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Uninvited Guest

Organizers of a conference that brought together public and charter school teachers in Massachusetts last week dropped prominent testing critic Alfie Kohn as their keynote speaker after the state education department threatened to withhold about $18,000 in federal grant money to help stage the event.

Jonathan Palumbo, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Education, said the agency was concerned that Mr. Kohn's remarks would be inappropriate for a gathering organized to exchange ideas between traditional public school teachers and their charter school counterparts. The department has received about $1.5 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education over the past two years to help facilitate discussions between the two groups of educators.

Alfie Kohn

"It wasn't so much the speaker, but the content he wanted to talk about," said Mr. Palumbo, who added that he had assumed Mr. Kohn would be speaking about his criticisms of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests, which students in the class of 2003 will have to pass in English and mathematics in order to graduate.

"It's unsettling, but not really surprising," said Mr. Kohn, the author of The Case Against Standardized Testing, published last year. "It's a small step from saying, 'Pass this test or you don't graduate' and saying, 'Renege on this speaker or you don't get funded.'"

The MCAS has drawn fire from critics who say the exams soak up classroom time and energy that could be put to better use. Supporters say the tests are needed to ensure accountability.

The conference took place May 9-10 in Northampton, Mass. The conference's coordinator, consultant Amy Leos-Urbel, declined to comment last week.

—John Gehring

Vol. 20, Issue 36, Page 18

Published in Print: May 16, 2001, as State Journal

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