THE BLOG

Have You Any Decency? What Every American Needs to Know About High Stakes Testing and the Latest Threat to Civil Liberties

03/23/2015 06:11 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2015

Education bloggers revealed that the company retained by testing giant Pearson, to ensure the integrity of its assessments, has been monitoring student's social media accounts in conjunction with policing the controversial Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests. These are only the latest in a series of scandals dogging corporate education reform. Such revelations should give parents even greater reason to feel secure in their decisions to refuse high stakes testing for their children.

Curiously, the same cabal that tends to spring to the defense of testing and corporate education reform remained silent with regard to the latest issue. It seems obvious that the talking points memo issued with hefty campaign contributions and other payoffs by the corporate giants making a fortune on testing schemes did not cover the violation of basic civil liberties that went along with their testing packages.

In fact, those talking points consist only of ways to brand parents, teachers and teacher's unions as the real problem. The tired rhetoric would be laughable if it were not fundamentally undemocratic. That is really what makes it so scary -- for it is clear they are less concerned with safeguarding democracy than generating profits. Yet, they use extreme labels and metaphors that paint as extremists those most concerned with the protection of youth.

Last month, for instance, Wisconsin Governor and presidential hopeful Scott Walker ignited a firestorm at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference after he compared combating teachers unions to fighting terrorists. "If I can take on 100,000 protesters," he stridently informed those in attendance, "I can do the same across the world."

This is really the same stale script of trying to use fear and the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement to advance the corporate education reform agenda. To show how unimaginative Walker was, more than a decade ago George Bush's Education Secretary, Dr. Rod Paige, definitely branded the country's leading teachers union, the National Education Association as "a terrorist organization" in February of 2004. When the comments Paige shared in a closed session with the nation's Governors became public, he apologized, but more than ten years later, the label remains.

Paige, an African-American, also infamously drew comparisons to the Civil Rights Movement; he often referred to opponents of the Bush administration education polices as tantamount to the Southerner segregationist, trying to prevent the integration of schools. It makes for great copy, but as former football coach Dr. Paige knows, it is merely one page in the corporate education reform playbook.

At best, the careless declarations of Paige and Walker were merely examples of poor communication. Nevertheless, the tendency of supporters of the corporate education reform agenda, regardless of political affiliation, to return to these arguments is troubling and signals a much larger concern. While they are denigrating parents, belittling students and targeting organize labor, one wonders who is keeping an eye out for protecting civil liberties and preserving American democracy. Perhaps, their failure to appreciate the threat should not be surprising. Many of high stakes testing proponents operate on an intellectual plane, not unlike the tests they promote. They see even the most complicated issues merely in terms of black and white with no shades of gray.

While education activists have been busy on social media this weekend, lamenting the loss of privacy and rightfully comparing the revelations about the testing instructions to George Orwell's apocalyptic1984, there are abundant real life examples from our history that illustrate what happens when a society loses sight of the gray. The assault on civil liberties that accompanied World War I and later, the Red Scare of the 1950s quickly come to mind. In 1954, the primary author of the scare, Joseph McCarthy, made a fatal misstep in targeting the United States army. The army retained Boston attorney Joseph Welch who famously skewered the Senator after he tried to accuse one of Welch's own staff members of being a communist. In a rhetorical flourish, Welch delivered the deathblow to McCarthy and his fear mongering. "Until this moment," he lectured the harried Senator before a nationally televised audience; "I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness....Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?"

In light of the irresponsible comments regarding education made by Scott Walker, Andrew Cuomo and many others, it is clear that they remain willing to say or do whatever it takes to ensure the full adoption of the corporate education reform agenda, even if it means ignoring or actually encouraging the trampling of American civil liberties in the process. As ludicrous as this seems, their silence on the present issue is deafening.

Welches comments remain one of the great political rebukes. It applies as much today to the cruel and reckless rhetoric of the so-called education reformers, as it did to McCarthy. The likes of Scott Walker and Chris Christie continue battering into the side of teachers unions in defense of high stakes testing, but the real dragon at the door in the form of the assault on American democracy goes unchecked.

If they were worried about safeguarding civil liberties, the recent revelations concerning spying on students offers the perfect opportunity. For corporate education reform and its corollary high stakes testing are the thieves in night who seek to steal away choice, chance and opportunity along with undermining democratic practice. For all those who claim to be concerned with defending liberty against totalitarian regimes prove it. Stand up and call for an investigation into SBAC and PARCC in defense of American youth. It is, after all what decency requires. Have you no sense of decency?