- The Washington Times - Monday, October 26, 2015


Testing, testing. 1, 2, 3. Testing, testing. 1, 2 screech.

Hillary Rodham Clinton likes the Obama administration’s new recommendation to put the brakes on the amount of time students spend taking tests during a school year. The president has even put a cap on his proposal — 2 percent of classroom time.

The nation’s two largest teachers unions agree, and have handed Mrs. Clinton hardy endorsements as their candidate in the 2016 race for the White House.

Such unfettered support of an Obama proposal smells like a Democratic Party set up, doesn’t it?

Testing to evaluate students and schools was the cog in the wheel of Congress’ and President George W. Bush’s school reform initiative, No Child Left Behind, in 2001. It also is the central measuring stick for President Obama’s chief funding mechanism, Race to the Top, which pits states and localities against one another, and a key policy initiative that he supports, Common Core.

All three initiatives involved federal mandates, but none received universal support from parents, local and state politicians, and unions.

Remember why? In a word, accountability.

For example, critics said No Child Left Behind went overboard by tying standardized testing to school performance, and they complained that Common Core ushered in a new of era of one-size-fits-all education policies.

Parents are having a tough time and are more carefully weighing their options. The fact that accountability is being leveraged to tamp down the growth of charter schools is proof, and so is the push to do away with and, in some instances, thwart education tax credits.

Consider, as well, public vouchers that help low-income families pay for parochial and private school. More poor parents choose that option not only because their children reach higher levels on the academic ladder, but also because they discover that they know who to speak with at small private and parochial schools if something (or someone) goes astray. Ditto the teachers at those schools. Also, such parents are more likely to know when their children will be tested, and will help them prepare.

Parents at traditional public schools usually have no such luck, largely because unions hold sway.

Mr. Obama and his education chief, Arne Duncan, who will be exiting stage left by year’s end, said the recommendation to cap standardized testing is exactly that — a recommendation.

The federal government wants to be more of a partner with school districts in figuring out how to measure students’ learning “in a smarter way,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday after the president, Mr. Duncan and Mr. Duncan’s replacement, John King, met with educators in the White House.

For his part, the outgoing Mr. Duncan said the administration doesn’t want “unnecessary, redundant tests. Collectively, we have a mutual responsibility to get to a better place.”

Sounds like Mrs. Clinton and the unions already have a plan that Mr. Obama and Mr. King will begin putting into place before Mr. Duncan’s departure.

Indeed, we may learn more Tuesday, when D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser — to quote a press release — meets with education leaders to release the results “of the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment, which replaced the DC CAS as the annual standardized test for District students. Adoption of the test is part of the Bowser Administration’s commitment to education reform.”

Replacing one standardized test with another in and of itself does not constitute reform. And it isn’t at all clear whether PARCC is simply one of those “unnecessary and redundant” tests that Mr. Duncan referred to.

“Partnership,” though, could become a buzzword. After all, then-President Jimmy Carter twice used the word “partner” Oct. 17, 1979, when signing legislation that expanded the federal government’s role in public education, which until then had been under the purview of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The bill was the Department of Education Organization Act, and his statement said in part: “Instead of setting a strong administrative model, the Federal structure has contributed to bureaucratic buck passing. Instead of simulating needed debate of educational issues, the Federal Government has confused its role of junior partner in American education with that of silent partner.”

Well, the bucks are still making the rounds by hands in Washington, and education outcomes have not improved.

Oh, and by the way: The unions backed Mr. Carter for president after he agreed to create the federal Education Department and reverse the Democratic Party’s longtime support of public funding for poor children who attend private schools.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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