How did America become a nation that skimps on its schools, overtests its children, hamstrings its teachers, and penalizes them all according to student test scores? In Test-and-Punish, John Kuhn traces the roots of today’s unequal, test-focused US education system back to Texas and its culture, judicial and legislative decisions, and influential personalities like George W. Bush, H. Ross Perot, and other lesser-known yet powerful Texans.
The superintendent of a Texas school district, Kuhn is a passionate and outspoken advocate for public education. Test-and-Punish tells how a series of court cases and legislative actions concerning unequal school funding led Texas to adopt an accountability system based on high-stakes testing. That system became the state’s measure of an “adequate” education while discounting financial disparities among school districts, and through an alliance of business leaders, legislators, think tanks, and foundations, an entire industry grew up around developing tests and associated products in Texas and other states. As president, former governor Bush introduced the nation to the Texas brand of educational accountability, which became the cornerstone of his trademark No Child Left Behind Act and lives on in its successor, Race to the Top.
The heroes of Kuhn’s engaging account are the educators across the country who have labored to teach their students while enduring cutbacks in budgets, staffing, and salaries; smears and belittlement of their profession; and requirements that their students achieve unrealistic test scores. As discontent with overtesting and inequitable funding has grown among educators, parents, and even some former proponents of test-based accountability, they have become more vocal, organized, and politically active. With the recent Texas legislative decision to reduce testing and boost school funding, and in the clamor for change in other states as well, Kuhn finds reason for optimism that a fairer and more supportive educational system may emerge.
JOHN KUHN is a public school administrator in Texas. He became a vocal advocate for public education in 2011 when Texas officials enacted unprecedented school funding cuts while simultaneously embracing the nation’s most draconian school accountability system. His “Alamo Letter” and YouTube videos of his 2011 speech at a Save Texas Schools rally went viral, as did his 2012 essay “The Exhaustion of the American Teacher,” which garnered over 149,000 “likes” on Facebook.