On Thursday, February 6th, nearly 200 parents, educators, and education activists convened on Philadelphia’s Ritz East theater, known primarily for its commitment to screening independent, foreign, and documentary films, for a much-anticipated showing of Standardized—Lies, Money, & Civil Rights: How Testing is Ruining Public Education.
It’s no surprise that the Ritz’s showing of Standardized was so well-attended; Philadelphia’s public schools have suffered greatly as a result of Governor Corbett’s drastic budget cuts, and the School Reform Commission has forged ahead with its ultimate plan to close neighborhood schools and open charters in their places. Similar reforms are being imposed just across the Delaware River in New Jersey, most prominently in state-run school districts like Newark and Camden, where parents and educators are embroiled in similar battles over top-down directives that are changing the landscape of public education at an alarming rate.
The 75-minute documentary, co-directed by English teacher Dan Hornberger and media professional Jim Del Conte—both resident Pennsylvanians—“sheds light on the invalid nature of [high-stakes] tests, the terrible consequences of high-stakes testing, and the big money that’s involved” and comes at a time when public outcry about implications of standardized testing is becoming louder and more prevalent by the day.
It’s clear, from the first few minutes of the film, that the testing mania sweeping the United States is politically-motivated—and, further, that Obama’s Race to the Top is a more-dangerous version of Bush’s No Child Left Behind, particularly because it’s responsible for the mass school closures that are being imposed on children in major cities all over the country. And because profit-driven corporations prey on the implications of a the test score-driven competition the federal government is imposing on schools, companies like Pearson are making hundreds of millions of dollars each year from schools—many of which are in the midst of budget crises so crippling that they must ask for donations of paper and pencils—whose federal funding is tied to test scores.
At the film’s structural core are in-depth interviews that examine the testing movement from various perspectives. Parents describe the countless days of testing to which their children are subjected and detail ways in which their children’s educational experiences have been limited or hurt by the proliferation of standardized tests. Education experts list the flaws in test construction, the inherent folly in the grading process (think non-educators scoring standardized tests in cubicles in mall basements), and the ways in which standardized tests disproportionally hurt minorities and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. And activists describe their tireless efforts to alert community members and legislators of the damage education reform has caused; and professors and other education experts list—in detail—just how misguided the current overemphasis on standardized testing is.
Perhaps most personally, Dr. Mark Naison, an author, professor of history and African American studies at Fordham University, and founder of the Badass Teachers Association, uses his prominent role in Standardized to chronicle what he describes as the institutional “child abuse” that results from America’s obsession with standardized tests. Naison, a lifelong educator, mentor, and coach, describes how oral history projects he directed—in collaboration with teachers, students, and community leaders in the Bronx—were “systematically pushed out of schools by excessive testing, rating schools and teachers on test results.” (Click here to watch Naison describe these projects and the ways in which their elimination spurred his public education activism.) Ultimately, he concludes, the standardized testing that’s used to vilify and demoralize teachers, grade and rank schools, and stigmatize children needs to be resisted consistently and passionately by educators and parents alike.
After the screening, audience members had an opportunity to ask questions of filmmakers Dan Hornberg and Jim Del Conte—as well as Dr. Mark Naison, who made the trip to Philly from NYC; Jim Horn, author of Mismeasure of Education; and Helen Gym, a former teacher and co-founder of Parents United for Public Education. Their collective discussion was an extension of the film’s fundamental message: that the only way to stop the dangerous path politicians and “philanthropists” have laid for America’s public schools is for educators to stand up for what they know to be best for children–and for parents to opt their children out of standardized tests. (The film screened in Long Island in January, and this article about testing resistance in New York appeared shortly thereafter.)
The current push to “reform” education is an exceedingly complex and intricate one that’s driven primarily by politics and free-market interests—instead of by educators, parents, and experts in child development. But in creating Standardized, Hornberger and Del Conte have provided even those largely unfamiliar with the implications of the standardized testing movement with a concise, accessible, and powerful message that pairs the urgency of the situation with immediate actions those concerned about the future of public education in the United States can take to put a stop to reforms that are bad for children. The film is currently screening in major cities across the country, but according to the filmmakers, it will be available for online viewing in the coming months.
Ultimately, everyone—parents, educators, and taxpayer—should see this film, because it’s simply too important to miss.
Our children cannot wait.