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The shame of John Oliver’s rant on testing

John Oliver on his HBO show Last Week Tonight gave a scathing critique of the high stakes testing industry, explaining how it has been bad for teachers and students and how at the end of the day other than making testing companies rich, teachers leave the profession and children cry it has not been effective. The piece was both hilarious, poignant and sad.

It was sad not just because of the impassioned plea of a middle school girl who in between tears begged her school board not to drop her from her advanced classes because she didn’t do well on her standardized tests, smart children doing poor on them is not atypical, but it was sad because teachers have been signaling the same warnings to state legislatures who ignored them and decided instead to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on tests.

High stakes standardized tests haven’t worked. Blaming teachers has not worked. Charter schools and vouchers have not worked. Ignoring or treating poverty as an excuse has not worked.

If we want to make real change we must address poverty. The students in high poverty schools need smaller classes, a longer school day and a longer school year, a wealth of electives and extracurricular activities so schools don’t become drudgery to them and mental health counselors and social workers because why a kid acts up or does poorly in school often has nothing to do with school.

We can continue to throw money down a pit that just makes donors to legislators and testing companies wealthy or we can resolve to make systematic and real changes that make a difference.  

John Oliver was able to do something teachers weren’t and that’s get people to notice. Now it’s time we did something too.


  1. I teach in a Title 1 school, and is thoroughly agree that poverty (and its effects on children) must be recognized and addressed in order to effect any real change. Thank you.

  2. I grew up poor in subsidized housing and everybody behaved appropriately. It's not about money, it's about class. There have always been poor people and there always will be. It's no excuse for violent, anti-intellectual behavior. That's culture. And frankly, our Code of Conduct normalizes it.