As pushback around the country grows against the standardized testing agenda of school reformers, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of Great City Schools recently put out a statement saying that it was time to rethink the amount of standardized testing kids are forced to take in public schools. Then Education Secretary Arne Duncan and even the White House issued statements in support. In this post award-winning Principal Carol Burris of South Side High School in New York looks at the statements and what she believes they really show.
Burris was once a supporter of the Common Core but came to be a critic after her state began to implement the initiative. (You can read some of her work on the botched implementation in New York here, here, here and here.) She was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010, tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State.
By Carol Burris
Education Secretary Arne Duncan must believe that those “suburban moms” he talked about back in 2013 are an awfully gullible bunch. In response to continued pushback on testing, Duncan and the Council of Chief State School Officers are now saying that they, by golly, are against excessive standardized testing, too.
Duncan recently wrote an op-ed published in The Washington Post in which he expressed support for a statement issued by the Council of Chief State School Officers along with the Council of Great City Schools saying that it was time to rethink standardized testing.
Readers may recall how Duncan characterized pushback on the Common Core as coming from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were” when he addressed the State Chiefs last year. His disdainful dismissal of the genuine concern of parents fueled the already growing anti-testing movement.
The number of parents opting kids out of yearly state tests ballooned in the 2013-14 school year, with numbers reaching about 60,000 in New York State alone. Parents in Massachusetts are opting their students out of PARCC tests, despite officials telling them they cannot. Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett recently said that she does not want Chicago kids taking the 9 to 11 hour Common Core PARCC tests, which she characterized as “unproven.”
One Florida school district went so far as to “opt out” their entire district, although the vote was retracted after one board member changed her vote. Even former President Clinton entered the dialogue when he said that annual testing, as required by federal law, should be dramatically reduced. “I think doing one [test] in elementary school, one in the end of middle school and one before the end of high school is quite enough if you do it right,” he said.
So now Mr. Duncan and the Chief State School Officers need to convince parents that they are listening, too. Their strategy is to say that “we are only for good tests, not the bad tests, and we will make all the bad tests go away.” It is disturbing that they believe that parents would not see through the ruse.
Parents are not protesting weekly spelling quizzes. The tests they do not like are the very tests that Duncan and the Chiefs want to save. In his recent op-ed, Duncan refers to “high-quality tests” as ones for which, “the Education Department has provided $360 million dollars.” The money went to two multi-state consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, designing new tests to align to the Common Core State Standards. All the while, both Duncan and the Chiefs were careful not to mention the Common Core in their statements. The Common Core is now their Voldermort–“he who cannot be named.” Instead they declare themselves the warriors of the bubble test, as though answering multiple-choice questions with a mouse is a game changer.
Perhaps the most bizarre declaration in favor of annual testing came from Louisiana’s Chief John White who said that it is “an absolutely essential element of assuring the civil rights of children in America.” Meanwhile, 40 of the 70 districts in White’s state are still under desegregation orders, having not achieved unitary status after more than 40 years. When the U.S. Justice Department sued Louisiana to block 2014-15 vouchers for students in schools under federal desegregation orders, John White characterized the order as “a little ridiculous.”. The heck with Brown v Board of Education—as long as kids have the civil right to be tested each year, social justice is served.
So why is the preservation of No Child Left Behind testing so important to Arne Duncan and the reformer Chiefs? Tests are the rock on which all of their reforms are built—tests to evaluate school quality, tests to evaluate teachers, and of course the two national tests to measure the implementation of the Common Core.
Mindy Kornhaber is a Penn State professor and expert on standards reform. In a recent article on the science (and lack thereof) of the Common Core, she wrote:
The Common Core standards are in fact supposed to be tested with the Common Core tests that are being produced by the testing consortia… A perceived threat to the Common Core reform (and I have this from a Common Core insider) is the willingness of a number of states to abandon those testing consortia tests.
She is right. The Common Core and the testing consortia were purposefully created at the same time.
In his defense of annual testing, reformer Andy Smarick gives further insight into the thinking of Duncan and the Chiefs. Smarick argues that tests are needed to make sure that “every student matters,” that ineffective teachers are not hidden, and that schools are forced to track students by their scores so they cannot feign ignorance if a student falls behind. It is a dark and suspicious world where public schools cannot be trusted to do the right thing by the children and the communities they serve.
And that really sums up the thinking of Duncan and his cheerleading Chiefs. Their distrust of public schools and the democratic control of schooling run deep. It colors every solution that they propose. They have no idea how to effect school improvement other than by making tests harder and making sticks bigger. When punishing the school did not work, it morphed into punish the teacher through evaluations based on test scores. The reality that no country has ever improved student learning using test and punish strategies is lost on those who refuse to address the greater social issues that we who do the work confront every day.
When one argues that testing 8-year-olds for nine hours is the way to give a child his civil rights, then moral authority is surely gone. The public knows it. Moms, of all colors and neighborhoods, are a heck of a lot smarter than Mr. Duncan and his reform supporters believe.