By January 13, 2015 Uncategorized 7 Comments

After so many years of hearing meaningless mouth noises from politicians on both sides of the spectrum, I sometimes just want to cover my ears and tell them all to shut up for a little while.

It has become increasingly difficult to comprehend if these people truly don’t grasp the disconnect between the drivel they serve up and the actual policies they pursue. Allow me to share just a few examples.

Let’s start at the top.

Before his election in 2008, President Obama carved out what many regarded as a more progressive and enlightened position on education reform. Recognizing that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) had become widely unpopular because of its overemphasis on standardized tests, he declared, “Don’t tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of the year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles in a standardized test.” He pledged to lead the nation in a different direction.

Over six years later, guess what? Teachers in schools across America are still spending much of the year preparing children to fill out a few bubbles in a standardized test.

Oh, but we have come a long way, President Obama–we’ve replaced #2 pencils with mouse pads.

The reality is that since 2009, the president and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, have adopted policies that, to the chagrin of many educators and supporters, have had far more in common with the previous administration than anyone expected. In fact, it could be argued that Race to The Top (RTTT) and the ESEA waivers have made things worse than before, with their emphasis on common national standards, school report cards, and teacher evaluations tied to student test scores.

You’ll never convince Arne Duncan of this reality though. In a so-called “major”speech delivered on Monday, Arne doubled down on his rhetoric about the importance of maintaining the emphasis on test-based accountability and not “watering down” the “successful” reforms implemented over the past six years. On what planet has Arne been living?

With the dexterity of a Chinese gymnast, Arne is able to say that tests are good and necessary (“I am absolutely convinced that we need to know how much progress students are making) and advocating for keeping ALL current federal testing mandates, while simultaneously arguing that WE need “to review and streamline the tests (WE) are giving and eliminate redundant and unnecessary tests.

The “we” that Secretary Duncan is referring to is you and me, the educators who actually work with children in schools.

Yeah, you read that right. It’s our fault. WE are testing kids too much!

Specifically, Duncan says the following about excessive testing and why it’s happening :

We must do more to ensure that the tests – and time spent in preparation for them – don’t take excessive time away from actual classroom instruction. Great teaching, and not test prep, is always what best engages students, and what leads to higher achievement…

Sometimes, educators are better at starting new things than we are at stopping things – several decades of testing ideas have sometimes been layered on top of each other in ways that are redundant and duplicative, and not helpful.”

Okay, let me wipe away some of Arne’s hubris and ignorance for a second to try to follow his line of reasoning.

For some reason, Arne has a difficult time understanding why schools are spending so much time preparing for these tests. The fact that one bad round of testing at a school might precipitate the implementation of punitive measures, including loss of funding, increased reporting requirements, public humiliation, the closing or takeover of the school, and/or the loss of teacher jobs somehow seems to escape him.

Peter Greene explains this well in his blog from earlier today:

“Higher achievement” is not what the (USDOE) has thrown its weight behind; it has attached all the incentives to higher test scores. The feds have created a system in which the continued existence of school buildings and teaching careers is based on test scores. Duncan is a man who has pointed a gun at schools and says, “Get those test scores up, or else I’ll shoot. But don’t let the tests distract you from other things.” And he still hasn’t put down the gun.”

Because Arne is convinced we are the problem, he said that he and his department will lobby Congress to force states to “set limits on the amount of time spent on state- and district-wide standardized testing, and notify parents if they exceed those limits.” In other words, if schools spend too much time giving tests that don’t matter to Arne to prepare kids for tests that matter A LOT to Arne, we might have to send a letter home to parents.

What exactly would this letter from the school principal say?

Dear Parents, it has come to my attention that some of my math teachers gave another test today. I was under the assumption that it was just a regular test, but upon further investigation, I discovered there were questions on the test that were based on standards that will be assessed a few months from now on the state mathematics test. I can assure you this was inadvertent.

We certainly don’t want your children to have any previous experience with these type of tests or questions prior to the state assessment. These high stakes tests may determine if your child earns a diploma and whether his or her teacher keeps their job, yet please tell your child to relax about them. We will go back to doing word searches tomorrow. I hope you can forgive us.”

The bottom line is Duncan believes that it is the federal government’s responsibility to mandate these tests to “uphold every parent’s right to know every year how much progress his or her child is making in school?” Why? Because schools and teachers are liars and parents are stupid. Remember Duncan’s quote from November 2013 when he asserted that “white suburban moms needed to accept that their children aren’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their schools aren’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

In Duncan’s mind, why would parents possibly choose to trust the word of a professional educator relative to their child’s academic progress– based on 175 days of direct observation and possibly hundreds of formal and informal assessments–over the outcome of a 50-question multiple choice test developed by an out-of-state testing vendor?

The crazy thing is Arne is not alone in his thinking.

As shared by Diane Ravitch in her blog today, Sandy Kress, a Texas lawyer and longtime adviser to George W. Bush, also feels that NCLB has failed–not because it is bad legislation–but because it was sabotaged by lazy school administrators who employed shortcuts to improve test scores.

Kress, widely recognized as the architect of NCLB, argues that the federal testing and accountability provisions were designed to prod district bureaucracies into demanding more qualified teachers, better instruction and top-notch materials. Instead, he said, administrators took the easy way out and bought loads of practice tests and test prep products in a frenzied rush to boost student scores.

Shame on us all!

As Ravitch reports, Kress used to lobby for Pearson, which of course sells many of those tests and test prep products. He doesn’t work for the company now, though, and says he can freely share his view.

“Yes, there are too many tests (and too many bad tests) – but no, it’s not the fault of NCLB.” “Why [states and districts] chose to have tests on top of tests on top of tests” instead of improving instruction “is beyond me,” he said. The testing mania not only spurred the anti-NCLB backlash, but it flat-out didn’t work. Kress said: “If you spend all your time weighing your pig, when it comes time to sell the pig, you’re going to find out you haven’t spent enough time feeding the pig.”

Kress said he also sees huge irony in the marriage between teachers unions and the tea party in opposing federal testing and accountability mandates. The left fought so hard to defeat conservatives in the midterms, he said, and is now “getting in bed” with them to further policy goals. He also predicted that gutting NCLB would end up hurting public education advocates in the long run. Voters, he said, will eventually rebel against sending tax dollars to teachers and schools that aren’t held to account for students’ performance. “If that kind of position is allowed to prevail in the end, it will be extremely negative for public education,” he said.

I really don’t know if Kress truly believes the tripe emanating from his mouth or not. Like Dr. Victor Frankenstein, perhaps Kress feels compelled to defend his creation from the “villagers” who have harshly labeled it a hideous and vile creature, and are now trying to kill it.

All I know is I am exhausted listening to these non-educators lecture us about what is best for public education. I really to want them to shut up for awhile and maybe listen for a change! They have had their chance to prove that their system of high stakes tests and punitive accountability measures would improve education and diminish the achievement gap. They have failed, and failed badly.

And it is NOT our fault.

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