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Arne Duncan Offers Insight into Challenges of Testing

By Nick Jones, CEI Intern

In a recent Washington Post opinion piece by Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education calls for a balanced approach to 21st education reform, in particular, the ever so controversial notion of standardized testing.

Duncan’s article serves as a snapshot of the many elements affecting student achievement in the United States.


Teaching for the test. A good portion of Duncan’s article discusses the overzealous nature of standardized testing. After the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2001, the nature of how and what students learn forced teachers into teaching for the test ‘“ delivering instruction based on exam questions that will determine if a student is proficient enough to move on to the next grade level. Duncan writes that standardized testing efforts thus far have been ‘redundant’ and ‘low-quality.’

Common Core State Standards. This is where the Common Core State Standards come in. Born from a lack of success preparing students for the future, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers created a framework that offers annual benchmarks and serves to prepare students for the workforce and life beyond education. The Common Core has certainly been a point of contention for politicians and school systems nationwide, something Duncan says ‘political leaders included’ must help support despite party lines.

Election Day. As we near Election Day, it is also important to consider the political effects associated with education reform. On November 4, the American electorate will travel to voting centers and put their faith in congressional leaders and for the residents of 36 states- their governors. What’s at stake for students? Students are affected by education policy because these politicians will choose how to execute the Common Core State Standards in their respective jurisdictions. Taking a stand with or against the Common Core has proved to be important this election season. On Friday, Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee and Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado, both proponents of the Common Core, met to discuss how it is not so much the name of the reform that matters but the strength of the curriculum that is important. Like other hot button issues of our times, voting groups dedicated to the Common Core have formed to significantly influence education platforms and campaign for candidates.

Peer Review. Rounding out his discussion on education, Duncan also discusses how American schooling compares to other education in other countries. While he celebrates American high school graduation rates being at an all-time high, Duncan also acknowledges that for a generation now, ‘other nations ours educationally’ because in this quickly changing world, other countries ‘have retooled their schools faster than we have.’ Duncan adds that last year 30 states increased funding for early learning, a weak spot compared to other countries. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ‘education-only early childhood programmes in other countries are usually delivered by a qualified teacher and have a formal curriculum, while in the U.S., the situation can vary.’

Duncan’s article is a reminder to remember:

  1. It takes a village ‘“ a good education requires many parties, from parental encouragement to effective lawmaking.

  2. It is important to consider students’ international peers to gage strengths and weaknesses at home.

  3. In spite of individual states’ discrepancies, standardize testing and education reform must be solved as a national issue.

In a country where education is accessible by the masses, educators, lawmakers, and parents have a responsibility to reform education and strengthen student achievement and outlook.


Berry, S. (2014, October 20). Common Core in Tennessee and Colorado: Lipstick on a Pig? Breitbart. Retrieved 2014, from

Duncan, A. (2014, October 17). Standardized tests must measure up. Washington Post. Retrieved 2014, from

LaRock, J. (2012). Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators 2012. In Country Note. Paris, France: Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development. Retrieved 2014, from


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