Archive for November, 2013

ALEC legislation to sell public education to privately run edu-tech empire and children’s data to private interests


There’s a lot wrong with ALEC legislation, now, in the past, and undoubtedly into the future. I could fill volumes of pages of such concerns. But for the sake of focus, today’s blog drills down into their most recent “model” legislation aimed at selling our schools to the edu-tech industry. It’s so blatant it’s painful. I would have expected more subterfuge from ALEC. They’re getting lazy. Or their getting bold. Their agenda is too clear. Kind of disappointing really. They took all the fun out of having to dig for it.

I am pasting snap shots of their latest rounds of policies. The rest speaks for itself. But if you’d like to add your two cents, ALEC will be convening to discuss these legislative matters on December 6th in Washington DC.  See full docket here:

This latest round of ALEC agenda caught the eye and ear of Diane Ravitch’s post.

If we don’t raise our voices, no one will do it for us.

From the “Early Intervention Act”

“…to provide interactive computer software for literacy or numeracy instruction, or both, and assessments for students in kindergarten through grade 3.”

Really? Because nothing screams “developmentally inappropriate” like putting a five year old in front of a computer in lieu of a real live caring and experienced teacher during the most vulnerable and formative stages of cognitive development. But of course, this is a boon for the software industry!

In order to receive the early intervention funds for the “enhanced kindergarten program” described in this model bill, a school district must agree to contract with software companies to provide online learning programs.

In addition to an enhanced kindergarten program described in Subsection (B), the early intervention program includes a component to address early intervention through the use of an interactive computer software program.”

Immigrant Tracking System?

But the technology driven agenda does not stop with toddlers. There is also the “K-1 Technology-Based Reading Intervention for English Learners Act” which calls on “the State Department of Education to implement a language development software program in grades K-1 to assist those identified as English Language Learners.”

Can you imagine a better way to track students, who as ELL students, most likely come from first generation immigrant backgrounds? And what about children (or their parents) who may be undocumented?

There seems to be no effort to indicate whether or not these software companies they hire to teach students phonemic awareness, vocabulary, or other linguistic skills itemized in this bill, are even grounded in sound literacy research for ELL students. Or does that even matter so long as they receive their check for goods and services delivered?

Here’s my favorite: The Student Achievement Backpack Act.

Yes. I am not drunk on Thanksgiving libations. That’s actually what they named it.

Its data collection and tracking ALEC style. I hope Tea Party advocates against the Common Core and testing are reading this. Even in the absence of Obama or the “progressive” agenda—here’s a conservative- led free- market loving entity promoting the collection of private data to data collection agencies. I’ve been saying it all along. It’s the ideology of greed and control-from BOTH sides of aisle.

The Act reads: “This bill provides access by a student’s parent or guardian or an authorized LEA user to the learning profile of a student from kindergarten through grade 12 in an electronic format known as a Student Achievement Backpack.”

Ok… who the hell is the LEA????

(A)   “Authorized LEA user” means a teacher or other person who is: (1) employed by an LEA that provides instruction to a student; and (2) authorized to access data in a Student Achievement Backpack through the {insert state} Student Record Store. (B) “LEA” means a school district, charter school, or the {schooling options in the state specific to the deaf and blind}

Honestly I have no issue with my child’s records or data being shared with his school or teachers. BUT…when you get to the next round of ALEC legislation remember this phrasing “or employed by the LEA to provide instruction.” Corporations and other private entities will also have full access to your child’s records once they’ve become employed by the school district through the “Choice” Act (see next section).

The Backpack legislation adds:

“The State Board of Education shall use the robust, comprehensive data collection system maintained by the {insert state} State Office of Education, which collects longitudinal student transcript data from LEAs and the unique student identifiers as described in {insert applicable state code}, to allow the following to access a student’s Student Achievement Backpack: (1) the student’s parent or guardian; and (2) each LEA that provides instruction to the student.”

ALEC seems to have no qualms about storing student data in the “cloud” despite massive threats to data security (not to mention abuses of such information). Their model legislation varies very little from the massive data collection we are currently seeing under the federal imposition of Race to the Top. This legislation promises to collect “a complete learner history for postsecondary planning.”

ALEC’s legislation will be able to collect data on and track as much if not more than Race to the Top legislation (and we didn’t imagine it could get any worse…that is until ALEC takes a crack at it..)

Section 8. Access to Student Data

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

Whether it’s federally, state, or privately managed—it all goes to the same place and for the same dubious reasons. Thanks Gates. Thanks Murdoch.

Student Futures Program Act

In shorthand, this Act provides private corporations and education delivery systems access to student data in order to market to those students and promote their products. It’s like “cookies” via K-12 education. Companies can track those students who they think will be interested in their products.

It says the Act will: “allow an education provider to (a) research and find student users who are interested in various educational outcomes; (b) promote the education provider’s programs and schools to student users;  and (c) connect with student users within the Student Futures website;  (3) allow a {insert state} business to: (a) research and find student users who are pursuing educational outcomes that are consistent with jobs the {insert state} business is trying to fill now or in the future; and  (b) market jobs and communicate with student users through the Student Futures website as allowed by law..”

This act also leads us down the slippery slope to education and career tracking. Using the data collection systems under the guise of career and college ready, children can be “steered” into programs or career opportunities.

I am all for vocational training. I am all for providing information to students about career possibilities! (not providing student information to private interests) I am all for encouraging children early on to dream about what they want to be when they grow up and helping them to get there.

This ain’t that program. The is Act also: “allow the Department of Workforce Services to analyze and report on student user Student Futures Program interests, education paths, and behaviors within the education system so as to predictively determine appropriate career and educational outcomes and results” (we see Big Brothers Big Corporate Sister rearing her ugly head here don’t we?)

Remember that caution I gave you about the Data Collection Act?

Course Choice Program Act

Meet the new education LEA’s. Corporations and edutech companies privatizing public education. Perhaps ALEC has realized that they cannot fully take the public out of public education. But they can bring the private into the public sphere.

The Course Choice Program created by this Act would allow students in public schools and public charter schools to enroll in online, blended, and face-to-face courses not offered by the student’s school, and would allow a portion of that student’s funding to flow to the course provider. This Act creates an authorization process for providers and identifies provider and course eligibility criteria. This Act requires course providers and the State Department of Education to regularly report on the key measurements of student success and enrollment. This Act gives the State Department of Education authority to enter into an interstate course reciprocity agreement, allowing students within the state to take courses from providers domiciled in other states.”

Given Connections Academy, the country’s largest for- profit provider of online education, membership in ALEC and the ALEC education subcommittee, we should not be shocked. Other ALEC associated partners will undoubtedly include K-12 inc and University of Phoenix.

Subsection 6 reads: “Online or virtual course providers can serve as quality course providers for students who desire additional access to high quality courses ….

Who are “course providers?”

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

So basically, public education courses taught by public education teachers in physical public education settings will be parsed out, course by course, to private providers. And remember that data collection section-pre-K through grade 12, to be stored by a private provider, in the cloud somewhere…to be accessed by LEA’s? Well, here are the LEA’s. The private, non-profit, virtual, or for profit organizations that, as providers of instruction WILL NOW ALSO HAVE ACCESS to data collection 2.0 ALEC style.

While ALEC ideology despises federal regulation, they have no problem trading in Big Brother for Corporate Big Sister.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, there’s ALEC, shattering your disbelief. Don’t be fooled by ALEC rhetoric. Their reform efforts are part and parcel of the reform efforts so many of us are fighting.

There’s a whole lot more to this ALEC legislative document. Over 30 pages of it.  But I’ve got kids to pick up from school and a turkey to cook. So I’ll leave it off here. For now …


The next time you see a news article, a blog, or a Facebook comment going down the rabbit hole of confusion over whose purpose CCSS serves, please just cut and paste this brief explanation. It’s short and simple enough to paste into any FB comment box, or to send as a Letter to the Editor, or as a response to a news article.

Use it the next time you are sitting in a town hall, PTA meeting, or school related event. For Internet use, there are supporting hyperlinks.

We need to keep the message about CCSS, high stakes testing, and their connections to bigger ed deform policies clear, simple, consistent and grounded in what we know to be true. We can avoid unnecessary divisions amongst our shared efforts, limit confusion about CCSS in the public eye, and focus on the issues for what and whom they truly represent.

A research-based and fact driven argument against CCSS anyone can use:

Pearson publishing spent large sums lobbying for the legislation to create new tests, new curricula, and new teacher evaluations, and then wait on the other end with their hands out receiving the millions of dollars to deliver the new tests, new curricula, and new teacher “training” needed to implement the polices for which they lobbied. Achieve, Foundation for Excellent Education, the Business Roundtable, and testing companies like ACT pushed for and wrote the CCSS standards to reflect their own educational a nd business interests, micromanaging the outcomes of education for children toward their own agendas. Nationalized testing and standards have been part of the corporate-government dialogue ever since NCLB. Efforts to push for more and newer testing methods (via PARCC and SBAC) are led by Bill Gates, along with inBloom, and other tech savvy data- interested corporations. Most of these corporations are members of the conservative-led American Legislative Exchange Council (such as State Farm, Walton, and Lumina), who have their own vested interests in having access to “big data.” The governing boards for PARCC and SBAC are political and economic footballs for the politicians who serve on their boards. The federal government uses abusive, intrusive, and invasive techniques (ironically, in the name of “equity”) to serve the interests of the corporations with whom they partner. Additionally, some of these same corporations are being paid handsomely to collect the 400 points of data embedded in both CCSS and the new PARCC and SBAC tests that go along with it.  And when our schools, our children, and our teachers “fail” to meet the expectation set forth by the aforementioned corporate interests, hedge fund corporations and billionaires line up to fund the charter schools and other forms of “reform” designed to privatize our public schools, because there’s profit to be gained. These same private interests promise to “fix” the problem, which, of course they created in the first place. This, despite research that has shown again and again how and why such “reform” efforts have failed our children.

It’s not rocket science. It’s simple. It’s money.



Image from:

Arne Duncan’s trying his darndest to cloak resistance to education reform as the mantle of either “crazy Tea Party” people or privileged “suburban moms” (his words, not mine). Nice way to deflect Arne, but it won’t work. You see, here in the trenches we are not all Conservatives. And we are not all privileged white soccer moms. While I welcome potential alliances, Arne wants us to forget that scores of people and groups who hail from the “progressive” side, you know, lefties … radicals… are pretty pissed off too. And while they may not have socioeconomic clout that wealthier zip codes may have, there have been some pretty pissed off mom’s in black and brown urban communities too, fighting this long before white soccer moms were on the scene.

For some of us, the fight for our children– Yours, mine, theirs…is enough to unite us. I support any parent fighting against corporate reform. Shared growing opposition to these reforms gives me hope.

And resistance to the Common Core (CCSS) in particular has received exceptional levels of national attention. Again, a good thing. Mostly. I say “mostly” because some voices in opposition to Common Core may not also be fighting against other facets of reform-some groups or individuals might even be in support of other reform policies which are as destructive to public education as CCSS itself. For me, the fight against CCSS is a fight against the whole bundle package of reform efforts.

I speak frequently with parents whose political opinions might differ from mine-but in our shared effort we have created new spaces to discover more about one another. We arrive at moment where “it’s about the children” and that is what matters most. Working together on an united front advocate for a viable, sustainable and meaningful public education system for all children is often good and necessary. I don’t believe that ALEC’s agenda reflects the values of my conservative friends any more than Bill Gates (touted as a supposed “progressive”) reflects mine! It’s not about party affiliation. It’s about values.

But will the Agenda of Koch Brothers overshadow alliance-building opposition?

Outside the scope of sustainable bi-partisan alliances, there are others who are also opposed to the Common Core, including the Koch Brothers.

And unless we begin advocating clearly, vocally and visibly for real public education solutions to replace CCSS and other reform policies, we might just wind up with an education system led by the ALEC agenda.

ALEC’s agenda, led by the Koch Brother have had power and influence behind the scenes, which shape polices on climate change, “Stand Your Ground” laws, and “Citizens United” should be enough to give any of us pause and take their ability to influence public thinking on education very seriously. See for brilliant yet frightening details of the “Kochtopus.” According to The New Yorker:

From 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

In previous blogs I have examined more deeply the roots of ALEC’s founder’s (Koch and Weyrich) ideology. It’s some scary shit. Read more here.

According to Salon: “The Koch brothers have decades-long connections with ALEC, which gave the brothers the Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award in 1994.”

And their influence in shaping the narrative of opposition to the Common Core, and what might take its place when it’s been abolished, must be noted.  ALEC- driven monetary and ideological influence can be found in the organizations funded by the Koch Brothers such a Heartland Institute and Heritage Foundation.

Sure they’re against the Common Core. That’s great. But before I align forces with anyone I always ask–what are they for?

It is tempting to ally with such vocal and well-funded organizations to fight CCSS…. but know well their alternatives: ALEC members advocate for the elimination of public education. ALEC members might claim to oppose CCSS in spite of the numerous ALEC corporations who have funded it, but they are also the originators of legislation to bust unions, and to turn public schools into someone’s stock market portfolio. Of course the obvious motive for some ALEC members to be “for reform” and CCSS (i.e. Jeb Bush and Walton) is profit.

But think about it: imagine helping create a system that you know is going to be such an appalling shit show that it will DRIVE parents (esp white affluent parents with privilege) to take their kids out of public schools and place them in private schools and home school them. Isn’t that what the agenda of ALEC (and its founders Weyrich and Koch) want?

I am not sure that this influence is any better than Gate’s multi-million dollar intrusion via the Common Core. And I am NOT defending Gates. Shoot me first. But I don’t see more billionaire ideological influence to be the better solution we are advocating for. David Koch even admitted: “If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent …And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.”

Are we going to boot out one billionaires vision of education (Gates) according to their own self-serving whims only to serve the interests of another’s (Kochs)?

One example of a Koch-funded anti CCSS group, Heartland is a huge advocate for the Parent Trigger Act. They support increased student vouchers.

In lieu of Common Core, the Heritage Foundation advocates for “classical” education which for many (understandably) reads as imposition of Eurocentric curriculum that erases the voices, histories, and perspectives of marginalized and disenfranchised people. It erases the focus on social justice and equity from the curricular landscape. In the words of one author from the Heritage Foundation: “”Conservative leaders can reclaim control over the content taught in their local schools by resisting the imposition of national standards and tests and preventing their implementation.”

My belief is that ALL parents and community members need to reclaim control…not just Conservative ones.

Heritage Foundation, like their Koch funders, oppose empowering teachers unions.

According to their website: “Choice in education through vouchers, education savings accounts, online learning, tuition tax credit options, homeschooling—all of these options are changing how education is delivered to students, matching options to student learning needs. It’s the type of customization that has been absent from our education system. Choice and customization are critical components necessary to improve education in America.

Examine some of the well-funded foundations such as the George Mason Foundation which “is the largest recipient of Koch foundation money (3.7 million dollars) since 1985″, and “houses several free-market and libertarian research centers including the Institute for Humane Studies

The Mercatus Center, at George Mason University, heftily funded by the Koch Brothers advocates for teacher performance pay, competition, charter schools and other ALEC modeled polices.

In many states like Kentucky the battle against CCSS is ideological and reflective of the Koch agenda. The issue is not about private corporate interests feeding the life blood out public education, it’s about making sure that a Conservative curriculum can be put into place.

In Kentucy, where the debate over science standards have been particularly fierce, Martin Cothran of the conservative Family Foundation claimed the standards exhibit ‘an over emphasis on climate control’ while ‘half of science is left out the science standards.'” 

The Koch Brothers are the biggest proponents of climate change denial, and a “moral majority” reflective of Creationism and Judeo-Christian centered curriculum in classrooms:

It’s one of those areas where Republican religious and economic values intersect. And it may go a long way in explaining why the likes of the Koch brothers — whose companies, according to the EPA, emitted over 24 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2011, and who have spent countless dollars countering climate change theory — might be interested in nipping school standards in the bud.”

Koch patriarch Frederick made millions building oil refineries for Stalin in the 1930’s, and yet developed a seething hatred for communism in spite of the wealth he accrued from his alliance with Russian leaders. In 1958, Fred Koch became one of the original members of the John Birch Society, the arch-conservative group known, in part, for a highly skeptical view of governance and for spreading fears of a Communist takeover.

The legacy of Koch brothers distaste for Communism since the 1930’s is reflected in criticism by Koch-funded organizations that claim the CCSS is a communist plot. Some claim that the Core curriculum is chock full of socialist indoctrination. This odd narrative, while forcing six degrees of separation game to “prove” this claim, simultaneously completely ignores the role of ALEC-affiliated and largely right wing corporate interests in creating the Common Core.

This is not why I, or many others, are fighting against CCSS, and it’s not reflective of the alternatives I wish to see. CCSS sucks for many reasons—but a communist overthrow isn’t one of them. A corporatist takeover is more like it. My guess is that any narrative against CCSS that has “communist plot” as its argument has the Koch finger prints pretty deeply embedded in it.

We ought to proceed with caution. And better yet, we ought to proceed with a clear, highly publicized and feasible set of ideas to help communities reimagine and build their systems of public education. Without a careful and clear alternative, the Koch Brothers vision for education could easily fill the vacuum left when all the Common Core chaos dust has settled.

I am not so desperate for support in my efforts to fight CCSS that I will fight alongside any group or ideology that simultaneously is working to dismantle everything I stand for in public education.  Do you think simply because Scott Walker is now against Common Core that makes him the friend of activist-educators?

We cannot place the future of our education system into the hands of the “moral majority” (Jerry Falwell, Paul Weyrich, and co) who would demand we “return” to some romanticized moment in history; as if to do so would set us all upon the stage of a scene from Little House on the Prairie. Our real history is ugly-wrought with racist, classist and sexist agendas that serve only the privileged few. Yet in the midst of this we have witnessed remarkable moments of struggles that have forged civil rights for many.

The future of our society, and the children we are to educate, embody multiracial, poly-vocal realities, children who are confronting a world with ever widening gaps between rich and poor, communities with increasing levels of food insecurity, housing insecurity, and an ecological crisis we cannot evade.  The history of public schooling policies suggests we have never committed ourselves to really creating a space that equalizes opportunity or that empowers the voices and the lives of those whom history has sought to marginalize. Our next historical moment must re-embrace public education, fully funded and fully accessible, to all children; and we must create systems that enable communities to address structural social inequalities.

A society that intends to create a generation of empowered free thinking citizens cannot be built in a schooling structure that demands only one right answer to test questions shaped by the agenda of the corporations whose interests are sole their own.

Is being mutually against something enough to unite us? Should we also agree on what we are FOR? Whose voice will hold the public stage when CCSS and reforms have been defeated in individual states? Will it be the voice of ALEC or the Koch Brothers? What we will be demanding when the times comes?

Right now there are real education advocates running for public office to make real changes, notably Mark Naison running for Governor in NY on the “Recess Party” ticket, Tom Poetter running for Congress in Ohio (district 8),  and Barbara Madeloni running for Massachusetts Teachers Associations President.

Here are a few suggested goals for any individual or group to take back to their local community organizers. None of these recommendations listed below are original to me. They encapsulate of the ideas for public education that friends, colleagues, and groups have been expressing for years (if not decades):

See Schools of Professional Conscience ,  Save Our Schools, United Opt Out, BATS, and many others for demands similar to the ones I propose here.

(I, you, we)…. demand PUBLIC schools that are equitably funded, not contingent of property taxes or zip codes; smaller class sizes; schools that include all children regardless of race, (dis)ability, language, gender orientation, religion, or immigration status; adequate infrastructure for all school buildings including enough personnel like nurses, librarians, teachers assistants and resources like healthy food, clean drinking water, air conditioning, and toilet paper; a culturally relevant curriculum that invites perspectives, voices, and histories of marginalized peoples (See People’s History of the United States for example); systems in place within all communities to combat geographic, economic, and social forms of racism, colonialism, or segregation; fully integrated  art, music, PE, library, recess, drama, dance; wrap- around services in the community to address the effects of poverty on children; highly qualified experienced teachers rather than TFA teacher-wanna-be’s; elimination of all high stakes testing replaced with authentic evaluations such as portfolios…

Please feel free to add to my list if I have overlooked anything. I am pretty sure my list doesn’t match the Koch Brothers “to-do” list for public education. But if it matches yours, let me know and let’s make something happen.

Below is a guest post by Wendy Holmes (RI education activist)

It appears that yet another “reform expert” may have something to hide

We’re shocked….


                                                                (Deborah Gist)

original can be found at: RI

If you are interested in Deborah Gist’s doctoral dissertation and would like to read it, you can’t.

No electronic copy is available through ProQuest, the electronic/microfilm database for academic theses and dissertations.  You can’t get it through your university library. There is no bound volume in the University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt Library to be accessed through inter-library loan.  It is “embargoed” until September 2015.

You won’t be able to read it until the Commissioner’s current two-year contract has expired and, by that time, she may have already left Rhode Island. These facts were not clear when I started asking questions last June, so I wrote this brief account of the confusion that I encountered.

“An Ocean State Voyage: A Leadership Case Study of Creating an Evaluation System with, and for, Teachers.” I first heard the intriguing title of Deborah Gist’s Ed.D. dissertation around the same time that I read the results of the NEARI/ poll indicating that she was disliked or distrusted by most Rhode Island teachers: 85% of those polled said that her contract as Rhode Island’s Commissioner of a Education should not be renewed. 88% said that morale in R.I. schools was unacceptably low. 22% thought that Gist’s Race to the Top program was “somewhat ineffective” and 60% said it was a waste of money. The “with and for teachers” in her dissertation title, on the contrary, suggested a cooperative and positive relationship between the Education Commissioner and R.I. teachers. The contrast made me curious. I wanted to read the dissertation.

A doctoral dissertation is an original contribution to a body of knowledge or a new answer to a pending question. It is meant to be shared with other scholars and one measure of its success is the amount of attention it generates from “the field” whatever that might be–history, philosophy, mathematics, or education. Admittedly, many dissertations create nary a ripple of intellectual response and the only persons sure to read them are their authors’ academic advisors. Nevertheless, shared scholarship is still an academic ideal and publication is still a requirement for doctoral degrees, though degree-granting institutions may have different rules for how this requirement is fulfilled.

Commissioner Gist’s Ed.D. was awarded by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (GSE). If I understand their protocols correctly the publication requirements are fulfilled by 1.) submission to ProQuest–the standard electronic and microfilm database for theses and dissertations and 2.) making available a bound copy in the Penn Van Pelt Library for access by local readers and the wider public via inter-library-loan ( the Gist dissertation is not available through inter-library loan, have the rules changed or is this a special dispensation?).

To my surprise, “An Ocean State Voyage,” which was defended in April 2012, with the Ed.D. awarded in August 2012, was not yet available from either source in June 2013. A Penn librarian wrote at that time: “This Dissertation is not currently available in any format. It is not currently held by the Library and is not in Dissertation Abstracts.” I learned then of embargoed dissertations, when, under certain conditions, release to the public is delayed at the request of the author. But no, there was no Gist embargo in effect at that time because there was no Gist dissertation to be found. The degree had certainly been awarded to Deborah Gist, so where was her dissertation? I was put in touch with the Registrar of Penn’s Graduate School of Education, the person responsible for receiving dissertations from their authors and releasing them to the public via ProQuest, in accordance with the author’s specifications and academic permissions. Here was an answer of sorts.

The GSE Registrar explained that the dissertation she had sent to ProQuest had been lost and was never received by them. The one and only remaining copy was sitting on her desk at that very moment, she said, awaiting resubmission to. And why had it been sitting there for so many months? Resubmission was delayed, she said, because Deborah Gist had a new e-mail address and could not be contacted. (This is hard to believe. Surely it was common knowledge at Penn that Gist was Rhode Island’s Commissioner of Education–it says so in the dissertation abstract–and that any message to the Rhode Island Department of Education was bound to reach her!). The dissertation was resubmitted to ProQuest on June 20, about a week after I started my search. Would it still be gathering dust on the Registrar’s desk had I not inquired? Is there a library copy gathering dust on someone else’s desk right now?

For all practical purposes Penn’s long delay in resubmitting the Gist dissertation to ProQuest was an unofficial embargo that lengthened the period of unavailability by as much as a year. The GSE Registrar was quick to assume responsibility for the delay, assuring me that it was not Deborah Gist’s fault (though all things considered, it worked out pretty well for her). That same Registrar probably knew, while I was waiting for the second submission to be processed so that I could request the dissertation, that what was in store for me was only an official notification that it was unavailable. Sure enough, now that the dissertation is in the ProQuest database, we know that it is definitely and officially under embargo. Commissioner Gist is in no hurry to share her ideas. “An Ocean State Voyage” will not be available to the public until September 2015, more than three years after the doctorate was awarded.

Why does the Commissioner want to shield her work from public scrutiny?  Why would anyone? As embargoed dissertations are increasingly common across the country, a primary impetus comes from doctoral candidates hoping to publish their research in book form in order to compete for teaching jobs in colleges and universities. Electronic access to dissertations jeopardizes future publications, they claim, and some disciplines, faculties, and scholarly groups are inclined to agree and advocate for long or renewable embargo periods. Others in academe challenge this position on factual grounds or on behalf of the traditional scholarly values of openness and interchange. This is a controversial issue and every aspect of academic embargo is subject to debate. How long? Renewable or not? What reasons? Who decides? The answers are different for various degree-granting institutions and, sometimes, for different sectors of the same institution.

We know from that interesting title that Gist has completed a case study of her role in devising an evaluation system for Rhode Island teachers. From the dissertation abstract, which is now available from ProQuest (free through university libraries), we know a little more: that she studies “adaptive” change, required by new situational factors and often accompanied by feelings of loss or disorientation on the part of the changees, that she has developed a model of “Elementary Leadership,” and that she intends to use this model in “future leadership of large-scale change.”  Her future leadership may be in another state or in the national Department of Education.  She may become a more active Change Chief and work with Jeb Bush or the Broad Academy or the Gates Foundation.  She may consult or head a charter school group or invent an entirely new educational organization.

So why doesn’t she want her dissertation read now? Wouldn’t its new input be of value in current discussions of testing, accountability, and teacher evaluation? Wouldn’t it add to her stature as a prominent education reformer?  Does she plan to revise it and publish a book? What privacy issues could be involved?  As a high-ranking state employee writing about her own job and her own staff, doesn’t she owe some account of her leadership model to the people of Rhode Island?  Who would be more interested in her Ocean State Voyage than Rhode Islanders? Who would be better equipped to compare the dissertation’s view of her leadership with its practical results than Rhode Island teachers, parents, and students?

– See more at:

inequality cartoon

(image obtained from Oxfamblogs)

There’s a lot of growing resistance to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). And there are a lot of reasons for this opposition: invasion of privacy of information, shoddy confusing content, federal and corporate intrusion, questionable standards in terms of content or developmental appropriateness, costs/expenditures being funneled to private corporations, and its indelible and damaging attachment to high stakes testing. What’s also concerns me is the way in which CCSS is directly intertwined with other education reforms as a multi-pronged effort toward one goal: privatizing public education. Federal over- reach through this nationalized imposition of these reforms allows corporations to manage and control (and own) every facet of public education including what children learn, how they will learn it, and who serves as the beneficiaries of their efforts (spoiler alert here-it’s not children).

The good news: We will eventually erase this blight from the landscape of public education and it will become yet another stain in the pages of education reform history alongside the other reform debacles.

The challenge: We need to have a strong and clear vision for what will happen after CCSS and other reform policies are gone. Are you opposed to public education because of what it’s doing to your/our children, or are you opposed to what reformers doing to public education? I am a supporter of public education who is opposed to what is happening in them as well as what is happening to them. These are very central questions for all of us because, while the first is one which may affect only my children, or my community schools, the second demands I focus on the bigger question: What do we want for all of our children?

I believe that whatever our solution may be, it must include the opportunity for all children to attend sustainable, equitably funded, meaningful, engaging, and accessible public schools. I am not opposed to “choice”-it is the fundamental right of every parent to choose to homeschool their child or send them to private school (or charter) if they so choose-but the availability of those options should not come at the expense of our public education system.

Is the system broken? Yes…. And no.

Public schools are not failing (as Ravitch reminds us ) in the ways which reformers would have us believe. Rather, as a society we are failing public schools.

We squander the opportunity to embrace children and communities as sites of strength and (sometimes painful) beauty, by labelling them “failing.” For many children, public schools are the place where they feel safest, where they can grasp at opportunities otherwise unavailable in their homes or communities because of the generations of systematized institutionalized oppression, and state and federal laws which created the profoundly impoverished and racially segregated neighborhoods which we are forced to now confront and will continue to confront until we face full responsibility for their creation. For many children around this country, schools is their place to learn how to problem solve, to empathize, to connect, and to create. It may be the only place in their lives where such opportunities exist. And we must embrace public education as one facet of a set of solutions to address these concerns. Schools cannot single handedly remediate for the effects of poverty. They cannot be expected to resolve our social ills.

But without high quality public education as a foundation of our democracy, we are dead in the water.

A glance at the history of modern public schooling reveals how power has been a front and central agenda for determining who, what, and how schools shall educate “the masses” (the elite have always have private education as the option of choice). Public education has largely been manipulated by those in power, assigning to schools their purpose and meaning according to their own image. And these policies have mostly been intended for urban centers populated by people of color and immigrants. They’re constructed for people with little financial or professional means to fight back, while suburban schools remained safe havens protected from the ravages of these policies intended for the “Other.”

Going back to the early 1900’s, even though newly emancipated black people could now receive a public education, institutional powers ensured that their education was still “separate and unequal.” Following Brown v Board, state and federally sanctioned laws  (and unchecked racism in general) including block busting and redlining ensured that even if schools could no longer segregate, housing and employment practices would make sure they remained separate … an unequal. In the height of the industrial era we introduced factory models of schooling to prepare children for a factory model way of thinking and producing. We’ve used testing to sort and track children like widgets on a conveyer belt. Throughout the 1900’s into today, dominant cultural influences often determine that public education would (will) be the place to “Americanize” immigrants, white-washing their history and their cultural identity. In the 1950’s politics demanded we push for more math and science to keep up the “Space Race” with the Russians. And we introduced PE during WWII so we could physically condition young men going to war. And now we live in the age of multinational corporate domination and efforts to privatize every public good or human right from education to clean drinking water. The agenda for what, and who, and how to teach within a public education system has been crafted by the interests of everyone it seems except the most important and fragile of all stakeholders: children.

Of course within each of these eras there have remained great schools, great teachers, and great learning experiences. Again, in spite of all of this, I believe it’s not the idea of public education that is failing. It’s not our children or our teachers who are failing. What is failing is our promise to our children and our commitment to this grand democratic experiment which requires an informed, compassionate, critically minded, and healthy citizenry to survive.

Any curriculum that would become successful at transformation schools and education must be grounded first and foremost in the needs of the students and the communities-not the needs of corporations. If schools became sites of engagement, meaning, purpose –of creativity and inspiration-for children…provided with the resources needed to embody those dreams and desires –it is then that the other woes corporate reformers claim to address, such as dropout rates, creating an employable workforce, and a democratically engaged citizenry would remediate themselves- Schools would be solutions defined by those who will live it, and not by those who would live off of the backs of those they pretend to “educate.”

What kinds of public schools can we imagine? What kinds of public education should we demand?

First of all, (as the teacher shouted down by Chris Christie, in her letter to him says)  our investments in public school are supposed to be an investment in our children’s future,  not using children as investments in the future for corporations.

I envision a commitment to our promise to children through a re-imaging of public education that is built upon three basic and interdependent democratic values: Freedom, Equity, and Possibility.

Freedom: It’s a word we love in United States. But what precisely do we mean? True freedom cannot exist without equity. How so? Freedom for me cannot come at the expense of providing for the right to those same freedoms for others. In the words of authors Tony and Slade Morrison in The Big Box  “If freedom is handled only your way, it’s not my freedom or free.”

In Tucson AZ, the students of the Ethnic Studies program were exploring their own understandings of freedom, and engaging in learning experiences that brought forward their voices, their cultural identity, and new avenues of possibility. They were becoming more successful in school. But the state legislature banned the program because they found it offensive. So the state imposed it’s freedoms to destroy the freedoms of the children whose lives were most greatly affected by the existence of this program. Freedom means a life unfettered by barriers and impositions to one’s own becoming. It means openness to question, to explore, to find ways from “here to there” through not one pathway but through many. Freedom is power. Schools can create spaces for free thinking, for questioning, for challenging, so that no one ideology or form of indoctrination imposes itself, because through the freedom of critical thinking, whatever the reigning ideology is, students will have the power to examine it for themselves.

Children and teachers being forced to work under constant surveillance in the name of accountability is not freedom. Freedom means freedom for teachers to meet children where they are and take them where they want to go. Race to the Top and its various iterations are a gross overstep of the federal government and must be stopped. But freedom does not mean the total absence of legislation or oversight either. Government oversight was necessary to legislate desegregation, to promote funding for Title I schools, funding for Title 9 to ensure equality in men’s and women’s sports programs, and laws to protect the rights of children with special needs. While there may be those who bemoan any and all government as intrusion, especially in the name of equality, I wonder at how so few were concerned when these same governmental powers were robbing minority groups of their rights, and instituting legal forms of oppression. Jim Crow laws for example ensured that true freedom for all would not be manifest. If government can take the liberty of robbing people of their rights, perhaps it has the obligation to restore those rights as well. State and federal government’s jobs are to ensure the freedom of its citizens. If all public schools are to become sites for free thinking and learning, to be places of student empowerment, as determined by our newest stake holders- children themselves- we cannot rely on big business or the “kindness of strangers” to make it happen. We must demand that our government make good on its promise to us: to serve the people. And demand that such rights and freedoms are protected through legislation that ensures the access to these freedoms for all students.


A one-size-fits-all “trudging all children toward a same nationalized curriculum of mediocrity” is a piss- poorest excuse for equity.
We equalize opportunity not by imposing a one-size-fit- all mediocre curriculum on all children and call that fair, or tell them to master the same test material and pretend this is the equivalent of equal opportunity. We equalize education by treating all children with equal amounts of respect, voice, vision, and freedom-by empowering them with all of the resources we have at our disposal and with the myriad of ways in which they can engage as the co-creators of meaning and knowledge. We create equity by alleviating implicit and explicit systems of oppression so that all children have the freedom to invest knowledge and meaning in their own lives as they so choose.

Why should we care about equality in education? Because concern for merely me and mine will no longer suffice. And not everybody has access to the privileges I am able to provide for my children, whether it be to choose to homeschool them, send them to a private school, or move to a neighborhood with a tax bracket that guarantees quality public schools. “Let them eat cake” cannot sustain the future of a democratic society. Other people’s children are the future citizens who will share the next generation of decision making with my children.  What kind of world I envision for my children must include the kind of world I envision for others.  Public education must remain a part of that vision.

Freedom cannot outweigh equity, nor can top down impositions in the name of equity (but service corporate profits) outweigh our freedoms. The balance is messy, complicated, and always as Maxine Greene says “unfinished.” But we never stop trying. In the balance between the two children can see schools as sites for possibility, not places to be stuck reciting “what is” but sites to explore what “can be” if we give them the chance.


Public schools are not places to indoctrinate but places to liberate-to imagine, to empower, to transform ourselves and the world. It astounds me that while people fighting for greater democracy in other countries risk their lives to create public education for all its citizens, we have used the system to abuse children, perpetuate less democracy, and now in our worst moment, sell it off to the highest bidder. In our own history, education has been used as both a tool of oppression and liberation: both an unparalleled opportunity and a right denied to those we wished to hold down. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Public education is not boil to be burned off the body of our social foundation. It is not a burden. It is not legislation we must endure. It is a human right to be protected. It is a fundamental need of democracy that we must claim for its powerful potential. Let’s stop lending it out to those in power (whether it be governmental or corporate) whose agenda is and always has been, to manage the rest of us according to their own desires. If we miss this chance. If we sell pout. Or give up. We will lose something tremendous that we may never have the chance to reclaim.

But the possibility remains-it’s what we do with the framework that matters.

Schools are not failing for the reason reformers would have us believe. They are failing, because we are failing them. Are we willing to give up any hope of their value as part of this democratic experiment? Do we take our toys and go home? Do we abandon the project either in favor of privatization? Do we allow them to be sold at auction to corporations while those with the privilege of being able to seek asylum do so elsewhere? But just because I have the privilege of protecting my own children from the most profound ravages of reform doesn’t preclude me from fighting for other people’s children. And let’s face it, few of us have anywhere left to hide no matter where we go.
When did it stop being patriotic to support my own country by caring for and taking action on behalf my all my country’s children? There is something far greater at stake here and illustrating this will help other people who do not have children in public schools to join the fight.

Reformers are aren’t afraid that schools are failing. They’re afraid that schools will succeed in their ultimate purpose. Why else do they close programs that work? Why else rob children of the joy of learning? Why else deny the poorest children opportunities for a love of art, dance, PE, and a meaningful well-rounded curriculum? Why else increase rather than decrease class size? Why else starve communities and schools of their resources? Why? They’re afraid that one day we will wake up and discover precisely how powerful this right to a public education is in forging our own destinies.

And that we realize that we can take it from them. And we will.