The Way “It” Rolls!

If you spent any time in the military, you can probably relate to the following scenario.

The Base Commanding General sends a memo to his regimental commanders that he will be conducting a “walk-through” inspection of all units in two months.

Upon receiving this notice, your Regimental Commander releases the following bulletin:



The General will be conducting his annual inspection of all base units in two months. Please don’t give this another thought. I want you to just keep soldiering on and pay no attention to this upcoming inspection. Despite the fact that my career is hanging on the outcome of this review, I don’t see any need to bother you with any pre-inspections.


In fact, I am encouraging my subordinate leaders to not waste any of your valuable training time preparing for this event and to simply pretend like this inspection isn’t going to happen. If we all just focus on doing our jobs well, the inspection will take care of itself. You’ll always be more than an inspection result to me.


However, please don’t misunderstand me—heads will roll if we do poorly. So, don’t screw this up or you’ll be crushed like a bug.


Anyhow, good luck, I trust you’ll do your best.

Uh, okay, that has NEVER happened in the history of the world.

In the real world, the Regimental Commander will conduct his own inspection of each of his battalions a few weeks ahead of the General’s review. The battalion commanders will then schedule inspections of their companies. Before that, company commanders will review their platoons; platoon leaders will inspect their squads or sections; squad leaders will inspect their teams, and team leaders will inspect their individual troops.

By the time the General walks in front of Private Joseph T. Schmuck two months from now, this poor guy will have likely gone through at least seven or eight “pre-inspections” by others in his chain of command.

In each case, he will be scolded, admonished, and corrected–all in the name of making sure he’s ready for the “real thing.”

In the military, we refer to this as phenomena as, well, to be polite .  .  . feces rolling down hill.

It happens in most modern bureaucracies as well.

Which brings me to U.S. Secretary of Education, John King, and his visit to Tulsa Public Schools yesterday.

King is the bird on top in the preceding flowchart.

Secretary King came to Tulsa on Friday to hear how Tulsa teachers and school administrators worked together to reduce student testing time by half.

King said Tulsa Public Schools’ example is aligned with President Barack Obama’s new Testing Action Plan to eliminate unnecessary testing and will be “held up as a case study for other districts to consider.”

Remember that in October 2015, President Obama announced a set of principles to promote a “smarter approach” to testing students and new support for states and school districts to develop and use “better, less burdensome” assessments.

“I’m certainly very encouraged by the ways in which you have thoughtfully gone about reducing assessment time to improve instructional quality,” King told a panel of Tulsa teachers, principals and district administrators.

Okay, is it just me, or does anyone else see the sick irony here?

In Secretary John King, we have one of the original crap shovelers extolling the virtues of not shoveling crap.

If you’ve forgotten, King is the former New York Education Commissioner who succeeded Arne Duncan in November of last year.

Like Duncan, King is a fierce supporter of standardized testing and their use to grade students, teachers, and schools. He promotes the most popular policies of the modern education reform movement—known for its passion for testing and ranking of teachers.

As New York’s Commissioner, King presided over highly controversial, test-driven reforms that required, for the first time, new teacher evaluations based in part on student test scores. These changes were propelled mostly through federal Race to the Top grants that also encouraged New York and other states to implement Common Core standards and new tests and to open more charter schools.

These policies enraged many parents in New York—and in many other states—who were unhappy with the growing number of standardized tests their kids were taking.

In 2014, an amazing 20 percent of all students in New York basically boycotted schools during testing days—the highest “opt out” rate in the country.

Teachers in New York were also angry with King’s policies, pointing out that they didn’t have adequate time or materials to adopt the new Common Core standards and tests, and that they didn’t think test results should determine their pay and work security.

In December 2014, King resigned in the middle of parent, student, and teacher backlash, and was quickly promoted to the US Department of Education.

In my opinion, King’s credibility when it comes to the topic of standardized testing is zero, zilch, nada.

He is one of the guys who escorted the smelly pachyderm of annual high stakes testing into our living room—and now that we’re complaining about the heaping piles of manure all over the place—he blames it on our chihuahua.

Like his predecessor, King is all on board for “reducing testing” so long as that means getting everyone to drop all tests except, of course,  the sacrosanct BS Test.

Neither Duncan or King or President Obama have uttered even one word to back away from testing every student every year.

In fact, during last year’s negotiations over the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) it was King, among others, who argued to keep annual math and reading tests for all students in grades three through eight and once in high school.

Pretending to address over-testing without addressing every-student-every-year policies is a sham.

Nor has King or his department backed away from using test results to judge teachers, schools and students– the number one policy choice responsible for the emphasis on testing in schools (an emphasis the policy was always meant to create).

To ignore that policy linkage and its effects is to declare yourself uninterested in really changing the culture of testing that is poisoning public education.

King is like a general ordering an inspection while telling his subordinates to not do anything to prepare in advance. As long as they don’t fail, there is no reason to worry, right?

The fundamental problem remains—our nation still has a toxic dependency on tests that do not measure what they purport to measure in order to use data that is not true to prove things that the data cannot prove, while at the same time reducing public education to a test prep process that steals time and resources from the real process of actual education in order to feed a process hell bent on reducing students to trained circus animals and teachers to clerical workers.

Nonetheless, here was Secretary King in Tulsa yesterday, making meaningless mouth noises and offering pointless PR nuggets while avoiding the real discussion, which is why, exactly, we need these BS Tests at all, and what possible justification there is for using the BS Tests to measure, rank and rate students, teachers or schools.

The reason we have so much testing and test-prep at the state and local level is because the federally mandated BS tests are still attached to high stakes decisions for students, teachers, and schools. Even with ESSA, not much of that has changed.

The fact that Superintendent Gist and Tulsa Public Schools have made a genuine effort to reduce testing in their schools is terrific.

But, make no mistake, if this year’s test results come back and grades for TPS schools have gone down, this initiative will likely be short-lived.

Ultimately, if we don’t address the high stakes nature of annual testing, all it will mean is that we will be accountable based on less testing. But, we will still be sorting and punishing schools. That’s not positive change. It’s false hope.

The reality is Secretary King has little interest in reducing federal testing mandates or dismantling the test, sort, and punish machinery which generates his power and influence.

In short, it appears we will continue to dodge manure from the elephant of annual high stakes testing until it dies.

It’s clearly not leaving on its own . . . and we know which way crap rolls.

Keep your heads up!

Do Look at Me That WayRedouble Our Efforts? You Go First.
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