Anthony Cody was not heartened by Marc Tucker’s vision of a new accountability system with fewer tests. In this post, he explains why. If ever there was a need for close reading, he believes, this is it.
“Tucker’s plan is confusing. In a proposal in which accountability remains closely tied to a set of high stakes tests, Tucker cites the “Failure of Test-based Accountability,” and eloquently documents how this approach doomed NCLB.
“Tucker speaks about the professionalization of teaching, and points out how teaching has been ravaged by constant pressure to prepare for annual tests. But his proposal still seems wedded to several very questionable premises.
“First, while he blames policymakers for the situation, he seems to accept that the struggles faced by our schools are at least partly due to the inadequacy of America’s teachers. I know of no objective evidence that would support this indictment.
“Second, he argues that fewer, “higher quality” tests will somehow rescue us from their oppressive qualities. He also suggests, as did Duncan in 2010, that we can escape the “narrowing of the curriculum” by expanding the subject matter that would be tested.
“It is worth noting that many of the Asian countries that do so well on international test contests likewise have fewer tests. This chart shows that Shanghai, Japan and Korea all have only three big tests during the K12 years. However, because these tests have such huge stakes attached to them, the entire system revolves around them, and students’ lives and family incomes are spent on constant test preparation, in and out of school.
“Third, and this is the most fundamental problem, is that Tucker suggests that the economic future of our students will only be guaranteed if we educate them better. Tucker writes:
“Outsourcing of manufacturing and services to countries with much lower labor costs has combined with galloping automation to eliminate an ever-growing number of low-skilled and semi-skilled jobs and jobs involving routine work.
“The result is that a large and growing proportion of young people leaving high school with just the basic skills can no longer look forward to a comfortable life in the middle class, but will more likely face a future of economic struggle.
“This does not represent a decline from some standard that high school graduates used to meet. It is as high as any standard the United States has ever met. And it is wholly inadequate now. It turns out, then, that we are now holding teachers accountable for student performance we never expected before, a kind and quality of performance for which the present education system was never designed. That is manifestly unfair.”
“Tucker then repeats what has become the basic dogma of education reform. The economy of the 21st century demands our students be educated to much higher levels so we can effectively compete with our international rivals. Education — and ever better education to ever higher standards — is the key to restoring the middle class.”
But Cody objects:
“I do not believe the economy of the 21st century is waiting for some more highly educated generation, at which time middle class jobs will materialize out of thin air.
“Corporations are engaged in a systemic drive to cut the number of employees at all levels. When Microsoft laid off 18,000 skilled workers, executives made it clear that expenses – meaning employees, must be minimized. Profits require that production be lean. There is no real shortage of people with STEM degrees.
“On the whole, it is still an advantage for an individual to be well educated. But the idea that education is some sort of limiting factor on our economic growth is nonsense. And the idea that the future of current and future graduates will be greatly improved if they are better educated is likewise highly suspect.
“Bill Gates recently acknowledged in an interview at the American Enterprise Institute, “capitalism in general, over time, will create more inequality and technology, over time, will reduce demand for jobs particularly at the lower end of the skill set.”
“This is the future we face until there is a fundamental economic realignment. Fewer jobs. Continued inequality and greater concentration of wealth.”
Cody argues for a different vision, in which accountability goes far beyond teachers and schools:
“For far too long educators have accepted the flagellations of one accountability system after another, and time has come to say “enough.”
“We need to learn (and teach) the real lesson of NCLB – and now the Common Core. The problem with NCLB was not with the *number* of tests, nor with when the tests were given, nor with the subject matter on the tests, or the format of the tests, or the standards to which the tests were aligned.
“The problem with NCLB was that it was based on a false premise, that somehow tests can be used to pressure schools into delivering equitable outcomes for students. This approach did not work, and as we are seeing with Common Core, will not work, no matter how many ways you tinker with the tests.
“The idea that our education system holds the key to our economic future is a seductive one for educators. It makes us seem so important, and can be used to argue for investments in our schools. But this idea carries a price, because if we accept that our economic future depends on our schools, real action to address fundamental economic problems can be deferred. We can pretend that somehow we are securing the future of the middle class by sending everyone to preschool – meanwhile the actual middle class is in a shambles, and college students are graduating in debt and insecure.
“The entire exercise is a monumental distraction, and anyone who engages in this sort of tinkering has bought into a shell game, a manipulation of public attention away from real sources of inequity.”
“We need some accountability for children’s lives, for their bellies being full, for safe homes and neighborhoods, and for their futures when they graduate. Once there is a healthy ecosystem for them to grow in, and graduate into, the inequities we see in education will shrink dramatically. But that requires much broader economic and social change — change that neither policymakers or central planners like Tucker are prepared to call for.”