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Nicholas Tampio, a professor of political science at Fordham University, argues that the Every Student Succeeds Act is a sham. Instead of dismantling the harmful policies of corporate reform, it shifts the burden of imposing them to the states. By his reading, the warped soul of NCLB and Race to the Top was preserved with their emphasis on high-stakes testing.
The opt out movement must grow and grow until every state government and Congress recognizes that parents won’t tolerate the worship of high-stakes testing. We will not sacrifice our children and grandchildren to the gods of testing. The achievement gap is a product of standardized tests. The standardized tests faithfully reproduce family income, not the ability to learn. American students need a great education, like the one Bill Gates wants for his children at the Lakeside School, like the one Rahm Emanuel wants for his children at the University of Chicago Lab School, like the one President Obama wants for his children at the Sidwell Friends School. An education that includes the arts, foreign languages, history, science, physical education, literature, civics, time for play, time for exploration, time for projects, time for recess. NOT an “education” that is centered on standardized tests, where children are rated and ranked by their ability to mark the correct bubbles. We want an education that encourages children to ask question, not an education that prepares them to give the “right” answer.
How can people say that the new bill is a U-turn from the education policies of the past 14 years? Under it, the federal government would not be able tell states what academic standards to adopt or how student test scores should be used in teacher evaluations. Nonetheless, states would have to submit accountability plans to the Department of Education for approval, and these accountability plans would have to weigh test scores more than any other factor. Furthermore, under the act, states would have to use “evidence-based interventions” in the bottom 5 percent of schools, determined, again, by test scores.
In short, states would be free to choose test-based accountability policies approved by the secretary of education or lose access to federal Title I funds that sustain schools in low-income communities across the country. In a move that belies Alexander’s claim about local control, the Department of Education has offered to establish “office hours” for states or districts that wish to meet its “policy objectives and requirements under the law.”
Does the bill at least permit states to escape the Common Core? It is hard to see how. According to the bill, each state would have to adopt “challenging state academic standards.” The Obama administration’s testing action plan stipulates that assessment systems should measure student knowledge and skills against “state-developed college- and career-ready standards” — which has long been code for the Common Core. So, yes, states could invest hundreds of millions of dollars to write new academic standards and make aligned tests, but there is no guarantee that the secretary of education would approve standards or tests that implicitly chastise the administration’s education policies.
Advocates of high-stakes Common Core testing have applauded the Every Student Achieves Act. Catherine Brown, the director of education policy at the Center for American Progress, said, “At the end of the day the bill appears to allow the department to set parameters in key areas and enforce statutory requirements.” John Engler of the Business Roundtable likewise applauded the bill for keeping test scores “a central feature” of state accountability systems. Lanea Erickson at Third Way praised the bill for throwing “some much-needed water on the political firestorm around testing.”
These advocates have not changed their minds about the Common Core or testing. They are just happy to shift the responsibility for administering it to the states rather than the federal government if that would help defuse parent and educator animosity. They misunderstand the justified anger that fuels the test refusal movement.