Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home


Commentaries

With Malign Intent

What’s Behind the Drive for Standardized Testing

Posted: 2008-11-10

This report is an expanded version of a speech
given by Steven Miller on November 1, 2008.
The speech was part of a public forum on "How
Standardized Tests are Ruining Public Education"
that took place at the Lansdowne Campus of
Camosun College in Victoria, Canada.



It is a great honor to be able to present today.

British Columbia teachers are the most steadfast

defenders of public education in the English-

speaking Americas. Your Charter for Public

Education (www.charter.publiced.ca) is a profound

and beautiful statement about what public

education should be.



I really donât think we in the US have much to

contribute about how to fight. But we do have

lots of experience to offer about what happens if

you donât fight.



The US was the first country to establish free,

universal public education. The entire world

followed suit to one degree or another. It now

threatens to be the first to end it.



The process of privatization does not occur

openly. It appears differently in every city,

taking myriad forms. It raises dozens of

complicated issues and many emotions. This hides

both the Big Picture and the critical issue of

Intent, leaving teachers and parents confused and

unable to unite in defense of public education.

Testing is central in this campaign.



The great state universities of the US were

already privatized in the â90s. The University of

California, the Universities of Illinois,

Virginia etc all receive more of their funding

today from corporations than they do from state

governments. Now huge corporations are moving

rapidly to seize control of K12 public education.

The private market that feasts off the public

schools is already over a trillion dollars a

year. Believe me, they do not intend to stop with

only part of the pie.



The result of the struggle against privatization

will determine whether public education becomes a

right or whether it devolves into being a

commodity.



Letâs clarify first the issue of Intent. When the

corporate agenda begins to take over, peoplesâ

first response is shock (though hopefully not

awe). Most people wind up telling themselves,

âThis doesnât seem right. So why are they doing

it?â Something just doesnât seem right, but

people are unclear on exactly what it is.



For example, a big trend in the States is to

increase kindergarden to make it an all day

class. And the little kids donât get any naps!

How could this be justified? Of course the first

thing we are told is that it is all about the

kids. Then you find out that they canât take naps

because they need the afternoon to practice their

test-taking skills! How, pray, does this help

children? This policy is completely age

inappropriate.



The privatization campaigns are a cynical attempt

to play on the very justified anger of Central

City parents at their historically disadvantaged

schools. Schools in California, according to a

report from Stanford University, have been under-

funded by over a trillion dollars in the last 30

years. (See âGetting Down to Factsâ

(www.ewa.org/library/docs/getting_down_to_facts.p

df) So this anger is very justified, even as the

real intent towards privatization is hidden.

After all, they keep telling us that

privatization is good for everyone.



Hereâs how Merrill Lynch described the corporate

offensive in their April 9, 1999 report called

"The Book of Knowledge: Investing in the Growing

Education and Training Industry":



"A new mindset is necessary, one that views

families as customers, schools as retail outlets

where educational services are received, and the

school board as a customer service department

that hears and address parental concerns".

(Compton and Weiner, The Global Assault on

Teachers, Teaching and Teacher Unions. 2008. P 4)



In Oakland, where I teach, district officials

have called themselves "CEOs", principals are

touted as "Entrepreneurs", schools are "revenue

centers" and students are "test-takers".

My small high school â only 260 students â and

the most successful in Oakland by both test

scores and more authentic measures - is in danger

of being closed because the students "do not

generate enough revenue to sustain the budget".



This is how these people talk to themselves.



Back in the â90s, Edward Luttwak, a champion of

the free market described the agenda this way. He

could be describing public school policy for the

US today:



"At present, almost all the elite Americans, with

corporate chiefs and fashionable economists in

the lead are utterly convinced that they have

discovered the winning formula for economic

success â the only formula â good for every

country, rich or poor, good for all individuals

willing and able to heed the message, and of

course, good for elite Americans: PRIVATIZATION

+ DEREGULATION + GLOBALIZATION = TURBO-

CAPITALISM = PROSPERITY". (Thomas Frank, One

Market, Under God, 2000. p 17)



Well, you have to give Turbo-Capitalism credit.

In the US, as comedian Wanda Sykes has so

accurately stated, broke people just bailed out

the rich people to a tune of $700 billion!



This statement is a clear statement of Intent to

privatize everything, every thing of nature,

every human relationship, to broker every aspect

of human society under the market â with access

only for a price.



Behind such wondrous proclamations, the so-called

"free market" line stands revealed as nothing

more than a fig leaf for corporate crime. This is

the real name for the savage policies of Neo-

Liberalism that have forced country after country

to eliminate social services even as they turn

public resources over to corporations, usually

for zero compensation. This has been a world-

historic transfer of wealth from the poor to the

very rich.



This $700 billion is money that should have been

used for the public: to cover health care, to

provide educational programs, to protect the

environment. The final ignominy is many of the

1.3 families who so far have lost their houses

will not be permitted to vote in Tuesdayâs

election - they donât have addresses.



New Orleans showed what this new world offers its

people. The tragedy wasnât so much the storm as

the response. More federal troops were used in

New Orleans than anywhere in the US since the

Civil War. Their mission was to guarantee the

vast privatization of government services -

including firing every public school teacher -

and opening up boutique public schools for the

rich, while the poor are slammed into under-

funded charter schools.



No one spoke this Intent out loud. However, just

look at what happened. There can be no doubt than

privatization was imposed both politically and

militarily. The federal government guaranteed the

privatization. Thatâs good for investment and

financial speculation, even if it doesnât work

real well for people.



Central to "turbo-capitalism" was the idea of

"securitization". This is the process of taking

individual assets, like your house or a mortgage

or the number of times you go to the doctor, and

bundling them into large aggragates that can be

speculated upon for profit. Securitization is

also applied to carbon admissions, water flow and

even DNA. We all know that the country of Iceland

just went broke. A decade ago they sold the

countryâs DNA to a private corporation.



BCTF's outstanding researcher, Larry Keuhn, has

shown that that Test scores have been earmarked

for securitization since the Canada-US Free Trade

Agreement of 1988 officially established test

scores as tradeable services or commodities

(Larry Kuehn. "The Educational World is Not Flat"

in Compton, Weiner sited above).



Test scores are included as tradeable commodities

in NFTA and every international treaty on trade

since that time. While they still havenât quite

figured out how to set all this up, these legal

treaties are a clear statement of Intent.



Lehman Brothers managing director, Mary Tanner,

stated at their first conference on privatization

in 1996:



"Education today, like health care 30 years ago,

is a vast, highly localized industry ripe for

change. The emergence of HMOs and hospital

management companies created enormous

opportunities for investors. We believe the same

pattern will occur in education." (Barbara Miner.

"For-Profits Target Education," Rethinking

Schools, Spring, 2002, p 2)



Health Care in the US is the most expensive and

least productive in the world. It is also the

most profitable for corporations. How did this

occur? Back in the â90s, industrial groups

starting publishing "standards" for hospitals.

Then they measured hospitals, both public and

private, as to how they were "meeting the

standards". These results were then published in

the newspapers.



Of course, public hospitals can never "achieve"

at the same level as private hospitals. Their

clientele are completely different. Public

hospitals treat mainly poor people who delay

treatment and come in later. They can never match

up to the "same level of achievement" as private

hospitals. But publishing the results created a

public furor that corporations used to take over

public hospitals and make them into private

institutions.



We are witnessing the same tactic today in the

corporate demand that schools should meet

"standards". This effort is embodied in the drive

towards standardized testing. There's nothing

wrong with setting standards and goals for

education. But corporations always use the so-

called scientific standards to privatize. In the

US medical care has always been private, Public

schools have always been part of local

government. So the same old game is being played

once again.



How do you create an education market anyway?



Frederick Hess analyzes education policy for the

Business Roundtable. This organization centers

the corporate agenda, just as does the Canadian

Council of CEOs. This organization is not just

another policy group. They have powerful status

on Wall Street.



"There are steps that would make K-12 schooling

more attractive to for-profit investment,

triggering a significant infusion of money to

support research, development and creative

problem-solving. For one, imposing clear

standards for judging educational effectiveness

would reassure investors that ventures will be

less subject to political brickbats and better

positioned to succeed if demonstrably effective.

A more performance-based environment enables

investors to assess risk in a more informed,

rational manner".(Educational

Entrepreneurship: Realities, Challenges,

Possibilities,
2006, edited by Fredrick M

Hess, p 252)



"In sum, NCLB represents an enormous challenge to

the status quo in public education and has the

potential to create a major opening for

entrepreneurs inside and outside of the public

system. Since NCLB passed, a large number of

schools across the country have been identified

as âin need of improvementâ for failing to meet

AYP targets". (Educational

Entrepreneurship
. p 80)





Michael Petrilli, former member of the Department

of Education under Bush, stated "We want as

little regulation as possible so the market can

be as vibrant as possible." ("Bush Profiteers

Collect Billions From NCLB", Daily Kos, March,

30, 2007).



Project Censored has called the story of

profiteering from public education one of the

most censored stories of 2008.



Frederick Hess provides a very interesting

definition of an entrepreneur: "⦠educational

entrepreneurs are individuals seeking too

instigate change in the public education system

that will disrupt, transform or radically change

the way education is provided. These individuals

no doubt seek some individual reward beyond

profits, but their activities necessarily extend

into facilitating⦠(the)⦠creative destruction in

the larger system." ( Frederick M Hess, ed.

Educational Entrepreneurship. P 46).



In Oakland, the schools are run by the Oakland

Unified School District. Unified school districts

exist in the thousands across the US. The

corporate agenda has systematically served to

DIS-unify our public schools, closing schools,

creating charter schools and often embezzling

lots of public money in the process. New Orleans,

for example, now has over 50 different school

districts, one for each charter school, each with

different policies and standards.



So No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is credited with

creating the education market for entrepreneurs

who claim they can do a better job than public

schools AND make a profit. NCLB inforces

standardized testing and high-stakes testing. Are

there other indicators of a malign intent here?



1) NCLB was never funded. It requires states,

school districts and even individual schools to

take pay for the increased demands. Once a school

is in the "program improvement" category for 4

years, the school must take money out of the

classroom and turn it over to privatizers (the

first year this is for after-school programs).



This is the classic model: underfund government

services, tout private corporations as saviors

and then turn the money over to them.



The real intent is shown by this one simple but

unalterable fact. If the goal were to help poor

children, then money would flow towards them,

rather than be taken from them.



2) Secondly, the US really has two separate

school systems. The suburban schools are the best

in the world. The inner-city schools are among

the worst. This of course is apartheid education.

But NCLB is truly insidious here. The threat of

NCLB â what forces schools to comply with its

demands - is that the federal government will

withhold Title I money. This money is to support

poor children.



While this threat is crippling to inner-city

schools, with high percentages of poor children,

it means very little to suburban schools. They

usually have dramatically fewer poor students, so

the threat is quite significant. Moreover,

suburban schools routinely hold fund-raisers,

like a Dadâs Pancake Breakfast, that raise

hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. This of

course is impossible for most inner city schools.



3) Californiaâs CST test that provides each

school with a number that is supposed to show how

well the school is succeeding. The CAHSEE Test is

the high-stakes test that is used as the measure

of the students. Like every other standardized

test, the scores are not set by psychometircians

and statistics experts. They are determined by

politicians. (Yes, these are the very same

politicians who always refuse to take these tests

when challenged to do so).



Both students with documented Special Education

needs and students who are new to learning the

English language must take and pass these tests

or they cannot graduate. How exactly does this

help these students? Such a use of testing is

neither moral, nor educationally sound.



What would happen if, on the first day of school,

you brought your child to class and met the

teacher, and that teacher told you that your

childâs future would be determined by a one

number score that your child achieved on a test

in April? You would raise a hue and cry and drive

that teacher out of the school. Yet, with the

âofficial trappingsâ of government, that is

exactly what standardized testing proposes to do.



In his important essay about standardized testing

("The Case Against Standardized Testing"

(www.mcte.org/journal/mej07/3Henry.pdf), Peter

Henry points out that about the only thing that

these supposedly "scientific" tests can predict

is the square footage of the test-takers'

principle living space. This of course reflects

their socio-economic status. Though it is beyond

the scope of this discussion, it is important to

understand Henry's point about how unscientific

these tests are.



"Let me say this again because it is terribly

important: There are no large-scale, peer-

reviewed academic studies that prove, or even

suggest, that a high-stakes, standardized testing

educational program improves learning, skill

development or achievement for students." (p 45)



Standardized testing alone has siphoned off some

$5.3 billion dollars a year in windfall corporate

profits. This type of testing, then, is central

to the rise of the "educational market" and

inevitable paves the way for privatization.



Worldwide, governments spend more money on public

education than on any other item, except perhaps

for the military. Privatizing public education

means the greatest single transfer of public

wealth into private hands perhaps in world

history.



In reality, public education has never been about

the kids. Our public schools have always been

structured to serve the labor market.



In 1900, 50%+ of the US population worked in

farms. The educational system was designed to

support what a rural workforce needed to know in

order to work and produce. This gave us summer

vacation, so the kids could help bring in the

crop on the family farm.



By the 1920s, assembly-line industry was rising

and public education was configured to create an

industrial workforce. By 1950, 50% of the US

population worked in industry and the âfactory

schoolâ was in place. Students were considered

parts on an assembly line that moved from station

to station, or from period to period throughout

the day, where the workers or teachers could

shape them.



OK, time for the quiz. The following statement

was made by New York City Superintendent of

Schools, William H. Maxwell. What year was it?



"â¦as a first step, to secure their ends, they

(the manufacturers - ed) and their agents, in

unmeasured terms, denounced the public schools as

being behind the times, as inefficient, as

lacking in public spirit." (Raymond E Callahan.

Education and the Cult of Efficiency.

1962, p 13)



The correct answer, of course, is⦠1913! At that

point assembly lines demanded changes in the way

workmen were trained that were qualitatively

different than the old apprentice system for

training skilled artisans. Corporations attacked

public schools across the country until they put

a system in place that trained the workers they

needed â at no cost to themselves.



By 2000, the computer was the rising technology

and today 50% of the US workforce works in

various computer assisted âservicesâ. The

industrial system of education is today becoming

outmoded by technological change to electronics.



New technology always leads to a transformation

of the educational system. The question is not

whether that system will change, but how. This

depends on who controls the technology.



Computers, telecommunication and digital

technology today are being configured a certain

way. Since they are inherently LABOR-REPLACING

technologies, they are being used by corporations

to create a global system of computerized

production that means that hundreds of millions

of people will no longer be able to work. This is

already taking place. Look at what has happened

to Michigan, Ohio and Central Los Angeles.



The system of education is in the process of

being configured to support this kind of

workforce. Corporations are quite clear; why

should they pay to educate people who will never

be allowed to work? The de-skilling of the global

workforce inevitably means the de-skilling of the

teaching profession.



The global goal for education is to create humans

who can read simple directions, rather than

novels, who have a basic sense of numeracy,

rather than the skills of mathematical thinking,

and above all to create people who will believe

in corporations and follow orders in a docile

fashion.



Hence, corporate privatizers rely on scripted-

learning, rather than creating the rich and

rewarding curricula that is common in private

schools. They pressure older teachers to leave,

those who understand that teaching is about care

and judgement, rather than standardized testing,

and replace them with young people who havenât

been trained as teachers, who will teach to the

test, and who will work for a lot less.



Standardized testing is the beginning of the

process, not the end. Now we are seeing new

stages and new demands and now these are being

imposed. Across the board, they conform to the

corporate agenda and reduce the quality of

education. This is a necessity if you are to make

a profit from public schools.



This year, NYC began to implement differential

pay for teachers, by using âmerit payâ to reward

teachers who demonstrate their "value-added" by

an increase in their studentsâ test scores. This

program is in various stages of implementation

across the country.



Now new forms of testing are being pushed into

every school district in our country. These are

corporate-written and corporate-assessed mid-term

tests called Benchmark Tests. They are coupled to

"Pacing Guides", written by the textbook

companies, that purport to guide the teacher

through the curriculum by dictating what should

be taught each day.



These tests are supposed to be "formative

assessments", meaning that they help the teacher

adjust the curriculum based on what kids are

learning or not learning. Along with every other

testing issue, the idea of formative assessment

is not a bad thing in itself. But the idea that

corporations are should control this process is

sheer nonsense for at least two reasons.



Firstly, any teacher, worth their salt, already

knows where each child is in the learning

process. Teachers assess students every day in

multiple ways. Secondly, if teachers do not have

primary control over content, there cannot be, by

definition, any real formative assessment, since

they cannot deviate significantly from the Pacing

Guide. Classroom teachers are losing their

autonomy to evaluate their students or to design

engaging curricula. Elementary schools in Oakland

now test up to 8 or 9 times a semester.



Testing then is one of the major weapons for

privatizing public schools. It is the key to re-

organizing the schools of the world to fit Turbo-

Capitalism in the electronic age.



Corporations are quite clear â in their own words

â about the issue of testing and its relationship

to privatization. If we lose this battle, we will

lose public education.



We dare not shrink from this challenge. Private

corporations are engineering a massive change in

society without any real public discussion and

debate. Letâs open up the discussion about what

kind of society people really need.



Corporations are also quite clear that the

Industrial System of economy, that has dominated

the world for some 200 years, is ending. They

consider this a business opportunity and intend

to get their first. The campaign to privatize

public education by corporations â the most

powerful institutions on earth â cannot be taken

lightly.



The attack determines and informs our response.

If the corporate agenda is to privatize

everything and eliminate the public, then our

response must be to defend and expand the public

in all directions. If people really want things

to remain public, they are going to have to fight

for it.



If the Neo-liberals are telling us that âearning

a livingâ is obsolete, that all routine work will

be done by computers, telecommunications and

computer chips, that there are no more jobs. then

thatâs OK with me. Routine work never paid jack

anyway. But why does this have to mean we are all

"laid off"? Maybe we need to re-think what "work"

really means and what it means "to have a job".



There can be no doubt, that for the price of the

Wall Street bailout, the same electronic

technology could be configured to put people

before profits. If the market guarantees the

power of the private and, by definition,

inequality, then the Public is the only guarantee

of equality.



In order to win, we will have to transform our

public schools into something completely new; we

must fight FORWARD, not backwards. The old system

didnât work for most people anyway⦠and it still

doesnât. It just wasn't very good. If the Bail

Out means anything, it certainly means that we

canât succeed by calling for the good old days to

return.



Our fight must be based on a new vision of a

future where access to quality education is truly

a right for all â one that is supported by vast

funding, where public education is marked by

achieving our full human potential, and where

public education is no longer subordinated to the

paltry vision of a labor market that profits from

exploitation and deliberately under-educates and

mis-educates our peoples.



More Commentaries


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.