Thursday, January 1, 2015

USED Calls Parents and Teachers Dopes, Again

At Politico, Caitlin Emma took a pretty thorough look at the state of high stakes testing in this country, with a particular eye toward the Republicans who are making noises about rolling the testing juggernaut back a step or two (place your bets now on what kind of warm, friendly holiday greeting those guys have gotten from Pearson and friends in the last week).

Emma notes that the testing pushback has created some unusual allies from the left and right, and she notes that AFT and NEA have both come down on testing (she does not note the significance of this being pretty much the only aspect of reformsterism that the two unions have actually spoken up against). Emma also notes some of the staggering numbers of school hours spent on testing that are getting out to the public.

While they won’t back down on annual tests, Duncan and Obama recently responded to pressure to do something. They’re supporting a new effort to reduce testing led by state education chiefs and large urban-district leaders. The Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools will soon release findings that show where tests can be eliminated or improved. And they’ll announce a task force to develop recommendations for states and districts looking to cut back.

Yeah, we talked about that back when it first happened, and I feel safe predicting that the substantive part of that new effort-- the generating of optic-improving PR-- is already done, and we can expect to see nothing else of significance coming out of it.

Emma also gives a decent summary of the opt-out responses that have sprung up. Really, the whole article is worth your attention-- I just want to highlight one particular aspect.

”We’re responsible for student learning every single day and every single year,” an Education Department official said. “I want us to never back away from the fact that it’s our responsibility … Parents have a right to know how their students are progressing. Students have a right to know how they measure up.”

We've heard this from the feds before. It's one more translation of a driving idea for this administration that we could express more directly thus:

Parents are dopes and schools are filled with teachers and leaders who are some mix of liars and incompetents. Only with national high stakes testing will anybody know how students are doing.

The feds envision a world where a family gathers at home, befuddled. "So," asks Mom. "Are you learning how to read?" Junior shrugs and replies, "I don't know. I think so. Maybe. Maybe not." But Dad reassures them. "Don't worry. In a few months we'll get the test results from the state and then we'll know how you're doing."

Meanwhile, teachers huddle in staff rooms. "Do you have any idea whether your kids are learning anything or not," asks Mr. McNumbgnutts. His colleagues shrug. "Guess we'll just have to wait to get the test results back."

This, say the feds, is why testing must happen annually.

“If you’re waiting every three years to measure student learning, then what happens when a student has been falling behind?” the [unnamed Education Department] official said. “Do you wait until that third year to figure out what their interventions ought to be?”

The folks at the department of Education want testing because everybody else are dopes. Teachers, parents, students themselves-- nobody has a clue how students are doing in school without the wise intervention of Our Friends at Pearson (who are more than ready to step in -- they would like to tell us what the child should eat for breakfast and what kind of human being she is). 

"Do you wait until that third year to figure out what their intervention ought to be?" No, Sherlock. Most of us don't wait until the end of the week. In fact, a recent study of actual live human teachers tells us just how much use they get out of this nifty test data-- pretty much none. These quotes tell us, once again, just what stunningly low regard the guys in DC hold the (mostly female) teachers in classrooms.

This, perhaps more than anything the feds have done since the President arrived in DC, has been the biggest federal contribution to the destructive wave of reformsterism that has hit public education-- they have thrown full federal weight behind the idea that public education is an unmitigated failure and that nobody who's actually involved in it has a clue about anything at all.

Remember-- the feds didn't just agree to be facilitators for the reform plans of CCSSO, Achieve, Coleman, Pearson, et al. They also didn't say anything at all along the lines of, "You know, there are millions of trained, experienced, education professionals in the field. Maybe we should call a couple." It's understandable from the corporate reformsters-- teachers would only gum up their works, and they have no obligation to represent anybody but their own stockholders. But our political leaders simply cast a quick vote of no confidence in public education and let the bulldozers have at it. And they are still at it, buttressing each reformy idea with an argument that boils down to, "We have to do something because teachers and parents are dopes."

I sure hope we can remember this all the way into 2016. And in the interim, maybe Democrats should come up with a better campaign platform than the cartoonish, "We're going to tell you how it should go because you don't have a clue."


  1. "If you’re waiting every three years to measure student learning, then what happens when a student has been falling behind?"

    Actually, maybe they have a point. I think every two, four or six years is far too long to wait to decide how politicians are doing. Let's have annual high-stakes exams (with, of course, a pre-test, regular diagnostic and benchmark tests and other tests just for the hell of it) for them. Any who don't pass get one year to show improvement before they get "turned around". And we the people get to determine what the cut scores are.

  2. Thanks,Peter. Pretty decent Politico article.