Home > Uncategorized > Diane Ravitch’s Sweeping and Accurate Overview of Three Decades of Failed Bi-Partisan”Reform” Underscores Uphill Battle Public Schools Face

Diane Ravitch’s Sweeping and Accurate Overview of Three Decades of Failed Bi-Partisan”Reform” Underscores Uphill Battle Public Schools Face

March 6, 2021

Many Americans agreed that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was the worst Cabinet appointee in the Trump administration and many hoped that her exit from that position would put an end to the failed policies she championed. Alas, the consensus on her failure has not translated into immediate change in the policy that is the most consequential failure of the “reform” movement: standardized testing. Why? Because as Ms. Ravitch’s essay implicitly notes, the idea of using standardized tests has had and continues to have bi-partisan support. The following excerpts from Ms. Ravitch’s sweeping history of “reform” emphasize this reality. She notes that the testing regimen’s root are the now infamous “A Nation At Risk” issued during the early years of the Reagan administration. In that report, public education was presented as the primary reason our economy was being challenged by other nations around the world. In response: 

Governors across the nation met with business leaders and decided that education was too important to leave to educators. What was needed, instead, was corporate thinking. And the remedies they came up with were standards and accountability, based on data derived from annual tests.

The next President, George H.W. Bush, then convened another “Education Summit” that ended up serving as a platform for a then obscure Governor from Arkansas, Bill Clinton. When he became President, Mr. Clinton noting that goals and standards are worthless without accountability, launched the idea of administering standardized tests to monitor progress toward those lofty ideals and his secretary of education, Richard Riley, encouraged every state to write standards and give more tests. 

That standard setting linked with testing became mandatory under his successor George W. Bush, with bi-partisan support for the passage of No Child Left Behind. 

Barack Obama, given a large chunk of stimulus funding and the NCLB framework put the whole concept of high stakes testing on steroids with Race to the Top, an initiative that effectively compelled all states to link TEACHER performance to standardized test scores and adopt a Common Core curriculum. 

The sad reality, as noted frequently in this blog, is that standardized tests in the name of accountability have existed for nearly 50 years and the results of those tests has not changed. Heavily resourced districts or schools serving the children of affluent and engaged parents score higher than districts and schools serving children raised in poverty. We don’t need another four years of tests to tell us what we already know. We need to acknowledge that under-resourced schools serving children raised in poverty need more money… period… end of report. Ms. Ravitch concludes her article with this: 

Urban districts don’t need testing, standards, accountability, and competition. We have poured billions of dollars into that fake reform and achieved little other than demoralized teachers and students whose test-centric education robs them of motivation.

Why not try a radically different approach? Why not fully fund the schools where the needs of students are greatest? Give the schools that enroll students with disabilities the resources that Congress promised but never delivered. Make sure that schools that serve the neediest students have experienced teachers, small classes, and a full curriculum that includes the arts and time for play.

Now that would be a revolution!

Stated differently: give EVERY school the resources that the wealthiest schools have. That might make a difference! 

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