John Merrow has been covering education for decades, most recently as education correspondent for the PBS Newshour, and he has learned quite a lot, most of which he puts into his forthcoming book, Addicted to Reform (out on August 1).

One important thing that he learned was that test-based accountability is not a worthy goal for education.

In this post, he identifies what he calls “the canary in the mine,” the bird that falls dead when the methane gas overwhelms it, a warning to coal miners to get the hell out. [Thanks to Reader Stephen Ruis for correcting my original description.]

The canary in the mine is the Broad Prize for Excellence in Urban Education. You see, Eli Broad is obsessed with testing and measurement, and he felt certain that the prospect of a $1 million prize would incentivize urban districts to push up their test scores.

But, the Broad Prize was not awarded in 2015 nor was it awarded in 2016.

Apparently, it has been canceled permanently.

Here’s why: It turns out that the NAEP scores of most of the Broad Prize winners (public school districts) have been flat for years. These districts have been living and dying by test scores, and it’s not working well enough to impress the Foundation’s judges.

It turns out that the big idea of incentivizing districts to raise test scores didn’t work. Scores were “sluggish.” Broad was operating on the assumption that the scores would go up and up and up, but he was wrong. Changes are incremental at best, and big changes are suspect, especially on a large-scale assessment like NAEP.

So, no surprise, Broad dedicates the biggest chunk of his millions to charter schools, not public schools. Unlike urban public schools, which must enroll everyone, the charter schools know the secrets of test score success: selective admissions and significant attrition.

Merrow writes:

Apparently it’s pretty simple for the folks administering the Broad Prize in Urban Education: Successful School Reform boils down to higher test scores. There is no public sign that anyone at the Foundation is questioning whether living and dying by test scores is a sensible pedagogy that benefits students. There is no public evidence that anyone at the Foundation has considered what might happen if poor urban students were exposed to a rich curriculum and veteran teachers, which is essentially the birthright of students in wealthy districts. Just the dismal conclusion that traditional districts are incapable of reform, followed by its decision to double down on charter management organizations, despite the truly offensive record of some of them of excluding special needs children and driving away students who seem likely to do poorly on standardized tests.

What can we conclude: Eli Broad and his foundation have learned nothing and know nothing about pedagogy or how children learn.

Sad. So sad.