For my story last week on standardized testing, I asked John Barker, chief accountability officer for the Chicago Public Schools, if he was concerned about the practice of teaching to tests. He wasn’t. “My philosophy has always been that if it’s a good test, teach to it,” he told me.
A reader found this sentiment to be “shocking and a testament to the dilapidation and erosion of educational leadership within CPS.” In his written comment, the reader went on:
The purpose of education is to teach and develop the academic skills necessary for critical thinking and reasoned expression. A strong and effective public educational system is essential for a vibrant democracy. Put simply, teaching to a test doesn’t have anything to do with critical thinking and reasoned expression but everything to do with indoctrination.
One’s view of standardized testing depends largely on what one hopes schools will engender—critical thinking, or something more easily measured. Those who feel schools ought to resemble businesses tend to want the latter. The Ford Motor Company “would not have survived the competition had it not been for an emphasis on results,” Rod Paige, the education secretary under George W. Bush, wrote in a letter to the New Yorker in 2003. “We must view education the same way. Good schools do operate like a business. They care about outcomes, routinely assess quality, and measure the needs of the children they serve.”