28 4 / 2012

Everyone scratched their heads recently at a reading comprehension question on a standardized test for New York State schools. Here’s an excerpt of the question:

The pineapple could speak English too. “I challenge you to a race! Whoever makes it across the forest and back first wins a ninja! And a lifetime’s supply of toothpaste!” The hare looked at the pineapple strangely, but agreed to the race. The next day, the competition was coming into play. All the animals in the forest (but not the pineapples, for pineapples are immobile) arranged a finish/start line in between two trees.

Read the entire test question at Huffpo. 

Understandably, people were annoyed that such an irrational question was being used in high-stakes testing such as that required by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

Then Gail Collins of the NYTimes dug deeper: the question in question was part of a $32 million package for NY schools from a for-profit company called Pearson, which also has a $500 million contract with Texas schools. Collins pointed out a few of the ways that education contractors have benefited from NCLB without also benefiting students.

Pearson is just one part of the picture…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.

So just remember the talking pineapple next time someone argues in favor of privatizing public services. The private sector doesn’t consistently prove itself as the better option.