Posts Tagged ‘ education ’

The Drumbeat of the Educational “Reformers”

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I avoided reading the recent Time magazine article “Rotten Apples” by Haley Sweetland Edwards because I figured it would just make me angry.

It caught up with me, though, at a dentist’s office today as I waited for my daughter to have her braces tightened. I can’t say I was wrong about my reaction.

When published, with its dramatic cover photo of a gavel coming down toward a defenseless Red Delicious, the article ignited almost as much controversy as the legal decision it focused on.

That decision, Vergara v. California was the first success in a campaign waged by Silicon Valley millionaire David Welch, now tied in the popular imagination to the broader changes in education and the controversial Common Core movement. Welch used a PR firm and a team of lawyers to go after the current bugaboo in educational reform circles: Teachers themselves.

Based on recent research extolling teacher quality as the most powerful force in educational outcomes, a whole wave of new “reformers” is putting teachers in the metaphorical crosshairs. All too often, though, the conversations have not focused on helping teachers develop their talents and better master the minefield of the modern American classroom, but on how to get rid of bad teachers.

The problem, according to Welch, is tenure.

The data that Welch and his supporters use, of course, isn’t quite as conclusive as they would like people to believe. Teacher quality has a powerful effect, but that effect has not been found to be all powerful. A really good teacher vs. an awful one will still only swing outcomes in the neighborhood of 10% for students.

It’s not insignificant, of course, and the appeal to these “reformers” is that teacher quality—unlike socioeconomic disparity or other deeply rooted social factors that also have tremendous impact on educational performance—seems manageable.

These business leaders and market thinkers, in a stunning feat of sadly daft small-mindedness, have proposed purging low performing teachers (defined by the narrow rubric of student test performance, no less) as a simple solution to the problem of teacher quality.

This, obviously, has not gone without comment from teacher unions and other representatives of the profession. When the California ruling declaring teacher tenure unconstitutional came down, teachers’ groups immediately prepared for the next round in the court battle.

Welch says of the upcoming appeal of the Vergara decision, “I’m willing to fight that battle as long as I have to fight that battle.”

But what he and the other anti-tenure crusaders haven’t thought to ask is whether winning that battle will have any impact on the outcome of the war.

Teacher tenure was secured as a protection against arbitrary and politically motivated firings, a move to protect teachers as stalwart fixtures in culture’s self-propagation. One can imagine a wealth of theoretical reasons pro and con for the practice of granting tenure, but the practical reality must be acknowledged.

Yes, there are lousy teachers out there.

As a long-time teacher in Texas, I have known and been frustrated by the presence of many bad teachers over the years. This would seem to provide begrudging support for Welch’s argument, were it not for one simple fact.

Texas has no tenure system.

The Lone Star State’s example proves that Welch’s magic bullet to fix education will surely fail. In a profession that burns out more than half of new teachers within five years, having to keep bad teachers isn’t the problem—it’s keeping any teachers at all.

Conditions for teachers have grown progressively worse during the two decades that business-spirited “reformers” have held sway over the effort to “fix” our national school system. The nation’s schools have been locked in a constant feedback loop of constantly shifting testing standards constantly uncovering educational deficits, with well-paid corporations providing the damning evidence by scanning the Rorschach patterns in scantron bubbles with all the insight of tea leaf readings.

Despite more than a decade of testing-über-alles in the nation’s schools thanks to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the movers and shakers of the data-driven instruction movement have precious little data to trumpet. It turns out that making schools obsess over state tests can improve state test scores, but nothing else.

Measures of academic excellence that correlate with real-world success like the SAT haven’t budged an inch, despite their superficial similarities to the bubble-riddled state exams.

The results people aren’t getting results, and yet those same people believe that they’ve found the scapegoat.

Well before the Vergara decision, teachers have been pushed for greater and greater “accountability,” a buzzword that has translated to more paperwork and more scrutiny for teachers. Educators across the nation—and particularly here in Texas—have been pushed for results through reviews, excruciating data analysis sessions, and trainings focused on assessment, assessment, assessment. Meanwhile, the Great Recession left budgets slashed, ratcheting up the pressure on teachers by forcing them to preside over larger classroom populations with less systemic support.

The turnover rate among new teachers entering this hostile climate is unsurprising and it’s the fatal flaw in Welch’s battleplan. Studies have found that teacher quality is also something that can be developed throughout a teacher’s career. Very few prodigies launch into the classroom and are immediately effective as practitioners. The evidence suggests that experience is vital, but even more interesting, it also shows that teachers can get better just by being assigned to better schools. Firing bad teachers might seem like a way to improve the environment in schools and hence reinforce this effect, but it would likely only lead to the revolving door for beginning teachers spinning even faster.

In short, Welch may get rid of the bad teachers, but where does he expect to find the good teachers to take their places?

To do that, we need an honest exploration of what makes for a good teacher.

That is where the wrongheadedness of Welch’s approach really reveals itself.

Time’s article characterizes the movement spearheaded by these Silicon Valley 1%’ers and the broader business-backed “reform” movement so entangled with for-profit educational firms like Pearson as, “built on private-sector management strategies.” The truth goes much deeper, though. These education “reformers,” from the common core folks to the NCLB backers a decade ago, all share one dismal trait in common: their view of education is entirely framed in economic terms.

One of the pieces of evidence brought into the Vergara case was a finding from a Harvard/Columbia study that found that bad teachers could affect a student’s lifetime income to the tune of $250,000.

Yet, these market thinkers never bother to consider what market incentives exist for teachers. The worsening bureaucratic realities for teachers under the Common Core and the testing movement are only part of the problem. With low standards, low pay, and withering social status, teaching lacks the very market value that the “reformers” use to appraise their impact on students.

Other nations—Finland, most notably—have successfully reformed their education systems without the help of wealthy moguls’ input. Professionalizing the teaching field and investing in teacher quality through education and incentives instead of taking a scythe to the existing workforce can pay more dividends than the results-oriented “reformers” have been able to accomplish with their push for accountability through testing.

For that, though, we must surrender their entire paradigm.

Education, after all, is not and should not be simply about economics. Children are not products to be brought up to code (though that is the chilling implication of the rhetoric and methodology of the “reformers”). The education system these standards-driven ideologues have designed is a sad parody of the Jeffersonian ideal which suffused the Founders’ vision for America, and it subtracts from the dignity of all the human beings caught up in its increasingly labyrinthine accountability machine.

If we infused fresh life into our education system by training and trusting a new generation of teachers vested in a humanistic and holistic approach to improving the minds and lives of our young people, then we might find that even some of the undesirable teachers Welch wants to expunge might rise to the occasion.

We can certainly afford to find out, since all the other changes under the business-minded “reformers” have already failed.

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Just Say No…to Teaching?

This image is ironic, if you now the right meme.

I have this one student this year who, ever since the deer-in-headlights who-the-heck-is-this-guy looks wore off at the beginning of the school year, has been telling me that she wants to do exactly what I do when she grows up–though I’m sure a seventeen year old wouldn’t have said “when I grow up.”

It’s always been her life’s ambition, apparently, to teach.

Which is why I was so disheartened when a few weeks ago she asked me if I thought she should become a teacher after all. So many people had been discouraging her–including, I think, some of her teachers–that she’d begun to question her lifelong goal.

I reassured her that, despite all the difficulties and pitfalls, teaching was still extremely rewarding.

In the weeks since, though, I’ve seen other voices chime in questioning whether it’s worth teaching these days. In a resignation letter that’s since gone viral, teacher Gerald Conti questioned whether the profession even exists any longer. A fellow English teacher Randy Turner would apparently tell my young pupil a flat out: “No. Don’t go into teaching.”

As we move deeper into the twenty-first century, visionaries and bureaucrats alike are crafting an image of education without teachers. Most of these efforts rely on technology. In higher education, penny pinchers have already begun relying on mass courses and computerized evaluation to replace teaching staff (while also shifting away from tenured positions to disposable and interchangeable adjunct positions). At the other end of the spectrum, TED darling Sugata Mitra argues that perhaps students don’t need schools and on his computer-driven learning terminals in India students interact, not with trained teachers, but with video feeds from encouraging matrons in England. These folks think that hollow sound is the twenty-first century knocking, apparently.

I’ve commented on the problems facing teachers and eduction in general many times and will hardly stop after this post. But I wanted to fire my own volley on this particular front of the War on Teachers to ask a simple question: What would a society without teachers look like?

Many may imagine that we are seeing just such a shift, but I don’t think so. These teacherless side-shows are just novelty acts–ones that won’t have staying power. I don’t think we can have any kind of twenty-first century without teachers. In a society as diverse as ours, we must have a niche for professional educators because they are more than just functionaries, more than just lesson delivery systems. Teachers do more than any computer system can ever do.

The most important function of a teacher is not to grade papers or disseminate information, and that’s why I think my advice to my own pupil is still sound. Her lot in life won’t be to push the paperwork around or to follow lesson plans. Our most important job as teachers is to be a model of transformative intellectualism in students’ lives, to show them what it looks like to live in the mind, to be committed to the ideals of education–no matter what the actual practice may look like in the future.

Setting Standards

Arguing that the standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act aren’t within reach, Robert Pondiscio proposes in The Atlantic that we should at least adopt the same exam that new citizens must pass as a bar for high school graduation.

His editorial: “Let’s Set a National Standard for Our Students–A Really Low One.”

Well, Pondiscio has an idea–a really bad one.

Those of us in education know what standardized tests do to teaching and curriculum: they reduce it to the lowest common denominator. Pondiscio’s test has ten questions out of a pool of one hundred. Geez, if the tests our kids had to pass were that easy, NCLB would be no problem. He argues that the test represents “the kind of thing every schoolboy knew when schoolboys used to know things” and that setting a modest goal of mastering this test would be the first step toward “restoring some faith in our schools and reining in some of the purely aspirational goals of our big thinkers in education.”

Honestly, I’ve been confronted by a lot of ridiculous ideas about education (don’t get me started on the state of Texas’s new evaluation criteria for schools), but this may take the cake.

The first and most essential problem with Mr. Pondiscio’s premise here–and with the thinking of so many of the non-educators who dictate educational policy–is the flawed belief that passing this test would mean absolutely anything. I could train a parrot to pass the citizenship test. Does that mean that the bird would have “[acquired] basic knowledge of civics and history.”

Being able to answer fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice questions does not demonstrate real learning. It certainly does not show mastery of civics or even a functional understanding of our government. As with all of these standardized tests, not being able to pass would tell you something about someone, but paradoxically, the simple fact that someone passes it doesn’t really tell you anything.

If we really are committed to having standardized tests play an important role in our society, then let’s get serious about them.

First of all, let’s have just one. It’s the twenty-first century. It is perfectly possible for an adaptive, computer-based test to assess basic reading, all the way up to sophisticated rhetorical analysis. Likewise, with a few adaptive questions, a computer exam could assess a student’s mathematical ability all the way from addition to differentials. For questions on reasoning or basic knowledge, we don’t need mountains upon mountains of paper tests–just secure Internet connections.

One computerized test to rule them all also makes it impossible to teach to the test. An adaptive, broad-range database would be too difficult to cater to with canned strategies and test-based exercises (usually sold by private firms for profit). There would be nothing for the education system to do but actually teach, and actually allow students to learn. Instead of the kind of relentless drilling that happens now in response to these arbitrary test standards, (The same kind of drilling that Pondiscio admits could prepare someone for the civics test in “a few hours of concerted study.”) we might see classrooms that encourage real inquiry and promote understanding–instead of cramming for a few facts or a few basic skills.

Secondly, make it largely a written test. Once the computer has evaluated the nuts and bolts that it can, then feed the student an appropriately leveled writing prompt on each of a few disciplines. Say, one on science, another on history, and maybe one in response to a reading selection. This feedback wouldn’t be instantaneous and it wouldn’t be cheap (so the bloated testing industry can rejoice–I’m not arguing for their annihilation here), but it would be genuine. Multiple choice ultimately puts a cap on the cognitive demands of any question by giving you a range of answer choices. This can never compare to the rigor of an open-ended question. What’s more, there is no creative or open-ended way of interpreting the question, no way to exceed its crude parameters.

Writing, though, would allow for real assessment of a student’s understanding. Yes, even with really well-constructed rubrics, there would remain ranges and subjectivity, but that is exactly how we should be seeing our children. Not as products to be brought up to a set of specifications, but as human beings with varying talents and potentials. Our assessments should reflect an acknowledgement that our children are, you know, human beings.

This one system could evaluate any student, from first grade through high school and give him or her a simple rating in each discipline. Forget passing standards and pre-set expectations. Just let the test provide feedback on student progress. Why round students up and test them all at once? Let students challenge the tests when they’re ready.

Again and again, we see policy makers trying to cobble together hackneyed solutions to our educational “crisis” without understanding the fundamental problem: we are continuing to service an educational system designed for the industrial world in the information age. It’s time to recognize that our system–along with the standards championed by test proponents–is obsolete.

The solution is not a lower bar, but to stop thinking in terms of bars at all. That metaphor presents a limited hierarchy of performance, but we should embrace the branching possibilities of real education in the 21st century.

Seen but Not Heard

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Internet notoriety is a peculiar thing. I’ve just been unable to learn the fate of Melissa Cairns despite several permutations of googling her name along with “tape” and “students.” You see, a few months back, Ms. Cairns was suspended from her position as a middle school teacher for a picture posted on her facebook depicting several of her students with duct tape over their mouths with the caption: “Finally found a way to keep them quiet!”

The story bounced onto my radar through casual web browsing back at the end of January. You see, it went down like this: one of her students was absent-mindedly playing around with a piece of tape–just playing around, the horror!–and ended up putting it on her own mouth for a laugh. The students got a good chuckle out of it and Cairns let the kids pose for the silly picture.

Unfortunately, her bosses didn’t get the joke and as of the article date, she was pending possible termination.

Cairns pleaded to the press during her (apparently abbreviated) fifteen minutes of infamy, “Do I think that this one mistake should cost me the last 10 years of all the good I’ve done?”

I have another question, though, for both Ms. Cairns and society at large: Was it a “mistake” at all?

Is it really so wrong to have had a moment of levity with students? As a teacher, I know the daily struggle to engage with students and building rapport through light-hearted banter and off-plan frivolity are part of the art of teaching.

Melissa Cairns didn’t do anything wrong. She was being playful with students, building relationships and trust. It’s social. It’s real. And increasingly, that’s becoming anathema to an education system obsessed with its own dysfunctions.

From zero tolerance policies to high stakes testing, schools have become a wall-to-wall freak-out zone. School administrations and boards dwell interminably on a mantra of more, more, more, better, better–crafting an expectation that every second in the classroom is like being in a pressure-cooker brewing up results, results, and more results. It’s an inhuman and inhumane view of children that neglects the realities of socialization and the psychology of learning. Anyone who violates this climate of rigor is lashed as a pariah, like Ms. Cairnes was for her innocent joke.

This hypersensitivity isn’t earnest; it’s part of the insanely imbalanced climate in today’s public schools where fun is heresy against a dogma of “standards” and “accountability.” Missing from these equations is the joy of learning. The only emotion allowed in this wasteland landscape of high stakes testing is satisfaction at having accomplished one of the benchmarks decided by the state–a narrow, monolithic yardstick that celebrates only a particular type of problem solving at the expense of so much of what makes learning wonderful.

I don’t know what you’re up to now, Ms. Cairns, but I hope you’re back in your classroom with your students, and you know what, I hope they still feel free to laugh with you, too.

Heroes and Truth

courtesy of M. Walsh

As an atheist married to a Catholic and raising (hopefully) open-minded Catholic children, I watched the ascent of the new pope with no small measure of curiosity. Pope Benedict’s crusade against the “dictatorship of relativism” was always troubling to me because the spiritual leader of over a billion Catholic digging in his heels over the abstract notion of absolute truths could bode very, very ill for peoples of other faiths and consciences. So I take heart from Pope Francis’s recent move to bless reporters silently because he recognized the likelihood of their religious diversity and was respectful toward it.

It’s a measure of consideration that is not often paid to unbelievers here in the South. Here it is not unusual for public school commencements and sporting events to incorporate prayers. Many might fault me for criticizing these traditions, but we live in a pluralistic society, a blending of many different perspectives into one meta-culture. A certain respect for that must be implicit in all our public institutions so that all citizens know this is their country, their school, their society. So it is wrong to invoke the supernatural in a ceremony or event funded by the public trust.

How wrong, though? This question is, as any good pluralist must admit, a tricky one. We’re talking about where to set the slider bar between the right of a community to define itself and the rights of individuals not to be excluded from public life. I will admit that I have never protested these episodes. I have never walked out of a graduation service because of a prayer. (Though they almost never specifically mention “Jesus” or anything specifically Christian, I still wonder how the folks in the stands would feel if the blessing’s wording was inclusive of polytheism; if the invocation referenced “the many gods and ancestors” or some such, would they then protest? I think if the average Christian mentally replaced the vague references to a “heavenly father” in these prayers with labels like Allah or Vishnu then they might begin to understand how nonbelievers feel sitting in the crowd.) Even though these sorts of things should not be part of state-funded public events, in the end, I have never felt it was a battle worth fighting.

But Pope Benedict was right about something. Though I found his attack on “relativism” troubling, there was a core of truth in what he was saying: There must be some absolutes.

Reason is one of them. The faith in our capacity to act as rational agents is foundational to the liberal principles of modern democracy. It is, I dare say, far more important as a value than even the pluralistic point of view that I’ve argued should be embraced by all members of our society.

Here in the South–in fact, in a disturbingly diverse number of communities throughout this country–provincial interpretations of Christianity often manifest outside of simple prayers; they are often militarized as part of a systematic campaign to undermine education in this country. I’m referring of course to the ongoing battle over teaching evolution in the public schools. It is a front in the culture wars that opens up again and again, from school board elections in Kansas to textbook adoptions in Texas. There is a broad movement of people who believe that the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection which successfully explains the mechanism behind the fact of biological evolution is a challenge to their religion. This peculiarly American school of thought (most of the world’s Christians don’t have any trouble reconciling their faith in a personal savior with physical reality) forges forward undeterred by repeated court defeats which have consistently struck down creationist measures, from Epperson vs. Arkansas in 1968 to more recent rebuffs of “intelligent design” curriculum.

We must be clear on the parameters of this issue, though. Teaching creationism is not an affront to nonbelievers’ freedoms like the prayers at school functions I mentioned above–it is an assault on reason itself that should inspire outrage in all of us. Opposing this anti-science agenda is a cause that any of us should be willing to join at any time.

Which is why Zack Kopplin is a hero. As a teenager in Louisiana, he was disgusted by the anti-evolution rhetoric he saw in the schools. He assumed that Louisiana’s public education system must be a focal point in this struggle between rationality and creationism, so he was dismayed when he discovered that it was not. It was as if in the battle for the hearts and minds of a next generation, reason had retreated. The young people of Louisiana, who should understand the facts of biological evolution and appreciate the wonder of a biosphere taking on new shapes eon after eon under the inexorable logic of natural selection, had been abandoned by the side representing science, reason, and reality itself to the entrenched backwardness of the champions of creationism.

And that moment of discovery is when Zack Kopplin really distinguished himself as a human being. Most high school seniors might have shrugged their shoulders, grumbled, maybe even thrown up an ineffectual blog post about the situation (cough, cough), but not young Mr. Kopplin. He has launched a campaign to repeal Louisiana’s Science Education Act, the Orwelian name of which attempts to belie the fact that it is designed to subvert effective science education. Kopplin has also gone toe-to-toe with the likes of Michelle Bachman and garnered the written support of seventy-eight Nobel laureates.

When he discovered that no one was fighting against creationism in Louisiana, Zack Kopplin decided he would have to do it. That’s a model of activism and commitment to truth that all of us can live by. Fortunately, I don’t have to square off against my wife and children’s church over this issue. The Catholic church has been on the record since 1950 as viewing evolution as compatible with the Christian worldview, but Pope John Paul pressed further during his tenure.

The world’s largest church, then, has a clear message for believers everywhere: if you believe in God, understanding evolution is looking through a window into his workshop.

Forcing Inspiration

Dance of the Muses

It’s been a lousy day.

Not terrible, mind you, but lousy to be sure. It’s the kind of day you don’t exactly feel at your most creative, your most alert, your most inspired. Yet, I found myself at home with a few minutes alone before the wife and kids tramp through the door with stories from school and requests for assistance on homework, so I felt I had to try–at least try to write something.

So in the process of trying to force out some kind of inspiration, I thought of the students I worked with today. Beyond my regular classes, I’ve been working one-on-one with a number of students who I’ve just met recently. This week, I’ve got them writing literary compositions–short, one-page narrative stories. I go through the usual motions: stress “show, don’t tell;” try to get them to focus on images; pinpoint moments for character development; all while addressing run-ons, spelling problems, verb tense errors, and the like.

Basically, I’m teaching them how to write flash fiction.

And I’m doing it because of a test.

Texas has decided that one of the modes of writing students should be proficient in is microfiction. Granted, the state board of education doesn’t call it that, but that’s what it is. As freshmen (and sophomores if they don’t pass it the first time like the kids I’ve been working with this week) they have to write both expository essays and literary compositions. These have to be no more than 26 lines long, develop character and plot, and utilize other literary techniques like dialogue or figurative language.

For their efforts, they will receive a number: 1 to 4. 3 and 4 are good. 1 and 2, not so much.

I’m obviously all for assessing writing. If I got to design a single end-all-be-all exam for the nation’s schools it would, not surprisingly, be almost entirely writing. (I’ll grant my colleagues in math some multiple choice questions if they want, but I’d still prefer a written response explaining mathematical reasoning.) So the fact that Texas has placed such an emphasis on writing doesn’t necessarily bother me, but when we were first introduced to these new testing standards a few years back, I was more than a little alarmed. Only four points on the rubric? A single page for every composition? Three essays on one four-hour exam?

But something interesting has happened. In the last two days, I’ve had moments of pride for these young writers–most of whom would probably never call themselves “writers.” When I see a really clever phrase or a well-deployed simile, I’m proud of them. Sometimes, I catch them being proud too. When I applaud their little victories in prose, there’s often a smile, a glimmer of self-satisfaction with their own creativity.

These are moments we wouldn’t have had–these students and I–if it weren’t for the test.

I’m not sure how to feel about that. I’m an outspoken opponent of standardized testing. I think it leads to lowest-common denominator strategies in education. I think it ratchets up the pressure, at the expense of the very joy in learning I’m describing above. I hate these tests. Hate them.

Yet there it is. Even in the dismal forest of standardized test prep, there are moments of real humanity between student and teacher. I suppose ultimately, that’s the thing I wish I could convey to all my beleaguered and wary colleagues–my comrades in arms–all across the nation. Many must have faced a day like I did today. Frustrated, tired, feeling beaten down, we trudged on. Sometimes we must all wonder if it’s worth it–in this climate of “accountability” and high-stakes tests, dear God, can it really be worth it?!?

And the answer is “yes.” If we keep our wits about us, stay true to what’s important–fostering those moments of actual learning–above everything else, then yes.

Paper vs. People

It’s testing season in Texas.

In my little West Texas school district, which will go unnamed here, the students were recently treated to a round of what are called “benchmark” tests. For high schools like the one where I teach, that means that each student in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades took district-created tests in writing, reading, math, science, and history. Each of these tests required the students to have a computer-readable answer sheet. With seven hundred students at each grade level, that means the school used over ten thousand sheets of paper on answer documents alone. Each test booklet printed by the district was at least four printed pages, (many were actually much thicker, like the biology test which weighed in at seven pages) leading to more than forty thousand more sheets of paper. Additionally, the science and math tests each come with a separate formula chart printed on card stock. Twenty thousand more.

All told, to test one high school, more than a hundred thousand sheets of paper were consumed. The district has three more campuses this size and similar “benchmarking” was inflicted on students all the way down to the third grade.

Keep in mind that this is not the state’s end-of-year exam to evaluate students. This is a district-created series of pre-tests to see how ready the students are for the state’s end-of-year exam.

Some form of this high stakes testing frenzy takes place in almost every state in the union. Yet another casualty of the gridlock in Washington is that Congress has been unable to devote time to repairing the deeply flawed No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that mandates these sorts of exams. Even as states scramble to take advantage of the waivers recently offered by Obama’s Department of Education to find other ways of meeting the law’s requirements for “annual yearly progress” beyond ever-increasing scores, the testing continues. For now, the schools must strive for better performance numbers than the year before to avoid sanctions.

No where is it worse than in Texas. In many ways the birthplace of high stakes testing, it was here that then-governor Bush and his soon-to-be Secretary of Education Rod Paige accomplished what was hailed as “The Texas Miracle.” The state’s first “high stakes” test, the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) had led to improvements in reading and math performance in many poor schools. Emboldened by the success, Bush brought both Paige and the high stakes testing philosophy with him to the White House, proposing NCLB to Congress in January 2001.

The only problem was that the “Texas Miracle” turned out to be a Lone Star sized fraud. Scandals involving shuffling students around to keep them off the books and outright cheating plagued not only TAAS, but it’s supposedly-improved successor, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) which went into effect in 2003. Though the TAKS tests were more challenging than the TAAS, they were still criticized by some for being too rudimentary. More importantly, though, studies of the high stakes testing movement began to reveal that while states adopting harsh penalties for schools to drive improved performance did see test scores rise year over year, those gains on the state exams did not translate to other measures of academic readiness, not even higher SAT scores. Despite astronomical increases in TAKS scores state-wide over several years, Texas remained ranked toward the bottom in educational excellence.

Instead of admitting the error of its ways, the Texas legislature and its state board of education (led, incidentally, not by teachers or other educators, but by a dentist) doubled down and adopted a new testing regimen, the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Apart from the startling innovation of not starting with the letter “T,” this new slew of assessments promised much higher standards and, of course, more tests than ever, including a required fifteen separate exams during high school to qualify for graduation.

The expense poured into these tests dwarfs the wasteful paper consumption my little school district is guilty of in trying to fluff up our scores through pre-testing. The state has paid over a billion dollars to the British testing firm Pearson to produce and print this avalanche of assessments. This is the future of education promised by President Bush: privatization. It has swollen many a deep pocket, at the expense of any joy in learning for our students who are drilled day in and day out from test prep books made by private companies to prepare for regularly scheduled assessments bought from other companies peddling “test banks.”

Sadly, at present, President Obama has not offered a radical change of direction, but merely a slight easing of the tension. As a nation, though, we need to learn more than that from the tragic example here in Texas. Real educational reform should invest in schools and teachers, not feed shameless profiteers shilling out nothing but multiple-choice tests.