Thinking Critically about the Business of Textbooks and Standardized Tests

The Atlantic has a very interesting piece by Temple University’s professor Meredith Broussard on the connection between poor school performance at standardized tests and the lack of access to textbooks and other resources by low-income schools. What she found is that American schools are victims of what seems like an ideal racket — although legal — in which a cartel of three companies control the whole food-chain — that is, they “write the tests, grade the tests, and publish the books that students use to prepare for the tests.”

As Broussard found out, in this corporate-dominated environment, low-income schools have no chance to do better, simply

because standardized tests are not based on general knowledge […] they are based on specific knowledge contained in specific sets of books: the textbooks created by the test makers.

Thus, as schools across the nation face round after round of budget cuts, layoffs, and closings, the solution that many public officials offer is the manna of data-driven accountability, in which of course the ‘data’ part is driven by corporate greed. As it happens, and as Broussard makes very clear on her piece, schools’ and teachers’ accountability are based not on actual general knowledge but on private knowledge put together by the three-headed cartel. The same that spends millions of dollars — see here and here — to influence school boards and local politicians to press on for more alleged reforms that benefit neither the schools nor the teachers nor the students. A perfect catch, isn’t it? (Page views: 443)

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