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Laura Waters

Testing, Common Core, Charters: The Power of Nostalgia

Laura Waters writes about New Jersey education politics and policy for WHYY’s Newsworks, NJ Spotlight and other publications. An earlier version of this post originally appeared on her blog, NJ Left Behind. She is a mother of four and has been a school board member in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, for 10 years.
It seems that the country’s gone wacky, at least within the politics of public education. Media roils with attacks on everything from standardized testing to aligning academic standards with students’ needs to innovative charter schools. It’s as if there’s some strange virus circulating that sends people into paroxysms of nostalgia for the good old days when we could maintain the pretense that the great American school system met the needs of all children. On Twitter, the new cartoonish meme of those who yearn for the good old days is “Stop GERM: Global Education Reform Movement Seeking to Profit and Privatize from Public Education,” as if global connectivity and collaboration—that whole “the world is flat” thing—is some sort of Machiavellian ruse. All I can think of is Galileo, forced by the Church to renounce his theory that the earth is not the center of the universe and, instead, revolves around the sun. “But yet it moves,” he was said to murmur.

Attacks on Testing

Today U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was put in the absurd position of defending annual assessments, which for decades has provided incontrovertible evidence about socio-economic and racial achievement gaps. (Kati Haycock of Education Trust told the Washington Post that “removing the requirement for annual testing would be a devastating step backward, for it is very hard to make sure our education system is serving every child well when we don’t have reliable, comparable achievement data on every child every year.”)

Attacks on High Standards

The Common Core State Standards, widely hailed as an improvement for almost every state’s school objectives, is suddenly an object of scorn. Writes Aaron Chatterji in The New York Times:
The Obama administration’s Race to the Top program used billions of dollars of prize money to persuade states to adopt several education policy reforms that had been proven to work around the nation. Part of the package was Common Core, which, in part because of President Obama’s imprimatur, is now toxic on the right (and, because of opposition from some teachers, is just as toxic on the left).

Attacks on Charter Schools

Like standardized testing and the Common Core, public charter schools are also under attack, including those that serve economically-disadvantaged kids. And these attacks seem to grow in virulence even as evidence accumulates that poor children are the primary beneficiaries. Adam Ozemik describes in Forbes how non-urban charter schools don't do any better than traditional public schools, but that urban charter schools benefit poor and black students more than traditional public schools.
Currently charters have 53% of their students in poverty compared to 48% for public schools. Charters also serve more minority students than public schools: charters are 29% black, while public schools are 16%. So not only do they serve more poor students and black students, but for this group they relatively consistently outperform public schools. What’s odd is how often these facts go ignored.
As Ozemik notes:
It’s hard to imagine another policy being called a failure because it only benefited poor students and black students.
I don’t think charter detractors are racist, but merely soldiers of orthodoxy, lashing out at heretical ideas like accountability, innovative schools, and higher-level standards. And us reformers, sidelined for the moment, murmur “and yet it moves” as we wait for the inevitable return of reason.
Laura Waters
Laura Waters is the founder and managing editor of New Jersey Education Report, formerly a senior writer/editor with brightbeam. Laura writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for ...

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