Government Must Be Held Accountable for the Public Schools

August 19, 2003

The Bush administration's program of annual, high-stakes standardized testing of elementary and high school students is creating havoc in the schools and paving the way for new government attacks on public education.

In 2001, the Bush administration, with the bipartisan support of Congress, signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) which makes federal funding of public schools dependent on students' scores on yearly standardized tests.

All students in grades 3-8 must take annual tests in reading and math and all students in grades 10-12 must be tested at least once. Mandatory testing in science will begin in 2007.

These tests will be used to measure whether schools are making "adequate yearly progress" towards a standard of 100% "proficiency" by the year 2014.

School which receive Title I funding (federal monies earmarked for high poverty areas) and which fail to make "adequate yearly progress" for two consecutive years will face an escalating menu of penalties, including loss of Title I funds, firing of staff, take over by the state, possible privatization, etc.

All across the country, educators, state and local governments agree that year-by-year more schools will be labelled as failing. For example, this year 365 Chicago schools, enrolling 285,000 students, failed to meet the requirements of the NCLB. A recent survey by Education Week indicates that as many as 75% of all public schools will eventually fail and be subject to sanctions.

While the politicians advertise the NCLB Act as a way to "improve standards," the reality is that the law sets schools up to fail and in turn gives the government an excuse to slash funding and push for privatization of the schools.

It is obvious to anyone that test results - at best - only reflect the educational inputs received by students in the first place. Thus mandating standardized tests without improving inputs - lowering class sizes, modernizing schools and curriculum, hiring more teachers and staff, etc. - will not "improve standards." If current test results show that students are lagging behind, this only indicts the government for failing to properly invest in the public schools. Improving results must begin with increasing investments.

But the NCLB Act, rather than increasing funding, is costing the public schools approximately $1 billion/year in the costs of testing and record-keeping alone. Even more importantly, teachers are being forced to cut the curriculum in order to "teach for the test," emphasizing rote memory and the circumscribed kind of knowledge measured by standardized tests.

The National Council of State Legislatures estimates that an additional $35 billion/year is needed for schools to meet the goals of the NCLB Act. The National Educational Association (NEA) and many other associations of educators have condemned the NCLB Act has a "unfunded federal mandate" and the NEA is suing the government to demand the necessary funding.

As more and more schools fail to meet the requirements of the NCLB Act, the Bush administration and other politicians will push for privatization as the "solution" for the "failing educational system." Already the Supreme Court has ruled to allow the extension of school vouchers and several state legislatures are pushing new voucher and charter school laws.

In sum, the politicians are imposing high-stakes standardized testing on students as a way to cover over their own crimes. Students and the public school system itself are blamed for "lack of improvement" while the government's own refusal to properly fund the schools is ignored. The "failure" of the public schools will be widely advertised and used to pave the way for the dismantling of our public educational system.

The public school system is one of the great achievements of our country and rather than finding ways to condemn the schools and tear them down, the government must make more investments in public education in order to improve our schools.

(to be continued)