You've probably heard about the pineapple. Eighth-graders in New York State recently took a standardized test (Canadian translation: students in grade eight wrote an exam) where they were asked about a talking pineapple. The Daily News
broke the story.
Students across the state are still scratching their heads over an absurd state test question about a talking pineapple.
The puzzler on the eighth-grade reading exam stumped even educators and has critics saying the tests, which are becoming more high stakes, are flawed.
“I think it’s weird that they put such a silly question on a state test. What were they thinking?” said Bruce Turley, 14, an eighth-grader at Lower Manhattan Community Middle School.
“I thought it was a little strange, but I just answered it as best as I could,” said his classmate Tyree Furman, 14. “You just have to give it your best answer. These are important tests.”
In the story, a take-off on Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare, a talking pineapple challenges a hare to a race. The other animals wager on the immobile pineapple winning — and ponder whether it’s tricking them.
When the pineapple fails to move and the rabbit wins, the animals dine on the pineapple.
Students were asked two perplexing questions: why did the animals eat the talking fruit, and which animal was wisest?
Teachers, principals and parents contacted by The News said they weren’t sure what the answers were.
What you may not have heard is the story behind this test question. This wasn't just a faceplant and a joke on Twitter. It was some Wall Street trader's profit margin. Gail Collins explains.
Teachers, parents and education experts all chimed in. Nobody liked the talking pineapple questions. The Daily News, which broke the story, corralled “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings, who concluded that “the plot details are so oddly chosen that the story seems to have been written during a peyote trip.”
The state education commissioner, John King, announced that the questions would not count in the official test scores. There was no comment from the test author. That would be Pearson, the world’s largest for-profit education business, which has a $32 million five-year contract to produce New York standardized tests.
Now — finally — we have tumbled into my central point. We have turned school testing into a huge corporate profit center, led by Pearson, for whom $32 million is actually pretty small potatoes. Pearson has a five-year testing contract with Texas that’s costing the state taxpayers nearly half-a-billion dollars.
This is the part of education reform nobody told you about. You heard about accountability, and choice, and innovation. But when No Child Left Behind was passed 11 years ago, do you recall anybody mentioning that it would provide monster profits for the private business sector?
It’s not just the tests. No Child Left Behind has created a system of public-funded charter schools, a growing number of which are run by for-profit companies. Some of them are completely online, with kids getting their lessons at home via computer. The academic results can be abysmal, but on the plus side — definitely no classroom crowding issues.
Pearson is just one part of the picture, albeit a part about the size of Mount Rushmore. 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.
If all else fails, the kid could always drop out and try to get a diploma via the good old G.E.D. The General Educational Development test program used to be operated by the nonprofit American Council on Education, but last year the Council and Pearson announced that they were going into a partnership to redevelop the G.E.D. — a nationally used near-monopoly — as a profit-making enterprise.
Privatization doesn't improve service. It doesn't save money. It just moves public money - that is, our tax dollars - into somebody else's pocket. Rob Ford, we're looking at you.
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