Between 2003 and 2009, the Tennessee Department of Education paid more than $89 million in contracts to six corporations that create the process of standardized tests our public school students are required to take. (Roughly half the money came from federal funds, according to U.S. Department of Education documents).
A $41 million contract went to CTB/McGraw Hill to develop the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). Pearson, which makes more money off education than any other corporation on the planet, received just a pittance: a five-year, $19 million contract to administer the End of Course (EOC) exams.
In comparison, Pearson's contract with Texas schools was closer to $500 million. But more on that later.
"Think what could be done with that money if it were used to provide enrichment activities, upgrade technology, provide needed staff development for teachers and parental training for present curriculum, or encourage and train mentors for students," one principal emailed last week.
Yes, think what could be done.
Last week, this very column criticized the TCAP, and the way its culture of over-testing is ruining public education. It struck a nerve; the column was passed around more than a kindergarten cold. More than 5,000 people "Liked" it on Facebook. I heard from teachers, parents, principals, from here all the way to Knoxville, who felt the exact same way.
"The TCAP Death March," one former principal called it.
"Travesty," said another.
Such a response means two big things.
First, if you are an elected official, then pay attention. Thousands of people -- the ones you promised to serve -- are pitchfork angry. Want to become really popular and electable? Get out in front of this.
Second, if you are one of those frustrated parents, teachers, principals or students, then take heart. You're not alone.
In Seattle, students and teachers boycotted standardized testing. Rhode Island students dressed like zombies in a state capitol protest. In Oregon, students organized an opt-out campaign.
The public school superintendent of Montgomery County, Md., called for a three-year moratorium on standardized testing. More than one-third of all New York State public school principals signed a letter against the current practice.
In Texas, hundreds of local school boards have passed resolutions against standardized testing; state lawmakers passed a bill that reduced from 15 to five the number of end-of-course exams needed to graduate; the outgoing education commissioner called high stakes testing "the heart of the vampire."
Much of the Texas educational reform (what an odd phrase) is rooted in resentment toward Pearson, the British-based corporation that just privatized the GED test, and was recently investigated for ethics so questionable -- like funding exotic trips for state education commissioners -- one IRS lawyer compared them to the Jack Abramoff scandal.
"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," wrote Gail Collins, in her New York Times column.
So, how about this?
Next year, the Tennessee General Assembly will pass a law: by 2015, all K-12 public school students will undergo standardized testing only to the minimum amount required by federal law. Standardized test scores shall not be used in determining teacher evaluation or student grades.
To pull this off, concerned parents and students form an across-the-state coalition and begin -- like, yesterday -- to set up meetings with state representatives. Teachers and principals, craft your own public letter.
School boards, do something. Students, thank your teachers each day.
Then research boycotts.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...