Thursday, October 29, 2015

Misguided Mike Bloomberg Misses the Point on Testing & Public Education

Many in the education world recently cheered the announcement by the Obama administration that schools should seek to decrease testing and limit the amount of time taking standardized tests to no more than two percent of class time. While the stance was a clear reaction to the public's opposition to NCLB policies and increased testing, as well as a growing "opt out" movement of parents and kids who simply refuse the tests and their test-based accountability ideals, it was pretty clear that this policy is a text-book case of Obama politicking. For, it was his administration's policies under Education chief Arne Duncan that pushed these test-based policies in the first place. And, there is little evidence that Obama's policy will do anything to help the situation.

In fact, the one thing Obama's announcement has done is to amplify the entrenched positions of pro-testing and pro-test-based-accountability voices. This rigid opposition to facts is best exemplified by New York mayor Mike Bloomberg's recent piece of naivete in which he urges us to Demand Better Schools, Not Less Testing. Bloomberg perpetuates many myths about public education, not the least of which is the belief that "public schools are failing" or that American students are "falling behind" the rest of the world. Recent test scores from NAEP and ACT show stagnant or slightly lower scores on math and reading, which truly exposes the flaws of the test based reform that have dominated the past decade of public education policy. And scores from the international PISA tests continue to expose the real problem of American public schools - that is, poverty. For, American students are not, in Bloomberg's words, "in the middle of the pack." American schools with less than 25% poverty actually rank among the leaders of the world in international tests, and the state of Massachusetts actually ranks among the scores of countries like Finland, Singapore, and other "high scoring nations."

Additionally, Bloomberg ignores all the data the indicates test-based reform hasn't improved the academic achievement for our poorest and neediest students. As those kids' schools narrow their curriculum to only test prep, the students fall farther behind, and the measure of success by standardized test actually continues to favor students of affluent families. These tests have long been known to be at best a predictor of socio-economic status, not academic achievement or, worse, potential. By focusing on a one-size-fits-all model of academically focused tests with a bias against poor kids and students with an interest in the arts or skilled labor, people like Bloomberg actually cause more harm than good.

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