Attaching so much importance to tests, say such critics, is leading to unintended consequences – including cheating (with the recent scandal in Atlanta as Exhibit A), a narrowing of the curriculum, and the reduction of many schools into test-prep factories that ignore the higher-thinking skills needed for college and the workplace. Instead, they assert, more attention should be paid to poverty and the related factors affecting students' achievement, teachers should get better support and training, and evaluations should be more nuanced.
Although the Obama administration has been trying to address what it sees as shortcomings in the No Child Left Behind law, critics say that overall the administration is going in the wrong direction on reforms.
"This is impassioned educators pushing back for good or bad," says Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, who is generally an advocate of standards-based reforms. "I think it's clear that this isn't union power tactics."
In May, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote an open letter to America's teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week acknowledging many of the concerns voiced by teachers. He concluded the letter, "I hear you, I value you, and I respect you."
Rather than appeasing teachers, it unleashed a storm of angry blogs, letters, and comments from educators who feel far from appreciated.
"The things you say here are, as Hamlet once said, 'words, words, words,' but there is no substance behind them," reads a typical comment about the letter, posted on the Department of Education's website. The teacher also says, "The education policies of this administration are the single reason why I will not vote to reelect Barack Obama in 2012."