without any real responsibility for spending wisely and getting results.

If modern journalism had a patron saint, it would probably be H.L. Mencken, who often said, “It is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

John Oliver’s facile mockery of standardized testing does not put him on the side of disadvantaged children afflicted by underperforming schools.

Instead, John Oliver sides with the comfortable bureaucrats, self-serving union leaders, and the complacent middle class that abdicates any responsibility for extending the American Dream beyond their own insular worlds.

Not much to laugh about.

Do you have any remaining doubt about the desperate measures these so-called reformers will resort to in order to protect their  multibillion dollar experiment with America’s children–an experiment which, based on nearly any objective measure, has been an abject failure.

I could spend a few thousand words dissecting Cunningham’s arguments, but honestly, they’re too absurd to bother with. It would be much more worthwhile for me to spend the time cleaning my toilets or doing some laundry. Peter knows his words are no more than foolish babble, reckless hyperbole, and fallacious ad hominem.

But, Peter the monkey has a job to do, and it undoubtedly gets him lots of treats.

Take a second to reread this key assertion from Cunningham’s diatribe:

Today, teachers unions, and their mostly white middle-class allies, have an organized, well-funded effort underway to retreat from accountability and evade any responsibility for educating disadvantaged children.

So, according to Cunningham, the problem with our schools is they are filled with people like you and me. And we, of course, are a bunch of lazy, union protected, uncaring racists doing everything we can to avoid educating disadvantaged children, especially those of color.

Peter would know this because he spent a career working as a teacher in an urban school, dealing day-to-day with children from generational poverty living in crime-filled, decaying communities with limited social supports.

Oh wait, that’s not right. Cunningham has never taught a day in his life. As the case with many of these reformers, Cunningham has never worked in education. He is a lifelong journalist, lobbyist, and political consultant hack.

Just another dancing monkey to distract the public long enough for the billionaires to slide their hands into the pockets of state treasuries across the nation.

Not much to laugh about, but certainly worth taking very seriously.

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