By Elizabeth A. Bloom Guest Commentary
The Daily Star
---- — Though many are unaware of it, we are in the midst of a radical educational transformation in the United States. What was formerly the province of states, districts and professional educators, has been altered, without public knowledge, into a system controlled by corporate interests and their political allies in Albany and Washington.
A handful of multi-billion dollar companies and their philanthropies are deciding what your child learns, who gets to teach your child, how your child’s teacher teaches and what your education tax dollars are spent on. The question is, who benefits?
In New York, as in twenty-five other states, Pearson, a multi-billion dollar British publishing conglomerate, has a virtual monopoly on the many assessments our children take. New York State school districts are coerced into purchasing Pearson teaching and test preparation materials as well.
Why? Pearson materials prepare students to pass the tests that qualify local districts to receive millions of dollars under the federal legislation known as Race to the Top.
In addition to a number of large publishing houses such as Penguin and Harcourt, Pearson owns the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the S.A.T., and the G.E.D. Starting in September, college students seeking a NYS teaching certification will undergo a new high stakes test, called the edTPA, also owned by Pearson.
What impact have these changes had? If you are the parent of a school age child, chances are you felt concerned about the anxiety your child experienced related to recent ELA and Math tests. You may have been exasperated by the hours dedicated to test preparation and administration, including days of school canceled for professional development.
You may have been frustrated because in many schools, instruction grinds to a virtual halt as teachers ‘drill and kill’ for a month or more before the tests. And you may wonder when it will end, because starting next year, NYS has mandated adding testing elementary students in social studies and science. Believe it or not, tests are in development for art, library, PE and music too.
If you are a teacher, you are increasingly treated as a worker on an assembly line, with the students treated like products for market. Starting next year, in most elementary schools, you will be required to use scripted lessons, purchased by your district, for math and ELA rather than using your experience and expertise to plan and deliver lessons.
You might feel deeply resentful about being asked to teach to the test, but you had better do it, because 40 percent of your evaluation will be based on those scores. Veteran teacher Ken Sider commented: “The shame of this movement is how threatened teachers feel, and how common it is for test preparation skills to dominate the classroom. Teaching, in the traditional sense, is devolving before our eyes.”
If you are an administrator you feel the strain too. This year, teachers in all but four states, are being evaluated using the new Common Core standards. This despite the fact that materials for teaching these standards have not yet been produced.
You are now required to observe your teachers twice per year, read reams of teachers’ self-evaluations and hold formal pre- and post-observation conferences. Like many administrators, you may lament that you don’t have time to interact with students anymore. One local district was forced to hire an extra administrator simply to complete the observations.
As a teacher educator, I see the frustration and dismay among colleagues and students as we grapple with preparing for the edTPA. In addition to the three traditional paper and pencil tests already in place in New York State, edTPA requires that student teachers now take two 10-minute videos of themselves teaching, write 35 to 45 pages justifying their pedagogical decisions, and pay $300 to Pearson — where temporary workers will evaluate their fitness to become teachers.
If you are a taxpayer, you are footing the bill for all this. For example, in Oneonta we had to hire substitutes as graders — because the rules now dictate that teachers cannot be trusted to grade their own students’ tests.
On June 8, I was joined by nearly 10,000 teachers, students, parents, teacher educators and administrators at the One Voice United rally in Albany. These passionate advocates for teaching and learning came from every corner of New York State to say enough is enough and that marketizing public education is a bad idea.
The current reform movement isn’t improving teachers or preparing students to be the creative problem solvers, critical thinkers and innovators they will need to be in the coming decades. Talk to your child’s teachers, write a letter to our governor, and educate yourself on the issues. We know who’s benefiting from corporate education reform — and it isn’t us.
ELIZABETH A. BLOOM, Ed.D. is an associate professor of education at Hartwick College.Though many are unaware of it, we are in the midst of a radical educational transformation in the United States. What was formerly the province of states, districts and professional educators, has been altered, without public knowledge, into a system controlled by corporate interests and their political allies in Albany and Washington.