Educators and Parents Against Test Abuse: Fresno, Central Valley, California
It has become intellectually fashionable today to speak about the rising despair, hopelessness, a yearning for fascism on the part of some and apathy among the American people in face of the drastic economic and social policies that threaten everything from public education, employment and the environment to life itself. Disillusionment and a sense of nihilism has smuggled itself into political debates and essays and perhaps rightly so. These historical times are difficult and it is easy to sink into a sort of morbid disenchantment with the world; to question the capability, passion and desire of people to resist what is certainly a social and economic system of irrational selfishness and increasing human regulation by autocratic authoritarians. This dialogue and thinking is necessary to the understand and overcome the social hurdles and material reality of late stage capitalism that finds concentrated financial power pitted against the social welfare – self interests waging battle against the commons.
For these reasons it is with a sense of excitement that I bring to you the story of Educators and Parents against Test Abuse (EPATA). The story I will tell serves as a “how-to” lesson on refusing to capitulate to despair while instead working to collaborate on organizing meaningful resistance to oppressive educational practices. The article also offers a chance to highlight the positive resistance, coordinated working people’s mobilizations and community work that is mushrooming throughout American cities and states.
This is just one story that is taking place in one area of the United States – the Central Valley of California and especially within the city of Fresno.
Joseph Lucido: fifth grade teacher
I first heard from Joseph Lucido in a ‘post’ he left at an article I penned for www.dailycensored.com entitled “Date Change for March on Washington” (http://dailycensored.com/2010/03/14/11985/). Joseph mentioned in the post that he is on a committee for an upcoming educational conference at Fresno State University and that the conference would be a two-day event with the guest speaker to be Stephen Krashen, noted educator and now an author for Schools Matter. The purpose of the conference, according to Joseph, was to make the public aware of the negative impacts of high stakes testing on our students with the goal of stopping the pernicious educational policies that have hijacked public education, especially since the bi-partisan passage of No Child Left Behind.
Eager to know more about the group, I e-mailed Joseph and asked him if we might have an interview, both to highlight the birth and work of the group and to announce the important conference that will take place on April 30, 2010 and May 1st, 2010. He kindly agreed.
How Educators and Parents Against Test (EPATA) Abuse got started
Joseph Lucido is a young fifth grade teacher in the Central Unified School District in Fresno, California where he has worked for eleven years. When we spoke, Joseph who is also a parent told me that when he began working at the Central Unified School District, in the late 1990’s, the situation regarding testing students was not as omnipresent and insidious as we see it today. Sure, he acknowledged, he was forced to give his students standardized tests such as the CAT 6 test each year but the focus in his classroom, he related to me, was on authentic learning and assessment. Even though his principal had her eye on the Average Yearly Progress (AYP) the state tests were “designed” to measure, Joseph maintained she was nevertheless supportive of teachers and staff in their attempts to design curriculum, meet the needs of their students and otherwise operate as autonomous collaborative professionals within their classrooms.
Joseph’s father, Horace Lucido, was also an educational worker at Fresno Unified School District. He taught high school physics and math and for many years had been both an avid reader and writer on educational issues, especially standardized testing and the negative effects it has on students. Horace had been teaching far longer than his son and was aware of the creeping standardization of learning that was becoming the rage in the corporate media, right wing think tanks and conservative corporatist community.
While Joseph’s father, Horace, continued to teach, write and remain active in exposing and combating the creeping standardization of learning, Joseph conveyed to me that he had somewhat bought into the testing regime for it had no immediate effect on his classroom practices. Perhaps like many teachers, it was a subtle acquiescence for Joseph also mentioned to me that throughout his teacher preparation classes and work within the school, he had only been exposed to one point of view when it came to assessment (the official point of view) — but this was soon to change.
In approximately the year 2000, Joseph began to avail himself of other more critical and analytical points of view that lambasted mandated testing as inauthentic and argued that reducing learning to rigid assessments under standardized tests was a cruel hoax that was actually destroying student opportunities to critically think and reason through subject matter. Some of the authors that piqued Joseph’s interest at the time were recently deceased Gerald Bracey and educational writer and theorist, Susan Ohanian, Monty Neill (FairTest), as well as his father who had written books on the subject.
With the passage and the signing into law of No Child Left Behind on January 8th, 2002, Joseph began to more clearly see the ruinous policies he and his fellow teachers, students and parents would now be subjected to. Joseph indicated to me that he became aware of the corruption of mandated testing as well as the ruthless and daily attacks on teachers, and their unions in the corporate press, especially the Fresno Bee which operates in the Central Valley. He also gained a critical understanding of the role of the corporate press as mere handmaidens for privatization schemes that were hatched in think tanks and then unleashed with the passage of NCLB.
“I got sick of it”, Joseph told me. “There was no counter voice in the Fresno Bee and I felt that we needed to counter the blame-filled diatribes being leveled at teachers and their unions. At the same time the paper was promoting the wholesale privatization of education while lauding the new testing regime and so we needed a counter voice.”
Thus began Joseph’s long march into the realm of educational policy debate, critical resistance and collaborative mobilization. It was the commencement of a journey that was to redefine his life.
Organizing Educators and Parents Against Test Abuse
In the late summer of 2004, Joseph, his father Horace and Dr. Elaine Garan and Dr. Glenn Devoogd from Fresno State University started a mobilization group to resist the right wing teacher battering and corporate applause for NCLB. Their goal, at the time Joseph told me, was to counter the berating of teachers and to begin a support group to help teachers break the 12 step testing program imposed on them as official truth without their knowledge. Operating solely as a group of four or five, in the summer/fall of 2004 the group officially adopted its current name: Educators and Parents against Test Abuse (EPATA), and a strategy was put together for collective action.
In the beginning, the group met at private homes and began to devise strategies to monitor the Fresno Bee for outrageous attacks on public school teachers and for their support for standardized testing. They countered the unsubstantiated claims by the corporate owned paper by monitoring the Bee’s educational assertions and then they would embark on a letter writing campaign to counter the varied erroneous claims made in the Fresno Bee. They launched a public relations campaign of their own to reach out to news outlets, both print, radio and television in an attempt to oppose the corporate cheer leading for the NCLB testing regime and the un-relenting vilification of teachers and their unions. They also began to develop strategies for talking to teachers in their own district about the tyranny of testing and started meetings for the community at local churches throughout the year.
It was in late 2004 that EPATA began to mobilize for their first educational conference for the Central Valley community which would be entitled, The Cesar Chavez Educational Conference. Joseph told me this name was chosen for many reasons. One, Cesar Chavez had led many of his organizing struggles throughout the Central Valley of California. He wanted farm workers not only to resist the peonage and feudalistic living and working conditions imposed on them by large agro-corporations, but as Joseph stated, “He wanted farm workers to have dignity and we as teachers wanted dignity ourselves. We both had a lot in common.”
The first EPATA conference was held in 2005 at Fresno State University and was entitled, “Chavez Conference on Critical Perspectives, Literacy Construction and High Stakes Testing”. The small handful of committed educators that had started EPATA now began to reach out to the media and community to publicize the event. This was a ground breaking moment for both the group and for many teachers, students and community members who would now be exposed to another point of view regarding education; this time, non-corporate.
The event was very successful, bringing in between 100 and 150 concerned parents, teachers, students and community members. This was to be a big first successful step for EPATA and Joseph told me that the conference left him wanting for more mobilizations and more community meetings on the issue of high stake testing and literacy.
For many years after the initial conference, the small group continued to meet at private homes to plan strategies to counter the negative press and work to educate teachers regarding the practices and theories behind the high stake testing movement now concretized into law. Between 2005 and 2009 the group persevered, soldiering on, holding monthly meetings made up of about ten to twenty people, and they had two or perhaps three workshops at local churches on the issue of literacy and high stake testing. They also continued to host a conference throughout the same dates.
Their goal of the group was also to reach out to would be teachers in the Fresno State University Teacher preparation program who, like Joseph, were receiving only one official point of view on testing and education and they sought to alert the community regarding the consequences of wedding curriculum and learning to outlandish pedagogical tests that put a hammer lock on authentic teaching learning.
EPATA goes national
During this time period, the group continued to meet regularly and in 2009 they decided to begin to plan for another conference at Fresno State University. This time, according to Joseph, the approach agreed upon was to go national.
Joseph indicated to me that during the 2005-2009 period of time, he became aware of many groups, both on the internet and elsewhere, that were taking up the fight against No Child Left Behind and regimented testing but they all seemed to be separate entities — so many bee-bees in a bag. What Joseph and EPATA wished to do now was to throw a national conference in the summer of 2009, inviting many of the groups that EPATA had aligned with or were currently working with to develop strategies for combating the tests. These groups included Parent Empowerment Network from Seattle Washington (http://www.parentempowermentnetwork.org/), The Coalition for Better Education out of Colorado (http://thecbe.org/), Time out from Testing (http://www.timeoutfromtesting.org/), PURE from Chicago (http://pureparents.org/) and Tri-national USA (www.trinational-usa.org) The idea, according to Joseph, was to organize the disparate groups into a national coalition that would then be able to develop strategies and actions to resist the high stake testing throughout the US. The need for a national movement, according to Joseph, was urgent and his personal appetite for such a movement, insatiable.
The fifth conference held by EPAT was on August 31st of 2009 and was held once again at Fresno State University. Entitled, “The Freedom and Education Conference”, the event was attended by 23 people, many of them committed organizers. The Coalition for Better Education traveled to Fresno for the event as did the Tri-National USA. Also in attendance were a sprinkling of teachers, professors, parents, students and community members.
Although the group was not large, their agenda was and it seemed to be coming together and they agreed that they would not only continue to monitor the corporate media and counter the pervasive unsubstantiated mendacity with letters, phone calls, and interviews as they had been doing, but that they would also put together one e-mail list (a list server) — a national e-mail network that could be used to mobilize grassroots media actions and events across the country. Their goal was to get and then give authentic information and countervailing points of view to communities in resistance to the corporate slosh that continuously targeted teachers, students and public schools under the guise of testing.
The conference was a one day event, but when it was over the group had a working List Server. Because of their lack of technological skills with such venues as Face Book, the group decided to put the list server on the website of noted author and educator, Susan Ohanian. Ohanian is quite well known nationally for her excellent work against both the privatization of education and against standardized testing under No Child Left Behind and she receives about half a million visitors a day to her site (http://www.susanohanian.org/). The way the group would work, Joseph explained to me, is that they would collaborate, write and edit each others work for the list server and begin to try to grow the movement through the internet and coordinated grassroots movements.
EPATA also decided to adopt a strategy of calling for grass roots actions in unison throughout national communities, not just locally. What this all meant is that they would conduct ‘Days of Action’ where activists nationally, would be encouraged to send letters to their Congressmen/women, contact their local media, hand out flyers and information on high stakes testing and its deleterious effects on education and begin to engage in activities to help teachers and the community understand the brutal dismantlement of education and literacy as a result of NCLB. Joseph indicated to me that there are currently 25-30 active people on the list server at Ohanian’s website and that they have been successful in calling for and taking national action in unison. You can a link to EPATA at her website.
What had begun as a five person effort to stop the horror of reducing learning to the tyranny of toxic testing was now blossoming into a national organizing group with coordinated activism in many states. With the rise of student activism and fiscal and budgetary threats to public education, Joseph told me that the student demonstrations over the last few months, has given his group greater impetus and hope. Currently there are several hundred people on the list server and the organization is growing exponentially.
EPATA conference planned for April 30th and May 1st, 2010
As Educators and Parents against Test Abuse has grown, so has its appetite for organizing and hosting conferences for educators, parents, community leaders and public policy makers. On April 30th the group is sponsoring its sixth conference, once again to be held at Fresno State University.
Joseph sent me this on March 14th, announcing the two day conference and its itinerary. It is open for any and all of the public to attend and promises to offer opportunities for networking with community activists as well as supplying much needed information and analysis to and for the local community. Here is the e-mail message announcing the event:
Educators and Parents Against Test Abuse, Fresno
Cesar Chavez Education Committee
2010 Cesar Chavez Education Conference Program
The Role of the Professional Teacher
Friday, April 30, 2010
3:00-4:00 pm Registration- Main Entrance Satellite Student Union
4:00-4:45 pm Keynote Satellite Student Union
Unequal By Design: High-Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality
Wayne Au, California State University, Fullerton
4:50-5:40 pm Breakout Sessions with various speakers Satellite Student Union
5:45-6:45 pm Stephen Krashen, Internationally known author and Reading Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California
Saturday, May 1, 2010
8:00-9:00 am Registration- Main Entrance Satellite Student Union
9:00-9:30 am TBA Keynote Address Satellite Student Union
9:45-10:50 am Breakout Sessions
11:00 am-12:30 pm Stephen Krashen, Internationally known author and Reading Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California
12:40–1:30 pm Representatives of Mayor of Richmond, Gayle McLaughlin and Mayor of Oakland Ron Dellums. Panel with lunch.
1:30-2:30 pm Meeting of Educators and Parents Against Testing Abuse
Map of Fresno State University:
Joseph Lucido’s struggle to understand the insidious role of high stakes testing and his efforts to combat them by mobilizing parents, teachers, and community members has been close to a ten year struggle and ordeal. However, as the itinerary for the upcoming conference reveals, the power of passion and the belief in people’s ability to organize and mobilize against oppression could not have been better evidenced by the work of EPATA. What started out as kitchen table talk and critical dialogue has now ballooned into a national network with yearly conferences, grassroots mobilizations, websites and now even attracts local political pundits and policy makers.
While many despair and hand wring over the ruinous policies that plague our nation — from illegal wars to the tyranny of educational testing to the privatization of education, to the dummying down of America — EPATA has proven that it is possible to organize and resist; they have shown that despair is not an option and that somnambulism is not the cornerstone of the American spirit.
EPATA is an inspiration to all of us who have been fighting the privatization of education for decades and the terror of No Child Left Behind, now renamed Race to the Top by Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan and his merry band of billionaires. EPAT is also an antidotal story to the fashionable nihilism in which many people languish and loss of hope many harbor in their belief that people cannot become active agents of history.
Meeting with the school board
If the story of EPATA just stopped here it would be a beacon of aspiration and hope. But as Joseph pointed out in our conversation, the group’s influence is growing throughout the central valley if not nationally; and with it what has also grown is the group’s understanding of the corporatocracy that has become America and the privatization of education that has become the engine of schooling reform everywhere. This became apparent to Joseph when, in February, he spoke at the Central Valley School Board meeting to save the jobs of 113 teachers whose heads were already firmly ensconced in the guillotine due to budget woes.
In February 2010 the Central Valley School Board held a meeting to consider cutting the educational budget. On the chopping block were the jobs of 113 teachers out of a 700 teacher workforce. The Board faced the difficult task of having to deal with huge budget deficits and the issue of teacher’s jobs was front and center. Joseph decided to attend the meeting, bringing with him his wife and three kids.
When we talked, Joseph told me he had one “good speech”, as he called it and one “bad speech”. When I asked him what he meant, he laughed and stated that his anger over the cuts to education and the continuation of high stake testing under No Child Left Behind along with the new Race to the Top scheme promoted by Duncan had left him angry so he wrote one speech that was more vehement than the other.
Joseph attended the meeting, where only teachers, no members of the community were allowed to speak. He walked up to the microphone and gave the “nice speech” which he was kind enough to send me for readers. Here is the speech Joseph delivered to the Central Valley School Board and the audience in attendance:
“Thank you, Superintendent, Cabinet and Trustees.
My name is Joe Lucido and I have been a teacher in Central Unified for 11 years. I am the science lead teacher at Liddell. I have availed myself of district sponsored programs such as Lesson Study, Science Fair, and our science adoption. I have had numerous articles on education published in periodicals such as the Fresno Bee, USA today and the latest of which will be in the April edition of Fresno Magazine.
As you know, it is imperative that every child have a good teacher, and that small class size makes a huge difference in their education. I would like to talk about what this district spends money on that could be eliminated in favor of teaching positions.
First, we spend thousands of dollars on the Accelerated Reader Program. Dr. Stephen Krashen, literacy expert from USC reported that, quote “There is still no clear data supporting the test and prize aspects of Accelerated Reader. According to What Works Clearinghouse, AR software, without books, costs a school $4 per student per year, with a one-time fee of $1,499. The average school library in the US spends about $12 per year per child on books. Schools, in other words, are spending the equivalent of one-third of their book budget on software that has not produced any concrete evidence that it helps children.” (endquote) This is because the program asks low level facts that really don’t help children with critical reading skills. Teachers are hired with the expertise in teaching reading, so why are we using a reading vending company? AR needs to be removed, and real teachers need to be retained using that money.
Secondly, we spend large sums of money contracting out to Springboard Schools, a district restructuring company. The basis of Springboard’s proclaimed success in districts is stated on their website. However, if you read their own research information, they clearly state that their study, “describes used practices that appear to be associated with high performance; it does not offer a conclusive cause of how these sites reached these levels of achievement. Second, the study provides a snapshot of the work underway in ten high performers at a particular moment in time. It does not offer a description of how they got there.” In other words, even Springboard does not know how to increase achievement. They guess and use districts such as ours as an experiment that is not founded in truth. I believe that the responsibility of district organization lies in the hands of our upper administration, not another company. Do not renew this company’s contract. Save the money for valuable teaching positions.
Finally, our district has contracted out with Intel Assess to make our benchmarks. The thousands of dollars spent on the tests printed by this company are unnecessary. Teachers in this district had worked in vertical assessment teams to make expertly done benchmarks. These were valid and gave us quality information. Now, the benchmarks are confusing and give little relevant data as to how our students perform because they are unrelated to our curriculum. Remove IntelAssess, and save that money to return this responsibility to the teachers that were hired to do their job.
Thank you (e-mail, dated 3/28/2010)”.
The Board openly stated at the time it could not use the monies spent on for-profit based outsourced companies to save teacher jobs. According to the Board this was not within their accounting discretion, the funds allocated were untouchable. Many boards maintain this due to the fact they either sign binding contracts with the for-profit companies or owed to the fact they do not have the theoretical imagination to shift needed funds. Often they simply don’t care.
After Joseph delivered his speech and after he had spent a great deal of time at the meeting, he was forced to bundle up his family and drive home to prepare for another busy day. As he was on his way to the house, he received a cell phone call from a friend who also had attended the meeting and who was still present, telling him that the Board would like to speak with him again before they voted on the proposal to cut the 113 teachers. Could he come back? Tired and with his family, fatigued from a full day’s activity, Joseph had to decline the solicitation to come back to the meeting and continued home with his three children. The Board, shortly afterwards, then voted 5-2 to cut the 113 teachers from the district in an effort, they contend, is to staunch the fiscal bleeding.
Once home and at his computer, Joseph said he was surprised to see he had received e-mails from Board members asking him for more input. He also indicated to me that he had received e-mails from teachers applauding his efforts in standing up for teacher rights by giving the speech. More than that, as a result of his speech, Joseph said the Board put out a District Memorandum asking for teacher input to reduce the budget.
Without being self-congratulatory, Joseph claimed that he thought that without his speech the Board probably would have voted 7-0 for the teacher firings. He also told me that the District Memorandum was a result of the Board’s insight into the frustration and mobilization among the educational community and parents. He stated that many Board members were hard working people like himself and in response to the Board’s request that Joseph and EPATA provide more input to the Board decision making process, Joseph recommended to them that he be an informational and analytic resource for the Board. The Board agreed and Joseph is now working in tandem with the Board to provide needed teacher input through EPATA. He will also be coming out with an article in the Fresno Magazine in April of this year regarding the tyranny of the toxic testing regime. This is the result of stamina, perseverance and implacable hope in working people to make significant changes in their lives.
The privatization of education
One of the things I found remarkable when speaking with Joe Lucido about his impassioned speech to the Board of Education was their insistence that they could not cut expenses by eliminating or reducing the amount spent on private companies hired to do the work teachers once did.
As I have written along with many others, the privatization of education is taking place at a rapid pace and Joe was able to see this when he addressed the Board. For rather than reduce the amount of public funds spent on for-profit companies, human personnel in the form of teachers are thrown under the bus. This is not unusual as these privatization companies sneaked into many schools in the late 1990’s and especially after the passage of No Child Left Behind.
Arguing that they have the best interests of children in mind, the companies sell educational products for a profit and their fiduciary responsibility is soley to their shareholders if they are a corporation, not to their ‘constituencies’, or in this case students and teachers. This is essential to understand; these companies sell services like Amway products.
The companies have argued that they can raise student test scores, increase reading abilities, help student excel in mathematics and help the teaching profession create system wide data systems that can be used to monitor and regulate student achievement (Race to the Top), thus closing what is euphemistically called “the achievement gap’. However, a simple cursory look at the companies Joe mentioned in his speech to the Board reveals that the real goal of these companies is not promoting student knowledge and acquisition, it is promoting capital accumulation, market share and profit maximization – and while doing so it is gobbling up huge amounts of public funds that subsidize the business plans of these corporate predators while leaving in its wake illiterate and deracinated students along with displaced and disillusioned teachers.
Accelerated Reader is an assessment tool that primarily determines whether or not a child can or has read a book. It’s as simple as that. The software is supposed to provide additional information to teachers regarding reading rates, amount of reading, and other variables related to reading. The whole program is a metric driven for-profit dream that turns teachers into appendages of software and students into minimally literate products to be produced.
Accelerated Reader is owned and operated by Renaissance Learning, an educational software and hardware company, publicly traded on the NASDAQ exchange under the ticker symbol RLRN. It is headquartered in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, USA, with offices in Canada, and the United Kingdom. According to Wikpedia, it is in operation in over 67,000 schools in the USA. But it is now a predatory global player eyeing such countries as India Most of the company’s software products are daily task management and/or progress-monitoring tools for various academic skills (e.g., math practice) (Wikepedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaissance_Learning), thus also having the distinction of turning teachers into clerks.
Joe pointed to the fact that his district contracts with an outfit called, “Springboard Schools”. The company, now known as Pivot Learning Partners, proudly states at its website:
“Pivot Learning Partners is proud to announce its partnership with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as the exclusive professional development training provider for the Houghton Mifflin Reading California: Medallion Edition! Pivot Learning Partners has expanded its professional development offerings to educators with the introduction of Balanced ELA, a specialized Reading/Language Arts training program” (http://www.pivotlearningpartners.org/).
And just what is Pivot Learning? The website states:
“Pivot Learning Partners is expanding its professional development offerings to educators with Balanced ELA, a specialized Reading/Language Arts training program. Balanced ELA is an introduction to the Houghton Mifflin Medallion Edition series, which expands on the current Houghton Mifflin adoption and content. The training is designed to raise ELA achievement while addressing the varied learning needs of all K-6 students, from English Learners to special education.
Balanced ELA allows for a flexible delivery model of two to four days of training. The building block structure of the training allows districts to choose from a variety of topics to meet their time schedules and particular needs.
All Balanced ELA packages are modeled after the highly acclaimed Pivot Balanced Math program for Harcourt California HSP Math and Houghton Mifflin California Math in which over 1,000 California teachers have been trained” (ibid).
All the corporate business double speak and sophistic language is on full display on the cave wall: “training program”, “raise achievement”, “flexible delivery model” and “trained teachers”. Again, this is an outsourcing ‘chop shop’ that sucks up public funds with well oiled punch out kits that divorce teachers from the conception of their work. As John Dewey once said: “We train animals, we educate human beings”, but don’t tell that to the corporate owners and partners at Pivot Learning or Houghton Mifflin where once again education is packaged, labeled and sold as a commodity to school districts looking to score well on standardized tests under the panopticon of privatization.
Interestingly, their Board is made up of a Fresno State University teacher, Paul Beare. One can only wonder as to his influence in getting the contract with the district. The former coach of a wrestling team is another board member.
The for-profit corporation boasts:
“Children need great teachers to succeed, but teachers need great leaders to support their work. Thanks to the generosity of Bill and Mary Poland as well as Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo, Springboard received the seed money to launch the Leadership Development Fund. This contribution-supported fund is another way Springboard is helping build the next generation of education leaders, dedicated to raising achievement for all students” (ibid).
It’s not surprising to find bailed out banks from Wall Street collapse involved with such ventures. But alas, their splendid corporate training will outlive the 113 fired Central Valley teachers and together with Accelerated Reading, will make up the “check yourself out at the counter” learning which has now replaced teaching. Why have teachers when kits and uniform curriculum can do the trick? Why have tellers when we can have ATM’s?
Finally we get to Joe’s last company name: Intel Assess. Intel Assess is another corporate solution to literacy and assessment that goes hand in glove with the cookie cutter programs described above. A for-profit opportunity for assessment arose with No Child Left Behind and eager to fill the gap are the new techno ‘assessors’. “Scanning and scoring” now replace teaching and learning as the Intel Assess kit provides all the ‘benchmarks’ any clerk or “flexible dispensary” of knowledge would need. “Formatted assessments” and “custom needs” are all “created, printed, packaged and delivered” like any other product, be it a double cheese burger or computer scoring metrics. The commodification of education means that education is bought and sold for profit and the real assessment comes when quarterly profits are announced by the company, not when teachers attempt to assess civic literacy and critical thinking skills.
As Joe noted, the role of a teacher is to create curriculum for their students, not to deliver it; it is to design collaboratively with other teachers benchmarks for assessment, not to be clerks for for-profit companies that trade on the NY stock exchange. Like Accelerated Reading and Pivot Learning, Intel Assess boasts similar claims:
“Intel-Assess was founded in 2006 to provide formative assessment solutions that enable educators to use data to drive student achievement. Intel-Assess helps students master key state-defined learning skills by identifying where they do not meet standards and providing information needed for a targeted intervention program.
The Intel-Assess solution includes high quality assessment content and services to serve as the foundation for a district’s formative assessment program” (http://www.intel-assess.com/about_overview.html).
According to their website, the answer to education now lies in panoptical testing and measurement:
“Technology has promised educators better tools to drive student achievement; however, often the potential of those tools is not fully realized. When initiatives fail to reach their potential, it is often because the district has a tool box and not a solution!” (ibid).
Technology driving instruction is the new fad now that Arne Duncan is in town. For this is the Obama educational plan, the Race to the Top that not only encourages the corporatization of education and idealization, if not worship of technology; and it is opening an entirely new market that has been relatively quiet as it has built towards the day that scores would drive assessment and thus assessment would drive teaching. Intel Assess is another for-profit corporations looking to make a buck off our kids. Not so, according to Intel Assess:
“We’re not just another vendor selling products — we’re a partner in your efforts to drive student improvement!” (ibid).
How comforting, the companies now come with warning labels. These companies seek little more than growing market share and have a thirst to engage in mergers and acquisitions with larger corporations who then take them public on the stock market in as initial public offerings (IPOs) or simply suck them up as divisions within larger corporations. Yet they all live off of public funds. Their business plan is simple: privatize the profits, socialize the costs, dummy down the curriculum to the size of a sardine can.
So, as Wall Street and the venture capitalists and business interests look to make a profit off of our kids with sunny language and colorful spiral notebooks, training manuals and the like, their real goal is to keep costs down and profits up. They do this by subordinating authentic teaching and learning to inauthentic corporate metrics.
These companies comprise part of the toxic testing regime now being ushered into schools nationwide by Obama’s Race to the Top. They will turn of the lights on any true education for civic life. They’ve become a self-directing automatic system of control of teachers, their students and the content they are allowed to utilize in their curriculum. Thus, they become the harbingers of official knowledge, the corporate censors, decided by what the companies and their cubicle managers feel appropriate and relevant to learn. They turn the classroom into a pressure cooker for tests and test results and educational stakeholders into products and services.
Joe had found the organizing tool when he suggested that these programs be eliminated instead of authentic teachers and learning. The problem is that these products are sold, like Fuller Brush men used to sell products, door to door to unsuspecting school board members who often know little if anything about education. They are sold to school districts much like the pharmaceutical industry sells prescription medicine to doctors, promising results for patients.
These programs not only do nothing to help children, but they promulgate education as matrices of human actions through pedagogical tests for marketing and controlling people in a disabled authoritarian society. From this we are told comes stability, not education – obedience not resistance.
These companies are the embodiment, both in theory and practice, of a self-interested model of human behavior whereby teachers compete using the kits for pay, while the kids compete for scores. Meanwhile, the corporate CEO’s and major shareholder walk to the bank using mathematically measured outcomes as categories of social madness and the teachers fall prey to poverty and unemployment as they become the subjects of their rulers and the objects of the technology they are told is designed to free them.
What about the teacher unions?
I asked Joe what if anything the unions were doing to work with his burgeoning group. Disappointed, Joe told me that the unions were of no help. Frustrated with the NEA and the CTA, Joe told me that the Central Unified Teacher’s Association had encouraged teachers to go to the Board meeting to fight for teacher’s jobs and an end to cuts. That is why he went. However, Joe also told me no union officials were present at the meeting. The president evidently couldn’t find the time to make it. Nor were there any officials from his local. This is very disturbing at a time when unions need to stand up for their teachers and to authority in assuring collaborative decision making.
Unfortunately many of the teacher’s unions seem clueless at this point and certainly in the case of Joe’s union, will not be the harbingers for any sustainable change or resistance – not until they are taken over and re-oxygenated. With David Sanchez the president of the California Teacher’s Association, capitulation and accommodation will be the norm. Sanchez is and old hack that got his start in Santa Maria under the name of his father who was considered a legend in teaching at one time. A major figure at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in the 70’s and 80’s, Sanchez’s father taught in the teacher ‘training program’ there and David learned the bad pedagogical habits his father had picked up. Rising from a fifth grade teacher to the president of the local CTA union in Santa Maria, I unfortunately too found his complacency in the face of combat disconcerting when I taught at the district and faced reprisals. But that is a story for another day; needless to say the lack of attendance at the meeting by CTA was evidence enough of their incompetency and lack of commitment to supporting their teachers and students. Asking all teachers to go to a meeting where fifteen percent of the teachers might be cut and then not showing up for the meeting in official union capacity is a slap in the face to union paying teachers.
As EPATA goes forward they will confront the real elephant in the room: poverty. Attempting to separate education and so-called achievement gaps from any economic analysis would be absurd. Yet few see the impact of poverty on educational learning abilities, instead preferring to bow to the God’s of technology and calibration for answers.
In an article entitled, “Poverty in Fresno carries hidden costs’, by Sanford Nax in the Fresno Bee of September 21, 2009, Nax describes the detestable situation regarding poverty and housing in Fresno and the Central Valley. Nax notes:
“The apartments along Lowe Avenue in southeast Fresno sound like a good deal. For about $600 a month you can get two bedrooms, and bad credit won’t keep you out.
But many costs aren’t in the lease: Some apartments are teeming with roaches and mold, creating a veritable stew pot for illness — and constant doctor bills. It’s in a dangerous neighborhood, so costly possessions — like stereos — have a way of disappearing.
People live here because they are poor and can’t afford anything better. But compared to those with just a little more money, they must spend an enormous share of their household incomes on rent “(http://www.mediafreedominternational.org/2010/03/31/war-on-the-poor-continues-in-fresno/).
The same is true across the central San Joaquin Valley and the nation: When it comes to housing, being poor is expensive.
Many families find they spend upwards of 44% of their disability checks or income on substandard housing. As Nax noted:
“financial experts say housing shouldn’t consume more than 30% of a family’s income. In order to be able to afford the $842 average rent in Fresno, a family would need an income of $33,680 a year — twice what one person would earn at minimum wage.
In the wide-ranging 19th Congressional District of Rep. George Radanovich, which includes Madera County and a portion of Fresno County, 18.5% of the renter householders earn less than half that, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition in Washington, D.C.”(ibid).
Yet if you talk to any of the Board Members or CEO’s of Accelerated Reader, or Intel Assess or Pivot Learning none of this poverty and every day burden of living in the Central Valley or elsewhere should be a problem for student learning. Just buckle down, pull yourself up by your boot straps and get your nose into the ‘personalized learning’ of the for-profit cookie cutter companies and you will excel, perhaps even go to college where you can accrue debt and exit facing upwards of 50% unemployment rates.
Now with a new ordinance passed criminalizing homelessness the war on the poor goes unabated (Mike Rhodes War on the Poor. Continues in Fresno http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/02/05/18637084.php,
February 5, 2010)
A new Fresno ordinance would ban homeless people from standing on medians and asking for money. The Fresno City Council gave tentative approval to the measure at its meeting on February 5, 2010. Nonprofit community groups wanting to solicit money from median strips would have to get a permit. Homeless people and their advocates called the measure discriminatory. Bill Simon, the chairperson of the Greater Fresno American Civil Liberties Union, called the measure discriminatory (ibid).
The struggle for solidarity among teachers committed to critical literacy, the commitment to diversity, the clarion call for equal opportunity and participation in power and the day to day decisions effecting schools, teaching, learning and assessment will be part of the subject of this month’s conference. Just what does it mean to be an educated person in today’s society where corruption, war, poverty, inequality, tribal thinking, violence, incarceration and corporate control cobble together life? Until we answer this question, until we return to the Dewey-Lippmann debates of the 1920’s and 30’s (See my article at Counterpunch.com, printed version) we will forever be bound to the definitions put forth by the ruling elite who throughout history have been frightened of an educated working class. This year’s conference in Fresno plans to be a good one and comes at a time when we need dialogue and concerted action.
For more information on the conference in Fresno this April 30th and May 1st contact: www.testingabuse.blogspot.com. Together, we can make a difference. You can also read Joseph’s excellent article at the Fresno Magazine entitled:
The Downward Spiral of Education: A Teacher Speaks Out