On Thursday May 17th I was a participant in two media events. The first was a teleconference sponsored by Margaret Spellings, adviser to the US Chamber of Commerce in tandem with The Institute for a Competitive Workforce and the National Chamber Foundation, affiliates of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The goal was to roll out their latest initiative based on their report that:
“Demonstrates that political interests and widespread complacency can trump student interests at the school board level …schools succeed when they are accountable to the community, and we believe the business community can help provide that accountability.” (translation? Corporate takeover of educational policies, content, and pedagogy)
The second was a live chat hosted by Sara Arnold at The Nation on testing and education reform. . Leading the event was Dana Goldstein, education reporter based in New York and writes for The Nation and Slate. This live chat was also led by Mark Anderson, a New York City public school special-education teacher and contributor to the blog Schools as Ecosystems, and by Tara Brancato, a member of Educators 4 Excellence and a New York City public school International Baccaluareate teacher—Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy (KAPPA) International.
I am not sure which of these two media events disturbed me the most. I expected the “greeting card” avoidance-type responses from Margaret Spellings and company. There’s nothing worth reporting here that you wouldn’t expect, including how they deftly avoided my question about their associations with ALEC and the agenda to privatize public education. Or, how Laurie Murphy tangled them in their own words illustrating the hypocrisy of the business world which one speaker stated “didn’t believe tests were a good measure of a good employee” but advocated for more testing for schools out of the other side of his mouth
I was more disconcerted by the avoidance of any real challenge to the corporate takeover of public education via high stakes testing and the Common Core Standards presented at The Nation’s chat. I was hoping for some real hard hitting dialogue. But what transpired was little more than an hour-long discussion of concerns parents and teachers have over the disconnect between the Common Core and standardized testing. Countless minutes were devoted to detailed accounts of how teachers align testing with non- tested subject areas. While some of the questions and concerns were valid like Mark’s, who pointed out “In regards to the pressure to ‘teach to the test,’ the conundrum of tests are that they determine what is taught, yet we pretend they are isolated from curriculum” most of it was like sitting in the back of a professional development session hosted by someone from the Common Core.
And if we are going to challenge high stakes testing why did Dana not invite people on to the show who have long term experience and knowledge challenging these reform measures? The show avoided the pink elephant in the room: that not everyone agrees that the Common Core is even a good initiative for education! This issue was never raised … once.
Or, that one of her guest panelists Ms Brancato works for a charter school (KAPPA) and an organization Educators 4 Excellence which supports “reform” policies and research by EdTrust, The New Teacher Project (Chair of the Board of Directors Kati Haycock is Director of EdTrust), and The Brookings Institute .
When I typed in the question asking how her panel could address the fact that testing companies like Pearson are behind the scenes forming legislation that forces schools to use their products, and that testing has been used as a primary vehicle to eliminate public schools in favor of privately managed charter schools Dana replied:
Morna, it is true that the testing industry is highly involved in education policy-making, including in creating the Common Core and the tests that will go along with it. We need to make sure that politically, we are advocating for the idea that test scores alone do not define whether a school or teacher is a success or failure. School closings are a VERY tough issue. Polls of low income parents show they would rather their local schools were “turned around” rather than re-opened as charters. But charters are also a very popular, over-subscribed option among parents.
What polls is she speaking of? Is she living in the same New York City where thousands of students, teachers and parents are holding rallies and protests AGAINST the closing of their community schools?
Laurie Murphy of United Opt Out National also posed a similar question:
In speaking with people during the Save our Schools March, at United Opt Out, and at school board meetings, the main question I am asked is how can local teachers fight against the spoken and unspoken requirement to focus total attention on test scores and not be in danger of losing their jobs. This is changing what they teach and how they teach, and causing them to question their profession. How can local teachers fight against what is often seen as higher, corporate funded forces that represent policies that are contrary to what they (teachers) know to be right for students and learning?
Mark Anderson replied:
Laurie, that’s a tough one. One is to get involved in policy. I work with a great organization, the VIVA Project, that works to get teacher voice involved directly in the process of policy making. But at a school level, it’s a tough thing to stand up for when you’re job is on the line. We need real leadership
Mark is right. We need real leadership at schools to support teachers who are fighting this. Mark did express some real truths about the ugly face of the testing craze:
I have students that read at 1st and 2nd grade reading levels due to disability taking 5th grade reading exams. It’s inhumane. They break down, they cry, they whisper “I can’t do this.” It’s terrible, and it’s unfair to simply give them tests based on proficiency.
So why wasn’t even one person invited to help lead this panel that might actually say: End this madness….now!
No, they politely skirted the issue with bland statements like one from Tara: It takes the entire community to combat the feeling of pressure.
Wow. That’s deep. I’m sure that bit of advice will really help Mark’s kids.
What we need leaders who refuse to negotiate with children’s lives. The endless debates about how to tinker with the tests to make them “better” or to tinker with the Common Core to meet students needs or align with testing “better” are over. They avoid the fact that ALL these measures are directly tied to corporate interests, profits, and efforts to privatize public education. Such debates are little more than re arranging the furniture on the Titanic.
And if the Titanic is public education, then it is the corporate reformers such as Pearson, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, David Coleman, Michelle Rhee and others who are steering it toward an ice berg and that are now selling life rafts to children and communities for a huge profit. (By the way, the life rafts sink too). When will the endless useless debates about how to make the tests (which are used as the weapon of mass destruction) “better” stop? And when will the media grow a spine and speak to the real issues? Maybe is it because magazines like The Nation are trying, with an election coming up, to soften the blow that Common Core will bring -being promoted by a Democratic president and his muppet Arne Duncan, and trying to sell it to voters? Does it matter that in spite of claims by right wing free market wonks like some members of ALEC to reject the Common Core, that ALEC itself and a host of its central players in ALEC have direct connections to its development and implementation? I know this in part because of research provided by articles published at The Nation (so what gives?)
NATIONAL COMMON CORE CURRICULUM WAS DEVELOPED AND FUNDED BY THE FOLLOWING:
1) NCEE (Natl Center for Education and the Economy)- which is funded by WALTON FOUNDATION, BROAD FOUNDATION, GATES FOUNDATION. NCEE is funded by the New Schools Venture connected to America’s Choice. New Schools Venture supports business model charter schools like KIPP and EDISON. NCEE is a program of America’s Choice which is funded by GATES and WALTON FOUNDATION. America’s Choice was acquired by Pearson
2) ACT is a billion dollar international testing company. ACT designed Common Core. Dixely Axley on the Board of Directors for ACT works for STATE FARM. Theodore Sanders on the Board of Directors for ACT serves on the Education Commission of the States part of the BUSINESS ROUND TABLE.
3) ACHIEVE is Another testing and training center. ACHIEVE also designed Common Core. ACHIEVE is funded by LUMINA. ACHIEVE is funded by STATE FARM. STATE FARM also funded ALLIANCE FOR EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION (AEE). BOB WISE is the Chairman for AEE. ACHIEVE is funded by GATES FOUNDATION. The co-chair for ACHIEVE is LOU GERSTNER JR (Former CEO of IBM-also identified as one of the Ten Most Wanted Enemies of Public Education)
4) COLLEGE BOARD (CEEB) is a membership association that sells tests and is comprised of schools, colleges and universities. CEEB is funded by GATES FOUNDATION. Consumer rights organization Americans for Educational Testing Reform (AETR) has criticized College Board for violating its non-profit status through excessive profits and exorbitant executive compensation
Common Core has received DIRECT funding from STATE FARM which is an active member of ALEC.
So, the fight for the Common Core between both political parties isn’t whether or not it’s even good for children (despite all the rhetoric, its success is unproven and its genuine critics many). The unspoken (at least in public) issue I think is who will get to “own” it?
And where is the media that we expect to be on our side fighting this when we need them?