As is the case with all things political, if you want to know why a law is drafted, one merely needs to follow the money. State testing in the public school system is no different. Beginning with President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program, state testing has rapidly become far more influential and (mandatory) in how we determine issues such as teacher salary, curriculum direction and more. This is a trend that continues today and the result is that the companies that provide state testing services are making a lot of money.
According to Public Broadcasting Services (PBS), the four largest state testing companies are Harcourt Educational Measurement (HEM), owned by London-based publisher Reed Elsevier. HEM is based in San Antonio, Texas, and Reed Elsevier also publishes Variety Magazine. Reed Elsevier, one of the largest publishing houses in the world, acquired Harcourt in July of 2001 for $4.5 billion dollars.
Just behind HEM is CTB McGraw-Hill, based in New York, which also owns Standard & Poor’s, Business Week magazine, and four TV stations. McGraw-Hill acquired CTB in 1965, reported $4.2 billion in sales for the fiscal year of 2000.
Houghton Mifflin, the third largest provider of mandated state testing, is now owned by France’s Vivendi Universal, the French publishing and film empire. Vivendi Universal also owns Motown Records (part of the Universal Music Group) and Universal Pictures. Houghton Mifflin is best known for providing the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS). After a century as an independent company, Houghton Mifflin was acquired for $2.2 billion by Vivendi Universal in August 2001.
Pearson Education, a subsidiary of London-based Pearson. Though Pearson once owned part of Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, NCS Pearson now finds itself stabled alongside businesses such as The Economist, The Financial Times, the Penguin Book Company, and the Family Education Network. Minnesota-based NCS was founded in 1962 (it was then known as National Computer Systems) and went public six years later. The company was acquired by Pearson in September 2000 for $2.5 billion and folded into the Pearson Education unit. Pearson reported $629.5 million in sales in 2000, and assessments and testing services accounted for $202.4 million of that, or 32 percent.
Teachers across the nation disagree with the notion that state testing practices are accurate measures of teacher performance, curriculum standards and student knowledge. After ten years of “teaching to the test” there is little doubt that “No Child Left Behind” is a less than effective tool for improving the public education system. So why are we now increasing these tests’ influence in that system?
Perhaps the real question we should be asking is simple. How much money did each of these companies contribute to George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns, and how much did they contribute to Barack Obama’s campaign? How much money have these companies donated to the campaigns of the governors who are pushing these programs? Nothing else really matters.