Texas-Sized Nepotism

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Richard Borge / www.richardborge.com

The increased reliance on standardized testing in America’s schools, prompted by the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, has forced teachers to spend more of their time grooming kids for make-or-break multiple-choice tests, instead of helping them develop skills such as creative thinking and collaboration. The controversial legislation has also led to an arms race among testing and textbook companies vying for state contracts.

According to The Texas Observer (Sept. 2011), Pearson Education, which claims to be the world’s leading learning company, has benefited most from policy shifts in the Lone Star State. In addition to a five-year, $500 million contract to operate the state’s testing program, Pearson also offers textbooks, virtual lectures, GED exams, and other learning aids.

“With the prevalence of companies like Pearson, operating in Texas and many other states, the U.S. education system has become increasingly privatized,” reports the Observer. “In some cases, the only part of education that remains public is the school itself.”

To capitalize on this new world order, testing companies are hiring high-powered lobbyists to influence the government’s educational agenda. In 2011, for instance, Sandy Kress, who worked for President George W. Bush and helped engineer No Child Left Behind, appeared before the Texas House Public Education Committee to testify against a money-saving measure to decrease testing in the state. Only after being grilled by Democrats in the chamber did Kress, who usually introduces himself as a representative of education advocacy groups, admit that he was a paid lobbyist for Pearson. Despite the conflict of interest, legislators ultimately rejected the test-cutting measure, even as they slashed the state’s education budget by $5 billion.

Meanwhile, Texas is preparing to phase in an entirely new testing regime, designed by Pearson–even though No Child Left Behind has yet to yield much more than reams of assessment data. “Testing has given communities an inside look at what is and isn’t working in schools,” says the Observer. “But after more than a decade of high-stakes testing and billions in testing contracts nationwide, it’s not clear if kids are learning more or just learning how to take tests.”

Have something to say? Send a letter to editor@utne.com. This article first appeared in the January-February 2012 issue of Utne Reader.

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