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Benghazi panel’s report must be bias-free

More than eight hours of testimony on Capitol Hill last Thursday yielded little new information about how — or if — the attack that killed a U.S. diplomat and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, could have been averted. The hearing of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ended at 9 p.m., but the House Select Committee on Benghazi will continue its work.

Despite accusations that the committee is politically motivated, its stated purpose is important: to write a final, definitive account of what led to the fiery assault on Sept. 11, 2012, and what happened in its aftermath.

Clinton had been reluctant to appear before the panel, but she endured the day’s questioning. Her stoic responses to House members revealed little new information, and Democrats on the committee used their turns at the microphone to decry what they called a “taxpayer-funded fishing expedition.”

House Republicans may be fishing, but they are looking for sharks. The much publicized gaffe of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, in which he appeared to admit the committee was formed to damage Clinton’s candidacy for the White House, does not extirpate the tragedy of Benghazi, nor excuse those involved from accountability.

Uncomfortable questions remain. Why, despite 600 requests for ramped-up security, was the embassy not sufficiently protected on the anniversary of 9/11? Why was the public led to believe that the attack was an impromptu uprising and not an orchestrated assault by al-Qaida?

The answers are important, and not only to the families of the men who died at the U.S. embassy that night. They are necessary to ensure that Benghazi never happens again.

As Clinton said last week, “It is deeply unfortunate that something as serious as what happened in Benghazi could ever be used for partisan political purposes.” But it’s more than unfortunate that J. Christopher Stevens, Tyrone Woods, Sean Smith and Glen Doherty lost their lives; it’s an outrage. The committee must finish its work and give an honest accounting, free of political bias. The longer it takes, the more it will look like McCarthy was right.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 26

The trouble with testing

The backlash against education reform as practiced by the Obama administration has been fierce and persistent, and not just from teachers. Parents have mounted their own protests by opting their children out of the annual tests that the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to give. The two bills in Congress to reauthorize the law would return more authority over schools to the states.

President Barack Obama appeared to join the backlash himself over the weekend, saying that students are taking too many standardized tests, and ones of poor quality to boot. He promised to help states figure out how to reduce testing, and to push Congress for legislation barring teachers from spending more than 2 percent of their class time on tests.

Does this mean the president finally realizes that tests have been given too much power over public education? Don’t bet on it.

Obama hasn’t voiced support for scaling back federal testing mandates, eliminating harsh measures against schools with low test scores or rolling back the Department of Education’s requirement that states link teacher evaluations to test scores if they want waivers from No Child Left Behind’s performance standards.

It’s quite possible that students take too many tests. But the president’s statement ignores why. By and large, the extra tests are used to measure whether students are on track to score well on the big, federally mandated test in the spring that evaluates their schools’ performance, the one with serious consequences. Even more important are the much larger amounts of time devoted to rehearsing students for the spring test.

Setting an arbitrary cap on test-taking time — the president’s 2 percent isn’t based on a strong body of evidence any more than the teacher evaluation policy was — is unlikely to reduce the time spent on test prep significantly. As long as schools with low test scores can be taken over by charter schools or lose half their staff under No Child Left Behind, and as long as teachers fear losing their jobs if their students’ scores haven’t measured up, classrooms will be focused more on tests and less on a rounded education.

​Los Angeles Times, Oct. 27

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