Publication Date: 2002-12-06
As Dave shows, the demise of the CASE shows the importance of individual action. Soon Chicago will have a bigger and better test. What is needed there--and across the nation--is mass refusal to cooperate with the testocracy. . . and the big business agenda pushing it.
Congratulations to George and Sharon Schmidt and to the "Curie 12" teachers for a terrific victory! George's courage in initially exposing the tests, George and Sharon's heroic refusal to back down or be cowed into submission by the outrageous $1.4 million School Board claim against them and the loss of George's job, and finally the courageous declaration by 12 teachers at Curie High School that they would not give the CASE tests this coming January have led to a victory with implications for all of us engaged in this movement.
At the same time, the Chicago board has made clear that it intends to replace the CASE with more "professionally written" exams; so this victory, while sweet, will be short-lived and very limited.
What are some of the implications of the situation for the anti-high stakes testing movement? There are three that occur to me:
1) The most effective weapon we have is mass refusal by teachers to give the tests. The defeat of the CASE tests is most directly attributable to the direct action by the Curie 12 teachers who recently announced their refusal to administer the tests this coming January. Widespread teacher opposition to the CASE tests had been forced underground by the administration and mainstream media's attack on George; it resurfaced as a public and undeniable phenomenon in September when the Curie teachers publicly declared their refusal to administer the upcoming tests.
2) Our focus should expand to include the broader corporate-led education reform campaign of which the tests are part. Getting rid of one test only to have it replaced by another obviously is not enough; but even if the CASE were not to be replaced, teachers and students in the Chicago Public Schools and every other public school in the country are under assault from a broad array of reforms designed to legitimize greater social inequality and to intensify social control. To focus exclusively on the tests is to ensure that the package of destructive reforms in which testing is wrapped is given a free pass.
3) We cannot make any substantial progress in this battle unless we explain why the schools are under attack. The business forces behind education reform--the Business Roundtable, the National Alliance for Business, state organizations such as the Massachusetts Business Alliance, have openly championed reforms ranging from high stakes testing and standards-based education to state takeovers of "failing" schools, attacks on teacher seniority and tenure rights, charter schools and school choice, School to Work programs, tiered diplomas, and others. What all these programs have in common is that they sharpen stratification and competition in the schools; in other words, they exacerbate what had already been the worst thing about the public education system: its tendency to reinforce and legitimize inequality in our society. Education reform is part of an overall corporate strategy to lower people's expectations and to force them to accept their place in a society bec! oming more unequal and less democratic. The Business Roundtable and other corporate forces of course conceal their real objectives beneath pleasing rhetoric, saying that they are truly concerned about the children, and that those who oppose school reform are "special interest groups." As long as they can conceal their real goals, the business groups reponsible for these attacks on children and teachers have nothing to lose in the public debate over ed reform, and the public will remain unclear about the meaning of the battle.