What’s Missing From Education Reform in America?

2015—What’$ Really Driving the Ob$$e$$ion with Te$ting?

As he prepared to step down as Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan appeared on national TV with President Obama to declare that too much emphasis has been placed on standardized testing. Together they called for changes in policy as reported in The New York Times.

Mr. Duncan and the President called on Congress to “reduce over -testing” when reauthorizing legislation governing public schools. Mr. Duncan said, “I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.”

Testing was one of the hallmarks of Mr. Duncan’s 2008 Race to the Top initiative. Where was he while teachers all across America have been complaining about the obsession with testing since the early eighties? And now that he’s heard the teachers, he’s resigning.

Praising Mr. Duncan, President Obama said, “He’s done more to bring our education system — sometimes kicking and screaming—into the 21st century more than anybody else.” While this is true, perhaps the President should have listened to what teachers were kicking and screaming about.

As Education Week wrote in 2012 that standardized testing costs states about $1.7 billion a year. How many teachers and books might have been added to our schools? How many art, music, theater, and dance classes?

What’s more, the College Board has turned testing into a racket. Reports show net revenues rose from $53 million in 2009 to $6.5 million in 2010. And since 2009, the Board spent $1,485,750 to influence legislation. Efforts paid off in grants for promoting Advanced Placement courses and exams that then Secretary of Education Arne Duncan supported. Revenue from 2012 AP tests prior to those grants was $299,570,967.

As all this was unfolding, schools have been cutting the arts and humanities so that for many students, 30,000 years of what it means to be human have been reduced to an occasional elective. Education in civics, the study of what it means to be a citizen, is sparse—as evidenced in the lack of civility that defines much of our public discourse.

We seem to becoming increasingly unable as a people to find creative and compassionate solutions to the problems affecting our well-being. As an education system goes, so goes the nation it educates.