NEW YORK — Over the past two weeks, there has been an explosion of commentary about the tiny yet extremely loud standardized test opt-out movement, in which parents prevent their kids from taking a new generation of tougher exams that supposedly send children’s cortisol levels through the roof.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan characterized the opt-outers as “white suburban moms” afraid to learn the truth — that more than half of their little Einsteins are, according to new internationally benchmarked standards called the Common Core, intellectually mediocre. (He has since apologized for his loaded phrasing.) Frank Bruni asked, “Are American kids too coddled” by parents who protect them from measurement and competition? The conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru, while not exactly supporting the new standards, beat back the growing Common Core critiques from the right, like Glenn Beck’s ridiculous claim that the government will scan children’s irises.
Hothouse parents are an easy and familiar media target, and great for New York Magazine sales. And though it’s hard to generalize about the demographics of the families involved in opting out, much of the anti-test activism has been concentrated in suburbs, like Long Island and Westchester County, and at more privileged urban schools, like Garfield High in Seattle. These educated parents and kids have some legitimate concerns about the new generation of tests. In subjects like art, music, gym and even kindergarten, many of these exams are experimental, and can be developmentally questionable. But in general, a more rigorous curriculum is a good thing for American students. There is a wealth of evidence that our children do too little writing, have no conceptual understanding of math, and read too many books with scant literary merit. One way to make sure local schools are correcting these problems is to require them to administer standardized tests.