Resource: Review of Mismeasure of Education

A Review of Horn and Wilburn's The Mismeasure of Education
By Mark J Garrison
D’Youville College
Buffalo, NY

Recently I was asked to talk to a large group of area educators and parents about the relationship between the Common Core Standards Initiative (CCSI) and the use of student test scores on high stakes standardized tests to evaluate teachers and principals – so-called valued-added models (VAMs). Public criticism of this disfiguring of teacher evaluation and the Common Core testing regime continues to grow across New York State and elsewhere, giving rise to many public forums such as the one described below. More than 40,000 parents reportedly opted their children out of New York’s Common Core tests this year.⁠ Many parents are “refusing the tests” on the grounds that consistent and vocal public concerns about the Regents Reform Agenda have been ignored (e.g., Strauss, 2013).

During the discussion following my talk linking the rise of the test-delivery Common Core regime and VAMs to cuts to education funding and privatization, one teacher likened her experience to being flushed down a toilet, “day after day,” struggling but never being able to escape that dark vortex known as “education reform,” which, she said, “sucks the life out of education” and renders any authentic work of students and teachers “wasteful.” After the crowd had left, the event organizer told me that a teacher sitting next to him during the talk, “cried quietly for the first half hour.” When I asked why, he said: “The talk put everything together for her, helped her understand the pain she had been experiencing over the last decade.” In no small measure was my ability to “bring everything together” based on having just finished reading Horn and Wilburn’s volume, The Mismeasure of Education (MME). Readers should know that MME is imbued with an activist spirit and so it seems imminently fitting to introduce the book in the light of its role in my own work as a public intellectual.

I’ve been studying and writing about standardized testing, and VAMs in particular, for some time, so I asked myself, “what was it about MME that proved so valuable to me?” The value of MME for me – and I believe this will be the case for many readers – is the manner in which it links the rise of test-based accountability policy to elite ideologies and efforts to block public demands for equality of educational opportunity, and demands for policies that foster social equality, more generally. Through its case study of the rise of VAMs in Tennessee, MME leaves the reader with a keen sense of the dynamic relationship between the increasing reliance on standardized tests, school finance litigations, and privatization efforts, which include increased expenditures on for-profit prisons and a simultaneous reduction in funding for public schools. This analysis and the author’s mode of presentation helped me put all that knowledge together such that I was more able than before to effectively communicate an analysis to a public audience, one that was both partisan – unabashedly in favor of defending and renewing the democratic potential of public education – and eager for objective analyses of the actual conditions, developments and facts related to the “mismeasure” of the work of teachers and students.

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