Category Archives: Our Kids Are Not For Sale

Solidarity NOW

Let me be clear: If we do not stand together as a group millions strong as public education comes under attack, there won’t be anyone who will speak for us. This fight to protect our schools and our students and our profession from government officials, corporate charter school leaders, education reformers, Pearson, data mining, big money, and all of the other forces that are systematically taking over districts must be OUR fight.

It was easy to look at Chicago and lament the closing of 49 elementary schools and 1 high school if you don’t live and work in Chicago. It was easy to look at Philadelphia and feel bad 20120725CTURally-2 by sarah-jifor the kids as the latest batch of schools closed if you don’t live and work in Philadelphia. It was easy to watch the teachers of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, strike as they fought for class size caps, planning time, and the withdrawal of the merit pay proposal based on students’ standardized test performance if you don’t live and work in Reynoldsburg. It’s easy to watch the teachers, parents, and students currently holding rallies and protests in York City, PA, to protest the corporate takeover of all of the public schools in that district if you don’t live and work in York City. It’s easy to watch the students in Jefferson County, Colorado, currently protesting the school board’s potential changes to the A.P. U.S. history curriculum and the teachers taking part in sick-outs if you don’t live in Jefferson County. The list goes on and on.

But, in some states, government officials already have succeeded in abolishing unions. In some states, teachers already are forced to give hundreds of assessments and work for merit pay. In some states, teachers already have to pay nearly or all of their health care premiums. In some states, public schools are being pushed out as public education spaces and dollars go to charter schools. As district officials, state officials, and federal officials hand down decisions, teachers everywhere are beginning to be affected. But, as of October 8, 2014, this is no longer THEIR problem. If you are a public education teacher, this is now OUR problem, thanks to the School Reform Commission (SRC) in Philadelphia.

We officially no longer can sit back and watch what is unfolding in Philadelphia now. We need to sit up, pay attention, stay informed, and stand in solidarity with our public education brothers and sisters. If you need a little bit of history on the state takeover of the Philly School District, click here. And, if you don’t know what the SRC is, you need to know NOW, because they are the group that is working to take away retired teachers’ benefits – as much as $10,000 per year, according to Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) President Jerry Jordan in a Philadelphia Inquirer article. They are offering a health care plan that will force teachers to pay premiums as high as $626 per month and then meet astronomical deductibles and co-pays. They failed to negotiate with teachers after being ordered to do so by a PA Supreme Court and decided instead to cancel the existing contract and enact the contract with these new terms. The SRC did not advertise the meeting properly. All of this occurred without any negotiations having taken place since July 2014.

Protests have been occurring in Philadelphia since the SRC acted, including students going on “strike” to show their support for their teachers. Parents and public school advocates also Proud Marchers by Light Brigadingannounced their solidarity with Philly teachers Wednesday by standing on the steps of the district’s headquarters. All of this was happening at nearly the same moment that a PA Senate committee failed to approve a proposal to give the governor the authority to abolish the SRC, by a vote of 14-9, with no Republicans supporting the proposal. Solomon Leach’s Inquirer article also points out that the Senate Appropriations Committee “rejected a second amendment that would have required the SRC to provide 48 hours’ notice before holding a meeting.” The result? Only the SRC can vote to dissolve itself, with the permission of the secretary of education. Heard enough yet?

There’s more. The PFT is holding a protest outside the School District headquarters today (Oct. 16, 2014), but the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives confirmed it hired a team to appear at the event. Let that sink in for a minute. This group has enough money to pay people to show up to counter the teachers’ protest. In fact, according to a Philadelphia magazine article, this “free-market think tank” would be “informing people about how Jerry Jordan and the PFT leadership are standing in the way of tens of millions of dollars gong back into Philadelphia classrooms.” FYI – the Commonwealth Foundation registered two other websites this week, to put out their agenda and spread their false messages. They claim the teachers have a “selfish agenda” and fail children, teachers, and the poor, and that their group hired workers to pass out information and hold banners “to inform” the public. “The Notebook” noted that Cindy Hamill-Dahlgren, spokeswoman for the Commonwealth Foundation, would not specify how much money the Foundation spent to counter the PFT, Greeed by liz westbut an email showed some “brand ambassadors” were being offered anywhere from $100 to $120 to assist.

If this is the first time you’ve heard about the Commonwealth Foundation, you should know that in April 2013, it was reported that the right-wing think tank out of Harrisburg has plans to attack pubic sector employee unions. According to an article from “The Nation,” Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) wrote a letter on behalf of the Foundation, announcing “Project Goliath,” a “new effort to make Pennsylvania the next Wisconsin or Michigan.” Toomey wrote, “‘I firmly believe the future is in our hands – it’s up to you and me – and it all depends on the level of urgency we give this new campaign of ours, Project Goliath: Conquering Pennsylvania’s Political Giant. Now is the time to fight back. Like David of the Bible, now is the time to come forward and slay Pennsylvania’s Big Labor Goliath! …. First, we are forming an alliance with other successful free-market groups to actively discredit the Big Government Party (a tactic borrowed directly from Wisconsin). Like our friends in Wisconsin and Michigan, many elements of our plan involve a cooperative effort among our allied, but still independent, organizations…. But the overriding key to our whole plan will be our ability to starve the giant.’” The Commonwealth Foundation is reportedly “one of a 59-state network of similar think tanks that have vastly expanded since 2009.” They have raised millions of dollars, they have a stronghold in Pennsylvania, and clearly they are gunning for public education.

Now, several stories on Facebook are starting to emerge as the situation in Philadelphia worsens, from an SRC member telling student protestors, “You belong in jail,” to Pittsburgh teachers wearing red in solidarity with the Philly teachers.

So, what can you do? Share the stories on your social media pages. If you’re sharing recipes TRUTH Twitterand Halloween pictures on Facebook, you need to bite the bullet and start sharing the stories out of Philadelphia and the rest of the country. “Like” the pages of these unions, parent groups, and teacher groups on Facebook so you can easily follow their news. If you don’t have a Twitter account, create one and start following organizations and education warriors like @TruthInTeaching, @PublicEdNation, , @APPSphilly, @NYSAPE, @PegwithPen, @UnitedOptOut, @DianeRavitch, @palan57, @CTULocal1, @BadassTeachersA, @MindyRosier and others who understand the urgent need to save public education and get out the TRUTH.

You need to talk to your local union leaders, if you’re in a state that still has a union, about organizing solidarity campaigns. You need to read the articles (there are three below that are a good place to start) and understand the implications for you, your position, and your district. You need to get involved. Or, the next canceled contract, the next corporate takeover, the next shuttered school, could be yours.

For further reading:
‘Dear America, We Give Our Schools Third-World Level Resources… With love, Philadelphia XOXO’
Philadelphia Teachers Hit by Latest Cuts
PFT pushes back: livetweeting the SRC meeting

Images via Flickr by sarah-ji, Light Brigading, and Liz West

Occupy the Schools Feb 1, 2012 by Michael Fleshman

The Abysmal State of Education

It’s been a bad week for education in Pennsylvania. Well, in all honesty, it’s been a bad few years for education in Pennsylvania since Tom Corbett was elected Greeed by liz westgovernor in 2010, but things have come to a head this week. From the new report that PA charter schools “have engaged in fraud and abuse amounting to about $30 million,” to the School Reform Commission (SRC) unilaterally canceling teacherscontracts in Philadelphia, we are in trouble. Add that to the impending November York City vote on a corporate takeover of public schools, and the state of education in Pennsylvania is in dire straits.

In the Education Votes article, “New report alleges $30 million in fraud and abuse connected to PA charter schools,” Brian Washington explains that “Fraud and Financial Mismanagement in Pennsylvania’s Charter Schools” was released by several non-profit groups including the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), Integrity in Education, and ACTION United October 1. The report states that within the past 17 years, “charter school operators in Pennsylvania have abused the system of at least $30 million. It also asserts that state agencies, charged with overseeing charter schools, are not up to the job of weeding out fraud and abuse.” The reports of mismanagement and lack of oversight in charters is nothing new, but this report comes at a time when charters and corporate takeovers are taking center stage in PA education news as well as national education news.

Washington points to the May whistleblowing report from CPD and Integrity in Education, “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, and Abuse” that claims charter school waste and abuse has cost American taxpayers an estimated $100 million. Additionally, Joshua Holland reports in “Charter Schools Gone Wild: Study Finds Widespread Fraud, Mismanagement and Waste,” that “the actual amount of fraud and abuse the report uncovered totaled $136 million, and that was just in the 15 states they studied.”

Regardless of which numbers you use, PA is responsible for a large portion of the charter school fraud. In light of these reports, anyone with common sense would think that for-profit charter schools should be turned away by districts and states. However, Corbett and his appointee in York City are doing all that they can to turn every public school in that part of PA into for-profit charter schools. The good news is the community and various education leaders are rallying around York City teachers, parents, and students in an attempt to get the school board to strike down the corporate takeover.

In her statement, NEA president Eskelsen Garcia makes her position clear: “We’re referring to the same politicians who call for ‘public school accountability’ by piling toxic tests on our students, yet seem to look the other way when it’s time to hold all charter schools responsible for their use of public funds.”

Eskelsen Garcia continued, “It’s ironic and disturbing that Governor Corbett continues to push for the privatization of Pennsylvania’s public schools – handing over entire underfunded school districts like that of York City to charter operations with less-than-stellar records.”

In truth, the two charters vying for position in York are Mosaica Education Inc. and Charter Schools USA, neither of which has a good track record. In a September 24 article, Washington points out the flaws with both corporations: Occupy the Schools Feb 1, 2012 by Michael Fleshman“In 2012, Mosaica had a five year contract to run the Muskegon Heights Public School Academy in Muskegon Heights, Michigan, but quit after two years because it couldn’t turn a profit. Charter Schools USA began operating three schools in Indianapolis during the 2012-2013 school year. So far, all three schools have earned an ‘F’ from Indiana education officials.” Students and parents are left wondering where their children can go to school when the charters fail, pull out, or both.

This is why, on a national level, the Annenberg Institute at Brown University is “calling for higher standards for charter schools regarding accountability, transparency, and equity” in their September 2014 report, and Eskelsen Garcia is pushing lawmakers to demand oversight and accountability from charters. Some election hopefuls are calling for more accountability and transparency for charter schools, as is the case with Ohio state auditor candidate John Patrick Carney.

But, oversight is not enough. When charter schools that once were supposed to be a choice for innovation and better educational opportunities (did anyone really believe that all those years ago?) are forced upon districts in an effort by education reformers to privatize education, where are the teachers, students, and parents left? Charters have proven themselves to be ineffective, incapable, and in some cases, illegal. Fixing public education with charters is not the answer. It never was, and it never will be. Rather, we need to be electing officials who truly understand the value of public education and listening to true education experts – the teachers – when it comes to education reform that is in the best interests of students.

FYI – Pennsylvania isn’t the only state wrestling with charter school issues. The debate over charter schools and their effects on public schools is heating up daily, especially in New York City. The following links offer more information about the Philadelphia schools mess, the NYC charter debacle, and the questions surrounding NYC’s charter schools leader, Eva Moskowitz:

Images via Flickr by liz west and Michael Fleshman

Bad Grade by Robert Hruzek

Robo-Graders: One more reason to end the testing madness

The school year is gaining steam and the testing madness is getting under way again. All across the country, districts already are assessing students, using both practice assessments to get them ready for the “real” tests this spring, and district assessments to see if they are on track for the practice assessments to get ready for the “real” tests this spring. I can’t help but think about the April 2014 Boston Globe article “Flunk the robo-graders” by Les Perelman and wish, once again, it would stop.

Bad Grade by Robert HruzekThe issue? Robo-graders fail to score student essays proficiently; yet, the scores determine student’ proficiency levels and teachers’ evaluation scores and, in some states, teachers’ merit pay. If the robo-graders cannot score the tests properly, the test scores should not be used to evaluate anyone or anything. And, if Pearson and the other testing companies will not even allow access or “open-ended demonstrations of their robo-graders,” states should not award them contracts. Period.

One month into my first teaching job 12 years ago, my district sent me to a conference led by a state trainer; she had been scoring PSSAs (the Pennsylvania assessments at the time), and Intermediate Units brought her in to lead conferences on scoring for new teachers, teachers in grades just beginning to be assessed, and so on. I guess the thinking was, if teachers learned what the scorers were looking for, they could teach their students to write proficient responses. And, if teachers knew what the scorers were looking for, they could score district and practice assessments more effectively. All of this meant that we were teaching to the test, of course, but nobody mentioned that.

Now, 12 years later, humans are being taken out of the grading equation, as Pearson and other testing companies roll out their robo-graders to remove one of the two human essay scorers. We already have taken good writing and grammar instruction out of schools and curriculum and replaced it with “formula writing” as we are pressured to teach kids to “beat the tests.” Now we are taking people who can read and communicate coherently out of scoring essays. In what world does any of this make sense?

Get Ready, Get Set, Write by Melanie HoltsmanIn truth, the robo-graders are scoring student essays on length and word usage most of the time. No English teacher worth his salt will tell students that it’s “quantity over quality” or to “just use a lot of big words,” and yet that is exactly what students are going to have to do in order to score well: “Robo-graders do not score by understanding meaning but almost solely by use of gross measures, especially length and the presence of pretentious language.” Perelman goes on to say, “Papers written under time pressure often have a significant correlation between length and score. Robo-graders are able to match human scores simply by over-valuing length compared to human readers. A much publicized study claimed that machines could match human readers. However, the machines accomplished this feat primarily by simply counting words.”

Need an example? Perelman gives a fantastic one in his opening: “‘According to professor of theory of knowledge Leon Trotsky, privacy is the most fundamental report of humankind. Radiation on advocates to an orator transmits gamma rays of parsimony to implode.'” Confused? So was I. That’s the point. This is gibberish. Yet, the robo-graders from Pearson would consider this “exceptionally good prose.”

But, the problem isn’t just with Pearson. When three computer science students, two from MIT and one from Harvard, developed an app that generates gibberish, “one of the major robo-graders, IntelliMetric, has consistently scored above the 90th percentile overall. In fact, IntelliMetric scored most of the incoherent essays they generated as ‘advanced’ in focus and meaning as well as in language use and style.” What are teachers, students, and districts to do, when states are contracting with these companies and expecting students to score well?

The answer is the one I have been advocating for quite some time: Stop the tests. The list of reasons to discontinue the use of these high-stakes tests is growing (I can think of about a million), as researchers begin to determine the invalidity of the tests and the processes associated with them:

  1. The robo-graders are not at all capable of scoring the student essays.
  2. Dr. Walter Stroup determined, after analyzing every Texas student’s math score, that 72% of the test scores remained the same, regardless of the student’s grade or the subject being tested. He concluded that the tests do not actually measure what the kids learn in the classroom; rather, they test how well kids can take a test.
  3. Dr. Denny Way, senior vice president for measurement services at Pearson, made a public statement, after Stroup’s determination, confessing that the tests are only 50% “insensitive” to instruction, so Pearson sells products knowing full well that they don’t measure half of what goes on in a classroom.
  4. In April 2014, the American Statistical Association condemned the use of student test scores to rate teacher performance because teachers account for only 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores

No other industry continues to use products knowing that they are ineffective and flawed. No other professionals are measured using such flawed testing materials and processes. No parent uses a product to measure any aspect of her child if she knows the results are unreliable. Would you use a set of bathroom scales or a thermometer if you knew it was broken?

#IChooseToRefuseSo, why are we doing this to our students and our teachers? Why do states and districts continue to hand out money to Pearson and other testing companies when it is becoming all too clear that not one of their products is up to snuff?

The testing madness has to stop. Go to school board meetings. Email or call your state leaders. Email or call your national leaders. Visit UNITED OPT OUT. Vote for education this November. Stand up for our students and teachers.

Still not convinced? Read “More incoherent babble: Rating a generated essay

Images via Flickr by Robert Hruzek and Melanie Holtsman

VOTE by Theresa Thompson

Vote for Education

At this time of year, it becomes even more critical that we carefully consider the candidates running for public office – from the school board level to the gubernatorial races to the US Senate and House seats – and choose those that truly stand for public education. But, we wonder whether such candidates exist.

Undecided by Phil HilfikerWe see candidates running for school board seats in the Indianapolis Public School system who have raised as much as $65,000 for their campaigns and wonder where their money is coming from. We see governors taking a stand for Common Core, stripping public education funding at historic rates, and then doing a complete 180o as polls show the public is unhappy with their records and statements about public education.

In our own state of Pennsylvania, Governor Corbett is all but out of the governor’s mansion, and we all know that Tom Wolf is the better choice. (At this point, it seems as though almost anyone would be the better choice.) Wolf is endorsed by PSEA and teachers certainly are behind him. Our hope, though, is that he stays true to his word about using a 5% severance tax to help fund education and holding charter and cyber schools more accountable. He also came out against the corporate takeover of schools in York City, PA, but there have been some reports that have surfaced about Wolf’s ties to some of the stakeholders in that district who are pro-charter. At the very least, political watchdogs and the citizens of PA need to keep a close eye on Wolf after he wins the election.

Yes, politics is a dirty game. And, we know that teachers can’t easily stop working in the classroom to run for office and make the changes we’d all like to see. But, wouldn’t that be nice? We look to the kindergarten teacher running for Congress and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who may be running against Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of Chicago, for inspiration. We see former teachers running for school board seats, too. These definitely are steps in the right direction.

So, what can teachers do on a more practical level? Well, teachers (and anyone else who wishes to visit) should regularly check the Education Votes site from NEA. While NEA certainly isn’t perfect, and teachers often find themselves disagreeing with various NEA presidents from time to time, they do feature teachers from around the country explaining which candidates they support and the challenges they face in their own section of the public education world.

We also can pay more attention to the candidate debates and listen very carefully to the words (read: spin) candidates put out in their ads. As with anything else, being informed is half the battle. Take a few minutes to read about the candidates, to listen to the debates, and to talk with colleagues and your local union leaders to see which way the candidates are leaning in the battles over charter vs. public schools, testing, education reform, pension reform, and everything else that affects teachers as professionals.

VOTE by Theresa ThompsonYou may not be able to change the leadership within your district (unless you quit and run for a school board seat), but you can vote. And, you can talk with your neighbors, friends, family, and other community members about the issues that affect you, your classroom, and your students every day. It seems the only sure way to win the fight for public education is to work from the top down. Vote for candidates who seem like supporters of public education, and then hold them accountable after the election. Our kids are depending on us.

Images via Flickr by Phil Hilfiker and Theresa Thompson

A Vote for Tom Corbett Is a Vote For a Corporate Takeover of PA’s Public Schools

Picture this: Out-of-state charter corporations are attempting to take over an entire city’s public school system. Every single one of the city’s public schools would be Message in Front of MPS Central Office by Light Brigadingrun by for-profit charter corporations; essentially, school boards would be “selling” the students to private corporations. This is exactly what could occur in York City, Pennsylvania, if the school board approves a takeover in November.

Two out-of-state corporations are competing to take over the city’s public schools. As the board reviews proposals from Charter Schools USA and Mosaica Education, parents, teachers, and York community members are urging York City School Board members to reject the bids. Before the board held its meeting September 17, protest marches occurred outside the administration building, with participants then attending the meeting.

In a news report by Melanie Orlins, York City School Board President Margie Orr said she welcomed the people who turned out to share their concerns because the community needs to let the board know how they feel. According to Orr, “the district is revisiting the option to go all-charter because it can’t come to a contract agreement with the teacher’s union.”

Teachers and union members, however, pointed out that the state’s education cuts harmed the students and the district and put their jobs in jeopardy. York City is just one of the districts affected by Tom Corbett’s education cuts during his tenure as governor. In fact, according to a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog, “the corporate takeover experiment is being pushed by the York City School District’s chief recovery officer, an appointee of Gov. Tom Corbett, who falsely claims this is the district’s only hope in the face of financial challenges.”

Teacher and York City Education Association member Clovis Gallon explained, “Governor Corbett has starved York’s public schools of needed resources, and now his appointed chief recovery officer is blaming the city’s schools for not providing children with a rich enough educational diet. What York schools really need is for state lawmakers to reverse the Corbett funding cuts.” Gallon went on to say, “Local taxpayers and elected officials should be making decisions about the education of York’s children – not an out-of-state corporation with its eye on the bottom line.”

The district is looking for an increase in academic performance, but the protesters don’t believe charters are the answer. A member of the York City Education Association, Janice Laird pointed out a problem with the charter takeover: “If a for-profit charter like Mosaica comes in like they did in Muskgon, Michigan, and comes in and walks away after 2 years from a 5 year contract, where does that leave our community, our kids?”

Another rally is planned for Wednesday, September 24 at the Hannah Penn K-8 School, as the school board will hear more information from the charter schools at the Charter School Presentation for the Community Education Council. The march will take place from 5:30 – 6:30pm, with the meeting beginning at 6:30pm. For more information, contact Clovis Gallon (clo95@hotmail.com) or Lauri Rakoff (lrakoff@psea.org).

With all of the hubbub on the political scene as Tom Corbett desperately attempts to win back voters before the November election, it is important to view the ads put out by Corbett’s camp with a critical eye. Governor Corbett has not been a friend to public education since he took office nearly four years ago. Now, he is claiming in television ads that he is not to blame for the education cuts and that he in fact has raised education funding “to the highest level ever.” Really? There clearly is a trend in Corbett’s education cuts over the past three years:

  • “Corbett takes ax to education spending: public schools face 8 percent cut and teachers would see pay freeze, with future raises tied to performance” – The Morning Call, 3.8.11
  • “Corbett cuts deep into education: Governor’s first budget chops $1 billion for schools, money for colleges by half” – Pocono Record, 3.9.11
  • “Nearly 70 percent of Pa. school districts increased class sizes, survey shows” – PennLive, 9.16.11
  • “Corbett’s Education Cuts Define the State of His State” – Democratic Governors Association, 2.3.14
  • “Survey of School Districts Says Property Taxes Likely to Keep Rising” – TribLive, 6.5.14
  • “Tepid Job Growth” – Intelligencer Journal/New Era, 9.1.14 (this article points to the loss of teachers since Corbett took office: “education cuts led to the loss of 27,000 jobs)

We have seen increased class sizes. We have seen schools cutting positions. We have seen teachers taking pay freezes. We have seen cuts to physical education, Stop School Budget Cuts by John Stavelyart, and music classes. We have seen schools combining administrative positions, leaving buildings without leaders on a consistent basis. We have seen school libraries darken their doors as librarians and library assistants are shared between several buildings or have been cut all together. We have seen these things in districts all across Pennsylvania since Governor Corbett took office.

Sadly, now we see one of the most damaging effects of the Corbett administration: a potential takeover of York City Public Schools by private corporations intending to profit from the education of York schoolchildren.

We’ve seen enough, Governor Corbett. We know better than to vote for you this November.

Images via Flickr by Light Brigading and John Stavely

Our Kids Are Not For Sale: The Danger in Challenging Pearson

This is the first of many in our new Our Kids Are Not For Sale series. It is a sad day, indeed, when we need to come together to figure out a way to let our administrators, state and federal leaders, ed reformers, and big business CEOs know that we are not going to sell our kids to the highest bidder, in the name of education.

The Backstory

Dr. Walter Stroup is more than likely a name you’ve never heard, but it should be. In a September 3 Observer article, Jason Stanford brought Stroup’s story to light. A tenured associate professor in the University of Texas College of Education, who earned his doctorate in education from Harvard University, Stroup was celebrated by Texas lawmakers and earned a National Science Foundation grant for his work with a cloud-computing simulation designed to teach kids math. His work with the program, called the Algebra Project, was the reason UT recruited him initially. And, Texas Instruments asked him to use its TI Navigator calculator to work with the younger students who had failed the state math tests.

By 2006, he had implemented the math curriculum at a Dallas-area middle school with “impressive results.” The lawmakers and teachers were happy. But, Stroup knew that he needed to measure the improvements to show just how successful his methods had been. He used the tests available to him, the state’s math tests, but when the scores came back, the kids’ scores Math Fact Test by Judy Baxterhad risen a mere 10%. The test results certainly didn’t match what he had observed in the classrooms, or what the teachers’ expectations were.

Stroup decided to put the tests to the test. He determined, after entering every Texas student’s math score, that 72% of the test scores remained the same, regardless of the student’s grade or the subject being tested. In fact, if a math question were replaced with a science question, a student’s score wouldn’t be affected. Stroup concluded that the tests do not actually measure what the kids learn in the classroom; rather, they test how well kids can take the tests. Stroup went to the hearings before the Texas legislature in June of 2012 prepared to share his results and to testify that the state had signed a $468 million contract with Pearson to deliver the tests when all they were getting was the wrong testing tool.

As Diane Ravitch points out in her blog post, Stroup did the unimaginable. He challenged Pearson publicly, before its financial supporters and the world. Even though, two months earlier, in April, the American Statistical Association had condemned the use of student test scores to rate teacher performance because teachers account for only 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, Pearson worked behind the scenes and out of the public’s eye to discredit Stroup. According to Pearson, Stroup mislabeled a column on his spreadsheet. Stanford’s article points to a public statement by Dr. Walter “Denny” Way, senior vice president for measurement services at Pearson, that states the tests are only 50% “insensitive” to instruction. This was a glaring confession by Pearson; essentially, Dr. Way admitted that Pearson sells products knowing they don’t measure half of what goes on in a classroom.

The Aftermath

Stanford reports that Dr. Stroup’s tenure now is in jeopardy. During his Post-Tenure Review Report, Stroup was given an unsatisfactory rating. He was accused of publishing too little and presenting too seldom, but he had conducted four conference presentations, and he had done the cloud-computing work. Eventually, UT changed his rating to “does not meet expectations,” put him on an aggressive publishing schedule, and forced him to move his office three times. This all should be alarming, because the University of Texas recruited him for the very work he presented before the legislature.

The problem is, Pearson is a benefactor of UT College of Education. The Pearson Foundation created a $1 million endowment at the College of Education, which resulted in the Pearson Center for Applied Psychometric Research. Their endowment funded an endowed professorship and an endowed faculty fellowship, and Pearson seems to be funding itsMoney by 401kcalculator nonprofit through its parent company at the University of Texas, as it did in New York (and for which it was fined $7.7 million, according to Ravitch).

Meanwhile, Dr. Sharon Vaughn, the H. E. Hartfelder/Southland Corp. Regents Chair and executive director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at the University of Texas College of Education simultaneously is consulting for Pearson Learning. Pearson also published an e-textbook written by Vaughn. Now, she’s presenting Pearson’s iLit. A webinar featuring Vaughn was moderated by John Guild, senior product and marketing manager for Pearson Lit. It appears as though UT’s Pearson Center is doing quite a bit of promotional work for Pearson, while Dr. Stroup is being pushed out of the University.

The Takeaways

I am appalled by this news both as a parent and as a teacher. At TRUTH In Teaching, we keep reading and sharing articles about how much money Pearson is making, about how politicians are getting involved in the “business of school,” about how ed reformers want to privatize public education in this country to make even more money, and the news just keeps getting worse and worse for our kids. I don’t even know where to begin with my outrage. There are so many things these articles tell me…

  • Pearson may stop at nothing to grow its profits
  • When colleges of education are in bed with Pearson, future generations of teachers already are buying into the testing culture and data reporting on which Pearson relies
  • Higher-ed institutions are under the control of big business
  • Pearson’s nonprofits and for-profits are one in the same entity
  • Pearson will admit that its tests do not test children’s knowledge, yet they continue to peddle to states and schools – worse yet, the states and schools continue to buy into the Pearson machine
  • Because Pearson knows that it is testing how well kids take a test, they sell more materials to states and schools to prepare kids to take their tests – can you say, “Monopoly”?
  • Teachers, under fire for their kids’ test scores, cancel field trips and engaging learning activities and replace them with Pearson-produced worksheets and test prep books to get them ready to take the tests
  • Teachers have to teach a whole new set of vocabulary to get kids ready for the test (conclude, passage, analyze, argument paper, etc.)

This era of business-dominated politics and education must come to an end. The days of subjecting students to testing that does not measure anything of value must stop. Pearson is attempting to buy education, and state legislatures are allowing it to happen.

Go to school board meetings. Talk to other teachers. Learn about opting out. No matter how we do it, we need to let all of the decision makers know Our Kids Are Not For Sale!

Test Image via Flickr by Judy Baxter
Money Image via Flickr by 401kcalculator