Fellow critics of high stakes standardized tests (and the education systems built around them) love to lay the blame on corporate greed for the current education insanity. One version of the corporate greed narrative imagines that big corporations make money off the education status quo. Another version posits that corporations seek to produce mindless robots for their profit-making schemes. They imagine Bill Gates thinking: “how do we advance standardized tests so I can make more money.”
While it’s true that there are vested business interests in the education status quo and in privatizing public schools, that’s not what’s driving the business community’s obsession with education. It’s an overreliance on the wrong kind of data. We measure the wrong things because they are easier to measure and we don’t know better, and then do the wrong things because we are measuring them.
Business leaders fear that America is slipping compared with other countries on the world stage. They imagine that lower test scores compared to China and other countries must mean that China is doing a better job of educating its kids for the workforce. They home in on a piece of data—standardized test scores—and assume, wrongly, that they are an accurate indication of educational achievement.
Chinese-born education scholar Yong Zhao points out that the Chinese are moving in the exact opposite direction. Obsessed with the fact that they cannot produce a Steve Jobs, they are trying to re-fashion the education system with a lesser emphasis on standardization and a greater emphasis on creativity and critical thinking.
Zhao also points out that countries that produce the highest standardized test scores produce the lowest entrepreneurship rates. Our fixation on crude metrics is taking us in the exact wrong direction.
Corporate leaders, generally speaking, are not evil, they are clueless.