I read a great article about the secret privatization of schools tonight, but I have to admit that what made me click the link on Twitter was a reference to talking fruit, NOT the secret privatization of public schools.

Not this talking fruit:

One of these:

 First, here’s the great article on the NYT by Gail Collins Don’t worry. It’s short and charming; it won’t tax your brain.

Ms. Collins brings up some very salient points about how standardized testing, among other factors, has become a huge profit center, effectively privatizing that aspect of public education. She also brings up the recent embarrassing test question about a talking pineapple on a New York State standardized test provided by Pearson, the giant for-profit education industry service provider. Read it, seriously.

Reading that brought to mind two recent conversations I’ve had concerning standardized testing. Both were with education professionals, and both were, to varying degrees, alarming.

First, I spoke with a guidance counselor I’ve known since he was a middle schooler. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “So, what do you think of those standardized tests”
Him: “(fill this space with a combination of the crap Ralphie’s dad says while he’s fighting the furnace and R. Lee Ermey’s lines from Full Metal Jacket.)”
Me: “You don’t say! So you don’t like them?”
Him: /sarcasm on “I have a dream that one day all children, regardless of the color of their skin, will take the same standardized test.”/sarcasm off

Amen brother. That wasn’t really a very eloquent assault on these tests, but a good indication of the frustration they cause educators.

The second conversation was a bit more insightful. It was with a perpetually cheerful special educator. Seriously, this woman has an amazing soul. Even though it was clear the tests frustrate her, she kept her tone light and never seemed pessimistic.

Me: “So, what do you think of those standardized tests?”
Her: “They are a BIT frustrating. Last year our entire school missed a benchmark because of three students who tanked the tests. It wasn’t anyone’s fault; these kids are just running at max speed. The problem is that they need one-on-one care, but since they scored marginally above the lowest acceptable score in one area of the testing, they disqualified themselves from getting the help they really need.”
Me: (stunned silence) (yes, that’s possible. rare, but it happens)
Her:”I might have a chance of helping one of them surruptitiously next year, as he’ll share a class with some of my students. (she goes on to unselfconsciously illustrate why she is a saint walking among us, giving of herself without thought)
Me: “Isn’t there a provision in No Child Left Behind where we can pull these kids out of the pool of testees for the purposes of school-wide judgement?”
Her:”Yes, it’s called passing them up a grade regardless of their performance. And when they get to high school they drop out. NCLB actually requires that schools continually improve until the operate at 100% and then stay there. That’s the law. So if we hold these children back, all we are doing is frontloading our negatives for the next year, which can be devastating if its a testing year.”

I mean, my feelings about the state of public education are so mixed. My kids are doing things grades ahead of where I was when I was a kid, and I was in most of the advanced classes in school. I am consistently impressed by both their efforts and the outcomes achieved in our public schools, but then our county has good schools. Apparently Mary thought of that before we bought our home. I was more like Ray from Ghostbusters. I love our house.

But obviously, schools overall are suffering, and our students are not being prepared to compete in the workplace. It seems that “way better than when I was a kid” is “not good enough.”

I am at a loss. I even recognize that in many cases, standardized tests can be helpful, and while our system would benefit from losing them, other school systems that are just trying to keep their head above water can use them as a focal point for their limited resources.

That’s fine, I guess, as long as all a graduate needs to be able to do is tread water.