Everything Right Is Wrong Again, Sings Arne Duncan (out of one side of his mouth)

Old people, like your humble blogger, will often speak of “the pendulum.”  We speak of it to the point where young people have another very good reason never to put up with listening to old people.  But we oldsters can’t help it, for we’ve seen “the pendulum” swing back and forth too many times.

The K-12 standardized testing pendulum inched away from its further position (let’s call it to the right) the other day when our good friend, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, was noted as saying the following:

“I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools – oxygen that is needed for a healthy transition to higher standards, improved systems for data, better aligned assessments, teacher professional development, evaluation and support and more,” Duncan said at the Jefferson Academy Middle School in Washington.

Duncan said there is a recognized and growing concern that the quantity of required testing is troubling, in some cases repetitive or “not sufficiently helpful for instruction.” He said the department will work through the fall to reduce over-testing.

“Too much testing can rob school buildings of joy, and cause unnecessary stress,” Duncan said.

Taken on its face, those comments are a darn big swing (to the Left, I suppose, although it gets REAL confusing in terms of direction these days).  Sec. Duncan is basically copping to the accusation that standardized testing and tying tests to teacher evaluations is out of control.  The person singly most important in making this happen is admitting it’s all “not sufficiently helpful for instruction.”

We old people can quickly spot a pendulum moving back to center and, eventually, just about as far away from center toward the other horizon.  We can’t spot much;  we can’t see too good in general, but we can see that pendulum.  As one who attended a circular elementary school with no walls between classrooms (thus allowing for excellent long-range viewing of 16 mm films in “classes” several “classrooms” away), it’s pretty easy to see we’re about ten years away from “open classrooms” again (with “SSR” and “Honor Cards” sure to follow).

Still, Duncan’s in a bit of a pendular pickle, so to speak. He’s admitting that standardized testing is out of control, but is still banging away with the standardized testing stick tied to the federal funding carrot.  Washington State and now Oklahoma have had their NCLB “waiver” taken away, Washington simply because of its failure to do exactly what Duncan faults in his quotes above:  tying testing to teacher evaluations.

Watching and listening to Mr. Duncan tap-dance his way through this inconsistency in coming weeks/months will be great fun for old and young educational professionals alike.  Youngsters, when you hear Mr. Duncan, or his inevitable replacement starts talking about using one of these:



you’ll know the pendulum is back to good ‘ol 1972, again.  The McGuffey Readers are probably not far behind/ahead.


Have a good weekend, everybody.



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