When an educator questions the dominance of testing as a tool for school reform, you will often see that educator criticized for ‘protecting the status quo.’ As an example of this accusation, here is a link to a recent opinion piece in the Detroit News. The article supports the new Michigan Educational Achievement Authority, which is designed to be a turnaround program for the lowest 5% (as measured by test results) of the schools in that state. The headline reads, “Let’s Stop Protecting the Status Quo.” (Read the whole article for a flavor of the way test scores become the sole determinant of what constitutes a ‘failing’ school.)
The problem with this accusation is that actually, any attempt to improve schools through means that relies on its measurement of success via test data simply works to replicate social inequality. Thus, this accusation of ‘protecting the status quo’ is actually a Orwellian attempt to protect the status quo.
In Good Education in an Age of Measurement, Gert Biesta criticizes what he calls a “common sense view of what education is for,” a view that exists in the void of any broader frame of the “aims and ends of education.”
“The prime example of such a ‘common sense’ view about the purpose of education is the idea that what matters most in education is academic achievement in a small number of curricular domains, particularly language, science and mathematics. It is this view that has given credibility to such studies as TIMMS, PIRLS and PISA. Whether academic knowledge is indeed of more value than, for example, vocational skills all depends on the access that such knowledge gives to particular positions in society. This, as the sociological analysis of education has abundantly shown, is precisely how the reproduction of social inequality through education works. It is, therefore, first of all in the interest of those who benefit from the status quo to keep things as they are rather than to open up discussion about what education might be and become.” (emphasis mine)
Achievement data privileges those with the most access to the knowledge being measured through the test. In other words, the most privileged are those most likely to achieve, while those least privileged are least likely to achieve, thus replicating social inequality. In addition, in spite of the rhetoric, any reform attempt that uses testing data as the sole measurement of its success functions to reinforce educational achievement as the frame through which we see, a frame which insures education as it is rather than imagining “what education might be and become.”
So by reinforcing the measurement of schools via a one-dimensional testing approach, and criticizing those who question such an approach as ‘protecting the status quo,’ corporate education reformers are able to shift attention away from themselves and their interests, shut down any discussions about education as it relates to purpose, protect the class interests inherent in the status quo, all while creating a profit margin for those companies able to take advantage of the privatization of public education.
I must say, it is brilliant.