[Vision2020] A Very Pricey Pineapple

Art Deco art.deco.studios at gmail.com
Sat Apr 28 12:10:03 PDT 2012

  [image: The New York Times] <http://www.nytimes.com/>


April 27, 2012
A Very Pricey Pineapple By GAIL

Let’s talk about talking pineapples.

Actually (spoiler alert!) I’m going to use the pineapple as a sneaky way to
introduce the topic of privatization of public education. I was driven to
this. Do you know how difficult it is to get anybody to read about
“privatization of education?” It’s hell. A pineapple, on the other hand, is
something everybody likes. It’s a symbol of hospitality. Its juice is said
to remove warts. And you really cannot beat the talking-fruit angle.

This month, New York eighth graders took a standardized English test that
included a story called “The Hare and the Pineapple,” in which
you-know-what challenges a hare to a race. The forest animals suspect that
since the pineapple can’t move, it must have some clever scheme to ensure
victory, and they decide to root against the bunny. But when the race
begins, the pineapple just sits there. The hare wins. Then the animals eat
the pineapple. The end.

There were many complaints from the eighth graders, who had to answer
questions like: “What would have happened if the animals had decided to
cheer for the hare?” They were also supposed to decide whether the animals
ate the pineapple because they were hungry, excited, annoyed or amused.
(That part bothered me *a lot*. We’ve got a talking pineapple here, people.
You don’t just go and devour it for having delusions of grandeur.)

Teachers, parents and education experts all chimed in. Nobody liked the
talking pineapple questions. The Daily News, which broke the story,
corralled “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings, who concluded that “the plot
details are so oddly chosen that the story seems to have been written
during a peyote trip.”

The state education commissioner, John King, announced that the questions
would not count in the official test scores. There was no comment from the
test author. That would be Pearson, the world’s largest for-profit
education business, which has a $32 million five-year contract to produce
New York standardized tests.

Now — finally — we have tumbled into my central point. We have turned
school testing into a huge corporate profit center, led by Pearson, for
whom $32 million is actually pretty small potatoes. Pearson has a five-year
testing contract with Texas that’s costing the state taxpayers nearly
half-a-billion dollars.

This is the part of education reform nobody told you about. You heard about
accountability, and choice, and innovation. But when No Child Left
passed 11 years ago, do you recall anybody mentioning that it would
provide monster profits for the private business sector?

Me neither.

It’s not just the tests. No Child Left Behind has created a system of
public-funded charter
a growing number of which are run by for-profit companies. Some of them are
completely online, with kids getting their lessons at home via computer.
The academic results can be abysmal, but on the plus side — definitely no
classroom crowding issues.

Pearson is just one part of the picture, albeit a part about the size of
Mount Rushmore. Its lobbyists include the guy who served as the top White
House liaison with Congress on drafting the No Child law. It has its own
nonprofit foundation that sends state education commissioners on free trips
overseas to contemplate school reform.

An American child could go to a public school run by Pearson, studying from
books produced by Pearson, while his or her progress is evaluated by
Pearson standardized tests. The only public participant in the show would
be the taxpayer.

If all else fails, the kid could always drop out and try to get a diploma
via the good old G.E.D. The General Educational Development test program
used to be operated by the nonprofit American Council on Education, but
last year the Council and Pearson announced that they were going into a
partnership to redevelop the G.E.D. — a nationally used near-monopoly — as
a profit-making enterprise.

“We’re a capitalist system, but this is worrisome,” said New York Education
Commissioner King.

The Obama administration has been trying to tackle the astronomical costs
of 50 different sets of standardized tests by funding efforts by states to
develop shared models — a process you will be stunned to hear is being
denounced by conservatives like Gov. Rick Perry of Texas as “a federal
takeover of public schools.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has also begun giving out waivers from the
requirement that children in failing public schools be given after-school
tutoring. Idea sounded great. Hardly helped the kids at all. But no
for-profit tutoring company was left behind.

The pushback against privatization isn’t easy. We’re now in a world in
which decisions about public education involve not just parents and
children and teachers, but also big profits or losses for the private
sector. Change the tests, or the
or the charters, or even the rules for teacher certification, and you
change somebody’s bottom line.

It’s a tough world out there. Ask the talking pineapple.

Art Deco (Wayne A. Fox)
art.deco.studios at gmail.com
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