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Thompson: What Explains the Remaining Support For NCLB Testing?

The Washington Post's Lyndsey Layton, in Even As Congress Moves to Strip His Power, Arne Duncan Holds His Ground, begins her portrait of the last days of Arne Duncan with an anecdote documenting the sincerity with which he approached his job as US Secretary of Education. She also writes, "In a town where many like to talk, Duncan is regarded as a good listener. 'Arne is a great sounding board for the president,' said Valerie Jarrett, the president’s close friend and adviser."

It's too bad that Duncan listened so well to the Billionaires' Boys Club and ignored the professional judgments of teachers and education researchers. Now, even the Third Way, which seeks education policies consistent with corporate reform has to admit, “The question is not whether we’re going to put handcuffs on Arne Duncan,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky of Third Way, a centrist think tank. “The question is how many handcuffs.”

One top education expert, Jack Jennings, concludes in regard to Duncan's policies, “The record will show these policies brought about minimum improvement, ... They also did considerable harm.”

And that is the essence of Duncan's competition-driven reform and its test, sort, and punish approach to education. Some students may benefit but only at the cost of inflicting harm on other children. 

Its ironic that the market-driven movement - that still pretends it is a civil rights movement - is going out with such an ignominious whimper. Output-driven reform not only damaged poor children of color by treating them as test scores, it has undermined liberals and Democrats who seek a larger agenda of equity and justice. So, a crucial short term battle is the civil war between progressives, with teachers determined to prevent Hillary Clinton (or anyone else) from repeating Arne Duncan's agenda.

This week's conflict is over the reauthorization of ESEA, and the effort to pull feuding Democrats together to support the Senate's effort to minimize the harm done by NCLB-type testing. The National Journal's Fawn Johnson, in Senate Democrats Scramble to Avoid a Split on Education Bill, reports that one reason why Democrats can't reach an agreement is that "civil-rights groups feel they have an ally in their opposition to the bill because the Obama administration also is questioning the bill."

Language matters and it is important that Johnson (aptly) characterizes the civil rights coalitions' position of ESEA renewal as a "virulent rejection" of the Senate bill. That raises the question of why an unwavering commitment to punitive, bubble-in testing is still thought - by some - to be a civil rights value. Why do these civil rights leaders believe they can promote justice by continuing to attack some of their most loyal, long term allies in the battles for equality and fairness?

It is the leaders of the civil rights groups who promoted NCLB who still support its high stakes testing. Another 38 civil rights groups have joined 175 organizations in opposing high stakes tests.

I wonder how many people have met black or brown parents who don't have a vested interest in the NCLB political agenda but who support its testing because they have seen evidence that it improved their children's schools. Where is the groundswell of parents demanding more punitive measures be imposed on their children and teachers?  

I sure don't see support for No Child Left Untested by rank-in-file civil rights supporters. I see black, brown, and white parents recoiling from the way that bubble-in malpractice has robbed their children of respectful and engaging instruction. I see persons of all races torn between our original support for the ultimate goals of the Duncan administration and our sadness regarding the disappointing and destructive outcomes of the Obama administration's policies. I sure haven't met black, brown and white persons committed to civil rights who still believe high stakes standardized testing can enhance equity.  

But, then again, in my tens of thousands of interactions with stakeholders, I have almost never met a person who wasn't quickly disillusioned by NCLB testing. The only people who still seem to support stakes attached to its testing are politicos who are personally invested in the law they promoted.

I don't question the sincerity of civil rights leaders any more than I question that of Arne Duncan or President Obama. But, the jury is in, and their assault on teachers and unions is not a viable path towards improved schools. I find it hard to believe that Duncan and his few remaining allies are just fighting for poor children of color. Their obsessive support for reward and punish seems to also be due to a desire to exact a pound of flesh from educators for opposing their punitive approach to school reform. - JT(@drjohnthompson)     




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Well, it's seems quite likely that money has had at least some influence here. The Leadership Conference took a $1.7 million grant from the Gates Foundation for the express purpose of "educating" their membership about the Gates education policy agenda. Many other groups who signed their press release, and their letter to Congress urging renewal of NCLB with the testing in place and the 1% cap on alternative assessments for students with disabilities, took tremendous sums of money as well. http://elfasd.blogspot.com/2015/06/what-is-influence-of-money-on-education.html

Mr. Thompson, I am a parent and a big fan of VAMs to ensure we hold our districts accountable for their instruction. I am not a "politico". I'll be happy to explain the models for you if you like. I'll also be happy to explain how principal observations align with VAMs except that principal evaluations almost never have the courage to actually rate ineffective teachers as ineffective.

Why don't we compromise. We publish VAMs of teachers. Then, my side can pick our kids' teachers based on VAMs. Since VAMs are useless in your eyes, your allies' kids can be taught by any ol' "outstanding" teacher with low VAM scores. Problem solved!

What say you?

Virginia SGP

"brian" or VirginiaSGP is the only parent I know of who is such a big fan of VAM. On my blog (gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com) I have shown that VAM scores in NYC jump around pretty randomly from year to year for any given teacher who teaches in the same school, same subject, same grades. The correlation coefficients are in the teens (really low). Gary Rubinstein has shown the same thing. NYC is the only big school system for which we have longitudinal raw data - but other studies of correlations between supposedly objective classroom observation scored and VAM scores show similarly low correlations. My former colleagues who were subject to VAM at the school I retired from reported the same thing.

Virginia has never read Edward Haertel's research on VAM,

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