Long at odds, America’s largest teachers union and one of its leading conservative advocacy groups have come to agree on one thing: The federal government is making children take too many standardized tests.
Under No Child Left Behind, each state is required to test students in reading and mathematics every year from grades 3-8, as well as once in high school. Both houses of Congress are working to update the law, and one of the issues in play is whether this mandate should remain. President Barack Obama, civil rights groups and business organizations support keeping the mandate, but teachers unions and small-government conservatives are forming an unusual alliance to oppose it.
The National Education Association, which has almost three million members, is launching an ad blitz in several states over the congressional recess in order to pressure lawmakers to eliminate federal testing requirements. The group is pumping $500,000 into a series of television and radio ads urging parents to contact lawmakers and tell them to scale back standardized testing.
In its TV ad, the NEA complains that “rather than learning the skills they need, students are learning to fill in bubbles,” and it claims students are spending as much a one-third of class time on either taking or preparing for tests.
“Now is the time… to fight for the opportunity for all students to receive a quality public education, more time for students to learn and more time for teachers to teach,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García in a statement.
Meanwhile, on the right, Heritage Action, an influential public advocacy group related to The Heritage Foundation, is bashing the current Republican proposal in the House, dubbed the Student Success Act, which would update NCLB while keeping annual tests. The group recently sent a brief to thousands of donors attacking the bill by attempting to expose the “misleading claims” of its proponents.
In the brief, Heritage Action argues that annual testing reduces local control by “direct[ing] the state to establish a single uniform assessment, limiting the ability of local schools to determine their own curriculum.” While supports of the Student Success Act claim it will free states from federal interference, Heritage says that will not be true as long as testing mandates remain in place.
The campaigns seek to resurrect a push against annual testing that appears on the verge of petering out. In January, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander introduced a proposal that would have allowed states to eliminate annual tests, but the proposal was withdrawn in the face of sharp criticism from Democrats and the implied threat of a veto from Obama. If teachers and conservatives can’t quickly revive that proposal or encourage lawmakers to adopt a similar one, they may see one of their best ever chances to roll back federal control of education slip away.
They have one reason for optimism: This week marks the beginning of standardized testing season, as Ohio becomes the first state to roll out long-awaited tests aligned with Common Core. If the new tests run into any major glitches, lawmakers could be getting an earful from frustrated parents.
Lindsey Burke, an education analyst with The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that keeping annual tests was one of many ways current Republican proposals on NCLB reform are disappointing.
“This is, in the current environment, a missed opportunity,” she said. “If we haven’t cut spending, if we haven’t cut programs, if we haven’t cut mandates, have we really reduced federal intervention?”
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