Over the past five years Arne Duncan and the Department of Education have whole-heartedly adopted value added metric (VAM) models for evaluating teacher effectiveness. Since then policies such as Race to the Top and groups such as the National Governors Association have been forcing states to integrate VAM’s into their educational plan. For many, however, this story is an old one. A new “revolutionary” or “innovative” evaluation tool comes on the scene with claims of magically curing many endemic educational problems such as the achievement gap or underperforming schools etc. Schools, it seems, especially since the Nation at Risk turning point in the early 1980’s, are a testing ground for new fangled technologies of student and now teacher assessment. Through the NCLB era testing regimes have been the primary technology (after all what is a test if not a tool of knowledge measurement applied to students’ bodies) through which student performance has been measured. Many people have also profited handsomely in the evaluation industry that produces testing material, curriculum, computer software, and grading services. The Pearson corporation, for example, brings in more than $9 billion annually. Add to this giant testing corporations such as CTB/McGraw Hill, ETS, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and many more billions are being harvested from the testing fields that schools in the U.S. have become.
Over the past 10 years especially, calls to increase Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering (STEM) output from our country’s schools has been deafening. It is impossible to listen to almost any policy maker or CEO speaking on the topic of education reform in the U.S. who does not couch their entire analysis on the STEM worker shortage crisis the country is currently facing. Schools and universities in the U.S., if they are to do one thing, so the story goes, is to produce a massive STEM workforce that can help the economy roll past fast moving competitors such as India and China (insert any other country that scores better on the trends in international mathematics and science study [TIMSS] test). The problem with this story, as Harvard Law School senior research associate Michael S. Teitelbaum has recently pointed out in his study on the STEM workforce shortage, is that it does not match the facts on the ground.
In a recent study done by Steven Hinshaw (a clinical psychologist) and Richard Scheffler (a UC Berkeley health economist) ADHD diagnoses rates of children are shown to be dramatically higher in states that have adopted accountability policies (such as Race to the Top) that severely penalize schools for student and teacher “underperformance”. Hinshaw and Scheffler’s study that analyzed Center for Disease Control (CDC) data shows, corroborating the findings of my own study on this matter, that especially in poor and communities of color, the explosive growth trend of ADHD diagnoses in U.S. school children is directly connected to radical free market reform strategies aimed at school districts across the country. These recent findings are particularly troubling when considering, as I point out in the link above, the powerful network of actors that comprise the public outreach (or advertising campaigns) apparatus that teach teachers, school psychologists, nurses, parents, and school personnel (and the public in general) about pharmaceutical products like Adderall. Big Pharma, the National Institute of Health, Department of Education, prominent psychologists and other actors have spent the past decade or more creating a whole knowledge industry around the benefits of ADHD drugs for school children and parents. It is not a coincidence, as former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine Marcia Angell notes in her book, that pharmaceutical companies spend more on advertising than R&D. The linking of this actor network with the aggressive corporate education reform network driving policy in this country today (lead by actors such as the Bill and Melina Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, the Obama Department of Education, etc.) creates a win-win situation for profiteering entities in the business of selling cures for behavioral disorders and educational underperformance.
“Highly Recommended” Choice review
“Pierce (Univ. of Utah) offers one of the most important and unique recent analyses of key education policy initiatives, including so-called value-added models (VAM) for evaluating teachers; the curricular emphasis on science, technology, mathematics, and engineering; and the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in school-age children. Pierce brings together social and cultural studies of science, studies of neoliberalism, and a critical understanding of human capital theory to apply a ‘biopolitical’ analysis to contemporary education practices. His analysis is penetrating, original, and troubling. The few books focusing on value-added measures for evaluating teachers tend to focus on their purported ability to improve education. Pierce shows how VAM’s are derived from human capital theory and in particular agribusiness. He links the development of these models to human capital advocates who rewrite the history of slavery in the US as having educationally benefited slaves, and how VAM’s position education as ‘value extraction’ akin to the extraction of natural resources from the earth. The book is a deep theoretical probe into the agenda and assumptions of current education policy initiatives and an important practical means for developing alternatives. This is a must have for all collections serving the social sciences, education, and education-related related fields. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels.–M.J. Garrison, D’Youville College”
2013 American Educational Studies Association Critics Choice Book Award