John Oliver Examines NCLB, Race to the Top, and Testing in Comedy Monologue

Surely it must be significant that John Oliver, the HBO comedian, did an 18 minute segment last week on what’s gone haywire in American public education.  Oliver traces the history of test-and-punish since the federal testing law No Child Left Behind Act was enacted in January of 2002.  I urge you to watch this segment of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

You will see a clip of President George W. Bush defining (Definition probably wasn’t his strong point.) school accountability and a video of candidate Barack Obama, in a speech to the National Education Association, disdaining an education philosophy centered around children coloring in bubbles on standardized tests.  Oliver puzzles about the inconsistency—a candidate Obama who said he hated testing and a President Obama whose administration has vastly expanded the amount of testing through programs like Race to the Top that led to the Common Core and stretched the uses of testing not only for rating and punishing schools but also for evaluating teachers with algorithms based on their students’ scores.

As if that isn’t enough, Oliver looks into the corporate testing industry—its reach and power in the lives of children and teachers, it’s secrecy, and the public’s inability to do anything about it even when test questions are poorly written.  We hear from the people who work as test graders—people who responded to ads on Craig’s List, people who are themselves held accountable for coming up with a bell curve in scores among the essays they read—not too many high scores.

The situation in our schools has been at the same time absurd and deeply troubling for almost fifteen years now, but none of this seems to have seeped inside the Beltway, where Congress is considering legislation that leaves annual testing in place, continues to blame teachers, and fails to address serious problems in the struggling schools of our nation’s impoverished communities.

Is nobody paying attention to what is happening with our children?  I have wondered if, as a culture, we have adopted an education philosophy of “out of sight, out of mind”—if we have accepted a focus on test scores as a proxy for caring about our society’s children.  I am delighted to see John Oliver raising this issue as though it is something people watching television ought to be thinking and talking about.

Our children and our more than 3 million school teachers across America ought to matter to us.  Watch this video.  Talk about it.  Get some other people to watch it and talk about it.

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4 thoughts on “John Oliver Examines NCLB, Race to the Top, and Testing in Comedy Monologue

  1. There’s a lot of pushback in NJ on Testing-as-overtesting, and it saturates Philadelphia TV advertising. The government in its wisdom decided when allocating TV channels in 1948 that Jersey would be the only state without its own TV, and that still stands! The source of the anti-testing ads is http://www.njkidsandfamilies.org, and you can bet that NJEA funding has made this call as an investment of merit and worth. It’s not just one spot with a repeating image but a variety of parents [class, race, positions] that somehow come to similar conclusions. At least a couple of these are from very literate children themselves, a credit to their parents AND teachers. This testing campaign is as much about banging teachers as it is testing children, and I certainly identify with teacher objections. No students, howsoever literate & studious, should have anything to say about the quality of the curriculum or teacher/presenters until at least a full decade: only then will s/he be able to value the effort & professionalism that has been presented to him: it’s something called maturation, and it’s a wonderful thing for a teacher to hear or see, but not enough students return to render praise to the source of how their lives have evolved. More and more opting-out, a convenient metaphor for an absence, is reported and happening, so much so that in many cases it renders invalid or skews the results being sought. Only Pearson and other testing companies benefit from this nonsense, and for once, what you see and hear on TV is a matter of substance and worth!

  2. Reblogged this on Dolphin and commented:
    Great post. And Indiana is a great example of people paying attention — embattled Superintendent Glenda Ritz has announced she is considering running for Governor, which I applaud. However, I don’t think people understand the true gravity of what is going on — even John Oliver, with his great piece – leaves out the connection between Wall St. and Charters and the likes of Michael Milken trying to profiteer off of our kids.

  3. Jan,  I hope all is well with you!  I do enjoy reading your Blogs.  Keep up the good work!  Your fan, Ron Hooker

  4. I am certain this is not the first time this has been said, but the emperor has no clothes. How is all of this accepted by us? Thanks, Barbara

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