Home > Uncategorized > Counterpunch’s Compelling Protest Notwithstanding, I Stand By Biden’s Decision on Tests Given the ESSA Consensus

Counterpunch’s Compelling Protest Notwithstanding, I Stand By Biden’s Decision on Tests Given the ESSA Consensus

March 30, 2021

A few days a go i wrote a post on Biden’s broken promises that offered a tepid defense of his team’s decision to break the promise on standardized testing. After reading today’s compelling Counterpunch post by Gael Greene I felt my blood pressure rise and my bile start to circulate until I re-read a revision and expansion of that post that I recently submitted as an op ed piece to our local newspaper… a revision that appears below. I am sharing it as what I believe to be a reasoned rejoinder. Alas, as much as I agree with Ms. Greene, I believe that there is much more at stake in the early months of the Biden administration than standardized testing… and given the huge margins ESSA passed by in December 2015 (a 359-64 vote in th house and an 85-12 vote in the Senate), picking a righteous fight on testing seems foolhardy given the higher stakes in play with SB 1, the infrastructure bill, and the need to address climate change. As noted at the conclusion of this op ed essay, I think the time to pick this battle and fight it tooth and nail is when ESSA is up for reauthorization. Here’s the op ed submission:

I started this op ed essay in late February when I learned that Joe Biden broke his promise to end standardized testing in public schools. As one who has long decried the misuse of these tests, I was dismayed that he reneged on his pledge to end the use of standardized tests and perplexed at the logic his staff used when they issued an edict disallowing States from issuing blanket waivers for the tests, something even Betsy DeVos permitted.  The reasons for suspending tests during this year are particularly compelling. We didn’t need to give standardized tests to know that students who had high speed internet and computers would outperform the students who lacked either. We didn’t need to give tests to know that in-person instruction is superior to remote instruction. We don’t need another round of tests to prove what we already know: students from well-resourced schools in affluent communities with a good tax base will outperform students from under-resourced schools in poverty stricken communities with a weak tax base. 35 years of lawsuits in New Hampshire are based on that fact. Will taking yet another round of standardized tests in 2021 change the thinking of the NH legislature? What, exactly, will another round of tests tell us that we don’t already know?

But the battle over the American Rescue Plan (ARP) changed my perspective. A bill that was widely popular among voters in both parties, the ARP passed without a single GOP vote in early March. As a result of this purely partisan pushback, I began to appreciate the strong headwinds Joe Biden faced as he tackled a long list of daunting challenges and contentious issues, challenges and issues that include:

  • Unity: In the toxic environment in Washington, even Biden’s call for unity in his inauguration speech was seen as “partisan”. GOP heard “unity” as a call for the country to fall in line under the Democrat’s “socialist agenda”. Unity is impossible without bipartisanship, and bipartisanship cannot be achieved as long one party pledges to reject any legislation proposed by the other.
  • Resetting and reforming the economy: The pandemic exposed the deep flaws of our nation’s economy. Economic inequality, the lack of full-time jobs that pay a living wage, the lack of affordable childcare, and the lack of affordable health care all predated the pandemic and all undercut the strength of the economy.
  • COVID-19: The previous administration’s decision to politicize and federalize the response to the pandemic divided our country at a time when a unified and consistent approach was needed. Instead of following a coherent national policy based on medical science, each state issued varying guidelines on issues like mask wearing, social distancing, and the reopening of schools and businesses. Too often, these guidelines were driven by politics instead of medical advice. In addition to dealing with this disjointed framework, the Biden administration faces challenges in achieving herd immunity since recent polls show that 41% of the GOP voters do not intend to get vaccinated.
  • Racism: Racism existed before the pandemic. It is a complicated systemic problem, one that can only be addressed through earnest and honest debates and compromises. Branding COVID-19 as “the Asian Flu”, conflating BLM protests with the July 6 riots, and passing laws making voter registration more difficult for minorities make honest discourse about race more difficult.
  • Rebuilding International Alliances to solve International Problems: Joe Biden needs to mend fences with our allies in order for his administration administration to address the many complicated interdependent problems that affect everyone in the world. Problems like global climate change, endless wars, refiugee crises, and authoritarian rule and the erosion of democracy require international solutions and international consensus. America cannot solve any of these problems unilaterally.
  • Restoring faith in government and elections: For more than 40 years we’ve heard that government is the problem. Since the middle of last year we’ve heard that elections are rigged. Without faith in the government’s ability to help solve problems and without trust in the results of elections democracy cannot survive.
  • Fallout from the January 6 storming of the Capitol: The investigation of the riots of January 6 is fraught with political peril. The gathering of evidence for the trials of those who participated in the riots and the trials themselves will keep the July 6 riots in the news cycle and those in the House and Senate who believe the election was stolen will fan any flames of doubt and discontent.
  • Immigration: When Central American refugees sensed that new leadership in Washington might lead to less restrictive entry into the US, refugees seeking asylum began moving north. Biden’s early Executive Orders reinforced that notion. As a reult, immigration is an urgent—and divisive– crisis.
  • Guns: In the wake of two horrific shootings, the highly contentious issue of gun control requires immediate attention.

Given this list of tough challenges and highly partisan issues, I understand why Joe Biden decided to break his promise on standardized testing. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the law that requires States to administer standardized tests, was the last piece of truly bipartisan legislation. In December 2015 it passed in the House with a 359-64 vote and the Senate with an 85-12 vote. It is not surprising that an experienced politician like Joe Biden decided to break his promise on an issue that both parties supported, especially since the American Rescue Act provides a huge influx of cash for public schools.

ESSA is up for reauthorization shortly, though, and when it is considered in Congress I will finish my op ed article urging his administration to offer a new means of accountability. We need to use something other than pencil and paper tests as the primary metric of “success” for students and schools. The issues on the list above are, I must admit, far more urgent and important at this point. For now, I forgive Joe Biden for breaking his promise.

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