Private education planning endangers public schooling

Ambitious politicians and executives including President Barack Obama have unveiled programs for educational transformation over the past few years. These schemes involve high-stakes standardized tests, teacher accountability and, bizarrely, a quest for profit. These reforms, while purportedly designed to benefit students, are detrimental to real learning. Instead, they benefit the test-makers and shareholders.

Following former President George W. Bush’s failed No Child Left Behind Act and Obama’s own Race to the Top initiative, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers unveiled the Common Core State Standards, to be enacted state by state.

Common Core furthers past programs’ emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics at the expense of liberal arts disciplines but also continues to privatize “public” education at the high school level. This is an affront to the idea of democratically designed curricula available to all students.

In addition to its focus on STEM fields, Common Core institutes a raft of new standardized tests to measure students’ performance. These tests are notoriously difficult and force teachers to gear their curricula to the test. This is in spite of any experimental, superior or otherwise different lesson plans that the teacher may have had in mind.

Common Core also demands that “informational” texts should be used at the expense of fictional works. While nonfiction obviously has vast merit in education, requiring nonfiction to be used at the expense of quality literature is a crime to students who will never develop a love of reading, from the Harry Potter series or whatever elementary students are reading these days.

As if these curricular alterations were insufficient to coerce school districts across the country into federally acceptable pedagogy, districts are developing schemes to “evaluate” teachers based on their students’ scores to these tests, according to The New York Times.

Instead of allowing their colleagues, peers and administrators to evaluate their abilities to touch their students’ lives, teachers will be forced to improve their students’ arbitrary test scores.

These plans, from Bush’s to Obama’s to state governors’, clearly fail to fix a glaring problem: Education can only be improved by sufficiently funding schools and removing pervasive poverty from the equation. In lieu of this, the country cannot achieve substantial educational progress.

Then for whom are these plans designed? Who benefits from increased testing and curricula focusing on STEM? The answer, unsurprisingly, is the companies that shape educational policy.

Pearson PLC, a British corporation, is highly involved in everything Common Core. Pearson, along with IBM, Intel and Cisco Systems, funds the Education Development Center, which conducts studies and gives recommendations to politicians regarding how to change the education system.

Starting in May 2014, Pearson will also administer and design New York’s teacher certification system’s evaluation test. This is a disturbing intrusion of a corporation – whose sole obligation is to its shareholders – into the sphere of education.

Assertions that these plans will benefit students are false. Touted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Obama, these “reforms” are instead a retrogressive, profit-increasing effort to dismantle and privatize education for the benefit of private corporations.