Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Conclusion

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Conclusion

‘Truth, like Ol Ma Nature always wins in the end’ D. E. Swacker

The truth and the only conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that the educational malpractices of educational standards and standardized testing are so rife with conceptual and consequential errors and falsehoods that to use the invalid results of said processes to evaluate any aspect of the teaching and learning process and/or students can only be described as illogical, invalid, unethical and mind-bogglingly insane.  Yet those practices and their offshoots in teacher evaluations continue to be used on a daily basis.

Should the state, through the public education system, be using undeniably false and invalid malpractices, malpractices that have been proven to lack “fidelity to truth” and harm students?

No! The conclusion to be drawn from using these malpractices is that the usage of the results is unjust in discriminating against some students by sorting, ranking and grading (many times in error) by student characteristics that are largely determined by genetic inheritance, family and social influences outside the control of the individual and teacher.  Not only that, but that vast resources are being wasted and educational opportunities for students are being restricted in the name of test prep denying the student ample opportunity to “savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.”

Should the state, through the public education system, demand that teachers break codes of professional ethics?

No!  Distressingly, if a teacher doesn’t comply with these legally mandated malpractices, it is all but guaranteed that they will not only be reprimanded but worse, letters written against the teacher to be put in his/her file ultimately resulting in his/her termination usually for “insubordination” in not following these unethical mandates.  While it is perfectly legal for the administration do punish teachers, where is the ethics in that? Or justice?

Should the state through its public schools, be in the position of discriminating against some students while rewarding others through bogus practices?  Where is the justice in that?

Just as discrimination against students due to skin color, gender orientation and/or disability status has been adjudicated as unconstitutional so should the daily discrimination that results from the standards and testing regime be adjudicated not only as unconstitutional but should be judged to be the unjust and unethical practices that they are.  There is no justice in state approved discrimination!

Should the state, through its public schools, contravene its stated purpose of public education and government by demanding compliance with the standards and testing regimes that only results in not  promoting the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry“?

The answer has to be NO!

When will the insanity of the grading, sorting and separating and ranking of students, of the standards and testing malpractices end for the most vulnerable of society, the children?

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Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Seven

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 7

Ethics in Educational Practices

‘Ethics are more important than laws.’   Wynton Marsalis

While many, especially those who make a living off of working with laws, might disagree with Marsalis’ statement much is to be said for this simple thought.  Much like with justice and truth, most folks believe they know what ethics are.  Merriam-Webster Online states:

1 plural but sing or plural in constr:  the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.

2a:  a set of moral principles:  a theory or system of moral values <the present day materialistic ethic> <an old fashioned work ethic> –often used in plural but singular or plural in construction <an elaborate ethics> <Christian ethics> b:  the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group <professional ethics> c:  a guiding philosophy d:  a consciousness of moral importance <forge a conservation ethic>

3:  a set of moral issues or aspects (as rightness) <debated the ethics of human cloning>

As with justice and truth, the topic of ethics has been debated for millennia.  The scope of this chapter does not allow for even a short discussion of the historical issues of ethics and will focus on the current and practical concerns of ethics in educational practices.  As it is, this book falls under the meaning of definition #3 as debating the “moral issues or aspects” of certain educational practices.  As part of that examination I will briefly discuss professional codes of ethics-definition #2b.  And in the spirit of definition #1 of dealing “with what is good and bad” with certain educational practices, and using the fundamental purpose of public education as stated above as the guiding philosophy-definition #2c) I attempt to will forge “a consciousness of moral importance”-definition #2d.

A number of different professional teacher and teacher preparation organizations have promulgated their own code of teacher professional ethics.  In examining a few of them I’ve chosen to use three organization’s codes as typical to extract common statements that will serve as guides to what teacher professional ethics can be.  The American Association of Educators (AAE) code of ethics lists three main categories of ethics:  1) In relation to the students and parents, 2) In relation to practices and performance and 3) in relation toward professional colleagues.  The National Association of State Directors of Teacher and Education Certification (NASDTEC) code details five:  1) responsibility to the profession, 2) respect for professional competence, 3) respect for students, 4) responsibility to the school community and 5) responsible and ethical use of technology.  The National Education Association (NEA) has only two:  1) in relation toward students and 2) in relation to the profession of teaching.

By far the most comprehensive of the three is the NASDTEC code with many pages of detailed commentary.  The AAE code is roughly two pages with some commentary.  And the NEA code can fit on one page with a preamble accounting for about one third and then basic listings of areas of ethical considerations.  The AAE and the NEA focus first on ethics in relation to students and then toward the profession and practices.  The NASDTEC code starts with an overview then lists two sections dealing with ethics in regard to the profession, one for students, one for the school community and in what appears to be a recent addition one on the ethics of technology usage.  All three have short summaries of each section.

Ethics in regard to students and towards practices and performance, are the two categories that interest us and warrant further commentary along with a quick caveat about ethics toward the profession of teaching itself.  Obviously teachers’ main ethical concern should primarily be directed toward the student as noted by the AAE code:  “The professional educator deals considerately and justly with each student, and seeks to resolve problems, including discipline, according to law and school policy” and “the professional educator makes a constructive effort to protect the student from conditions detrimental to learning, health, or safety.” What happens when “law and school policy” actually hinder those dealings as hinted at in the end of the statement?  The answer to follow.  Or from the NEA code:  “the educator shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning or to health and safety.

In regard to ethical considerations in relation to professional competence and practices the NASDTEC code states:  “The professional educator demonstrates responsible use of data, materials, research and assessment . . . and the professional educator acts in the best interests of all students. . . .”  And the AAE code offers:  “The professional educator assumes responsibility and accountability for his or her performance and continually strive to demonstrate competence.  The professional educator endeavors to maintain the dignity of the profession by respecting and obeying the law, and by demonstrating personal integrity.

Would not “personal integrity” entail not only “respecting and obeying the law” but to stridently opposing and challenging the law or policy that mandates the malpractices of educational standards and standardized testing that are “detrimental to learning, health or safety” of the students?  Unfortunately, teachers are under constant pressure to institute and maintain those fundamentally and fatally flawed malpractices.  The vast majority of public school educators, especially administrators, believe that upholding the ethics toward the profession and its practices holds sway over upholding ethics towards the students.  While doings so may be quite beneficial to the educators, it serves to cause harm to the students as their interests play second or third fiddle to administrative decrees which is backwards to the interests of justice for the student.

That teachers and administrators put more emphasis in compliance with state department of education or federal directives and/or laws should not and cannot trump justice for the students.  Again Comte-Sponville:

“Should we therefore forgo our self-interest? Of course not. But it [self-interest] must be subordinate to justice, not the other way around. . . . To take advantage of a child’s naivete. . . in order to extract from them something [test scores, personal information] that is contrary to their interests, or intentions, without their knowledge [or consent of parents] or through coercion [state mandated testing], is always and everywhere unjust even if in some places and under certain circumstances it is not illegal. . . . Justice is superior to and more valuable than well-being or efficiency; it cannot be sacrificed to them, not even for the happiness of the greatest number [quoting Rawls]. To what could justice legitimately be sacrificed, since without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy? And in the name of what, since without justice even humanity, happiness and love could have no absolute value. . . . Without justice, values would be nothing more than (self) interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.” [my additions]

Keeping that in mind, let’s examine the two most dominant educational malpractices of today–educational standards and standardized testing by utilizing the condensed statements of teacher professional ethics with our fundamental ethical statement of the purpose of American public education in conjunction with a discussion of the demonstrated invalidity and lack of fidelity to truth in educational standards and standardized testing regimes and how all of that plays out in relation to ethical and justice concerns.

How was it that America became the “top dog” nation of the world by the end of the 20th Century without having a standardized public education system?  In the past century over 13,000 separate and distinct school districts went along, doing their own thing, developing their own curriculums as seen fit by the local democratically elected school boards.  And the result of that variety, multiplicity and non-standardization?  An educational non-system that the world admired, copied and emulated.  Why then the push for standardization in the very late 90s and in this current century?  There are many reasons, most having to do with the neo-liberal ideology in free markets and choice but that is not our concern.

Educational standards and standardized testing form the basis for federal and state mandated practices such as rating and ranking students, schools and districts, and teacher assessment through such invalid schemes such as Hanushek’s Value Added Methodology (VAM) and Student Growth Percentiles (SGP).  Considering that the standards and testing malpractices cause significant harm not only to the students but also  to teachers and schools through invalid schemes, that the errors, falsehoods and unfounded claims by proponents of standards and standardized testing render said practices invalid, unethical, unjust and contravene the fundamental purpose of American public education, these mandates violate the trust of the citizenry by not fulfilling the stated purpose of American public education of promoting “the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry“.

Our concern is the invalidity of, the injustice of, the unethicalness of and the broken promise of providing to our children an education that promotes “ the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry” in the educational standards and standardized testing regime.

In “Standards of Educational and Psychological Testing” it states at the very beginning of Chapter 1-Validity that “validity refers to the degree to which evidence and theory support the interpretations of test scores for the stated proposed uses of tests.  Validity is, therefore, the most fundamental consideration in developing tests and evaluating tests” (my emphasis) and I would include the standards upon which those tests are supposedly based in that development Noel Wilson has addressed those validity concerns in his review of the prior version of the “Standards. . .” in “A Little Less than Valid:  An Essay Review” stating “To the extent that these categorisations are accurate or valid at an individual level, these decisions may be both ethically acceptable to the decision makers, and rationally and emotionally acceptable to the test takers and their advocates. They accept the judgments of their society regarding their mental or emotional capabilities. But to the extent that such categorisations are invalid, they must be deemed unacceptable [and unethical] to all concerned.” (my emphasis) The brilliance of Wilson’s proofs of the invalidities of educational standards and standardized testing is in his flipping the concept of validity as proposed in the “Standards. . .” into one of invalidity as far as the test taker is concerned.

Taking into account Wilson’s proofs of the invalidities of educational standards and standardized testing we can only conclude that any results are therefore invalid, false, error prone and lacking a fidelity to truth as all the psychometric error factors are kept hidden from all but a select few involved in the promotion and dissemination of those malpractices.  As such those malpractices can only be considered unethical and unjust.  When have the proponents made explicitly clear those validity (and reliability) concerns?  Hardly ever, especially not to the person taking the tests.  They can’t!  Wilson has proven the fundamental concepts to be epistemologically and ontologically bankrupt.  All the errors in classification, in labelling, in construction, in slides of frame of reference, etc., which Wilson has identified are never addressed.  By not explicitly acknowledging all the errors in the process, proponents of the standards and testing regime are not being honest and therefore lack the fidelity to truth that should be the guiding principle for all educators.  Their actions must be considered unethical.

Not only that but since these practices cause untold harm through false conclusions that result in students being denied certain educational goals and aspirations the process must be deemed unethical as a violation of the ethical principle of “the educator shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning”.  False and error filled test results can only insure to produce those harmful conditions and, therefore, rightly should be rejected on ethical grounds.  The results of the tests discriminate against some students not only through mis-categorization but also in falsely labeling (grading) some students as beginning, not proficient, average or whatever other terminology is used to describe the various categories of results.

Should the state be discriminating against individual students through invalid, harmful, unethical and unjust malpractices that are educational standards and standardized testing?

Considering that the fundamental purpose of public education in America can be summarized as “. . . to promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry” there is only one answer:

NO!


  1.  See:  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethic
  2.  The National Education Association (NEA): http://www.nea.org/home/30442.htm;  The American Association of Educators (AAE): http://www.aaeteachers.org/index.php/about-us/aae-code-of-ethics; and The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC):  http://www.nasdtec.net/?page=MCEE_Doc
  3.  The story of that ideology and its practices that have done so much damage to American public education is easily located by a quick internet search.  An excellent review is to be found in Diane Ravitch’s “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools
  4.  See:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value-added_modeling
  5.  See:  http://www.rand.org/education/projects/measuring-teacher-effectiveness/student-growth-percentiles.html
  6.  See:  The AERA/APA/NCME’s “Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing”
  7.  See:  http://www.edrev.info/essays/v10n5.pdf

 

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Five

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 5

Error Concerns in Educational Assessment

The study of error is not only in the highest degree prophylactic, but it serves as a stimulating introduction to the study of truth. Walter Lippmann

Wilson notes “To estimate error is to imply what is without error; and what is without error is determined by what we define as true, by the assumptions of the frame of reference that forms our epistemological base.”  In other words, depending upon the point of view of the assessment frame (as described above) there are different sorts of errors that plague assessment accuracy and validity.  Not only that but also when we confuse and conflate assessment frames, which practically speaking is guaranteed to happen, we compound the errors and thus compromise the accuracy and validity of any assessment of student learning and work.  Wilson points out thirteen sources of error (there are more) in the process of making, using and disseminating the results of standardized testing (and its precursor educational standards), any one of which renders any results and conclusions drawn from the tests invalid.  Let’s list and discuss those sources and then examine each frame of assessment in relation to some of the errors and the resulting consequences from which the students suffer and the accompanying harms to the students in relation to the fundamental purpose of education.

The thirteen types of errors are (Wilson’s descriptions in italics):

1. Temporal errors:Practically, temporal errors are indicated by the differences in assessment description when the assessment occurs at different times.”  In other words different scores obtained for test takers on the same or psychometrically similar tests taken at different times constitute a form of error.  In psychometrics this is a reliability issue.

2. Contextual errors: Practically, contextual errors include all those differences in performance and its assessment that occur when the context of the assessment event changes.”  The context changes often, such as one student sitting in a hard old wooden desk to take the test with no air conditioning on a 95 degree day, window open and all the noises of the urban environment pouring in versus the student sitting in comfortable chair, carpeted flooring to reduce noise, in a closed silent air conditioned room.  Any differences in scores that might accrue from any number of different contextual differences are considered errors.

3. Construction errors: “Practically, construction errors are indicated by all those differences in assessment description when the same construct is assessed independently by different people in different ways.”  In psychometrics this would be another reliability issue as different types of assessments may yield different results, think of the difference of student performance on the same test taken by computer test versus a pen and pencil test both of which might even be considered psychometrically reliable.

4. Labelling errors:Practically, labelling errors are indicated by the range of meanings given to the label by all those who use it before, during or after the assessment event.”  Think of end of term grading.  A student might consider a “D” grade a perfectly fine grade whereas his teacher and probably parents would not agree and consider it a less than acceptable one.

5. Attachment errors:Practically, attachment errors are indicated by the specification of those elements and boundaries of the assessment event that have become lost in the assessment description.”  Think of the girl in the introduction who proudly proclaimed “I’m an ‘A’ student.”  The ‘A’ is a description of her prior interaction with the subject matter/curriculum not of her. We cannot logically “attach” the label to the subject matter/curriculum nor can we “attach” it to the student.  The label is of the interactions that she had with the assessment.  Attachment errors are some of the most egregious as the student internalizes those labels, many times negative and damning, through internalization or subjectivization.

6. Frame of reference errors: “Practically, frame of reference errors are indicated by specifying the frame in which the assessment is supposedly based, and indicating any slides or confusions that occur during the assessment events.”  The different assumptions about assessment made in the four frames logically do not allow for sliding between various frames in assessing student learning.  Think of having the prospective driver take a multiple choice test about driving and including the result/score in with the results of the actual driving part of a driver certification test.

7. Instrument errors:Practically, many aspects of instrument error are covered by other category errors. To avoid unnecessary overlap, I will limit the practical indicator of instrumental error to those errors implicit in the construction of the measuring instrument itself; what is conventionally called standard error of the estimate.”  In other words, what is supposed to be a guarantor of quality that allows us to know how much error in measurement a test has so that hopefully mis-categorization of student results is not obtained becomes an argument for the supposed validity of the results.  The standard error of estimate might best be considered a psychometric fudge to even out result discrepancies and is hardly ever published, certainly not for the test taker.

8. Categorization errors:Practically, categorisation errors are all those differences in assessment description that occur when particular data is compared with a particular standard to produce a categorisation of the assessed person.  Categorisation errors derive from confusions about the definition of standard of acceptability, from differences in the meaning of what is being assessed and in the magnitude of its measurement, and in the variability of the judgment process in which the comparison with the standard is made.”  Categorization errors get to the heart of the invalidities involved with attempting to assess student responses in relation to an educational standard.  Since the making of educational standards have not followed established protocol by standards organization, the individual standard itself is invalid and any attempts to use it as a basis for assessing student responses is invalid.  Standards imply a unit of measure that can be measured with more or less accuracy and there is no basic unit of student learning, to attempt to invent one out of thin air and use it as a basis of “measuring” student learning is invalid.  The abuse of the usage of the meanings of standards and measurement by the psychometric community is unethical and will be further discussed in Chapter 6.

9. Comparability errors: “Practically, comparability errors are indicated by constructing different aggregates according to the competing models. The differences that these produce indicate the comparability error.  Comparability errors include all those confusions about meaning and privileging that inhabit the addition of test scores, grades or criteria related statements.”  Again this hints at psychometric reliability issues in the comparability of test scores from two different tests that supposedly measure the same construct.  Not only that but since tests almost always assess multiple constructs, which questions of which constructs get priority not only in placement on the test but in points assigned indicate comparability errors and greatly affect the validity of the results.  Think of two different Spanish assessment that covers the same grammar and vocabulary constructs in different ways, perhaps a written and an oral test.  Which construct take precedence in each test and which section garners the lion’s share of points?

10. Prediction errors:Explicit or implicit in most assessments is the claim that they relate to some future performance, that they predict a particular product from some future event, a quality of some future action. Practically, prediction error is indicated by the differences between what is predicted by the assessment data, and what is later assessed as the case in the predicted event.”  SAT or ACT as a predictor of college success indicate prediction error due to minimal correlation.

11. Logical type errors:Logical type errors occur whenever there is confusion between statements about a class of events, and statements about individual items of that class. Practically, logical type errors are made explicit when the explicit and implicit truth claims of a particular assessment are examined and any logical type errors are made explicit. Such exposure may invalidate such claims.” Many mistake the overall score to mean much more than it is, a conglomeration of assessments of multiple constructs that in essence says nothing about the students learning of each construct.  To say that a student scored 73% on a test of German of Chapter 1 vocabulary and grammar says nothing of what the student learned.  It’s just a statement on the percentage of answers correct not on a level of student’s learning and knowledge.

12. Value errors:Practically, value errors are indicated by making explicit the value positions explicit or implicit in the various phases of the assessment event, including its consequences, and specifying any contradiction or confusion (difference) that is evident.”  Value errors are those that privilege certain values in the teaching and learning process.  Think of the Native Americans in the past who were forced to change names, learn English and study common school subjects instead of being allowed to live and learn in their own culture.  Less obvious, perhaps is the current push in some states to eliminate bi-lingual education.

13. Consequential errors:Practically, at a simplistic level, consequential errors are indicated by the differential positive and negative effects that individual teachers and students attribute to the assessment process: At a more profound level it involves an explication of the very construction of their individuality, and all of the potentially violating consequences of those constructions.”  How might student learning change when the teacher uses many weeks for standardized test preparation in order that the students may garner high scores instead of actually focusing on curriculum, allowing the teaching and learning process to continue unabated throughout the year?  How will the students internalize that process of learning to pick the correct answer instead of learning subject matter?  Consequential type errors are some of the most atrocious and intolerable of errors that results in turning the educational practices of standards and standardized testing into education malpractices.

In the Judge frame error in assessment is the difference between a teacher’s evaluations of the same work at different times—temporal errors.  It has been accepted for a long time that evaluator reliability over time in assessing students work is less than adequate.  No teacher is infallible in grading student work no matter how much training in rubrics or whatever other grading scheme is used.  Course grades as a proxy for percentage of total points earned form another source of error by the act of abridging the complex situation of the classroom teaching and learning process into a single concept, the grade.  Much valuable information of student learning is lost in this transition and thus constitutes error in assessment—logical type error.  By definition the Judge frame is subjective, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but is when the judge/teacher claims more accuracy than warranted.  And most teachers do claim more accuracy than is warranted.  In doing so the teacher is being unjust to the students through lacking “fidelity to truth” in the teacher’s claimed expertise.  And in being unjust he/she, as part of the state, “fails in its chief design” to “promote the welfare of the individual.

The psychometric fudge in the General frame attempts to alleviate the error between the “true score” and the “estimated score”.  The statistical manipulations of data are just that and have little to no relation to the realities of the teaching and learning process. As Wilson states in the same chapter “Their theoretical elegance has hidden their inapplicability to most practical learning and teaching situations; the mystification of their statistical constructs has hidden from teachers, students and public alike the enormous extent of rank order inaccuracies and grade confusion, and the arbitrary nature of all cutoffs and  [supposed] standards.”  Even though there are massive epistemological and ontological errors (see the above mentioned thirteen to name just some) throughout the whole process of educational standards and standardized testing the many supporters of those two malpractices insist that the results are objective and accurate.

With Wilson having destroyed the credibility of the assertions of objectivity and accuracy of those in the General camp, one can only surmise that they are not acting with a “fidelity to truth” attitude.  Just a cursory look at anecdotal evidence shows consequential and labelling errors and points to serious harms to students involved in this current standardized testing craze—students soiling themselves, students refusing to participate after of few minutes of frustration, students apoplectic about the effects of their scores on their teacher’s evaluation, the negative internalization of the results by students, the discrimination of ranking and sorting rewarding some and punishing others—the list goes on and on.  There is no doubt that these standardized testing regimes are a case of the state not “promot(ing) the welfare of the individual . . . and is usurpation and oppression and the state fails in its chief design.

According to the enthusiast of the Specific frame there really shouldn’t be any error as all of the learning and behavioral objectives are specifically enumerated in advance and the student responses purportely indicate a mastery of the learning or behavioral construct.  For example X percentage of correct answers on a multiple choice test means that a test taker is certified to be able to do the construct that is being tested.  Think of a written drivers test as part of obtaining a drivers license.  One usually has to get a 70% correct answer rate.  Does that mean they know all it takes to be and adequate and safe driver? Not necessarily and it is a logical type error to believe so because that written test is not a test of driving but of knowledge of just some of what goes into driving a vehicle.  Even during the actual driving test (it too is in the Specific camp) the assessor can evaluate only a small part of what it takes to drive a vehicle in all circumstances.  The driving tests hint at a number of Wilson’s errors, comparability being just one-that of determining what the actual construct being tested is (construct validity) and what types and quantity of activities, questions are sufficient (construct representation) to objectively say that the construct has been met.  Think of the prediction error in asserting that the young driver is capable of safely driving by awarding him/her the license—”Newly licensed teens: Crash risk is particularly high during the first months of licensure.

Ask a group of ten teachers how to assess a given learning objective or construct and more likely than not you’ll get ten different answers.  Choosing questions and correct answers in the Specific frame is not as simple as it first appears—value errors are many.  And as it is many tests in the Specific frame end up being tests of minimum competency as that is the easiest fashion in which to design the test.  So while some students may be able to answer one set of question satisfactory, they may not be able to answer others that may be more important in assessing the same construct.

Which students are privileged and which ones hindered by that fact?  We don’t know but we know it happens so that some are allowed to drive, to move up a grade, to begin a program of study while others aren’t.  Considering the amount of error(s) involved in just the construct representation side of the Specific frame, should the state in the form of public schools be discriminating against some through faulty assessing mechanisms?  From what we know of the purpose of government in this country and from the fundamental purpose of public education as outlined above the answer has to be an unmitigated NO lest the state “fail in its chief design” and discriminate against some and not “promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.”

The Responsive frame has no problem in unearthing any errors of thought, ideas, actions, and responses of the student in his/her learning process.  In the Responsive frame assessment is meant to further the learning (and teaching) process in a fashion similar to what is called a formative evaluation these days and it is not meant to be a pronouncement, a judgement of the student as in a summative evaluation.

Wilson says it well:  “Within such a frame there is no question of a right judgment, of a correct classification, of a true score. The response might be sensitive or insensitive, sophisticated or ingenuous, informed or uninformed. The verbalisation of that response might be honest or manipulative, its fullness expressed or repressed, its clarity widened or obscured. It still belongs undeniably to the assessor, and the expectation is not towards a conformity of judgment, but a diversity of reaction. The lowest common factor of agreement is replaced by the highest common multiple of difference. The subject of assessment is no longer reduced to an object by the limiting reductionism of a single number, but is expanded by the hopefully helpful feedback of diverse and stimulating and expansive response. . . This frame is, in fact, a necessary part of any educational processes that value diversity and freedom of students, and thus includes this broad equity concept of fairness and justice.”  Here we have the ideal frame to fulfill the purpose of public education “to promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.”

As cogently stated over 2,000 years ago by Marcus Tullius Cicero “Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.”  Considering that Noel Wilson has proven that the whole enterprise of making, using and disseminating the results of the educational malpractices that are educational standards and standardized testing, that are epistemologically and ontologically lacking in fidelity to truth, would it be fair to say that currently there are many idiots in the lawmaker houses, in the state departments of education, in district central offices, and in the schools themselves?  I know my answer, do you know yours?

Read on to more fully understand the abuse and misuse of the English language that has occurred in educational standards and standardized testing discourse.  Much of that discourse falsely proclaims an objectiveness and scientific attitude that isn’t there.  I will focus on the two most fundamental concepts of those malpractices ‘standards’ and ‘measurement’ to show just how shockingly atrocious and scandalous that usage is.


  1.  See:  Chapters 13 “The Four Faces of Error” and Chapter 17 “Error and the Reconceptualization of Validity in “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error.”
  2.  By evaluations I am not including multiple choice, true/false or matching questions (although there can even be errors made in grading these simple tests) but more complex grading involving rubrics or other multiple point schemes.
  3. http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html
  4.  In his 1997 dissertation “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” which the folks at the APA, the AERA and the NCME, the supposed keepers of the holy grail of standardized testing choose to continue to ignore and not respond to at least not in their latest, 2014 version of “Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing” where one would think that they would address Wilson’s concerns.  I believe they have had ample time to find out about and address those issues.  Professional irresponsibility?

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Four

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 4

Aesthetics and the Nature of Assessment

There are no facts, only interpretations. Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche couldn’t have known just how true his aphorism would eventually be in relation to assessing the teaching and learning process as many children at the end of the 19th century didn’t complete much schooling, perhaps only elementary school.  Standardized tests for assessing what the student supposedly knows wouldn’t be invented for another few decades.  From the advent of standardized testing the promoters of standardized tests have claimed the mantle of objectivity that the tests are a scientific method for assessing what a student has learned.  This claim of scientific objectivity–supposed facts about what a student has learned has since been thoroughly debunked by Noel Wilson and standardized testing is rightly seen by some for the less than objective or scientific “interpretation” of student learning that it is.

In assessing (interpreting?) student work, the assessor necessarily starts with some assumptions, notions of perspective from which he/she bases his/her work.  Some claim an objective frame, others a more subjective view.  Part of each frame or notion is “what is the nature of quality?” and “how do we identify it?”, in other words the aesthetics of assessing.  Aesthetics is the proper term as quality is a subset of beauty and the judging a work of art or of student work is properly viewed as an artistic expression and not a scientific one.  What are some different frameworks in which we aesthetically judge the work of students?

Wilson, in his seminal 1997 dissertation “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”, identifies four “frames of reference” each with distinct assumptions or epistemological bases about the assessment process from which the “assessor” views the interactions of the teaching and learning process: the Judge–think college professor who “knows” the students capabilities and grades them accordingly, the General Frame–think standardized testing that claims to have a “scientific” basis, the Specific Frame–think of learning by objective like computer based learning, getting a correct answer before moving on to the next screen, and the Responsive Frame–think of an apprenticeship in a trade or a medical residency program where the learner interacts with the “teacher” with constant feedback. Each category has its own sources of error and more error in the process is caused when the assessor confuses and conflates the categories.

The Judge frame obviously is in the subjective camp although its proponents will tell you that they are objective.  Most of us view the world through the Judge frame in our day in and day out interactions with the world where seeing is believing and damned be those who suggest that perhaps our perceptions are other than we think.  Those in the Judge frame of mind know and identify beauty, grace, buffoonery, ugly, smart people or idiots and all those other daily descriptors we use—no need for Wittgensteinian word games or post-modern relativities.  If you can’t plainly see what is there well then you’re just an ignoramus.

The General frame’s high priests, the psychometricians, would like you to believe that the General frame is in the objective scientific camp.  It’s not!  With their numbers and statistics, their correlation coefficients and item response theory, their validity and reliability pronouncements, and the supposedly standardization of the testing process, they loudly proclaim their scientificity credentials.  They’re mistaken!  The bulwarks of the General frame, of the psychometric world—educational standards and standardized testing–have rationo-logically been blown to bits, intellectually nuked by Noel Wilson in his “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”.  It is a testimony to his brilliant expose that the psychometric community has never refuted nor rebutted the study, attempting to bury it in the dustbin of history by not referring to it at all.

The proponents, growing every day in the competency based education (CBE) and the computerized so called individualized instruction movement of the Specific frame, also claim to have an objective means of assessing student work.  They conveniently forget that the decisions about curriculum, what counts as objectives and activities and/or cut-off points for “competency” or passing a course or year of study are all very subjective in origin.  If nothing else in public education one can count on old malpractices to be recycled into new ones such as programmed learning or outcome based education (OBE) from the 60s, 70s and 80s morphing into computerized competency based education being heavily promoted, usually by those who have a major financial stake in products developed, to accomplish such malpractices.  Those older malpractices were abandoned because they didn’t work and made the teaching and learning process into a dry, dead monotony of worksheets and trivia.

All is not so gloom and doom, though, when it comes to assessing student learning as Wilson offers us a frame in which honesty and fidelity to truth obtain—the Responsive frame.  The proponents of the Responsive frame freely and proudly admit that it is subjective.  The interaction between the teacher and the student and his/her parents is such that the expectation is for the student to more fully understand where he/she is in relation to learning the subject matter at hand.  Some will note that the responsive frame is not as efficient as a grade or simple mark may be.  But in the long run it serves the teaching and learning process far better than any of the more supposedly efficient other three frames.  Discursive give and take between the student and teacher, student portfolios, student performances assessed by both the teacher and student, and many other evaluative activities are valued for the fullness of assessment and student awareness of that assessing in contrast to the stilted assessment of the other frames.

Which frame then embodies the concept of “fidelity to truth”?

The Judge frame is obviously subjective in its practitioners’ proclamations of student learning assessment.  And that fact is fine, except that it is never explicitly stated.  In American public education the Judge frame dominates in the grading of students, even though most teachers will deny that fact for they have the percentages of points assigned to student work to prove that what they are doing is indeed objective.  It’s not!  The usage of percentage of points earned, almost always converted to a simplistic letter grade, is not measuring student work, i.e., objective, but subjective in all aspects from choosing curriculum to devising assessment devices and the number of points used.  So by not explicitly stating up front the subjective nature of the Judge frame “fidelity to truth” is not obtained.

In contrast, the praticioners using General and Specific frames claim to be objective with their psychometric machinations and computer determined learning patterns.  But the subjective nature of these frames is hidden behind psychometric jargon and behind the subjective human decisions that determine the course of instruction and grading parameters in either standards and standardized testing or computer and any programmed learning.  The testing bible  itself suggests this supposed objectivity “As in all scientific endeavors. . . .” in talking of validity issues.  By obscuring the subjective nature of those malpractices the proponents of the General and Specific frames deceive the users and the general public.  Where is “fidelity to truth” in that?

Which leaves us with the Responsive frame.  The only frame in which the purely subjective nature of the teaching and learning process and of assessing student learning is acknowledged and used to further the student’s awareness of his/her being.  And explicitly acknowledging that subjective nature, by working in the Responsive frame, allows educators to claim a “fidelity to truth” attitude, outlook and viewpoint.

Anything less than completely encompassing “fidelity to truth” in our assessment practices, which the Judge, General and Specific frames cannot do, can only cause many harms to the students resulting in injustices being foisted upon the students.  And those harms and injustices, by definition, contradict and contravene the fundamental purpose of public education “to promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry” leaving us with the only right and just framework for evaluating student learning—the Responsive frame.


  1.  For an interesting history of standardized testing see:  “The Big Test:  The Secret History of the American Meritocracy” by Nicolas Lemann.
  2.  See his “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”
  3.  As defined by oxforddictionaries.com:  Aesthetics (n) “A set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement.”
  4.  Scientificity is a pseudo-scientific approach and/or having the appearance of scientific thought.
  5.  Not a peep of a response to Wilson’s critiques of standards and standardized testing is found in the latest version of the testing bible “Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing.”  How’s that saying go?  The silence is deafening!
  6.  See footnote #3 of the introduction.
  7.  A more complete discussion of the lack of “fidelity to truth” of some of the practices, of validity and invalidity issues, of educational standards and standardized testing used in supposed measuring of student learning is to be found in Chapters 6

 

 

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Three

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 3

Justice Concerns and Educational Malpractices

‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Historically in Western thought justice along with fortitude, prudence and temperance has been considered one of the four cardinal virtues. Comte-Sponville considers it the only cardinal virtue “that is an absolute good in itself.” The other virtues can be considered good only in certain contexts; for where is the prudence in being so cautious as to not venture forth in the world for fear of calamity, in being courageous (fortitude) in a cause that is evil such as a suicide bomber who kills innocent people, or in temperance in being so ascetic with satisfying bodily desires–eating, drinking, making love so as to deny ourselves those simple pleasures?

The two components or types of justice are: justice as agreement and compliance with the law and justice as equity and fairness. I concur only with justice being a “good in itself” when it is concerned with fairness and equity (a difficult state to determine) but not when the justice of what we are dealing with is the law and the law is itself unjust in fairness and equity. Aristotle said “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” For ancient Greeks like Aristotle and Socrates whatever the law dictated was what was just, so much so that Socrates refused help to escape his sentence to death for impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens. He believed that fulfilling the social contract, the law of the time in carrying out the death sentence was the only course of justice. Was justice really served by his legal execution, even if self-inflicted? I leave the answer to others as it is beyond the scope of this book to delve into all the justice concerns involved with Socrates death.

Ideally laws would satisfy and ensure equity and fairness concerns obtain. But it doesn’t take much to realize that many laws are not just in equity and fairness concerns. Mankind, as noble as Aristotle may have wished, can indeed be less than noble than animals in the application of laws. But we humans do judge, especially in regards to issues of educational practices.

Aristotle also said “The just, then is the lawful and fair, the unjust the unlawful and unfair.” True justice therefore consists of laws, rules, policies and practices that promote the most equity and highest degree of fairness. Aristotle’s definition serves well as a starting point in analyzing, and in judging whether an educational practice is just with the caveat that, as Comte-Sponville notes, “morality and justice come before legality, at least where the essentials are concerned. . . . And what is essential? Freedom for all, the dignity of the individual and the rights of others.”

Combining our justice concerns with the fundamental purposes of education as described above we can establish a guiding principle with which to judge educational practices and outcomes: An educational policy and/or practice is just when it promotes the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.

Furthermore we must keep in mind as Comte-Sponville notes that “justice is superior to and more valuable than well-being or efficiency; it cannot be sacrificed to them, not even for the happiness of the greatest number.” For example educational practices such as grading, the testing and selection criterion for entry to “magnet schools” or select public schools, or standardized tests like the ACT when mandated as compulsory by the state and whose results are used by post-secondary institutions to sort and separate and therefore reward and punish students either through selection or denial of admittance should be rejected as being unjust due to the inherent discriminatory nature of those practices even if they are valuable for efficiency in selection for various institutions.

Continuing with Comte-Sponville’s thoughts in his chapter on justice: “without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy. . . without justice, values would be nothing more than interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.” In other words there can be no promoting of the welfare of, the well-being of the student as outlined in our fundamental purpose of public education without the entirety of justice being considered. Without justice considerations public education quickly devolves into a “what’s best for me” scenario in a Spencerian atmosphere of dog eat dog rule of the jungle.

Although both types of justice, as law and as equity and fairness are important in this study of educational malpractices it is the latter that are more applicable and important. The blind and uncompromising application of the law, of educational directives of federal, state or local origin can be viewed as a corruption of justice. Aristotle states that “the equitable is just” while also stating that equitable justice is “but a correction of legal justice.” Or as Comte-Sponville makes clear “Let us say that equity, which is not different from justice but a form of it, is applied justice, living justice, concrete justice—true justice. . . Justice does not make just people, people make justice.”

So where does that leave us when educational practices are found to be conceptually error filled resulting in invalid outcomes that by definition are unjust, that end up discriminating against many students? Lamentably, the vast majority of educators choose expediency-legal justice over justice as equity and slough off justice as equity concerns. A brave few though have challenged the unjust malpractices of the status quo usually paying a heavy price in personal health, welfare in family and professional life. Those brave souls have followed a perhaps not well known American tradition, that of civil disobedience. Let us finish up our discussion of justice with the words of an American author and philosopher who knew well the deprivations (time spent in prison) of civil disobedience:

“The mass of men [and women] serves the state [education powers that be] thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, [bureaucrats, administrators and teachers], etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt.”– Henry David Thoreau [my additions]

And one last thought from Mahatma Gandhi “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.” Mahatma Gandhi.


For a complete discussion of Justice see Comte-Sponville’s “A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues” Chapter 6 Justice.

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Two

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 2

Fidelity to Truth in Educational Discourse

‘We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because the lie is more comfortable.’  Solzhenitzyn

In his book “Truth: A Guide” Simon Blackburn, editor of the “Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy,” concisely states that truth is “the control of belief by fact.”  Seems quite simple!  But in his book Blackburn outlines the many battles fought over what truth is over the course of at least the last two millennia by many philosophers, thinkers and writers.  Almost all the well-known names of the Western canon—Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Hume, Descartes, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein to name just a few, can be sorted into differing alethiological camps.  Anyone who has studied the subject soon understands that determining a final answer to the question “What is truth” more likely than not realizes that it is quite difficult to firmly answer (not counting those of a faith belief tradition who claim to have “The Truth”) and that perhaps the best way to address the subject is to just leave it alone (a minimalist position).

But just leaving truth alone is not feasible for a study such as this.  Far too many believe that they have truth, however they determine it, on their side. At the same time many mistake expediency for truth.  What happens when it is shown that their truths are actually falsehoods and their conclusions are invalid and that the results of their false beliefs and practices are unjust and harm the most innocent of society, the children?

Yes, truth matters!

Realizing that all truths are contextual not only in time, space and experience this study is limited to examining the veracity of claims of truth and validity (for how can something be truthful if it is not valid?) for the fundamental positions upon which educational practices of today are based.  The educational practices examined—grading, educational standards and standardized testing–in this study are found overall to be riddled with error therefore lacking in validity and truth.

The flip side of truth is error.  Truth implies that something is without error.  How does the concept of error play into the discussion of truth?  Noel Wilson elaborates: “Error is predicated on a notion of perfection; to allocate error is to imply what is without error; to know error it is necessary to determine what is true. And what is true is determined by what we define as true, theoretically by the assumptions of our epistemology, practically by the events and non-events, the discourses and silences, the world of surfaces and their interactions and interpretations; in short, the practices that permeate the field. . . Error is the uncertainty dimension of the statement; error is the band within which chaos reigns, in which anything can happen. Error comprises all of those eventful circumstances which make the assessment statement less than perfectly precise, the measure less than perfectly accurate, the rank order less than perfectly stable, the standard and its measurement less than absolute, and the communication of its truth less than impeccable.”  In other words all the logical errors involved in the aforementioned educational practices render any conclusions invalid.

Now, let’s delve into Comte-Sponville’s concept of “fidelity to truth.”  What is meant by fidelity to truth, that of being faithful/true to truth?  Preliminarily and primarily, Comte-Sponville states “All fidelity is—whether to a value or to a person—is fidelity to love and through love.”  Since he considers love to be the greatest and hardest to achieve virtue that statement rightly precedes all his other thoughts on the subject.  We can follow that up with the consideration that fidelity is the “will to remember” truthfully and that fidelity “resists forgetfulness, changing fashions and interests, the charms of the moment, the seductions of power.”  Fidelity to truth means “refusing to change one’s ideas in the absence of strong, valid reasons, and. . . it means holding as true. . . ideas whose truth has clearly and solidly established.”  At the same time fidelity to truth means rejecting discourse that has been shown to have errors, falsehoods and invalidities.  However, “Being faithful to one’s thoughts more than to truth would mean being unfaithful to thought and condemning oneself to sophistry.”  To be unfaithful to truth, to be in error, then is to reject that which makes honest communications, policies and practices cogent and a human good, a virtue.

The characteristics of truth in public educational discourse can be understood as encompassing fidelity to truth in the following:

  • Speech and/or writing accurately describes policies, practices and outcomes (discourse).
  • Using the correct/intended meaning of a word in light of the context.
  • Discourse serves to enlighten and not obscure meaning.
  • Discourse is free of contradictions, error and falsehoods.
  • The “control of belief by fact” (S. Blackburn).
  • Discourse is based in skeptical rationo-logical thought processes in which a “scientific attitude” holds sway.
  • Discourse based on/in faith conventions is eschewed and rejected outright due to separation of church and state constitutional concerns.
  • Discourse of expediency based on the rationalizations of “Everyone is doing this”, “It is dictated by the State Department of Education” or “NCLB mandates that we have to do this” is firmly and rightly rejected.

In rejecting expediency over truth as a guide to or rationale of instituting practices that are based on fundamental errors and falsehoods resulting in invalid conclusions that many times harm students, we should keep in mind Hanna Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil.” She concluded that the Holocaust did not occur because of the monstrosity, the evil of the people involved but by the small everyday functioning of ordinary people, perhaps at best not knowing of or at worst of turning a willing blind eye to the results of their daily task along with the daily work of others that compounded into the atrocities of the Holocaust.  The vast majority of “Good Germans”, including Eichmann, believed that they were just following orders as they had been brought up (educated) to do.  Eichmann even believed that he was “saving” as many Jews as he could by instituting certain procedures.

Now, I am not suggesting that some of our current public education laws, policies and practices are the equivalent of the Holocaust.  What I am pointing out is that in order for everyday banal evils to occur, as with some public education practices that cause harm to innocents and that do not allow for students to enjoy their constitutional mandated benefits and rights in utilizing public education, are made possible by teachers, administrators, boards of education, state departments of education, the federal department of education, etc., many have to and have put expediency over truth.  And in putting expediency, especially expediency of self-interest, over truth we regrettably allow unjust practices to flourish and cause untold harm and psychological violence to be perpetrated against the students who have little means to refute and reject such malpractices.

As Comte-Sponville puts it:  “Should we therefore forgo our self-interest? Of course not. But it [self-interest] must be subordinate to justice, not the other way around. . . . To take advantage of a child’s naivete . . . in order to extract from them something [test scores, personal information] that is contrary to their interests, or intentions, without their knowledge [or consent of parents] or through coercion [state mandated testing], is always and everywhere unjust even if in some places and under certain circumstances it is not illegal. . . . Justice is superior to and more valuable than well-being or efficiency; it cannot be sacrificed to them, not even for the happiness of the greatest number [quoting Rawls]. To what could justice legitimately be sacrificed, since without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy? And in the name of what, since without justice even humanity, happiness and love could have no absolute value? . . .  Without justice, values would be nothing more than (self) interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.”  [my additions]

And in speaking of justice one must consider its various meanings and aspects and how it plays out in examining educational malpractices.  Which I shall begin in the following chapter. 

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter One

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 1

The Purpose of Public Education

‘Honesty is the first chapter in wisdom’ Jefferson

Ask any teacher or administrator “What is the purpose of public education?” and more likely than not they will recite their district’s mission statement, perhaps one as succinct as the Nebo School District’s in Utah We engage, empower, and collaborate to ensure student success.”  Or perhaps it more typically reads like this one from a rural Missouri district “The mission of the Warren County R-III School District is to empower each child to fully reach his or her potential as a life-long learner, a responsible adult and a contributing member of a diverse society.”  Or it may even come with a disclaimer as this long mission statement from a Pennsylvania district:

Mission Statement

The Mission Statement, Beliefs, and Goals presented below are the result of work completed by Cumberland Valley School District’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee. These philosophy statements are not an attempt to state how things are, but rather are intended to give impetus and direction toward meeting the needs of all children who attend the schools of this district now and in the future.

Our Mission

The Cumberland Valley School District, in collaboration with students, educators, parents and the community, is committed to developing 21st century learning and thinking skills through a rigorous, relevant, and comprehensive curriculum, while preparing students to be innovative, productive citizens in an interconnected world. (italics in original)

Does each mission statement, being used as a proxy for the fundamental purpose of public education, help fulfill the fundamental purpose of public education?  What is that fundamental purpose and where can it usually be found?  Is there even a fundamental purpose?  To answer the last question first, it depends!  Well, what does it depend on then? In answering that question we also answer the where question—the constitution of each state.

But there’s a catch, not every state constitution gives a purpose for its authorization of public education.  It’s a 50/50 split with 25 states not giving any purpose such as West Virginia’s authorization “The Legislature shall provide, by general law, for a thorough and efficient system of free schools.” (Article XII, Sec. 12-1) and 25 states providing a rationale.

Those 25 rationales can be divided into three types.  Those that declare that the purpose of public education is to ensure that the state’s form of government will continue, such as South Dakota’s “The stability of a republican form of government depending on the morality and intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to establish and maintain a general and uniform system of public schools. . . .” (Article VIII  § 1).  Those whose fundamental purpose focuses on the individual and his/her rights such as Missouri’s “A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the general assembly shall establish and maintain free public schools . . . .” (Article IX Sec. 1a)  And those that are a combination of both.  As it is, fifteen mainly focus on the benefits of public education to the individual citizen and the preservation of his/her rights, five on the benefit to the state and five that state both citizen and government benefits.

All together then, there are 25 states with no stated fundamental purpose, five with a purpose that extol the benefits of public education to the state, fifteen commending the benefits to the individual and five a combination of benefit to both state and individual, resulting in 80% of those with a stated purpose of having the benefits for the individual as the primary rationale.  Is it possible, then, to discern a fundamental purpose of public education?  Yes, I believe it can be ascertained, by starting with the fundamental purpose of government in this country as stated in each state’s constitution (sometimes as troublesome to recognize a stated purpose as that of public education).  Since public education is a function of each state and not the federal government we must begin at the state level to determine what the fundamental purpose of the state is.  In examining the constitutions one finds that there many and varied exhortations.

For example Alabama’s constitution states:  “Objective of government. That the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression.” (Section 35)  Or this from Nebraska “All persons are by nature free and independent, and have certain inherent and inalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the right to keep and bear arms for security or defense of self, family, home, and others, and for lawful common defense, hunting, recreational use, and all other lawful purposes, and such rights shall not be denied or infringed by the state or any subdivision thereof. To secure these rights, and the protection of property, governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (Art. I, sec. 1)

All well and good, eh!  Quite compelling is the Missouri constitution’s wording on the purpose of government:  “That all constitutional government is intended to promote the general welfare of the people; that all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry; that all persons are created equal and are entitled to equal rights and opportunity under the law; that to give security to these things is the principal office of government, and that when government does not confer this security, it fails in its chief design.” (Article. II, Sec. 4. § 3.)

Tying together the aims of our constitutional government with the purpose of public education as stated in some of the state’s constitution allows us to propose a common fundamental statement of purpose. Since 20 of the 25 state constitutions give a reason attending to the rights and liberties of the individual through public education combined with the mandate of state constitutional government as reflected in Missouri’s constitutional language of “That all constitutional government is intended to promote the general welfare of the people; that all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry. . .” it follows that the rights and liberties of the individual in being educated as each sees fit supersede those of supporting and maintaining the government.  And that one can logically conclude that if the educational wants and needs of the citizens obtain then those of the state will follow.  But without an educated citizenry who can promote their own interests, and who can understand and tolerate others thoughts, opinions and desires, the state would surely be subject to tyranny by those whose knowledge and wants exceeds most.

I propose, then, the following statement of the purpose of public education with which, hopefully, most in the United States could agree:

“The purpose of public education is to promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.”

Any educational practice that is shown to hinder, block and/or otherwise cause an individual to not be able to indulge in any of aspect of his/her rights as stated has to be considered as harmful and unjust not only to the individual but also to society and therefore must rightly be condemned as educational malpractice and ought to be immediately discontinued.  Trampled rights are rights that are non-existent and the educational malpractice that tramples any right is unjust and as noted in Alabama’s constitution “is usurpation and oppression” and as Missouri’s declares “. . . when government does not confer this security, it fails in its chief design.

I contend that many of today’s federal and state mandates and even long standing educational practices are, indeed, malpractices that trample the rights of the most innocent in society, the children, the students of all ages attending public schools, in essence “it [public education] fails in its chief design.”  Should the government through the public schools be sorting, separating, ranking, and/or grading students through logically bankrupt invalid practices discriminating against some while rewarding others?  I contend it should not!  Where is the justice in discriminatory practices?  By evaluating those malpractices against the aforementioned purpose we will be able to ascertain whether or not they are just.

In what follows concepts of truth and Sponville’s “fidelity to truth” will be illuminated, justice concerns will be discussed, professional ethical issues delineated, and the error and falsehood filled conceptual bases of standards and measurement and grading as now used in public education will be elaborated.  It will be shown how using the epistemologically and ontologically bankrupt schemes of grading, educational standards and standardized testing come together in causing untold psychological harm to the students, discriminating against some students while rewarding others and begetting structural injustice causing public schools to “fail in their chief design.