Article written by

David Hursh

For the last decade David Hursh’s writing and political organizing has focused on the dangers of high-stakes testing. His most recent book, High-Stakes Testing and the Decline of Teaching and Learning: The Real Crisis in Education (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), situates the rise of high-stakes testing in states like Texas and New York, and at the federal level with No Child Left Behind within larger debates about the purposes of education and the nature of society. Marilyn Cochran-Smith, John E. Cawthorne Professor at Boston College, wrote: "In this unusual book, David Hursh combines rich recollections of classroom teaching with trenchant analysis of the "real crisis" in education today-the neoliberal package of high stakes testing, accountability, markets and privatization. The result is a deeply disturbing but compelling and original book that puts democratic education back where it should be--at the center of discussions about schools and schooling.” In 1998 Hursh helped start the Coalition for Common Sense in Education, a group of parents, students, and educators working to changed education policy through lobbying in Albany and hosting forums. Some of the speakers the Coalition has funded include Jonathan Kozol, Angela Valenzuela, Deborah Meier, Peter Sacks, Monty Neill, and Susan Ohanian. Since the publication of his book in March, Hursh has delivered invited talks to numerous groups, including the Rochester Teachers Association, Monroe County School Board Association, and in the Arts and Lectures series at SUNY-Cortland. This upcoming academic year he has been invited to present at universities across the United States. David Hursh is a Professor at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester.

11 Responses

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  1. Brian D. Barrett, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, SUNY Cortland
    Brian D. Barrett, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, SUNY Cortland at |

    This is an excellent blog as it seems to me that politicians have a difficult time thinking outside the box when it comes to education and this blog at least offers an opportunity to help them to do so.

    When I say “politicians,” however, I’d like to stress that I am not only talking about the Bush administration, which is largely responsible for “false advertising” in how it has implemented (or failed to implement) the law “as advertised;” I am also talking about Democrats (for example, Ted Kennedy was an early champion of the legislation, which Hillary Clinton also voted for) who must share responsibility for getting behind Bush’s “Texas-style” education reform that emphasized high-stakes testing, so clearly had the potential to narrow the curriculum, promote rote memorization, teaching to the test, and educational triage, and that promoted the “accountability” of schools, teachers, and students to government but not the other way around.

    As November approaches and we look to politicians for solutions to our “educational crisis” (which, it should be noted, joins the long line of educational crises that are so frequently declared, especially since the publication in 1983 of A Nation at Risk) it is very important to note that, when promoting “change we can believe in,” Senator Obama (who, of course, offers greater hope of rolling back the failed policies of the Bush administration than his Republican opponent) still refers to “failing schools” and talks about “improving” assessments, but whether or not this means doing away with the current reliance on high-stakes standardized tests remains unclear ( Obama’s promises to fully fund the legislation, to “support” rather than punish low-performing schools (certainly promises we’ve heard before as NCLB was initially developed) and to promote universal pre-school, state by state and on a “voluntary” basis are encouraging. However, if we really wish to see “change we can believe in” or to maximize the possibilities for education as a change agent, then it’s time for someone in Washington to start speaking in much stronger terms about issues such as: child poverty; increasing income inequality and the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the “truly advantaged;” the re-segregation of America’s schools (and here, for example, the Supreme Court seems recently to have missed the message of Kozol’s The Shame of the Nation); the fact that “supporting” low-performing schools very much entails what the British call “positive discrimination,” channeling a greater share of resources to the nation’s poorest schools, particularly in light of what Gloria Ladson-Billings so brilliantly described as the nation’s “education debt;” and the reality, which Randall Collins pointed out nearly thirty years ago, that the economy if failing to produce as many high-skill/high-wage jobs as the American education system is producing highly-qualified workers – meaning that a decent chunk of the “problem” might indeed lie in the (neoliberal) corporate structure (and the government’s deference to it) rather than in the much vilified public education system.

    I hope that this blog serves as a starting point in pushing for such conversations to come out of Washington.

    Brian D. Barrett, Ph.D.

  2. Marie Brennan, University of South Australia
    Marie Brennan, University of South Australia at |

    Hi David. Good initiative.

    In Australia, public policy on education is strongly informed by the ‘NCLB’ and the Bush administration’s so-called ‘evidence based’ policy directions, and the policy borrowing continues, even with a new Labour Government taking office after 12 years of neo-conservative government. Education is being reduced to the lowest common denominator of economic outcomes: education’s sole purpose is to produce flexible ‘human capital’ who can work where needed. Otherwise, teachers in schools and universities are publicly derided, just as in the USA. As the policy discussions in the USA go global, supported by the large research industry available, it is important to have Blogs that do bring out the evidence for failure of the directions, and ideas for replacing the current regime with different directions. So it is important to recognise that the rest of the world suffers from NCLB too. OECD and other supra-national groups speak similar language, and groups such as the World Bank continue to put in place agendas following these lines in other countries. UNESCO – which does at least have a brief for education, and not just the Economy – might provide a better supra-national space in which to organise global responses. but good luck with the internal fights too.

  3. Judy Wadsworth
    Judy Wadsworth at |

    An alternative to high-stakes testing may be just around the technological corner. As a matter of fact, the technology already exists to monitor student behaviors and provide a one-of-a-kind approach to meet each student’s emotional and learning needs. eSchool News assistant editor Meris Stansbury notes the August 20, 2008 article, “ ‘MindLadder’ suggests the future of assessment”, (;_hbguid=aad77d55-6dcc-47bc-bf7a-d623374632ad) that advances in technology and in knowledge about how we learn have resulted in a series of programs that can map behaviors and prescribe customized solutions for optimum growth and learning. The article describes the work of researcher Mogens Jensen who developed a theory of “mediated constructivism.” This term refers to the fact that all cognitive and motivational tendencies of a learner can be nurtured with the help of caring adults through
    “mediated learning experiences,” or experiences the student must have to “learn how to learn.”
    Dr. Jensen founded the International Center for Mediated Learning (ICML) and developed MindLadder, a family of online programs that allow a student’s involved adults to collaborate to aid the learning process. To learn more about this new program, go to

    Until now, it’s been difficult to mount a successful counterattack to the NCLB-generated testing mania, but now there is a well-researched alternative that actually aids learning for all students as it measures progress. Educators, and even sympathetic lawmakers could adopt a system like this one to replace standardized testing which does nothing to facilitate learning.

  4. Dan Drmacich
    Dan Drmacich at |

    David Hursh is on target with his recommendations for serious exploration and development of creative, responsible accountability systems that will result in more meaningful, relevant growth and development for public school students, and provide Congress with some significant ideas for overhauling the NCLB Act. However, even if the best of all possible scenarios takes place, New York State citizens are still left its own state-owned NCLB system; a mandate that all NYS students must pass 5 Regents Exams to graduate; thereby creating a “one-size-fits-all” test-driven, assembly-line, curriculum that neither recognizes the unique learning styles nor interests of individual students. Changing the NYS Board of Regents’ and Commissioner’s standardized test-driven reform agenda may be the toughest task of all. However, stressing the need for curricular & assessment options to meet the needs of students and parents, could be the argument that would be most difficult for NYS legislators to ignore, thereby giving them a moral argument to use when lobbying with the Board of Regents members.

  5. Katy Richardson Shaw, current Masters student at the Warner School
    Katy Richardson Shaw, current Masters student at the Warner School at |

    Hi David,
    Let me start off by saying I am happy to see that you are starting a blog to shine some light on new education policies, and the possibilities that may exist after NCLB. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be a topic that is addressed in many classes. As a new teacher I feel that it is important to be involved in dialogue that could lead to positive change in the schools. However, I believe that one of the important aspects of any new education policies, perhaps under the internal accountability and shared system of values and norms characteristic, should include professional development within the schools. I would like to see some more specifics of what those development sessions would include, and where the programs would be coming from. During my student teaching, I have found that it is hard to be an agent for change, when no one else sees a need for reform-especially if you are a brand new teacher! Hopefully this blog will encourage others to think about change, and the positive possibilities that could be on the horizon.
    In response to the comment that the new proposals will cost money, I cannot think of anything better to spend federal funds on than the future generations of this country. I feel that spending money on education is an investment in the nation, and should not be thought of as a last priority, or as a waste time and money. The state of education in this country should be at the top of the new administration’s “to do” list!
    Good luck with the blog!
    – Katy Shaw

  6. Jennifer Ashton
    Jennifer Ashton at |

    As a parent and teacher educator, I continually struggle with the constraints of NCLB required assessments and their detrimental effects on teaching and learning. I have always found Dr. Hursh’s writing to be insightful and thought-provoking and I look forward to following his blog throughout the upcoming political transition.

  7. Lisa M. Perhamus
    Lisa M. Perhamus at |

    I appreciate the development of this public forum opportunity for folks to join in on such an important conversation.  Regardless of people’s political orientation, the fact that this is an election year makes being informed about and participating in No Child Left Behind conversations important.
    Many years ago I read a book written by Joseph Fernandez, former superintendent of New York City schools.  He opens his book, Tales Out of School (1993), with a simple yet poignant statement, “By all rights, education should be an easy sell because you never find anyone who is ‘against it,’” (p. 1).  His words have stuck with me.  I carry them around when I wear my parenting hat, student hat, teacher hat, children’s advocate hat, educational researcher hat…human being and concerned citizen hat.  It’s true.  I’ve never met anyone who is “against” education.
                I believe that each person plays a role in educational reform.  Some focus on policy development, some run our schools, some attend our schools, some research all that’s going on in our schools.  It seems that if we each play a role and no one is against education, then perhaps one area our society needs to focus more energy on is learning how to better engage with one another in our collaborative efforts.  We do not have to have the same vision for education to improve education.  I think we spend a lot of wasted energy fighting over our visions.  It seems to me that we would be better off learning how to talk with one another about how our ideas mesh and clash and to recognize that not one of us is “the voice of children.”  There are many children, many voices, many visions.  Educational reform is hard work.   It’s not so much whether or not we agree, but how we go about doing our agreeing and disagreeing—and recognizing and owning what our actions contribute and limit.
                For me, what children are experiencing in their classrooms is always the bottom line of any policy discussion.   As a researcher and as a parent, I spend a lot of time in our area public schools.   I hang out with students, listen to teachers, talk with principals.  There is a common thread throughout what I hear.  People in schools right now (at least the ones I have met) feel completely overwhelmed.
                Teachers talk about feeling unable to keep up with policy expectations and feeling unsupported and isolated in their efforts to practice creative, child-centered teaching in an increasingly standardized educational climate.  When I hear stories about strategies they use for not “getting into trouble” when they ask their students to do creative writing instead of reading page 5 of the purchased reading program (regiment) their school requires, I want to cry.
                Administrators talk about the pressure they feel to keep their schools up and operating in the face of worry about this year’s standardized test scores.  Will they be on that NCLB “in danger” list?  This is a worry, but so are the realities of their students who need breakfast, connection with an emergency shelter, the Smile-O-Bile (oh, wait, if you’re homeless, you don’t have an address to get that mailing)…the stories continue.  Interestingly, despite how often I see this pressure turn into harshness in a school environment, I cannot tell you how many times I see love between students, teachers and administrators.  It seems to me that creating environments where this love can flourish will let teachers and administrators and students do their best work.
    I said my bottom line was student experience.  Let’s see.  Elementary school children tell me school is prison; describe the stomach aches they get when they have to take a test; ask me why they spend gym class practicing how to be quiet on the red line (“I thought we were going to play ball?”); tell me how much they hate having to read the same book over and over (“If we’re done, why can’t we read something else?  Why do we have to sit there doing nothing?”  I don’t say anything, but I recall the teacher’s strategy to sneak in creative writing during these sitting moments.); and explain how hard it is for them to concentrate on their work when they are listening to the noise from all five clusters (that’s 5 teachers and approximately 125 students) that make up the space of their learning environment.
                What I have learned through spending time in schools is that, for the most part, everyone is doing their best.  I am interested in replacing the current No Child Left Behind with policies that honor teachers, parents and children as experts with different areas of expertise and that facilitate collaborations with these most important stake holders of education.  Now, I realize I say this simply, but my point is, that is the “side” of educational reform that I hope my neighbor as well as my president endorses.
    Lisa M. Perhamus
    Visiting Assistant Professor
    PhD Candidate
    Teaching, Curriculum and Change
    Warner School of Education

  8. Fabian Ramirez
    Fabian Ramirez at |

    Another thing that No Child Left Behind did for schools was crack down on who can be substitute teachers. Now one must have college credits in order to be a subtitute. No more putting warm bodies in the classrooms. I like this idea, plus people with college degrees get paid more so it makes people want to get their education.

  9. Donna M. Goodman, M.A.
    Donna M. Goodman, M.A. at |

    Thank you for being a “voice” for those of us in the “trenches” so overwhelmed by NCLB that we no longer have the time or energy to be an advocate for either ourselves or the students and culture we endeavor to serve.
    Donna Goodman, M.A.
    Classroom teacher, elementary education

  10. preschool
    preschool at |

    I agree with getting rid of no child left behind, however the accountability system you outline is rather weak. Hopefully somebody will do something bold.

  11. Pouyan
    Pouyan at |

    In the UK with the dawn of a new Conservative coalition government, an initiative is being brought in where parents are encouraged to apply for state funds to set up their own schools in areas where they feel that the quality of education their children are receiving is not adequate. These are not private schools as the schools will still be free. This seems similar to Charter Schools in the US. Any thoughts?

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