End Voodoo Education: Vote "NO" on Revised No Child Left Behind

Dear Senators Sanders, Warren, Tester, & Paul,

Next week you should vote a loud "NO" on the legislation to revise No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the current version of the basic American education law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. You should do this -- Tester knows because he tried to eliminate it -- because it continues the abominable federal mandate that all states must give annual standardized tests.

Why do I call this Voodoo education because just like Voodoo or supply side economics it has been proven not to work. It just shifts to the states the administering of the worthless tests which was and is the heart of the problem with corporate test-based accountability.

Who says they're worthless? The National Research Council of the National Academies of Science in a 2011 report "Incentives and Test-based Accountability" says it. The report stated, Conclusion 1: "Test-based incentive programs...have not increased student achievement enough to bring the United States close to the levels of the highest achieving countries." One of those programs was NCLB.

President George W. Bush imposed it without any research that it works and we've known this for five years and yet President Obama and his non-educator secretary of education, Arne Duncan, expanded its use to evaluate teachers.

It is time to drive a stake into the heart of the federal testing mandate.

If not, and the NCLB revision passes, then 20 million public school students and millions of teachers will waste most of the next five months -- that's half of this school year -- doing test prep and then getting upset, stressed, and even sick when they actually take the tests. My neighbor described what happened in her class on test day. "Most of the kids were stressed and one little girl just threw up; it was a disaster."

A whole generation of students attended school for seven years under President Bush's NCLB and then spent the last seven under NCLB on steroids, better known as the Obama Administration's Race to the Top. Ah yes, winners and losers racing to nowhere.

The waste of instructional time, genuine teaching and learning, is enormous. Students may spend 20 to 25 hours actually taking the math and ELA tests but a study, "TIME ON TEST: The Fixed Costs of 3-8 Standardized Testing in New York State", found that students had to wait over an hour each day for "testing related activities" -- 20 minutes to prep room, 14 minutes to change locations for some students, 12 minutes to count and distribute the tests, ad naseum -- to be completed.

But the real waste of instructional time is test prep where you mostly learn how to take a test. I could not find a study that determined how many days, weeks, and months are wasted on it. But another study, "Student Testing in America's Great City Schools", found that American students in large city school systems take 112 tests during the 14 years they spend from pre-k to graduation whereas most other developed countries administer only 3. That's 109 fewer tests and no test prep for months if not years.

It is no wonder that more children are likely to say, "mommy, I don't want to go to school," or "I don't like school." In October the Associated Press (AP) interviewed Cecilia Munoz, the director of the White House's Domestic Policy Council, who said, "In the worst case, it can sap the joy and fun out of the classroom for students and teachers."

And teachers are furious about what they have to do to children and what has happened to their profession, their calling. Most don't object to being held accountable but they want a process that is valid and reliable not like the current VAM or value added system another part of Voodoo education. But they are sick and tired of the worthless testing and the pressures of the new evaluation system being imposed on them at the same time. Catherine Snow, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education commented on this, "it is clear to anyone with a grain of common sense that there should have been a five-year amnesty on consequences for testing when implementing the Common Core."

So why are we making our children and teachers miserable and learning to hate school? In October Obama administration officials also told the AP, "that in many cases, testing is redundant, poorly aligned with curriculum, or simply overkill."

One experienced New York City teacher (most teachers don't want their names to be used because they are afraid of retaliation. What kind of world is this?) expressed her outrage. "I see the agony teachers are still suffering each day. Excellent teachers getting 'developing' regardless that their students have IEPs, are special needs or are English Language Learners and have difficulty with testing...But the beat of bullying administrators, harassment, and the demand for data continues...And nowhere do I see our union leaders apologizing for supporting this agenda and calling for an immediate stop to its use."

Parents and teachers have been complaining about what has been happening to their children and to education since the early days of No Child Left Behind but no one listened. It wasn't until 240,000 New York State children were opted out of the tests and according to Fair Test 260,000 more around the country that politicians paid attention.

Obama recommended a minuscule reduction in testing, Arne Duncan soon will be spending "more time with his family," and part of the abusive use of federal power in education will be dumped into the laps of the states.

But state education systems have been warped by 15 years of NCLB and RTT. What they need, at minimum, is a one-year waiver from federal testing requirements so that instead of wasting this school year administering the same old damaging and worthless high-stakes tests, they start planning for the future. States and schools -- yes there should be plenty of bottom-up input from classroom teachers and parents -- need to use the next nine months revising and even reinventing education.

But if you think that the education war is over think again. There are plenty of powerful and wealthy people at the state level with ideologically driven, not scientifically proven, ideas about keeping the test-based accountability system (Voodoo education) in place.

Parents and classroom teachers, who often teamed up in the opt out movement, have been in a permanent campaign mode and are building organizations in most states. And United Opt-Out is holding a national conference in Philadelphia, February 26-28. These organizations know it's a war and they have won some battles and taken some prisoners. But they know there are many battles to come.
So pay attention Congress, do the right thing, and help revive American education.