Honesty from a Department of Education Official — Policies Are “Harming the Education of Students”

Diogenes searching with his lamp.

From Caroline Grannan, Examiner.com a report on a radio appearance by Peter Cunningham, (assistant secretary of communications for the U.S. Department of Education), where he “readily agreed with the views of another program guest that overreliance on standardized testing is detrimental to students, and that “many” charter schools, a model being promoted as a solution for troubled schools, are not successful” (listen here).

Also on the program was Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute.  As Grannan reports:

Race to the Top, Rothstein charged, is “accentuating the harm that NCLB did.” NCLB’s emphasis on testing only for math and reading is unchanged in RTTT.

“A major consequence of No Child Left Behind that’s done major harm to American education is the narrowing of the curriculum,” Rothstein said. Sciences, history, social studies, music, the arts and physical education are neglected or abandoned as educators struggle to adhere to NCLB’s emphasis on math and reading, Rothstein explained, and “Race to the Top doesn’t change that.” Abandoning other subjects “does the most harm to disadvantaged students,” Rothstein added.

Moderator Warren Olney followed up Rothstein’s comments with the question to Cunningham: “Are standardized tests a good measure of teacher performance and ultimately of school performance?”

“No, they’re not,” Cunningham admitted bluntly. “Education has been corrupted. In addition to narrowing the curriculum by abandoning other topics, what this kind of system does is create incentives to game the system. We’re actually harming the education of students in this country.” He mentioned, without more specifics, the “hope” of reauthorizing NCLB to include testing in more subjects. The prospect of increasing testing is likely to raise more concerns, but the discussion didn’t pursue that issue.

On the subject of charter schools, Rothstein disputed the view promoted by both the Bush and Obama administrations that charters are a solution for troubled schools. “The research is pretty consistent,” he said. “Charter schools on average don’t have better student performance than regular schools.”

Rothstein got no argument from Cunningham, who responded, “We 100 percent agree with Mr. Rothstein that many of them are not good” and called for more accountability for charter schools. [emphases added].

These flashes of honesty are nice, but it is sad that administration official simply acknowledging what both informed  common sense and the weight of research say is cause for hope or cheer.

There really is no excuse for the misrepresentations we have come to see as the norm and the knowing pursuit of harmful policies should be criminal.

Wisconsin, like 40 other states is so desperate for money that it has thrown away common sense and hard won research-based knowledge to twist our laws in a manner that buys us a ticket to a lottery where the prize is money that must  be spent to a great degree on testing policies that do more harm than good.  What is wrong with these people?  What is wrong with us?

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under "education finance", Arne Duncan, Best Practices, education, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, National News, No Child Left Behind, School Finance, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Honesty from a Department of Education Official — Policies Are “Harming the Education of Students”

  1. What is wrong indeed! It’s mind boggling.


    Is there no law against a school that knowingly teaches something false. What if their false teachings and policies endanger the lives of the lives of the students, employees, and the junior high school students in the school adjacent to my local college. Is there really no law against it? I feel concerned because I had a frustrated student threaten to shoot up our school. I was traumatized by the threat, and then the school counselor tells me they get threats of mass murder all the time. I warned this school 4 years ago that the grading policies some of the teachers have could someday cause a mentally unstable person, for all we know, come back and shoot up the school. I told them that what the teachers were teaching were false and that for all we know a mentally unstable person could snap and shoot up the school. Then that student that uttered that threat, did so because of the very grading policy that I warned them about. So is it against the law for a teacher to knowingly teach something that isn’t true?

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