Archive for January, 2014


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In honor of musicians who know the power of song as a contribution to social change, who have risked everything to challenge an unjust world, and whose music resonates with the voices of those marginalized in a world of power, greed, selfishness, and tyranny. Let’s not merely honor them as role models. Let them be inspiration so that we may follow in their footsteps. Teachers, students, parents, and community activists are rising up and speaking out at great risk to their professional and personal lives. They are being fired, condemned, kicked out, expelled, and even jailed. The reformers, politicians, and billionaires hope their examples will create fear and retreat. We need to show them that quite the opposite is true. Our numbers are growing. And we will rise up … singing.

In honor of Pete Seeger who passed away this week at the age of 94 and all artists of courage and conviction.

Springsteen “Ghost of Tom Joad”:

Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight against the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me mom I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or a decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.”

Nine Tibetan singers were jailed after they wrote and performed songs celebrating Tibet, opposing China’s occupation and calling for freedom. Music is a vital part of Tibetans’ resistance to Chinese rule. Singers like these not only keep alive a culture that China is trying to erase from the world, but their songs articulate the aspirations, fears and courage of a people who remain proud and defiant after 60 years of occupation.

Robert Neville (I Am Legend): “The people who are trying to make the world worse are not taking a day off. How can I? Light up the darkness.” [quoting Bob Marley]

Pete Seeger:Throughout history, the leaders of countries have been very particular of what songs should be sung. We know the power of songs.”

Pete Seeger: “Songs won’t save the planet, but neither will books or speeches. Songs are sneaky things; they can slip across borders.”

Pete Seeger: “Down through the centuries, this trick has been tried by various establishments throughout the world. They force people to get involved in the kind of examination that has only one aim and that is to stamp out dissent.”

Bob Dylan: “This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway.”

Bruce Springsteen:

“Seeger’s music has been used all over the world for social justice. From the Civil Rights movement to the anti-war movements Pete and his songs have been there on the front lines. Like a ripple that keeps going out from a pond Pete’s music will keep going out all over the world spreading the message of non-violence and peace and justice and equality for all. Wherever people are fighting to be free or fighting for equality Pete’s songs and Pete’s vision will be there with them.”

Pussy Riot: “We were looking for authentic genuineness and simplicity and we found them in our punk performances. Passion, openness and naivety are superior to hypocrisy, cunning and a contrived decency that conceals crimes.”

Public Enemy, “Shut ‘Em Down:

From the education of a TV station
But look around
Hear go the sound of the wreckin’ ball
Boom and pound when I shut ’em down

“Shutting down public schools and handing them over to private organizations is not a ‘turnaround,’ it is a heist.” — Sabrina Stevens


I am a member of a bloggers group called Basecamp, which has about 100 amazing bloggers comprised of teachers, activists, academics, parents and others from around the country.  Frequently new questions or topics of conversation are posed by members of the group. About a week ago Robert Perry (in a discussion strand) called for examination of, ”the elusive ed reformer catch phrase,” and asked us to consider what we should replace the word “reformers” with. The ongoing “conversation” via email responses was lively and informative. Reformers, as they are self-named is simply not enough we all agreed, besides being an outright lie. It’s like calling Donald Trump the “the salt of the earth.”

It was pointed out by some that “de-formers” (a term embraced by Norm Scott in 2007) perhaps has little too much edge of “snark” to be very helpful in broader public settings, though still immensely satisfying as a descriptor. Others like Tim Slekar use the phrase “faith-based reformers” because there’s no evidence to support their policies and because of their blinding faith in free market ideology for education. All true, but it still sounds too “nice” for me. Something’s still missing. Until now I personally had always used the term “corporatists”… until Jeff Bryant eloquently illustrated reasons why that term may not be accurate enough. He surmises that, “When a word has too many meanings, it ends up spreading confusion rather than clarity.” He illustrated the multiple meanings of the word. So now, having learned something new, I feel hesitant to continue with that phraseology and find myself pondering:

”Reformers….what are they?”

I think the new term I will use to describe, discuss, challenge, or resist “refomers” (aka corporatists, faith-based reformers, deformers, Rheeformers…or any number of expletives I could add) is this:

PREDATORY REFORMERS (also see: predatorial policy or predatory policy makers).

Yes. This new name feels right somehow. It aptly describes both the who and the what in a proverbial nutshell. The name comes from the use of the term to describe immoral, unethical and illegal lending practices in housing which bubbled over and exploded around 2008. Predatory lending. AskHow (a guide for economic theory novices like myself) describes it in simplest terms as follows:

“Predatory lending is the unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent practices of some lenders during the loan origination process …(T)he office of inspector general of the FDIC broadly defines predatory lending as ‘imposing unfair and abusive loan terms on borrowers.’ The practice of a lender deceptively convincing borrowers to agree to unfair and abusive loan terms, or systematically violating those terms in ways that make it difficult for the borrower to defend against.

Let’s (re)define this now in more analogues terms. The “lenders” are the U.S. Department of Education, certain politicians, and billionaires (or the think-tanks they fund) who “lend” monies to push (using unfair, deceptive or fraudulent measures) for certain polices or practices in exchange for self-serving or profitable benefits.  Who are the borrowers? Children, teachers, tax payers, schools and communities who are convinced they need to agree to unfair or abusive terms.

The most painful parallel is how predators as lenders and as education policy makers start with those who they perceived as the easiest “prey”: lower- income largely black and brown communities. Hard working and struggling individuals who are deceptively led into believing that here is the answer to their prayers, the salve for their struggle. They too can “have the American Dream—no really, it’s easy…just sign here.” Predatory lenders often target senior citizens and people of color to place them in unnecessarily expensive loans.

So how are “reformers” and reform policies predatory? Too many ways to count. But I’ll focus on the top few.

Race to the Top is a primary example. The federal government promises to loan monies to cash-starved states in exchange for a few “terms of an agreement.” These terms of agreement include new accountability systems (data collection), new tests (PARCC or SBAC), adoption of Common Core, new methods for teacher evaluation, alternative teacher education programs (TFA), and school turn around policies (charters and vouchers). In exchange for the RtTT monies states in essence are forced to comply with unsustainable, and down-right abusive policies.  “Sure we’ll help you get that new house…just sign here.”

The latest round of ALEC legislation is also an excellent example of predatory policy. As part of their new “student achievement backpack”  they propose changes that would enable private entities (online and edutech companies) to serve in public schools as LEA’s thus enabling them to not only get paid to replace experienced professional public school teachers, but they’ll get oodles of data in return (remember-this predator feeds on money and data). Through the “robust and comprehensive data collection” ALEC aims to allow predatory behaviors into your child’s classroom, where students will be seen not as learners but as “consumers” of the goods and products being sold via these companies.

Parent Trigger. The greatest heist foisted upon parents in many years. The ultimate in deceptive advertising. Spawned in the bowels of ALEC and promoted by many think tanks such as The Heritage Foundation. Parent Trigger sold many communities into believing that this policy would place education decision making back in their hands, locally, where it belongs. Hey, they even made an all star movie Won’t Back Down. Parents are used as patsies to do the dirty work for corporations who, once the public schools are closed, swoop down and claim their rightful space as colonizers of their brave new world. While many parents across the country have begun to fight back, still many other states continue to see this policy as “empowerment ” for communities.

Co-location, charters, and turn-arounds. Remember,  “Predatory mortgage lending practices strip borrowers of home equity and threaten families with foreclosure, destabilizing the very communities that are beginning to enjoy the fruits of our nation’s economic success.”  Similarly, lending agreements with RtTT funds require that more schools be co-located with charters, and expanse of charter schools, and higher rates of “forclosure” on schools which were never equitably funded to begin with. The hedge fund managers who finance the giant charter chains and charter CEO’s profit handsomely by bilking millions from tax payers for which they are rarely held accountable. As a result of these measures, communities are becoming destabilized, and are faced with the loss of community schools and increased race and class segregation as the result of the charters.

Common Core and PARCC/SBAC. The standards and the tests must always be seen as intertwined. Because they are. Common core uses deceptive advertising like “world class standards” and “state led” to lure buyers into a bad deal. And with the agreement to use PARCC or SBAC, the terms of the loan will prove impossible to repay. The costs associated with the new standards and the testing require technological infrastructure, monstrous loads of data collection, endless need for training and retraining, new and shinier curricular materials…NO state can afford the costs.

Once the federal funding runs out in 2014-2105, who will pay for all this new stuff? How will we pay for the metaphorical new garage, the built-in pool, or the roof (which when we bought the place didn’t know it had huge leaks…)? Corporations like McKinsey and Co (king of the predator food chain)  will step in and “take over” PARCC and SBAC in many states, funneling millions to their bank accounts to help “fix the pool, the garage, and the roof”—for a small fee of course.

Additionally, when children “fail” to meet the expectations (cut off scores, VAM) of the new tests, it’s like not being able to “make the payment.” Time to kick them out and parcel them out to private interests. Public into private, school to prison, public educator into TFA…the list goes on.

Both the feds and the free-market corporations are predators it seems.

It’s a blend of capitalism and federal overstep at their worst. After a few drinks, they mated. And they’ve bred a strange beast. Don’t try to feed it. It’ll bite your hand off. It’s a predator.

And you can see the effects of predatory policy coming to fruition. The terms of agreement in each instance are deceiving, unfair and impossible to meet. Or.. we’ve realize we’ve been duped and refuse to meet them. Either way, our public education system, our schools, our children, and our democracy are on the foreclosure auction block- for sale to the highest bidder. And we’re left out in the cold.

So the next time someone asks you what “reform” can be called, call it what it is-PREDATORY.

I’ve been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed and at least a year old is a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled: and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”—Jonathan Swift.


(click image to enlarge for detail)

Looking closely at the chart (click to enlarge) you can see three central players in the education reform movement have all come from the same lineage: Sir Michael Barber (Pearson), David Coleman (College Board and CCSS), and Lou Gerstner (Achieve). Indeed, the stars have aligned for McKinsey and Co’s role as the cornerstone of education reform.

Describing McKinsey and Co., author Duff Macdonald writes, “…this influential and enigmatic company, helped invent what we think of as American—now global—capitalism.”

They have been the leaders in crafting the dominant narrative of an education crisis for decades, and now deeply entrenched in education reform policies, they are reaping the financial and political benefits of marketing solutions to the problems they manufactured in the first place.

As the chart indicates, McKinsey is in process of contracting with several states including New Mexico, Louisiana, and Florida to manage the PARCC when federal funding to manage it has dried up. (Note-since FL has stepped down as PARCC fiscal agent, I am unsure how this will affect their partnership with McKinsey). 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.”

With key players in place in all areas of education reform, McKinsey has situated itself to be the delivery boy, and financial recipient of billions of education dollars.

Why is Louisiana partnering with McKinsey to manage PARCC? Ask Bobby Jindal, Governor of LA was formerly a partner at McKinsey for five years. Governments and large public organizations including Louisiana school system have systematically adopted Sir Michael Barber’s ‘deliverology’ approach and realized quick impact and significantly improve outcomes to their reform programs.

Rhode Island might be next:

Why Rhode Island? Ask husband of Gina Raimondo, (democratic candidate for R.I. governor in 2014, architect of R.I.’s reduced pensions for teachers, former hedge-funder and darling of neo-liberals) Andy Moffit who specializes in school projects for McKinsey.  He co-authored the ed reform Bible Deliverology with Sir Michael Barber now at Pearson. He joined McKinsey in 2000.


(special thanks to Wendy Holmes for providing the pic and for other RI related information)

But it’s not just PARCC. SBAC has employed McKinsey to conduct research into developing a detailed sustainability plan as well.

Lumina (a member of ALEC) gave a $200,000 grant to CCSSO to support an inquiry by McKinsey & Co concerning the sustainability and operations of the two Common Core State Standards/Assessment (CCSS/A) consortia post 2014.

Even in years prior to the CCSS debacle, McKinsey held tremendous political sway in locations of “ground zero” ed reform like New York City.  McKinsey is the favored consulting firm of former Mayor of NYC, Michael Bloomberg and Paul Pastorek. McKinsey partnered with Joel Klein:

“Their consultants played critical roles in planning the restructuring of the New York City schools under Chancellor Klein.  In 2007, McKinsey published a report on the commonalities of what the firm considered excellent school system.  NYC reform was lauded in that report.  Now, following an intensive study of NAEP scores and state testing, McKinsey concludes that “the city school system had not demonstrated the scale of improvement necessary.” (EDVOX-Carol Boyd). 

Bear in mind it’s not just in the areas of Common Core and national testing that they have their tentacles.

Jerry Hauser, COO, Teach for America was formerly with McKinsey and Co as well.  Who else can we add to the Who’s Who of McKinsey/Ed Reform? Rajat Gupta (financial backer of the Harlem Children’s Zone), Marshall Lux (on the Board of the Harlem Children’s Zone), Andrés Satizábal (Harlem Charter School), Michael Stone (Chief External Relations Officer at New Schools for New Orleans),  Terrence McDonough (English Teacher and Department Chair at Edward W. Brooke Charter School  and 5th Grade Teacher at Teach for America), Luis de la Fuente (with the Broad Foundation, who develops and manages a portfolio of grants to school districts, charter management organizations, and innovative non-profits), Shantanu Sinha (COO of Kahn Academies)

McKinsey’s key areas of educational interest are data collection (Big Data mantra) and information technology.

Using the growing power and reach of IT to boost productivity in government, health care, and education—sectors that have not benefited fully from previous waves of IT—to improve service delivery and increase transparency.” In education they suggest: “adopting new pedagogies that make learning more accessible, anytime and anyplace, and modular and engaging, often driven by the growth of new platforms for delivery and applied to areas like employee training.

Never mind that lack of sustainable research to support the success of these efforts for students, or the documented failure of MOOCS, which McKinsey touts as one of their solutions. No teachers will even be needed. In this brave new world, children will interact with “algorithms to evaluate responses”, and therefore, “the system can adapt to each student’s learning experience and offer additional instruction as needed.”

This statement says it all (I am highlighting what I find to be loaded terms):

“Unleashing the power of the connected enterprise in government, health care, and education will force significant change and present many challenges. Governments, which are responsible for delivering health care and education in addition to other services, will need to take a comprehensive view of where and how to invest. They will need to effectively manage system implementations, assemble lean IT operations, develop innovative IT-enabled services, and cultivate deep technology expertise.”

McKinsey corporate alliances also include Wireless Generation and Bill Gates, among scores of others too many to mention.

McKinsey contracts with the most powerful governmental agencies in the world. Is it any coincidence thatThe Department of Defense contracts with McKinsey & Co, and that the Department of Defense has expressed direct involvement with the collecting and tracking of all student data as is indicated by their participation in GradNation, and calling for a “national security audit.”

And of course McKinsey partners and consultants will be ready to deliver the goods and smiling all the way to the bank, while schools, children, and communities languish in their shadow.