Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Parents and teachers, beware! We have a new secretary of education. His name is John B. King, Jr.
King joined the United States Department of Education as a top deputy in January 2015, after having served for more than four years as New York’s state education commissioner. During King’s tenure in New York, the state education department implemented Common Core, drastically increased the amount of time spent on standardized testing, and adopted complex methods by which student test scores were used as the primary criterion for evaluating teachers.
Several New York parents’ groups called for King’s resignation, and King’s leadership led to the largest opt-out movement in the country. In 2014, largely in response to King’s onerous testing policies, 20 percent of New York pupils were kept home from school during the administration of state standardized assessments.
When former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced his resignation last fall, King was named to serve as his replacement on an interim basis. President Obama subsequently nominated King to fill the position permanently. This afternoon, by a vote of 49-40-11, the United States Senate confirmed King as the tenth United States Secretary of Education. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was the only Democrat to vote against King’s confirmation.
What does this all mean? Most immediately, it indicates that the national obsession with standardized testing and corporate-backed school “reform” will continue unabated, and education officials in Washington will continue to scapegoat hardworking classroom teachers.
What can be done about it? For starters, parents can continue opting out of standardized tests.
In Michigan, the opt-out movement has not been nearly as strong as in New York. But Michigan parents who wish to opt out and keep their children home from school during testing periods have a strong argument to make.
Parents have a fundamental liberty interest, protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, in directing and supervising the education of their children. It is this liberty interest, for example, that guarantees parents the right to homeschool their children, send their children to private schools, and keep their children from participating in certain school activities that they deem objectionable.
Furthermore, as I have written previously, a loophole in Michigan law makes it difficult for the state to enforce its school attendance statute against parents who decide to keep their children out of school on testing days.
America’s out-of-control fascination with high-stakes testing is undermining the idea of public education. It is also creating a generation of nervous, stressed-out kids. In many schools, to make time for even more test-driven instruction, recess and lunch hour have been significantly pared down or eliminated—as have programs like art and music. This causes children to derive less and less enjoyment from their school day.
The extreme focus on testing is also robbing our teachers—taking away their time and ability to explain, improvise, elucidate, challenge, answer questions, and provide extra support.
All children learn differently and have unique educational needs. As the United States Supreme Court observed 90 years ago, the government has no general power to “standardize its children.” Yet this is exactly what federal and state officials are trying to accomplish through their obsession with standardized testing, teaching to the test, and Common Core.
Today’s confirmation of John B. King, Jr. sends the wrong message to parents and teachers; it is a signal that our education system has lost sight of its fundamental purpose. By opting out of standardized tests, however, parents can begin to put pressure on government officials and help build awareness of the problem.
America’s kids need a chance to thrive. This chance can only be delivered by an education system that allows children to learn at their own pace. It is time to end the corporate-backed testing nightmare and let our schools get back to their core mission of preparing each child to succeed.