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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Testing Our Patience

Back when the latest group of saviors embarked on their mission to rescue education from itself, one of the things we were told was that injecting more and higher stakes tests into the system (anyone remember tests to determine high school graduation, regardless of the student's final GPA?) would produce more rigor and lead us all to that academic nirvana of Total Student Proficiency by 2014. Parents, who were rightly concerned about the quality of education their children received, were sold on the idea that "educational experts" had found the key and it was just a matter of getting around those pesky teacher's unions, and the public school bureaucracies.

Turns out those parents--as my old daddy used to say--bought a pig in a poke. Now here we are knocking on the door of 2014 and we are no closer to 100% proficiency than we were when these educational Harold Hills rolled into town to sell us the academic equivalent of band instruments and uniforms. In fact, if you put any stock in international comparisons, according the the latest PISA results, we've gone backwards.
Teens from Asian nations dominated a global exam given to 15-year-olds, while U.S. students showed little improvement and failed to reach the top 20 in math, science or reading, according to test results released Tuesday. American students scored below the international average in math and about average in science and reading.
Personally,  I think a lot of these international comparisons are nothing more than educational beauty contests, but even if you accept that view, the latest makeover given to American schools has not only knocked us out of the running for the crown, we don't even have a shot at Miss Congeniality. No less a testing poobah than Arne Duncan, who never met a test he didn't like, was forced to admit the bloom was off the rose.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the results a "picture of educational stagnation."
Now remember, Duncan is the guy who recently said, when confronted by criticism of his testing plans by a group of white suburban moms, that the real problem was the tests were showing the kids weren't as smart as their moms thought they were. In other words, the problem isn't dumb tests, it's dumb kids. So with that attitude in mind, you'd think he could come up with a more positive spin on the results of his apparent efforts to test kids into being smart than "stagnation." And also remember, we're less that a year away from when this latest educational reform was to carry us across the threshold to blissful proficiency.

But never one to let the results get in the way of ideology, Mr. Duncan falls back on the tried and true method of ignoring the issue by stating the obvious as if it were an epiphany that suddenly appeared before him:
"We must invest in early education, raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators," Duncan said.
 One might ask Mr. Duncan, as the titular top educational expert in the country, why it took so long for him to discover this truth, and as a followup, now that he has discovered it what he intends to do considering Plan A (test the dumb out of those less than brilliant, overly coddled little hellions) has apparently gone down in flames.

Well, we're sure the answer will have something to do with tweaking because the alternative would be for the Secretary, as emperor of education, to realize he's been running around the country naked for the last four years.

And it may not matter anyway because if you look around the landscape, events are moving in a way that indicates the test it 'till in bleeds crowd may be on the road to irrelevancy. To wit:

In Florida

In New York

In New Jersey

In Massachusetts 

In New Mexico

In Virginia

If I may borrow my analogy from the civil rights movement (because I believe education is a civil right) these are the people who are refusing to get to the back of the bus, and out of their actions a movement is being born. I think Howard Zinn said it best:
The good things that have been done, the reforms that have been made, the wars that have been stopped, the women's rights that have been won, the racism that has been partly extirpated in society, all of that was not done by government edict, was not done by the three branches of government. It was not done by that structure which we learn about in junior high school, which they say is democracy. It was all done by citizens' movements. And keep in mind that all great movements in the past have risen from small movements, from tiny clusters of people who came together here and there. When a movement is strong enough it doesn't matter who is in the White House; what really matters is what people do, and what people say, and what people demand.
I am excited and encouraged by what's happening in the country now, but at the same time I am saddened and shamed because as we move to reclaim education from the  testers and the profit mongers we leave behind an entire generation of children for whom school was a sweatshop of irrelevancy and needless suffering.

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