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Addiction to High Stakes Testing is Killing US Education

Diane Ravitch, for whom I have a great deal of respect for leading the charge against the Billionaire Boys’ Club in recent years, has written on her blog that she is agnostic on the national curriculum standards project known as the Common Core.  Ravitch reasons that

I have neither endorsed nor rejected the Common Core national standards, for one simple reason: They are being rolled out in 45 states without a field trial anywhere. How can I say that I love them or like them or hate them when I don’t know how they will work when they reach the nation’s classrooms?

Since it is common knowledge that Diane is a former Trustee of the Common Core organization, we must assume that, at one time not so long ago, she found reasons to support Common Core in 2008-2009, even before any field trial was ever possible.  Why can’t she oppose CC now, especially with her recent awakening to how things work down here on the ground, rather than up at 20,000 feet in the policy stratosphere. 

But then if I had spent years supporting policy with no research to back it up, I might be hesitant, too, to take a position on Common Core.  But I don’t think so.

My opposition to CC is not based on research or on results but, rather, on the explicit policy plan to use the Common Core as the delivery system for the same poison we have been pumping into our schools for much, much too long—high stakes testing.  We do not have to wait for field trials to understand the effects of more high-stakes “value-added” testing: more labeling of the weak as failures, more privatization, more corporate welfare school projects, more disposal of experienced teachers, more correctional officers posing as educators, more missionaries out to build their resumes and assuage their guilt with children who need the most experienced teachers, more apartheid charters run by corporations, more curriculum caste systems and “ability” grouping, less shared social and cultural capital, more competition and less collaboration among teachers, more curriculum in a box, less creative teaching, less deep learning, more homogeneity and less diversity of ideas, more social control, less autonomy and responsibility, more dependency, less ability to solve problem and think creatively, less potential to survive as a species.

Does anyone who has worked in a high position of education policy believe that the Home Office at ED is going to risk exposing their bankrupt ideas and unalterable ideology to “field trials?”  That is not going to happen.  Are we, then, supposed to wait until another ESEA is written to make this fiasco the law of the land for another decade?  Can our teachers, parents, and concerned citizens wait to see the effects of another debacle like NCLB, another generation of children miseducated?  Can our most vulnerable children be expected to continue to live under inhumane oppression masked as their deliverance from oppression?  

What will be the Chernobyl that finally shames our society into seeing the folly of waiting for doing more of the same to produce different results?  How long does it take to understand that standardized testing was designed in America to identify and segregate the weak, that testing is not about closing gaps but, rather, maintaining them?  Are we to remain blind forever, or if not, just turn away? 

I think not.  

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Jim Horn

Jim Horn is Professor of Educational Leadership at Cambridge College, Cambridge, MA. He is also an education blogger at Schools Matter @ the Chalkface and has published widely on issues related to education reform and social justice in education. With co-author, Denise Wilburn, his new book, The Mismeasure of Education, was published in July 2013.

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