Let’s Iron Out the Details Before We Throw Our Educational System to the Wolves

Growing up in Regina, I can think back to the time when our high school received a new scoreboard in our gym; the Coca-Cola logo brightly emblazoned above, taking up a third of the scoreboard overall. I remember at that time as well, hearing parents and teachers grumbling about the decision to accept the sponsorship, and that it was hypocritical to market a soft drink company in a gymnasium.

…whether you like it or not

This was my first thought prior to listening to the debate, and my eyes were further opened to all the deals school boards themselves had made, and continue to make that aren’t simply in the gyms or the halls, but in the classrooms, putting both negative and positive pressures on how content is taught, and to what ends.

I personally use Google and it’s attached app suite (docs, slides, classroom, etc.) extensively in my classroom. It being offered as free to individual clients, I hadn’t considered that divisions would be buying licenses to use them. Now, I don’t have a problem with Google and it’s perceived influence in the classroom. Google, to me, has innovation for the betterment of all as it’s main focus, and certainly, students have had much more of an opportunity to create, in an unencumbered way, as for the first time (in my knowledge), students can collaborate and share without the need to problem solve working through making changes to file extensions, etc. It’s also allowed my classroom to be largely paperless, which has been fantastic. Google offers a wide range of case studies that support the benefits of incorporating their tech into your school, and sure, it is Google providing the data, they do make a good many arguments.

So, Google in the classroom to be is a benefit, and if school boards need to pay to use these products, then so be it.

Pearson, not so much. My experience with Pearson products have never been positive. And according to all the woes being experienced in the United States thanks to their stranglehold over the education system, I’m not the only one.

Pearson is not about creating, it is solely about entering, compiling, and assessing data. A new product I have been encouraged to use with my students, Pearson Successmaker, is a levelled online reading program that allows students to work through texts and answer comprehension questions. The program tracks the data, and over time shows the [lack] of progress students have made. The issue with the program is, unlike Google, or other education apps like Duolingo, the program is not offering feedback to the user, rather it is solely for the teacher/admin/division. Even the data being accumulated for each student isn’t focusing specifically on specific reading difficulties, and unless the student is using it for 30 minutes, 4-5 days a week, the child falls behind, and there is no way to catch up so that the data shows gains. Rather, all my students, who through another assessment Fountas & Pinell (which has it’s own issues: different standards from SK curriculum) and my own anecdotal records have shown significant growth, Successmaker still shows them as being far below.

Any parent wanting to see the results of their child’s hard earned work at home then doesn’t provide an accurate depiction, and both parent and child end up feeling like all that effort was all for naught. Because, a graph still sadly trumps the teacher’s word. Science, right?!

Audrey Watters gave us a lot of food for thought, the first being that the relationship between schools and corporations has always existed, however the relationship has changed over time. The one that struck me most forcefully though was how the success of schools has always been put into question, and that by adopting a scientific model of management, consistency and efficiency could be maximized.

Almost better than the NES design wise, but in all other areas a big embarrassment.

Ah, Scantron, how I hated you. While I loved the opportunity to colour in some oval shapes to determine my fate on any given test, I always felt cheated because it never offered me any feedback, nor did it provide me the opportunity to use the content I had acquired in any real practical way.

It turns out Scantron, and the multiple choice test, was one of the first ways in which academic assessment was ‘legitimized’ by science. This data collection, and the scripted standardized tests provided to students were the first large scale means of collecting information that might provide insights into how schools and districts were performing. I’d like to think that the reason we don’t give kids Scantron tests anymore is because we’ve realized that these tests offer little but to justify higher up positions in ministries and to justify spending on education (or lack thereof), but sadly new technologies, namely the computer, have replaced the now antiquated Scantron.

After grading my students’ RAD tests (reading comprehension assessment, also sadly owned by Pearson) I then get the fun job of putting all the data into Pearson Inform, a convoluted program that makes a bunch of flashy graphs. And thankfully the RAD offers a lot of assessment that I can use alongside each student to build reading proficiency, but Inform does little for the individual student. If you don’t believe me, read Launa Hall’s excellent essay in which she speaks to how this data is being encouraged to be shared as a ‘data wall’ in classrooms and hallways which allow everyone to see one another’s scores as a means to motivate, but from her perspective has brought on nothing but shame, and further exposes those students who are at the bottom of Mazlow’s Hierarchy.


I know all my student’s abilities, and the growth they have made (teachers are professionals after all, right?) but entering this data into an overpriced piece of glitchy software seemingly justifies, and gives higher ups and the larger public the opportunity to either gloat, or condemn teachers/schools/divisions, without the personal touch of actually visiting said classroom/school/division or taking into account all the external factors that affect individual student success. This, as Audrey pointed out, is reliant upon the ongoing belief that started the scientific data collection in the first place: data collection is seen as objective and true, while teachers continue to be viewed as subjective and sympathetic; a poor litmus test of actual achievement.

So, from a teacher’s perspective, I can understand the gains a publicly funded school can benefit from creating partnerships with companies. Especially with the forever ongoing cuts to education in this province, we can gain a lot from partnering with companies that will offer us discounts to access technology such as Chromebooks, that allow more students the opportunity to create and explore in ways previously unthought of. When the purpose of said collaboration has the end goal of benefitting student learning, it’s for sure a win. However, when our school boards invest a huge chunk of their budget to companies like Pearson, the goal isn’t student success, so much as it is the need for classroom/school/division accountability in the eyes of whatever higher power that calls the shots/holds the purse strings, and the ongoing goal of using data as a means to make classrooms/schools/divisions run more efficiently.

Moving towards a LEAN model will only exacerbate this issue. Creating a more ‘efficient’ way to run our education in the province is not focused on the quality of education being provided, rather it is a means to create a model that is less of a ‘burden’ on taxpayers. But by using this data, provided by Pearson’s costly assessments, has never been, and will never be an accurate assessment of how students are really doing, and should never be used to justify how money is allocated to schools.

Of all the debates and presentations we have heard so far in this class, this one had me the most worried, if because it made me think about the big picture of how education is funded in our province, and how, should we continue down the path we have been headed, we might end up offering a publicly funded education model that mirrors the United States, namely one that uses standardized assessments extensively to make decisions, that at their heart, are not in the student’s best interests. For further reading on this depressing subject, be sure to check out the excellent blog of Daniel Katz who writes extensively about these issues.


5 thoughts on “Let’s Iron Out the Details Before We Throw Our Educational System to the Wolves

  1. Well said! We use all sorts and types of programs and tools to help us make sense of learning but how often do we have the time to stop and think about how these choices are impacting our students. I also really like using Google. Perhaps it’s not that partnerships are inherently good or bad, the real question like you remind us is are we developing learners that are literate, critical thinkers that can make their own decisions.

  2. Wow – Student Successmaker … really? That’s what they call it…Dear Lord. Everything seems to be assessment and data – we in education dive head first into products or into deals with companies , not for the success for kids but for the accountability piece. And I too have some major issues with LLI. Great post.

  3. I agree, what effect will these investors have on the quality of education our students receive? And will they become mindless consumers? WOW! This post realllllly made me think! Great work!

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