The Network for Public Education is a group co-founded by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody in 2013. Its mission is to monitor reform efforts in public education. They oppose:

  • high-stakes testing;
  • privatization of public education;
  • mass school closures to save money or to facilitate privatization;
  • demonization of teachers;
  • lowering of standards for the education profession;
  • for-profit management of schools.

Ravitch is the current president and was Asst. Secretary for Research under Senator Lamar Alexander (R) while he was Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush. On January 7th of this year, Alexander became the Chair and ranking Republican on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. He is poised to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

The last authorization of ESEA, commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), called for annual standardized testing so states could prove that they were educating all children. That law expired in 2007 and we have been operating under a hodge podge system of waivers, incentives and threats ever since.

Last year, at their annual conference, NPE requested that the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee hold hearings to investigate the over-emphasis, misapplication, costs, and poor implementation of high-stakes standardized testing in the nation’s K-12 public schools. They produced a statement which asked 11 questions about testing.

  • Do the tests promote skills our children and our economy need?
  • What is the purpose of these tests?
  • How good are the tests?
  • Are tests being given to children who are too young?
  • Are tests culturally biased?
  • Are tests harmful to students with disabilities?
  • How has the frequency and quantity of testing increased?
  • Does testing harm teaching?
  • How much money does it cost?
  • Are there conflicts of interest in testing policies?
  • Was it legal for the U.S. Department of Education to fund two testing consortia for the Common Core State Standards?

You can read more details about these questions here.

The current administration is committed to the continuation of testing. On January 12th Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated, “All students need to take annual state standardized tests that are aligned to their teacher’s classroom instruction in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school.”  It is clear from this statement that if all students will be required to take standardized tests that are aligned to classroom instruction, then all classroom instruction will have to become standardized.

If only all that testing had actually resulted in improvement in learning. But despite the testing and lots of money, student scores have not changed much since NCLB. The performance gap still exists (and in my opinion always will to some extent). The Opt Out movement is growing exponentially in this country as parents wake up and realize; the testing is adding unnecessary stress to their children’s lives and, the testing and test prep is taking away more and more instructional time so their children are actually learning less.

Duncan has supporters for his testing regime, but if you examine them not all that closely you will see that most of them are those who stand to profit from testing. Less clear is why some civil rights groups like La Raza and the ACLU are supporting testing.

NPE has called for national hearings on standardized testing. They will get their wish next Tuesday January 20th, the same day as the State of the Union address, when the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will hold hearings on testing as part of Sen. Alexander’s desire to oversee a reauthorization of  ESEA. NPE will be reporting out from those hearings on their Facebook page and Twitter.

You can find members of the committee here and send them your thoughts in advance of the hearings. Unfortunately there is not a single Missouri Representative on the committee or any of the subcommittees on education so our particular voice will not be heard on a topic that will affect every child in this state since we now have federal control of education.

NPE will have a conference in Chicago April 24-26 whose theme is “Public Education: Our Kids, Our Schools, Our Communities.” Featured speakers will include:

  • Jitu Brown, National Director – Journey for Justice, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Network for Public Education Board of Directors
  • Tanaisa Brown, High School Senior, with the Newark Student Union
  • Yong Zhao, Author, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?
  • Diane Ravitch in conversation with
    • Lily Eskelsen Garcia, NEA President and
    • Randi Weingarten, AFT President
  • Karen Lewis, President, Chicago Teachers Union

Registration information can be found here.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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