My Letter to Arne

Posted: October 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

Dear Arne,

I know many members of the education revolution, fighting for the rights of ALL children for an equitable, meaningful and sustainable public education, are doing a jig of joy over your resignation. I share in their collective joy…and yet…well, I’m gonna kind of miss you.

I’m going to miss your vapid blank facial expressions. I am going to miss the empty rhetoric which any dolt could have written on the inside of a Hallmark greeting card, and call it a genuine response to our genuine problems. I am REALLY gonna miss those horrible foot- in- the- mouth gaffs you made, like the racist response to the people of New Orleans after Katrina and the way n which you erase the voices and actions of people of color which are central to the opt out movement by calling it a movement of “white middle class soccer moms.”

You made it so easy to fight back. You gave us so much fuel for fodder. Now what? Will King, being the asshat that he is, continue to destroy public education as badly as you have? I am sure he will. But will he be as much fun?

The first time you and I met was in 2011 during the Save Our Schools march when i gave you my hand made doll-in-a-box (made especially for you). I am sure you’ll take it with you when you leave and keep it somewhere to treasure always.


We met again when United Opt Out occupied the US Department of Education. You invited us in and shared with us the black hole that is your intellectual void .

The last time was met was just under a year ago when you spoke at UMBC in Baltimore MD. At the Q and A session is asked you this:

“My name is Morna McDermott. We have met before though I doubt you remember it. I stand here today representing the thousands of members of Save Our Schools, the 50 thousand members of the Bad Ass Teachers Association, and the 30 thousand plus members of the opt out movement as a founding organizer of United Opt Out. Collectively we ARE the voices of teachers, parents and activists who are disgusted by the reforms YOU have put in place which are destroying our childrens’ education, our teaching profession, and our communities. We refuse to sit by idly while you privatize our schools and destroy our democratic rights. My question for you is this: ARE YOU READY FOR US?”

Ahh. The blank expression on your face was something I’ll remember always. Sigh. But then you leaned in to your microphone and responded, “I am ready for anything.”

But, now you are resigning…so I guess you aren’t ready for us. I like to believe you are leaving in large part because of us. Because the revolution is growing … and you know it.

If we drove you out, we can drive out John King or anyone else the corporate king- makers choose to appoint.

Game on.


Morna McDermott


2001: Students in Scarsdale boycott the state’s eighth-grade tests. Twenty-eight schools in New York are part of a growing movement of schools across the country that have protested the use of standardized testing, saying it forces them to abandon creative and stimulating lessons to focus on material in the tests.

2010: Arne Duncan was given an honor at Harvard. Citizens for Public Schools, Fair Test, Liza Womack and her Mom organized a protest at Harvard Square, Ruth Rodriguez (now a United Opt Out administrator)  was invited to speak at the rally, Nancy Carlsson Paige, Deb Meier and many others were also speakers. Then they all went with signs to the site as people were leaving from the event.

2010: Jesse Turner walked from CT to DC for the first time and participated in an event at American University (planned by Bess Altwerger and Vivian Vasquez). Literacy scholars from Center for Expansion of Language and Thinking (CELT) including Jesse, Rick Meyer, Bess and others created an anti standardized testing movement, emerging out of a whole language philosophy which had been publishing anti testing research since the late 1970’s.  During the American University event they discussed an idea ignited previously by Laurie Murphy and Chris Janotta who created a FB page called “The Million Teacher March.” From this, Save Our Schools March was born.

July 2011: Bess Altwerger (now a Howard County MD school board member and professor emeritus) along with other known Opt Out organizers such as nationally board certified teacher Ceresta Smith from Florida and Laurie Murphy (founding United Opt Out administrator) and Denisha Jones (current UOO admin and BATS organizer) as well as Anthony Cody (know at the time for his Letters to Obama movement) and is now one of the creators of NPE (with Diane Ravitch and Robin Hiller). Rosemarie Jensen (a current UOO admin), Ruth Rodriguez (current UOO admin and board member for SOS), Elizabeth Lynch (UOO leader) and Morna McDermott were also at SOS.

There was a strong Long Island contingency represented at the SOS march including Elizabeth Lynch (a current UOO leader).

Ceresta was one of the first parents to refuse the tests for her daughter back in 2010. This is important to note as one of the stereotypes of the Opt Out movement is that it is white middle class moms. Yet in the beginning one of the first opt out voices was a parent and teacher of color down in Florida.

Following on the heels of SOS, United Opt Out was born when Peggy Robertson reached out to Tim Slekar-another testing refuser in 2010, Morna McDermott, Shaun Johnson, Laurie Murphy and Ceresta Smith to form the organization. The first national network specifically dedicated to opting out  is created.

In August 2011 United Opt Out created a Facebook site, a website with 50 opt out guides, and a variety of parent resources and an email to help walk parents through opt out problems.

From United Opt Out, many state level opt out groups were born. Some grew tremendously to national attention such as Opt Out Long Island and Opt Out Orlando (Becky Smith, one of the founding organizers met Ceresta Smith at SOS who also lives in FL, and attended Occupy the DOE 2012).

December 2011 The shot (in the form of a letter from Long Island principals) is heard all over the country and sparks a flame.

March 2012  the first Occupy the US Dept of Education is organized by United Opt Out. This is the first time the words “Bad Ass Teachers Association” are uttered by Mark Naison. People in attendance loved it. What was a clever half serious phrase then in following years blossomed into its own powerful national teacher’s organization (p.s. NOT to associated with TFA’s bullshit “Badass” women’s association).

March 2013 United Opt Out Occupy the DOE 2.0 in Washington DC

2013: Teachers from the Seattle area, led by Jesse Hagopian, refuse en mass to administer the standardized tests.

April 2014: United Opt Out in Denver CO. The UOO website is hacked and destroyed.

April 2015: United Opt Out in Fort Lauderdale FL.  Michael Pena joins us as our newest United Opt Out administrator following this event.

Finally a nod must be given to those individuals and groups that have preceded ALL of this–  Fair Test has been around for thirty years, and education advocates such as Susan Ohanian, Ira Shor, Henry Giroux and Stephen Krashen  all of whom (with so many others) have been researching and writing about the problems with standardized testing for decades, and whose research has been critical to building the opt out movement.

Thank you Ceresta for sharing these historical links:…/educating-for-democracy-s_1… ,…/opting-out-of-state-test-you-ca…,…/03/20/ ,…/parents-take-stand-against-sta…/…


Joanne Weiss is the author of an article entitled Competing Principles:Race to the Top, a $4 billion US education reform effort, produced valuable lessons on designing a competition-based program.

Here’s the main page at Stanford: Competing Principles (SSIR)

Weiss’ main conclusion is: “Competitions are an imperfect way to drive change. Yet as our experience with Race to the Top shows, they can serve as a crucible of reform for forward-thinking leaders. A well-designed competition can spur innovation, create a marketplace for new ideas, engage multiple stakeholders in a broad-based reform effort, and create conditions in which rapid change is possible—even in a traditionally change-resistant field. We will not know the full impact of Race to the Top for several more years. Already, though, it has provided important lessons for policymakers.

But what else do we need to know about Joanne Weiss and her “competing principles”?

In research I did a while back regarding Common Core I noted:

“The director of Race to the Top is Joanne Weiss, who worked with the Broad Foundation, which also has as one of its acting members Chester Finn with the Fordham Institute. Broad Foundation is also a member of ALEC, which sponsored the bill called the Parent Trigger Act.”

Derek Furr, author of “Education in the Age of Neoliberalism,” states:

Joanne Weiss, Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s chief of staff, wrote glowingly that, ‘The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. … The adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.’ Taken in total, these reforms and initiatives effectively created a bonanza for a private sector that scurried to cash in.”

Jane Robbins in her post “Feds Confess Truth About Common Core” writes:

Joanne Weiss was the director of USED’s Race to the Top (RttT) program, the vehicle through which states were bribed to accept Common Core and the aligned assessments. In an essayrecently published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Weiss confessed that USED used strong-arm tactics to transform states’ standards and assessments systems: “[W]e forced alignment among the top three education leaders in each participating state — the governor, the chief state school officer, and the president of the state board of education — by requiring each of them to sign their state’s Race to the Top application. In doing so, they attested that their office fully supported the state’s reform proposal.

Peter Green, author of Competitive Baloney & Rehabilitating RTTT suggests,

Race to the Top kick-started the process of foisting an unproven, unsupportable standards created by amateurs, test manufacturers, and book publishers on an unsuspecting public … Race to the Top gave the test-and-punish policies of No Child Left Behind a giant shot of steroids, promising a level of testing quality that has still not been delivered while simultaneously chaining the professional future of teachers to that unproven testing system … Race to the Top set out to create winners and losers among the states, declaring that the federal government only needed to help some American students be educated. At the same time, it gave a jolt of support to the process of declaring individual schools losers and turning those schools into profit-making opportunities for charter privateers who echoed the new mission– educate only some of the students, but do it with everyone’s public tax dollars.

Blogger and activist Chris Chase summarizes Joanne Weiss’ rhetoric this way:
U.S. Dept. of Education officials write about accountability and evidence-based reforms, yet purposefully ignored  decades of research on successful learner-centered innovations and the dangers of high-stakes testing. Federal laws were ignored, new rules, measurement tools and standards were written out of thin air. By cutting professional teachers and education experts out of the formulation of education policies and seeking to “leverage” change, DOE’s leaders (directly connected to charter school investors) put in place one of the most destructive education policies in recent U.S. history. And, they broke the law to do it, in my opinion.
Did Former DOE Official Admit to Breaking U.S. Law?
Lessons (WE CAN) learn from Race to the Top?

  1. That people with self-serving political and profitable interests are the central “talking pieces” promoting hype and sound bite solutions that they are paid to sell. As educator and activist Susan Ohanian points out:        ” Before joining the Obama administration, Weiss, who has a degree in biochemestry, was the Chief Operating Officer and a Partner at NewSchools Venture Expert in Residence at the
    Harvard Innovation Lab(located in Harvard Business School), and a visiting lecturer in education policy at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. She sits on the boards of Learn Zillion and BloomBoard. Prior to joining the Obama Administration, she was a member of many boards, including Aspire Public Schools, Rocketship Education, Green Dot Public Schools, Leadership Public Schools, New Leaders for New Schools, Revolution Foods, Carnegie Learning, and Teachscape.”
  2. Advertising seems to win over facts and research in our “130- characters- or- less” consumer society. Knowing the truth just seems like…such…hard…work. It is easier to believe something that sounds good than work for something that IS good.
  3. Laws and ethical behavior are somethings only the rest of us are accountable for. Loop holes, double-speak and plan bullshit seems to suffice for corporate-reformers to push through their agenda. Selling out schools, communities, and our children-all for profit and the larger ideological goal of dismantling public education are buried beneath false promises. That’s what advertisers DO. Oil companies pretending to care about the environment, sugar lobbyists pretending to care about our health, or new miracle products promising us the cure for what ails us. This is the tactic.
  4. Most important lesson: They CAN and they WILL continue unless we fight back. Our complacency and complicity are what they require–so refuse to buy what they’re selling. REFUSE it all.

Read the rest of this entry »


The resignation of Lillian Lowery as the State Superintendent of Maryland schools  has raised speculation as to what may change in current education policies. Given her close ties to PARCC (serving on the governing board), allowing Maryland to be the fiscal agent for PARCC, Pearson and David Coleman (to name a few) it’s no wonder MD has become deeply and uncritically embedded with corporate-run reforms. See:

Jack Smith is Lowery’s temporary replacement, but after that, who will fill the role of MD Superintendent? While Governor Hogan has a role to play in this appointment, The state board of education is the entity that will be responsible for selecting the next person to serve a four-year term and so it’s a wise idea to know the board if we are to anticipate who they deem a viable candidate.  The state board holds considerable power and influence over state policy. Their website states: “The Board sets the state’s education policies and standards for pre-kindergarten through high school and for Maryland’s public libraries, juvenile services education and vocational rehabilitation services. It passes regulations that have the force of law and is empowered to interpret the true meaning and intent of the law. It also reviews and approves three annual budgets (the Department of Education headquarters budget, the state aid to local education budget, and state-aided institutions budget) before they’re passed on to the governor’s office for approval or revision and then to the General Assembly for final action. The Board is also required to decide all controversies brought before it that arise under the law.”

Hogan has been responsible for appointing some of the board members, perhaps putting in to place those individuals whose agenda for education reflects his own. For a better sense of what Hogan is “for” in education policy see here.

In this post I do not intend to skewer an entire twelve person board. I am sure that many of them are simply nice people doing their best to serve the state of Maryland. However, there are some influential members who warrant our deeper examination (and concern). If we want to prepare ourselves for how the board will set policies regarding Common Core state standards, and state (or federal) level standardized testing (depending on what happens with the ESEA re authorization), charter schools, vouchers, and school curriculum, we should understand what other motives they may have.

1) Chester Finn (appointed by Hogan in May 2015).

Finn is former assistant secretary of education to former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

He served as founding partner and senior scholar with the Edison Project. Why this matters: Edison Project is a for-profit education management organization.

Finn serves on the boards of National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), and the Core Knowledge Foundation. Why this matters: Finn strongly supports the common core and charter schools. In fact, Finn was is an honoree in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (see Anthony Smarick below) “charter school Hall of Fame”

According to Wayne Au:

“Conservatives have been developing an infrastructure to attack teacher education at least since 2000, when the Thomas B. Fordham Institute created the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) … [The Fordham Institute] established NCTQ as a new entity to promote alternative certification … corporate education reformers have placed NCTQ in a position of national prominence. Diane Ravitch explains: ‘Today, NCTQ is the partner of U.S. News & World Report and will rank the nation’s schools of education. It received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to review teacher quality in Los Angeles. It is now often cited as the nation’s leading authority on teacher quality issues.’ NCTQ supports the use of high-stakes test scores in teacher evaluation (known as value-added measurement, or VAM), including using test scores of students to rate the teacher education programs from which their teachers graduated. Taking a page directly out of the rabidly pro-corporate American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) playbook on education reform, NCTQ has already issued report cards for teacher education by state and is on the verge of “grading” most individual teacher education programs in the country. Kate Walsh and the NCTQ are part of the cabal of corporate reformers dismantling public education today, and they have teacher education squarely in their sights.”

See more here:

2) Andrew Smarick (appointed by Hogan in May 2015)

He is Partner​ ​at​ ​Bellwether​ ​Education Partners. Why this matters:

Bellwether works with Stand for Children, and one of the board of the Partner -members is on the board of Democrats for Education Reform.

Andy Smarick was keynote speaker at lunch for the November 19 Summit on Faith-based schools, sponsored by The American Bible Society in NYC.

Bellwether Board of Directors includes prominent people from: Teach for America, Goldman, Sachs & Co., NewSchools Venture Fund, Rocketship Education, McKinsey, and ROADS Charter Schools, and numerous people from Bain & Company.

Smarick also ​helped found a college-preparatory charter school and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools​ ​(NAPCS) and was a founding board member of 50CAN. Why this matters:

According to Sourcewatch, “NAPCS is the national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement”

50CAN is one of the most influential corporate run reform efforts in the country. 50CAN currently has more than 40 full-time staff across the country, with a leadership team composed of Marc Porter Magee, Ph.D (CEO and founder), Vallay Varro (president) and Ingrid Reynoso (COO).[7] The organization’s board of directors is led by Sandy Vargas (president & CEO, The Minneapolis Foundation) and includes Dacia Toll (co-CEO, Achievement First), Ann Borowiec (former CEO, JP Morgan Asset Management), David Wick (chief external impact officer, KIPP Foundation) Jonathan Sackler (director, Purdue Pharma & founder of ConnCAN) and Marc Porter Magee.

(Note: Jason Botel is a founding member of MarylandCAN and founded KIPP Baltimore)

3) Larry Giammo

He is Managing Director with the Matrix Knowledge Group. Why this matters: Matrix Knowledge has been described as a major player (within the UK and the US) in the move toward privatization of public education and commodification of “policy knowledge” (Ball, 2010)

According to Ball, “the commercialisation and commodification of this leadership knowledge, as well as that involving ‘numbers’ and other forms of ‘policy knowledge’, and the emergence of what Gunter (forthcoming 2010) calls ‘the leadership industry’; which brings new voices and new knowledge brokers into the market of research ideas, and also, in a variety of ways, into the conversations of education policy. This involves a new generation of knowledge companies and consultants for whom policy is a business opportunity and from whom governments are increasingly purchasing ‘policy knowledge’. In the United Kingdom, Matrix Knowledge Group and A4e are examples of such knowledge businesses.”

Matrix Knowledge Group is also supported by ALEC. In an ALEC document called Questions State Legislators Should Ask About Higher Education “ is a new joint venture between the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Matrix Knowledge Group. This interactive website enables users to evaluate the performance of four-year public and private colleges and universities focusing on key outcome measures: graduation rates, first-year retention rates, education-related cost per student, cost per degree, student loan default rates, and the ratio of student loan payments to earnings for recent graduates.”

It appears from the associations examined here that Hogan is aligning the stars for a pro privatization agenda of Maryland public education. If the 3 board members discussed here are any indicators of the full board’s agenda for education policy, those of us fighting for public education are in for a rough ride ahead.

Recently I have received numerous emails from friends across the country with links to corruption and co optation in education reform (and resistance), asking me if I’d be willing to dig a little deeper into some of these issues, or share my thoughts. Honestly, I have been mentally fried lately and found it difficult to process much of anything serious. So instead I put on an episode of Game of Thrones: Season One. Anyone who has followed this series knows how unbelievably complicated the intersecting plot lines are. The show is filled with back rooms deals, bribes, threats, and brutal violence…all in the quest for the “Iron Throne” –the ruler who will rule all of the seven kingdoms. And it occurred to me how much the ongoing reauthorization of ESEA reminds me of Game of Thrones. Unless you’ve followed it from the beginning it’s nearly impossible to tell who allies with whom, who is betraying whom, and who is going to get killed off.

The inside deals and violence being imposed on public education via ESEA is similar to the plots of Game of Thrones … so for those who feel confused by what is really happening with ESEA (for a quick snapshot) see:

And I thought I’d try this as an analogy.

Game of Thrones is far too complex to analyze in detail here, but for a simple comparison let’s say for a moment that the corporate reformers are the Lannisters, a household that rules Kings Landing, and is the wealthiest, most powerful family in the realm. They are known for bribery and back-room treachery. They are full of lies and deceit. In Season One the Iron Throne king has died and his wife (a treacherous Lannister) has conspired to place her young son Geoffry (born of willing incest) to become the new king. The Lannisters are the Broads, The Gates, the Waltons and the other billionaires buying and conniving their way to seats of power in public education (aka the Iron Throne).

This post from Ohio BATS illustrates this complexity nicely:

“As I wrote this, I realized it is nearly impossible to determine who are our friends and who are our enemies. The (mostly) polite listening is done to appease us. Meanwhile, we’re weeks away from a new school year, with no meaningful change in ESEA/NCLB. We will face the same broken mandates that continue to test, label, and punish our children, their educators, and their schools. This is not a game. We are not playing. Our children and our public schools are not given the full and complete attention they deserve. Until it is clear that what is done is right for children and their education, I will be gathering pitchforks!”

Oh…. but it IS a game (of thrones) to the corporate masters!

The resistance to corporate reform might be compared to the Stark family (rulers of the North) led in Season One by Ned Stark who was the loyal right hand of and close friend to the king who died (by treachery of course) . We find the Starks likeable empathetic characters, and yet they keep screwing up with bad choices. Ned is honest, with integrity and a sense of loyalty. But the Starks cannot compete against the Lannisters. For example, in the episode I just watched, Ned Stark agrees to a compromise of silence (of what he knows to be true) in order to save his daughters from the Lannister’s clutches. Of course following his compromise Geoffrey Lannister beheads him anyway, having gotten he wanted from Ned’s compromise.

Currently in ESEA some of the items considered positive by some include a return of standardized testing into the hands of the state, and a repeal of AYP at the hands of the feds.  Some members of the resistance might feel as Ned did; that real resistance is futile and compromise is necessary. A seek to compromise on anything in ESEA hoping that by doing so we might save our schools will lead us to the same end as Ned. What those in power want they will get, and they will promise us anything that sounds good to yield a compromise. And then they will cut our heads off anyway.

Sansa Stark, Ned’s daughter, is in love with Geoffry (now king) and works very hard to gain his affections. Sansa represents the union leaders and organizational leaders who pay lip service to a defense of equity, justice and democracy but cozy right up to Broad, Walton and Gates for their financial affections. How else can we explain numerous talking points by such groups/persons agreeing that testing is “obsolete” or “toxic” or “harmful” … and yet stop just short of calling for actions to wholly end it? For example Randi Weingarten has political and financial associations with Hillary Clinton, Eli Broad and the Gates Foundation. What does this mean?

One blog points out: “Randi Weingarten responded that schools need more hands on engagement such as happens at some Career/Tech Education schools. She said there should be multiple assessments for students to demonstrate learning. However, embedded in her flowery talk about the need for multiple assessments, later in the interview, she supports the Senate version of the revised Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that calls for annual testing. The reason she gives that annual testing is needed is that “civil rights leaders” say we need the tests so kids from low-income families “are not invisible”.’

This gives new meaning to the phrase “silence is golden.” Why remain silent on calling for action against standardized testing when you know it is harmful AND the cornerstone of reforms that are destroying your very own kingdom and people? The money of the Lannister’s and promise of power is as persuasive way of buying allegiance of leaders as is Geoffry’s promise to make Sansa his queen.  And if you watch the show, you know how that turned out for her.

A group of civil rights organizations came out with a letter in support of standardized testing as well. Like Ned Stark, do they naively hope that by publicly proclaiming that which is not true is a compromise which will spare them? Not coincidentally these groups have also received money from “the Lannister’s” in hopes that their fealty will ensure their own survival perhaps. See for details.

So many organizations demanding many of the right things for children, teachers and schools and  taking many vital actions carefully avoid calling for mass actions that would lead to total testing boycott’s or refusals. Why? Why stop just short of REALLY changing the rules of the game? As Wayne Au states, “Anytime I see ‘grassroots’ groups promoting the agenda of the corporate education reformers, like what happened here in Washington State with charter school reform in 2012, I’m always compelled to follow the money.”

As another example of union leadership co-optation, Andy Stern, formerly SEIU president, sits on the board of the Broad Foundation.  There are a number of troubling things about SEIU, Broad, and Charters in the Los Angeles School District, including astro-turf parent organizations. It was linked to a “small schools” initiative in the mid 2000’s. Looking now at Phillie (the site of the United Opt Out 2016 event) I wonder about the direction of the Community Schools model being put out in that community. Will “community schools” (which themselves sound hopeful on the surface) really be a back room way to outsource school services to the private sector? See:

Again, while these members of the family Stark claim allegiance to their own kingdom, behind closed doors they pledge their true allegiance to the Lannisters.  For example, “SEIU President Mary Kay Henry can get arrested at Occupy events, and her union can put out press releases and give speeches about targeting millionaires, but when the rubber hit the road in California, SEIU sided with the political and corporate elite against the grassroots groups mobilizing for the 99%. Labor had a great opportunity to make common cause with grassroots activists in California, and instead chose the more politically safe course.

Speaking of UOO action in Philly 2016, as Pennsylvania gears up to create new exit exams to begin in 2017 (which we may rightly assume large percentages will fail and thus not graduate because that’s what they’re designed to do)  we hope that PA student groups will build mass refusals to these tests. It’s becoming evident that have little to lose by taking mass action and organizing test boycotts or walkouts. We wonder, who will support them? And who will try to deter them from taking such action?

The Lannister’s meanwhile are conspiring for many self-serving claims to power and profit as ESEA reauthorization makes many promises to them. One of the things included in the current bill relates to school vouchers.

With ESEA in their back pocket they can charge ahead with their true agenda:

“Wisconsin is well on its way towards limitless voucher schools, and last month, Nevada signed into law a universal ‘education savings account’ allowing parents to send their kids to private or religious schools, or even to homeschool them—all on the taxpayers’ dime. On the federal level, a proposed amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that would have created a multi-billion-dollar-a-year voucher program was only narrowly defeated in the U.S. Senate.”

The Iron Throne (public education) will be handed to them in a short order with ALEC leading the charge to privatization…while the Starks compromise, cozy up, or remain silent. In the words (in a personal email correspondence) of Don Bunger A WA BAT with a notable ear to the ground:

“Here may be a workable thesis that can focus the reader on a possible end result of the 2016 Presidential Election Cycle that may the first national effort to alter public education delivery systems permanently. Jeb Bush has laid the groundwork for a subtle shift of tax dollars to be spread to public and private sector schools through the vector of vouchers. Yes Charters are in the mix but the secret sauce will be Vouchers.”

The new ESEA will also be a boon for charter schools. According to Peter Green:

States can go to the head of the line for Title V funding if

  • they let an entity other than a local school district authorize charters
  • they give charters equitable financing, compared to public schools (so we’re done pretending that charters save taxpayers money)
  • they help provide facilities through either funding or co-location
  • they let charters handle budget and operations as they wish, including personnel decision (so, hire, fire and pay at will)
  • they use best practices from charters to improve public schools (a toughie, since so far this has happened exactly nowhere)

Yes, the “progressives” like Hillary might pretend to be a member of the family Stark but it’s the Lannisters that they really serve. According to Ken Derstein, “Bill Clinton’s all night White House meeting with Eli Broad, occurred as Clinton, under the guise of a progressive agenda, was advancing a neoliberal agenda during and after his presidency.”

The promises of reduced testing or state driven testing as positive things are promises given by Goeffry Lannister, and we will likely wind up beheaded as reward for our compromise not to engage in full scale refusal. The Lannisters still remain the rulers and writers of ESEA. Anything in there is designed for their purpose.

This brings me to one more major character I need to discuss here: Daenerys Targayren, the mother of dragons. Daenerys is the true heir to the Iron Throne. She represents the parents, teachers and children in all of our communities, the rightful heirs to public education. In summary: “she becomes determined to bring justice as a conqueror as she leads a military campaign to bring an end to slavery in Slaver’s Bay, liberating the occupied cities … with an army of Unsullied. Despite her strong moral compass, she is capable of dealing ruthlessly with her enemies, particularly the slave masters.” While the royal kingdoms of the Starks and the Lannisters fight with and for one another in self- serving fashion Daenerys fights for those who matter most.

In other words, she…does…not …compromise. She is not motivated by gold nor by power. And she’s got those cool dragons. This is her true power. Her dragons represent our collective power of REFUSAL. Like Daenerys we are being told to “chain our dragons” because they are too dangerous. But they are also the source of our power. Of course the “royalty” want them chained. With it we can lay waste to the corrupt kingdoms of the Lannisters and chase away those that compromise, sell-out, and co opt our voices and our schools. Let’s use our power and claim the Iron Throne…we are the rightful heirs.

Bring on the dragons.

Why the long winded and cryptic title? It summarizes my feelings about the state of education reform including the recent revisions of ESEA/ECAA and the current state of the resistance movement. In a nut shell I find myself halfway between hope and skepticism. But….as Chris Hedges states in Wages of Rebellion, “half measures” will not suffice to accomplish the changes we wish to see in public education.

I believe the authorizers of the recent ESEA took their ideas from the conceptual playbook of MC Escher. Reading the new legislation, and reading it again (and again) I am left with the feeling that the staircases to new policy lead everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. I see dead ends and endless unknown exits or trapdoors. Will this bring promise or peril to our movement? The answer lies in how we address the central issue of hegemony.

Hegemony is that ten dollar word academics like to use to confuse their undergraduate students. So let’s put this in laymen’s terms:

Hegemony is a system of power that gets people to think and act against their own self-interest. Webster calls it “the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group.” It uses invisible codes of oppression that are sometimes difficult to pinpoint or to recognize our own participation or complicity with it.

So, what invisible codes of oppression are used to deceive people into perpetuating their own oppression? There are many of course but for today let’s focus on standardized testing as one of those codes. It affects us ideologically, socially, culturally and economically. The volumes of research to its destructive, racist, biased and classist nature are too many to mention here. But you all know…and if you need more fuel for the fight please read the amazing piece by UOO admins Ruth Rodriguez, Denisha Jones and Ceresta Smith at the United opt Out website.

Our societal blind and erroneous faith that standardized testing is necessary to ensure equity and accountability is first and foremost, IRONIC…and secondly, the means by which the hegemony of global corporate colonization keeps itself firmly planted. Our society is deeply conditioned to rely on this false system of evaluation which measures the wrong things and redirects our attention and our resources from the things that really matter. In simple terms, if standardized testing creates equity then Fruit Loops is part of a nutritious breakfast. Some might argue this is quite intentional and not merely the result of stupidity in leadership. Standardized testing is the problem that disguises itself as the solution. Without it, the straw man of corporate and global control loses its weapon of mass destruction. Until we reject the very legitimacy of standardized testing itself and the profiteers who pedal them, the cornerstone of corporate and political self-servitude will remain intact. Hegemony must be ripped out root and branch. It cannot be negotiated with.

So while I remain very disappointed with the changes to existing ESEA legislation, I WANT to be that “half glass full” person. I promise to try because pragmatically it’s what we’ve got to work with whether we like it or not. But if we do not place the systemic hegemony perpetuated by corporate powers who remain comfortably entrenched (opt out clauses or not) as the corner stone of policy, at the fore front of our efforts, we will accomplish little.

The skeptic in me says that even IF we get fewer tests now in the hands of states and out of the hands of the feds, and even IF opting out permitted without punishment to schools…. these are not the end goals we wanted. The hopeful in me reminds me that THEY ARE however THE MEANS toward a much bigger set of goals. It’s what we do with them now that matters–we can we use them to attain the goals we wish to create. I choose hope over skepticism because as Howard Zinn wrote in a statement which begins “To be hopeful in bad times …” that “what we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives” and concludes that “The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory”

I see any legislation crafted at the hands of predatory reformers as little better than the treaties offered to the indigenous nations at the hands of the US government. They were treaties made and they were treaties were broken over and over again. When the mighty and powerful want something, they will promise anything for appeasement…and still take what they want.  We must reject the legitimacy of power brokers, stock brokers, and thieves cashing in on your children. How? REFUSE IT ALL.

REFUSE to give them legitimacy. REFUSE to concede your power to them. REFUSE their shady promises and empty rhetoric. REFUSE the myths we have been spoon fed for generations that standardized testing will protect our children from the ravages of poverty and racism. REFUSE to play THEIR game. REFUSE a seat at their table. Let’s flip their table over and build our own.

It’s your right to revolt by your refusal, and it is, as Hedges suggests, “our moral imperative” to do so- do we have the collective will to grab the brass ring? Are we ready to stop asking “mother may I?” Are we ready to end our dependency on those in so-called power to make changes that would demand they operate counter to their own self interest?  THAT will never happen because as Chomsky suggests, “such ideals as democracy and the market are well and good, as long as the tilt of the playing field guarantees the right folks win.”

Are we ready to take actions that will dismantle the entire system of corruption and claim it for ourselves, our teachers and our children? We have the knowledge. We have the means. We have the resources. We don’t NEED to wait until we are comfortably placed into positions of power bending the ears of so called powerful people. WE are in the position of power. WE are the powerful people. The only thing we still need now is the undeniable belief in ourselves that we can and will take it from them.

Are you ready for the revolution?

(A special thinks to the BATS for inviting me to the BATS Congress July 24th where i presented this keynote address).