Great little insider-y piece from Texas on the pushback to the school reform industry:
If there’s one person in America who’s responsible for your child stressing about filling in the right little ovals with a No. 2 pencil, it’s Sandy Kress, the “key architect of No Child Left Behind” who later became a lobbyist for Pearson, the testing company. As high-stakes testing faces a national backlash, lawmakers in Texas—the birthplace of high-stakes standardized testing—aren’t just dialing back the state’s emphasis on tests but are also turning their guns on Kress to limit his policy-making role.
Opposition to high-stakes testing is popping up nationwide. In Seattle, teachers protested what they saw as the inequity of the Washington state test by refusing to administer it, sparking a copycat strike at dozens of high schools in nearby Portland. In Providence, 50 high school students outraged that their diplomas required them to pass standardized tests, dressed up like zombies and marched through the downtown rush hour chanting “No education, no life.” Even Bill Gates, long a proponent of education accountability, recently penned a Washington Post op-ed opposing the use of test scores to evaluate teachers.
But nowhere is the movement against high-stakes testing as strong as it is in Texas where all this started. Now, 86% of the state’s school boards have adopted resolutions opposing the over-reliance on high-stakes testing. Rick Perry’s last education commissioner called testing a “perversion of what is intended.” Volunteer moms, angry that a new testing regime forced their children to pass 15 standardized tests to get out of high school, lobbied the legislature with such vehemence that politicians began calling them “Mothers Against Drunk Testing.” The defenders of the testing status quo are now down to two: Kress, and Bill Hammond, a top business lobbyist who heads an organization that Pearson is a member of.
Kress advised Bush as governor, and when Bush became president, Kress—as a former Democratic Party official in Dallas—lobbied Ted Kennedy to support NCLB. He enjoyed a smooth transition into lobbying and has enjoyed an insider role in Perry’s administration,serving on state advisory boards and commissions that invariably found that the way to improve schools was more testing. It never caused a stir when Kress would testify before the legislature as a member of the state advisory panels in favor of more testing, leaving his status as a lobbyist for the testing company unstated. Now there’s a growing sense that testing has gotten out of control.
The backlash has now reached the chamber where this all started. When the Texas House passed a testing relief bill, lawmakers included two amendments aimed at Kress. Texas lawmakers, who have never exactly held business lobbyists at arm’s length, have had enough of Kress pretending he doesn’t have a conflict of interest while advocating unpopular policies that enrich his client. One amendment would ban testing lobbyists from serving on state education advisory boards, cutting to the heart of Kress’ ability to lobby from the inside. Another amendment would make it a misdemeanor for a testing lobbyist to make political contributions. When politicians make it a crime to give them money, something’s up.
Only congress can repeal No Child Left Behind, but Bush passed it by selling the notion that the tests worked in Texas when he was governor. Texas no longer believes in its own miracle, and the architect of this mess has lost his influence. Nobody’s buying what Sandy Kress is selling anymore.
I have a theory on why the school reform industry can’t quit pushing standardized testing. If your business plan includes the expansion of national chain charters and a lot of employee turn-over and federally-subsidied temp agencies and constant “cage-busting” churn, there’s no other way to evaluate a student, teacher or school than with a number. They don’t want parents to measure a school on anything other than a number because they’re not offering anything other than a number.
Everyone talks about the Atlanta scandal in terms of the cheaters, but I read the prosecutor’s report and I immediately imagined working in that environment or going to school there. No one trusted anyone else. It must have been a nightmare as a workplace, let alone as a school. The school reform industry is focusing on the cheaters, the few bad apples defense, but what was it like working or going to school there if one didn’t cheat? If people are wearing a god dammed wire at your workplace or school, “excellence” probably isn’t happening there, no matter the test scores.
This is a successful public school that has good numbers. They also have a team of people who work well together and have worked well together a long time. This school is as knitted-into the fabric of the town as a public instiution could possibly be. They have long and deep relationships both inside the school and in the larger community. They don’t spend tens of millions on advertising like the charter chains because they’re a truly public school, but if they did advertise they would have much, much more to sell to parents than a kid’s test scores going up or down.
The school reform industry focuses exclusively on test scores because that’s all they have. They aren’t selling local control and input or public schools as the backbone of a democratic society or a great school culture or long-term working relationships between teachers and among students and families and the rest of the people in a community.They can’t. It won’t work with their national chain privatization business model.