Snake Oil

I can’t go to the movies nowadays without having to sit through the trailer for Waiting for Superman. This is a film that promotes the neoliberal quackery on education (privatization, charter schools, standardized tests). It doesn’t seem to bother the people advocating this stuff that there is no evidence that students do any better in charter schools than in public schools. Charter schools are being offered up as the all-purpose remedy for our nation’s education woes, and people are being urged to line up to get their share.

What really bugs me, though, is this emphasis on standardized testing. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that an education consists of something more than just an ability to answer multiple-choice questions. (Having taken quite a few standardized tests in the course of my life, I know that there are ways to sometimes guess the correct answers on these things.) Standardized testing is a poor way of preparing students for college. Engineering students, for example, are expected to answer problem-solving questions. Standardized tests will not prepare them for this. College students are expected to be able to write clearly and to organize their thoughts. Standardized tests will not prepare them for this.

I suspect that this push for standardized testing has to do with the needs of U.S. capitalism right now. In the years following the Second World War, there was a big emphasis on getting students to learn science and engineering. This reflected the needs of many corporations at that time. Today, with much of manufacturing shipped overseas, corporations don’t have as much need for people with that kind of training. Standardized testing will create a generation of people who are good at clerical work, which seems to be what the capitalists need right now. The aim is to create a generation of bean counters.

The current push for education “reform” has, however, two main goals: to smash the teacher’s unions and, more importantly, to turn our schools into cash cows for private companies.

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