In a column he recently wrote for USA Today, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders parroted the complaints of the teachers unions about standardized tests.
Among Sanders’ arguments against them is that they have “forced” teachers to teach to the test; they keep students from a “holistic educational experience and the joys of learning” by investing too much class time in test preparation; and they have contributed to the perception that America’s public schools are failing.
Like a lot of what the avowed socialist says, this is a bunch of nonsense.
Nothing is forcing teachers to teach to the test. Where that is happening — and admittedly it is happening — is where the schools are so weak that the administrators don’t trust the teachers, if left to their own devices, to spend enough time imparting the basic skills and subject knowledge these tests are designed to confirm. Thus, the schools try to game the system by spending an exorbitant amount of time and resources on test preparation.
The tests aren’t creating that. The schools’ lack of confidence in their teaching prowess is.
It’s the same thing with the joy of learning. Where education has become joyless, it’s not because of tests. It’s because of a shortage of competent, inspiring, driven educators — or of administrators who understand where they should be spending their limited financial resources.
If schools wanted to spend less money on test prep and more on arts and music education, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so — other than their leaders.
As for standardized testing giving U.S. public education an undeservedly bad rap, the truth is that standardized testing has exposed one of our nation’s glaring shortcomings.
Our education system lags behind most developed nations in terms of how much knowledge it imparts and what it expects from students. For decades, objective comparisons of the academic achievement of U.S. students in elementary and secondary schools have consistently shown our nation lagging.
We’ve been able to get away with it by catching up through superior colleges and universities, but those are increasingly being watered down by the egalitarian but flawed ideology that maintains everyone should go to college and is entitled to a passing grade.
Sanders’ answer to what ails American education is to throw money at it. Pay teachers everywhere a starting salary of $60,000 a year, regardless of the differences in cost of living. Make college tuition-free. Provide all students, regardless of how much their parents earn, with free meals because we don’t want to stigmatize poor children by only giving them the charity.
And all of this, says Sanders, will produce the best public schools and teachers in the world. How would he know that’s true without the objective gauge provided by the standardized tests he wants to abolish? Apparently he’d just tell us it’s so.