SAN DIEGO - Who is afraid of the big bad tests? Answer: A lot of teachers, the unions that represent them, and misguided third-party defenders of the status quo determined to fight efforts to bring accountability to public schools until the last reform measure dies.
The misguided include Matt Damon. The 42-year-old actor and activist was recently called out on Twitter and in the blogosphere for his hypocrisy. An opponent of school choice and a critic of high-stakes testing, he urges the rest of us to support public schools even though, as he recently disclosed to the Guardian newspaper, he sends his children to private schools in the Los Angeles area.
In July 2011, Damon spoke at a protest in Washington, D.C., called "Save Our Schools." The protesters were furious with the Obama administration and its education reform initiative -- Race to the Top -- which relies on high-stakes testing to allow states and school districts to compete for millions of dollars in additional funding if they make changes such as tearing down firewalls that prohibit tying student performance to teacher salaries.
Teachers are never happy. Before they were upset with the Obama administration for demanding more from our schools, they were livid at the Bush administration for the same reason. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, which had the audacity to insist that all students be at grade level in math and reading by 2014. The law, which expired six years ago, also broke down testing data according to the race and ethnicity of students so that minority communities could see clearly how well students of color were being served. For teachers, this is an extremely sensitive subject.
And speaking of sensitive, it's worth noting that not all Republicans bought into Bush's vision of education reform. In the end, it wasn't Democrats -- at the urging of liberal teachers unions -- who succeeded in undermining accountability in public education. It was Republican lawmakers who were concerned with local control and wary of what they consider "one-size-fits-all" performance standards.
House Republicans recently threw their support behind the Student Success Act, which was written by the House Education Committee chair, John Kline of Minnesota. His bill does not require that states set annual performance goals for schools. Localities would be on the honor system, and the federal government would be out of the education reform business.
It turns out there are those lawmakers on the right who are selfish and shortsighted enough to not care how students are faring across the board as long as their local schools are still sending kids to the top colleges and universities. Just wait until those foolish souls have to depend on those poorly educated kids from the district next door to generate enough income to fund their Social Security or congressional pensions. Good luck with that.
Maybe they can rely on high-earners like Matt Damon to bail them out.
"As I look at my life today," he told the crowd at the protest two years ago, "the things that I value the most about myself -- my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity -- all of these things came from the way that I was parented and taught. And none of these qualities that I just mentioned -- none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, none of these qualities that have brought me so much joy, that have made me so successful professionally -- none of these qualities that make me who I am can be tested."
Note the staggering amount of narcissism, even for a Hollywood celebrity. Of the 95 words in that statement, 16 of them are "me," "myself," "I" or "my."
All that matters are the qualities that Damon values in himself. Who needs proficiency in math and reading when you have "imagination" or "curiosity"? Also, it's so kind of him to speak for everyone, and decide that minority and disadvantaged kids don't need to have their academic progress evaluated by something as crass as a test if they have a "love of learning." Damon should do his homework.
Do these Hollywood liberals even listen to themselves talk? If they did, they might better understand why their views on so many issues are repellent to so many people.
Come to think of it, one could say the same about some members of Congress.