School “reformers” complain that the Garfield High School teachers’ boycott of testing, and the protests by teachers, parents, and students in Georgia, New York, and Massachusetts, are bringing the backlash against bubble-in accountability to a “crescendo.” Perhaps the best education news is that 818 Texas school districts oppose the educational malpractice encouraged by standardized testing. On February 23, I joined thousands of Texans in the Save Texas Schools rally in Austin.
For decades, many top Oklahoma teachers fled to the better schools south of the Red River. An increasing number of them became trapped in the Texas testing mania and returned with horror stories. But, recently, Oklahoma adopted an “accountability” regime that is just as bad, even though we do not have nearly as much money to mitigate the damage. And, two years ago the Texas legislature cut public schools by $5.4 billion, even as they are sending $1.2 billion to overseas testing companies. This means that the Lone Star State also faces the worst of both worlds.
Former Education Commissioner Robert Scott told the crowd that continued testing is not like the tail “wagging the dog.” It is, “the flea at the end of the tail of the dog trying to wag the dog.” Scott had once supported testing but, “I had to turn in my reformer card because I looked at it as a flea circus.” He said, “They are selling two ideas and two ideas only: No. 1, your schools are failing, and No. 2, if you give us billions of dollars, we can convince you [of] the first thing we just told you.”
I was particularly impressed by the superintendents who described the unintended effects of high-stakes testing. Colleges do not want high school graduates who, increasingly, are only trained to take tests and write according to their formula. That message was echoed by Joe Arnold, Chair of the Workforce Committee for the Texas Manufacturing Association. If testing was working so well, he asked, why would the state need to recruit outside talent for 21st century jobs?
Superintendent John Kuhn added that so-called school reformers “have forgotten that good teachers actually exist. They spend so much time and effort weeding out the bad ones that they’ve forgotten to take care of the good ones. This bitter accountability pesticide is over-spraying the weeds and wilting the entire garden.”
Teachers may have been slow to anger but we are tired of the narrowing of the curriculum and the pushing out of students who might lower test scores. Now that we are joining parents, administrators, business and community leaders, and students in fighting back, a change is bound to come. Some of the rally’s best speakers were students who described the humiliation of nonstop test prep which is wringing the joy of learning.
As Diane Ravitch said, “The testing vampire started here.” So, it is poetic justice that Texans are taking the lead in killing it. They also are on the forefront of explaining to the nation why simplistic sound bites of “reformers” must be rejected.
Texas educators and families are conveying a two-part message. Our education system is not broken, but we have not been able to scale up solutions for urban systems serving intense concentrations of poverty. High-stakes testing was adopted as a cheap and easy way to improve poor schools.
Secondly, bubble-in testing is no longer inexpensive, and its damage to our educational values is far greater than the tests’ price tag. Corporate “reformers” would never send their own kids to test prep factories. If they really want to help poor children, they should join us in providing to all children the excellence that our democracy’s schools have shown to be possible.