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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Outing ACT: Test-and-Punish Doesn't Educate, but It's Profitable for Testing Companies

From Truth-Out:
Outing ACT: Test-and-Punish Doesn't Educate, but It's Profitable for Testing Companies Friday, 07 September 2012 00:00
By Susan Ohanian and Marion Brady, Truthout | News Analysis

A key point from the article. It discusses the hard and soft parts of the Gates Foundation thinking on education "reform":
The Gates theory? America's schools were "soft"; they needed to be "hard" - rigorous.

The "soft" part of the theory wasn't based on research, didn't emerge from public dialogue, wasn't a conclusion reached by knowledgeable observers, and certainly wasn't a view held by those actually doing the work - classroom teachers.

The "hard," or rigor, part of the theory has now been in place long enough to demonstrate that it doesn't work. A report from the National Academy of Sciences says what even longtime fans of the test-and-punish school of reform now admit: it's been a fiasco. Specifically, the National Academy of Sciences finds, "The tests that are typically used to increase performance in education fall short in providing a complete measure of desired educational outcomes."

Never mind all that. The sales pitch for the need for tough love has been phenomenally successful. The idea that greater rigor will breathe new life into American education has become the conventional wisdom, promoted by liberals and conservatives, the leaders of both political parties, the US Department of Education, the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Center for American Progress, Democrats for Education Reform, the Gates, Broad and Walton Family foundations, and by the producers of educational materials. They quote each other and the media echo chamber amplifies it.

Not surprisingly, ACT Inc., formerly known as American College Testing, is a major player in the rigor push. Over $8 million in grants from the Gates Foundation ensures that the rigor message gets to where it counts most - the tests to which teachers must teach if they want to keep their jobs. The company's report, "Raising the Bar: A Baseline for College and Career Readiness in Our Nation's High School Core Courses," released in July 2012, was funded by the Gates Foundation. And wouldn't you know, ACT helped write the very standards by which it made its own assessment in the "Raising the Bar" report.

Scare tactics drive the rigor message. ACT's August 20, 2012, media advisorythe accompanying the release of this year's test scores provides a window into an assault on public education few people really understand.

"60 Percent of 2012 High School Graduates At Risk of Not Succeeding in College and Career" reads the headline. It was picked up verbatim by media across the country in reporting that showed no hint of shame at its continuing failure to check facts.

The message: "America is in big trouble. Be afraid. Scores must be raised. How? Well, ACT, Inc. sells test prep materials; ACT sells curriculum programs starting in elementary school, getting kids ready for a test that is given in 11th grade. Buy the materials to prepare for the test ACT sells. Worried parents can sign up for a monthly ACT newsletter telling them that "research shows that a large majority of 8th graders" simply aren't ready for college.
The authors close:
Here's an alternative to the rigor theory: American education is in crisis because institutional inertia, bureaucracy and policymaking in the hands of education amateurs in state legislatures and Washington who are beholden to corporate interests have locked in a 19th-century curriculum and all the baggage that goes with it. That relic of a bygone era isn't up to the challenge, and pursuing it with rigor is making a bad situation worse.

In less than a generation, corporate America's wrong diagnosis of what ails American education, sold by the "Standards and Accountability" bumper sticker slogan, has hooked America's system of public education - and now, it is reeling it in. When the corporate education industry is finished with our educational system, they'll sell it back, but don't expect it to turn out kids who collect patents and Pulitzers.
For the full article, go to "Outing ACT: Test-and-Punish Doesn't Educate, but It's Profitable for Testing Companies."

Marion Brady is a longtime teacher; school administrator; nationally distributed newspaper columnist; consultant to states, foundations and publishers; contributor to academic journals; and author of courses of study, textbooks and professional books. His most recent is "What's Worth Learning?" published by Information Age Publishing. His web site is

Susan Ohanian, a longtime teacher, runs a website of resistance from Vermont.

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