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After reading an essay by Alfie Kohn, entitled, “Turning Learning Into Business”, from his book, “What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?” I got curious if the essay he had written might possibly have been exaggerated. I started my own research to verify what he had written. The results I found out were straight out of the movie “Pelican Brief.”
Our story starts in 2017, with an Internet site called Executive Paywatch, which reported that the CEO’s of the Standards & Poor (S&P) 500 index made $13.98 Million dollars of compensation. S&P are known for their marketing intelligence. The information they gather benefits their clients who are willing to pay for it.
[FLASH BACK] In 1992, I took an in depth course in becoming an Info-Broker. The type of clients I worked for needed information that was current, like today, and would benefit their company tomorrow morning. I found out that information could be bought, sold or traded. I remembered that employees from the RAND corporation were also taking the same course. They were learning how to gather information for their clients too! High profiling clients that were heading for the Olympics in Spain. Safety and security for those clients was paramount, and they required information that was current to the hour.
[BACK TO STORY] What about S&P clients, who are they? They range from corporations to schools. Regarding schools, the S&P was the first to tabulate, organize, and package education information from test scores that were eventually sold back to states who were interested in what was happening in their own schools. Who could benefit from knowing student scores? Maybe your parent company to start with. Guess who is the parent company of S & P? McGraw-Hill, the same company that makes school textbooks. Interesting huh?
Standardized testing is a machine that collects valuable data that can be organized into information. This is why corporations are not interested in the Arts, because the Arts can’t be standardized. If they can’t be formed into standardized data they are worthless. The Arts are subjective, whereas math, science and English are objective and can be tabulated. So explains the push to downsize and remove the Arts and promote math, science and English scores.
While schools play into the illusion of which school is the best, the real gold is being mined in the classroom as schools compete with each other. Who supports the efforts of these testing and reporting companies? Business Week has printed the top business schools, as well as the top STEM schools in the nation. Business week writers gather their evidence from test scores. By the way, did I forget to tell you who is the parent company of Business Week? If you guessed McGraw-Hill you’re getting ahead. But hang on, the plot takes some interesting turns.
Oh yes, the more I dug, the more shadows seemed to appear behind dark corridors. I could envision Dan Brown writing a novel concerning a global conspiracy to control schools. To control the minds of students and their futures. Of course, to make such a novel you would probably need the Church and several key corporate head characters, who were all Masons, all sitting around key educational school boards around the country. All being controlled by one silent and cryptic person. Then you would have a good novel right? Well,–that’s another story.
Some business corporations have intertwined so skillfully into education that the public only perceives a mask representing education. We have already discovered a couple of the corporations who already control the $20 billion to $30 billion dollar a year textbook and standardized testing industry, and this doesn’t even count the online, apps, and other electronic media that has surfaced like an enemy sub off the coast.
For example, Apple computers; Lest we forget they make and sell computers–and schools are their best customers. Another company that seems safe is Proctor and Gamble. Did you know they have their own G&P School where they send their products in the form of lesson plans to teachers all across the country? Sounds nice until you realize they are paving the way for future customers by presenting their product in a very clever and hidden bias.
So where does this leave us? The majority of schools throughout the United States have mission statements that generally cover these three basic common goals for the 21st Century: (1) To develop creative thinkers; (2) to develop productive global citizens and leaders; and (3) to develop lifelong learners.
If big business controls the curriculum and standardized testing how can we develop creative thinkers. If we want students to become productive global citizens and leaders students must be taught how to ask the right questions–not how to answer the correct multiple choice question. Finally, if we want lifelong learners, education must be stimulating not stagnant.
The only way to change this, I believe, is to allow teachers to teach. I remember several years ago, I met with a school board made up of businessmen. One was a podiatrist. I remember discussing with him a biodegradable suture thread I had read about and strongly suggested he consider using it. He told me that it had some benefits but couldn’t be used in every case. I strongly suggested it could. He replied, “I’ve been a surgeon for 25 years and I think I know my business better than you.” I retorted, ” I’ve been in my field for 30 years, and I think I know my business as good as you do yours.” He responded, “Good come back. I get it!” Corporations really don’t understand what is going on in the classroom. That’s why professional educators are hired, but it is the silent business partner who seems to have a say into what is important to teach and how it is to be taught. Teaching to the standardized test was not developed by educators.
No standardized test would complete without a scantron sheet and a #2 pencil. It’s the “Scantron” company that makes the millions of scantrons students from elementary to university use. Their parent company is M&F Worldwide whose Scantron Division provides data management solutions and related services, including testing and assessment solutions, patient information collection and tracking, and survey services to educational, commercial, healthcare, and governmental entities.. The parent company of M&F Worldwide is MacAndrews and Forbes. Finally, MacAndrews and Forbes is owned wholly by the billionaire investor Ronald Perelman. It’s amazing where these trails end up.
For the past 20 years, the corporate business world has put down educators and told the world they can produce a better student. In those 20 years, the government and corporate world has invested $60 billion dollars into technology and Internet infrastructure. State laws have been influenced to incorporating standardized testing and assessments, the business world has had more influence and input into school curriculum development. However, the results published by PISA (Programme International Student Assessment) has shown that in those same years the ROI in grades for 15 year old students has remained average or below average in the United States. Out of 71 countries the U.S. ranks 19th in science, 30th in math, and 27th in reading.
This past weekend, Superbowl LIII, sponsors invested $5.25 million dollars for a 30-second spot. Was that money down the drain? Of course not. Yes, it does seem like a David and Golliath scenario, and I am only one voice, but I’ll say it anyway, “It’s time to return the class over to those trained to teach, and remove business out of classroom.”
This past Sunday, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune’s front page focused on the New and Improved Core Curriculum story titled, “Raising the bar for education.” The article centers on the release of some sketchy details to the new Core Curriculum. I say some sketchy details because they are all still being worked out as we speak. This is equivalent to preparing a full four course dinner, setting the table, and then sending out the guest invitations. A year from now 44 other states are also planning to launch the Core Curriculum. The goal, the article continues, “is to create new benchmarks for mathematics and sciences”, and in the end, they say, “to better prepare students for college and careers.” Of course, the real underlining objective is to increase low achieving test scores and public opinion.
The story continues that in the new program educators will no longer be at the front of the room lecturing, but interacting with their students. So, how is this to be done you ask? By providing the top schools, students and teachers with iPad technology (600,000 iPads). I guess walking around the classroom hasn’t been thought of yet. The article reports that “The project (that is the iPad purchase) penciled out around $450 million dollars.” Good idea to use low tech to explain high tech pricing. Okay, so we know what the better schools are getting, but what about the poorer schools. Thanks to a $1.25 billion dollar infusion from the State of California, these schools will be able to order tablets, desktops, and other technology.
This whole scenario is being played out across the board in both public and private schools throughout the State of California. I recently interviewed for a position at a private school in Los Angeles where the position was to train both teachers and students on their new iPads and Mac Pro laptops. Buying the technology first and then figuring out how it will be used has been going on for a long time. I admire Apple’s move into the educational world back in the 1980’s. It was a shrewd and intelligent undertaking to line up their product into education. But, lest we forget, the Apple Corporation is not in business to educate, they are in business to make one thing, — larger profits.
For the past twenty years, the United States has invested billions of dollars to upgrade technology infrastructures, hardware, and software programs in its school systems. All of this with the promise that the updated technology would motivate, stimulate student interest, increase learning, and in the end improve student test scores. During this same twenty year period, the Programme for Student Assessment (PISA) has been monitoring 52 countries and their educational programs especially in reading, mathematics, and science. From 2001 to 2012 the United States has consecutively placed AVERAGE in reading, and BELOW AVERAGE in the maths and sciences. So, if technology hasn’t increased motivation, stimulation, and increased test scores in the past 20 years, why do the politicians and educators think putting more money into technology will do the job?
But soon I’m interrupted. The article reports, “The technology will help students on the new California state standardized tests, which will be administered online and will reply on in-depth rather than multiple questions.” So, students will learn how to take state tests by taking similar tests in the classroom. “Another brick in the wall.” That means teachers, who will now be called “facilitators” will be guiding students on how to do the test online. Still teaching to the test! The article ends with “the promise that the funds given by the state will cover the cost for Apple to train teachers on their new technologies.” Well, after all, Apple wants their share of the financial pie.
What will the future report? In the end, the politicians will get their votes, the technology companies will report high earnings for their stockholders, and the educational report will remain mediocre. The technology panacea has already had 20 years to prove itself, it’s time that we put the teacher back in the classroom to fix what the politicians and computer companies have screwed up. It’s time that technology take its proper position as a supporting actor, and develop the real core of our future–our students, who should be the apples of our eyes.
Reference: San Gabriel Valley Tribune. (2013). retrieved from SGVTribune.com