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Paying for Tests vs. Supporting Student Learning

As NY and other states gear up to spend their Race to the Top funds on developing more and more standardized tests and curriculums focused on passing them, here’s a powerful cautionary tale from Detroit about where that money may (vs. should) be going.

What did those of us staying in the same downtown hotel as Hollywood stars like Samuel L. Jackson think we could do to help fix the Detroit Public Schools?

I asked myself that question at the time, and I ask it especially now, when I’m amazed to read about the “draconian” measures being taken by DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb. While he concedes his plan makes neither financial nor academic sense, Bobb is nonetheless attempting to solve DPS’s $327 million budget shortfall by closing nearly half of Detroit’s schools and increasing class sizes in the remaining ones to as high as sixty. It seems an insane idea to me, especially since I feel responsible for a big chunk of that deficit.

The company I worked for, you see, is owned by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt just completed a 15-month contract with the Detroit Public Schools worth $39,859,925.00. That’s right, almost forty million dollars, or more than 12 percent of DPS’s entire budget shortfall, for HMH’s “managed instruction” in reading and math. While I don’t know exactly what forty million dollars of “managed instruction” looks like (who does?), I know some of those millions were used to pay for the tests I helped slap together (mostly recycling passages and questions from our item bank that had been used many times before) and to sponsor my travels to Detroit.