This is the 16th of 20 posts I will be writing during the PARCC testing window of March 9 – April 10. If you’re interested in the growing master list of reasons we opted out of standardized tests in 2015, you can find it here.
Last week I ranked the ulterior motives of those who manipulate the American public with standardized test scores from “worst” to “less bad”. I then wrote about the worst offenders, those who seek to profit from the false crisis of American public education made possible by the manipulation of test score data. Today I focus on…
Reason 16: Political Profiteering
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was a perfect example of political profiteering off public education. It combines a perfect title (who wants to leave children behind?) with an impossible task (all children proficient by 2014 regardless of circumstance) and a clear target when the impossible is not achieved (public schools and teachers).
Public schools have been the target of politicians since the launching of Sputnik in 1958. The Russians beat us to space with a satellite that did nothing of significance beyond beeping and scaring the crap out of the American public. The logical conclusion was that American schools must not be training our future scientists and engineers right. That message hasn’t changed much and is still perpetuated today with a fake “STEM crisis” created by those who seek to profit from the overproduction of STEM graduates.
In 1983, the politicians benefitted further when A Nation at Risk was published and our public schools were again blamed for America’s inability to produce cars or televisions as well as the Germans or Japanese. Our country was once again in crisis as America’s public teachers endangered our future economic success. Ronald Reagan held up a copy of A Nation at Risk in front of the press corps and raised the alarm. In the decades since it’s publication A Nation at Risk has since been thoroughly debunked by real education scholars, but nobody has paid as much attention as the day when The Gipper lambasted public education’s “low standards, lack of purpose, ineffective use of resources, and a failure to challenge students to push performance to the limits of individual ability”.
Today we hear the echoes of these cries from those who ridiculously claim that public education is endangering our national security. President Obama has doubled down on the imminent failure of NCLB by putting $5 billion into the flop known as Race to the Top (RTTT). Regardless of how badly Secretary of Arne Duncan failed with his expenditure of American taxpayer funds, the media and public still get in a tizzy when he makes claims of educational stagnation and complacency despite never actually being an educator.
One of the safest bets a politician can make is to stand up in front of a crowd and promise to do something about America’s failing schools. What’s remarkable is that this bet is so safe despite the fallacy it’s central claim is based on. Regardless, America’s public school teachers have long been an easy target of politicians who don’t understand what we do or how we do it, but control the purse strings and the narrative anyway.
It’s important to point out that the only people who are around to deal with the aftermath of failures like No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top are the public schools and public school educators. NCLB was conveniently designed to reach 100% proficiency in 2014, a full 6 years after President Bush would be out of office. Ostensibly that would have left the mess for the next President to clean up. However, instead of admitting failed policy, President Obama did what politicians do best, used the states’ inevitable failure to meet NCLB thresholds as leverage to force them into adopting the CCSS and compete for RTTT funds. Obama’s reign over public education will end next year and I cringe to see what the next President comes up with. We’ve replaced bad with worse, and somehow the schools are still on the short end of the blame-stick. Frank Underwood would be proud.