Robert Shepherd has long experience writing and editing textbooks and assessments. I appreciate his kind comments about my book, written in the 1990s, but also his recognition that “reforms” come and go with regularity. My comment: The current wave of phony reforms is the most destructive in the history of American education.

He writes:

“One of the reasons why I love Diane Ravitch’s brilliant Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms is that it chronicles our unfortunate tendency in this country to buy into some new voodoo prescription, every few years, for “solving the education problem.”

“Back when I was first teaching, the magic potion was supposed to be behavioral objectives, and every classroom was supposed to be some sort of Skinner box. The state education authorities were mandating behavioral objectives for every lesson despite the fact that, by that time, Behaviorism was effectively dead as the primary model in psychology proper, having received, a couple DECADES earlier, death blows at the hands of Noam Chomsky (his review of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior) and Karl Lashley (his paper on serial behavior). But despite the fact that professional psychologists had moved on to new cognitive models, Behaviorism was treated, in the 1970s, in U.S. education, as the latest, greatest ride on the K-12 education carnival midway.

“A few years ago, there was talk throughout the American education establishment about testing disappearing entirely, fading into the instructional process and becoming formative feedback. Now, a blink of an eye later, we have a federal department of education, many governors, chief state school officers, and a lot of wealthy plutocrats ratcheting up an already clearly failed policy of high-stakes testing and evaluation based on test scores. This particular magic medicine is long past its shelf life.

“(Amusingly, one of the leading proponents a few years back of the disappearance of testing into the instructional process is now one of the biggest cheerleaders for mandated standards and value-added measurement based on high-stakes tests. I won’t name names, but I will say that toadying to educrats pays handsomely.)

“The current testing mania is just the latest of a long line of crazy ideas, failed reform after failed reform, foisted on our nation’s schools and teachers by educrats, politicians, and commercial interests. I’ve come to think that American education at the rarefied levels where policy is made is trendier than are either popular music or haute couture. Turning our schools into test prep factories, mandating one-size-fits-all standards and pedagogical practices for all students, and basing educator and school evaluation on test scores is just the latest of a long series of failed EduFads. Sadly, the cost of this one is enormous.

“In schools across the country, a third of each school years is now being spent doing test prep, administering practice high-stakes tests, and administering the high-stakes tests themselves. The opportunity cost of all that high-stakes testing is breathtaking: kids are being robbed, and teachers are totally demoralized. If history is any guide, and what other guide to we have, the policy makers will soon enough see what a mistake this has been and move on to the next magic solution to be foisted on our schools.

“When will we ever learn?”