Anti-testers want to dump data, end reform

“Opt-out activists are targeting more than just the tests themselves,” writes Owen Davis in Alternet’s 7 Big Public Education Stories of 2014. “As an assistant principal in New York explained to me in October, ‘The whole school reform machine falls down without the data’.”

“Indeed, the school reform movement DOES fall down without the data,” writes Lynnell Mickelsen on Put Kids First. So why do progressives want to dump the evidence showing that children of color are failing in traditional public schools?

LA Johnson, NPR

LA Johnson, NPR

No Child Left Behind required schools to test annually in grades 3 to 8 and report the results by demographic subgroups, writes Mickelsen, who describes herself as a progressive Democrat and recovering journalist. “The resulting data showed stark, systematic gaps between white kids and children of color that couldn’t be dismissed simply by income levels.”

Schools aren’t solely to blame for the gap, she writes. But, “this is what institutional racism looks like, folks: starkly different outcomes for different groups.”

In addition, analyzing the data has shown that “different teachers consistently had very different results,” Mickelsen adds.

 This data made it harder for the teachers’ union to claim that no one could really tell who was a good teacher or not—it was all so subjective and personality-driven, which is why seniority had to be the top criteria in almost all staffing decisions, etc.

In recent years, more states have “required that teachers be evaluated in part  by the progress their students make on these exams,” she writes. “And ding, ding, ding, this is when the organized backlash against ‘high-stakes,’ ‘high-stress’ testing seems to truly have started.”

When the sole responsibility for test outcomes was on the children, there was little to no organized test resistance. But as soon as some of the responsibility shifted to the adults, oh my God!  Let the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth begin. Oh, the inhumanity! Oh, the stress of “high-stakes”! Oh, the loss of childhood! Oh, the corporate conspiracy of Pearson! And so forth.

I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the anti-test movement. Some districts test too much. Endless rote test prep is dumb. Art, music and gym are all crucial and belong in the curriculum.

But the organized movement to dump standardized testing and replace it with projects or individual teacher’s tests, also strikes me as blatant attempt to dump the evidence.

Most opt-out parents are white, “Crunchy Mamas,” she writes. Their kids are doing fine, or so they believe. “Check your privilege, people,” she writes. “Just sayin’.”

Forget about “fixing” black kids and try fixing white liberals, Mickelsen writes in the MinnPost.

Homeschoolers: The last radicals

Homeschooling is the only “authentically radical social movement of any real significance in the United States,” writes Kevin D. Williamson in National Review.

Homeschoolers . . . pose an intellectual, moral, and political challenge to the government-monopoly schools, which are one of our most fundamental institutions and one of our most dysfunctional. Like all radical movements, homeschoolers drive the establishment bats.

The modern homeschooling movement has its roots in 1960s countercultural tendencies, Williamson writes. Summerhill was the Bible of early homeschoolers, not the Bible.

These days, conservative Christian homeschoolers have been joined by  “a growing number of secular, progressive, organic-quinoa-consuming homeschool families, ” Williamson writes. Most homeschooling parents are well-off and suburban. Their children typically score “well above the public school average” on achievement exams. In addition,  “multiple studies by various researchers have found the home educated to be doing well in terms of their social, emotional, and psychological development.”

However, progressives don’t think parents have the right to put their children’s wellbeing ahead of the collective good, he writes. For example, Dana Goldstein, writing in Slate, urged parents to send their high-achieving children to public school so they could raise the achievement of their less-advantaged classmates.

Nine-tenths of American children attend government schools, and most of the remaining tenth attend government-approved private schools. The political class wants as many of that remaining tenth in government schools as possible; teachers’ unions have money on the line, and ideologues do not want any young skull beyond their curricular reach. A political class that does not trust people with a Big Gulp is not going to trust them with the minds of children.

Homeschooling represents a libertarian impulse, Williamson argues.

Homeschoolers may have many different and incompatible political beliefs, but they all implicitly share an opinion about the bureaucrats: They don’t need them — not always, not as much as the bureaucrats think. That’s what makes them radical and, to those with a certain view of the world, terrifying.

Homeschooling’s enemies have given up trying to outlaw home education, but they’re trying to control it, Williamson concludes.