As guest blogger over at Anthony Cody's Living in Dialogue, John Thompson asks the question, "Is it time for a truce."
He's responding specifically to the Gates Foundation call for a two-year testing moratorium. Now that they've put down that particular club, do we point down our pointy sticks and try to have a chat?
It is odd to watch the moratorium idea play out. Since it's a recommendation from Gates, the Arsenal of Reformy Stuff, I don't anticipate any reformsters standing up to say, "Don't listen to them!" if for no other reason than it's hard to transition from that to "Could we have our big fat check now, sir?"
But that doesn't mean reformsters can't fumble the idea. The Cuomo "compromise" in New York says essentially that we'll hold off on beating teachers over the heads with the testing, but we will go full speed ahead on beating up students with them. There's no way to make philosophically consistent sense out of that decision. Either the tests are a good idea, a good idea that's not ready for prime time yet, or a bad idea; in none of those cases does the Cuomo testing pause make sense. And it makes least sense if you're foundational motivation is "Let's do what's best for the kids."
The moratorium smells like a practical decision, the latest version of the Bad Tests Are Ruining Public Support for Our Beautiful Beautiful Common Core Standards argument that we've been hearing for a while, and the tension around it underlines one of the fault lines that have been present among the reformsters since day one-- there are reformsters who want to do national standards and testing "right," but they have allied themselves with corporate powers who got into this to have a shot at that sweet sweet pile of education tax money, and they have more inclination to wait than my dog has to sit and stare longingly at his bowl of food.
It's one of the interesting questions the moratorium raises. If Gates says, "Let's wait on testing," will Pearson say, "Sure, we can put off that revenue stream for a few years."
But Thompson correctly identifies the danger of the moratorium.
Gates blames others for not getting test-based accountability right.
Presumably, a two-year moratorium would give top-down reformers the
opportunity to hold management accountable for improperly holding
students and teachers accountable. Apparently, the Foundation would use
the moratorium to tinker with precisely the amount of coercion - not too
harsh but not too easy - that should be imposed on the systems that
make teachers and principals toe the line.
In other words, the moratorium is not about "Hey, this whole high stakes testy thing might be a mistake that messes up our noble goal of high standards." It's more likely about, "Hey, we messed up the implementation of these high stakes tests. Let's get our PR and politics lined up and relaunch more effectively in a year or two."
The reformsters have put down their club, but that's probably because they've gone to pick up a gun.
Thompson is also correct in suggesting that we can use the interregnum to make our case against high stakes testing to the general public, the politicians, the people who have only been paying half attention. We have a chance to lay out our ideas, make our point. A moratorium gives the reformsters a chance to repurpose the energy and resources they are now using to defend the testing; likewise, it gives the resistance the chance to repurpose the energy and resources we are using to oppose the testing. As Thompson said on twitter, better for "jaw-jaw than war-war."
So, no, I don't think the moratorium presents a chance for a truce. I think it is at best a lull, and more likely represents a shift of the battle to other fronts.
[EDIT- John Thompson sent along a very thoughtful response to this piece which I have put up as a guest post here.]