Archive for March, 2013

The Battle for Public Education

There’s a telling scenario in the greatly under-appreciated cult vampire film classic called The Addiction. In it, the main character (soon to be vampire) named Kathleen in cornered in a dark alley by another vampire named Casanova. The dialogue goes like this:

Kathleen: “Please” (begging)

Casanova: “You think that’s gonna stop me?”

Kathleen (again): “Please?”

Casanova bites her, steps back and chuckles, calling Kathleen a “collaborator.”

Casanova then begins walking away.

Casanova: “Wanna know what’s going to happen? Just wait and see.”

Watch clip at:

I find this to a very apt introduction to this article about education reformers. Why? Because in this era of reform and our use of language to describe its effects, we have moved from metaphor to mytonymy. To my way of thinking, corporate reformers are not like vampires. They are vampires. Let’s look at the evidence. They are nearly impossible to destroy, they live forever, they use very attractive appearances and alluring words to lure in their prey, and in order to survive themselves they must find victims whom they suck dry of their vital life force. OK, we’re not literally talking about blood here…but we are draining children of their life force, killing them with high stakes tests, and the blood in this instance is the data. Corporations feed off the data they drain from children, and use it to reap billions of dollars of profits and gain control. What vampires crave more than anything is power.

It’s the words “You think you know what’s gonna happen? Wait and see,” that resonate for me.

Let me share with you what I think is going to happen to public education.

It’s apparent to most of us by now that privatization is their goal. But I wish to explore some of these details more specifically. Right now, the federal and state departments of education are (at least on paper) the “providers” of public education and they (to the tune of billions of dollars) contract with private corporations (i.e. Achieve, Pearson, Wireless Generation to name a few of the big ones) to serve as delivery vehicles.  The state depts. of education contract out nearly every service: teachers do not create curriculum they deliver curriculum (privately owned and created by NCCS developers), schools contract out for professional development (to teach the NCCS and the new PARRC/SBAC tests), they contract out the test developers (aka Pearson), they even contract out for the test evaluators (aka Pearson),  districts contract out to McCharter schools to provide the physical space (stolen in a colonizing fashion from the public schools), and to TFA to provide the teachers. CHA CHING. $$$$$

The only thing State Departments of Education provide anymore is the money (our tax dollars) and the bodies (our children).  I call it the victims-delivery-system (VDS).

State Departments of Education will be the vehicle through which corporations can be handed millions of children. If the latest corporate brain child, the e-learning craze, is any indicator, teachers and schools will no longer even be needed– just a child with a corporate-owned product or service in their hands, spitting back endless streams of personal data which the corporations can then use to sell the children even more of their products, and sell their personal information to other corporate entities who can use that data to serve their own ends.

Such third party groups are not only the makers of learning products. Other interested parties in “big data” include the Department of Defense (note their direct influence on overseeing the national common core standards, discipline records, and drop-out rates), insurance companies (ever wondered what State Farm’s interest was in contributing huge sums to promote the Common Core? It’s big data baby), and the prison pipeline (hell, they already anticipate how many prisons to build based on the test scores of third graders, so is this really a stretch to imagine?).

For example a Task Force launched by a report called   Schools Report: Failing to Prepare Students Hurts National Security, Prosperity:

“(B)elieves the annual audit should be aggressively publicized to help all members of society understand educational challenges and opportunities facing the country. This public awareness campaign should be managed by a coalition of government, business, and military leaders. It should aim to keep everyone in the country focused on the national goal of improving education to safeguard America’s security today and in the future.”

The evidence for corporate interest and surveillance is most telling. Cities around the country like Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City, and New Orleans are closing down scores of public schools (they don’t even pretend to use the false premise of “poor performing” anymore, they just let the McCharters take what they like). And for the public schools that don’t become charter school fodder? Well, they’re owned in part and whole by the corporations that have been contracted through the state departments of education anyway.

And when the funding for RtTT runs out, who will pay for these services? This is what I predict: the corporations will now own the rights to every facet of public education. So if you wish for your child to have an education of any kind, well you’ll have to pay for it out of pocket. It will become a service for which we, the public, must pay out of pocket because the public system will have been eviscerated like a body at the feet of a vampire.

By now most people following the charade of education reform know the names of the vampire coven elite (aka Billionaire’s boys club) like Rhee, Murdoch, Broad, Walton, and Gates. But there is another BIG key player: McKinsey and Company. They’re the most powerful “behind the scenes” operation you’ve most likely never heard of. But their stake in the game of education reform is huge.

Their names can frequently be seen in the white papers of non-profits and other institutions with a statement like, “According a study done by McKinsey and Co. …” Their “studies” have laid the groundwork for perpetuating the greatest heist of our generation: the theft of childhood and public education. And they have enormous financial interests as well.

Former McKinsey partners can be seen cast across the constellation of education reform efforts. David Coleman, developer of the NCCS and now head of the College Board was a former partner at McKinsey. Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor for Pearson is a former McKinsey and Co partner. So is Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal.

See The Hand That Holds the Data  for a full list

They are the Jedi knights of “big data” and have been trained by the best. And now they hold powerful positions where they can ensure that the distribution of data can be ensured. Their mantra is “big data.” The National Common Core Standards (NCCS) orchestrated by Coleman and new national testing (SBAC or PARCC) both managed in one way or another largely by Pearson (orchestrated by Barber) are the central vehicles needed for gathering this big data. In one McKinsey report it states: One proven approach is to combine customization and scale by offering a standard core curriculum complemented by employer-specific top-ups.”

The Common Core and the mandatory standardized tests, as profitable as they are, are not the ends. They are the means. The ends are much larger. The ends lie with owning personal student data. And this is their area of greatest expertise.

McKinsey and Co. have a direct partnership with Murdoch’s Shared Learning Collaborative.

According to Susan Ohanian (quoting another site):

In education reform, McKinsey & Company appears to be a kind of Skull and Bones club, with the McKinsey firm involved directly, or with former McKinsey employees in key roles. The McKinsey firm itself is an SLC partner. Double Line Partners, builder of the first SLC-style systems in Texas and Delaware, has two former McKinsey employees on its team. And Jack Markell, Governor of early-adopter state Delaware, is himself a former McKinsey consultant.

In their promotional flyer “Transforming Learning through mEducation”McKinsey and Co. promote the values of hand held and mobile devices so that they can now have direct access to children as the consumers of their learning products with no messy overhead or interference from a teacher, peers, or a community of learners. They state “the market for mEducation products and services today is worth 3.4 billion dollars.”  They add that, “By 2020, mEducation may address up to 70 billion” of the anticipated 8 trillion dollars spent globally.

There’s an entire section on how mobile operators can “tap the market.”

There’s lots of rhetoric and promises…and every one of the 36 pages mentions at least once how profitable this market can and will be for companies who jump on the band wagon. “Higher education and k-12 will represent the biggest mEducation opportunities across regions.”

And when the gravy train of RtTT funds dry up?

By then the corporations like McKinsey will own the education industry anyway.

In the state of Florida, according to a State Board of Education meeting held December 2012:

“McKinsey has been retained through Gates and Hewlett Foundation funding to develop the business model/establish governing entity to succeed PARCC.”

Let me rephrase that for you: McKinsey will serve as or supervise the GOVERNING ENTITY to deliver state-wide testing/data collection to (from) public school children. And Gates and Hewlett Foundations foot the bill to make this happen.

Additionally, on their docket was: FL involved in study to investigate tablet use in large-scale assessments.

But Florida is not alone. Back in Louisiana, where Bobby Jindal (fomer McKinsey consultant) reigns supreme, according to their RtTT Blueprint:

“The Trailblazer Initiative also affords the opportunity for LDOE and LEA capacity building through professional development and learning opportunities facilitated by national education leaders (i.e., McKinsey, Mass Insight, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) to effectively implement and sustain reforms beyond Race to the Top. Additionally, Participating LEAs will receive coaching and mentoring support from local and national high-performing district leaders.”

McKinsey and Co. was a key provider for research and support for the voucher model system in Ohio as early as 2008.

Now fast forward to the future where: Lumina Foundation has been asked to join two partner foundations (Hewlett and Gates) to create a series of scenarios dealing with governance, operations and funding concerning the two Common Core assessment consortia, PARCC and SBAC following the end of federal funding in 2014. This effort would be developed by McKinsey Consulting, with CCSSO serving as fiscal agent.”

So here we are. In a dark alley. The vampires are upon us. Are we collaborators? Or will we fight back? TELL THEM TO GO AWAY. And say it like you mean it.

Please also see this post available at Academe Blog (special thanks to Aaron Barlow)


I guess I had Tim Slekar’s clarion call to challenge EdWeek in mind when I was looking through my recent issue of Educational Researcher (ER) today. In his blog, Slekar illustrated quite accurately, honestly and pointedly how, “EdWeek’s ‘news’ stories are typically reprinted press releases from the ‘faith-based reformers’ or purely propaganda for the purveyors of the Common Core.” In other words, he asks his readers to consider whether or not EdWeek has sold out to corporate interests.

Educational Researcher (ER) is AERA’s main journal, and AERA is education’s largest research organization, so the numbers of readers are enormous. The new editors themselves note that given the large readership and frequent publications (9 times a year) the journal authors, have the ability to “influence policy” (p. 7).

One would like to believe that a journal of such “prestige” in education or at least a large readership would recognize the scholarship of education researchers, teacher educators, and teachers…but not in this current issue. Today, while perusing the articles in this issue something about the authors just “struck” me as a curious thing, something worth investigating. Something caught my eye- the number of authors that work for non-profits and/or corporations associated with education, and how few were actually sole educators/professors of institutions of higher education or public education.

Of nine total authors, FIVE of them listed their associations not with universities but with “non- profit” or education corporations. So, more than half the authors are employed by corporations. To be more accurate, one of them listed only his university affiliation but after some digging I found much more.

Is this something anyone else finds troubling? Is this worth drawing attention to?

So I did some of my own inquiry into these organizational associations and found a lot of it disconcerting. Why? Because: 1) the move of corporate agendas into education are quite insidious these days, and 2) ER is considered at tier 1 journal (I think) and there is perhaps a blind assumption about the rigor of scholarship in the journal, so that many people might just take what they read at its word as being ethical or valid, when instead we should be questioning the motives of the authors, their affiliations, and their ability to market their corporate agenda as “scholarship.”

I know that research is never really objective, that academics often have all kinds of ulterior motives when publishing, and that they are often self-serving. This is true of many journals and scholarship. Research claiming that climate change is a hoax might be funded by Exxon, and “evidence” that smoking does not cause cancer might be funded by Phillip Morris. But those companies are household names and therefore most people reading such research can make skeptical and informed decisions about their opinion of the “data.”

But far fewer people realize for example that Wireless Generation, who is on the editorial board of  one of the author’s (in ER) employers, has billions of dollars of contracts with school districts for electronic data collection and data tracking, an effort which this same author is promoting. Corporate interests in education policy are much more carefully camouflaged, but hold tremendous sway in the future of public education.

So when corporations start selling their ideology of education reform and the corporate voice becomes the dominant one in such a large scale educational research journal, it just seems like one more step in the direction of the corporatization of higher education.

I note too that the journal has just come under new editorialship. New editors sometimes steer journals in different directions. In their Inaugural Editorial Statement the editors identify two goals:

1)      We will be deliberate in drawing out new understandings from culturally diverse communities, with an eye for the role of policy in sharpening or suppressing development  of cultural identities, instructional differentiation, and educational progress of children from under-sourced locales.

2)      We aim to stay alert to domestic and international policy streams and policy initiatives emanating from governmental agencies, think tanks, and private foundations.

I find these two statements contradictory. Why? Because while the efforts and policies of education reform led by corporate (and think tank) interests have had dubious results at best for “children from under-sourced locales,” and rarely do such reforms actually represent “indigenous communities” (p.8), there can be no question of the enormous profits reaped by these same companies as the result of their initiatives. The new ER editors themselves concede that “policy making is influenced powerfully by and consequentially by research” (p. 7). So whose interests and what gets represented here matters.

Digging in to some info about the organizations from which these five authors herald I found some interesting details:

1)      Elfrieda Hiebert is president and CEO of TextProject (paper authored with faculty at VA Tech)

The Editorial Board of TextProject includes people from APEX Learning, Wireless Generation, MetaMetrics (now owned by Pearson), and Scholastic.

This company is a big promoter of the Common Core standards and offers services related to Common Core.

Her co-authored article in ER was about “upping the ante of text complexity in the Common Core standards” (p. 44) for young readers. While to the articles credit, the authors offered some complex range of concerns about the effects of Common Core on young readers, I cannot escape the facts that TextProject conveniently provides “services” for its successful delivery.

2)      Roy Pea (paper authored with Stanford doctoral student)

Roy Pea is the Co-Founder and Director (from 1999-2009) for Teachscape, a company providing comprehensive K-12 teacher professional development services incorporating web-based video case studies of standards-based teaching and communities of learners.

He is also Director of H-STAR Institute and a David Jacks Professor of Education and Learning Sciences at Stanford University.

This co-authored article in ER was on the need for “computational thinking” skills in K-12 classrooms.

3)      Ellen Mandinach is a senior research scientist at WestEd

Board of directors of West Ed includes John Huppenthal (the guy who helped close the Ethnic Studies program in Tucson AZ).

The number one funder of WestEd is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Their national affiliations include Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), key developers of the Common Core.

According to their website they offer (among other things) a “Comprehensive School Assistance Program (CSAP)” (which) “provides research-based services (cha-ching $$$) and support to help transform low-performing schools and districts into highly effective learning organizations.”

4)      Edith Gummer is a program director Education Northwest (EdNW)

Board Officers of Ed NW  include Tom Luna of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). CCSSO Director Tom Luna works closely with Jeb Bush.

From their website : “The breadth of our work—ranging from training teachers, to developing curriculum, to restructuring schools, to evaluating programs—allows us to take a comprehensive look at education and to bring wide-ranging expertise and creativity to our clients’ challenges.”

In their article for ER Mandinach and Gummer write: “Data driven decision making has become increasingly important in education” (p. 30).

Of course Ed NW could provide these services …. right? After all, “Since 1966, Education Northwest has provided educators with top-quality professional development, technical assistance, evaluation, and research services.”

5)      Carla Monroe is the Education Director at Alliance Group InternationalInc.

According to their AGI website “AGI’s Core Methodology outperforms traditional sales and marketing models to the delight of AGI clients, from start-ups to major corporations.” They offer marketing strategies for companies.

I found Dr. Monroe’s discussion in ER about critical race theory to be interesting and worthwhile. So why does her affiliation with an organization that calls itself the “single source partner for custom sales and marketing support solutions that will accelerate your revenue generation in the markets” make me uneasy?

I’m not quibbling over their scholarship/research itself per se–that would take an entire other blog entry.  But I thought it was interesting that for each of these individuals listed above, that their “data” suggested a need for something or other in education that of course the company for which they worked could naturally fill, and that the findings reflect the promotion of ideologies these organizations serve.  In short, it came across as little more than free advertising for the services these companies could provide.

Am I over reacting?


Educational Researcher (Jan/Feb 2013), 42(1). Or accessible at


The SItuationists International

For my blog today I’d like to share part of a poem by the late poet Charles Bukowski. He writes in his poem called Style

“Style is the answer to everything. A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art … Bullfighting can be an art Boxing can be an art Loving can be an art Opening a can of sardines can be an art Style is the difference, a way of doing, a way of being done”

Artful resistance IS dangeorus style. And just when we need MORE of it, the “powers that be” (i.e ed deformers) are aligning themselves to shut it down. Why? Because they know the power of the arst in the hands of communties to change things.

Not that the push for education deform and a new world order led by coprorate interest is anything “new” these days. Some of us have seen it coming from miles away, and are fighting it tooth and nail. But whenever I see it edge just a little closer to home, I become a little more deeply frightened. This time it’s the Rebel Diaz Arts Center in New York City.

You know things are getting worse when they come for the artists. Why? Because it is the arts, and our capacity to create, that empower us to know what is possible, to envision a world created by democratic communties rather than shoved down our throats by marketers, publishing companies and hedge fund coprorations. Through community-centered, socially conscious, and culturally centered arts movements we have the power to fight back. And, well…. the corporate deformers know this.

I am reposting an blend an older blog entry here with parts of a book chapter from The Left Handed Curriculum: Creative Experience for Empowering Teachers in honor of the Rebel Diaz Artists, and artists (and creative educators) everywhere struggling for their very existence.

As a reminder to us all about what is happening HERE and NOW, I wanted to share it again:

Most people think of the “arts” in education as something they do once a week in related-arts classes, or that fun activity a teacher pulls out on a rainy Friday afternoon.  But the importance of encouraging creativity and imagination through artful experiences goes well beyond Howard Gardner’s (1999) application of Multiple Intelligences. While multiple intelligences, related-arts, and “fun” in learning are all indeed valuable and worthy of our attention in education, something much more valuable is being lost in the race toward standardized curriculum, accountability and high stakes testing.

The imagination … our capacities to be creative (and equally innovative) are central to identifying and solving the variety of crisis we face in the world today.  We will not find the solutions to ending problems like poverty, racism, war, or global climate change on a standardized test.  We create them in the worlds that do not yet exist.  The solutions lie in our capacities to imagine, in the words of Maxine Greene (1998) “things as if they could be otherwise” (p. 54).

Naomi Wolf recently published a book and made a documentary on the book, both entitled The End of America (2007).  She argues that there are ten things needed in order to create a closing society, one that is not supported by democratic beliefs and policies.  I might suggest to her to add one more item to the list.  Number 11 of things needed in order to create a closed society would be: Putting an end to public education that is creative, meaningful, and rich in the experiences it provides for everyone in the school community. 

You see, in order to close a society you have to close the minds of its people. As we erase our children’s capacities to wonder, to question, to create, and to imagine, we close off their minds from the possibilities of seeing their world as anything other than the one that is being handed to them.  In order to close a society one must have a people who will cease to challenge the decisions being made or to question those in power making the decisions.  Saltmarsh (2007) contends that “The widespread retreat from participation and direct experiences (my emphasis) tend to limit political action to a narrow definition of procedural democracy …” (p. xix).

We want schools where students, teachers, and communities are collaborators in their efforts to provide learning experiences that have meaning for students.  I argue for a creative approach that embraces culturally relevant pedagogy (Robinson & Lewis, 2011); artful ways of being that bring marginalized voices and experiences back to the foreground of our curriculum and classrooms.  We want schools to be places where children can create the world they wish to see, rather than simply be tested on the world as it is.

The elimination of the arts and imaginative thinking from every classroom will confirm or solidify our fate as people dependent on those in power (at the top) who historically profit at the expense of those beneath them.  These are the same people to whom we will be completely reliant upon to make decisions for us.  The capacity to critically challenge or imagine a “way out,” created for ourselves by ourselves, will have been educated out of us.

The knowledge and ideas of students, teachers, and communities are being erased from the classroom in favor of a sterilized, technical, rigid, and homogenous approach to learning.  We need to fight for creative and artistic educational experiences that encourage collaboration, community centered-ness, intercultural exchanges, and diverse perspectives.  Through creative and artistic engagements, new voices can be heard and the faces of cultures and communities rendered visible.  The imagination not only entertains.  It is a powerful means to making cracks and fissures in the massive wall of educational policies which see students merely as consumers of text-book knowledge –knowledge that is pre-scripted for them.  Our children are not commodities to be mined, as Sir Ken Robinson once said, “the way that we mine the earth for a particular commodity” (2007).  And education is that commodity, through a process in which textbook companies and corporate billionaires use high stakes testing as a way to profit from both the success and failure of children in public schools. 

The arts, as a collaborative community-based effort to transform ourselves, are the most vital tool we have to create a sustainable revolution.  It’s not what we know, but what we can imagine that will save humanity from the self imposed crisis we can no longer evade.  In the words of Grace Lee Boggs (2011), “Students are crying out for another kind of education that gives them opportunities to exercise their creative energies because it values them as whole human being” (p. 145).  She also argues that revolutions are made not to prove the correctness of ideas but to begin anew.  We need to begin anew, and we must educate our children with the capacities to engage with their own humanity and with one another.

Art, Boggs (2011) suggests, can help us envision a new cultural image we need to grow our souls.  When we lose our imaginative capacities to envision and argue for social change, and to face an unknown future, I indeed fear for the end of our democratic society. We cannot let that happen.

Creativity and complacency cannot exist in the same space.  Which do we want for our children and for ourselves? A world that is constructed for us by others, or one in which we possess the tools to make one for ourselves? What is our choice to be?

Originality is dangerous. If you want to increase the sum of what is possible for human beings
to say, to know, to understand, and to therefore in the end, to be, you
actually have to go to the edge and push outwards …This is the kind of art
whose right to exist we must not only defend but celebrate. Art is not
entertainment. At its very best, it’s a revolution
”  Salman