Twenty Years of Failing the Schools: To fix education, Biden must not only undo Trump's legacy but reverse two decades of a disastrons reform movement.

AuthorRavitch, Diane

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN will have his work cut out in repairing the damage done to U.S. education caused by Donald Trump and his one-time Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. But Biden and his Secretary of Education nominee, Miguel Cardona, must also reverse at least twenty years of federal education policy, starting over with measures that allow teachers to teach and children to learn without fear of federal sanctions.

Since the enactment of George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2002, the nation's public schools have been required to administer standardized tests in reading and mathematics to every student in grades three through eight, a practice unknown in any high-performing nation. These tests have high stakes for students (who might fail to be promoted), teachers (who might be fired if their students' test scores don't rise), and schools (which might be closed if test scores don't go up).

In addition, three successive presidential administrations-Bush, Obama, and Trump-have pressured school districts to accept privately managed charter schools. Educators and parents have tried to fend off a powerful and well-funded privatization movement that promotes privately managed charter schools and vouchers as the cure for low test scores (which they are not). This so-called reform movement has paid little attention to the need for adequate and equitable resources.

U.S. education began a long slide into an abyss of testing and privatization in 1983, when the administration of Ronald Reagan issued a sensationalized report called "A Nation at Risk." The report asserted that U.S. education was experiencing a "rising tide of mediocrity" and blamed the public schools for the loss of industries to Japan, South Korea, and Germany. The report relied on cherry-picked data to create a false sense of crisis that demanded solutions.

Governors across the nation met with business leaders and decided that education was too important to leave to educators. What was needed, instead, was corporate thinking. And the remedies they came up with were standards and accountability, based on data derived from annual tests.

The new "reform" movement conveniently ignored the responsibility of short-sighted corporate leaders for the flight of industries to other nations. It was easier to blame schoolteachers and "low standards" in elementary and middle schools. The governors and corporate leaders also ignored the tight correlation between student test scores and...

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