Tag Archives: Pearson

SBOE committee discusses curriculum standards

The State Board of Education (SBOE) continues to meet this week in Austin. The SBOE’s Committee on Instruction, which includes ATPE member Martha Dominguez and ATPE past state president Sue Melton-Malone, took up two discussion items including invited testimony Thursday morning. The committee met two hours earlier than usual so that other members of the board could hear and participate in a discussion of the new graduation equivalency program and the process for adoption and revision of the state’s curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

Board members heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff and a representative from testing vendor Pierson Education about the transition from the current GED program to a new fully-computerized battery of high school equivalency tests. The panel asked questions about logistics, access and expense. The committee will continue to discuss this issue in upcoming meetings as they contemplate putting forth a competitive bid to ensure that the state is getting the most bang for its buck on this program.

Next, the committee continued its discussion looking into issues concerning the number of TEKS and the TEKS review process. The board continues to grapple with issues such as how to define “essential” and drawing a line between defining standards, which the SBOE is required to set by statute, and curriculum issues like pacing, which the board is forbidden to address by law.

There is a general consensus that the SBOE, and perhaps moreover TEA, has turned a corner with the mathematics TEKS and is heading in the right direction toward narrowing the scope and deepening the ability to reach mastery of the TEKS. A subgroup of board members, all of whom have extensive experience at the campus or classroom level in public schools, has been tasked with bringing their perspective and the perspective of other educators to this issue. The group includes Patricia “Pat” Hardy, Melton-Malone and Dominguez.

View archived footage of Thursday morning’s meeting of the SBOE Committee on Instruction here.

“The Myth Behind Public School Failure” from YES! Magazine

In the rush to privatize the country’s schools, corporations and politicians have decimated school budgets, replaced teaching with standardized testing, and placed the blame on teachers and students.

69 Cover

by Dean Paton
YES! Magazine, Spring 2014

Until about 1980, America’s public schoolteachers were iconic everyday heroes painted with a kind of Norman Rockwell patina—generally respected because they helped most kids learn to read, write and successfully join society. Such teachers made possible at least the idea of a vibrant democracy.

Since then, what a turnaround: We’re now told, relentlessly, that bad-apple schoolteachers have wrecked K-12 education; that their unions keep legions of incompetent educators in classrooms; that part of the solution is more private charter schools; and that teachers as well as entire schools lack accountability, which can best be remedied by more and more standardized “bubble” tests.

What led to such an ignoble fall for teachers and schools? Did public education really become so irreversibly terrible in three decades? Is there so little that’s redeemable in today’s schoolhouses?

The beginning of “reform”

To truly understand how we came to believe our educational system is broken, we need a history lesson. Rewind to 1980—when Milton Friedman, the high priest of laissez-faire economics, partnered with PBS to produce a ten-part television series called Free to Choose. He devoted one episode to the idea of school vouchers, a plan to allow families what amounted to publicly funded scholarships so their children could leave the public schools and attend private ones.

You could make a strong argument that the current campaign against public schools started with that single TV episode. To make the case for vouchers, free-market conservatives, corporate strategists, and opportunistic politicians looked for any way to build a myth that public schools were failing, that teachers (and of course their unions) were at fault, and that the cure was vouchers and privatization.

Jonathan Kozol, the author and tireless advocate for public schools, called vouchers the “single worst, most dangerous idea to have entered education discourse in my adult life.”

Armed with Friedman’s ideas, President Reagan began calling for vouchers. In 1983, his National Commission on Excellence in Education issued “A Nation At Risk,” a report that declared, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

It also said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

For a document that’s had such lasting impact, “A Nation At Risk” is remarkably free of facts and solid data. Not so the Sandia Report, a little-known follow-up study commissioned by Admiral James Watkins, Reagan’s secretary of energy; it discovered that the falling test scores which caused such an uproar were really a matter of an expansion in the number of students taking the tests. In truth, standardized-test scores were going up for every economic and ethnic segment of students—it’s just that, as more and more students began taking these tests over the 20-year period of the study, this more representative sample of America’s youth better reflected the true national average. It wasn’t a teacher problem. It was a statistical misread.

How the Reagan administration flunked math (click image to view larger)

How the Reagan Administration Flunked Math (click image to view larger)

The government never officially released the Sandia Report. It languished in peer-review purgatory until the Journal of Educational Research published it in 1993. Despite its hyperbole (or perhaps because of it), “A Nation At Risk” became a timely cudgel for the larger privatization movement. With Reagan and Friedman, the Nobel-Prize-winning economist, preaching that salvation would come once most government services were turned over to private entrepreneurs, the privatizers began proselytizing to get government out of everything from the post office to the public schools.

Corporations recognized privatization as a euphemism for profits. “Our schools are failing” became the slogan for those who wanted public-treasury vouchers to move money into private schools. These cries continue today.

The era of accountability

In 2001, less than a year into the presidency of George W. Bush, the federal government enacted sweeping legislation called “No Child Left Behind.” Supporters described it as a new era of accountability—based on standardized testing. The act tied federal funding for public schools to student scores on standardized tests. It also guaranteed millions in profits to corporations such as Pearson PLC, the curriculum and testing juggernaut, which made more than $1 billion in 2012 selling textbooks and bubble tests.

In 2008, the economy collapsed. State budgets were eviscerated. Schools were desperate for funding. In 2009, President Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, created a program they called “Race to the Top.”

It didn’t replace No Child Left Behind; it did step in with grants to individual states for their public schools. Obama and Duncan put desperate states in competition with each other. Who got the money was determined by several factors, including which states did the best job of improving the performance of failing schools—which, in practice, frequently means replacing public schools with for-profit charter schools—and by a measure of school success based on students’ standardized-test scores that allegedly measured “progress.”

Since 2001 and No Child Left Behind, the focus of education policy makers and corporate-funded reformers has been to insist on more testing—more ways to quantify and measure the kind of education our children are getting, as well as more ways to purportedly quantify and measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools. For a dozen or so years, this “accountability movement” was pretty much the only game in town. It used questionable, even draconian, interpretations of standardized-test results to brand schools as failures, close them, and replace them with for-profit charter schools.

Resistance

Finally, in early 2012, then-Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott kindled a revolt of sorts, saying publicly that high-stakes exams are a “perversion.” His sentiments quickly spread to Texas school boards, whose resolution stating that tests were “strangling education” gained support from more than 875 school districts representing more than 4.4 million Texas public-school students. Similar, if smaller, resistance to testing percolated in other communities nationally.

Then, in January 2013, teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School announced they would refuse to give their students the Measures of Academic Progress Test—the MAP test. Despite threats of retaliation by their district, they held steadfast. By May, the district caved, telling its high schools the test was no longer mandatory.

Garfield’s boycott triggered a nationwide backlash to the “reform” that began with Friedman and the privatizers in 1980. At last, Americans from coast to coast have begun redefining the problem for what it really is: not an education crisis but a manufactured catastrophe, a facet of what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism.”

Look closely—you’ll recognize the formula: Underfund schools. Overcrowd classrooms. Mandate standardized tests sold by private-sector firms that “prove” these schools are failures. Blame teachers and their unions for awful test scores. In the bargain, weaken those unions, the largest labor organizations remaining in the United States. Push nonunion, profit-oriented charter schools as a solution.

If a Hurricane Katrina or a Great Recession comes along, all the better. Opportunities for plunder increase as schools go deeper into crisis, whether genuine or ginned up. 

WhyCorporationsWantOurPublicSchools-YesMag

Infographic: Why Corporations Want Our Public Schools (click image to view larger)

The reason for privatization

Chris Hedges, the former New York Times correspondent, appeared on Democracy Now! in 2012 and told host Amy Goodman the federal government spends some $600 billion a year on education—“and the corporations want it. That’s what’s happening.

And that comes through charter schools. It comes through standardized testing. And it comes through breaking teachers’ unions and essentially hiring temp workers, people who have very little skills.”

If you doubt Hedges, at least trust Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul and capitalist extraordinaire whose Amplify corporation already is growing at a 20 percent rate, thanks to its education contracts. “When it comes to K through 12 education,” Murdoch said in a November 2010 press release, “we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”

Corporate-speak for, “Privatize the public schools. Now, please.”

In a land where the free market has near-religious status, that’s been the answer for a long time. And it’s always been the wrong answer. The problem with education is not bad teachers making little Johnny into a dolt. It’s about Johnny making big corporations a bundle—at the expense of the well-educated citizenry essential to democracy.

And, of course, it’s about the people and ideas now reclaiming and rejuvenating our public schools and how we all can join the uprising against the faux reformers.


Dean Paton wrote this article for Education Uprising, the Spring 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Dean is executive editor of YES! Educators are eligible to receive a free one-year subscription to YES! Magazine.YES! Magazine’s stories and positive solutions will inspire your students to make a difference in their own lives and in their communities. Click here for more details and to sign up

Vote for candidates who will address standardized testing

This is the third post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.


At issue: Education in the 21st century has been dominated by standardized testing. The enactment of state and federal accountability laws, including the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, resulted in the growth of an entire business industry surrounding tests. Testing and rating schools based on students’ standardized test scores have become the primary mandates in public education. Schools that fail to meet accountability targets tied to test results face harsh sanctions, which exacerbates anxiety around the high-stakes nature of the tests. Many districts have tied teacher pay and bonuses to test results, and now the federal government is insisting on more reliance on test score data in evaluations of teachers and principals.

The overemphasis on standardized testing is a costly problem: The testing explosion has necessitated more government spending on:

  • Developing, field-testing and administering tests.
  • Buying test prep materials.
  • Remediation programs for students who fail the tests.
  • Administering pre-test “benchmark” assessments at the district level.
  • Training for staff.
  • Investigations of testing improprieties.
  • Hiring of additional personnel needed to administer tests, analyze results and create intervention plans based on those results.
  • And so much more.

Over a two-year period, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) spent nearly half a billion dollars on a contract with test vendor Pearson and was criticized in a state audit for not implementing proper quality controls on the contract. Make no mistake: Testing is big business, especially in a state as large as Texas, and the vendors that profit off testing do not hesitate to make large campaign contributions to candidates who will support the policies that keep them in business.

Progress has been made, but more must be done to address the “test, test, test” approach that is still holding our classrooms hostage to standardized assessments: If you read the Survey Response section of the candidate profiles on Teach the Vote, you’ll see that most candidates believe there is still too much emphasis being placed on testing in schools. The 83rd Legislature was forced to answer the outcry from students, parents and educators over too much testing. They passed House Bill (HB) 5, which greatly reduced the number of required state tests at the high school level, but they were not able to alleviate concerns about standardized testing in grades 3–8. A bill to reduce benchmark testing in those lower grades passed the Legislature unanimously, but was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. Most incumbent legislators[1] supported another bill that would have allowed some students who achieve satisfactory scores on STAAR tests in certain grades to skip the exams in some other grades; that bill was derailed by conflicting federal regulations. There is still work to be done at both the state and federal levels to alleviate elementary, middle and junior high schools from the intense pressure of relentless testing that interferes with real, high-quality instruction.

Your vote in this primary election will help determine the future of testing in Texas: Let’s elect legislators who will fight for the integrity of classroom instruction and not bow to pressure from big testing companies or the federal government. Search our candidate profiles to see what your candidates have to see about the role of testing. Vote early (through Feb. 28) at any polling location near you, or vote at your assigned polling place on primary election day, March 4. Either way, be sure to vote in this critical primary, since so many election contests will be decided in March rather than in November.

[1] Senators Brian Birdwell and Dan Patrick were the only legislators who voted against HB 866 in 2013. Enter your address in our 2014 Races page to view your incumbents’ profiles and their voting records on testing and other major issues.