After teaching high school in Brooklyn for 10 years, I took a job as an Assistant Professor of English at what is now the Stella & Charles Guttman Community College (formerly the New Community College) in the City University of New York system. What I have realized in the past two years is that being a professor is a very different job than being a high school teacher. Teaching is only one third of your responsibility as a professor. Additionally, you must produce academic scholarship (writing and research) and demonstrate ample service to your college, CUNY, and education community at large. With this comes a great deal of shameless self-promotion. You must push and wiggle and arm wrestle your way into opportunities that make your CV stand out for tenure. This is a lot of work.
The search committee that hired me was chaired by a professor whom I have grown to admire a great deal professionally. He is an English Department Chair at another CUNY community college. He is an expert in the teaching of English to the community college student, he trains professors in the CUNY entrance exams, he is kind and genuine, and he has some really cool tattoos on his arms that you might get a peek of if he rolls up his shirt sleeves. We have spoken about the Common Core Standards for College and Career Readiness (CCS) several times; I was trained in them early when they were piloted in the transformation schools in 2010-2011. He had done work between CUNY and the New York State Education Department (NYSED) with the CCS, particularly on how these standards will change (ideally) our incoming freshmen. I told him that if there was ever the opportunity to do such work, I would be interested. It seemed like an organic way for me to use my knowledge from years in high school as a CUNY representative.
I was beyond thrilled when he emailed me in March to see if I would be interested in work on aligning curriculum to the CCS as a CUNY representative in Albany with NYSED. I applied for the position, was accepted, received clearance from my Provost to do the work, and went to register for the four days of alignment work in late June. Great for my CV, I thought. Great to keep me in the K-12 education loop, I thought. Great for networking, I thought. Great, period.
And then I realized who was running this show: Pearson. Pearson would be paying me. Pearson would be funding my hotel room and meals. Pearson, by having its financial hand behind this work, was holding the puppet strings.
My heart sank.
I knew I could not do this.
Believe me, I wanted to pimp myself out to Pearson. I asked a colleague for advice, and she suggested I look at the experience as an act of subterfuge. “Go in as the Trojan Horse!” she coached, but I knew that was futile. With Pearson as the vendor, I felt the teachers and professors were being used. I knew that they would drain us like the corporate vampires they are and then turn our ideas into textbooks and tests that they would sell back to the State and City. I did not want to share any bit of my knowledge with them because the truth is, I am just what they need. I understand the Common Core Standards, high stakes tests, textbooks, texts, reading, literacy, grade levels, teachers, schools, reform—I have years of experience in all of this—but I didn’t want that experience of mine to help them at all.
I felt torn between my CV and my convictions.
And then Pearson messed up my kindergarten daughter’s Gifted and Talented test scores–twice. What a sign.
I un-registered myself. I emailed the professor I respect and told him the truth: I could not work for and/or take money from Pearson. I believe too much that the corporatization of public education is ruining public schools—the struggling schools are drowning and the good schools are weakening. Why can’t teachers and professors do this work without the corporate oversight of Pearson? Why isn’t NYSED or the DoE paying for this? Is there a way to do this work without the heavy hand of a corporate test and textbook maker darkening the room with its shadow?
He understood. He wrote me a lengthy response back on how the CUNY entrance exams for English are created, administered, graded, and monitored all by CUNY faculty, but that this was rare in university systems. He said he has done such work with NYSED and corporate sponsors and had felt heard a couple of times. He encouraged me to use my voice and my experiences to speak out “to the people who think they know what we do.”
I am speaking now. Pearson, you can’t have my voice.
Oh, and for a good laugh, here’s a clever video about the Pearson dilemmas faced by the NYC public schools: