John Thompson, a teacher and historian, has watched the heated debate about standardized testing, with some claiming high-stakes testing protects Black and Hispanic children, and others saying it harms these very children. He weighs in with a thoughtful column.


Thompson says that the Obama administration education policy boils down to a simple formula: “test, sort, and punish…Some students may benefit but only at the cost of inflicting harm on other children.”


He writes:


Its ironic that the market-driven movement – that still pretends it is a civil rights movement – is going out with such an ignominious whimper. Output-driven reform not only damaged poor children of color by treating them as test scores, it has undermined liberals and Democrats who seek a larger agenda of equity and justice. So, a crucial short term battle is the civil war between progressives, with teachers determined to prevent Hillary Clinton (or anyone else) from repeating Arne Duncan’s agenda….


He notes that leaders of national civil rights groups have rejected the Senate “Every Child Achieves Act,” thinking that it will lessen the heavy emphasis on testing.


That raises the question of why an unwavering commitment to punitive, bubble-in testing is still thought – by some – to be a civil rights value. Why do these civil rights leaders believe they can promote justice by continuing to attack some of their most loyal, long term allies in the battles for equality and fairness?


It is the leaders of the civil rights groups who promoted NCLB who still support its high stakes testing. Another 38 civil rights groups have joined 175 organizations in opposing high stakes tests…


I sure don’t see support for No Child Left Untested by rank-in-file civil rights supporters. I see black, brown, and white parents recoiling from the way that bubble-in malpractice has robbed their children of respectful and engaging instruction. I see persons of all races torn between our original support for the ultimate goals of the Duncan administration and our sadness regarding the disappointing and destructive outcomes of the Obama administration’s policies. I sure haven’t met black, brown and white persons committed to civil rights who still believe high stakes standardized testing can enhance equity.


But, then again, in my tens of thousands of interactions with stakeholders, I have almost never met a person who wasn’t quickly disillusioned by NCLB testing. The only people who still seem to support stakes attached to its testing are politicos who are personally invested in the law they promoted.


The continued assault on teachers and unions by the Obama administration will not lead to better schools. Thompson no longer believes that Arne Duncan and his few remaining allies “are just fighting for poor children of color. Their obsessive support for reward and punish seems to also be due to a desire to exact a pound of flesh from educators for opposing their punitive approach to school reform.”