Henrico Superintendent Mark Edwards is also interviewed on the program, to confront much the same question: Are multiple-choice tests an adequate bottom line for education?
On "Frontline," Edwards says: "High performance organizations set goals and work hard to reach those goals. I think [education] is about goal setting and really paying careful attention to learning."
In Henrico, "Frontline" notes, pacing charts are distributed to teachers to tell them what should be taught each day, and students are tested regularly.
Why did "Frontline" come here? Well, if you think mandatory testing was merely a hot-button state issue, you're wrong. It's a national issue, too. As President Bush pushes for mandatory public-school testing in grades three through eight, "Frontline" asks if this is the beginning of a new era in American public education, an era of "increased federal involvement in schools and an unprecedented expansion in the role of tests."
Bush and those who support his position say that educational accountability reveals which schools are not making the grade, "Frontline" reports, noting that Virginia and other states announce scores on state tests publicly and then see them on the front pages of the newspapers and argued over endlessly on editorial pages.
It's what accountability leads to, Superintendent Edwards tells "Frontline." "You hire people, you give them support, and you say, 'This is the job that needs to be done.' But if the job isn't done after a period of time, you say, 'We've got to find somebody else.'"
"Frontline" also examines another aspect of standardized public-school testing that Virginians labored through: Setting the standards is as complicated as measuring learning. The documentary notes that educators and others here argued for weeks over which names students should be familiar with in history.
Henrico's is but one of a number of school systems visited on the program, which also interviews a variety of national policymakers and education experts. It airs Thursday, March 28, at 9 p.m. on PBS-TV. Don Dale