Senate staffers told Education Week a pending reauthorization of No Child Left Behind could include an end to the federal mandate that all students take math and reading tests every year.
Let’s quickly review who would be for and against such a provision.
For: teachers unions, school administrators, other establishment types embedded in the existing system, and lovers of federalism.
Against: civil rights groups, reformey groups on the political Right and Left, data mongers, and the Republican establishment.
That’s not a hard and fast list, but an educated guess based on post-NCLB history. It also indicates the unfortunate unlikelihood that easing back on federal testing mandates will become law, as the folks with the most power within the current ruling class weigh in for annual testing mandates.
Of course, if the feds eased their mandate, states could create their own. In other words, we don’t need a federal mandate for annual tests to remain national policy. The possibilities here are typically lost on establishment types, who prefer to legislate at the federal level because it’s harder to go state-by-state, and because they believe in uniformity and compliance over freedom and diversity.
Another consideration is that annual testing is a hard-won status quo for the Right, who properly insisted that if we must have government-run education, at least parents and the public should be able to see its results. The problem with that argument is that this slight increase in transparency has not meant genuine accountability. We can now know for certain which schools fail to teach even a tenth of their students to read, but that doesn’t mean such schools ever close or improve. So while the right-wing establishment pretends testing equals accountability, the results of this policy prove them wrong.
Perhaps the best argument against federal testing mandates is that there is no authority for federal involvement with education, period. It is simply not legal for the national government to tell states what to do with their schools. Not only that, federal bossypants behavior has not benefitted children. So there really is no point, except to supply and inflate the salaries and egos of the already-upper-income meddlers determining education policy.
It’s time for people to stop using good intentions as their sole justification for federal involvement with education. Ending the federal testing mandate would be a good start.