Jason Stanford: Scary Texas mothers
The Texas Legislature is in session, which makes some of us miss the late Molly Ivins so badly it hurts. Ivins made a career out of mocking local politicians by quoting them and putting it in the paper. She would have had a good laugh the other day at the press release that the state’s top “bidness” lobbyist put out about the biggest threat to Texas’ poor little schoolchildren: moms.
George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind, but it was the brainchild of a Democratic lobbyist named Sandy Kress. Kress went on to become a lobbyist for the testing company Pearson that is now making $468 million for tests that are supposed to make all our kids ready for college. And this worked as well as the last two rounds of high-stakes testing, which was badly.
A rebellion ensued. Most school boards in Texas have gone on record against high-stakes testing. Rick Perry’s last education chief compared high-stakes testing to a vampire, and not the sparkly kind in the teen movies. A group of upper-middle class moms in Austin started a group that politicians started calling Moms Against Drunk Testing, and now you can’t find a politician in Austin willing to defend the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (or STAAR test) that they all voted for in 2009. Even Gov. Rick Perry, who strong-armed the legislature into mandating the new test everyone hates, recently said he’s willing to dial down the high stakes on standardized testing.
So who’s still defending this baby that’s so ugly even Perry is denying he’s the father? The last man defending this ditch is Bill Hammond, head of the Texas Association of Business. Despite an utter lack of evidence that high-stakes testing has worked, Hammond is foot-stomping mad that Texans want to undo a system that doesn’t do any good.
The problem is that Hammond can’t yell at state legislators. For one, it’s bad business practice to yell at one’s employees. So when the Moms Against Drunk Testing (really called Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment) called on the state to dump Pearson’s STAAR test for nationally recognized standardized tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the SAT, Hammond pounced and called the moms “anti-testing.”
“Business leaders across the state were stunned today to learn that now the anti-accountability advocates are urging the legislature to completely throw out the assessments that were designed for Texas schools in favor of a few tests ... that have nothing to do with Texas learning standards,” said Hammond.
Let’s be clear: When Hammond mentions local “learning standards,” he’s talking about Pearson’s STAAR test, and when he’s talking about “advocates,” he’s talking about volunteer moms. And let’s also be clear that Pearson is a member of Hammond’s group. He’s got skin in this game.
“Why is Texas spending precious classroom time and hundreds of millions of dollars on this testing system?” responded Dineen Majcher of TAMSA. “TAMSA supports nationally vetted and recognized tests that tell us how our Texas students measure against students across the country.”
As the legislature tears down the testing prison they ordered in 2009, the Perry administration has appointed a blue-ribbon committee to study the problem. The Accountability Policy Advisory Committee includes teachers, principals and superintendents, as well as “legislative representatives, business and community leaders, representatives of higher education, and parents of children attending Texas public schools.”
Two names that jump out at you on the roster are Hammond and Kress. Kress is identified as a lawyer and not as Pearson’s top lobbyist or as the architect of NCLB. Kress must be on the committee as a business leader, because both of his children attend private schools where they don’t have to take Pearson’s STAAR test. But with Hammond and Kress on the committee, how much relief can parents expect? Not on the committee is a single person identified as a public-school parent. But we wouldn’t want Hammond to freak out having to sit in a room with a scary mom, now would we?
Jason Stanford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org