For our last course essay we got the option to write out plans for a workshop that could be done with an oppressed community to understand and resist oppression caused by corporation driven development. I chose to look at the corporate reform movement in public education. The workshop method is based on the teachings of Paulo Frire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
To provide an opportunity for public school teachers to become conscious about the oppressive effects of the corporate reform movement on their profession. To explore how corporate involvement in creating and promoting standardized testing has lead to the demonization of teachers and has been detrimental to the public school system. Also to help teachers find empowerment by exploring possible ways to resist this oppressive corporate take over of public education.
In order to reach these objectives the facilitator will utilize Paulo Freire’s Problem Posing Method. This is an alternative to the traditional teaching method, which Freire refers to as the Banking Method. In this traditional method students are approached as empty vessels by the teacher who possess’ all the knowledge on their given topic. The teacher’s job is to deposit the knowledge into their empty students without the input of the student. The banking method is essentially a monologue, only the teacher is active and the students passively receive the information.
The Problem Posing Method views students as people to come into the classroom with knowledge and experience that can contribute to the learning, rather than as an empty vessel to be filled. Therefore the session will begin with a code that is meant to communicate a certain idea to further the objective. Learners will be invited to share whatever they observe. After initial observation the facilitator will ask a series of questions to promote a dialogue to connect the code to real life experiences. This method is about dialogue; all parties are active in the learning experience. This dialogue supports Frire’s theory that education should be a search for mutual humanization. Each person in the room is invited to share their ideas and have their voices heard. Allowing all people to speak with equal weight to their voice affirms each persons right to speak and therefore their humanity. As a facilitator remember to go into this session with humility and a genuine dedication to listening to the participants, remember this model helps facilitators to learn also.
Background context on the issue:
One of the most prominent educational reform movements in the United States today focuses on accountability of teachers. The movement operates under the assumption that teachers have the greatest influence on a child’s achievement. There are two main pushes that are coming out of this movement, standardized testing and “school choice”. The idea of choosing a school has turned public education into a competitive market allowing charter schools and vouchers replace traditional public schools, which are forced to close. While school choice is a component to this movement this session will try and focus on standardized testing because this is such a large topic.
This accountability movement is more accurately referred to as the corporate reform movement. Educational corporations such as Pearson promote this movement through lobbying. This is because they make a direct profit of the students though standardized testing. The promotion of high stakes testing blames teachers for poor achievement instead of looking at the more influential variables such as socioeconomic status. The heavy focus on test scores not only puts impossible pressure on teachers to “teach to the test” but it has lead to, at least one teacher suicide after the LA Times released teachers average test scores to the public.
For this session the Code is an image that is to be shown to the participants to observe and discuss. The image should depict a classroom with two adults standing in front of the black board. One will be a teacher holding a paintbrush with a sad expression on her face. Behind her there are devil horns drawn on the chalkboard. Next to her stands the Monopoly man holding a piece of paper marked “Te$t” on it. His top hat is labeled with the Pearson logo and there is a halo drawn on the black board behind him. The board also shows an example of a bubble answer sheet. In front of them sit confused and sadden children. Above the teacher reads “out with the old” and above Mr. Monopoly reads “in with the new”.
This code is meant to show the corporate invasion of the classroom. It is also meant to show how arts are being replaced with testing and how these corporate reformers are praised while teachers a demonized.
Question One: “What do you see?”
The discussion should begin with observation. Prompt the participants by asking them to list what the see in the picture. Please encourage participants to share what they see with out a great amount of interpretation. Observations may start with just a simple list or description of the image:
- The teacher has devil horns behind her and a rich person with a halo.
- The “s” in “test” is a dollar sign.
- Testing valued over arts since the teacher with a paintbrush is labeled as “old” and the test “new”.
- Someone might interpret the bubbles on the board to show teaching to the test.
- The presence of Mr. Monopoly and his “Te$t” and Pearson hat might be interpreted as corporate influence or profit in high stakes testing.
Question Two: “Does this happen in the real world?”
Next the facilitator should ask participants if this situation happens in the real world. Hopefully they agree they have seen it in the real world and the facilitator can continue on to the next question. If there is disagreement, allow for those who responded yes to answer the next question, which will likely resolve the issue.
Question Three: Where have you seen this happen, or where have you experienced it?
Now, the facilitator will invite the participants to relate the picture to their lived experience. The following are some possible answers and background information for the facilitator.
- Many teachers have had to administer the state mandated testing each year and will talk about this experience. They might also share about having salary attached to their students scores and feeling pressure to “teach to the test” or even cheat.
Here is some information to help illustrate how standardized testing and corporations are connected:
- As Frontline explains, the testing industry boils down to four big companies. Hardcourt Education Measurement accounts for 40% of the testing industry and is the creator of the SAT. CBT McGraw-Hill accounts for another 40%, its main test is the TerraNova. Riverside Publishing accounts for the last 20%, producing tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Finally NCS Pearson accounts for most of the scoring of these tests.
- It may also be helpful to note that in 2013 for the first time students found product placement in their tests. In a test designed by Pearson for New York schools, products such a MUG rootbeer and LEGO were mentioned in reading passages, including a trademark note at the bottom of the page. While officially no money changed hands for this placement, Pearson does have investment ties to LEGO. These unofficial ties are very important to note when exploring corporate involvement in education.
2. Other teachers may connect to the devil horns and angle halo drawn on the chalkboard and share how they or their unions have been demonized or blamed by the media or corporate reformers.
This, teachers will probably recognize from personal experience, if not from the Media.
- This ideology was prevalent in the documentary Waiting for Superman. Michelle Rhee, a DC public school official spread anti-union rhetoric during her time in power in an effort to remove all “crappy teachers”.
3. Many teachers may recognize the confusion or distaste they have seen in their students when it comes to testing. This might be connected to some of the many other things that effect how a child does in school such a poverty or home language. They might also recognize the cutting of arts programs in their schools so more funding can be allocated to testing.
Teachers may mention other ways corporations have influenced the classroom, such as Teach For America or corporate backed charter schools. While this session is trying to focus mainly on testing these answers are not wrong. If they are brought up make sure they are heard. However there is no need to mention these examples if a participant does not bring them up.
Question Four: What kind of problems does this lead to? Or How has this negatively influenced your life or job
The next step in the guided conversation is to investigate the problems this leads to. As shown by the sample answers the in the previous questions some of these answers may have already started to come up. However their answers are likely to grow when asked more directly about them.
- “Teaching to the test” creates boring curriculum with little room for diverse ideas and arts education.
- Teachers may have had their school shut down due to low-test scores or lost their job because of their students test scores.
It is important to stay on this thread of thought for a while. Investigate why school closings are a problem if the scores are low. The same goes for teachers, ask why it’s a problem that teachers whose students do poorly on tests are fired. Try asking “Do the tests accurately measure every student?” or “Are these tests fair?” Hopefully the group will arrive at the conclusion that the corporation-designed test are not fair and misrepresent student’s ability or mistake their score. The information below will help support this conclusion.
- In a Pearson designed test for New York schools featured a passage from a Pearson textbook, giving students who had the opportunity to use that particular textbook an unfair advantage.
- The grading process for these tests is nowhere from flawless. The computer scoring process have been make mistakes since at least 2001 and companies such as Pearson continue to do an inconsistent job on grading free response questions, as explained in an interview with Pearson scorer, Todd Farley. In fact Pearson mis-scored 2,700 standardized tests for New York gifted and talented qualification this year.
- Furthermore, judging teachers on their students ability to do well on tests just doesn’t make sense since “teaching accounts for about 15 percent of student achievement outcomes, while socioeconomic factors account for about 60 percent”
3. Some may continue their thread of focusing on standardized testing and talk about how it promotes a culture of fear and stress in education. They may also mention the incentive for students and teachers to cheat.
- Because teachers are evaluated based on scores of ineffective or unfair tests, there is incredibly pressure on them if they want to keep their job. Teachers now are forced to do what ever it takes to raise scores. Students and teachers constantly fear the repercussions from failing these tests. Cheating has been document in 37 states, including a superintendent who is serving jail time for forcing low scoring students to drop out.
Question Five: Why does this happen?
- Teachers may be quick to note the laws that promote testing such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind.
However the facilitator should try to encourage participants to investigate this further to see the corporate connection.
- It may be helpful for the facilitator to know about educational companies involvement in lobbying. For example Pearson (one of the “big four” from above) has six lobbyists at the Texas state capitol. As the Texas Observer reports “This legislative session, lawmakers cut an unprecedented $5 billion from public education…. Despite the cuts, Pearson’s funding streams remain largely intact.”
- Another study found that Pearson has spent close to $700,000 lobbying in four states. It is also funds conservative policy advocacy groups that in return craft policy that benefits Pearson.
2. Teachers may point out that much of this movement is based on a simplistic and inaccurate view of the problem.
- As mentioned before the movement relies on the premise that teachers have a significant influence on their student’s scores, so in order to improve scores, teachers must improve. The problem with this logic is that it only sees the apparent causes of the issue. Apparent causes are the issues that one can see on the surface but result from deeper problems. Apparent causes, such as low test score are really only symptoms of the real issues. At the heart of it, this issue is much more about access to resources that rich schools have and poor ones don’t. This is about poverty.
Question Six: Finally the group should consider real steps they can take to bring about change. Below are a few actions already being used that the facilitator may suggest.
- Talk to co-workers, students and parents about boycotting the state mandated test. A group in Seattle successfully did this, after a several month long boycott and protests students and teacher won their case to make the Measure of Academic Progress test optional.
- Work thought your PTA to spread information about the Opt Out movement. Parents, teachers and students can access more information about opting out and resources to support them though United Opt Out Nation. The ACLU is working to protect this right for parents and students. They are currently collecting stories of parents and students who have been denied rights or threatened because of their choice to opt out.
- Join a Union. If participants are not part of their local union, this can be a major step to fighting back against corporate influence in the classroom. By joining a union teachers will have a strong voice to fight back against those who want to cut teacher benefits or change contracts to make them depend of test scores. Unions help to even out the power distribution between the teachers and corporations.
Not All Who Wander..…
 DAVID SIROTA, “The Bait and Switch of School Reform.” Salon, September 12, 2011
 Crystal Sylvia, “The Corporate Hijacking of Public Education,” Truth Out, Accessed October 21, 2013.
 Abby Rapoport, “Education, Inc,” Texas Observer, September 6, 2011.
 John Tierney “The Coming Revolution in Public Education.” The Atlantic, April 25, 2013
 IAN LOVETT, “Teacher’s Death Exposes Tensions in Los Angeles.” New York Times, November 2010.
 Frontline, “The Testing Industry’s Big Four,” 2010.
 Valerie Strauss, “Teacher boycott of standardized test in Seattle spreads,”
Washington Post, January 26, 2013.
 “Pearson 2012 results.” Pearson 2012 results, accessed October 24, 2013.
 Crystal Sylvia. “The Myth of the Crappy Teacher,” Left Turn, March 11, 2011.
 Alyssa Figueroa, “8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests,” Alternet, August 6, 2013.
 DIANA B. HENRIQUES, and JACQUES STEINBERG. “Right Answer, Wrong Score: Test Flaws Take Toll,” New York Times, May 20, 2001.
 SARAH GONZALEZ. “Inside a ‘Scoring Center’ in the Standardized Testing Industry,” NPR, June 4, 2012.
 Al Baker “More in New York City Qualify as Gifted After Error Is Fixed.” New York Times, April 15, 2013.
 Abby, Rapoport, “Education, Inc,” Texas Observer, September 6, 2011.
 Steven Karp,“Challenging Corporate Ed Reform,” Rethinking Schools, Spring 2012
 Amy Goodman, “Seattle Teachers, Students Win Historic Victory Over Standardized Testing.” Democracy Now, May 20, 2013.
 United Opt Out Nation. “Urgent: Read Now” Accessed October 24, 2013.