John Tanner is a blogger in San Antonio. In this post, he asks a question that I have asked myself many times: Why do ”reformers” and politicians keep funding failure? Why do they demand more charters and vouchers when neither has matched their claims, neither has closed achievement gaps or dramatically higher scores (except when they cherrypick their students)?

Tanner asks the question about test-based accountability, which Texas has embraced for decades.

He begins:

It is inexplicable to me how the failed policies of test-based accountability continue to be championed as if they have worked in the past and will continue to work into the future. The position of those espousing the effectiveness of test-based accountability can only be valid if at some point in the past all schools were essentially equal, and then good or bad educators created the disparities between what are now labeled “good” and “bad” schools. Then, the current accountability systems might reflect the efforts of those educators and the judgments would be warranted.

Of course, that is a joke. Schools never started at a level playing field. The first time anyone administered a standardized test to the universe of students in America what it showed were the effects of an inequitable society as well as the size and scope of a problem. But it was much easier for Americans to ignore the problem and instead declare that poor children were just dumber than rich children and that the cause of that was the educators in their lives. Pretending that at some point everything had been equal and then it just so happened that all the bad educators migrated towards the bad schools now serving poor children was easier than admitting the truth—that we were a society rooted in inequity and that our approach to schooling reflected that fact.

Reality is a good bit different than the test-based accountability crew would have you believe. The Coleman report pointed out way back in the 1960s that an effective, research-based approach to creating a great educational system for all students required two major policy efforts: address the ravages of generational poverty and make teaching into a position as revered as medicine and the law. So far, more than half a decade later, we are 0/2.

Now, instead, we look askance at the schools that serve students who are the victims of generational poverty and who are as a result behind their wealthier peers. We pretend that what we are seeing in these schools is not the consequences of ignoring Coleman, but of laziness and incompetence on the part of the educators in them.

And because test scores of the types used by states are designed to order students from the furthest below to the furthest above average within a content area as of a certain date (that’s a mouthful—sorry), they make for a beautiful tool for confirming the bias that schools serving poorer children became bad because of bad teachers that just need to try harder. That denies the reality that student exposure to academic content occurs in two places: inside and outside school, and that exposure differs a great deal as a direct result of generational poverty. Make no mistake—schools and teachers matter, as they will account for about 1/3 of the difference in test scores between students (and could account for more with the right supports that do not now exist). But what happens outside of a school will account for almost 2/3 of the difference. Any judgment based on a test score that fails to acknowledge that very real fact is unethical and needs to be dismissed as specious.

Read on. He nails the failure of test-based accountability.