If your child had more free time in school, what would you want them to do with it?
A) Learn to play a musical instrument
B) Study a new language
C) Learn how to code HTML
D) Take more standardized tests
In a surprising turn of events just last weekend, President Obama announced that “unnecessary testing” is “consuming too much instructional time,” all while creating “undue stress for educators and students.” President Obama had said this all, surprisingly, about his own public education policy — the Common Core standards.
Though designed to get American schools all operating at the same high-functioning level, Common Core set out to make national standards for students without considering the external as well as internal factors that any given school could have been facing. Common Core was intended to challenge instructors and students so as to alter their academic performance and adjust teaching and learning styles to meet the requirements of a newly “revamped” educational curriculum. The results, however, have strayed far from their desired outcomes.
In a three minute long video, President Obama cracks jokes about how unfortunate it was that he had, at one point in time, thought that relentlessly testing students was a helpful alternative to the No Child Left Behind policies of the Bush Administration. In the video, he recalls that the best teachers he had were the ones who were able to forge meaningful relations with their students, while still inspiring them to pursue and develop their greatness.
This quasi-apology comes in an era when the average student is subjected to take roughly 113 standardized tests between preschool and high school graduation. The standardized system is what we’ve come to know and it rewards everyone from parents, to teachers, to students who become transfixed on how well test performances go.
Former Secretary of State Arne Duncan’s “Race to the Top” initiative was riddled with errors. It happened to make four private companies very rich by using their tests as the standard bearer for intellect. The real problem began to metastasize when poorly funded schools began to seek “Race to the Top,” bonus points by promulgating more tests in their school districts, which were ravaged by the defunct education budgets implemented during the Great Recession of 2008.
The collective cry of educators — those entrusted to educate and had sculpted their lives around doing so — seemed to get lost in the bureaucratic paper shuffles of people who had never stepped foot inside an American classroom. The mindful and inquisitive attributes that were once integral parts of the classroom are now rarely to be found. Everything has been reduced to a single score, to “bubbling-in” the right answer and drawing conclusions as quickly as possible no matter how effective. Diane Ravitch, a historian of education at New York University, perhaps best encapsulated all that was bound to occur when this brainchild of the Bush Administration was put on steroids in the Obama Administration: “The curriculum will be narrowed even more than under George W. Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind,’ because of the link between wages and scores. There will be even less time available for the arts, science, history, civics, and foreign language.” Simply put, teachers will teach to the test by default in order to keep their school funded and a check in their bank account.
It is only in retrospect that we can see just how right Ravitch was. Duncan and Obama, with funding from the Gates Foundation, paired with Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards, led to the inevitable “high-stakes” testing that comes as a side-effect to the disease of depersonalized education.
America seems to have adopted a “testocracy” — a multibillion dollar enterprise where the testing corporations, billionaire philanthropists who promote their uniform policies, and politicians come together in a powerful trifecta to structure an educational system around competition for the almighty dollar. Art for the sake of art seems all but dead in the societal mind, so is education for the sake of education next?
The practices being implemented are being debated across school board meetings nationwide. Teachers from states like Washington, Ohio and New York have flat out refused to administer the test. Even students have refused to accept this new academic censorship by staging walkouts and sit-ins. Parents have begun to subscribe to a counter-movement that opts their children out of the tests.
It’s important to remember that the battle is uphill for educators, parents and students alike. Small concessions are sweet, but they’re few and far between. Just so, a video from the commander-in-chief is not going to shut down Pearson’s $9 billion in revenue from the sale of its testing materials.
What we can look forward to in the near future is a reduction of 2 percent of the school year, or 24 hours, being spent taking standardized tests. As it stands now, the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is in the works. Therefore, the federal requirements to test all students in grades three through eight stay a part of the educational agenda. That is of course, if our state legislature can pass a budget, which seems unlikely given the unanimous Republican vote to take a recess despite schools still having no idea how much funding they’re going to receive.
Now, more than ever, the “guinea pigs” of this failed social experiment must be honest with themselves. Standardized tests measure a student’s family income level, not how well they’ve been coached to fill-in the correct bubble. In an era where nearly half of the children who attend public school live in poverty, it’s crucial that Congress focuses on endorsing educational programming that uplifts disadvantaged children so that the vicious cyclical nature of poverty doesn’t repeat itself. After all, study after study shows us that education is the gateway to empowerment, to being a thoughtful, sincere and intellectually-curious body of people.
Our Viewpoint is voted on and discussed by the staff of The Spectator.