This community-wide forum will allow all stakeholder groups in public education to closely examine the role that high stakes standardized tests should have in the state’s public schools. With fewer than 100 tickets left in the 2800 seat Main Hall, this event will likely be one of the largest of its kind anywhere in the country that is focused on this particular aspect of the larger school reform movement that is mandated by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative.
I will be one of the panelists, focusing on the irrational, anti-public character of testing policy in New York State as it relates to the evaluation of educators.
Themes to Consider
As everyone gears up for this important event, I want to emphasize a few key themes to remain focused on as this discussion develops, as well as point out diversions to avoid that are sure to be introduced along the way.
The issue of decision making is the central issue that has emerged from the debate over education policy in New York State and across the country. Irrespective of one’s view about the merits of standardized tests, their use for high stakes decision-making, or the value of the new Common Core standards, the public and its representative bodies are increasingly blocked from having a say.
In fact, my analysis suggests that current testing policy is one means by which so-called reformers have usurped power over education to serve their own narrow interests against the general interests of the society. And, to fool the gullible, they use high ideals to justify their actions.
This usurpation of power can be seen in the secret tests, the secret cut score committees, the secret databases that warehouse untold amounts of information about students, their families as well as educators, not to mention the increasing role private for-profit companies play in not only assessing students and educators, but in imposing a corporate curriculum above locally elected school boards and even state and federal legislatures. This corporate vision treats students as products to be sold at market like cattle or TVs.
When the public organize to oppose harmful and arbitrary assessment, it must understand that to be politically effective, the arbitrary political power that developed and imposed such assessment should be targeted. The fact is, the tests don’t go around attacking schools on their own. The fact is, every test reflects a form of power. Whether that power represents the people as a whole, or a narrow interest, is what needs to be examined.
And, it’s not simply a matter of a few bad individuals at the top. It’s the political arrangement that allows for the usurpation of power against the public interest that is at issue.
A key second theme is this: to oppose arbitrary forms of assessment is not a stand against assessment in the abstract. Those who wish to paint critics of the present policies as “opposed to accountability” or “opposed to testing” are hoping to divert the gullible. Don’t be caught off guard by that diversion. Thus, the question is not whether to assess, or whether we should have standards, anymore than the question is whether or not we should have “an economy” or “a political system”. We require each. The question is who sets the standards? Who determines the aim of education? Who benefits from present arrangements? The question is, again, who decides?
A final note: when discussing the harmful affects of current assessment policy, the issue of poverty must be discussed. It is the 600 pound gorilla in the room so-called reformers wish us not to see, let alone discuss. Either agents of those now usurping power will try to divide city residents against their suburban counterparts, and/or forum participants will be labeled as “not believing poor children can be successful.”
This is the most cynical of tactics and should be militantly opposed. None of these so-called reformers concretely work to help poor children, or minority children, or children who speak a language other than English. They do little for children with special needs. If they did, we would see reformers address head on the issues of poverty, of racism, of segregation, of environmental decay, etc. Instead they focus on the symptoms of the problems caused by the system they militantly defend. When is the last time those trumpeting high standards looked into the key issue of lead poisoning in New York State? There’s money for tests, and Pearson, but what about for environmental health issues?
These usurpers callously blame those who have no role it setting healthcare policy, economic policy, zoning laws, employment law, tax law, individuals who do not set funding levels for social programs, including schools, individuals who have no role in any of the other myriad of institutional means for ensuring the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. Yet the teacher making $55,000 a year is offered as the problem? With the gazillionaire Bill Gates and his version of “career and college ready” the solution? I don’t think so.
When there is a project usurpers favor, the money is all of a sudden available, like for the inBloom database that parents are blocked from having a say over. When it comes to the needs and demands of the poor and working class, they are told they need to simply reach for a high standard.
Indeed they do, a higher standard of democracy.
The simple fact is no amount of beating poor kids over the head with even good exams is going to eliminate let alone reduce the scourge of poverty. We should confront this disinformation that “poverty is not an excuse for failure” head on, and not be afraid of the public relations attack that will continue from the “reform” think tanks and their media specicalists.