Education Reform Sucks: Driving a Stake through High Stakes Testing


I teach a freshman seminar class about the “myth and lure of the vampire in modern society.”   Seriously.  It’s fabulous work.

In an effort to my money where my mouth is, I am completing the same assignment required of my students last week: using notes from class and assigned reading, identify a person or news event that symbolizes the vampire.  Of course, the vampire is not a monolithic character. Sometimes he or she is portrayed as a positive societal transformation. Sometimes they symbolize “decay” of a dying world.

For my own analysis, and this was far too easy to write about, I compare the vampire to education reform.  In my class, I offered a few possible examples students could work with as reference points: The vampire as the oil industry, the vampire as capitalism (according to Marx), vampire as the “Other,” or the vampire as sexual identity, as a few examples. Even Diane Ravitch wrote a blog entitled “Stalking the Vampire in Texas” in which high stakes testing is referred to as “the heart of the vampire.”

So, how is education reform like the death kiss of the vampire? Drawing from a website called the Global Civilization of the Vampire  I found the following connections:

Information vampires. The degree of surveillance and focus on acquisition of information, irrespective of any privacy considerations, may be legitimately perceived a form of vampirism. The private profiteers, like- but not limited to- Pearson, feed off of the testing and data they cull from endless batteries of test foisted on schools. They suck the life’s blood from children in order to collect data … and money.

There is widespread recognition of efforts by elite groups to acquire and control information (whether texts or images) — notably through surveillance, espionage, copyright, security or classification systems. Consider Wireless Generation (owned by Rupert Murdoch, king of the espionage and security breaches) that “that provides formative assessment tools, data systems, and consulting to schools.”

Vampirism as political metaphor. Multinational corporations have often been associated with vampires, sucking the life out of workers, the environment, and social resources for their own profits. They force others into positions of servitude, as food or to be made into vampires, who like themselves will be “addicted” to feed off the life of others. These are the same multinational corporations that are working behind the scenes to privatize public education, turning public education into a for-profit private enterprise owned by corporations.

Additionally, according to myth /legend, vampires have a greater physical strength than the average human.  In comparison to the social reality, multinational corporations have greater strength than the average human in several ways:

In physical terms including billions of dollars to spend on resources- thanks to Bill Gates, Walton, Broad Foundation, and the Koch Brothers, billions of dollars can be dedicated to reframing and redesigning education policy to suit their image.

In legal terms (through ability to engage, or bypass, legal processes, notably to ensure impunity) – Using their friends in ALEC, powerful corporations can manipulate the legal system, crafting “model legislation” that create new rules and regulations for schools.  Many of these policies seem to evade or avoid ethical or legal foundations.

In credibility terms (through ability to reframe reputations)- Using billions of dollars and powerful marketing and legal teams, education reformers re-create an education narrative. They reframe the public perception of teachers (as incompetent, overpaid, lazy workers in need of accountability) and schools (as failing in need of corporate management).

In intellectual terms (through ability to draw upon superior intellects)- The Billionaires Boys Club has at its disposal, think tanks which can manufacture “research” and “findings” which lead to policies which are of economic and political advantage to the corporations that funded them in the first place.

In moral terms (through ability to reframe the moral high ground) – consider that the vampire has enhanced charisma and powers of persuasion and coercion.  Enhanced charisma and powers of persuasion and coercion — notably sustained by public image-building processes. Films like Waiting for Superman and Won’t Back Down engage charisma and style to play on human emotion, crafting a narrative devoid of fact or truth. Through policies that force students to take high stakes testing are a form of coercion, forcing families who would choose to opt out of HST, between harm to their child and harm to their school if they don’t (avoiding the reality that taking the tests will ultimately harm the schools anyway.)

Vampires play on fear. So do reformers. The first step to privatizing public education is to create a crisis. Note the “Grad Nation” for example that proclaimed that the drop-out rate and education are threats to national security.

Vampires have the ability to track and detect prey. Through the new common core standards and high stakes testing, corporations can more easily prey on poor urban communities, transforming those communities and schools into McCharters.

As a democratic society, we must refuse the lure of vampire. Our society is being “glamoured” into a state of mindless acquiescence.  The vampire makes promises of eternity. The manufactures of the common core make promises of transforming education. The vampire brings death. The vampire feeds off the mesmerized victim who no longer realizes that they are the prey. They are the food.  The architects of education reform have mesmerized our communities. We no longer realize that our children, our tax dollars, and our right to a public education are the prey upon which they feed. And it will mean the death of public education if we don’t stake their efforts in the heart. How? Refuse them that which they need to live: The data. It’s the blood they need. Drive a stake right through the heart of  high stakes testing, which a Texas school official calls “the heart of the vampire.”

And when they ask to come into your school district-Refuse to invite them in.

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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