Tweets on #ESEA. What’s Your Idea of ‘Education Utopia?’
Read and/or listen to yesterday’s roundtable discussion on ESEA Reauthorization here. Tweets soon appeared about the testimony of certain witnesses or support of their objectives in education reform. Twitter applause soon appeared from NGOs and governmental committees:
The Department of Education chimed in with its support of ESEA and a testing company added its support of standardized testing:
What type of organization is Testing Utopia? It looks like an organization that most students and teachers would NOT consider utopian in the least:
Here is a House Workforce Committee tweet complete with a meme making claims with which many parents and taxpayers would vehemently disagree:
There is much at stake with the decisions of both the Senate and House committees. What seems to be attracting most of the attention is not the expansion of wrap around services deemed necessary by the witnesses yesterday or the expansion of services from cradle to grave. The main argument on twitter is primarily between those who are against the high stakes testing and those insisting increased testing is necessary for accountability. Here is a tweet supporting high stakes testing:
Here are HCM’s reasons on why annual testing is necessary:
But even before this hearing, the president, Senate Democrats, teachers unions and civil rights groups very publicly released their – often competing – priorities for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind. Lost in that political theater and the polemic debates over lightening rod issues such as testing and teacher evaluations is a nonpartisan and enduring principle: that all American students deserve access to a quality education. They need help. Not political posturing. And that’s why the politics of yesterday’s hearing has to be replaced by thoughtful nuance, cold hard data, and facts.
As assistant secretary of Education under President George W. Bush, I was charged with negotiating a reauthorization with Capitol Hill when the law first came due for updating. It wasn’t an easy sell then, and it hasn’t gotten any easier to accomplish during the past seven years. While I trust that most elected officials believe they have students’ best interests at heart, the issue is more often debated in terms of making life easier for adults (politicians and regulators), not making it better for children.
What’s lost in this debate, and what was on full display at Wednesday’s hearing, is a reality that everyone across the board can agree on. The ESEA, fifty years old this year, has at its heart the premise that to help disadvantaged students, the Federal government subsidizes states’ education efforts, and accepts the responsibility for ensuring that we all set high expectations. It’s that responsibility that fires so much of the political debate: how exactly should the Feds set about making sure that all children have access to the same high-quality education? How should it measure those outcomes and how should it keep states accountable? How much of this is a federal responsibility versus a state one? Fundamentally, how can we make sure we get value for money?
Testing is the answer. And it’s emerging as the primary issue permeating this debate. The president and Democrats (generally) argue that testing should occur annually, like clockwork. Many education advocates argue that it should be less regular because of the disruption it causes in the classroom. Alexander proposed two options in his discussion draft – leaving testing as is or leaving it to the states – acknowledging that this is the crux of the debate.
They are all right. And, indeed, for the wrong reasons. The right reasons should be obvious. As Dr. West testified at this Wednesday’s hearing: “eliminating standardized testing would eliminate the ability to monitor certain student subgroups, empower parents to track their school, and create accountability systems for schools.” And Wade Henderson of the Leadership Council and Civil and Human Rights eloquently explained why that is so important – before we started testing annually, we were able to gloss over the problems. Special education students not learning? Just ignore them. Minority kids falling further and further behind? That’s ok, the kids at the top are doing better.
Testing, and regularity in testing, is so important because it provides the benchmark, the driver to ensure that our educational system is working. If NCLB did anything right it was establishing that annual assessments and the disaggregated data they foster were non-negotiable. And yet the current system is clearly unworkable – the vast majority of states have sought (and been granted) waivers, essentially making parts of the policy unworkable. The reality is that testing is vital – it’s not a states’ rights issue or even a teacher’s rights policy – it’s a question of reliability. We need sound data to assess which students, schools, states and districts are performing well and target resources to help those that aren’t.
From years of experience at every level of education governance, we remain convinced that the sound data required to underpin this law cannot be attained by anything less than annual testing. Ironically, it’s the annual testing and the data it yields that will best allow the very policymakers who argue against it to achieve their goals: state and local level decisions with accountability for Federal dollars spent and equipping parents with the information they need to make informed choices about what schools will best serve their children. That’s not a contradiction, it’s a truth: regular, annual testing is a major plank of ensuring high quality – across the nation. It is the very essence of accountability. And that, no matter what anyone on Capitol Hill says, is the most important thing.
Halaska is a former assistant secretary of Education and founder of HCM Strategists.
As a parent and taxpayer, I wonder why he makes the contention that parents need annual high stakes testing to ‘equip parents with the information they need to make informed choices about what school might best serve my children’. I expect my teachers would be able to inform me about my child’s progress through homework assignments and teacher prepared assessments. Why would NGO prepared (and unvalidated) test assessments be a ‘major plank of ensuring high quality’ in education? And why is he making assumptions for parents that may not be true?
Could the insistence for the continuation of high stakes testing for accountability is because it’s a cash cow for the ed reform companies created to satisfy the governmental mandates? It’s business is accountability tracking. Its interest in retaining annual testing and tracking may not be for concern for parents, it might be a threat to its business plan.
You might be interested in the connection between this company and The Bill Gates Foundation. I wonder if the stated need for accountability is for academic excellence or profit:
This tweet links an article on the reasons for the accountability craze: it’s all about the money and not the children: