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We Need Congressional Hearings on Standardized Testing

It is now clear to tens of thousands of parents across America that their children are being victimized by mandated standardized testing.
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It is now clear to tens of thousands of parents across America that their children are being victimized by mandated standardized testing. Outraged by the effrontery of this illegal intrusion by the federal government into the classroom and Washington's dismissal of their parental rights, they have opted out of having their children tested.

What has particularly galled parents is that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who never taught a day in his life, claims that he, better than they, knows what is best for their children.

Last year, educators and parents formed a nationwide advocacy group, The Network for Public Education (NPE), which has called for Congressional hearings to investigate the misuse of standardized testing in our public schools.

Some of the questions the NPE is urging Congress to explore are:

Do these multiple-choice tests promote the skills children need in the 21 century? Certainly it's more important to give students a rich and well-rounded education that teaches them to think critically and creatively in facing the challenges of the modern world, rather than teaching them to choose the right bubble on a standardized test.

How good are these tests? There are many flawed questions, some with no right answer, and others with more than one. Some questions are so unclear or misleading that a soothsayer would be hard-pressed to divine their meaning, while others are far too difficult for their intended age group. Some questions seem politically slanted, others contain product placements, and still others cover material that was never taught.

Are these tests culturally biased? Students from racial and ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, and poor students almost always score poorly on these biased tests, resulting in the closing of schools that serve low-income communities of color and turning them into privately managed charters.

Are these tests harmful to children with disabilities? Children with severe brain disorders were pressured to complete required tests. The State of Florida harassed an 11-year-old boy dying in hospice to take the state tests; he died before he was able to take them.

What is the purpose of these tests? They are not diagnostic, since neither students nor teachers see the test results to learn from them, so they must be punitive. Test scores will determine whether students can move on to middle school, be admitted to honors and AP programs, or graduate from high school. Teachers and principals may be fired, and inner-city schools may be closed and turned into charters.

Does testing harm teaching? Teachers spend so much time prepping for tests that many schools have reduced time for teaching science, history, art and music. These subjects are not tested, so they aren't taught. All that matters is test preparation for reading and math.

Has the frequency of testing increased? Florida high-school students were tested on 65 out of 180 days. In North Carolina, third-graders are tested in reading 36 times alone, in addition to other standardized tests.

How much money does testing cost? Millions of dollars are yearly diverted from what should be invested in teaching children to testing companies like Pearson, providers of testing hardware like Microsoft, test-prep providers, vendors, and consultants, who are lining up to cash in on this latest bonanza that will save American education from some imaginary nemesis.

Consider the mission-creep stealth with which Secretary Duncan has proceeded in dismantling traditional public-school education. Understandably, he could not have called a prime-time press conference to formally announce that, henceforth, he would be taking control of what was taught in America's schools, as this is expressly forbidden by federal law.

Instead, he has resorted to its full-scale takeover under the guise of standardized testing, whose political purpose is to destabilize public schools and discredit public-school teachers in the eyes of the public by the punitive use of these rigged tests.

The poor scores will negatively impact inner-city schools already earmarked for "failure" by government neglect and underfunding, thereby providing the legal fiction for closing these schools, which will then become charters. Charters do not produce better test results than public schools, even though charters are free to choose their students, refusing those who test poorly and admitting only those who test well, thereby gaming the system from the outset.

The intent of these corporate reformers, abetted by various governors and legislators, is to demoralize teachers to leave the profession as part of an agenda of union-busting and stripping teachers of their pensions and tenure to destroy public education for profit.

The fate of American children will be left in the caring hands of charters, investors, hedge-fund managers, and foundations, the new recipients of billions of taxpayer dollars, with no accountability, using poorly-paid temps, without benefits, pension, or tenure, who will be gone in two years, creating chronic staff turnover, poor teacher/student rapport, little continuity of instruction, and loss of institutional memory.

One final question should also be considered at these Congressional hearings -- abolishing the U.S. Department of Education altogether to prevent this and future takeover-attempts of public education by the federal government. Removing a particular Secretary of Education, who serves at the pleasure of the president, is not only unlikely, but pointless, since the next administration might perpetuate the same destructive educational policies. Better to rid the country forever of even the possibility of the problem.

We are still reeling in disbelief that we are living in an America that spies on its own citizens. We cannot believe that George Orwell's prophecy of a Big Brother has been fulfilled on our shores, the bastion of the free world, the City on the Mountain, the land of Washington and Jefferson, Hamilton and Adams. My God, we are imploding as a nation, and somewhere, at this very moment, another Edward Gibbon may be penning the Decline and Fall of America.

So shocking is this realization of universal surveillance of our own people that many still find it too hard to believe. But, for all too many, the sense of betrayal remains all too real despite President Obama's assurances that we have nothing to fear, while a commissar has taken over our schools and controls what they teach.

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