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With Malign Intent

What’s Behind the Drive for Standardized Testing

Publication Date: 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.


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