Tomorrow, I am off to the MTTC Standards Setting Conference, sponsored by Pearson, the London-based educational corporation that owns dozens of textbook publishing companies across the world. If you are teaching from a commercial textbook, chances are Pearson published it. Take a look at the list of imprints on the wikipedia page, or check out this mini-documentary by Todd Finley.

Pearson, of course, has a great deal of interest in implementing the Common Core State Standards. It already markets Common Core textbooks for students, but it is also developing CCSS-based assessments for students and CCSS-based certification tests for teachers. And that’s where I come in: as President of the MCEE (Michigan Council of Teachers of English), I have been invited to “set standards” for the new Michigan Test for Teacher Certification, which will likely be renamed and will be largely concerned with the CCSS.

What this means in a nutshell: if you are in a teacher certification program (like ours at GVSU), you will be expected to know the CCSS, not only for the basic skills test, but also for the subject area test. Start memorizing them, people.

Pearson invites academic types like me mostly for public relations, I’m quite sure. I suspect that I’ll mostly be meeting corporate types tomorrow–higher ups from Pearson whose job it is to sell the new assessment. Maybe my skepticism will be proven wrong, and I will be given a chance to state my opinion. I’ve been gearing up all week, reading Diane Ravitch’s most recent book Reign of Error. If given a chance, I’ll push for the following:

  • Authentic writing assessment that does not require would-be teachers to craft formulaic five-paragraph essays about random topics unrelated to our field. If the test must contain a written portion (and it must), I would like to see test-takers presented with a scenario or brief case study (about adopting a controversial text, for example, or reporting suspected child abuse). Then, the test would ask teachers to write in a real genre, such as a memo, letter home, or an email to a colleague. They would also write with a real purpose–explaining the decision they have made. This is a pipe dream, I know. Tomorrow, it will be five-paragraph all the way to the bank.
  • I’ll also take a stance against machine-scored writing, a method that most major tests are piloting or moving toward. Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (to which Michigan belongs), for instance, certainly talked about this option in the past. This is probably the future of the teacher certification test.
  • What else? Maybe general grumpiness about the buying and selling of public education in America. For more on the way Bill Gates provided millions of dollars to fund the Common Core initiative, for instance, check out the reporting by Melody Schneider.

I’d like to live blog (or Tweet) the event, but Pearson makes all participants sign a confidentiality agreement, so this is likely my last dispatch.