When Bill de Blasio ran for mayor the first time, he sought my help. We met and spoke candidly. He told me he would strongly support traditional public schools. He said he would oppose the expansion of private charters into public school space. He promised to stop closing schools because of their test scores. His own children went to public schools. He would protect them and end the destructive tactics of Joel Klein, who coldly and cruelly closed schools over the tearful objections of students, parents, and teachers.
The Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University has always been pro-school choice, pro-charters, pro-vouchers.
DeVos’ world gets stranger by the day.
Indiana has been taken over by the forces of corporate school reform, under a succession of Republican governors devoted to school choice: Mitch Daniels, Mike Pence, now Eric Holcomb. The public schools got a brief respite when educator Glenda Ritz was elected State Commissioner in 2012, but Pence spent four years attacking her Office and taking away its powers. Indiana has the gamut of privatization reforms: charter schools, vouchers, cybercharters.
Public education today faces an existential crisis. Over the past two decades, the movement to transfer public money to private organizations has expanded rapidly. The George W. Bush administration first wrote into federal law the proposal that privately managed charter schools were a remedy for low-scoring public schools, even though no such evidence existed. The Obama administration provided hundreds of millions each year to charter schools, under the control of private boards. Now, the Trump administration, under the leadership of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, wants to expand privatization to include vouchers, virtual schools, cyberschools, homeschooling, and every other possible alternative to public education. DeVos has said that public education is a “dead end,” and that “government sucks.”
Diane Ravitch Urges Boycott of Standardized Tests, Saying They Do Nothing for Kids But Make Testing Companies Rich
I am very glad that I attended public school during a time when we seldom, if ever, took a standardized test. On the rare occasion when we did, there were no consequences attached to our test scores. Our teachers saw our scores, but we did not. She or he learned something about how we were progressing or not. There was no time devoted to test prep, because the tests didn't matter. Practicing for a test would have been like "practicing" for a visit with the doctor. It makes no sense.
Today, standardized testing has become so ubiquitous that students in public schools are tested every year from grades 3 through 8, a reminder of the No Child Left Behind law, which left many children behind. For some reason, the policymakers in D.C. thought they knew more than professional educators about how to improve education. Test every child every year. Threaten teachers and principals with stiff penalties, including being fired or having their school closed. If scores went up, and sometimes they did, it didn't mean that children were better educated. It may have meant that they were worse educated because their school sacrificed the arts, history, civics, and other activities for the sake of prepping for the all-important tests.
Nevertheless, state leaders became persuaded that tests were good; the more tests the better. Most states are now giving tests that their own legislators would not be able to pass. There ought to be a law that no legislator may impose any test that he or she can't pass. If they took the tests and released their own scores, the testing mania would disappear.
Since that won't happen, the next best thing is civil disobedience. Opt out. Don't let your child take the tests. This a legitimate way of expressing your voice, which is otherwise ignored.
The single most important thing you need to know about the state tests is that they are utterly useless and without any value. The results come back in the summer or fall, when the student has a different teacher. Neither students nor teachers are allowed to discuss the questions on the test, so no one learns anything from them. Teachers are not given a diagnostic report for each student, just rankings. Why do you need to know that your child is a 38 or 48 or 68? How does that help her? What information can you glean from a ranking? None.
Testing today is like visiting the doctor for a regular check-up and learning that your results will be ready in four months, not next week. When the results come in, you are told you are a 12 on a scale of 15. You anxiously ask the doctor, what does that mean? He says, "I am not allowed to tell you." He gives you a few other numbers to show how you rate as compared to others of your height and weight, but he prescribes nothing because he is not able to learn anything from the scores and ratings.
A genuinely diagnostic test would be one where students and teachers could discuss the questions and answers. They would learn what the student got right and wrong. They would discuss whether the "right answer" was reasonable. If the student could make a better case for his answer, then his score could be changed. The teacher would learn where the students needed extra help. The teacher would learn which topics she had not given enough attention to.
But that is not the way standardized testing works today. Their contents are copyrighted. The testing corporations fiercely protect the secrecy of their questions and answers.
Their defenders think that the tests produce something that teachers need to know. They are not. They are producing numerical ratings and rankings that have no value. They are generating profits for the testing companies.
They are useless.
The best way to get this point across to the policymakers in your state and in Washington, D.C., is to refuse the tests. Do not take them. Send a message. This is the only way you can liberate your children from tests that have no value and that steal time from instruction and play. Defend your child. Defend the joy of learning.
The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education is an outrageous insult to the millions of people who send their children to public schools, to the millions of students who attend public schools, to the millions of educators who work in public schools, and to the millions of people–like me–who graduated from public school.
As readers of this blog know, deregulation of charters leads to fraud, graft, and abuse. On this site, I have documented scores of examples of fraudsters and grifters who take advantage of weak (or no) oversight to enrich themselves and to strand children in bad schools.
Recently, Checker Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute wrote an open letter to you, proposing that you stay the course with the failed reforms of the past fifteen years. Marc Tucker wrote an open letter to you, disagreeing with Checker. He said that all of Checker’s proposals were tinkering at the margins (Teach for America, New Leaders, scholarships, charter schools), and he recommended that you invest in improving the education system with an eye to the high-performing nations of the world. If Marc was thinking about Finland, my personal favorite, I endorse what he says; Finland emphasizes highly educated teachers, minimal testing, pre-school education, medical care, no charters, no vouchers, and lots of emphasis on creativity and play.
How Billionaires Are Successfully Fooling Us Into Destroying Public Education - and Why Privatization Is a Terrible Idea
The following is an excerpt from the new, expanded edition of The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch (Basic Books, 2016):