Voucher Creep?

Appointment of Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond to state Task Force on Test Security raises eyebrows and red flags

Heads up, everybody: Texas Republicans may be on a losing streak in the courtroom, but one key GOP player just won an appointment to a state education committee with a shock-and-awe-sounding name – the Task Force on Test Security. That's a name every school voucher proponent should love, particularly with someone like Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond serving on the five-member committee charged with investigating testing irregularities at a number of school campuses across the state. Needless to say, Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley's appointment of Hammond raised eyebrows and red flags all around. One reason is because Hammond and his group support private-school vouchers, and public-education advocates believe the task force will serve as a vehicle toward privatization. Another reason is because the business group Hammond leads is under criminal indictment for its financial role in the 2002 legislative campaigns that gave Republicans the upper hand in the House, which subsequently tried to pass a school-voucher bill.

Commissioner Neeley said she created the task force after a data forensic study found evidence of cheating on standardized tests. It happens that the company that oversees standardized testing for the Texas Education AgencyPearson Educational Measurement – was also a subcontractor on the forensic study job that went to Utah-based Caveon Test Security. The TEA awarded Pearson the $279 million testing contract in June 2005 and handed Caveon and Pearson the $500,000 cheating contract one month later. During this same period of time, both Hammond and Pearson lobbyist Sandy Kress (the architect of the No Child Left Behind Act that brought us high-stakes testing) were engaged in some high-stakes lobbying on a school finance bill pending in a special session of the Legislature. The two were aggressively pushing legislation that would have established a series of unachievable "reform" mandates for public schools and made it easier for private companies to take over failing campuses. The measure failed, but the findings of the new task force could provide more ammunition for voucher supporters. In a statement last week, Hammond vowed: "As a member of this commission, I will work to see that aggressive action is taken to deal with past transgressions.

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Bill HammondTask Force on Test Security, Bill Hammond, Texas Association of Business, Texas Education Agency, Shirley Neeley

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