Sunday, July 19, 2015

Standardized Testing: A Pillar and Tool of the Neoliberal Reform Movement

Book group member Shira Cohen provides insight and draws valuable connections to the Philadelphia context from chapters 5-7 of Mapping Corporate Education Reform. 

By Shira Cohen

This week, I went to the second meeting of Mapping Corporate Education Reform, and two things continue to strike me.  The first is the way that the authors tackle the networks that seem only to exist above us.  They are constantly creating a reform movement driven by money and stakeholders whose decision making power is entrenched in the systems that allow nations to operate in a corporatized socio-political landscape.  The second is the way that we have the opportunity to use this text as a lesson - which while written for an academic audience - is a necessary tool to understanding what we are facing as organizers and activists in our current landscape of teaching and power.

The SICME, a system of national testing in Chile, has moved me the most in this book.  The authors argue that the SIMCE "has worked as a pillar of the neoliberal reforms in education, thus supporting the construction of a common sense that transforms cultural capital into merit and makes the poor responsible for their own failure."  This particular testing system impacts funding, curriculum, security, and evaluation at all levels of the Chilean educational system.  As a pillar, it also functions as a tool of control within local classrooms and tools, existing in spaces where teaching and learning are happening daily.  For many years, Chilean social movements have focused on education, and this last month, led another series of protests and responses to the current president's reforms. 

As I write this, I'm considering the ways that education policy in the United States uses standardized testing as a tool at the national level - beyond the districts and states where we are doing our own local work in creating authentic learning experiences together and in driving the opt-out movement.  The Common Core is a national movement to standardize testing, and the most recent cut scores in the State of Pennsylvania have revealed that a jump in rigor - constructed by corporately funded test makers - have resulted in lower scores across the state.  

Two of our essential questions for the summer groups are, how do the authors take up intersectionality in their text, and what are the lessons of the movement?  We are never finished in our answers to these questions, but in this particular case, I'm thinking about how we can read the intersection of race, class, and neoliberalism in the US, and how we can continue to focus as organizers and activists on the ways that standardized testing exists as both a pillar and a tool for top-down education reform.  These issues are present currently as our school years will be beginning again in six weeks (how can we both opt out of standardized testing and work to dismantle the ways it impacts our classrooms, students, and lives?) and as a presidential election year arrives in less than a few months.  How will the leaders in the upper crusts of our own system respond to an anti-standardized testing movement?  And how will education policy makers hold responsibility for the construction of failure?

I'm left with this quote - read in Teaching to Transgress (come to that book group too!). bell hooks cites the Pedagogy of Liberation by Antonio Faundez (with Paulo Freire), who wrote in 1989, "one of the things we learned in Chile...was that abstract political...statements did not take concrete shape in acts by individuals.  We were revolutionaries in the seems to me essential that in our individual lives, we should day to day live out what we affirm."  I'm wondering how we can continue to ground our work as teachers and students in living out learning that roots itself beyond standardized testing and neoliberal tools of oppressive change - and how we can continue to ask decision makers in the highest echelons of US government - to live out their statements for change in direct policy rather than in the abstract.

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