Beware of Foundations Bearing Gifts
Again, this all sounds wonderful in theory. But let's have a look at what this means in practice.
MAP tests are computer based and, according to the technological requirements (pdf) on the NWEA site, they require an individual workstation for each student taking the test. Even in Greenwich, one of the the wealthier and well-equipped districts in the state, I've heard concerns about adequate technological resources to administer the SBAC tests when they are implemented. To achieve this, schools will have to set aside much-needed resources -- in addition to staff, for proctoring -- such as the computer labs and libraries for extended periods of time to allow the test to be administered. These facilities are needed for other purposes with actual educational merit.
Then there's the cost. I didn't receive an answer to my request for information from Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor's office, so I can only go from the experience in other districts where MAP testing was implemented. Here's a post from the Seattle Education Blog about how it went down in their city after a similar grant from the Gates Foundation:
Being a billionaire doesn't make you an educator, or even an expert on education. But it does give you undue influence. As Valerie Strauss reported in the Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog, The Gates Foundation spent over $3.5 million to start a front group -- "Communities for Teaching Excellence" -- in order to to "win public approval for the foundation's investment of more than $335 million in teacher effectiveness programs in four school districts that involve controversial initiatives including linking teacher pay to student standardized test scores." The organization has since closed its doors because, as former Board Chairwoman Amy Wilkins pointed out, "Gates was such a big part of the funding . . . That made some of the partners and other funders nervous. How do you look like an independent actor? You have to show broad public support so you're not seen as a phony-baloney front for Gates."
Phony-baloney front indeed.
But let's not single out the Gates Foundation for bearing the Trojan Horse of the Education Reform movement. They've got company with the Broad Foundation. Just this week, after the Education Law Center filed an Open Public Records Act request, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration was forced to reveal the terms of a $430,000 grant from the the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. One of the more disturbing terms of the grant was that it was conditional on Christie remaining the governor of the state.
According to the Star-Ledger, there were other curious provisions in the grant, including lengthy provisions about secrecy, to the point that if the Christie administration were required by law to make the document public, it was required to let the Broad Foundation know first "so that TBF may contest the disclosure and or/seek a protective order." Perhaps the Broad Foundation folks were worried New Jersey parents might not like some of their "benchmarks." For example, "the percent of high quality public charter schools in New Jersey, as measured by [the New Jersey Department of Education's] definition of high quality, will increase by 50 percent by 2014-15." After all, shouldn't elected legislators make such decisions, rather than foundations controlled by opinionated billionaires in deals shrouded by secrecy?
The news media owes it to the state's residents to do some actual journalism instead of just regurgitating press releases. After all, our kids’ futures -- and the future economic health of our nation -- are at stake.
Gov. Malloy has made his position clear: "I'll settle for teaching to the test if it means raising scores."
Here's another point of view from Henry Rollins:
Or, as I quoted in my college application essay all those years ago: "A child is not a vase to be filled, but a fire to be lit." Are these billionaires afraid of lighting fires of genuine intellectual curiosity and learning?
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.
Sarah Darer Littman
FAIR USE NOTICE
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.