Defend Public Education

Consequences of Privitization vs. real partnership

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on January 26, 2010

Yesterday the supervisor of the Kaplan instructor who comes into my class told me, about the instructor that “she is in awe of you, and intimidated because you are such a good teacher”. She also suggested that I sit down and share with her some strategies on how to improve her instruction. 

I think she came to me because I had voiced concerns about the effectiveness of the program in our school. My complaint was not against the instructor. My complaint was that the program was ineffective. The teacher reads a script, tells the students to copy fill-in-the-blank statements in their books and reads through a few examples. There is little time for practice and no individualization.  This is the second year we have had Kaplan instruction to prepare 11th graders for the ACT, now required of all 11th graders by the state.

 Both instructors in my class told me they had no prior teaching experience and had one day of training before being sent into classrooms. The instructor comes in twice a week and feels like a stranger in the room. Clearly her charge is to plow through these lessons and get them done. There is no checking to see if the students are understanding anything. Homework is assigned but then never mentioned again, apparently because there is no time to go over it. To her credit, the instructor did include more group practice in the following session and circulate the room interacting with students.

Here is  a job posting  for the instructors in the partnership with DPS:


Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions is very excited to announce an employment opportunity for individuals to assist with the administration of an ACT Preparation program in Detroit. This will be an excellent opportunity for an individual to work with the world class leader in test preparation and be part of a program in Detroit that will allow for work with high school students, helping them shape their futures.


Bachelor’s degree in education preferred.
Experience working in public schools preferred.
Must be punctual and able to attend all sessions and classes.
Must be available for work during school hours from Mid-October 2009 through the end of June, 2010. (hours are Monday through Friday).
Candidates must have strong organizational skills, well developed communication skills, be a self-starter, and be committed to helping students in the city of Detroit reach their educational goals.
Teaching experience is preferred but is not required. (You will attend a paid training program if selected.)

When I tried to apply at Kaplan as an instructor at their center (because my teacher’s pay is barely enough to pay the bills and I was going to work some nights and weekends too) I was told I would need to retake the ACT and get a minimum score (don’t remember what it was)  because it’s been so long since I took it. Even though I got a 27 (out of 36, a score good enough to get me a full ride at Wayne State) and I am a certified teacher in secondary math and science with 10 years of teaching experience, I was not qualified to teach at their center. But as you can see from the requirements above, the standards are different for the people they send in to our classrooms.

Now contrast this with another partnership with the non-profit, The Greening of Detroit. Their nutrition educator also comes to my class twice a week. We meet during my prep time to work out lessons, he brings in excellent outside  resources, and personal knowledge, interacts dynamically with students, writes thoughtful and thorough lesson plans of his own, and co-teaches with me with great enthusiasm. While he is also coming to assist with ACT preparation, the approach is completely opposite. It is to help students develop thinking skills. This is done by thoughtfully connecting content to their lives. For example, we conducted an experiment to test seeds the Greening had received as an anonymous donation and did not know whether they were viable. Not only did my students design and conduct an experiment, they did so to solve a real problem for a real organization in our community. This is the kind of partnership we need. Today we did persuasive letter writing to our represenatives regarding the Child Nutrition Act. Again, a real life issue for them and it just so happens to be a test skill. But that is secondary to the learning.  Not that it’s not a bad thing to know some test strategies, but the amount of time spent on those should not outweigh learning time for important acadmic and life skills.  

Back to that Kaplan supervisor. When she told me her instructor was “in awe” of me and “intimidated” because I’m such a great teacher I’m sure she thought she was giving me a great compliment and that I would be flattered. I’m quite sure she did not consider it at all inappropriate to ask me to train her employee on my time on how to do my job. I wonder how much DPS is pays Kaplan to have me teach their employee how to teach? This is just one of the problems of so-called “partnerships” with corporations like Kaplan. What is DPS getting out of this partnership? Kaplan claims we are getting a “world class leader in test preparation”. We are getting underqualified, non-educators sent to our schools taking up time that should be spent on real learning. To be clear I’m not misunderstood again, this is not an attack on the instructors. The one’s I have had are good people who needed a job. At least one seemed quite genuine in her desire to help students “shape their futures” as the job says. But a one day training and 12 week program is an attempt at a quick fix at best and a money-grabbing scam at worst. You decide.


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