A novel of intrigue centered on standardized school testing.
Spring (American Education, 2013) starts his over-the-top satirical novel with two plot twists to hook readers: First, the U.S. secretary of education keels over dead at his podium while giving a speech to a group of education officials in Dayton, Ohio. Second, an explosion rocks the Booker T. Washington Charter School in Cincinnati, which investigators later trace to a small storage room. The day before, two teachers had been in that room, industriously changing students’ answers on federally mandated Common Core standardized tests. The teachers commiserated about how traumatic students found the tests—and how poorly the tests’ manufacturer, Brightstone, designed them. During the investigation, the FBI exposes connections among the Cincinnati school system, Brightstone, and Kiwi, a China-based tech company that manufactures computers and tablets loaded with Brightstone testing materials. (There are frequent references to the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, but they’re never presented in an exploitative manner.) Kiwi is also pioneering a series of robot teachers to replace humans; they would “scurry around the room, giving positive reinforcement with silicone kisses and hugs.” As suicides mount at Kiwi’s China production plant, Brightstone executives huddle in their boardroom—their expensively tailored suits serving as shorthand for their general villainy—and gripe about the “crazies and teachers” complaining about Common Core (“You always have crackpots like that whining about something”). The high-spirited, engaging plot eventually branches into governmental conspiracies, financial misdeeds and international skullduggery—mostly involving scheming Chinese businessmen intent on using Kiwi technology and Brightstone greed to make a killing in the impending global robot-teacher market. The real enemy throughout, however, is the Common Core agenda itself—a stance that educators may find drolly entertaining but may somewhat limit the novel’s appeal.
A sharp, tongue-in-cheek adventure set in a world of testing run amok.