Taking a deep examination of the premises, facts, and outcomes of current education policies which are built on the corner stones of the Common Core, high stakes testing, and school closures/charters, one can see that in their development, implementation and results, what we are left with is “policy apartheid.” A strong accusation I admit, but perhaps not so far off as we wish. An honest examination of the evidence is warranted.

What does policy apartheid mean? In terms of implementation it suggests that those crafting the policies who are largely politicians and CEO’s from the “billionaire’s boys club”—wealthy and influential organizations or people (whether themselves White or male, or not)– embrace the development of policies steeped in a narrative born of White privilege. A definition of “failing school” framed by Whiteness, privilege, and social class as the defining characteristics for “success” results in further disenfranchisement of people from black and brown communities. Reform policies driven by high stakes testing is the most glaring example of this. The policy itself assumes a number of things that could only be embraced as logical within an APARTHEID mentality: 1) that poverty does not matter, 2) that meritocracy exists unfettered, 3) that any separation is merely an outgrowth of natural consequences, 4) that all children of color need is grit, and 5) that knowledge evidenced in a standardized test has any value. Number 5 warrants deeper examination since numerous studies spanning decades have proven them to be culturally, and racial and class biased. Standardized testing has its roots in the Eugenics movement. 

So why else would we allow a practice such as a system of rewards and punishments dictated by test scores be the cornerstone of reform unless we wished to continue to expand segregationist outcomes? This practice essentially tells already historically underserved students that: they must endure meaningless testing at the expense of meaningful learning, and funnel monies to Pearson that could go to real and meaningful resources, in order to receive an equitable and humane educational experience so freely given to their suburban peers. Why should some students be forced to test in order to prove they are equal to their middle class White peers and worthy of the same opportunities? So long as we buy into the narrative that tests can prove anything of value we will continue to then justify segregationist policies and practices while excusing this under the guise of “reliable science.” We must reject the myth that tests can offer scientific validity that perpetuate harmful and inequitable educational practices and then deny any responsibility for this.

And what of policy apartheid outcomes?

In order to understand how we arrive at increasingly segregationist outcomes we must carefully examine language and ask the question: Who is it that owns the narrative promulgating current reforms?  Sure, dujour (official) segregation largely went out with Brown v. Board and other Civil Rights legislation. So the system merely became more creative in achieving its aims. Systems that call for “accountability”, “grit narratives”, and “testing “ as a means of reward or punishment might not have the words “apartheid” printed on paper, but the results are just the same.

Reform language now is all about “disruption” innovation and breaking traditional systems. The claim is that in order to provide more “choice” and freedom” (using underserved communities as the target audience) policies must include vouchers and charters. The narrative insists we must “disrupt” the status quo which is code for unionized teachers and public schools. But ironically enough, the folks creating this narrative are themselves driving “top down” policies. It is scripted from the top and designed, not liberate people at the grass roots level or to empower those parents, teachers and students in those communities, but to re-inscribe a new ruling class and an oppressive system. Top-down mandated disruption disorients and disempowers communities who might otherwise push back. This new disruptive system intends on replacing the old so-called “monopoly” of public schools with a new “master”—the corporate owned schools. These masters of the new narrative challenge power merely to reclaim power for themselves. The outcomes of these policies are painfully clear: no accountability to the people they serve; children redefined as human capital; zero-tolerance policies aimed at submission, control, and obedience; and increasingly segregated schools. These polices use language to equate “public” (as in public schools) as itself the “problem” (outdated and monopolistic) and that “innovation” can only be performed by our new corporate and privately owned systems.

Why have we never tried to allow public school teachers the freedom to be innovative? Why have we never allowed public schools to tackle the problems of inequity, or respond to the demands of those communities that have for too long gone ignored? Yes, systems of inequity and lack of quality have pervaded our public institutions for too long. There exists a history of baised “interpretations” on the part of some as to what qualifies as student success, and thus has resulted in unequal opportunities. It is understandable that many civil rights advocates would seek to tighten up consistency in our evaluation systems to deter baised teaching practices. But do we really believe that corporations have the solution? Do we really believe that testing will rectify decades of harmful and biased practices?

A truly innovative disruptive system that flattens the power structure would empower the possibilities and freedoms of teachers and students themselves to reimagine what education can be; not corporations, testing companies, politicians and lobbyists deciding this for them. Rather than funding more testing, we should apply our resources toward a more meaningful preparation of educators to practice culturally-relevant and critically-minded teaching. The former reninscribes aparthied policies and the latter dismantles them.

We can compare the outcomes of two versions of “innovation” and see what each has yielded in terms of outcomes–the first includes innovations led by teachers and, and the second includes innovations led by those who own the “innovation” narrative launching “policy missiles” (to quote Brian Jones) into urban neighborhoods. So which one delivers on its promises to the communities they claim to serve?

Innovations and disruptions led by public school teachers/communities. Two examples:

  • The Ethnic Studies program in Tucson, AZ
  • The Youth Dreamers program in Baltimore City

These programs disrupted the status quo. These programs innovated and broke free of the yoke of system which were not working. The measure the success of a system is based on its outcomes.  So lets’ measure and compare.  By all forms of evaluation these programs were a success: Increased school attendance, graduation rates, school grades/performance, achievement of long range professional and college goals, reduction in “problem behaviors” of students. So what happened? These programs were closed by apartheid policies that refused to support the successes of individuals or groups themselves who were creating solutions that work. The Ethnic Studies program did not work for the racist policy- makers. They endured a long legal battle to reclaim a small ounce of their program, and face continuous attack. And the Youth Dreamer’s school apparently did not produce the “right” test scores according to policy makers, and subsequently was dismantled. Their success did not serve the needs or interests of those in power. These innovative programs disrupted apartheid policies.

The Policy-missile approach:

Conversely, Wall Street wants to disrupt “public” education and innovate it into a private system that continues to serve elite interests at the top. In order to ensure their own market success, they must design outcomes that result in an American apartheid—an education for “us”… and a system for “them”.

As P.L. Thomas states, “America’s public schools and prisons are stark images of the fact of racial, gender, and socioeconomic inequity in our society—inequity that is both perpetuated by and necessary for the ruling elite to maintain their artificial status as that elite.”

Disrupting public schools with current top-down charter school policies lead to disrupted communities where gentrification is planned to occur.

“Innovation” is merely code for a creative way to re-segregate urban communities without calling it what it is: Policy apartheid. Disruption and innovation as tools for liberation aren’t intended for those suffering at the hands of an unequal system. Public schools are closed and chopped up into charters. These charters reveal: high attrition rates, corruption, abusive and neglectful practices, and rejection of the neediest children. Black and brown children become a form of capital serving hedge fund companies. Promising that children will no longer be conscripted to a poor education opportunity “defined by their zip code”, they re-inscribe children to a system of poor education defined by the companies now owning their means of education. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Explain to me how this isn’t an apartheid mentality.

You decide. Is current reform developed by and reproducing apartheid policies? Simply examine the results of current outcomes and decide for yourself if they promote an apartheid mentality. Are these reforms growing, or reducing, inequities? Forget what the policy narrators say. What do they do? Who profits? At whose expense? Whom do the policies actually serve? How much better off are children as a result of these policies and practices? How much better off are the corporations and politicians who promoted them? Are we closing the income and equity gaps as a result of these policies? And if there exists programs that actually evidence success for children, why do policy makers work so hard to shut them down instead of supporting them?

These are tough but necessary questions to address. And the answers might require we hold a mirror up to ourselves as a society a little more closely.


Journalist John Merrow just published his analysis of the “refusal- versus- reform” battle for public education entitled What a Difference a Dash Makes. There are many amazing responses to his report well worth reading!

Here is my response:

Thank you, John for your coverage of this movement. Your report is indeed a vital starting point for a necessary conversation. I’d like to expand upon the report if I might.

You write, “As for the other side, the ‘Pro-Test’ camp has the appearance of substance.” Well, if by “substance” you mean MONEY, yes they do. Reform policy-makers have money to buy a multimedia campaign advertising their agenda…advertising. Selling. Fruit Loops might say “Part of a nutritious breakfast” on the front of the box but we all know to read the ingredients, and when we are being marketed claims rather than facts.

To that point, the media, placating their corporate sponsors offer little more than “repetitive stories and blogs that merely ask lame questions”–this is “hardly evidence of a full-blown” legitimate reform policy. Uttering the phrase “career and college ready” thousands of time in every media outlet money can buy does not make the claim any more true. Especially when there is no research or evidence to show that more or “better” tests can deliver on such an ambiguous promise. But never mind the facts. There’s volumes of research that demonstrates how these policies are failing. But keep calm and ignore the research seems to be their mantra I suppose. Any deep examination of policy “reform” in the name of research journalism cannot evade the profit motive of corporate “sponsorship” and lobbying efforts of testing and curriculum delivery systems that spent millions lobbying for the reforms from which they are profiting handsomely. It’s a shame that information was excluded from the report.  That’s kind of ignoring the giant elephant in the room isn’t it? Gates, Pearson and the “billionaire’s boys club” cannot be excluded from this conversation. I appreciate the nod you give the notion of money and power. But this warrants a more detailed examination to fully appreciate why our outrage exists.

Who is pro-test? Let’s take a look. It’s the politicians, non-profits and corporations who have political and monetary motives. Where are the pro-test teachers and parents? Crickets….

Well, except for the mention of Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, and the statement,  “If you don’t take the test, you won’t be counted–and you won’t matter”  which compels some such advocates representing marginalized groups, ie. special needs children, or children of color in underserved communities to buy the testing- our- way- into- mattering or proving ourselves narrative. What does it say about our democratic society and the promise of equitable education that we are basically telling these same groups and these same children (and their communities) that in order to “matter” or to receive programs and services on par with their White middle class peers they must subject themselves to costly and time-consuming tests (tests born of a testing history designed with the intention to sort and track people by their social class and race or ethnicity-yet we ask them to play the testing to prove yourself game when the rules of the game are rigged against them). We rob their schools of monies for greatly needed resources and meaningful curriculum in the name of “accountability” and avoid confronting the sad reality that without standardized tests these children will go underserved. Nice way to avoid dealing with the undercurrent of racism, classism, and bias all of which are reinforced by the same system which claims to be serving them: test driven policies. A must read on this by Ceresta Smith here.

Who are the protestors? The people (from across all political, geographical socioeconomic and racial spectrums) who live this stuff every day and see the implications of its effects of corporate driven test- based reforms. They don’t make a dime for their efforts either. No one gets paid. No one is making millions of dollars by refusing. I think that says a lot about the validity of the movement. There is no power or profit motive. A deeper investigation would reveal copious studies spanning decades that show how high stakes testing, and standardized testing in general has been harmful to children, teachers, and schools. You write “I haven’t found overwhelming evidence that hundreds of thousands of students are going to boycott the Common Core tests.”

We don’t receive millions of dollars to create a centralized data bank of opt outers across fifty states. You won’t find “evidence” by looking in any one place or event. Scores of parents refusing the tests and teachers supporting this movement go unknown (sometimes by choice to protect their jobs or their kids). Or, thanks to our corporate sponsored media, when protesters DO come out in large numbers, the public does not hear about it because well, then people might really know that push back and that real solutions/alternatives do exist. Are we as protestors marginalized because really we are so small in numbers? Or is it because the media manufactures the movement as such?  One thing is for sure about test driven reform: It certainly does an excellent job of blending and bending the lines between fact and fiction.

The first time I met Ben (when I drove an hour up to Frederick the day his mother Cindy spoke in front of the local politicians about her testing refusal) I was immediately brought back to my teaching roots. Back in 1990 (a time when phones were attached to walls and we walked to school up hill in the snow…both ways) I was a special education teacher. For many years I worked in early childhood and elementary education classrooms with children with moderate to severe multiple special needs.

Spending time with Ben (albeit briefly) I was reminded of Bubba who loved to paint when we attached a paintbrush to his shoes and he’d make the most amazing murals. I was reminded of Antoine who adored rhythm and colorful patterns. He was a heck of a drummer. I remembered Monica who loved her apple sauce more than anything. I was reminded of how many gifts students like Monica, Antoine, Bubba and Ben have to offer the people around them. I learned more about life, love, and being human than I could ever teach them.

But I never was forced to stick a pencil in their hand to test them.

We had assessments galore; determining the progress they were making on objectives catered to meet THEIR needs, and the needs of their families. I was taught (and practiced) listening to parents and families above “policy”, because what was important to them became important to me. My students were learning how to use pictures to communicate when they could not speak. They were sharing their imaginative capacities though they could not write. They were learning how to develop life skills and how to make friends. None of this would ever, could ever, be measured on a standardized test. But these were the days before No Child Left Behind, or Race to the Top.  I cannot even fathom now being in a position to force any of my former students to take a test that was not in their genuine best interest simply because some policy says “I must”.

Forcing any, and all, children to endure the harmful effects of high stakes standardized testing because some state or federal mandate requires all children be tested, ironically in the name of providing equitable and quality education, is the greatest insult ever hurled upon public education and children. To force a child like Ben, whose educational needs are so far removed from that which such a test can provide simply for “compliance sake,” is just heart breaking. It reveals how deeply flawed the system of accountability is, how failed our policies are, and how compliant in the face of insanity we have become … and most of all, how enmeshed we are as a society with a turn- a- blind- eye- faith in the testing mentality. How outraged do we need to be before we put an end to corporate-driven reform?

To see just how flawed, false, and harmful it is all you need to do is read stories like these:

And we must now add Ben’s story  to growing list of horrifying tales of compliance, asburdity, and harm. Here it is (as written by his mother Cindy):

“January 29, around 4:00 p.m. I learned without a doubt the ‘Administrators’ of Frederick County Public Schools value “testing” over children.  Our children are seen as ATMs to the billions in education dollars.  It turns out, they really are just test scores.

You don’t think so?

Rock Creek School has been on notice since September 2014 that I was refusing to allow my severely developmentally delayed son to participate in the Alt-MSA.  They allowed my daughter (after I sued) to refuse the test; other children were also recognized as “refusing” the test. 

The only difference I see in those who are allowed to refuse and my other child: they are normal healthy children with the ability to speak up and fight back.

Rock Creek School went behind my back and ignored my order not to test him.   

No notice came home informing me he was being tested.  They didn’t want me to know until it was too late for me to stop them.  How’s that for professionalism and trust?

Thursday a notice came home with my son saying I needed to come in and review and sign his test portfolio.  If I didn’t have to sign off would they have notified me?  Did they seriously think I wasn’t going to get angry?

They used a severely mentally and physically disabled child who cannot speak, communicate or read, who is for the most part confined to a wheel chair.  They took him from his classroom and forced him to perform like a trained monkey to prove to Pearson Publishing, he can master their test.  It doesn’t measure his “abilities”.  The test only exists so that schools can be accountable to the federal government in measuring success of special education children.  The goals are so ridiculous it’s obvious no research went into creating this test.

My son who struggles to follow the simplest of commands, like “’and me that cup’; is expected to ‘interpret a bar graph’ or ‘define the meaning of words within a text’. 

Rock Creek School would rather put my son through the humiliating act of taking a test he was destined to fail, or be manipulated into succeeding, than respect his humanity.   They used him because they could.

They used him because they wanted to make sure all their boxes were checked and they could pat themselves on the back for having been ‘accountable’.   It’s OK it was at the expense of my son’s dignity.  He won’t know any better….

To Parents in Frederick County Public Schools and elsewhere, stop kidding yourselves; public education like we grew up in is gone.  When a school is emboldened enough to sneak behind a parents back and manipulate a handicapped child to obtain a test score…….

Is this what we’ve come to? 

Our schools are accountable to the creators of the standards and the tests – parents be damned.  

Nothing, NOTHING will change until we, the parents and teachers make it happen.  Administrators are rolling in the power and the money; or they lack the spine necessary to reclaim education.

It’s time for county wide civil disobedience.

Will you remain silent and sitting until it happens to your child?    

Unless we do something that matters to them, they will refuse to listen to us. 

Refuse the assessments – Demand to be heard!”


Reblogged: Neoliberalism Privatization Impact on Professors and We the People – By Rodolfo F. Acuña #EdBlogNet

Neoliberalism Privatization Impact on Professors and We the People –

Stanley Fish, “Neoliberalism and Higher Education”, wrote that few of his colleagues had ever come across the term “neoliberalism” or knew what it meant.

According to Fish, neoliberal principles are embedded “in culture’s way of thinking [and its] institutions.” While the term neoliberal is not frequently used, its supporters “mime and extend neoliberal principles on every opportunity.”

On university campuses in a relatively brief time this ideology has changed the mission of academy from an institution searching for the truth to a marketplace.

Privatization is the cornerstone of neoliberalism. Privatization is touted as the silver bullet that will solve the funding woes of “social security, health care, and K-12 education, the maintenance of toll–roads, railways, airlines, energy production, and communication systems.” According to them, the private sector can run them cheaper and more efficiently.

Americans, puzzled as to why Europeans tolerate being taxed so heavily, ask why do Europeans support such an expensive welfare state? The answer is that much of Europe is based on communitarianism, a philosophy that emphasizes the connection between the individual and the community rather than like the U.S. where individualism is taken to an extreme.

Critics of neoliberalism such as Noam Chomsky argue that neoliberalism benefits the rich and increases inequalities “both within and between states.”

Cash strapped public universities, after years of resistance, have succumbed to the failed philosophy of the Reagan Revolution and reproduced a new narrative that claims that the “withdrawal of the percentage of a state’s contribution to a college’s operating expenses” actually increases demand for the “product” of higher education which will lower the cost of delivering it without the need to raise taxes.

Meanwhile, in order to offset the lack of public funding, administrators have raised tuition with students becoming the primary consumers and debt-holders. Iinstitutions have entered into research partnerships with industry shifting the pursuit of truth to the pursuit of profits. To accelerate this “molting,” they have “hired a larger and larger number of short-term, part-time adjuncts.” This has created large armies of transient and disposable workers who “are in no position to challenge the university’s practices or agitate for “democratic rather than monetary goals.”

The problem is aggravated by the fact that most administrators do not know what neoliberalism is. Many come out of the humanities and the arts and those coming out of the social sciences have a rudimentary knowledge of economics.

Neoliberalism in order to grow must build a justification. Take the case of Shirley V. Svorny, a Professor of Economics and former chair of the department. In a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece titled, “Make College Cost More” (November 22, 2010), Svorny argued that “Artificially low fees attract some students to higher education who simply aren’t suited to the academic rigors of a university.”  Svorny blamed unqualified students for tuition increases.

As insulting as her premise is the controversy was ignored by the administration and the faculty who increasingly retire to their “professional enclaves…” concentrating on their specialties that lack “a clear connection to the public interest.”

Most public colleges and universities are nonprofit institutions in name only. They are marketplaces pursuing neoliberal agendas.  “Forty years of privatization, stagnant wages, a weak economy, a lack of jobs, and budget cuts have forced college administrators to find alternative forms of funding.”

The market logic is omnipotent. It guides faculty, academic managers and managerial professionals seeking commercial gain related to academic and nonacademic products. Faculty and students are rewarded, and programs are developed whose purpose it is to generate revenue with little attention paid to “pedagogical or knowledge-related outcomes.”

Few studies are available on the effects of neoliberal discourse on the behavior of students. Research on the motivation, scope, and how they shift institutional priorities are rare. Even Alexander W. Astin’s (1998) study fails “to connect [the theme] to the rise of academic capitalism or the power of neoliberalism.”

Essential to understanding students’ motivations is knowing the pressures of conformity. The Italian intellectual Antonio Gramsci called it the hegemonic project, i.e., the process where the ruling class’s ideas and beliefs become the common sense values of society. Through this process, neoliberalism becomes internalized and unequivocally accepted.

From my experience, the hegemonic process has had a profound impact on administrators, professors and students in making their choices. Students select majors and research topics in terms of marketability.

In my opinion, this mindset spells doom for students at the lower margins as well as ethnic studies programs. Since the 1990s, this has become very noticeable with many new faculty lacking communitarian values common to those in the 1970s.

The importance of the common good has given way to what is good for me, which overemphasizes personal autonomy and individual rights. Asking what promotes the common good is less common.

Neoliberalism also interferes with understanding or dealing with community needs. This is very noticeable among recently hired faculty members. They participate less in student events and faculty governance.

According to Gramsci, the bourgeoisie establishes and maintains its control through a cultural hegemony, Therefore, it is natural that new professors who have spent most of their lives in the academy adopt the culture of the university. For them, bourgeois values represent the “natural” or “normal” values of society.

Forty years ago, these bourgeois ideas were countered by a few ideological members who  sought to construct an academic community. These dissidents heavily influenced intellectual discourse. This potential for political or ideological resistance has weakened, however.

In today’s academy, ideology is passé. There is noticeably less concern for the common good and more with the individual product. New faculty spends less time in the department and more time visiting  colleagues in their discipline than meeting with students or Chicana/os studies faculty.

The first thing some new faculty complain about is the size of their offices. When it is explained that we have small offices by choice – the students have a reception area in exchange for a reduction in the size of our faculty offices – they ask who made this decision? The conversation is about their product and its value.

Other faculty members spend more time in departments of their discipline, although many of these departments have refused to accept them as permanent members. It is the product that is important and they  believe it is enhanced by associating with scholars outside the Chicana/o community.

Part timers often do not want to do anything to damage their product. Take the UNAM (National University of Mexico) controversy: they ignored the political ramifications of neoliberalism. It did not matter to them. Neither did the human rights atrocities in Mexico, i.e., the disappearance of the 43 normalistas.

They are not sellouts in the popular sense of the word. They care about the issues as long as they do not affect the value of their product. Economics for them is an ideology and supply and demand are the only important factors in their decisions, Ultimately what is important is sustaining the value of the product they are selling.

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.

Why is this so hard? It’s hard because our political, schooling and media institutions continue to attack parents and educators who have the courage to defend children from harm.  Parents refusing these harmful policies are painted as “disgrnuntled White soccer mommies” while resistance from and within communities of color go ignored. Teachers refusing to comply with harmful policies are “agitators” and “out of compliance.” Our collective obsession that standardized tests are anything but junk science goes unchallenged by the media despite real research that has resoundly disproved it’s so called merits.

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 “Deflategate” 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.


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

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.