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Afterword Hack i n g t h e B o dy P o l i t i c DOI: 10.7330/9781607324454.c015 Lil Brannon It’s early June 2011. In a coffee shop I meet with my colleague Lacy about the Writing Project work she is doing in the Charlotte city schools. She has been leading workshops in writing/new media and building a technology alliance. We are talking about how just as teachers are using digital media as composing technologies, the district has made a countermove : in these schools with a high percentage of children in poverty, the district is mandating that all forty-five minutes of English/language arts time be given over to Achieve 3000—also known as Teen Biz 3000 and Kids Biz 3000, touted as the leader in differentiated instruction. We are worrying about how the deeply human engagement of teaching is getting lost, that children’s writing is being “read” only by machines , when in the noisy coffee shop my cell phone vibrates the text: Peter Gorman, Superintendent of Charlotte Schools resigns. Resigned? On the iPad I toggle from Kindle to Safari: got to figure out what’s going on. Lacy opens her laptop. The headline: “Gorman in a surprise announcement today resigned his position as Superintendent to join News Corp as Senior VicePresident .” News Corp? Google News Corp. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Rupert Murdoch who also owns The Wall Street Journal and Fox Broadcasting. I try Bloomberg News: “Peter Gorman, 47, the superintendent of schools . . . [will focus] on building the division’s business inside publicschool districts.” Business? Inside public-school districts? Afterword: Hacking the Body Politic   221 Big business, according to Bloomberg News: “News Corp’s education division is focused on ‘individualized, technology-based’ content and tools for students and teachers.” There’s more: “In November [News Corp] hired Joel Klein, 64, the former New York City schools chancellor, to help build an education business . Two weeks later, News Corp. agreed to buy 90 percent of educationtechnology provider Wireless Generation for $360 million.” But still not enough: “In a speech last month in Paris, Rupert Murdoch owner of News Corp called education ‘the last holdout from the digital revolution’ . . . The key to improving education, Murdoch said . . . ‘is the software that will engage students and help teach them concepts and to learn to think for themselves’” (Pulley 2011). From pre-kindergarten to the university, neoliberal policies and austerity measures pervade, serving to open new markets for large private corporations. In areas like writing instruction where social constructivist views of literacy underpin the professional literature and thus make the work not easily commodified, companies like Achieve 3000—instituted by Gorman in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools before he left to help Murdoch build in-roads into the education market—tap into “common sense” functionalist (basic-skills and building-block) notions of literacy, making their digital workbooks seem more efficient and accountable than human teachers. Achieve 3000, in partnership with MetaMetrics (the company that markets Lexile reading levels) and Teach for America (the temporary teacher agency), made $23 million in sales in 2009—and reported a further 93 percent sales increase in 2011 (Achieve 3000 2014). How do they do it? By using tropes like “individual learning,” “equity,” and “ongoing formative assessment” to wrap their products in the language of education fairness. By advancing claims of “scientific” measures that bring into schools the corporate management rhetoric and pressures of continuous improvement. All the while students are sorted and isolated from each other, interacting primarily with a keyboard. (An Achieve 3000 motto is “The Power of One.”) In Achieve 3000 programs, students receive a topic rewritten from the news at their “scientifically determined” MetaMetrics Lexile reading level—a reading level that is monitored daily as they “progress” toward reading and writing “proficiency,” as measured on their posttests . They learn to write by filling in information into boxes to demonstrate that they can read informational texts, a requirement of the federal Common Core State Standards. The corporation confidently states 222   Lil Brannon that its students practice “higher order” thinking—by having students check “Agree” or “Disagree” about the text they read. The Achieve 3000 program also calculates daily Lexile score “growth,” so there is no need for a teacher, only a low-wage monitor to maintain discipline. The assessments , which purport to accurately measure student learning, serve to make these digital workbooks seem accountable. Hence the difficult-tocommodify work of literacy instruction becomes commodified. Social constructivist understandings...


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