Nationalization Train Starts Going Off the Tracks

Let the in-fighting begin.

Supporters of digital learning, many of whom were among the strongest supporters of national standards, have organized in opposition to the imposition of a single test on the nation’s schools.  As it stands, the federal government is dumping several hundred million dollars on two testing consortia to develop assessments based on the federally “incentivized” Common Core standards.  A choice of two tests is not the same as a single test, but it is darn close.  It’s like the old joke where you have a choice between death or roo-roo.

The backers of digital learning organized by Innosight issued a group letter in which they express their desire for a multitude of testing options because they (finally) recognize the connection between choice and innovation:

Create a dynamic testing ecosystem, not another one-size-fits-all assessment. Rather than a single common test, the federal-funded opportunity offers the potential to create a vibrant assessment ecosystem comprised of multiple platforms, open-item banks, and multiple testing options that encourages deeper learning. An assessment ecosystem, rather than a single common test, will give states the flexibility to take advantage of innovations in digital learning over time while maintaining interoperability and comparability.

Signatories to this anti-national testing statement include Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, Gisele Huff, Terry  Moe, Tom Vander Ark, Bob Wise, and Julie. E. Young in addition to dozens of others.

I’m not sure why backers of digital learning have taken so long to recognize the threat posed by the nationalization movement.  And I really can’t understand why some of them have been ardent supporters of national standards.  The adoption of national standards only has the possibility of having an effect if it is tightly connected to national testing and curriculum.

The “tight-loose” idea that we can nationally impose standards but allow a wide range of assessments, curricula, and teaching methods is just an empty slogan used to conceal the inevitability of nationalizing all of these aspects of the education system if the standards are to mean anything.  If we don’t have a common way of assessing, how can we be sure that everyone is adhering to the national standards?  And if the national standards are more than vague generalities, they inevitably drive  what is in the curriculum and how it must be taught.  You can have a little bit of nationalization about as much as you can be a little bit pregnant.

Despite the intellectual incoherence of some of these digital learning backers of national standards but opponents of national testing, it is nice to see the nationalization train starting to go off the tracks.  As the train moves further along and the full implications of nationalizing key aspects of the education system become more obvious to everyone, more and more people will jump that train. Without significant coercion it will be very hard to keep everyone on board until they reach the station where standards, assessments, and curriculum are all centrally imposed.

-Jay P. Greene

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