Profiles in Education:
Kurt Landgraf, ETS Pres. & CEO Refocuses Premier Testing Organization
It seems to be not just his job but his “profession,” a matter of passion and faith: Kurt M. Landgraf, the president and CEO of the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the world’s largest private testing and research organization, is talking about the ETS mission to advance “quality and equity in education.” Indeed, Landgraf’s measured tone and reflective manner suggest a deeply held commitment to improving education not just in the U.S. but abroad, particularly the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where ETS is finding new partner-clients in the global village. But it is Landgraf’s dedication to strengthening achievement in this country, particularly for grades K-12 that seems to have claimed his heart. Having worked abroad for years, he appreciates America’s unique position as the only country in the world where public education is considered a basic right. Nonetheless, he says, it must change.
Though Landgraf has been at the ETS helm for five years, he was actually coming back in 2000 to an institution he had served 30 years earlier as associate director of marketing. In the years in between, he headed DuPont Pharmaceuticals Company and, before that, held various executive positions in the health care industry, concentrating on sales and marketing. He sees similarities between the pharmaceutical industry and education. Both deal in intellectual property, both invest in research for present and projected market needs. His career could easily serve as an instructive model. A graduate of Wagner College on Staten Island where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration (“I was there on an athletic scholarship”), he was fortunate in falling under the influence of a wonderful teacher. Though he says he wasn’t the very best student, he did go on to get three master’s degrees and to be graduated from the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program. His move from pharmaceuticals to education was prompted, he says, by a desire “to make a difference” where it counted the most. And that was in education. In particular, he is excited about “closing the achievement gap” between rich and poor, white and nonwhite, which data suggest should be the number-one priority of the nation. How does ETS assist?
Though students, teachers, school administrators and government officials associate ETS primarily with the SAT, GRE, GMAT, and TOFEL [Test of English as a Foreign Language], the 59-year old nonprofit organization has become a major player in several states over the last few years in also providing diagnostic tools, assessment data, research models, products and consulting services for K-12. Respectfully acknowledging similar businesses, for-profit companies that may offer lower-bids and textbook affiliations, Landgraf notes that ETS is a truly “independent” enterprise, not to mention innovative one. Constantly reviewing new tests with leading academic and psychometric professionals, taking, sometimes, up to 18 months to satisfy criteria for fairness and validity, ETS has been moving not only to design tests in accord with state curricula but to have an effect on curricula by way of publicizing test results and, through ETS-sponsored conferences and intervention and information workshops, providing advice on how best to initiate and legislate for reform.
Landgraf speaks respectfully but critically of national needs and inadequate resources. No Child Left Behind must be forcefully implemented and the quality of teacher training dramatically improved—he sees some merit in differential pay for those who would teach science and math, for example, and who would willingly serve in the most challenging schools and participate in rigorous mentoring programs. But the biggest problem in education, he observes, has to do with funding: real estate-based determinations clearly disadvantage lower socio-economic populations. Though he is doubtful that the United States will ever go the route of some European countries that have national curricula, he does think that states might be prompted to change, prodded by national benchmark standards, by NAEP reports that show disparities between local and national measurements in reading and math, and by data gleaned from ETS’s new management system. Meanwhile, at the graduate level and in the international arena, ETS is on the move, incorporating more higher order cognitive skills into the GRE, making TOFEL better reflect classroom content, and effectively diminishing computer security problems by relying on continuously changing exams on the Internet. All this, and President Landgraf still finds time to post messages: www.ets.org.#