Michael Bloomberg Is Wrong About School Testing

Bloomberg’s belief that “bad teachers” are the main culprits in education and that testing is the best way to remove them is a misplaced approach, the author writes. Lisi Niesner/Reuters

Michael Bloomberg, the well-intentioned but sometimes misguided education champion and former New York mayor, and Pearson, the giant, ossified education publisher, have more in common than you think. Both see corporations as a model for schools. Both love standardized tests.

The most striking resemblance? How out of touch they are with the daily lives of teachers, students and principals.

In a recent essay by Bloomberg, he states that his key issues with the Obama administration's move to limit K-12 testing are that it removes the tools to identify bad teachers and robs students of the opportunities to prepare for lifelong testing.

Both arguments are deeply flawed.

Bloomberg's belief that "bad teachers" are the main culprits in education and that testing is the best way to remove them is a misplaced approach. There's simply no proof that an annual student test is the best indicator of individual teacher quality, and even the most cutthroat enterprises prefer training and improvement to firing, except in extreme cases.

And school as a model for life's later tests misses the point of American education. Beyond school, most people take very few tests in life, outside a few chosen fields. Tests make up a miniscule fraction of life's meaningful events, and standardized testing should represent an equally tiny fraction of our kids' school lives.

Bloomberg's argument for a fusillade of standardized tests is not ill intentioned—it's simply out of touch with today's classroom. And that's where Pearson comes in, which—as a major school publisher—is an even bigger problem.

It may be good business when the company that sells standardized tests also sells the textbooks supposedly helpful in prep for the same tests (all paid for by taxpayers), but what's good for Pearson is not what is good for teachers and students. Dynamic, engaging tools that are personalized and provide real-time insight into what's going on with their students are what teachers need to continually refine their craft and to help their students learn and grow.

Which brings us back to Obama. His administration's announcement is likely spurred by the rise of next generation instructional tools that seamlessly blend assessment (understanding what kids know) into content and instruction. Invisibly integrated into learning, assessment doesn't feel like a test. The model lets teachers help the students immediately when they need it, not six months from now when the state reports results.

The result is a better connection between teachers and students, with teachers able to easily identify and provide extra help to the students who need it. That's what everyone in education seeks. It's a result that Pearson doesn't care about and Bloomberg's views don't address.

We can't expect Pearson to change their views on testing and textbooks, especially amidst slipping profits and a plunging stock price. They and their shareholders have too much at stake.

But there is hope that Bloomberg's views will evolve. He, like many of us, wants to see progress. But his comments in this case inadvertently support the education-industrial complex that has frozen U.S. education in time. Bloomberg's powerful voice and deep pockets should lift up our teachers and students, not global conglomerates and status quo.

Matt Gross, CEO and co-founder of the ed-tech literacy tool Newsela, is a former teacher and the former executive director of the Regents Research Fund, a privately funded affiliate of the New York State Board of Regents and Education Department.