Jeff Bryant watched President Obama’s State of the Union address and the Senate’s NCLB hearings, and he concluded that the Democrats had lost their voice, with one exception: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
He describes the hearings in this post.
Two Néw York City public school teachers spoke eloquently about the deficiencies and flaws of high-stakes testing.
The only Senator who spoke sensibly about the realities of schooling was Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
“Finally, at the hearing’s very end, Rhode Island’s Senator Whitehouse said something that made educators everywhere smile: (watch here at the 2:24:30 mark).
“My experience in the education world is that there are really two worlds in it. One is the world of contract and consultants and academics and experts and plenty of officials at the federal state and local level. And the other is a world of principals and classroom teachers who are actually providing education to students. What I’m hearing from my principals’ and teachers’ world is that the footprint of that first world has become way too big in their lives to the point where it’s inhibiting their ability to do the jobs they’re entrusted to do.”
“Indeed, the footprint made by education policy leaders in classrooms has left behind a form of mandated testing that is “designed to test the school and not the student,”
Whitehouse stated, and he described a dysfunctional system in which teachers don’t get test results in a timely fashion that makes it possible for them to use the results to change instruction. Instead, educators spend more time preparing for the tests and encouraging students to be motivated to take them, even though the tests have no bearing on the students’ grades, just how the school and the individual teachers themselves are evaluated.
“Whitehouse compared the federal funding that has poured into policies mandating testing, such as Race to the Top, to “rain falling over the desert. The rain comes pouring out of the clouds. But by the time you’re actually at the desert floor, not a raindrop falls. It’s all been absorbed in between. I’ve never had a teacher who said to me, ‘Boy, Race to the Top gave me just what I need in terms of books or a whiteboard, or something I can use to teach the kids.’”
“Whitehouse urged his colleagues to consider more closely the purpose of testing – not just how many tests and how often but how assessments are used. He concluded, “We have to be very careful about distinguishing the importance of the purpose of this oversight and not allow the purpose of the oversight to be conducted in such an inefficient, wasteful, clumsy way that the people who we really trust to know to do this education – the people who are in the classroom – are not looking back at us and saying, ‘Stop. Help. I can’t deal with this. You are inhibiting my ability to teach.’”
Unfortunately other Democratic senators, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Al Frankenstein, support test-based accountability. Apparently no one told them that the original purpose of the historic Elementary and Secondary Education Act if 1965 was resource equity for poor kids, not testing and accountability.
Apparently no one told them that the traditional Democratic education agenda was equity for the neediest, while the traditional GOP agenda was testing, accountability, and choice.
The Democrats have lost not only their voice but their agenda. Even the civil rights groups want to protect testing and accountability, allowing only 1% of students with the most severe disabilities to be exempted and allowing English language learners only one year of exemption. Why this draconian approach to the children they represent?
The GOP has won the ideological debate because Democrats have signed on to GOP ideas. American children and public education will continue to be in deep trouble until at least one of the two parties abandons its reckless devotion to high-stakes testing and privatization.