Time to Stop Pretending Tests Equal School Accountability

Published July 7, 2016

It’s become clear in the Common Core and Obama administration era that Republicans since Ronald Reagan have been wrong to equate centralized testing mandates with school accountability.

The dramatic increase in regulations attached to requiring most K–12 schoolchildren to take tests has produced some good, such as better data demonstrating how our education system shortchanges Americans. But the negative unintended consequences are high. As Greg Forster writes in the first of a new essay series:

‘Accountability,’ long established as the foundation of education reform, has come to mean technocratic accountability. Big new bureaucracies have been built, and millions spent, to grind out and analyze countless billions of data points whose connection to children’s real educational success is tenuous at best. The byzantine world of congressional sausagemaking, with its shadowy dealmaking and its forest of esoteric acronyms stretching as far as the eye can see, has become the center of the educational universe.

… all this technocracy is precisely what we have been fighting against all along. It is essentially an extension of the old regime’s philosophy: We’re the education experts, and we know best! It’s just as impersonal and unresponsive to the real needs of real people as the blob.

This realization harkens the breakup of the current school reform movement, into technocrats and free-marketers. Everyone is a “school reformer” now, but the various factions clearly don’t agree on what school reform means. As Forster says, simply repeating the words “free market” and “competition” are not enough to justify changes based upon the principles of individual liberty. Almost no one (although we know a few) gets out of bed in the morning saying to himself, “What can I do for free markets today?” Markets are simply a means to an end.

Yet what end? Well, part of the point is that many people answer that question in different ways. Some are good answers, and some are not. In order to combat technocracy, Forster says, we must do the intellectual and moral analysis of articulating why education matters and what it is for in the first place. That’s because an “accountability” system is not neutral. What it measures is what its managers value.

Choice-oriented reformers, therefore, need to demonstrate why technocracy is not just inefficient but immoral and destructive of the real purpose of education. That real purpose, as our state constitutions and founding documents such as the Northwest Ordinance say openly, is securing to posterity the blessings of self-government. An American education ought to be an education that leads young men and women into mature discharge of their duties before God, family, and country. You’ll find no skills directly related to this on standardized tests because tests aren’t designed to measure this greater purpose. And that’s a major reason they should no longer be allowed to drive American education.

SOURCES: Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice


School Choice Roundup

  • LOUISIANA: Voucher schools have been improving in performance over time and thus may rise above low early results, says state Superintendent Paul White, responding to recent studies that have sparked calls for eliminating state private school choice programs. Meanwhile, for the first time ever, the state has not fully funded its voucher program, meaning approximately a thousand low-income children will be denied a voucher for this fall.
  • INDIANA: Parents send their children to private voucher schools predominantly for religious and character education and academic quality, but also other significant considerations, a new survey finds.
  • CALIFORNIA: Parent Revolution reports a $50,000 grant to help its Choice4LA program, which helps poor families decide between and apply to good schools for their kids. So far, they’ve worked with 734 families.

Common Core and Curriculum Watch

  • MATH: Common Core has increased students’ math anxiety and reluctance and frustrated parent efforts to help their children learn, finds a new survey of teachers. It also finds middle-school math teachers think their students’ math skills have declined.
  • HANDWRITING: Researchers find that learning to print and write in cursive helps children learn to read better and ultimately perform better in school, because physical activities develop related brain functions that influence learning.

Education Today