Assessment Opinion

Stalking the Vampire in Texas

By Diane Ravitch — April 03, 2012 2 min read
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Dear Deborah,

As the national debate about school reform continues, new voices, new evidence, and new ideas are emerging to shape the debate.

Something wonderful has started in Texas. For 10 long years, the nation’s public schools have been stuck with the unrealistic demands imposed by No Child Left Behind. That odious program was hatched in Texas, so it is fitting that the nation’s most significant rebellion against high-stakes testing is growing in Texas. At last count, more than 200 school boards (out of about 1,000), supported by the Texas Association of School Administrators, had endorsed a strong resolution against the high-stakes testing regime that is now strangling learning in Texas public schools.

The revolt in Texas was abetted, perhaps inadvertently, by state Commissioner of Education Robert Scott, who complained in early February that testing had become the “end-all, be-all” of education and “the heart of the vampire,” that the current situation was a “perversion” of what was intended, and that testing had grown into a “military-industrial complex” that was all about making money.

The Texas revolt was seeded by the efforts of nearly three dozen district superintendents who began meeting in 2006 and produced a joint statement about their vision for the future of education. The superintendents recognized that the state’s relentless focus on standardized testing was not advancing their vision of the future. Their vision has inspired their colleagues, including Commissioner Scott. This is asummary of the Texas vision:

“We envision schools where all children succeed, feel safe and their curiosity is cultivated. We see schools that foster a sense of belonging and community and that inspire collaboration. We see learning standards that challenge, and intentionally designed experiences that delight students, develop their confidence and competence, and cause every child to value tasks that result in learning. Ultimately, we see schools and related venues that prepare all children for many choices and that give them the tools and attitudes to contribute to our democratic way of life and live successfully in a rapidly changing world.”

Since that statement was released (and please read the entire document), the Texas educators’ sense of urgency must have been compounded by ongoing and deep budget cuts to public schools in recent years, as much as$13 billion in the past four years.

One local school board in New York City has adapted and endorsed the Texas resolution. Currently, there are school leaders and national organizations thinking about passing their own version of the Texas resolution. It’s heartening to realize that many people—not only educators, but parents, and other citizens
—realize that high-stakes testing has gotten out of control and that we need fresh thinking.

It would be some kind of wonderful to see the educators of Texas put a stake right through the heart of this “vampire” (to use Texas Commissioner Scott’s word) right in their own backyard. The whole nation could breathe a sigh of relief.

I’ll be speaking to a joint meeting of the Texas Association of School Administrators and the Texas Association of School Boards on Sept. 30 in Austin, and I look forward to thanking them on behalf of the rest of us for their good work. As a graduate of the Houston Independent School District, I feel it is both a privilege and a duty to do so.


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