Why Is This So Hard?

Posted: January 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

what if

The push to reject standardized high stakes testing and all facets of corporate reform is on the rise. Let me begin with that hopeful note. The movement is growing and the scales are tipping!

Yet, I can’t help but ask myself: Why is this so hard? Why is it so hard to grow this movement? This should have been a done deal by now. The fight to protect children against harmful policies should be a no brainer. It’s like a campaign to “not kick puppies”—I mean, who would want to promote policies on kicking puppies? No one.

Ending corporate reform should be a “gimme” like in golf. So why is it, when we get to fighting to protect children (and their teachers and their communities), we often hear the response, “It’s complicated.” No. it’s really not. Strife in the Middle East is complicated. Quantum physics is complicated. Defending children is not complicated. We know the problem. And we know the solutions.

Problem: We have decades and volumes of research (both qualitative and quantitative) showing the detriment that high stakes standardized testing has on children, schools, teacher efficacy, and community building.

Solution: We have the answers. We have decades and volumes of research (both qualitative and quantitative) showing us what enables children to become successful learners (hint: Common Core and more tests are not on the list). Remediating the effects of poverty, creating quality rich curricula, small class sizes, learning with purpose and value, caring for children, and providing schools the resources to provide all of the above are on the list. We have the ability and the resources as the wealthiest nation on the planet to provide what all children deserve ….if we actually wanted to make that happen.

“It’s complicated” is code for “I’m afraid,” “I’m not equipped to deal with this,” “I’ve got another agenda I’m pedaling along the way” or simply, “I don’t really care to deal with it.” Paraphrasing Jonathan Kozol from the film Children in America’s Schools, “It makes us wonder if we, as a society, even like children. Sure we like our own. But do we like other people’s children?”

Why is this so hard? Because as adults other things at stake somehow become more important. They say “it’s complicated.” Here are a few examples.

Security: Why is it so hard to get administrators to support teachers defending children from the harm of HST by teaching parents how to opt out or refusing to give the tests? See story about Phillie teachers here.

Instead of punishing teachers and firing them, administrators should be protecting their teachers. It’s no longer sufficient to say, “I’m just doing my job.” So are the folks at Pearson, the U.S. Dept. of Education and Achieve. They’re just doing their jobs too.  If this applies to you Mr. or Mrs. Administrator, please stop saying you care about children and then throw those same people who are actually doing something about it under the bus for having the courage you lack.

Power: Why is it so hard to get union leadership to reflect the real concerns and needs of their union members who are standing up and speaking out against the destruction of their profession and the genuine desire to perform their job which is helping (not harming) children? Yes, there are clear deviations from this such as MTA and CTU. But why isn’t every local, state or national union leader rallying around the facts and the data that show this system does not work, instead of vying for power or a “seat at the big people table.” Like the proverbial Thanksgiving dinner, you should be asking to remain seated at the KIDS table. Or, maybe you’re making back room negotiations with powerful players trying to “get a little of this … willing to give up a little of that.” I have friends in unions afraid to speak out because their jobs are on the line for speaking truth. I have other friends who get icy stares from their union peers who wish they would just “shut up.” If you’re a union leader (or peer) silencing the voices of your members, listening to big money rather than to your members, at least have the courage to be honest about it. Stop saying you care about children (or even your colleagues) first. You don’t.

Politics: Why is it so hard to just be honest? Children’s lives are not political footballs. Politicians and ideologically-driven think tanks or non-profits use sound bites to manipulate public sentiment, while caring less about whether or not their selling points are grounded in fact, much less reality. These groups or politicians pretend to care about kids. Arne Duncan claims that his reforms are about “equity” and “civil rights,” while other groups who might appear to be allies in our fight use anti Common Core or even anti testing as an ideological or political weapon to serve their own ends, with the outcomes for children a distant runner-up. Politicians, CEO’s and their pet organizations see policies affecting children as something they can wield, negotiate, or use to some other purpose. Any ALEC model legislation is a clear example of this: “Let’s call it freedom or choice (because people eat that shit up) to increase our voter base, blame the liberals for everything wrong in our society, and then sell children to the highest corporate bidder.”

Media: Why is it so hard to find a mainstream media outlet with a moral compass? As “Inflategate” makes CNN headline news for days in a row, major events like 60,000 testing refusals in NY last fall went ignored. No offense to foot ball fans out there but while about half of America’s children are living in poverty the media is reporting about a deflated football in a game played (and managed) by men who make millions of dollars. Whether it’s NPR’s corporate ties to Bill Gates or FOX News ties with the Koch Brothers, the media perpetuates false narratives about “failing schools”, “bad teachers,” or the “wonders of charters”. They’re not reporting. They’re advertising. We have to pose the question, as Anthony Cody does, “Is mainstream media fair and balanced”?

Paradigms: This by far is the biggest reason why this is so hard. Despite the fact that volumes and scores of research spanning decades have failed completely in proving that standardized testing has any benefit for children, as a society we still cling to the belief that standardized testing has something of value. Can we get over it, please? There was also a time when societies believed that burning women as “witches” at the stake would fend off evil, or at least control women’s power and influence.  There was a time when societies believed that leeches were a cure for all sorts of ailments. Will there come a time in history when people can look back at us (convincing ourselves that using standardized tests was ever a way to improve the quality, equality, and worth of a child’s learning) and say “What the fuck?”

Why do we convince ourselves of foolish nonsense like, “Well, children need to learn to take tests! Tests are part of life when they become adults.” So is cooking. Why are aren’t there more cooking classes in the elementary schools then? (Actually I wish there were!) Likewise, most children will grow up and learn how to drive a car. Why don’t we invest millions in vehicle simulators and give them to kindergarten classrooms? Many people argue, “We need to test because all the industrialized countries of Europe and Asia are testing their kids, and we need to stay in tandem with them.” Industrialized nations of Europe and Asia also use the metric system and have universal single payer healthcare systems. I don’t see any U.S. legislation heating up to push either of those.

There are some civil rights organizations and leaders who advocate that standardized testing is necessary to ensure that equitable services are provided to historically underserved children and/or to demonstrate they are as good as their Caucasian suburban peers. I stand with those leaders and organizations in support of their fight for these things. But I cannot wrap my head around how any system of standardized testing, which was designed during the Eugenics movement to sort and track people according to race, class, and gender can possibly offer the solution to the persons and groups it was intended to harm the most. Why play a game when you know the rules are rigged against you?

Do we really need tests to show us which schools and communities are being underserved? Have you ever seen a failing school in a wealthy community … ever???? Zip codes are more accurate than test scores.  The tests have become a distraction from putting the money and effort into the providing the resources and programs in place that we know damn well would (could) make a difference. We don’t need any more tests to show us what works. And what doesn’t.

And, as Ira Shor pointed out in a brilliant keynote (see min 37) at the United Opt Out January event, it was during the 1970’s that schools showed the greatest increase in test scores for Black children; we were markedly closing the achievement gap (with the help of supportive family, community, and curricular programs). So what did the Reagan administration do? They ignored that data and put forward the Nation at Risk report ushering in a new generation of “back to basics” and “accountability” tactics that widened the achievement gap all over again. In other words, you’ve gotta have a lot more faith in policy makers than I do to even trust they’ll use a moral compass to do anything beneficial with the test scores to begin with.

To truly tip the scaled our society must arrive at a point where we can wholly and fully let go of the notion that standardized testing provides any meaningful or valuable benefit for any child, any group, any school or community.

And so long as we trudge along in denial, fear, or self-interest, looking at everything but children, fighting for anything other than the obvious solutions, convincing ourselves that the problem is anything other than our love affair with the money, power and political influence folded neatly into this test-faith paradigm, this struggle to defend children will continue to be hard.

But let’s stop pretending it’s complicated.

 

 

 

 

Good morning everybody. Thank you for waiting. This is our first boarding call for Common Core Airlines flight 666 destined for career and college readiness.

We are so happy you’ve decided to spend ridiculous amounts of state and tax payer dollars to fly with us. Now that you’ve purchased your ticket we need to tell you that any extra baggage such as poverty, homelessness, secondary language acquisition, or any special accommodations you may need will have to be included at an extra charge. We know you won’t mind. We must pass these extra expenditures off and directly on to you or else we won’t maximize our profitability. Your baggage costs us money!  And after all, your baggage is not our problem. But we promise an enjoyable flight as we journey to the destination of career and college readiness.

Hello everyone. We are terribly sorry for the delay. Thank you for waiting for unknown amounts of time as we left you hanging in limbo wondering when we were ever going take off. Now that Pearson has arrived and has prepared the plane, we are finally ready to begin boarding.

We will begin with our first class passengers only. Anyone holding a ticket stamped with a “P” on the right side of your ticket which stands for “privilege” may board first. Please notice that you will be seated in our special private school first class section of the airplane. Once our first class passengers have boarded we will be serving you cocktails and warmed snacks while our remaining passengers are boarding the plane. We hope you will enjoy the special perks such as extra leg room, blankets, and your favorite magazines for your reading pleasure. We know that education travel must provide you with all the comforts and provisions you may need for a successful flight.

We will now begin boarding those in Zone One of our Common Core cabin. Zone One only at this time. Those holding a ticket for Zone One will see a special zip code on your ticket that ensures that you will be first on board and first to access to the overhead storage and comfortable seating. Again Zone One only at this time. We apologize for the tiny seats and limited storage. Sure you’re cramped like sardines. We needed to make room to pack in as many passengers as we could to maximize our own profits at the expense of your own comfort. But we know you don’t mind because you’ll enjoy your flight. And after all, without our airplanes, you’d be trapped in here and unable to get anywhere else.

Thank you. At this time we will begin boarding Zone Two passengers. We are boarding Zone Two at this time. Zone Two tickets can be indicated by your racial/cultural, disability or low income status which is marked on the side of your ticket. We apologize that all the resources such as overhead storage have been taken up by our Zone One Passengers. You may leave your belongings plane side with a ticket. They will be stowed below and returned to you when we have arrived at our final destination. After all, you don’t need anything that matters or belongs to you during your Common Core flight anyway. At best, your personal affects would have be crammed above your head in overhead storage like those clucks in Zone One. And since we do not allow you to leave your seat and move around, you won’t be able to stand up and access them anyway. So shut the fuck up, stop whining and just drop your shit at the gate. You might get it back if we don’t lose it or destroy it first.

At this time we will begin boarding our stand by customers who have been waiting to get on board any flight, any flight at all, that might take them on an education journey. Your stand by status can be determined by looking at your ticket and seeing the red X at the bottom right indicating if you are homeless, your immigrant status, or any other social or economic barrier that prohibits you from buying a ticket. Um. Just a moment everyone. We apologize to our waiting and stand by customers. Any all seats have been taken. Again, we apologize but all flights are currently full. Let’s face it. What would you have done when you arrived at the land of career and college anyway? Our crew have determined that giving you a seat would have been a wasted ticket anyway. But we know you understand and will forgive us any inconvenience this may be causing you. Please call our 1-800 number and wait for hours to speak to a computer generated machine which may or may not be able to offer some assistance. In the meantime we hope you will enjoy waiting on stand-by here at the airport indefinitely until we have given you further notice. Or not.

This is the final boarding call for Common Core Airlines. Don’t bother finding another airline. We are now the only company flying in and out between childhood and the land of career and college readiness.

Welcome aboard Common Core Flight 666 to nowhere. Um, I mean, to career and college readiness. We hope that those of you who matter were able to find a seat. Now sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. Please pay attention to our flight attendants Mr. Wilhoit, Mr. Coleman, Sir Michael Barber, Jeb Bush and the Koch Brothers as they note the safety features of this aircraft. Actually there are none. Flotation devices and a small exit window are provided in First Class only. However for those of you in Zones One and Zones Two, please note that in the event of an emergency the floor strips will light up, indicating that there are absolutely no exits. Essentially you’re all up shits creek.

Hello everyone. This is a message from your First Captain Gates and Second Captain Duncan. We regret to inform our passengers that we will no longer be providing cabin service. It cost too much money. If you didn’t bring your own food, beverages, and reading material … tough shit. Now that the doors have closed and we have taken off it’s not like you can get off anyway. And we are safely locked away behind closed doors so don’t bother knocking and asking for anything. Our flight attendants will be available to keep you in your seat and report you to TSA if you resist compliance. Now stay buckled in and stop complaining. We are taking you somewhere very special. But we cannot quite show you where it is we are going because honestly we really have no idea. There’s really no flight plan. And the plane is being built right at this moment in flight!

Dear passengers, we hope you’ll make us a part of all your future plans. We are expanding our number of destinations to include community colleges and institutions of teacher education. If you have any Common Core SkyMiles you’ll be able to fly to these destinations for free. For the rest of you, too bad. After we’ve landed this plane we don’t give a crap what happens to you anyway.

From everyone at Common Core Airlines we would like to thank you for your forced patronage and for spending all your state and local tax and federal dollars on Common Core Airlines.

Suckers.

Janus-faced – marked by deliberate deceptiveness especially by pretending one set of feelings and acting under the influence of another; “she was a deceitful scheming little thing”- Israel Zangwill; “a double-dealing double agent”; “a double-faced infernal traitor and schemer”- W.M.Thackeray

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Janus-faced

Janus-faced - marked by deliberate deceptiveness especially by pretending one set of feelings and acting under the influence of another

The corporate Janus-faced reformers are playing to both sides of aisle using language that appeals to their political bases. But those politicians and policy makers are not beholden to us; they are beholden to one another. The federal government (via NCLB and RtTT) partner with private corporate interests. But what they use to sell the public on these policies parallels the dual face of Janus; telling anyone what it is they want to hear, even if it’s not true. The policies of “accountability” (i.e. Common Core curriculum and new national tests like PARCC) go hand-in-hand with policies of school “choice.” Unfortunately few folks really know this. Sec. Arne Duncan (so-called “Liberal” for accountably) claims that education is the “civil rights issue of our time” while also claiming that “Katrina was the best thing to happen to New Orleans.” He also partners with so-called Conservatives for a “free market” approach to schools, claiming that “choice” and vouchers will make schools improve via “competition.” Mind you, none of these claims have any real world supporting evidence to show they are working. There’s ample evidence to show that they are not.

Through brilliant marketing and advertising campaigns policy makers garner support for their policies by appealing to the deep seated beliefs and values of the constituents most likely to represent those policies.

Reform from the so-called “Conservative” side: Privatization is Not “Choice”

Corporate ownership or federal control are masters of a different kind, but they are masters never the less, wielding the decisions for our children to serve their own corporate interests (control and profit). “Competition” in education will reveal itself to be little more than cheating scandals, high attrition rates, and doctoring the evidence.

Defunding and destroying entire public school systems in a community and parceling them out to billionaire-run charters is not a choice. It’s forced privatization. We are not creating a space where locally -run and community- based charters, or private schools, can exist alongside well-funded public schools where parents have a real and reasonable set of options. Starving a public school into failure forces parents to flee and seek solace in equally poor performing charter schools. That is, if they’re “lucky” enough to get in, and they’re “lucky” enough to not get kicked out. The word “choice” serves the charters, not the parents or the children. The charters choose you. The privately-run corporate-owned charter schools do not perform any better than the schools they closed. They do not live up to their promise to help children in the communities with the greatest needs. They help themselves.

Parents and community members who identify themselves as Conservative/libertarian are “getting on board” with the hyped narrative around “choice.”  The reality is that the corporations who own the federal government from whom you are trying to run will be waiting to collect your tax payer dollars and children’s private information. Predatory investors want parents to believe that “choice” is the balm to sooth our educational woes. Read more on predatory reform.. Is that really the choice you envisioned? Bait….and switch.

Common Core was not created by a “progressive” agenda (at least not single-handedly so!). It had alot of help from the Business Rountable and other free market driven enterprises, who saw the profitability of it. It’s roots go back decades across the political spectrum. However, creating the illusion that it was created by “liberals” for a “leftist” agenda enables ideologically-driven right wing organziations to get conservative parents to distance themselves from it, while they continue to promote the larger agenda of privatization, of which Common Core is actually a huge part. It was developed out from a move to to turn public education into a free market enterprise which began in the 1980’s. See connections between UNESCO and private education technology industry here. More and more schools will be labelled as failing as a result of the new CCSS standards and tests. More and more public schools will closed as a result. More and more corporate CEO’s will take over. The end goal of this bundle of reform, in the words of Kirsten Lasron is, “pure oligarchical, monopolistic/oligopolistic control over education…and thus, in the end, over our society.”

Reform from the so-called “Liberal” side: Accountability is Not “Equity”

There is a need to provide high quality instruction and resources to students in low-income and/or urban communities with the greatest levels of need. We have never, as a nation, made good on our promise following Brown v Board, to provide quality schools and education to all children. Yet, like the bait and switch from choice to privatization, there is a bait and switch going on with the language around “equity” and “accountability.” That policy makers and our nation at large must remain accountable to our underserved children goes without saying. That children living under the conditions of poverty can, and do, often succeed because they are bright and hard-working is also true. The irony is that current policies (crafted by federal government in partnership with private corporations) which claim that high stakes standardized tests are the way to provide for what children need, and honor what they’ve learned, does the exact opposite of what it proposed. How is it possible that standardized tests, whose roots lie in the Eugenics movement could possibly be the vehicle to “equalize” education and communities beset by generational racism and classism? For more on why this is impossible, read How Standardized Testing Harms Urban Communities or Why People of Color Must Reject Market-Based Reforms . The effect of these powerful “reform” marketing tactics is that some civil rights organizations and leaders are “getting on board” with our national dependency on “new and improved” testing to deliver a socially-just education system. The Common Core and its “new and improved” tests have made children accounatble to the policies rather than policies accountable to children. Never mind that it is testing that has largely created the inequities we currently experience and portend to worsen.

Forget Labels: It’s Greed

We’ve got Bill Gates selling a so-called “liberal” Common Core national curriculum and the Koch Brothers pushing a so-called “conservative” agenda to eliminate public schools altogether. Each has their “pet” organizations and think-tanks selling these claims to the public. But Bill Gates also funds the privatization movement, and Jeb Bush supports the Common Core. Additionally, numerous corporations associated with ALEC (a so called “free-market” organization) funded the creation of the Common Core. They also put forth model legislation that promotes privatizing public education via charter schools. Why? Because of the financial gain sought by the companies that will provide education in lieu of public schools and teachers. New tests aligned to Common Core will assuredly increase the number of “failing schools” and hand them over to the “choice” charters and corporate CEO’s. Do you see where this is going? It’s not a liberal thing or a conservative thing. It’s a money thing. And the price is our children and our public schools.

Parents, teachers, activists and organizations from all sides the political spectrum need to wake up and realize that if we use facts to guide our beliefs, rather than our political platforms or beliefs (or assumptions) to drive what we choose to “see” we find that the world (or who we think is “the opposition”) are not as they appear. The destructive capabilities of current policies are directly proportional to the spin and hype with which they push them upon us. Education “reform” will not get any better until we become really honest with ourselves, stop being led by “what we want to hear” and start paying attention to what the facts really tell us. Policies of accountability and choice serve no one but each other and those that will profit from them.

 

Here lies public education

It’s not breaking news that Senator Lamar Alexander is in favor of the push to replace public schools with privately managed charter schools. It’s important to note that he is the ranking Republican member of the Senate committee that oversees the Department of Education. He served as the Secretary of the Department of Education under President George H.W. Bush.  He is also a former governor of Tennessee and former president of the University of Tennessee

According to one report, “Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the Senate education panel, said low-income students would be better served if instead of funding public schools, the government sent that money to their families to spend at public or private schools.”

See Senator Alexander’s views on School Choice in his own words here: http://www.lamaralexander.com/fetured-stories?ID=0a91b9e7-3078-4883-beab-95b8b38ffb4c

It’s also evident that he works closely with members of the charter school community

Alice Rolli who was Lamar Alexander’s campaign manager is a member of the regional board of Teach for America.

Marguerite served as Special Assistant to U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander. She also serves as Board Treasure for GREEN DOT, and is the Former President & CEO, America’s Promise Alliance.

In addition, according to a TFA newsletter from 2005:

“Congressional Champions Float Bill for Federal Authorization of Annual Appropriation to Teach For America The Senate and the House introduced bipartisan legislation to authorize federal funds of up to $25 million annually by 2010, which would enable Teach For America to grow to 8,000 corps members. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Harry Reid (D-NV), Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) led the effort in the Senate. Representatives Michael Castle (R-DE), Harold Ford (DTN), Ralph Regula (R-OH), Tom Osborne (R-NE) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) led the effort in the House.”

From 2008-2010 Lamar earmarked $95,000 for KIPP Schools.

What to Watch For

Lamar Alexander is the lead author of a bill called “Every Child Ready for College and Career Act” (S 1101) which intends to completely rewrite NCLB. While the bill’s beacon of hope rests with its demand to return decision-making about curriculum and assessment back into state and local hands, make sure to read the fine print. The devil as usual is in residence. This section of S 1101 called “Title IV” eerily resembles ALEC model legislation:

Title IV (in S 1101) – Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools:

Repeals part A (Innovative Programs), subpart 3 (Voluntary Public School Choice Programs) of part B (Public Charter Schools), and part D (Fund for the Improvement of Education) of title V (Promoting Informed Parental Choice and Innovative Programs) of the ESEA. Revises the program currently under subpart 1 (Charter School Programs) of part B and subsumes the program currently under subpart 2 (Credit Enhancement Initiatives to Assist Charter School Facility Acquisition, Construction, and Renovation) under that revised program.

Replaces the current charter school grant program with a program awarding renewable competitive grants to states, authorized public chartering agencies, and LEAs and, through them, renewable subgrants to charter school developers to open new charter schools and expand and replicate high-quality charter schools.

Requires such grantees to use 10% of the grant funds to provide technical assistance to subgrantees and authorized public chartering agencies and to work with those agencies to improve the charter school authorization process.

Makes authorized public chartering agencies, LEAs, and charter management organizations eligible to receive renewable competitive grants to open new charter schools and expand and replicate high-quality charter schools.

Revises the per-pupil facilities aid program (under which the Secretary makes competitive matching grants to states to provide per-pupil financing to charter schools) to allow states to: (1) partner with organizations to provide up to 50% of the state share of funding for the program; and (2) receive more than one program grant, so long as the amount of the grant funds provided to charter schools increases with each successive grant.

Directs the Secretary to conduct certain national activities that include awarding competitive grants directly to charter school developers to open, replicate, and expand charter schools in states that have not received, or are nearing the end of, a grant for that purpose.

Allows charter schools to serve prekindergarten or postsecondary school students.

NOTE: The top lobbyists for S. 1101 are: Alliance for Excellent Education, National Alliance for Charter Schools, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, NEA, AFT and Amazon.

A related bill (associated with S. 1101) is H.R. 10:Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act”

Also associated with this bill is H.R. 5: “Student Success Act” sponsored by Congressman john Klein (R-MN).  This bill, “Requires public charter school leaders and representatives of public charter school authorizers to be included on each state’s committee of practitioners that advises the state on carrying out its responsibilities under title I.” It also “treats charter schools as LEAs under title II.” In fact, Title III: Parental Engagement and Local Flexibility - (Sec. 301) replaces title III (Language Instruction for Limited English Proficient and Immigrant Students) of the ESEA with a new title III (Parental Engagement and Local Flexibility) and remarkably resembles Alexander’s S 1101 Title IV.

Given Alexander’s penchant for privatizing education it’s clear that these bills intend on using state and local decision-making policies to do what federal policies of Race to the Top intended to do all along, just at the behest of state and local governance instead of federal: close public schools and replace them with charters.

Another interesting thing to keep watch over as Senator Alexander begins to push his education agenda is how the for profit education enterprises,(especially Apollo Education Group) at both the k-12 level but at the higher education level benefit from his legislation. For one thing, Apollo Education Group is directly involved with ALEC and we can see that Sen Alexander takes his bill writing tips from ALEC model bills (as seen above).

Who is Apollo Education Group?

Apollo Education was founded in 1973. It is an international privately run corporation that owns ten for- profit subsidiaries most notably, University of Phoenix.  It also has direct ties to ALEC. As one report states, “As we are now aware, education privatization, for-profit colleges, vouchers and higher education issues are now at the top of ALEC’s to-do list. One of the SCP board members is the VP of Apollo Group – also involved directly with ALEC on pushing education legislation.”

According to a 2014 report Apollo serves as a revolving door for positions of people who also serve politicians including Lamar Alexander:

“Apollo Group, which runs the biggest for-profit college, the University of Phoenix, spent $490,000 in the first quarter of 2014 lobbying in Washington, with $320,000 of that spent on in-house lobbying and the rest divided among lobbying firms stocked with former government staffers who have passed through the revolving door (including) …the Penn Hill Group, featuring Victor Klatt, a former aide at the U.S. Department of Education under then-Secretary Lamar Alexander, now a Senator (R-TN), … Apollo recently also hired a team of revolving door lobbyists from Crossroads Strategies LLC,including former aides to Lott and Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Thad Cochran (R-MS).  Apollo is under investigation by the attorneys general of Florida, Delaware, and Massachusetts, and recently received a broad subpoena from the Department of Education’s Inspector General regarding its business practices.”

19 out of 26 Apollo Education Group lobbyists in 2013-2014 have previously held government jobs.

How They May Curry Favor with Senator Alexander (and others)

In 2009-2010 Apollo “Political Organization for Legislative Leadership” donated $4,000 to Senator Alexander. According to OpenSecrets:

Top Candidate Recipients from Apollo Education Group, 2013-2014

John Kline (R-MN)  $30,600
Matt Salmon (R-AZ)  $13,000
Mark Udall (D-CO)  $12,300
Lamar Alexander (R-TN)  $10,000

Likewise, according to Influence Explorer, two of the top recipients of donations in 2014 from Apollo Education Group were Lamar Alexander and John Klein (R-MN) who together have crafted numerous bills that revise NCLB (mentioned above).

A report from USA Today (2014) states that “With no improvements, the programs and students” such as those in for-profit higher education corporations “would lose eligibility for federal student aid, which can make up as much as 90% of the revenue at for-profit schools. And with the Republicans taking control of the Senate, this legislative effort will have the support of the incoming chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.”

In a broader sense, the PAC called For Profit Education donated more monies to Lamar Alexander ($55,000) and John Kline ($178, 849) in 2014 than any other politicians; You can be sure the bills will favor Apollo’s interests. After all, it’s how we buy education policies these days. Apollo Education Group is the biggest lobbying group in the entire PAC.

Lamar Alexander is also a sponsor of the “GREAT Teachers and Principals Act” which hold colleges of education to the same reform accountability choke hold as their K-12 counterparts. ‘Growing Excellent Achievement Training Academies for Teachers and Principals Act’ was introduced June 22nd  by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. Apparently the Department of Education will decide for all of us in the academie how to define and measure student achievement.”

As Ravitch reminds us: “Bottom line: the Alexander plan will destroy public education in the U.S. Do not be fooled: this is not a conservative plan. This is a radical plan. It will send public dollars to backwoods churches and ambitious entrepreneurs. No high-performing nation in the world has vouchers.”

 

 

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I usually avoid writing posts that involve conjecture. I am a big fan of facts since corporate reformers rely on conjecture, hype, and marketing, I try and leave those strategies to them. But sometimes something happens that while an outcome cannot be proven, a question is worth considering.

Bloomberg News just announced that their new editor-in-chief will be John Micklethwait who has  served as the editor-in-chief on The Economist since 2006 and worked there since 1987.

Content produced by Bloomberg News is disseminated through a myriad of outlets including the Bloomberg terminal, Bloomberg TelevisionBloomberg RadioBloomberg BusinessweekBloomberg Markets, Bloomberg.com and Bloomberg’s mobile platforms.

Why should those of us fighting for quality, equitable, and meaningful public education for all children care about this?

We are already all too familiar with the stranglehold that the “reform” narrative has on the mainstream media. This is in large part due to the corporate funding by billionaires such as Bill Gates providing philanthropic weight behind what will or won’t get published or covered in print and radio.

It’s also well known that Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City and owner of Bloomberg News wears the crown of reform despotism. So it’s already likely that his news corporation will spew endless reams of reform tripe disguised as “news.”

For example, Kahn Academy has long been a “darling” of Michael Bloomberg and is widely supported via his news outlets.

But now enter Mr. Micklethwait, who I suggest might add more insult to injury.

For starters, The Economist is a news outlet owned in part by Pearson Publishing, whose name needs no introduction when it comes to understanding the influence this major company has had on shaping education policy to serve its own ends. The Economist Group is 50% owned by Pearson PLC via The Financial Times Limited.

Pearson Publishing has a website called The Learning Curve, created by The Economist. The website claims, “The data and analysis on this website will help governments, teachers and learners identify the common elements of effective education.” BIG DATA to manage schools as stocks and investments is more like it.

Additionally, Mr. Micklethwait has some decided opinions on education policy that include a strong support of charter schools, which he writes about in his book Future Perfect: The Challenge and Promise of Globalization.

For a full picture of his views see this video or his numerous books that regale the benefits of corporate (private) involvement in public services.

He was also a delegate, along with two colleagues, at the 2010 Bilderberg Conference held in Spain. This group consists of an assembly of notable politicians, industrialists and financiers who meet annually to discuss issues on a non-disclosure basis.

Bilderberg has a strong influence over education policy via the guidance of its elite members, many of whom including Mr. Micklethwait, are key players in education reform including Lou Gerstner (co- founder of Achieve), Bill Gates, and Michael Bloomberg.

So we have an elite member of leadership hailing from a subsidiary of Pearson joining forces with Michael Bloomberg.

I wonder how this will affect the corporate reform tentacle called mainstream media and its influence on public opinion. Could this create new partnerships between Bloomberg News and Pearson Publishing? And how might we ramp up our response and elevate our own voices above their din of bullshit.

 

 

The Educational Delusional Scheme

Posted: November 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

Here lies public education

A guest post by Dr. Denise Gordon                                  November 22, 2014

I write this short essay to disclose what is happening within my own science classroom, I write to expose the demeaning work environment that I and my fellow colleagues must endure, and I write to give purpose to my years of acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge in teaching science for the secondary student. I am not a failure; however, by the Texas STAAR standard assessment test, I am since this past year I had a 32% failure rate from my 8th grade students in April, 2014. The year before, my students had an 82% passing rate.

What happened in one school year? It does not matter that 2/3 of the student population speaks Spanish in their home. It does not matter their reading capability could be on a 4th grade level. It does not matter homework never gets turned in and parent phone calls bring little results. What does matter was that my students were required to develop a yearlong research project by stating a problem, thinking of a solution, designing the experimental set up, collecting the required data, and formulating a conclusion. Some of the projects were good enough to enter into the regional science fair. From a selection of thirty-five projects, twenty-four were sent to the regional science fair. Some of these projects won ribbons and a chance to go to the state science fair competition. Five of my students were invited to participate in the elite Broadcom Master Science Competition. No other 8th grader in my school district achieved this accomplishment. Other yearlong projects involved entering the Future City Competition sponsored by the IEEE. My eighth graders had seven teams to compete and three came back with special awards. Another science competition for secondary students is eCybermission sponsored by the NSTA and the U.S. Army. My only team of girls who competed in this program won first place for the entire southern region of the eCybermission Competition.  Did any of my students get a thank you or congratulations from our school principal or the district about their science achievements? Sadly, the answer is a no. All I got was a call into the principal’s office at the end of the school year for the purpose of being pulled from teaching the 8th grade for the next school year due to my high failure rate on the state test.  My students and I did receive two thank you letters from two community partnerships. The Potters Water Action Group, represented by Richard Wukich and Steve Carpenter were thankful for our educational brochure that my students helped design for their water filtration project. Krista Dunham, Project Director of Special Olympics in Fort Worth, sent a thank you to my students for donating the soap box derby race money that my students organized and who built three scrap box cars for this worthy affair.

I am now being monitored on a weekly basis within my 6th grade classes and their posted grades. I am required to have a 15% failure rate. All assignments must be pulled from the district’s online teaching schedule; therefore, no soap box races or water brochures this year. I am not allowed to take any of my students off campus for data collecting. Student project development does not flow well in the district school calendar, so I am being questioned by the principal about my scientific teaching philosophy. Action science with real world data is not on the district’s curriculum website. It does not matter that I have a Ph.D. in curriculum development. I must teach to the test since every three weeks all students will be taking a mandated district test. This means all teachers must review for the test, students take the test, and then we go over the test. That is three days out of fifteen teaching days dedicated to a test every three weeks.

Testing and retesting with documented lesson plans from the scheduled curriculum is what the district wants, but is it what the students need really to enjoy science? Our test scores are posted online and evaluated by the administration. Our performance on these tests weighs heavily into our yearly professional evaluation. I have been placed on a “growth plan” due to the fact that I teach what my students should know rather than what the district has posted. I am somewhat a rebel or just set in my ways; however, this growth plan gives the new principal her leverage to remove me from this school. If I do not meet her standards on the growth plan at the end of the year, then I must be relocated to another school. I teach my students math skills, writing skills, and research skills. I document this growth instead of monitoring their district test scores. I have been ordered to submit weekly announcements to the parent newsletter, but my submissions are deleted by the principal. I have been ordered to attend professional development at the level three tier within our district, but there is no level three offered because level three does not exist. I have been documented that 100% of my students do not understand my lessons when I teach because I use “big” words. The 100% came from asking two or three students in the classroom by the principal when she did her bimonthly walk throughs. I have been pulled out of teaching class to be reprimanded on my poor teaching practices rather than wait for my planning time. I must lower my standards and give less work if I am to maintain a 15% failure rate. Is this what the parents want? Will this prepare the students for high school?

I can no longer incorporate the arts within my assignments since my activities do not come from the district’s website. The current push for STEM should be the banner to wave inside my classroom since I have been a secondary science teacher for the past thirty years; however, I could not and we should not trade the arts and music for pure technical science and math course work. Creative problem solving with visual displays or performing arts can be demonstrated instead of just technology and engineering skills. Language arts would implement the importance of writing and research instead of just writing a basic lab report. When a student is allowed to decide on what he/she would like to study for their research project so many necessary skills are required. The student must speak and “sell” their project by presenting to outside judges at the regional science fair, designing skills are needed for the backboard, mathematical and technological skills are used for the data collection. The actual meaning of “science” comes from the Latin verb, scire, “to know” via knowledge gained by a study or a particular branch of study (Ayto, 1990).  To know encompasses all topics of interest and that is why I teach science bringing in all areas of skills and interests for the student to develop. This is not found on the district curriculum website. I want the student to be creative, to write, to sing, to explore, to draw, to decipher, and to act in order to gain “knowledge” through the sciences.

I firmly believe students should have a choice in their own curriculum of study, final assessment should come from a variety of skills displaying the student’s individual growth, and what is taught inside the classroom should be applied to help the local community and school partnerships.  My principal has cut my fifteen year commitment with community partnerships for the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens, Botanical Research Institute of Texas, and the Fort Worth Science & History Museum by not approving any of my bus requests. Action science does not exist. Science education lies only in the classroom and on the district’s website. This is the educational delusion I must work in; a science classroom that is data driven to the point of paralysis and where students no longer experience real world problem solving projects. Retirement is my ticket out of this madness, but what will be the student’s ticket out?

 

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Spoiler alert: Its money. And ownership …of our children, our schools, and our democracy.

There’s a lot of critical critiques of Common Core pertaining to the content itself. Examples of ridiculous math samples and interpretations of social studies hidden curriculum abound on Facebook and blogs. I have no intention to dispute the opinions of people who find the content questionable, even if I don’t always agree. I am not offended by words like “equity” and “diversity” in the new standards, nor are my children personally struggling with the new math methods. But I oppose CCSS vehemently nevertheless. Liking or disliking particular standards, language, or strategies is not a solid ground on which we can create a unified front to fight Common Core. I know many highly qualified good teachers and parents who like some of the standards. I know other highly qualified good teachers and parents who hate them. These are not stupid or uninformed people either. The collective experience with the standards themselves vary from child to child, teacher to teacher, grade level to grade level, and district to district. We will never arrive at consensus on their overall “quality.” For some schools, some of the standards might be better. For many school, they are far worse. You will confront many parents and teachers who will say to you, “But this is great for my class- or my child!” How can we respond to this without invalidating anyone’s personal experience? We cannot simply say, “No you don’t. You’re just being naïve.” We must appeal to fact, not opinion. We could debate this for decades and get nowhere trying to convince others to see what we see. And therefore it will be difficult to build solidarity of opposition using this tactic.

What matters to me, and what I believe to be the obvious and indesputable way to dispute the Common Core standards is by illustrating who it is that stands to really GAIN from their implementation. And what they will really cost the rest of us.

Let’s revisit who wrote the standards: Of the 30 or so people who wrote the standards they largely all hail from major non-profits or testing companies: ACT, College Board, Students Achievement Partners and Achieve. For more detail see Mercedes Scheinder blog.

This makes sense when you look back at who created and continues to promote their implementation. The same testing companies and non-profits: College Board, ACT, Achieve, Pearson, Student Achievement Partners and more. Billionaire corporations notably Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton Foundation, and other corporate members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have been devising a corporate takeover of public education for decades. Se the entire Who’s Who on this chart.

As test scores sink (which they are predicted to do with new PARCC), schools with low performing test takers (read English Language Learners, children with special needs, and students living in poverty)  in urban communities are ripe for profit-mongering charter take-overs. But even for those nice suburban schools with happy test takers and high test scores, the take- over, while less “in your face”, is still evident. There’s ample evidence that Pearson alone spent millions of dollars lobbying to create the legislation revolving around new teacher evaluations and tests (PARCC and SBAC). That Pearson partners with PARCC should be no shock to us. For example:

“Pearson lobbied a minimum of thirty times between 2008 and 2012 for Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) or reauthorization of ESEA, including “preparation for reauthorization, advocated for quality student assessments, literacy programs, data systems, utilization of education technology, (and) electronic student records”; by far one of the largest portion of their lobbying efforts.”

According to a paper from Fordham Institute, called How Will the Common Core Impact the Testing Industry, the motivation to create creation of the PARCC and SBAC consortia is that they eliminate the need for every state to “create its own tests and thus cut down on the production costs” that are aligned to the Common Core.

Further, online and education technology companies have had significant influence in shaping education policy over the last decade. Why? Because Common Core materials, instruction, tutorials for teachers, and assessments can be delivered online, thus creating a boon of profits to these companies to sell us, manage, and assess the goods. The profits to these companies ca be seen here on this chart.

A report from Knowledge Enterprise Publishers reads as follows:

“Big businesses have discovered how important management is to be well run, efficient and competitive … they utilized the potential of technology to restructure their procedures and overhaul their processes of production, distribution, training, feedback, maintenance and administration. But the education systems have been slow in exploiting the power of technology. Many educational institutions and systems have introduced simple management and statistical information systems. But this should be only the beginning. Two inter-related measures are needed: First, education systems need to undergo a structural re-engineering of their processes and techniques and to modernize their procedures and applications — at different levels of decision-making and administration. Second, communication and information technologies must be an integral part of the restructuring design and application.

Of course, the multiple interests in gathering students’ private data goes hand in hand with the interests of private companies who via online education can chart, track and “mine” volumes of private information from our children. This video from Knewton (a private education technology company that partners with Pearson) says it all.

According to a recent article posted by Sean Cavanagh, “Data released by the Software & Information Industry Association, a Washington trade organization, show that the market for prekindergarten through grade 12 testing has grown by about 57 percent over two years ago, and now stands at an estimated $2.5 billion.”

So while profits to testing and textbook companies sky rocket, the expenses to states and districts to implement new testing and curricular policies will bankrupt schools and communities. When the “coupon” to buy Pearson products foisted upon states called  Race to the Top funding runs out, who will continue to pay for these more costly and ineffective standards and assessments? We will pay with our tax dollars, our children’s future, and our democracy.

These facts are not a matter of interpretation. Simplest way to stop this?

Deny them the data.

Refuse the tests.

And share these facts with your schools and communities. The costs to our pocket books, to the future of our pubic schools, to the quality of instruction for our children, and to the loss of privacy and protection of our children from the grips of corporate vampires is something upon which we can all agree. It’s ample reason to end the madness. No debate required.