“If only the Department of Education could hear this guy Obama, boy, would they have to rethink their approach,” writes former Oakland science teacher Anthony Cody in the can’t-miss column of the month.
Despite the timing, this is not an April Fool’s post. During remarks at a heavily-promoted town hall on the Univision network intended to entice Hispanic voters, Obama careened wildly off-message, slamming the misuse of standardized tests and the culture of test preparation promoted by his own Secretary of Education, sitting nearby.
In response to Luis Ayala, a student who questioned the staggering quantity of frequently redundant standardized tests for which his teachers have to prepare him every year, Obama suggested that students in public schools should experience standardized testing in the way his daughters do at an exclusive Washington DC prep school:
[T]just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn’t a high-stakes test. It wasn’t a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn’t even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time. They didn’t study for it, they just went ahead and took it. And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.
Too often what we’ve been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we’ve said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that’s not the only way we’re judging whether a school is doing well.
Because there are other criteria: What’s the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not.
So what I want to do is—one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you’re not learning about the world; you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math. All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam.
Fortunately for Duncan, Obama pre-empted the news cycle with a speech on Libya, so these remarks received almost no coverage from the teacher-hating mass media. The parent-and-teacher blogosphere, however, has been picking up on this moment. One particularly astute commentary by Julianne Hing notes the extraordinary extent to which Obama contradicts himself:
Under Obama’s education policy proposals, an entire school’s teaching staff can be fired, schools can be shut down, and new charter schools brought in, if test scores don’t improve adequately. A number of recent scandals involving potential test tampering and impropriety suggest that the charter schools and traditional public schools alike are feeling immense pressure to show yearly gains in test scores.
Hing goes on to ask whether Obama is intentionally punking his own Ed Sec as part of routine politics:
Obama’s great at co-opting his critics’ arguments even if he doesn’t take to heart their policy suggestions. It’s an excellent strategy for cornering his critics and closing off the political space that critics of standardized tests have carved out for themselves in the often confounding education debate.
Just as pointedly, Cody asks whether Obama is a) trying to mislead voters or b) unfamiliar with his own Sec Ed’s policy. “Is President Obama aware,” Cody writes, that Race to the Top and Arne Duncan are rapidly multiplying the number and frequency of such tests, raising the stakes for both students and fauclty, and require states to tie teacher pay closely to test scores? “If ever there was a recipe for teaching to the test, this it!” he writes:
President Obama, I loved the way you described the role of assessment. It should be occasional, not punitive, and used to help diagnose where students need help. What Sasha and Malia are getting is wonderful. Is there a way we could get your Department of Education’s policies to align with your personal vision?
The Department of Education might easily have ignored the blogosphere, given the friendly silence on these remarks observed by the major news outlets.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, Duncan’s minions have swooped down on at least some of these opinionators, ham-handedly demanding a “correction” from Cody, claiming that he somehow “misinterpreted” the Prez. Cody peppered them with a few queries and awaits their reply–stay tuned!
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