Diane Ravitch, a giant within the education establishment in the USA and former Assistant Education Secretary to George Walker Bush, has just announced a change of heart on the USA's 'No Child Left Behind' programme.
Why the change of heart? Because of standardised testing. Testing has become 'a strategy for measuring and punishing,' she is reported as saying to npr. So much emphasis is placed on test results that schools are ‘gaming’ the system. 'Gaming' is a euphemism for cheating by dumbing down or changing the scores so that more children pass.
She contends that, according to individual states, between 80% and 90% of children are credited as being proficient readers and as having 'maths proficiency'; whereas 'in the same states, only 25% to 30% of the children test at a proficient level on national tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress'.
Furthermore, she echoes what Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, has been saying: 'We are lying to our kids.'
One message from Ravitch that may have some resonance here is that schools should not be competing with each other. The testing regime has pushed some schools into a 'survival of the fittest' kind of struggle with other neighbourhood schools so that instead of collaborating with one another and sharing what works they are hiding their 'trade secrets'.
Diane Ravitch's book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education has just been published and there's a somewhat Foucauldian sounding excerpt from 'Chapter 6 NCLB: Measure and Punish' on the npr website.