The push for high stakes standardised testing has created many business opportunities, as government funding is channelled into tests and texts rather than teacher training and reducing class sizes. This has fed a massive industry in test-related materials in the US that reached $592 million in sales in 2003, and over $8 billion in textbook and related educational materials in the US alone in 2006.
America's public education is in controversy. As public schools across the country struggle for funding, complicated by the impact of poverty and politics, some question the future and effectiveness of public schools in the U.S.
For free-market reformers, private investors and large education corporations, this controversy spells opportunity in turning public schools over to private interests. Education, Inc. examines the free-market and for-profit interests that have been quietly and systematically privatizing America’s public education system under the banner of “school choice.”
In Australian standardised testing (NAPLAN) has also given rise to an industry "where tests are available along with guidance from publishers to make your NAPLAN results successful? This is a nice little earner capitalising and exploiting the anxiety of students and parents. Schools aid and abet this by opting to purchase these materials".
The profits to be made from the testing industry ensure that apart from the general business support for testing there is a dedicated band of business lobbyists who have their own vested interests in pushing standardised testing. “At every hearing, every discussion, the big test publishers are always present with at least one lobbyist, sometimes more”.
Private companies are paid not only to produce the test and supply materials for test preparation but also to grade the tests. Given that by 2008 there will be some 17 tests required by NCLB for each school district each year as well as state tests and practice tests, this is a boom industry.
The NCLB has provided such a windfall of business that it has been dubbed the Testing Company Welfare Act. It provides for some $13 billion of Title 1 money (money previously earmarked for helping low income students) to be spent on NCLB initiatives “including $3.7 billion expected to go to businesses developing supplemental curriculum, $3.5 billion to professional development services, and $1 billion to tutoring and test preparation companies”.
The respected Literacy Research Association has recorded its concern that “representatives of multiple commercial entities that stand to profit enormously from selling curricula, instructional materials, assessments, and consultancies as the standards are rolled out” are authoring US curriculum standards.
Private test companies receive little government oversight: “In fact, there is more public oversight of the pet industry and the food we feed our dogs than there is for the quality of tests we make our kids take”.
Schools pay for commercial test-preparation materials which can divert funds from very needy schools without any proven results. For example, Professor Linda McNeil, co-director of the Rice Center for Education, describes a primarily Mexican-American school in Houston “that had no library, almost no lab equipment and a shortage of textbooks. Instead of addressing these basic educational needs, the administration spent $20,000 for commercial test-preparation books. Scores at the school failed to improve.”
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