Sunday, February 22, 2015

PARCC Loves Monsanto?

It's been two weeks since I ploughed through the PARCC sample test items, and the swelling in my brain has mostly subsided. But there has been one thing that has nagged at me ever since, and today I'd like to revisit that.

The first set of questions deal with a selection about the use of DNA with crops-- not, as you might guess, strictly with developing better crops through genetic manipulation, which is its own kettle of two-headed fish, but through something else...

DNA testing, the technique which has helped solve high-profile murder cases, may now help to solve crop crimes.

You might well ask-- what the hell is a crop crime? Did somebody find a bunch of cows pummeled to death with no evidence except traces of corn stalks? Are there unsolved bank robberies out there where the only clue is a small pile of wheat? The selection doesn't provide much of a hint, other than to mention theft in passing.

But for several years I've had my students read Fast Food Nation and we follow it up with Food, Inc-- so the idea of a crop crime definitely rang a bell. Here's a clip from the film.

Because Monsanto owns certain crops, it reserves the right to track down anyone they think might be using their patented seeds without having paid for it. This would include someone who has had GMO pollen blown into their field by the wind.

But of course corn and soybeans just look like corn and soybean. If Monsanto thought you had grabbed some of their DNA, how would they prove it (so they could take you to court and stomp on you)? They would need some DNA testing to catch you perpetrating this crop crime.

PARCC has been criticized for including "product placement" in its testing, with brand names and logos included in the questions. But this is even creepier-- a selection that includes a whole corporate philosophy. The issues here are huge and difficult and complex-- Should a corporation own a life form, or the DNA of a life form? Should the legal system let itself be used as corporate cops? Does our need for plentiful food justify extra protections for food corporations? And that's before we get into How the Justice System Works questions.

But the PARCC question slips right past that and buries a host of challenging assumptions in this reading test. For my money (and hey-- I'm a taxpayer, so it is my money), this is far creepier than the root beer logo, and adds a whole extra problematic level for students who are knowledgeable about the issues the reading selection blithely raises.

Maybe it's simply that Monsanto has done its job so well that PARCC writers included the selection without question. Or maybe this is just how the corporate club helps keep its own point of view out there. But for me it's just one more huge PARCC fail.


  1. Pearson, Monsanto- they are all in the same 1% club.

  2. Dear Mr. Greene,

    I wrote about this in the comments section of your post "Who Measures The Rulers" (12.18.2014.)

    I wrote that I was worried about Pearson owning the tests and so much of the educational material. My "very exaggerated" examples of "future test questions" were:

    “In the War of Northern Aggression, the thing them Yankees were most feared of were (a.) the “Rebel Yell.” (b.) murderous slaves. (c.) the moral superiority of the Confederate Generals.”

    “In this story Jeff wanted a Coke with his supper because (a.) he was thirsty for "the pause that refreshes." (b.) it's the real thing. (c.) things go better with Coke.”

    “Besides Evolution, another theory which explains the Origin of Man is (a) Conservation of Energy. (b.) Turtles All The Way Down. (c.) Intelligent Design.”

    In each example, one view of a controversial subject is presented and promoted. So, now we've seen how Pearson handles the the "Coke" one (that is,"product placement" in the form of presenting and promoting Monsanto's view of seed saving as a "crime,".) Has any one of the readers encountered the other two (political and religious) ways the test could promote a way of thinking? Those might be out there too.


  3. I'm out of free articles on EdWeek for the month, but go check out the old Living in Dialog blog (before Anthony Cody took it off EdWeek) and look for 2 posts about Bill Gates and "Leveraged Philanthropy." Very enlightening, and your mention of the genetics in your other post made me wonder about a connection too....