Barbara Madeloni, a professor of teacher education, and 67 students at the University of Massachusetts have boycotted Pearson's attempt to use universities to pilot their newest product: a teacher evaluation system that is viewed by many as another attempt to turn teaching into a technocratic process in which a common set of "best practices" can be identified and measured. Provided with 10-minute videos of a student teacher, written responses to canned "reflective questions" and a rubric, scorers are paid $75 per assessment to determine if a teacher should be certified. Once certified, these teachers in most states will then be evaluated by the standardized test scores of their students.
Although educational reformers will rarely admit it, the market and test-driven reforms of the last 30 years have not only not worked, but are quickly turning into a nightmare for anyone who cares about public education. It is increasingly evident that even the most potentially useful reforms have been overtaken by a combination of technocratic logic and corporate profit-seeking. For 30 years, new private-sector political actors have formed new policy networks that include corporations seeking profits from education, venture philanthropists, think tanks, business associations, Charter School Management Organizations, and others, that have succeeded in creating a new common sense: Markets are democratic and equitable; the private sector should replace the public sector; teachers are to blame for (fill in the blank); and unions are obstacles to reform.
But, the straw that has broken the camel's back for teachers has been narrow, technocratic forms of teacher evaluation, which include the use of the results of standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. The Teacher Performance Assessment that Barbara Madeloni and her students resisted is a fine example of this seeping market logic. Touted by Stanford and the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education and recently rebranded as the edTPA, this instrument outsources the work of teacher educators while narrowing the possibilities for what constitutes meaningful teaching. With Pearson as the distributor of the assessment and employer of the unprotected contract labor, the door is wide open for corporate profit to drive teacher education. These and other technocratic approaches to teacher evaluation are backed by money from Bill Gates, pressure from Barack Obama and Arnie Duncan's Race to the Top competition among states for federal funds, and the for-profit education industry's attempt to make sure they get the biggest chunk of this money. The profit-seekers can be forgiven. After all, that is what they do. But after back-peddling from the 2014 Annual Yearly Progress debacle, which was the last technocratic fix for schools, reformers such as Arnie Duncan cannot be given a pass for blundering into the next short-sighted technocratic fix: evaluating teachers by test scores or 10-minute videos that are the equivalent of an administrative walk through.
It's not that teachers don't want to be evaluated or held accountable, but they want evaluations that have some professional integrity and are congruent with the work they do. Other, more complex approaches to teacher evaluation exist, such as Peer-Assisted Review, in which teachers are evaluated over time by master teachers and the results are presented to a panel of district administrators and union officials. In teacher education, cooperating teachers and university supervisors who know the student teachers and the students in their classrooms can provide supportive and challenging ongoing assessment of a student teacher's development.
There are other concerns as well. In turning over more and more control of education to companies like Pearson, the public loses the democratic oversight it has over public organizations. The public only can know what Pearson chooses to share. As a private entity, it does not have to provide information under the Freedom of Information Act. It is not elected by any public body, but its stable of lobbyists pressure Congress to pass legislation that opens up markets for its products. And who pays for the millions of dollars Pearson pays its lobbyists? The public does, since these costs are passed along to schools in the price of their products. Like our privatized health care system, our education system is increasingly paying for profit margins and lobbyists, money that is taken from resources for the very low-income students that most current reformers claim to care about. According the New York Times, Pearson billed the state of New York $7 million for testing services for the 2012 calendar year, of which 30 percent went to field testing the tests. The parent activist group Parents Voices NY is also boycotting the field tests by keeping their children home the day of the field tests.
The boycott by Barbara Madeloni and her students is only a small part of a larger teacher movement that is under way. More than 5,000 principals and teachers in New York have sent a petition of protest to the chancellor against using test results to evaluate teachers. In Texas, there is a similar protest, and the recent Chicago teachers strike demonstrated that teachers in Chicago, with the support of the low-income communities of color in which they teach, are beginning to demand a paradigm shift.
In May, two weeks after news of the resistance to Pearson was reported in The New York Times, Barbara Madeloni received a letter of non-renewal. Students, faculty and community members, who understand the non-renewal to be one more example of the silencing that accompanies corporatization, have organized to demand her reinstatement and that the university engage in dialogue about the ongoing corporatization of the public university. Besides the petition campaign, they're holding a teach-in at the University of Massachusetts Amherst: Education for Democracy, Not Corporatocracy. We can only hope that Barbara Madeloni's courageous action will inspire risk-averse university academics to follow her example. Only a powerful coalition of academics, teachers, principals, parents, students and community organizations can force politicians to listen to their constituents instead of the corporations that fund their campaigns and the new policy networks that are pushing the reform agenda.