Hard-headed realists tell us, much as we may wish otherwise, standardized tests prove that millions of America’s schoolchildren (approximately half) are failing to learn even the basic educational skills. Despite all the efforts of the Great Society (Head Start, Titles I-IV) to educate disadvantaged children, they are still as far behind as ever. The hard data—standardized test scores—suggest that the goals themselves were impossible and the efforts to achieve them even harmful.
Standardized tests, then, are central to the current attack on the idea of democratic schooling. For all their seeming scientific sophistication and objectivity, such tests are based on a set of unexamined value judgments and social biases. As long as we rely on such tools to tell us what our children can and cannot do, we will indeed have to concede the argument to the pessimists: ordinary people cannot be taught the cognitive skills necessary for making complex decisions. In short, democracy becomes impossible.
To make matters worse, acceptance...
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