It’s always useful to understand how we got here. Writes Andrew Ujifusa:
In 1975, five years before Congress created the U.S. Department of Education, the National Association of State Boards of Education’s president and the Education Commission of the States’ executive director issued a report examining federal education legislation, from vocational training to nutrition.
It does not once mention standardized testing.
Nearly four decades later, testing has become one of the most controversial education issues in the country, and momentum behind it is strong via the Race to the Top initiative, President Obama recently funneled more than $4 billion into programs that measure teacher performance based on students’ test scores.
Standardized testing can be traced to federal programs under President Lyndon B. Johnson in the mid-1960s. As part of the “War on Poverty,” Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, which provided direct funding to public school systems. The act forbade the creation of a national curriculum
Ujifusa is referring to the ESEA, the father of No Child Left Behind. I wonder what Lyndon Johnson would think of Common Core Standards. In an interview with Drew University professor Patrick McGuinn, Ujifusa continues with a chronology:
A second critical push for standardized testing came in 1983, when the National Commission on Excellence in Education, appointed by President Reagan, issued its report, “A Nation at Risk.” Among other negative trends, it noted that on 19 international academic tests, U.S. students placed last seven times and never finished first or second.
“The report came out and said, ‘Look, these problems that were described 20 years ago still exist and may in some ways be worse,’” McGuinn said.
Among the report’s recommendations was the creation of standardized achievement tests at major points in schools, developed on a state-by-state basis.
In an astonishing reminder, McGuinn says that no strings were initially attached to federal dollars. No strings? No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are practically coercive.
It’s a useful read to take in Ujifusa’s entire piece. Ronald Reagan’s role may surprise many conservatives. Most of all his article provides an excellent overview of federal intervention in education policy over the past 45 years. What clearly began with the best of intentions, standardized testing became a colossus that’s taken over the way we educate our children.