Michael Beyer, a principal in Illinois, was invited to participate in a task force on assessments for the State Board of Education. As he put it:

“I pose this question with absolute seriousness. I was invited to participate on a task force for the Illinois State Board of Education to review the assessments currently mandated across the state. I originally assumed this would be a group pulled together to serve as a political charade during our municipal election period. My cynicism proved wrong when, at our first meeting State Senator Lightford herself described the statewide discomfort with PARCC. It was evident this task force will be able to share authentic input on informing the state legislature. This is hopeful.

“What concerns me is how we spoke of education. The rooms, one in Chicago and one in Springfield, meeting concurrently and in real time linked via a webcast, were filled with real stakeholders and experienced educators representing the P-20 spectrum, including parents, teachers, superintendents, deans and principals like myself. There was not a single person representing what has become known as the ‘corporate reform’ agenda.”

Eventually the task force asked, “Who are our masters?” The Federal Department of Education, of course. And the Illinois State Legislature.

Beyer notes:

“The fact is the Illinois State legislature, and I would venture to say every legislature, doesn’t know much of anything about effective education. It was laid bare when it was revealed key lawmakers didn’t know the difference between interim, formative and summative assessments, yet have passed laws mandating high-stakes assessments that have been highly questioned as to their validity.”

And then he had a radical idea: everything was upside-down:

“We need to flip on its head our notion of who controls education. We need a libertarian movement in education. The real reform has to happen in who we perceive our masters to be. Our masters need to be our students and teachers. That is where all decisions need to begin and end. Not at the district, state or federal level…

“We need to stop asking how we serve our masters and recognize that teaching and learning begins with the teacher and the student. We need to scrap all of our systems and begin by asking our students and teachers what they need. This is a radical proposition, but it is also simple and the most effective. Instead of disentangling the ball of yarn and deciding which assessment and curricula vendors will receive our millions of dollars, and billions of dollars nationwide, let’s build a system using backwards design that begins with the classroom and enables teachers to receive the support and professional development they need. We can continue to hold teachers accountable, and we don’t need high-stakes, highly-questionable assessments to do so. Let’s make sure we begin to serve our true masters, which are our students and teachers, not the countless assessments and legislative bodies.”