Testing the Education Market, Cashing In, and Failing Social Justice Again

On Black Friday 2014—when the U.S. officially begins the Christmas holiday season, revealing that we mostly worship consumerism (all else is mere decoration)—we are poised to be distracted once again from those things that really matter. Shopping feeding frenzies will allow Ferguson and Tamir Rice to fade away for the privileged—while those most directly impacted by racism and classism, poverty and austerity remain trapped in those realities.

History is proof that these failures have lingered, and that they fade. Listen to James Baldwin. Listen to Martin Luther King Jr.

But in the narrower education reform debate, we have also allowed ourselves to be distracted, mostly by the Common Core debate itself. As I have stated more times that I care to note, that Common Core advocates have sustained the debate is both a waste of our precious time and proof that Common Core has won.

As well, we are misguided whenever we argue that Common Core uniquely is the problem—instead of recognizing that Common Core is but a current form of a continual failure in education, accountability built on standards and high-stakes testing.

With the release of Behind the Data: Testing and Assessment—A PreK-12 U.S. Education Technology Market Report*, we have yet another opportunity to confront that Common Core is the problem, not the solution, because it is the source of a powerful drain on public resources in education that are not now invested in conditions related to racial and class inequity in our public schools.

Richards and Stebbins (2014) explain:

The PreK-12 testing and assessment market segment has experienced remarkable growth over the last several years. This growth has occurred in difficult economic times during an overall PreK-12 budget and spending decline….

Participants almost universally identified four key factors affecting the recent growth of the digital testing and assessment market segment:

1) The Common Core State Standards are Changing Curricula

2) The Rollout of Common Core Assessments are Galvanizing Activity….

(Executive Summary, pp. 1, 2)

testing and assessment 57 percent

(Richards & Stebbins 2014).

So as I have argued before, Common Core advocacy is market-driven, benefiting those invested in its adoption. But we must also acknowledge that that market success is at the expense of the very students who most need our public schools.

And there is the problem—not the end of cursive, not how we teach math, not whether the standards are age-appropriate.

Common Core is a continuation of failing social justice, draining public resources from needed actions that confront directly the inexcusable inequities of our schools, inequities often reflecting the tragic inequities of our society:

As the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself. (Mathis, 2012, 2 of 5)

Who will be held accountable for the cost of feeding the education market while starving our marginalized children’s hope?


Richards, J., & Stebbins, L. (2014). Behind the Data: Testing and Assessment—A PreK-12 U.S. Education Technology Market Report. Washington, D.C.: Software & Information Industry Association.

* Thanks to Schools Matter for posting, and thus, drawing my attention to the study.

SCAM ALERT: Coleman as Perpetual Huckster

Schools Matter: SCAM ALERT: Coleman as Perpetual Huckster

There’s an allegory that is popular among lawyers called the allegory of the river. [1]

In this allegory, people find themselves near a river and confronted with a stream of babies floating helplessly by in the current. Many begin frantically to wade into the rushing water, saving as many babies as possible.

Then one walks away. The others are stunned and ask why this one person is abandoning the mission to rescue the babies floating down the river.

The one walking away says, “I am going upstream to find who is throwing the babies in and stop them.”

If David Coleman found himself among these people, he would be the one crafting (and selling) a strategy to retrieve the babies from the water, and his work would keep everyone so frantic on how to save the babies (Common Core Standards for Saving Babies in the River, anyone?) that no one would pause to look at the bigger problem: Someone was tossing the babies in the river upstream.

Coleman is a perpetual huckster, skilled at his selling without having to have any expertise behind his showmanship. Since he has successfully sold the U.S. on the CCSS, a magnificent scam, he now is poised to revamp the College Board, making headlines by speaking about problems with the SAT.

Coleman seems concerned the writing section and vocabulary on the SAT are problematic. To that I say, “Welcome to my world, about 30 years too late.”

If I were willing to take Coleman’s bait (like the endless list of states, departments of education, professional organizations, and unions who are scrambling to trump each other with their plans to implement CCSS), I could provide a detailed examination of all that is wrong with the writing portion of the SAT (students spend more time bubbling than drafting, one-draft sample, prompted writing, etc.).

BUT that is exactly what Coleman is seeking—not a better SAT, but a flurry of how to revise the SAT!

The SAT and the standards movement have one fact in common: A perpetual state of revision insures that some people make a great deal of money and the “new” and “better” paradigm allow them to capitalize on reform.

If we wrangle over how to reform the SAT, we are distracted from asking the essential question: What is the SAT good for? (absolutely nothing)

Arguments over how to implement CCSS or whether or not the CCSS marginalizes fiction for the new frontier of non-fiction, arguments over how to revise the writing section of the SAT or whether or not the SAT should test practical or esoteric vocabulary—these are acts of futility, these are wading into the river to retrieve the babies while ignoring the need to walk up stream and stop the real horror to begin with.

Let’s pause for a history lesson.

The state university system in California took a swipe at the SAT some years ago, remember? The SAT was revised!

The ACT surpasses the SAT, and bingo! Coleman makes controversial (media grabbing) comments about revising the SAT.

See a pattern?

U.S. public education does not need new standards, new high-stakes tests, or a new SAT.

But we do need to walk upstream and stop the corporate hucksters throwing babies in the river.

[1] Apologies to David Coleman for starting with fiction.