The Progressive Roots and Disastrous Consequences of Test Driven Pedagogy
A Brief Reflection
When the nation turned to the right in the 1980's and 1990's and neo-liberalism in its many manifestations began to dominate the policies of both political parties, parents in inner city neighborhoods desperate to do something in their increasingly violent, impoverished neighborhoods turned to schools to try to reverse the growing class and race inequality in the nation which they feared- quite accurately- was putting their children gravely at risk. In looking for help, they turned their attention to the one institution that had not abandoned their neighborhoods, the public schools and tried to figure out some way to have schools serve their needs. In trying to make schools work better, they ended up, making what turned out to be a Faustian bargain with leaders in corporations and foundatioins looking to revolutionize American education through technology. In city after city across the country, inner city parents and their advocates decided to endorse the application of universal testing in the schools to show how far their children were falling behind, and with it, the imposition of a test driven pedagogy, pioneered by charter schools, desgned to bring their children up to the levels of middle class and upper middlle class children in the acquisition of basic skills, and with it give their children an opportunity, in an increasingly hierarchical society, to gain entry into the middle class
Unfortunately, the whole strategy was destined to fail. It is difficult, if not impossible, to use the public schools to create greater class and race equality , when tax policy, income policy, and numerous informal dimensions of class privilege maximize those polarities., especially when the pedagogy involved discouraged creativity and critical thinking. The result proved to be the exact opposite of what is intended, despite the enthusiastic support of all levels of government and corporations and private philanthpy. Since No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have been institutioned, Black, Lationo and poor pepole, have fallen further behind the white middle class and upper class in every important social indicator, from unemployment rates, to the wealth gap, to home ownership and life expectancy.
And this leaves supporters of democratic education in a difficult position. We have to challenge a strategy that originally had widespread support in inner city communities. But challenge it we must. Just because minority parents, in their desperation to do SOMETHING about rampant inequality, decided to push for more testing and more accountability for schools based on those tests, doesn't mean the strategy was sound. In my judgment, it made schools in poor communities less able to prepare their students for college and a demanding job market than schools in middle class communities- including the ones policy makers send their children- which rely far less on standardized tests.
Moreover, such pedagogy discourages introducing young people in struggling neighborhoods to the critical thinking skills necessary to foster social justice activism--the only force that can realistically reduce racial and class in equality in this society. Teaching students individual mobility skills is a poor substitute for direct involvement in neighborhood redevelopment and in political movements- like Occupy Wall Street-that put demands on all levels of government for a redistribution of wealth.
A test driven pedagogy aimed at reducing "The Achivement Gap" is not only counterproductive in its own terms, it underminds the acquisition of the very skills necessary to reinvigorate democracy and fight effectively for racial and economic equality.
Or to put the matter more bluntly, anyone who supports the imposition of more standardized tests in the nation's public schools is PLAYING THE MAN'S GAME!!!