I want to be very clear: I support what I believe to be Rick Stiggins' vision of assessment. I am a fan of his book "Revolutionize Assessment: Empower Students, Inspire Learning". In that book, Stiggins talks about his experience as a child who was a struggling reader about how very discouraging it was for him to be continually labeled as failing; how he finally believed in himself as a learner after joining the service and being given tasks in small chunks during training, which allowed him to experience success and eventually master the larger task at hand. In that book he disagrees with many of the policies promoted by corporate reformers, such as over reliance on standardized test scores as measures of student, teacher, and school performance and achievement. And he says that students and teachers must be empowered by the assessment process. I could go on about all the things he says in this book that I love, but that isn't the point.
I want to be very clear that our protest was not against Rick Stiggins or the assessment system that he has been working to develop at the state level in cooperation with many actual Oregon teachers, at least on of whom is a personal friend. I am in favor of that system, provided we can also get rid of the inappropriate focus on a single summative year end test. This protest was against Pearson, Inc. Pearson has come to dominate the global education market. They are responsible for the disaster that is the PARCC assessment. They are set to cash in on sales of "Common Core aligned" curriculum to our schools, which are currently unable to fund basics like art, music and physical education. They have lobbyists all over Washington, DC. And they are making billions in profits.
Although they are principally responsible for PARCC, Smarter Balanced (SBAC) is not untouched by Pearson. Pearson and AIR (with whom Oregon contracts) and a few other companies that want to cash in on the testing scam are suing each other all over the US for who has the right to our money, money that should be spent on those basics I mentioned above, along with reducing class size. They are all fighting for a piece of the pie, and by pie I mean billions of our tax dollars. That is why corporate reformers insist that every single child must be tested every single year for "systems accountability". Even though sampling as NAEP does, or grade span testing, would achieve the same sort of systems accountability they say they want, it wouldn't produce the massive revenue of testing every single child in America annually.
The Oregonian called our protest "an unlikely target". But Pearson is a very appropriate target, and not an unusual one. Fortune magazine recently published an article titled, "Everybody hates Pearson". And with good reason. They are promoting and attempting to profit from Bill Gates unproven theory that the Common Core and market forces are what education needs. And they are trying to corner the market on products, something some would refer to as "monopolizing" (again, something Pearson and Bill Gates have in common) which I believe is still on the books as illegal in America, even if de facto it is increasingly allowed to go on since the Citizens United decision announced to us that corporations are people.
Here are my opening remarks from our two state protest against corporate greed and the privatization of our schools. And to Rick Stiggins, sorry if you walked into the crossfire. We weren't aiming at you. Our target is much, much bigger.
"We are here today to protest the undue influence Pearson, Inc. has in our nation’s schools. Pearson is a global, monopolistic giant of education products based in the United Kingdom. And as you may know, Pearson partnered with The Gates Foundation as early as 2011 to develop curriculum and software based on the Common Core standards. Those standards were adopted largely thanks to financial backing by monopolist Bill Gates who has used his vast wealth to influence our government, our national teachers’ associations and our national PTA, to name just a few. Classrooms across the country are now filled with curriculum provided by Pearson, bought with money that could have been used to reduce class sizes or return the arts, music and PE to our schools instead of implementing the unproven CCS.
In 2011, Chris Tebben, the past executive director of Grantmakers for Education here in Portland spoke to Education Week about Gates and Pearson’s partnership:
She said, “I’m hearing more of this kind of market-based thinking going on now,” She said that teaming up with a large company can help foundations “scale up their solutions,” but it also raises questions. Arrangements involving one major company, such as Pearson, can raise questions of “advantaging one company. The primary mission of a foundation is trying to improve outcomes for kids, and the mission of a for-profit might well overlap with that, but there’s also the overlay of generating financial returns,” she said. “So you have to make sure that what’s good for kids is the objective that carries the day.”
We do not believe that what is good for kids has been carrying the day since then. Pearson and one or two other companies are now vying for control of a monopoly on the sale of Common Core curriculum products and tests to our schools.
There’s been a massive advertising campaign underway to convince people that CCS will be the savior of public education, and these companies want to sell us the products that’ll do the saving. But the rhetoric that the standards are “more rigorous” and will make all students “college and career ready” remind me of promises like “fresher scent” and “more flavor”: they are meaningless slogans with no basis in fact, being used as nothing more than a sales pitch.
This week, Pearson is sponsoring a workshop here in Portland about assessment. There is a broad coalition of parents, teachers and students in Oregon, Washington and across the country that are tired of “achievement” meaning a score on a single test and “assessment” meaning SBAC or PARCC. This week, Nancy Golden, Oregon’s Chief Education Officer, representing the soon to be defunct OEIB, will be speaking at Pearson’s conference. There has been movement towards a more authentic way of assessing Oregon’s students, and many teachers have worked on that new system of assessment at the state level. But we want those assessments to be developed and scored by teachers, not sold to us and scored by Pearson or any other testing corporation! We want decisions about curriculum and instruction put back in the schools, with the parents and teachers who know our children best. And we need Dr. Golden to hear that message loud and clear.
We are tired of one size fits all. This does not serve our special education students nor our talented and gifted students. It does not benefit our diverse group of students who would like to see their own cultures studied and represented in their schools. ¡Y no valen nada estos examenes solamente en ingles para evaluar a nuestros estudiantes bilingues! You cannot test a developing bilingual child in English only and know anything about his ability to read, reason and infer! This does not benefit any of our students! The only people who benefit from a system like that are giant publishers like Pearson, which can then mass produce a single product and not have to tailor anything to what the people who use their products actually want or need.
Let’s take back our schools from the corporations and monopolizers."
"The more things change, the more they stay the same." ~ translated from Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr