K-12 Reformers Need to stare in the Mirror after 251-178

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Perhaps it can be delayed until after the reauth drama has reached a conclusion, and by no means to I wish to exonerate members of the House, but there is a very real need for K-12 reformers to look at themselves in the mirror and ask “how did we lose a bipartisan super-majority that favored academic transparency in the United States House?”

It’s been clear to me that the transparency consensus has been collapsing since at least 2013.  Even now, many in Washington seemed not to have noticed, and continue to carry supporting poorly considered technocratic tweaks to NCLB as if the consensus still exists.

251-178 folks-it’s gone.  How it was lost is certainly complex and I am not in a position to render definitive judgement. I’m calling it though that the canary just died in the coal mine.

To me there has never been a stronger case made for reducing the federal footprint in K-12 than yesterday’s vote. Yesterday the United State House of Representatives voted in overwhelming fashion to mandate the gathering and collection of student testing data that would be of absolutely no value whatsoever- would compromise the ability of parents to compare schools in a reliable fashion, would never withstand challenge in a legal proceeding like Vegara etc. Both past experience and simple logic would lead one to the conclusion that creating a federal parental opt-out for state testing systems will create a powerful incentive for school officials to nudge low-performing students (read: Black, brown, children with disabilities) out of standardized testing to improve their scores. They managed to do this in an attempt to reauthorize an important piece of legislation 8 years behind schedule. I don’t know about you but if this is the best we can get out of our alleged federal Olympians color me more ready than ever to take my chances with state legislatures.

But I digress. If reformers want there to be a consensus on transparency, we apparently need to rethink our efforts. What we are doing now obviously is not working.

14 Responses to K-12 Reformers Need to stare in the Mirror after 251-178

  1. Arne Duncan made the boat, let him sink in it.
    I wonder if WA bureaucrats can understand that “Government over-reach”, extortion, and insulting constituents are bad policies.

  2. matthewladner says:

    The most likely outcome from this drama is Arne keeps on truckin’ with his waivers. The House is pointing at their chin for a veto.

  3. Jesus, man, cut the academicese. I suspect we seek the same goal, but you write as though you prefer that others (me, anyway) avoid you.
    You begin with the abstract pronoun “it”, which requires the reader to read the first sentence to the end to discover your subject. You use a verb in the passive voice, ” can be delayed”, to start. How ’bout: “The House voted 251-178 for a Federally-mandated opt-out from Federally-mandated standardized tests …”
    Is that your complaint?
    “… Reformers need to ask how a consensus in favor of transparency evaporated.”

    The insider jargon “reauth” says noting that you couldn’t say in real English.

    The next paragraph also begins with the abstract pronoun “it” and a verb in the passive voice, “has been clear”. That sentence ends with …

    “Even now, many (people) in Washington seemed not to have noticed, and continue to carry supporting poorly considered technocratic tweaks to NCLB as if the consensus still exists.”

    Engrish, prease? Do people carry tweaks? If so, would not your 8th grade English teacher require a comma between “supporting”, “poorly considered”, and “technocratic”?
    Let’s see: … “people in Washington carry supporting, poorly considered, technocratic tweaks to NCLB on the streets, in violation of the Districts ban on open carry.”

    Really? Or perhaps they carry those tweaks concealed in brown paper bags?

    ” If reformers want there to feed and care for a consensus on academic transparency, we apparently need to rethink our efforts.”
    Huh? How does “there” function in the above?

    Perhaps I could use another cup of coffee.

    • matthewladner says:

      Thanks for the feedback MK- I’ve mailed you a check refunding your subscription fee. Only seems fair! 🙂

      • harriettubmanagenda says:

        My point: Why not make it easy for people to agree with you?

      • matthewladner says:

        It’s cool MK- I do have a bad habit of slipping into pv etc. unless I am careful about it. My JPGB writing usually happens while I am still in my pajamas, so a reminder can only help.

  4. Ze'ev Wurman says:

    I guess I am a bit less extreme than you sound, but I agree with many of your points. In particular, anything than can reduce the federal footprint in education I consider a blessing. I have been an elitist and technocrat all my life … until I spent a couple of years in ED. Nothing better (or quicker) to bring some humility into one’s life.

    I am, however, a bit less categorical than you.

    Has the “transparency consensus” been collapsing, as you write? I am not so sure. Polling of parents still shows strong overall support for standardized testing — it’s only when Common Core is thrown into the mix that this support collapses. In other words, people are OK with testing — and publishing it’s results, presumably, otherwise why bother? — but they are not OK with Common Core testing that came to symbolize overreaching and wrongheaded tests. Now, you argue that you are not sold on the Common Core consortia. Fine with me, but how can you be blind to the damage those specific consortia do to the cause of standardized testing and transparency in this country? This is not an abstract argument against testing but rather a very specific argument about specific tests that parents are rebelling against. One would expect of pragmatists not sold to a particular POV to realize that and act accordingly.

    Further, you write that the opt-out amendment makes for “gathering and collection of student testing data that would be of absolutely no value whatsoever- would compromise the ability of parents to compare schools in a reliable fashion, would never withstand challenge in a legal proceeding like Vegara etc.”

    Don’t you overuse the hyperbole here? First, 95% is just an arbitrary number — why not 98%? Or 85%? Do we discard polling that has less than 95% response rate? States have differently-sized “N”, the minimum size for reporting, from something like 10 to something like 50, I believe. Do we throw away the results of states with the larger N? So “absolutely no value” seems over the top. More importantly, I repeat for N+1 time (different N 🙂 that opt-out rights existed in most states in one way or another since the beginning of NCLB, but they were rarely used. Can you try and consider that the fault may not be with the opt-out provision but with the new “crazy” and unvalidated testing?

  5. matthewladner says:


    If there is in fact something wrong with the consortia tests (there may be) I lack to tools sort through the fog of propaganda surrounds the entire anti-CC project. I’m also painfully aware that there were a great many things wrong with the prior state tests. For instance in AZ we went for many years without rotating test items, there grew to be massive teaching to test items as a result, and our State Board voted in favor of the biggest lowering of cut scores ever detected in the Paul Peterson comparisons of NAEP and state tests. Arizona’s AIMS scores improved year by year, and our NAEP scores were flat. The conclusion I drew was that the Arizona public school system was spending a huge amount of time training kids to answer the particular questions on the AIMS test but failing to improve math and reading instruction at all.

    Against this backdrop, how was I supposed to get worked up about a new test? Turns out we are using an AIR developed test. It may be a big improvement, it may have serious problems, but I can’t see how it could possibly be any worse than AIMS.

    If I lived in MA, I would have died on a hill to keep the standards and the tests. AZ had nothing to lose.

    Moreover, it did not escape my notice that the three jurisdictions with the largest NAEP gains in 2012 (DC, TN, IN) had all adopted. I make no claim of a causal link, but if this stuff was a half as bad as opponents claim you might not expect to see that happen.

  6. Ze'ev Wurman says:


    There is a difference between a wrong-headed test in one state, and a wrongheaded approach to testing in consortia that effectively included the whole nation. That is the main reason I am glad to see those consortia collapsing … the faster the better. Same can be said about the Common Core standards.

    You may not get worked out about the tests … to each his own. But why, then, you do get worked out about people that do get worked out about tests? After all, those people — parents, mostly — have to deal with what they see as extremely long testing times, corruption of classroom instruction (these tests explicitly declared that they want to change classroom instruction rather than just measure student achievement), strange and awkward test formats, and questionable validity. Do they need your permission to get worked out about those?

    Regarding NAEP, please note that in many states the direction of NAEP scores change flipped for the first time in memory, and they headed down: MT (R4,M4,M8), OK, NM (M8), MD, CA (M4), MA, ID (R4). NAEP drops rarely occurred since 2003. The results of 2013 may be premature in many or most states, but the results of the 2015 will not be premature. So we’ll need to wait another six months for them.

  7. matthewladner says:

    I totally agree about NAEP, plus lots of other stuff going on. Will need a sophisticated analysis to tease out any impact of testing and there is no reason to expect it to be the same everywhere.

    I’m pretty sure I also said (but may not have emphasized enough) that I do think there are real issues about testing that have people upset. Extremely long test times would probably be number two on my list, but out of control test prep (like we had in spades in AZ under AIMS) has got to be number one.

    Ultimately we live in a democracy. If enough people want to get rid of CC in state X, then they will. I’ve written several times on this blog that I believe that a far better way to approach standards would be an effort that goes state to state to fight for good standards and tests. This approach would be more respectful of state governments and ultimately more effective in my view.

    I think that we have reached the point where such an effort would be a really good idea regardless of what states choose to do with CC. Since states set their own cut scores it will be an issue regardless.

  8. […] K-12 Reformers Need to stare in the Mirror after 251-178 […]

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