Archives for category: Duncan, Arne

Historians and teacher John Thompson wonders whether Arne Duncan and other reformers will ever be held for the failed reforms of the past 14 years?

“To try to protect every patient, doctors order screening tests. Accountability systems exist to ensure the quality of those systems and their proper usage. It would make no sense to punish doctors and technicians for the results that their tests produce (although some healthcare reformers sound like they want to do so). Accountability systems also monitor the professionalism and practice of the healthcare providers who use them. Doctors, however, would not submit to the type of output-driven accountability regimes that are being imposed on teachers.”

When will reformers admit that test-and-punish policies have failed?

When will they be accountable?

One of Arne Duncan’s significant initiatives is the so-called “turnaround strategy,” which usually requires dramatic action, like closing the school, firing the principal, and firing all or most of the staff. This is the Shock Doctrine at work.

The strategy is disruptive and destroys careers, but Duncan continues to defend it.

The Obama administration’s favorite D.C. think tank–the Center for American Progress–reviewed the turnaround strategy and declared it a great success. CAP has regularly applauded all of Duncan’s initiatives. The president of CAP is John Podesta, who headed Obama’s transition team. He is presently chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Carmel Martin, previously an assistant secretary in the US DOE under Duncan is now executive vice-president for policy at CAP.

The National Education Policy Center, known for its reviews of think-tank reports, published a scathing analysis of CAP’s report.

“BOULDER, CO (May 11, 2015) — A recent report from the Center for American Progress claims to offer clear lessons about research-based, effective methods for turning around low-performing schools. A new review, however, concludes that these lessons are not supported by rigorous research.

Tina Trujillo of the University of California, Berkeley reviewed Dramatic Action, Dramatic Improvement: The Research on School Turnaround for the Think Twice think tank review project. The review is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Trujillo, an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, studies the political dimensions of urban district reform and trends in urban educational leadership. The report Trujillo reviewed was written by Tiffany D. Miller and Catherine Brown and published by the Center for American Progress.

Dramatic Action, Dramatic Improvement argues that the body of available research determines that bold actions are necessary for schools to improve measurably. The authors advocate for the School Improvement Grant (SIG) federal program to bring about the most effective methods for turning around low-performing schools.

The SIG program’s policies have a superficial appeal, given the unsatisfactory outcomes at these schools. But those policies, like the report, are based on unwarranted claims, are unsupported by rigorous research, and are in fact contradicted by the empirical evidence, Trujillo writes.

She points, for instance, to the claim that dramatic changes in staffing and management can spur fast and sustainable improvement. Such disruptions often lead to poor school performance, but this readily available research is not mentioned or addressed in the report.

In her review, Trujillo finds the authors’ rationale “narrow, incoherent, and misleading.” The report, she asserts, fails to incorporate lessons learned from plentiful research on school improvement, high-stakes accountability, and federally funded turnarounds.

“In the end,” Trujillo states, “schools, districts, and states that follow the report’s advice stand only to reproduce the unequal conditions that have led, in part, to their need for dramatic turnaround in the first place.”

Stephen Singer, teacher and BAT leader, here endorses the bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka NCLB), as written by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee.

He writes:

“No more federal intervention.

“No more reducing schools to a number.

“That’s the promise of the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA).

“Sure, it’s not perfect. But this Senate proposed rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) could do a lot of good – even if it includes some bad.

“Imagine it.

“States would be in control of their own public schools. The U.S. Department of Education and its appointed Secretary would lose much of their power to impose unfunded federal mandates.

“For example, the federal government could no longer force states to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores. It could no longer force states to adopt Common Core or Common Core look-a-like standards. It could no longer label high poverty schools “Failing” and then demand they be closed.

“That’s not nothing….

“We have a divided Congress. We have a President who never met a corporate school reform scheme he didn’t like.

“But we also have a citizenry who is fed up with all the bull….. People are demanding change.

“We have a real opportunity. If we can seal the deal, a generation of children will be the better for it. If not, the current calamitous law will stay in place for at least 7 more years.

“That’s just unacceptable.

“The biggest flaw in this proposed act is that it keeps annual testing in place. If approved in its current form, public schools would still have to give standardized tests to children in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

“If you’re like me, you just threw up in your mouth a little bit.

“However, supporting ECAA doesn’t have to mean supporting testing. There is an amendment proposed by Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) that would replace annual testing with assessments only once at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

“Yes. It’s not enough. We really should have zero standardized tests in our schools. If we have to accept Grade Span Testing – as Tester’s proposal is called – it should be done by a random sample. Don’t test all kids. Just test some small group and extrapolate their scores to the whole.

“But Tester’s amendment is not nothing.

“Even if it weren’t approved – even if all schools are mandated to continue annual testing as is – the ECAA requires no minimum length for those tests.
How many questions do we need to have on our exams? How many sections? Right now, most states have three sections in both Reading and Math of around 30-40 questions each.

“If I’m reading this correctly, it’s conceivable that states that disagree with standardized testing could give assessments of only one section with only one question.

“Talk about opting out!

“That’s not nothing.

“Moreover, the proposed law does not require states to continue evaluating teachers based on student test scores. States are free to stop using the same junk science evaluations currently championed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan or not. It’s totally up to the states.

“That’s not nothing.”

Singer contrasts the Senate bill to the House bill, which turns federal aid into vouchers (“portability”) and finds the Senate bill superior.

It is amazing that Arne Duncan’s lasting legacy will be the destruction of support for the federal role in education among liberals and conservatives alike.

Arne Duncan once made an insulting comment about “white suburban moms” who got angry about Common Core tests because they were disappointed to learn that their child was not as brilliant as they believed.

This white suburban mom has written a response to Arne.

Arne Duncan’s response to the many thousands of parents who are now opting out of state testing is typical of his past remarks about “white suburban moms” who are disappointed to learn that their children are not so brilliant after all, or teachers and parents who have been “lying” to their children by praising their mediocre school performance. He basically says they should get over it and do what the state and federal government tells them to do and stop coddling their children. He doesn’t coddle his children, why should they?

 

In an interview, he said that the federal government might have to step in if states have too many opt outs. Duncan has been touting the virtues of the Common Core and of the two tests that he funded—PARCC and SBAC–and he can’t understand why parents don’t want their children to take them.

 

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday that the federal government is obligated to intervene if states fail to address the rising number of students who are boycotting mandated annual exams.
Duncan’s comments come as an “opt out” advocacy group in New York reports that more than 184,000 students statewide out of about 1.1 million eligible test takers refused to take last week’s English exams. In New York City, nearly 3,100 students out of about 420,000 test takers opted out, according to the group.

 

The number of opt outs in New York more than tripled over last year.

 

Those estimates suggesting that more than 15 percent of students refused to take the tests have raised questions about the consequences for districts. Federal law requires all students in grades three to eight to take annual tests, and officials have said districts could face sanctions if fewer than 95 percent of students participate. On Tuesday, when asked whether states with many test boycotters would face consequences, Duncan said he expected states to make sure districts get enough students take the tests.
“We think most states will do that,” Duncan said during a discussion at the Education Writers Association conference in Chicago. “If states don’t do that, then we have an obligation to step in.”
Duncan also said that students in some states are tested too much, and acknowledged that the exams are challenging for many students. But he argued that annual standardized exams are essential for tracking student progress and monitoring the score gap between different student groups.
He also said the tests are “just not a traumatic event” for his children, who attend public school in Virginia.
“It’s just part of most kids’ education growing up,” he said. “Sometimes the adults make a big deal and that creates some trauma for the kids.”

 

Mercedes Schneider has diligently slogged through all 601 pages of the Alexander-Murray bill. I am late posting this because I was traveling, so it lacks the acknowledgement that the Senate committee approved it unanimously with some amendments.

 

This is her final installment. It includes links to her previous five reports on the bill.

 

There is much to be learned here, but the central point of this legislation is to prevent the Secretary of Education from telling states and districts how to run their schools. Of course, this has nothing to do with civil rights enforcement. It is a reflection of how both parties feel about Arne Duncan’s intrusive mandates that dictated how states and districts are supposed to turnaround low-performing schools, as well as his advocacy for Common Core and for the two assessments he funded. If this bill passes in its current form (it must still be approved by the full Senate and House), Duncan will no longer have the power to tell states and districts what to do and how to do it.

 

This is vintage Lamar Alexander. He has always said he didn’t want a “national school board.” When he was Secretary of Education, he had a keen sense of federalism and didn’t want the federal government telling everyone how to run their schools, not even himself.

Chris Hayes interviewed Arne Duncan and Peter Greene reports on what happened.

You can imagine Arne artfully dodging and weaving when Chris asked straightforward questions. Arne insists that Common Core is confused with the unpopular tests (that Arne funded). Arne suggests that politicians are upset by Common Core but Real Parents welcome it.

“Hayes: I want to talk about Common Core for a second. (And he smiles a little smile, like “let’s do this silly thing, I’m going to ask a question, you’re going to sling baloney, it’ll be fun”). Are you surprised by how controversial Common Core (which he characterizes as “kind of an obscure issue in certain ways”) has become?

“Duncan: “It’s actually very simple. The goal’s to have high standards.” So, kids, the whole national consistency issue, the whole being able to compare kids in Idaho and Maine, the whole keeping everyone on the same page so mobile students will never get lost– that’s no longer the point.

“Duncan goes on to display how much he doesn’t understand about how this works. He talks about how, under NCLB, too many states dummied down standards. He says this was “to make politicians look good.” I’d be more inclined to say “to avoid punitive consequences for their schools.” If Arne had reached my conclusion (and really, given that he was in charge of a large school district at the time, it’s kind of amazing that he didn’t reach my conclusion) then perhaps he wouldn’t have figured that the solution was to make the consequences of high stakes testing even more punitive than before.

“Insert story here of how schools lied to students about how ready they were for college. So brave governors decided to stop lying to children. “Let’s have true college and career ready standards for every single child.” As always I wonder why reaching that conclusion leads to a next step where one says, “Let’s hire a couple of guys who have no real education experience, either pedagogical or developmental, and have them whip something up.”

As Greene shows, this is vintage Arne. Adroitly changing the subject, mouthing high-minded platitudes, never accepting that parents have valid reasons to be upset by the administration’s unvarnished support for high-stakes testing, closing schools, and inviting entrepreneurs to cash in on the educationmarket. NCLB went wrong, he admits, but he never acknowledges that Race to the Top was no different philosophically from NCLB and far worse in actuality when judged by the whipping it has given to schools and educators.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Senator Patti Murray (D-Wa.) announced agreement on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently called No Child Left Behind).

The new legislation is called “The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.” This nomenclature continues the custom of naming the federal aid law with its aspirational goal.

The act maintains annual testing but leaves to states the authority to decide how to use the scores. AYP is gone. The act prohibits the federal government from dictating to states and districts how to “reform” or “turnaround” or “fix” low-performing schools. It allows, but does not require, states to create teacher evaluation systems. “The federal government may not mandate or incentivize states to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, including Common Core. States will be free to decide what academic standards they will maintain in their states.”

Secretary Duncan will not be pleased. The act specifically prohibits him from meddling in the states’ choice of standards and tests. He also can’t rewrite the law with his own waivers, because the states are given wide latitude, not subject to his control. Basically, the bipartisan bill repudiates almost all of his initiatives; notably, it does not authorize Race to the Top.

If states choose to enact punitive accountability programs, they can, but the federal government won’t force them to.

What do I think? I would have been thrilled to see annual testing banished, but President Obama made clear he would veto any bill that did not include annual testing. The cascading sanctions of NCLB and Race to the Top are gone. There is no mention of portability of funds to nonpublic schools.

One may quibble with details, but the bottom line is that this bill defangs the U.S. Department of Education; it no longer will exert control over every school with mandates. This bill strips the status quo of federal power to ruin schools and the lives of children and educators.

Now the battle shifts to state legislatures, where parents can make their voices heard. This is a far better bill than I had hoped or feared.

***************************************

Alexander, Murray Announce Bipartisan Agreement on Fixing “No Child Left Behind”

Schedule Committee Action for 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 14

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 7 – Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today announced a bipartisan agreement on fixing “No Child Left Behind.” They scheduled committee action on their agreement and any amendments to begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 14.

Alexander said: “Senator Murray and I have worked together to produce bipartisan legislation to fix ‘No Child Left Behind.’ Basically, our agreement continues important measurements of the academic progress of students but restores to states, local school districts, teachers, and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement. This should produce fewer and more appropriate tests. It is the most effective way to advance higher standards and better teaching in our 100,000 public schools. We have found remarkable consensus about the urgent need to fix this broken law, and also on how to fix it. We look forward to a thorough discussion and debate in the Senate education committee next week.”

Murray said:“This bipartisan compromise is an important step toward fixing the broken No Child Left Behind law. While there is still work to be done, this agreement is a strong step in the right direction that helps students, educators, and schools, gives states and districts more flexibility while maintaining strong federal guardrails, and helps make sure all students get the opportunity to learn, no matter where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make. I was proud to be a voice for Washington state students and priorities as we negotiated this agreement, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to build on this bipartisan compromise and move legislation through the Senate, the House, and get it signed into law.”

The senators’ legislative agreement would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the chief law governing the federal role in K-12 education. The most recent reauthorization of ESEA was the “No Child Left Behind Act,” which was enacted in 2001 and expired in 2007. Since then, nearly all states have been forced to ask the U.S. Department of Education for waivers from some of the law’s most unworkable requirements.

The senators’ bill would fix the problems with “No Child Left Behind,” while keeping successful provisions, such as the reporting requirement of disaggregated data on student achievement. The bill would end states’ need for waivers from the law.

What the Every Child Achieves Act does:

· Strengthens state and local control: The bill recognizes that states, working with school districts, teachers, and others, have the responsibility for creating accountability systems to ensure all students are learning and prepared for success. These accountability systems will be state-designed but must meet minimum federal parameters, including ensuring all students and subgroups of students are included in the accountability system, disaggregating student achievement data, and establishing challenging academic standards for all students. The federal government is prohibited from determining or approving state standards.

· Maintains important information for parents, teachers, and communities: The bill maintains the federally required two tests in reading and math per child per year in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, as well as science tests given three times between grades 3 and 12. These important measures of student achievement ensure that parents know how their children are performing and help teachers support students who are struggling to meet state standards. A pilot program will allow states additional flexibility to experiment with innovative assessment systems within states. The bill also maintains annual reporting of disaggregated data of groups of children, which provides valuable information about whether all students are achieving, including low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English learners.

· Ends federal test-based accountability: The bill ends the federal test-based accountability system of No Child Left Behind, restoring to states the responsibility for determining how to use federally required tests for accountability purposes. States must include these tests in their accountability systems, but will be able to determine the weight of those tests in their systems. States will also be required to include graduation rates, a measure of postsecondary and workforce readiness, English proficiency for English learners. States will also be permitted to include other measures of student and school performance in their accountability systems in order to provide teachers, parents, and other stakeholders with a more accurate determination of school performance.

· Maintains important protections for federal taxpayer dollars: The bill maintains important fiscal protections of federal dollars, including maintenance of effort requirements, which help ensure that federal dollars supplement state and local education dollars, with additional flexibility for school districts in meeting those requirements.

· Helps states fix the lowest-performing schools: The bill includes federal grants to states and school districts to help improve low performing schools that are identified by the state accountability systems. School districts will be responsible for designing evidence-based interventions for low performing schools, with technical assistance from the states, and the federal government is prohibited from mandating, prescribing, or defining the specific steps school districts and states must take to improve those schools.

· Helps states support teachers: The bill provides resources to states and school districts to implement activities to support teachers, principals, and other educators, including allowable uses of funds for high quality induction programs for new teachers, ongoing rigorous professional development opportunities for teachers, and programs to recruit new educators to the profession. The bill allows, but does not require, states to develop and implement teacher evaluation systems.

· Reaffirms the states’ role in determining education standards: The bill affirms that states decide what academic standards they will adopt, without interference from Washington, D.C. The federal government may not mandate or incentivize states to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, including Common Core. States will be free to decide what academic standards they will maintain in their states.

For more details on the bill:

Click here for the legislation.

Click here for a summary of the bill.

# # #

G.F. Brandenburg asks what the differences were between the cheating scandal in Atlanta under Beverly Hall and the cheating scandal in D.C. under Michelle Rhee.

He can’t find any other than the powerful protection extended to Rhee by the Obama administration. She was the poster child for Race to the Top. They couldn’t let her fail. Arne Duncan even campaigned with her on behalf of Mayor Fenty, a most unusual act for a member of the Cabinet. Fenty lost, and Rhee left D.C. to form StudentsFirst and raise campaign funds for mostly rightwing Republicans who were pro-voucher, pro-charter, and anti-union.

He writes:

“But why is it that only in Atlanta were teachers and administrators indicted and convicted, but nowhere else?

“What difference was there in their actual behavior?

“To me, the answer is simple: in DC, officials at every level, from the Mayor’s office up to the President of the US and the Secretary of Education, were determined to make sure that Michelle Rhee’s lying and suborning of perjury and lies would never be revealed, no matter what.”

 

International test scores have been used by reformers like Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, Joel Klein, and Michelle Rhee as a fear tactic. During the 2016 presidential campaign, you will surely hear much wailing and gnashing of the teeth about how our scores on international tests are undermining our global competitiveness and economic growth.

 

Horsefeathers!

 

Here is a post that I wrote in 2013; I updated it. It explains why those international test scores don’t matter, except to tell us that if we really wanted to raise them, we would reduce poverty. Let me say that again: if we reduced poverty, we would have higher scores on international tests.

 

“The news reports say that the test scores of American students on the latest PISA test are “stagnant,” “lagging,” “flat,” etc.

 

The U.S. Department of Education would have us believe–yet again–that we are in an unprecedented crisis and that we must double down on the test-and-punish strategies of the past dozen years.

 

The myth persists that once our nation led the world on international tests, but we have fallen from that exalted position in recent years.

 

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

 

Here is the background history that you need to know to interpret the PISA score release, as well as Secretary Duncan’s calculated effort to whip up national hysteria about our standing in the international league tables.

 

The U.S. has NEVER been first in the world, nor even near the top, on international tests.

 

Over the past half century, our students have typically scored at or near the median, or even in the bottom quartile. And yet during this same period, we grew to be one of the most powerful economies in the world. How could that be?

 

International testing began in the mid-1960s with a test of mathematics. The First International Mathematics Study tested 13-year-olds and high-school seniors in 12 nations. American 13-year-olds scored significantly lower than students in nine other countries and ahead of students in only one. On a test given only to students currently enrolled in a math class, the U.S. students scored last, behind those in the 11 other nations. On a test given to seniors not currently enrolled in a math class, the U.S. students again scored last.

 

The First International Science Study was given in the late 1960s and early 1970s to 10-year-olds, 14-year-olds, and seniors. The 10-year-olds did well, scoring behind only the Japanese; the 14-year-olds were about average. Among students in the senior year of high school, Americans scored last of eleven school systems.

 

In the Second International Mathematics Study (1981-82), students in 15 systems were tested. The students were 13-year-olds and seniors. The younger group of U.S. students placed at or near the median on most tests. The American seniors placed at or near the bottom on almost every test. The “average Japanese students achieved higher than the top 5% of the U.S. students in college preparatory mathematics” and “the algebra achievement of our most able students (the top 1%) was lower than that of the top 1% of any other country.” (The quote is from Curtis C. McKnight and others, The Underachieving Curriculum: Assessing U.S. Mathematics from an International Perspective, pp. 17, 26-27). I summarized the international assessments from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s in a book called National Standards in American Education: A Citizen’s Guide (Brookings, 1995).

 

The point worth noting here is that U.S. students have never been top performers on the international tests. We are doing about the same now on PISA as we have done for the past half century.

 

Does it matter?

 

In my last book, Reign of Error, I quote extensively from a brilliant article by Keith Baker, called “Are International Tests Worth Anything?,” which was published by Phi Delta Kappan in October 2007. Baker, who worked for many years as a researcher at the U.S. Department of Education, had the ingenious idea to investigate what happened to the 12 nations that took the First International Mathematics test in 1964. He looked at the per capita gross domestic product of those nations and found that “the higher a nation’s test score 40 years ago, the worse its economic performance on this measure of national wealth–the opposite of what the Chicken Littles raising the alarm over the poor test scores of U.S. children claimed would happen.” He found no relationship between a nation’s economic productivity and its test scores. Nor did the test scores bear any relationship to quality of life or democratic institutions. And when it came to creativity, the U.S. “clobbered the world,” with more patents per million people than any other nation.

 

Baker wrote that a certain level of educational achievement may be “a platform for launching national success, but once that platform is reached, other factors become more important than further gains in test scores. Indeed, once the platform is reached, it may be bad policy to pursue further gains in test scores because focusing on the scores diverts attention, effort, and resources away from other factors that are more important determinants of national success.” What has mattered most for the economic, cultural, and technological success of the U.S., he says, is a certain “spirit,” which he defines as “ambition, inquisitiveness, independence, and perhaps most important, the absence of a fixation on testing and test scores.”

 

Baker’s conclusion was that “standings in the league tables of international tests are worthless.”

 

I agree with Baker. The more we focus on tests, the more we kill creativity, ingenuity, and the ability to think differently. Students who think differently get lower scores. The more we focus on tests, the more we reward conformity and compliance, getting the right answer.

 

Thirty-two years ago, a federal report called “A Nation at Risk” warned that we were in desperate trouble because of the poor academic performance of our students. The report was written by a distinguished commission, appointed by the Secretary of Education. The commission pointed to those dreadful international test scores and complained that “on 19 academic tests American students were never first or second and, in comparison with other industrialized nations, were last seven times.” With such terrible outcomes, the commission said, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” Yet we are still here, apparently the world’s most dominant economy. We still are a “Nation and a people.” What were they thinking? Go figure.

 

Despite having been proved wrong for the past half century, the Bad News Industry is in full cry, armed with the PISA scores, expressing alarm, fright, fear, and warnings of imminent economic decline and collapse.

 

Never do they explain how it was possible for the U.S. to score so poorly on international tests again and again over the past half century and yet still emerge as the world’s leading economy, with the world’s most vibrant culture, and a highly productive workforce.

 

From my vantage point as a historian, here is my takeaway from the PISA scores:

 

Lesson 1: If they mean anything at all, the PISA scores show the failure of the past thirteen years of public policy in the United States. The billions invested in testing, test prep, and accountability have not raised test scores or our nation’s relative standing on the league tables. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are manifest failures at accomplishing their singular goal of higher test scores.

 

Lesson 2: The PISA scores burst the bubble of the alleged “Florida miracle” touted by Jeb Bush. Florida was one of three states–Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida–that participated in the PISA testing. Massachusetts did very well, typically scoring above the OECD average and the US average, as you might expect of the nation’s highest performing state on NAEP. Connecticut also did well. But Florida did not do well at all. It turns out that the highly touted “Florida model” of testing, accountability, and choice was not competitive, if you are inclined to take the scores seriously. In math, Florida performed below the OECD average and below the U.S. average. In science, Florida performed below the OECD average and at the U.S. average. In reading, Massachusetts and Connecticut performed above both the OECD and U.S. average, but Florida performed at average for both.

 

Lesson 3: Improving the quality of life for the nearly one-quarter of students who live in poverty–and the 51% who live in low-income families– would improve their academic performance. If we had less poverty, we would have higher test scores.

 

Lesson 4: We measure only what can be measured. We measure whether students can pick the right answer to a test question. But what we cannot measure matters more. The scores tell us nothing about students’ imagination, their drive, their ability to ask good questions, their insight, their inventiveness, their creativity. If we continue the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations in education, we will not only NOT get higher scores (the Asian nations are so much better at this than we are), but we will crush the very qualities that have given our nation its edge as a cultivator of new talent and new ideas for many years.

 

The fact is that during the past 13 years of high-stakes testing, American scores on the PISA exam have not budged at all. If anything, they have slipped a few points. Test and punish failed! No Child Left Behind failed! Race to the Top failed! Who shall we hold accountable? George W. Bush? His advisor Sandy Kress? Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings? Barack Obama? Arne Duncan? Congress? They forced states and districts to spend billions of dollars on testing, and all of this testing didn’t move the needle on the PISA tests. What if those billions had been spent instead to reduce class sizes? To provide health clinics for schools in poor communities? To create jobs? We need a new approach, and sadly, our policymakers continue to push the same failed ideas. The fact is that we have intolerably high levels of child poverty, and children who are poor register the lowest test scores. There is a simple but obvious formula: Reducing poverty will lift test scores.

 

Higher test scores should not be our national goal. Healthy, imaginative, curious children should be. Rather than focusing on test scores, I prefer to bet on the creative, can-do spirit of the American people, on its character, persistence, ambition, hard work, and big dreams, none of which are ever measured or can be measured by standardized tests like PISA.

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