The test question that’s haunted Gov. Jerry Brown for 50 years

Gov. Jerry Brown (Rich Pedroncelli/AP) California Gov. Jerry Brown (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

California Gov. Jerry Brown has been out front for some time as a strong critic of the standardized-testing obsession that has come to dominate the school reform movement. He has even refused to give in to threats by Education Secretary Arne Duncan to withhold some federal Title 1 funds — intended to help poor children receive an education — if Brown went ahead with plans to suspend most of the state’s standardized-testing program in 2014. The governor’s decision made infinite sense: The tests the state currently uses no longer reflect the new Common Core-aligned curriculum, so he would rather not force kids to take an utterly pointless exam.

Now he is speaking up against standards imposed on schools by state and federal governments. In a recent discussion with Atlantic magazine’s James Bennett at a gathering of technology business leaders in Los Angeles, he said he opposes national education standards because “that’s just a form of national control.”

The Los Angeles Times, reporting on the conversation, said Brown made clear that he thinks education policymakers at the state and federal levels have lost their way, obsessing about gathering data on students that have little meaning in terms of student achievement. Using such data, Brown said, “misses the point — that learning is very individual, very personal.”

It comes back to the teacher and the principal. The leader of the school is by far the most important factor.

Brown also told a story about a test he took in high school in which he had to write his impressions of a green leaf. He attended St. Ignatius College Preparatory, a private Jesuit school in San Francisco. He said:

Still, as I walk by trees, I keep saying, “How’s my impression coming? Can I feel anything? Am I dead inside?” So, this was a very powerful question that has haunted me for 50 years. … You can’t put that on a standardized test. There are important educational encounters that can’t be captured by tests.

Good to know someone in a position of political leadership gets it.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · December 27, 2013