Head’s up. Or better, duck and cover. Reform is coming to Baltimore County. While I’ve been blogging for a while how reform policy is influencing Maryland in general and Baltimore City,  the tentacles are expanding, as many of us knew they would. The modus operandi du jour is charter school legislation and related reform policies. Why? Because Maryland’s charter law because it is one of the most restrictive in the nation.  For predatory reformers and corporate profiteers, this (of course) will not do. They’ve got to loosen those messy regulations that hold profiteers in check, and ensure that public education is not colonized by McCharters. But grow they must. And grow they will…unless the public school advocates, parents, teachers and students do something to stop it.

On May 15th, the charter-driven reform circus is coming to town, presenting at Towson University, where a host of panelists will discuss “topics including the hotly debated Common Core State Standards Initiative, universal pre-kindergarten, and the role of charter schools in Maryland.”

Let’s look at whose coming to dinner: A host of “experts” who hoist themselves up through a thin veneer of legitimacy via the non-profit organizations for whom they work. The Maryland Public Policy Institute, Jason Botel, founder of KIPP Baltimore and executive director of MarylandCAN, Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Lindsey Burke of The Heritage Foundation.

First, let’s start with a brief review of what the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for readers who may be unfamiliar with this group, because they have everything to with everything here.


The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a right-wing public policy organization with strong ties to major corporations, trade associations and right-wing politicians.

ALEC’s agenda includes rolling back civil rights, challenging government restrictions on polluters, infringing on workers’ rights, limiting government regulations of commerce, privatizing public services, and representing the interests of the corporations that make up its supporters. ALEC’s mission: “To promote the principles of federalism by developing and promoting policies…To enlist state legislators from all parties and members of the private sector who share ALEC’s mission…To conduct a policy-making program that unites members of the public and private sector in a dynamic partnership to support research, policy development, and dissemination activities.” ALEC is supported by many right-wing foundations and organizations, including, but not limited to: National Rifle Association, Family Research Council, Heritage Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, Milliken Foundation, DeVos Foundation, Bradley Foundation, and the Olin Foundation. ALEC has approximately three hundred corporate sponsors. Several well-known and closely-tied organizations include: American Nuclear Energy Council, American Petroleum Institute, Amoco, Chevron, Coors Brewing Company, Shell, Texaco, Union Pacific Railroad, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, Phillip Morris, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. ALEC has proposed that many public services, such as schools, prisons, public transportation, and social and welfare services, be taken over by for-profit private businesses.

Back to Our Panelists:

1)       The Maryland Public Policy Institute (MPPI)

From Source Watch

Christopher B. Summers is founder and president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, Maryland’s “leading” public-policy think tank. Prior to launching the Maryland Public Policy Institute, Mr. Summers held positions on Capitol Hill and in the nonprofit sector, including the Capital Research Center, a Washington-based think tank that studies corporate philanthropy and funding of issue advocacy organizations, and in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

A brief word about Roe: The ROE Foundation–is a 501(c-3) private foundation that provides  financial support to free-market policy groups across the country. Roe was also an early funder of the Heritage FoundationThe Roe Foundation has granted $28,500 to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) between 2000 and 2011, according to a review of the foundation’s IRS filings by the Center for Media and Democracy

Bob Erlich is one of the directors for the MPPI.

In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute stated that it provided a grant of $40,000 to the Maryland Public Policy Institute (which is misnamed Center in the annual report).

MPPI adjunct staff member Wendell Cox was the director of public policy of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for three years. Both MPPI and ALEC have received grants from the JM Foundation ($25,000 each in 2009).

2)       Jason Botel, founder of KIPP Baltimore and executive director of MarylandCAN, formerly worked for Teach For America 

The MarylandCAN Board of Directors includes someone from TFA, one from Teach Plus, one from Sylvan Learning. They state “Our board is our most trusted advisors.”

MarylandCAN is funded by Fund for Education of the Baltimore Community Foundation among others. And 50CAN, the master organization that sponsors state-level groups, is funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Walton Foundation, and Google Inc. among others.

More about KIPP follows at the end of this blog.

3)       Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Alliance for Public Charter Schools partners with some of the most nefarious reformers on the educational landscape: StudentsFirst, Democrats for Education Reform, 50 Can, National Association of Charter School Authorizors (a member of ALEC’s Education Commitee) and Foundation for Excellence. Ms.Rees also also served as the senior education analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

4)       Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation

Heritage Foundation is opposed to Common Core. So are a lot of folks-both from the right and the left. But…they’re also anti-union and pro privatization.

Heritage was co-founded by Paul Weyrich,  who was an American religious conservative political activist and commentator, most notable as a figurehead of the New Right. He co-founded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). He coined the term “moral majority”, the name of the political action group Moral Majority that he co-founded in 1979 with Jerry Falwell.

How does the co-founder of The Heritage Foundation and ALEC feel about PUBLIC schools?

“Faced with public school systems that no longer educate but instead ‘condition’ students with the attitudes demanded by Political Correctness, they have seceded. They have separated themselves from public schools and have created new institutions, new schools, in their homes. I think that we have to look at a whole series of possibilities for bypassing the institutions that are controlled by the enemy. If we expend our energies on fighting on the “turf” they already control, we will probably not accomplish what we hope, and we may spend ourselves to the point of exhaustion.”

Funding for this event is provided by the Arthur Rupe Foundation. The foundation is expanding its reach into a variety of issues, including labor unions, K-12 education reform, and higher education reform.

Dr. Jeffrey Cain, president of Rupe Foundation has a record of advocating for pro charter expansion policies. The foundation provides institutional support for the Cato Institute and other right-wing advocacy groups which support the mission of Paul Weyrich and ALEC.

In their mission statement, founder Arthur Rupe states, “In founding and funding the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation, I am endeavoring to employ our limited resources to perpetuate for posterity the guiding principles of our Founder’s libertarian philosophy: limited government, free market capitalism, individual responsibility, and the rule of law.”

So naturally Rupe would support charters and privatization.  While charter school proponents rely of free advertising, like tha offered by this event, and use of keen marketing to sell their products, they all but completely ignore research based on facts. For example, a Stanford study shows “that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.”

In reform-world, this would be grounds for a wholesale shut down of community schools. So … why would we actually EXPAND a policy in which nearly 40% of the new schools are in fact worse? What sane city or county would perceive that as a good idea?  They don’t. In fact there has been tremendous push back and outcry by communities from New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago who did NOT want this so called “choice” in their communities. Tear-jerking scenarios from Waiting for Superman do not suffice. Out there in the real world, urban communities around the county are fighting against these measures—because they harm the schools, children, and communities. Why would the effects in Baltimore be any different?

Additionally, KIPP (headlining this panel) is not exactly the wunderkind it promotes itself to be. Given its outrageous attrition rates, and so-called “radical” approach that enables them to cherry pick some and eliminate others,  “KIPP doesn’t seem to have an answer for those kids who won’t work hard or be nice. KIPP has the luxury of washing its hands of them.” Would we really want to replace more public schools that educate all of the children all of the time in favor of a privately run model that only educates some of the children some of the time?

Also on the panel are two of Maryland’s public servants to public education (Dr. Dallas Dance, Superintendent of Baltimore County and Dr. Nancy Grasmick, former MD State Superintendent). One can only hope they live up to their titles: working to serve ALL PUBLIC education and SUPPORT policies that protect ALL PUBLIC school children (from predatory reformers), and take a deeply critical examination of the research, rather than succumb to the false advertisements.

Regarding the other “expert” panelists: Their ideological, political and financial interests are far more apparent given the information I provided here. The issue on everyone’s minds in the audience on Thursday must be: That none of them have yet to provide solid evidence that shows how their reform initatives will actually benefit the children affected by their efforts. They don’t have it because …it doesn’t exist.

We need to ask them and ourselves the real question: Who do these policies really serve?


what if

Prologue: What if, following the end of slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation, formerly enslaved black and brown people created an amazing resurgence of economic, educational and political successes? (They did). Would the elite in power squelch that budding success with New Jim Crow laws? And, what if to counter the gross systemic and violent inequities created by Jim Crow, decades later people fought back and demanded Civil Rights bills which included non- discriminatory hiring practices and desegregation in public spaces including public schools?  What if those new Civil Rights policies led to a rising black and brown middle class, and opportunities for success?  What if, decades later, there were a powerful elite who wished to re-segregate society and roll back the clock to a time of profound inequality that served to the advantage of a privileged few? How would the elite in power find ways around those Civil Rights anti-discriminatory policies?

In what ways might they accomplish that?

Meet the era of standardized testing. As the era of Civil Rights rolled forward from the 1960’ into the 1980’s, so did the era of A Nation at Risk and the need for standardized tests to address the “education crisis.”    BUT…WHAT IF?

What if—standardized tests were predicated on a philosophy of eugenics?

Eugenics theory uses “scientific” measures to “prove” that some people are inherently (by race, culture or even gender) not as genetically advanced as other. What if tests were designed in such a way to “prove” that?

It would suggest that only that which is on the test is worthwhile knowledge. Tests would be deliberately consutcrcted on knowledge already held by upper middle class whites, and as having greater worth than knowledge (or experiences) of that (those) who identify with other groups.

What if– the tests were constructed to be culturally and racially biased?

Then it would be predetermined from the outset that certain students would inherently do better than others.

For example:  “In NYC 26 Teachers and Staff of International High School at Prospect Heights refuse to give NYC ELA Performance Assessment Test becausethe test was constructed and formatted without any thought for the 14% of New York City students for whom English is not their first language. The level of English used in the pre-test administered in the Fall was so far above the level of our beginner ELLs that it provided little to no information about our students’ language proficiency or the level of their academic skills. Furthermore, the test was a traumatic and demoralizing experience for students. Many students, after asking for help that teachers were not allowed to give, simply put their heads down for the duration.  Some students even cried.”

What if– policy makers pushed an enormous campaign lauding these test-driven reforms as promoting “civil rights” and social justice?

Then they could deflect any accusations to the contrary despite any mounting evidence that such rhetoric is false. If they say it enough, at least everyone else will simply believe it.

What if– those (racially and biased by design) tests were used to measure student progress?

Then we would conclude that lower income students of color, students with different learning styles or needs, and English language learners were not learning as well as their white middle class counterparts. Correlation: either they’re just not as bright, they lack motivation, or their teachers are not good enough.

What if –-test-driven reform was designed to place the blame on the teacher or the learner to evade a real examination of institutional racism, class disparities, or other economic inequities that influence schools and learning?

It would detract us from seeking other ways of appreciating how and what students learn, or valuing their individual (and culturally diverse) strengths and assets. As a society we would not need to address real or significant changes to the existing socio-economic structural disparities of wealth and income in this country. Students and teachers would stand trial while the broader free market system hides in the shadows unchallenged.

What if –we promoted a public narrative that those test scores could “evidence” a schools success or failure, and rank schools accordingly?

Then people would not move into those communities with “poor performing” schools, which would drive down the property taxes (which are used to fund schools) so that schools in those (largely black and brown) communities would become perpetually underfunded and unable to provide quality resources and materials which lead to improved test scores. The only people left in those communities would be people financially unable to leave further diminishing the employment and economic resources available to those schools and communities

For example: Nationwide, the average low-income student attends a school that scores at the 42nd percentile on state exams, while the average middle/high-income student attends a school that scores at the 61st percentile on state exams. This school test-score gap is even wider between black and Latino students and white students. There is increasingly strong evidence—from this report and other studies—that low-income students benefit from attending higher-scoring schools.

What if– we used those tests to measure school success?

We would determine that schools with lower-income students of color and their teachers were under-achieving and in need of “correction.” This would mean a serious re-examination of the power or influence of unions and policies around teacher tenure (job security).

What if– those tests were used to construct policies of corrective measures?

Such policies would conclude that the teachers too are performing poorly and would be fired on the grounds of low student test scores. Those schools would be deemed failing. We could blame unions and tenure and thus abolish both.

What if those tests were used to drive away meaningful curriculum in favor of test preparation?

Then students who perform poorly on the tests would receive even more skill drill and kill instead of meaningful education, leading to greater disinterest and poor instruction, less critical thinking, arts, music, PE and other content that keep student interest. The cycle of “failure” would be deepened. More test prep for students “failing” the tests is like using leeches to treat a blood disease.

What if– test scores were used to then close schools?

Meaningful, successful public schools would cease to be viable options for students in economically disenfranchised communities and would be forced to attend corporate run charter schools which are not accountable for their quality. Segregation in these communities increases.

It would mean that entire communities would lose their right to a public education and be shuffled into privately managed segregated and poorly managed private charters. It would mean the disruption to entire communities, many of which are in the sights of real estate developers seeking to gentrify those neighborhoods.

What if– those tests were necessary to rationalize a public narrative that “proved” that certain people, schools, or communities were in need of surveillance and management because same students who performed poorly on those tests were the same students who received unfair disciplinary practices?

It would mean that over 70% of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement are Hispanic or African-American. Additionally, students covered under IDEA are over twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions

What if– we then used these disciplinary measures, which are correlated to the testing practices, to justify racist and classist assumptions about certain learners to maintain a system of inequities?

In the words of Ceresta Smith in a personal correspondence: “I discovered that by using the ‘achievement gap’ and standardized test scores for black and brown children, businessmen and politicians were able to usher in a set of market-based reforms that had the underlying mission of destroying public education while maximizing the profits of a selective group.”

What if we knew the tests are WRONG… and still used them? What reasons could there be?  

                                             Let’s Recap

WHAT IF: 1) we knew we could create tests that would pre determine who the winners and losers are going to be (based on things like gender, race, or ethnicity), and 2)  use those test scores to perpetuate a deliberate system of inequities that was constructed to suit the self- serving interests of powerful elite and corporate –driven ideology, and 3) created a curriculum that was so dis-interesting and so inappropriate that students of color and students with special needs dropped out in droves and found themselves pushed into the school to prison pipeline, thus 4) reducing the number of people competing for high income jobs in the workforce, reducing the number of people with voting rights because of incarceration records, and reducing the number of people who were critically empowered, and 5) such test scores could be used to blame educational failure on the heads of those same persons whom the system has failed and 6) detract us from focusing on growing economic disparities between rich and poor, and 7) use items 1-6 to roll back all the efforts created by the Civil Rights movements of the last 30 years (which is about when high stakes testing became the “solution” to our “woes”?

What if none of this was a coincidence?

And what if this were precisely the system we currently had in place? Because it is.

For a thorough analysis of how this is happening see Paul Thomas Becoming Radical. 



Who is min(d)ing Baltimore City Schools? Lately it appears to be Baltimore Citizens on Baltimore Schools (BCBS).


The group is inviting parents and community members to get involved. They state, “Our work focuses on developing, implementing and sustaining district effectiveness that leads to increased student achievement in Baltimore City Public Schools.”

But wait, there’s more!! If you are a parent, teacher or community member genuinely interested in helping support Baltimore City public schools you might want to read the fine print before joining. What hides beneath the surface of this grass-roots organization is astroturf, The group is part of a larger reform effort focused on corporate and privatizing interests.

BCBS is part of Achievement First which was founded in 1998 by Fund for Education Excellence. The Achievement First model was developed by Fund for Educational Excellence. This model is a turn-around model that trades in public schools for McCharters.

Fund for Educational Excellence (FfEE)

The Fund For Education Excellence is a privately held company in Baltimore, MD founded in 1984 defined as a non-profit because it receives substantial part of its support from government unit or from the general public. It has $6.16 million in estimated annual revenue.

FfEE CEO Roger Schulman is a TFA graduate, who previously worked for The New Teacher Project which is driven by corporate CEO’s and a corporate model of education. “The majority of TNTP’s revenue comes from its work with clients on a fee-for-service basis.” This model is being replicated in Baltimore. And the Fund creates and promotes its charter school model. In 2012 he received annual salary of approx. $157,000.

FfEE is funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated $100,000 to FfEE in 2011.

Their website states, “With the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and 11 local foundations, the Fund expanded our scope of services, playing a significant part in Baltimore City’s High School Reform movement including the introduction of school choice for all high school students.” So funding from Gates goes to “choice” (aka privately run charter schools) to replace public schools. We’ve seen the influence Gate’s monies have had in other areas of the country. Some of us believe this does not bode well.

And FfEE donates money to other non-profits, cycling the money to and from other predatory reformers. Including Center on Reinventing Public Education. CRPE appears to perform the tasks that FfEE does. Its website states its task is to conduct “research and policy analysis CRPE seeks ways to make public education more effective, especially for America’s disadvantaged students.” Apparently there are millions of million dollar ways for corporate interests to “improve schools.”  Their major funding is also brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Rather than shuffling monies between themselves to promote corporate-driven reforms, wouldn’t that money FfEE gave CRPE have been better served providing library books, art supplies or air conditioning to the city schools FfEE promises to serve?

In 1998 FEE introduced the Achievement First reform model, placing full-time professional developers in schools to build the capacity of teachers to deliver high-quality literacy instruction.

In fall 2005, under the leadership of New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Achievement First expanded into Brooklyn. They have Achievement First charter school chain in NY, CT and RI. It appears that Baltimore is next in their lists of places to colonize. Here is a list of Board members for AF:


William R. Berkley, Chair
Chairman and CEO, W.R. Berkley Corporation

Doug Borchard, Treasurer
Managing Partner and Chief Operating Officer, New Profit, Inc.


Carlton L. Highsmith
CEO (retired), Specialized Packaging Group

James Peyser
Partner, NewSchools Venture Fund 

Jon D. Sackler
President, Bouncer Foundation

Elisa Villanueva
Co-CEO, Teach For America 

Ariela Rozman

How is replacing Baltimore City public schools with charter schools an improvement given the tenuous record that charter schools have.

According to Alan Singer:

Currently, there are approximately 2.5 million students enrolled in publicly funded charter schools in the United States. These charter schools are operated by both profit-making companies and “not for profit” organizations. In New York City every charter school is operated by what is known as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. In New York State, only 16 out of 209 charter schools are operated by for-profit companies. In other states, particularly Michigan, Florida, and Arizona, for-profit companies dominate the charter school movement. In Michigan, about 65% of the charter schools are run by for-profit educational management organizations

Achievement First set out to create a public charter schoolsAchievement First has grown into a network that includes 25 schools in five cities. In 1999, Amistad Academy opened with 84 fifth and sixth graders. Now, in the 2013-14 school year, Achievement First is serving 8,100 students in grades K to 12.

The faux “choice” narrative driven by predatory philanthropists is coming to Baltimore. But what if WE CHOOSE to support, to reclaim, and to advocate for our public schools? Who will help us financially support models driven by real evidence that smaller class size, experienced teachers, rich and meaningful curricula, and adequate funding? After all, it’s what the private schools (where reformers send their own kids) provide for their students. The best money can buy.

But Baltimore City Schools and the families living there will get more tests, more monies spent on data infrastructure and Common Core training. They get mediocre profit-driven corporate run charter schools. Less recess, less art, fewer teachers, fewer resources for anything not driven by the tests. And when all else “fails” (or the kids “fail”) Maryland reform policy makers can just sell their community schools to the highest bidder, which seems to be Achievement First.


Go and tell them what YOU think. Left unchecked and unchallenged their model to privatize schools and privately manage our children will not stop.

Tell Common Core to Get Lost

Posted: April 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

Get Lost

I’ve been groping my way along … I’ve been concentrating so long on my vision that I lost sight … You see, it’s not the vision. It’s the groping, it’s the yearning, it’s the groping and the yearning, it’s the moving forward. I was so fixated on flinging that cow that when Ed told me that Monty Python had already painted that picture I thought I was through. I had to let go of that cow so I could see the other possibilities …and this is most important: It’s not the thing you fling; It’s the fling itself.

-“Chris” from the television series Northern Exposure

This past Friday I was excited to be joining a group of parents, teachers, and grad students for a Teach In discussion about corporate reform and opting out being held at Columbia Teachers College.

I was amongst strong resistance advocates including Daiyu Suzuki, Jason Wozniak, Sue Schutt, Jean McTavish, Denny Taylor, Rosalie Friend, members from Change the Stakes and others.

I had never been to Teachers College (TC) before and therefore I needed to find out how I was going to get there from my sister’s house in CT.

I used Map Quest to see what they had to say. The directions felt confusing and hard to picture in my head.

I looked at maps of the area and tried to envision the number of blocks I might need to walk if I got off at 125th St train station to get to 121st Street. Or how far from Grand Central?  How much might a cab cost? What if I took the subway? Which stop? Which subway line?

I asked Jason, who gave me good directions. My sister called her boyfriend who works in the city and knows the terrain well. I called the help desk at TC. Everyone had a different suggestion. Because there was more than one way to gtet there.

I made it there without incident (i.e winding up in Hoboken). We had a fabulous and powerful discussion that will lead to more opting out actions in the NY and NJ areas.

But as I rode the train from CT to NY, the Grand Central shuttle and then the number 1 subway to 116th St I began thinking about how my journey paralleled the issues we face in an education landscape colonized by the Common Core and high stakes testing. More than once, when I asked “How do I get to TC?” different people said to me, “Well, it depends on how quickly you need to get there.” Or, “How much do you like to walk?” I realized there were many ways to get from here to there…much depended on what my time frame was, my purpose, and the kind of journey I wished to have. Did I want to walk and sight see? Or was I on a mission? What about variable costs of a taxi versus the subway? There were so many questions, and so many options.

That is what education is supposed to be about. Learning is a journey. Common Core treats it as a destination—with one right way to get there. I don’t care that the “new math” supposedly encourages students to problem solve and remain open ended as to how to solve a problem. That’s like dropping me in middle of Manhattan and saying “Go find TC.” And then demand that the journey be direct (via standardized testing), and the destination fixed (“measured progress” that defines every child’s readiness for career and college). And then fail me for arriving late. Maybe I stopped to visit Central Park. Giving children opportunities to be confused by saying “figure it out” but then exacting asnwers on one fixed set of questions to measure their “progress” is just harfmful. It is not the same things as allowing them and their teachers to embrace learning as a journey constructed by them, and to be evaluated by them as the journey-takers.

Common Core creates a set of prefixed predetermined outcomes, measured in only one way, and tracks students along the way, to make sure they’re “on track”–God forbid they wander. But not all children learn the same way. Or at the same pace. Or with the same interests. Sometimes you want the subway, sometimes you want a cab. Learning as a journey is far less about the end point and focuses more on the process…and is valued for more than simply arriving at the end point by the fastest route. Imagine the limitations we place on the journey of learning when we tell all students there is only one place to go and only one way to get there. Career and college readiness –whatever that means to begin with—can be defined in more ways than a narrow set of Common Core standards and progress that’s measured in one way…and not “how was the trip?” Or “What did you see along the way?” Rather the only thing we demand is that you get here as soon as possible. But why? What are we rushing to? Why race to the top? What’s up there anyway? Profits for testing companies, and empty promises for children.

I’d rather take a cue from Alan Block who writes, “(Real) education … has nothing to do with marked paths and coming home. Rather (it) has more to do with meandering: with getting lost.” We need more wandering, more exploration…more getting off the pathway being forced upon us. Common Core has got caution flags, flares, orange cones, maps and security guards marking off every possible exit ramp. Reformers are afraid we might discover the road less travelled is indeed the preferred one.

In a reform era increasingly marked by concepts such as predictability, accountability, measurability, and homogeneity, more creative risk taking practices are being watered down or filtered out altogether. The journey through this terrain, using the birds-eye map view of the world as a metaphor here, is one staked out with push point pins, which exact the journey to be traveled. This is especially true for beginning teachers terrorized by the thought of “getting lost” as they begin their teaching quest. Common Core related policies and outcomes discourage teachers from knowing the landscape of teaching and learning so that they might be able to begin and end the journey from a myriad of locations, to embrace the idea of “wandering” at times. Common Core teacher “training” demands they become consumers of the curricular “map” with all the directions scripted out ahead of time, rather than asking students and teachers to be the creators of the journey.

If I had been more familiar with NYC, you could drop me anywhere and I could find six ways to get to where I was going. But not knowing the terrain, I had to follow one set of directions and feared the slightest mistake. What if I end up on the subway line #2 instead of #1? Empowered experienced teachers can begin anywhere and go anywhere by any sorts of ways appropriate to the needs and desires of their students.  Teachers who are new to education are given one map…one set of instructions…and like me travelling to TC not knowing the terrain, have a fear of getting “lost” because they have been told there is a fixed arrival time and they will be evaluated on each step of the journey. Under such immense pressure there is no time to allow students to stop anywhere along the way and have a moment of curiosity. There is nothing of value in experience except to have accomplished it. And where will students even be when they’ve arrived?



Here’s the basic rule of practice for reformers. When the truth is no longer is their favor, they resort to silencing and fear tactics to win their battle. After all, if you knew the truth, you might do something about it. Case in point: sometime over the weekend of March 29th-31st, during our Denver event, our United Opt Out website was hacked in such a wholesale fashion that every part of the website database was trashed,. Given that I need my nine year old to help me with my iPhone 6 you can imagine how much I understand about the world of hacking, but our tech savvy friends working on the problem have concluded that given the size and scope of the hacking job that “it is purely malicious…” The hacker crippled every single SQL table and left them unrepairable. The site is frozen more or less and inaccessible to administrate.

In spite of the headache this gives to us as the site administrators it does not deter us from our goals to take education back from the grips of federal and corporate interests, and to build a democratically-led effort for public education founded on human and civil rights for all children. When we started as a group three years ago, we had a simple goal in mind: Help parents opt their children out of high stakes standardized testing. As the political and educational landscapes became more rabid with harmful policies, bullying practices, and oppressive billionaire interests calling the shots, our movement has grown. We defined ourselves simply as “six pissed off radical educators with fifty dollars between us.” What we lacked in financial sponsorship, or political savvy, we made up for in knowledge and a passion for meaningful and sustainable education for all children. We still have little more than fifty dollars between us, but we are wiser and more pissed off than ever. Whomever hacked into our site is a fool if they think this little stunt deters us in any way. We eat adversity for lunch. (…we have no money or time for real food anyway). In fact, all headaches aside we find it par for the course. After all, we are fighting against education hackers every day.

This type of tacit seems only fitting for any person, organization or corporation involved with predatory-style education “reform”  given that their entire approach to privatizing public education (which appears to be the end goal looking at the way the puzzle pieces fit together) is to HACK THEIR WAY into public education. Hacking into someone’s database, computer or website is done invisibly. And with self-serving ill intent. The goal is not to be known, but to achieve certain ends which include gathering private information and/or dismantling the distribution of information from that source. Predatory reformers seem to be pulling from this playbook. Like a hacker, they snuck their way into public schools seemingly innocuous or completely unseen. Their strategies are intimdation, deception, and silencing dissent.

Take for example model legislation crafted by ALEC last fall called the Student Achievement Backpack Act, and Course Choice Act which discreetly and somewhere in the fine print inserts the language that:

No later than {insert date}, an authorized LEA user shall be able to access student data  in a Student Achievement Backpack, which shall include the data listed in Section 7 (A) (1) through (4) and the following data, or request the data be transferred from one LEA to another:  (1) section attendance; (2) the name of a student’s teacher for classes or courses the student takes;  (3) teacher qualifications for a student’s teacher, including years of experience, degree, license, and endorsement; (4) results of formative, interim, and summative computer adaptive assessments administered pursuant to {insert applicable state code};  (5) detailed data demonstrating a student’s mastery of core standards and objectives as measured by computer adaptive assessments administered pursuant to {insert  applicable state code}; (6) a student’s writing sample written for an online writing assessment administered pursuant to {insert applicable state code}; (7) student growth scores for {insert state} performance assessment; (8) a school’s grade assigned pursuant to {insert applicable state code}; (9) results of benchmark assessments of reading administered pursuant to {insert applicable state code}; and  (10) a student’s reading level at the end of grade 3.

The new authorized LEA’s include third party private companies who will be contracted to provide education delivery systems in public school classrooms in lieu of face to face learning with an actual teacher. Like the real hacking job to our website, the knowledge created and emanating from real places or moments of learning will be frozen or locked out.

The Course Choice Program created by this Act would allow students in public schools and public charter schools to enroll in online, blended, and face-to-face courses not offered by the student’s school, and would allow a portion of that student’s funding to flow to the course provider. This Act creates an authorization process for providers and identifies provider and course eligibility criteria

Let’s not forget how corporate interests and hedge fund companies have worm-holed their way in via new testing mandates, as well as the profit driven motives of organizations using Common Core as their point of entry. They are non profts sprung up to “help” schools manage new Common Core materials and processes. Sometimes their entry seems benign, like the new person you add to a member list, or the small mindless click to download something onto your computer-it seemed like such a nice download, or person…and they’ve been “pre- approved” by what we once thought of as trusted and credible sources like so-called research or education-based entities. For example, The Wall Street Journal “reported” a story about edu-tech companies involvement in school-based data collection, but it wasn’t as much “reporting” as it was free advertising for New Classrooms Innovation Partners trying to assuage the fears of communities that their involvement in data collection was “safe”—like a “trusted” link on your computer. The report FAILS to mention that this company is funded by a host of ALEC-affiliated corporations with links to the creation of new testing mandates and Common Core, including Gates, Bezos, Carnegie, New Schools Venture, and Broad Foundation. They sneak in the front end and profit out the back end. Take a moment and read the bios of their board of directors while you’re at it.

Even the title of the WSJ article: “Big Data Enters the Classroom,” has hacker written all over it in my opinion. The report states, “The amount of data collected is expected to swell as more schools use apps and tablets that can collect information down to individual keystrokes, or even how long a student holds a mouse pointer above a certain answer.

One reason that education hackers are as successful as they have been thus far (beside the billions of dollars being pushed via Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Walton and others) is because the average teacher or parent doesn’t even know they’re there.  In the endless hours of Common Core training, how many teachers are made aware of the corporate interests that created Common Core, or the lobbying efforts of Pearson for new testing legislation?

At how many back-to-school nights are parents informed of who really wrote the new Common Core standards, or how much of their children’s private data will actually be collected and stored by companies such as inBloom? And if those parents and teachers knew they were there, they’d promptly want them out. Except that once they’ve gotten in it’s hard to track them and remove them. They’ve all snuck in like hackers, and once inside the metaphorical walls of public schools and every classroom in America, they will have behind the scenes control to redirect the system as they see fit.   And the average teacher, parent, student and community member will cease to have any control.

They are in fact a virus.

(A response from the United Opt Out organizers: Morna McDermott, Tim Slekar, Ruth Rodriguez, Peggy Robertson, Ceresta Smith and Shaun Johnson)


In the effort to stay “current” in reporting about the rising tide of the Opt Out movement (aka high stakes standardized testing refusal), journalists are eager to tell the story…but do they do their homework?  Take for instance Greenblatt’s article for NPR.

Greenblatt in his NPR article creates a narrow and limited reporting of the Opt Out movement both in regards to who is representative of this movement and why it matters.

To the first point: it’s clear in the subtext that Greenblatt presupposes that the movement consists entirely of conservative minded folks focused on Constitutional rights and what he perceives to be their concerns with “their own child.” Under the sound bite narrative-style of reporting Greenblatt translates the entire opt out movement to that of the interests of “individualism.” While that may be the focus for some members of the Opt Out movement, Greenblatt assumes as many erroneously do, that libertarians and other conservative “momma bears” and “soccer moms” alone drive the effort, and that the concerns of one ideology speaks for us all.  It is clear that Greenblatt is using the opt out story to discredit the Tea Party style initiatives including, as he so references, The Affordable Care Act. One wonders if his article’s purpose is to run defense for Obama’s policies by placing the Opt Out movement squarely in the arena of Tea Party-ism. While it is indeed true that push back against high stakes standardized testing does in many places around the country emanate from conservative fronts, the bigger movement to eliminate high stakes testing as the central driving force behind current education policy neither began with, nor ends, with a sole conservative “agenda.”

Case in point: Greenblatt identifies United Opt Out as a centerpiece organization in this movement, yet never contacted nor bothered to interview any of the six United Opt Out organizers.  Our emails are publicly accessible on our website. If he had, he would have found that none of the six are in any way affiliated with conservative, libertarian or Tea Party ideologies. However that does not mean that “across the aisle” allainces are not being built in towns and cities everywhere. Many of us realize a common ground and move forward from that realization.

Additionally, many scholars, teachers and activists who hail from progressive, liberal, radical-left and socialist beliefs have been highly critical of the high stakes testing, top-down standardization movement for decades. The voices from “the left” have consistently been marginalized from current reporting on the Opt Out movement, as Duncan tried to do in accusing the Opt Out movement of consisting of “extremists” and “pissed off white soccer moms.” Perhaps Greenblatt and other journalists like him are trying to create the false illusion that resistance to testing belongs to “those Tea Party folks” and thus deter movement building with more moderate individuals or groups. Such misconceptions help to further alienate people of color from finding allies in the Opt Out movement. It might be that the status quo Democrats who have been cheerleading corporate-driven reform refuse to admit that many progressives themselves realize they’ve been sold out, and millions of us refuse to be associated any longer with their bogus policies. Maybe they don’t want the public to know that their own progressive constituents have abandoned their reform policies and are fighting to take public education back from the grips of predatory reform.

This leads me to my second point: the Opt Out movement is not, and cannot, be simply reduced to a culture of parents concerned with the individual rights of “their” children. Sure there are many in this fight for that reason. But there’s more, Mr. Greenblatt.

If Greenblatt had done his homework, hell if he had ever even visited our website he would have received a fuller and more informed picture of why the testing resistance is growing. By the way, the movement is not “small”– as indicated by the hundreds of teachers, parents, and students refusing the tests from Seattle to Chicago to New York, and every other city, town, and state in between. Maybe he needs to read the newspaper more.

The conservative voice is merely one voice in the resistance against high stakes testing. The voices and perspectives of testing resistance are far more many and varied than that. Who were the keynote speakers at the United Opt Out event in Denver? Glenn Beck? No. Our speakers included:

Dr. Sam Anderson, retired math professor and radical black education activist who sees education as a human right. Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish educator, scholar, and author of the book Finnish Lessons, who believes that equity must come before the promise of educational quality and that competition must be replaced with cooperation. Dr. Lois Wiener Professor at New Jersey City University, who was speaking about teachers unions and social justice. On Sunday Angela Engel stated that high stakes testing is a cancer on our education systems and that we need each other because “people matter.”

The movement to refuse testing demands cooperation, collaboration, and a notion of the “we.” In the words of Dr. Ricardo Rosa an education and social justice professor at UMASS-Dartmouth, who was another Denver keynote speaker, “Diverse social struggles can coalesce around issues of high stakes testing.”  The Denver event was one of creating a sustainable and democratically/community-led movement for public education as a human right. Opposite to the notion of seeking our “individual rights” we convened to work with teachers, parents and students. We had leaders representing numerous national organizations including Chicago Teachers UnionSave Our SchoolsBadass Teacher Association, Voices for Public EducationThe Network for Public EducationSchools MatterCoalition for Public EducationFair TestSubstance News, and Uniting4Kids. Too bad Greenblatt didn’t do any actual investigative reporting about the things which he feels so privileged to judge.

Too bad he wasn’t there.

If anything screams “individualism” it’s a national policy called Race to the Top. Winners and losers. Of me I sing, Mr. Greenblatt. It’s a policy that pits child against child, comparing their data on humiliating “data walls” where they can be compared and tracked against one another.  Opt Out is the resistance to a national policy grounded on competition, driven by corporate profits and data mining through which billions of dollars are funneled from public schools and go into the pockets of corporations like Pearson and inBloom. High stakes testing is a policy of greed, fear, and control. The high stakes testing agenda also leads toward the privatizing of public education. The communities most greatly harmed by testing reform are communities of color where high stakes testing scores are used to fire teachers, close community schools, and fragment the fabric of the schools and the quality of learning for the students. That largely white middle class moms are the media’s chosen “face” of the Opt Out movement rather than voices from urban black and brown communities who have been most greatly harmed by testing policies, says more about the racist nature of our media narratives. Or it requires we examine the continuation of privilege in our society where race, economic means, and political clout enable some people more able to speak out than others. Greenblatt fails to mention that many of us are in this fight for other people’s children, not only our own.

What else did Greenblatt fail to report? Sound documented research shows:

Legitimate concerns over data mining by private corporations who are getting paid millions of dollars to gather, and hold, thousands of data points of private student information.

That meaningful instruction is being replaced with hours and hours of increased test prep and testing, nearly one-third of the school year in some places.

That testing reform initiatives have never been proven to improve student learning, school equity or “career and college readiness” in spite of its rhetoric.

The damage that these policies are having on students and communities of color where increasingly public schools are being closed or teachers are being fired because of test score results.

The billions of dollars spent building new testing infrastructures while schools languish, unable to provide basic resources, lose libraries, librarians, nurses, and qualified teachers.

How testing, as the center piece for market driven reform, monetizes children, treating them as nothing more than test scores; scores which are used to sell, buy, and trade our public schools and students like stocks on Wall Street.

That standardized testing is grounded in an ideology of eugenics; increasing oppressive, racist, and biased policies and outcomes. Standardized testing, by its content, reinforces a Eurocentric world view and styles of learning.

The facts speak for themselves. It’s a shame Greenblatt didn’t do his own homework first. But again… this is the narrative the mainstream media doesn’t want you to hear about. Because if you knew the facts, you just might join us.


(McKinsey, Pearson, Gates and ALEC colonizing the K-12 to college arena)


Kahn Academy is the darling of education “reformers” and entrepreneurs, spearheading the movement to provide online instruction in lieu of bodied and interactive learning, to the tune of millions of dollars.

Hailed by Forbes and others as the public face of the “flipped learning” movement, Salman Kahn believes that basic learning should be done by video before a pupil arrives in class. “Khan envisages pupils being taught in ‘super-classes’ of 100 with three or four teachers, and has called for the abolition of separate subjects and even the summer holiday break   (Here’s) the man Gates has described as a ‘true education pioneer’”.

Kahn’s vision is not without his criticisms. Former Kahn employee Karim Kai Ani suggests, “Officials might see them as a cheap replacement for teachers.” He says, “It reminds me of tackling the obesity epidemic. We need to exercise and eat better but instead people go on the Atkins diet. This is the educational equivalent of the Atkins diet.”

But it’s financial success is no surprise considering that Salman Kahn who was a senior analyst for venture capitalist firms before created Kahn Academy, knows how to game a system for financial gain. From 2003-08 he was a Senior analyst for Wohl Capital Management; from 2008-09 he was a Senior analyst for Connective Capital Management and from 1998-99 he was a Senior product manager for Oracle Corporation.

And he’s had help from Bill Gates, himself a self-proclaimed educational expert who believes (in his non-existent knowledge of developmental and pedagogical theories) that 100 children seated in front of computers qualifies as meaningful learning.

Khan Academy received large grants from Google ($2 million) and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation ($1.5 million) to help with his latest “venture”- public education.

David Coleman announced that College Board would revising the existing SAT’s and partner with Kahn Academy to provide delivery/training/support for the new and “improved” version of the SAT’s. It’s simply an extended version of Common Core. For more “nonsense” on the SAT “reboot” itself read Paul Thomas.

Privatization is on the move.

McKinsey strikes again

The global consulting firm McKinsey and Co has had a deep hand in the direction that education reform has taken over the last several years. A mere handful of their connections with predatory reformers in public education include:

Louis Gerstner (co-chair of Achieve-the group that helped sponsor Nation Common Core), Rajat Gupta (financial backer of the Harlem Children’s Zone), Marshall Lux (on the Board of the Harlem Children’s Zone), Andrés Satizábal (Harlem Charter School), Michael Stone (Chief External Relations Officer at New Schools for New Orleans),  Terrence McDonough (English Teacher and Department Chair at Edward W. Brooke Charter School  and 5th Grade Teacher at Teach for America), Luis de la Fuente (with the Broad Foundation, who develops and manages a portfolio of grants to school districts, charter management organizations, and innovative non-profits), Shantanu Sinha (COO of Kahn Academies), and Jerry Hauser ( who served as the Chief Operating Officer at Teach For America). This list could go on ad infinitum.  But one final player of note is Bobby Jindal, former McKinsey consultant, and now Governor of Louisiana. He is forming policies to privatize public education for the entire state of Louisiana.

For a full report see my McKinsey research:

But suffice to say, David Coleman, leader in the Common Core initiative, Sir Michael Barber, CEO of Pearson (now delivering PARCC and Common Core materials), and Lou Gerstner the co-creator and CEO of Achieve all hailed from McKinsey and Company. Indeed, the stars are aligned now that Kahn Academy will have a hand in the tests that will replace SAT and ACT. And Salman Kahn’s right-hand man, Shantanu Sinha, formerly an Associate Principal for McKinsey & Company, is now President & COO of Kahn Academy. Shantanu and Sal were former high-school math competitors in New Orleans, freshman-year roommates at MIT, and long-time friends.

Many of the other current leaders in Kahn Academy also worked for McKinsey.

It’s worth noting too that the Head of Finance for Kahn Academy served as the CFO for New Schools Venture Fund.

What a tidy little web, considering that our new Undersecretary for the the U.S. Department of Education will be Ted Mitchell who was formerly the CEO for New Schools Venture. BFF’s!!!

According to The Nation: “Mitchell’s NewSchool Venture Fund also reportedly partners with Pearson, the education mega-corporation that owns a number of testing and textbook companies, along with one prominent for-profit virtual charter school,Connections Academy.”

Coleman makes it all sound so “nice.” You know, free access to test prep materials and free college applications for “poor kids.”  But….Phillip Morris can make the Marlborough Man look pretty hot too. According to the CNN report: “To prepare students for the test, the College Board will partner for the first time with Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials, starting in spring 2015. Afterward, income-eligible students will receive fee waivers to apply to four colleges for free.”

Question: Did we really need Kahn Academy to make test prep and college applications freely available to poor kids?  Never mind the wealth of documentation out there that has rightly challenged and debunked Kahn’s myth of success. It’s kind of like “the Texas Miracle” 2.0

Never mind about the facts. It certainly fits the agenda for Ted Mitchell who some predict will, “advocate for more federal promotion of online learning, ‘blended’ models of instruction, ‘adaptive learning’ systems, and public-private partnerships involving education technology.”

This plan fits nicely into ALEC’s scheme as well, with their “Course Choice Program Act”, which allows third-party private companies (i.e. Connections Academy and Kahn Academy) to be paid to “deliver” educational materials online IN SCHOOLS:

“The Course Choice Program created by this Act would allow students in public schools and public charter schools to enroll in online, blended, and face-to-face courses not offered by the student’s school, and would allow a portion of that student’s funding to flow to the course provider.

WHO are the course providers to be? Hmmm..what a mystery!

The Act adds: “Course Provider shall mean “an entity that offers individual courses in person or online, including but not limited to online or virtual education providers, public or private elementary and secondary education institutions, education service agencies, private or nonprofit providers, postsecondary education institutions, and vocational or technical course providers, and have been authorized to provide such courses by the State Department of Education.”

Kahn Academy itself has sat at the ALEC table of bribery and secrecy itself. As part of the “2011 Philanthropy Roundtable” where many of ALEC’s funding foundations, think tanks and others including Kahn Academy met to discuss philanthropic activities for 2012. 

Bob Sloan reflects:

Consider that ALEC’s corporate members include companies manufacturing and selling the software for long distance learning, companies that provide internet access services, computer companies and companies involved in privatizing public transportation.  Each one has an interest in increasing sales and profits, and otherwise benefitting from a “front” organization such as the Khan academy.

Hell, if we can’t close ALL the schools and make them come to charters, then gosh darn it we will come to them!