Filling In Bubbles:  Test Driven School Reform and Disengaging Working Class Youth

Mark Naison (via NewBlackMan) | June 29, 2011

If I was going to figure out a plan to get working class youth to disengage from school, here would be my major components. First, I would make students sit at their desks all day and force them to constantly memorize materials to prepare for tests. Second, I would take away recess and eliminate gym. Third, I would cut out arts projects and hands on science experiments. Fourth, I would limit the number of school trips. Fifth, I would take away extracurricular activities like bands, and dance teams and talent shows and reduce the number of athletic teams, so that student’s energies could be exclusively concentrated on strictly academic tasks.

But wait a minute, isn’t that exactly what the dominant Education Reform movement in the United States is doing, from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on down. Aren’t policy makers forcing schools to add more and more standardized tests and threatening teachers and principals with mass firings if their scores on those tests don’t go up, with the results that anything that isn’t test driven is eliminated from the school culture?

Yes that’s what’s going on in education, all across the country. Starting with No Child Left Behind and continuing through Race to the Top, we are hell bent on making students from working class and poor families economically competitive with their wealthier peers by increasing their test scores and improving their graduation rates. And the way to do that, we believe, is to make them devote more and more of their time to acquiring basic literacy and then translating those skills into passing standardized tests in every subject.

But in formulating this strategy, which from the outside appears to be sensible and rational, we erase the world view of the very students in whose interests claim to be acting. We treat working class students as passive recipients of a service, who will do whatever we tell them to, rather than critical thinkers, and impassioned, sometimes impulsive historical actors, who respond to school policies based on their culture, values and their sense of how those policies effect their short term and long term interests. (Read more)