Thursday, October 29, 2015

"...let's...embrace the fact that you showed up at all..."*

On Saturday, President Obama in a video message commented that we had too much testing in our schools, and that it needed to be limited. This was followed up by official guidance from the federal Department of Education.
And then the internet flipped out.
If you're a long-time reader, you know that I've been outraged by President Obama's education policy since before he took office (That link goes to December 2008). That it has doubled-down on much that was wrong with No Child Left Behind to begin with, while adding extra measures of things that are also awful, has been a frequent theme for me (and it's why I voted against Race to the Top).

But there's two things that bother me about the chorus of negativity that met the President's announcement.
First, most of the scoffing (shading to outrage) comes from educators, in one way or another; from teachers to education policy makers and think tanks, many people in education reacted negatively to this announcement. I thought, though, that we in education didn't give up on people. I thought we were about explaining it again, changing how we tackled a subject, coming back to what students don't get. I thought we were about getting everyone there, no matter how long it takes.
Does that not apply to adults or to presidents? Or did we really not mean that at all?

The second thing that bothers me about the reaction is what's missed: we're in the middle of the renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Congress has to pass it and the President has to sign it. Many in the Democratic party have been taking their signals from the President in education policy. That has meant that much of what we loathe--and much of that centered around testing--has been pretty non-negotiable. For him to say that there's too much testing and to lay out some clear parameters for testing opens the door for new levels of negotiation on what can be in ESEA (and get votes and gain his signature) than there were before. That absolutely matters.
And in the meantime, we're still living in the ESEA waiver universe, and the department handing out those waivers just changed the rules on how we're operating. I look forward to states submitting waiver applications publicly that take very, very seriously:
  •  testing that is PART of classroom instruction
  • testing and test prep that is NOT a separate item
  • testing that is FULLY transparent to parents and to the public
  • testing that is NOT the sole measure of anything
..and so forth (do please read the DoE fact sheet). I venture that very few, if any, current waivers include any of this. It's up to the states now to take DoE at their word and submit waivers--and be VERY public about them--that actually follow those rules.

And then we can see if the lesson has truly been learned. A test, if you will.
*Sam Seaborn to C.J. Cregg, "Mr. Willis of Ohio," The West Wing, Season 1, episode 6

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