The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

A Hopeful View of American Education

on March 28, 2016

While not exactly “Good News” about public education, today’s post, written by Jeff Bryant, is a clear and comprehensive summary of “Hope for the Future.”  When I read it on a Salon website, I felt better; I think you will, too.

P.S. I left in the keys to Bryant’s sources by marking them in blue.

2015 will forever be remembered as the year the political establishment was shaken by the populist-driven presidential candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. But it should also be remembered as the year another established order was forever altered by change, dissent, and revelations of its corruption.

For years, an out-of-touch establishment has dominated education policy too. A well-funded elite has labeled public education as generally a failed enterprise and insisted that only a regime of standardized testing and charter schools can make schools and educators more “accountable.” Politicians and pundits across the political spectrum have adopted this narrative of “reform” and now easily slip into the rhetoric that supports it without hesitation.

But in 2013 a grassroots rebellion growing out of inner city neighborhoods from Newark to Chicago and suburban boroughs from Long Island to Denver began to counter the education aristocracy and tell an alternative tale about schools.

The education counter narrative is that public schools are not as much the perpetrators of failure as they are victims of resource deprivation, inequity in the system, and undermining forces driven by corruption and greed. In other words, it wasn’t schools that need to be made more accountable; it was the failed leadership of those in the business and government establishment that needed more accountability.

The uprising has been steadily growing into an Education Spring unifying diverse factions across the nation in efforts to reverse education policy mandates and bolster public schools instead of punishing them and closing them down.

2015 became the year the uprising reached a level where it forever transformed the hegemonic control the reformers have had on education policy.

Most prominently, No Child Left Behind, the federal law that’s been driving education policy since 2001, was replaced with a new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, that reverses many of the edicts of NCLB or leaves them up in the air for states and courts to decide.

Organizations and individuals connected to wealthy donors to the Democratic Party were appalled, but the truth is out, and skepticism about education policy prescriptions touted as necessary “reforms” to the system has now left the fringe and become mainstream.

The bigger, more important story emerging from 2015 is that the American public is increasingly at odds with a reform movement that seeks to remake schools into an image promoted by wealthy private foundations, influential think tanks, and well-financed political operations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The evidence against the education establishment’s case piled up as the year rolled out, and the narrative of public education policy will never be the same.

Blows To The Testocracy

Take the issue of standardized testing. The idea that school improvement should be about enforcing uniform measures of test score outcomes across the nation had a particularly bad year in 2015.

As Seattle classroom teacher and public school activist Jesse Hagopian explains in an article for the National Education Association, standardized tests became the focal point of widespread scorn and dissent.

Over 620,000 public school students around the U.S. refused to take standardized exams. Also, numerous states ended high school graduation tests, and dozens of universities and colleges reduced or eliminated test requirements for their admissions process.

The backlash to standardized testing prompted changes in federal policy as well, including the revision of NCLB. As Hagopian writes, “ESSA deposes one of the cruelest aspects of the test-and-punish policy under NCLB: the so-called ‘Adequate Yearly Progress’ annual test score improvement requirement that labeled nearly every American school failing.”

Also, as Hagopian notes, President Obama, acknowledging the growing resistance to testing, “announced in October that ‘unnecessary testing’ is ‘consuming too much instructional time.’ This announcement came as a surprise given Obama’s support for policies like Race to the Top that contributed to the proliferation of high-stakes testing. The reversal of rhetoric was a result of the mass opt-out movement and will surely embolden authentic-assessment activists in the coming year.”

“Pressure from parents, students, teachers, school officials, and community leaders began turning the tide against standardized exam overuse and misuse during the 2014-2015 school year,” declares a report from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (

FairTest’s report highlights “assessment reform victories” in numerous states where officials suspended or significantly revised testing policies and created “alternative systems of assessment and accountability” that “deemphasize standardized tests.”

Think Progress, the action center of the left-leaning Beltway think tank, the Center for American Progress, reports on the overturn of the testocracy too in its review of “these education protests got results in 2015.”

Noting the growing opt-out movement in Colorado, New Jersey, Indiana, Michigan, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Wisconsin, the Think Progress writer highlights New York in particular, “where 20 percent of students opted out of tests in 2015. The number of New York students opting out quadrupled from [2014].”

Of course, in states and districts where test-based teacher evaluations are already established in the policy landscape, teachers will likely feel the effects of these systems for some time. So the fight over teacher evaluations will go state by state in the years ahead.

But as new reports continue to call these flawed and unfair evaluations into question, there will be more examples of these systems being overturned.

Using test scores to evaluate teachers – one of the pillars of the reform movement – is not the only policy idea going out of favor. Using the scores to evaluate the viability of local schools is running into more opposition as well

This core philosophy makes infinite sense to folks with backgrounds in law, business management, finance, or economics but tends to rub educators and parents the wrong way because of its failure to acknowledge teaching and learning are primarily relationship-driven endeavors and not technical pursuits.

To teachers, it makes about as much sense to base their actions exclusively on a data set or a marketing principle as it would be for husbands and wives to conduct their marriages on that basis or for parents to raise their children that way. Sure, knowing some objective “things” about how students are doing is important, but there’s way more important stuff to attend to.

And parents will grow ever more skeptical of the false promise of “school choice” because it doesn’t deliver what they really want: the guarantee of good neighborhood schools that are free and equitable to all children.

But too few reformers get this. Instead, what we can expect in 2016 is the current education establishment to use the considerable financial resources at its disposal to mount yet more marketing and public relations efforts, while the pushback from grassroots public education advocates will grow even stronger, and political leaders will be increasingly pressured to decide where they stand.



2 responses to “A Hopeful View of American Education

  1. Don Bellairs says:

    “Sure, knowing some objective ‘things’ about how students are doing is important, but there’s way more important stuff to attend to.” Mr. Bryant must be very happy to have doctors. law enforcement officers and plumbers make decisions about him with subjective information. The tests are NOT to evaluate kids, Dr. Yatvin and Mr. Bryant. We could redact their names. The CCSS (and the metrics used to evaluate how effectively they are being taught) exist to provide objective standards with which to evaluate teachers and administrators. But if opinions work for Mr. Bryant, then he needs to know that, in my opinion, a lot of schools suck for kids and teachers because no one can hold anybody in charge of ANYTHING accountable for their conduct.


  2. Thank you for this very thoughtful post about Tommy. Bless him for being so clear about his identity and his needs and bless you all for having the foresight to involve him in such a critical decision. This is what the education world needs more of.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: