About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.

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Friday, April 2, 2021

A Brief Reflection on Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and the Use of Data

It is the evening of April 1, and I am listening to “1-A,” the excellent public affairs show that comes out of WAMU in Washington, D.C. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is the guest, and he is explaining to host Jenn White the rationale for his recent decision to mandate standardized testing for this school year. I had high hopes for this man, given all his experience in schools, and I still do, but what he is saying makes my heart sink. In essence, the more data we have, the better able we will be to distribute funds from The American Rescue Plan to the schools that most need them. He then insists that determining need will be the only use of the data, that scores will not be used to evaluate schools or teachers, to stigmatize or to punish.

         There are a number of arguments against giving the tests this year, from logistical and methodological problems to the added stress on school personnel and students during an already stressful time. These and other arguments were unsuccessfully made by hundreds of education experts in a formal appeal to Secretary Cardona. For a thoughtful analysis of why Cardona’s decision is misguided, see Jan Resseger’s blogs of March 29 and April 2.

         In addition to all else that’s been written about the folly of testing, I simply want to reflect briefly on several points made by the Secretary on “1-A”—the things he said that led to the aforementioned dropping of my heart.

         First, in what fantastical world does the Secretary think that this year’s test scores will not be used for any purpose beyond the allocation of funds… and that his Department’s pronouncements alone will function as a magic shield against abuse? Miguel Cardona has been in high levels of educational administration for a long time. He is a political animal. He surely knows better.

         Second, and to me more troubling, is the way the Secretary seems to regard “data” and the quantity of data as an automatic good, as unquestionably worth pursuing. I too believe that gaining more data is generally beneficial for everything from life decisions to policy formation, but one has to consider the quality of the data one is collecting and the context in which it is collected. One also has to ask at what cost the data are collected. Administrators, teachers, students, and parents are facing unprecedented challenges as it is without the added burden of a full-scale, high-stakes testing program, a burden that will be strongly felt in the very schools Cardona says he is most concerned about. The Secretary says that we need this data to pinpoint those in greatest need. My God, as if we don’t already know this! We have multiple measures of educational and economic inequity and need. Few physicians would approve of an invasive and destabilizing test that might yield one small bit of additional data about a patient’s well-established condition.

         I’m left with the worry that our Secretary of Education, for all his gifts, holds a technocratic faith in measures, numbers, data points—a faith that numbers, and more numbers, are always beneficial, overriding considerations of the human cost of collecting certain kinds of data and the circumstances in which they are collected.


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