Archive for March, 2014

(A response from the United Opt Out organizers: Morna McDermott, Tim Slekar, Ruth Rodriguez, Peggy Robertson, Ceresta Smith and Shaun Johnson)


In the effort to stay “current” in reporting about the rising tide of the Opt Out movement (aka high stakes standardized testing refusal), journalists are eager to tell the story…but do they do their homework?  Take for instance Greenblatt’s article for NPR.

Greenblatt in his NPR article creates a narrow and limited reporting of the Opt Out movement both in regards to who is representative of this movement and why it matters.

To the first point: it’s clear in the subtext that Greenblatt presupposes that the movement consists entirely of conservative minded folks focused on Constitutional rights and what he perceives to be their concerns with “their own child.” Under the sound bite narrative-style of reporting Greenblatt translates the entire opt out movement to that of the interests of “individualism.” While that may be the focus for some members of the Opt Out movement, Greenblatt assumes as many erroneously do, that libertarians and other conservative “momma bears” and “soccer moms” alone drive the effort, and that the concerns of one ideology speaks for us all.  It is clear that Greenblatt is using the opt out story to discredit the Tea Party style initiatives including, as he so references, The Affordable Care Act. One wonders if his article’s purpose is to run defense for Obama’s policies by placing the Opt Out movement squarely in the arena of Tea Party-ism. While it is indeed true that push back against high stakes standardized testing does in many places around the country emanate from conservative fronts, the bigger movement to eliminate high stakes testing as the central driving force behind current education policy neither began with, nor ends, with a sole conservative “agenda.”

Case in point: Greenblatt identifies United Opt Out as a centerpiece organization in this movement, yet never contacted nor bothered to interview any of the six United Opt Out organizers.  Our emails are publicly accessible on our website. If he had, he would have found that none of the six are in any way affiliated with conservative, libertarian or Tea Party ideologies. However that does not mean that “across the aisle” allainces are not being built in towns and cities everywhere. Many of us realize a common ground and move forward from that realization.

Additionally, many scholars, teachers and activists who hail from progressive, liberal, radical-left and socialist beliefs have been highly critical of the high stakes testing, top-down standardization movement for decades. The voices from “the left” have consistently been marginalized from current reporting on the Opt Out movement, as Duncan tried to do in accusing the Opt Out movement of consisting of “extremists” and “pissed off white soccer moms.” Perhaps Greenblatt and other journalists like him are trying to create the false illusion that resistance to testing belongs to “those Tea Party folks” and thus deter movement building with more moderate individuals or groups. Such misconceptions help to further alienate people of color from finding allies in the Opt Out movement. It might be that the status quo Democrats who have been cheerleading corporate-driven reform refuse to admit that many progressives themselves realize they’ve been sold out, and millions of us refuse to be associated any longer with their bogus policies. Maybe they don’t want the public to know that their own progressive constituents have abandoned their reform policies and are fighting to take public education back from the grips of predatory reform.

This leads me to my second point: the Opt Out movement is not, and cannot, be simply reduced to a culture of parents concerned with the individual rights of “their” children. Sure there are many in this fight for that reason. But there’s more, Mr. Greenblatt.

If Greenblatt had done his homework, hell if he had ever even visited our website he would have received a fuller and more informed picture of why the testing resistance is growing. By the way, the movement is not “small”– as indicated by the hundreds of teachers, parents, and students refusing the tests from Seattle to Chicago to New York, and every other city, town, and state in between. Maybe he needs to read the newspaper more.

The conservative voice is merely one voice in the resistance against high stakes testing. The voices and perspectives of testing resistance are far more many and varied than that. Who were the keynote speakers at the United Opt Out event in Denver? Glenn Beck? No. Our speakers included:

Dr. Sam Anderson, retired math professor and radical black education activist who sees education as a human right. Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish educator, scholar, and author of the book Finnish Lessons, who believes that equity must come before the promise of educational quality and that competition must be replaced with cooperation. Dr. Lois Wiener Professor at New Jersey City University, who was speaking about teachers unions and social justice. On Sunday Angela Engel stated that high stakes testing is a cancer on our education systems and that we need each other because “people matter.”

The movement to refuse testing demands cooperation, collaboration, and a notion of the “we.” In the words of Dr. Ricardo Rosa an education and social justice professor at UMASS-Dartmouth, who was another Denver keynote speaker, “Diverse social struggles can coalesce around issues of high stakes testing.”  The Denver event was one of creating a sustainable and democratically/community-led movement for public education as a human right. Opposite to the notion of seeking our “individual rights” we convened to work with teachers, parents and students. We had leaders representing numerous national organizations including Chicago Teachers UnionSave Our SchoolsBadass Teacher Association, Voices for Public EducationThe Network for Public EducationSchools MatterCoalition for Public EducationFair TestSubstance News, and Uniting4Kids. Too bad Greenblatt didn’t do any actual investigative reporting about the things which he feels so privileged to judge.

Too bad he wasn’t there.

If anything screams “individualism” it’s a national policy called Race to the Top. Winners and losers. Of me I sing, Mr. Greenblatt. It’s a policy that pits child against child, comparing their data on humiliating “data walls” where they can be compared and tracked against one another.  Opt Out is the resistance to a national policy grounded on competition, driven by corporate profits and data mining through which billions of dollars are funneled from public schools and go into the pockets of corporations like Pearson and inBloom. High stakes testing is a policy of greed, fear, and control. The high stakes testing agenda also leads toward the privatizing of public education. The communities most greatly harmed by testing reform are communities of color where high stakes testing scores are used to fire teachers, close community schools, and fragment the fabric of the schools and the quality of learning for the students. That largely white middle class moms are the media’s chosen “face” of the Opt Out movement rather than voices from urban black and brown communities who have been most greatly harmed by testing policies, says more about the racist nature of our media narratives. Or it requires we examine the continuation of privilege in our society where race, economic means, and political clout enable some people more able to speak out than others. Greenblatt fails to mention that many of us are in this fight for other people’s children, not only our own.

What else did Greenblatt fail to report? Sound documented research shows:

Legitimate concerns over data mining by private corporations who are getting paid millions of dollars to gather, and hold, thousands of data points of private student information.

That meaningful instruction is being replaced with hours and hours of increased test prep and testing, nearly one-third of the school year in some places.

That testing reform initiatives have never been proven to improve student learning, school equity or “career and college readiness” in spite of its rhetoric.

The damage that these policies are having on students and communities of color where increasingly public schools are being closed or teachers are being fired because of test score results.

The billions of dollars spent building new testing infrastructures while schools languish, unable to provide basic resources, lose libraries, librarians, nurses, and qualified teachers.

How testing, as the center piece for market driven reform, monetizes children, treating them as nothing more than test scores; scores which are used to sell, buy, and trade our public schools and students like stocks on Wall Street.

That standardized testing is grounded in an ideology of eugenics; increasing oppressive, racist, and biased policies and outcomes. Standardized testing, by its content, reinforces a Eurocentric world view and styles of learning.

The facts speak for themselves. It’s a shame Greenblatt didn’t do his own homework first. But again… this is the narrative the mainstream media doesn’t want you to hear about. Because if you knew the facts, you just might join us.


(McKinsey, Pearson, Gates and ALEC colonizing the K-12 to college arena)


Kahn Academy is the darling of education “reformers” and entrepreneurs, spearheading the movement to provide online instruction in lieu of bodied and interactive learning, to the tune of millions of dollars.

Hailed by Forbes and others as the public face of the “flipped learning” movement, Salman Kahn believes that basic learning should be done by video before a pupil arrives in class. “Khan envisages pupils being taught in ‘super-classes’ of 100 with three or four teachers, and has called for the abolition of separate subjects and even the summer holiday break   (Here’s) the man Gates has described as a ‘true education pioneer’”.

Kahn’s vision is not without his criticisms. Former Kahn employee Karim Kai Ani suggests, “Officials might see them as a cheap replacement for teachers.” He says, “It reminds me of tackling the obesity epidemic. We need to exercise and eat better but instead people go on the Atkins diet. This is the educational equivalent of the Atkins diet.”

But it’s financial success is no surprise considering that Salman Kahn who was a senior analyst for venture capitalist firms before created Kahn Academy, knows how to game a system for financial gain. From 2003-08 he was a Senior analyst for Wohl Capital Management; from 2008-09 he was a Senior analyst for Connective Capital Management and from 1998-99 he was a Senior product manager for Oracle Corporation.

And he’s had help from Bill Gates, himself a self-proclaimed educational expert who believes (in his non-existent knowledge of developmental and pedagogical theories) that 100 children seated in front of computers qualifies as meaningful learning.

Khan Academy received large grants from Google ($2 million) and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation ($1.5 million) to help with his latest “venture”- public education.

David Coleman announced that College Board would revising the existing SAT’s and partner with Kahn Academy to provide delivery/training/support for the new and “improved” version of the SAT’s. It’s simply an extended version of Common Core. For more “nonsense” on the SAT “reboot” itself read Paul Thomas.

Privatization is on the move.

McKinsey strikes again

The global consulting firm McKinsey and Co has had a deep hand in the direction that education reform has taken over the last several years. A mere handful of their connections with predatory reformers in public education include:

Louis Gerstner (co-chair of Achieve-the group that helped sponsor Nation Common Core), 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), and Jerry Hauser ( who served as the Chief Operating Officer at Teach For America). This list could go on ad infinitum.  But one final player of note is Bobby Jindal, former McKinsey consultant, and now Governor of Louisiana. He is forming policies to privatize public education for the entire state of Louisiana.

For a full report see my McKinsey research:

But suffice to say, David Coleman, leader in the Common Core initiative, Sir Michael Barber, CEO of Pearson (now delivering PARCC and Common Core materials), and Lou Gerstner the co-creator and CEO of Achieve all hailed from McKinsey and Company. Indeed, the stars are aligned now that Kahn Academy will have a hand in the tests that will replace SAT and ACT. And Salman Kahn’s right-hand man, Shantanu Sinha, formerly an Associate Principal for McKinsey & Company, is now President & COO of Kahn Academy. Shantanu and Sal were former high-school math competitors in New Orleans, freshman-year roommates at MIT, and long-time friends.

Many of the other current leaders in Kahn Academy also worked for McKinsey.

It’s worth noting too that the Head of Finance for Kahn Academy served as the CFO for New Schools Venture Fund.

What a tidy little web, considering that our new Undersecretary for the the U.S. Department of Education will be Ted Mitchell who was formerly the CEO for New Schools Venture. BFF’s!!!

According to The Nation: “Mitchell’s NewSchool Venture Fund also reportedly partners with Pearson, the education mega-corporation that owns a number of testing and textbook companies, along with one prominent for-profit virtual charter school,Connections Academy.”

Coleman makes it all sound so “nice.” You know, free access to test prep materials and free college applications for “poor kids.”  But….Phillip Morris can make the Marlborough Man look pretty hot too. According to the CNN report: “To prepare students for the test, the College Board will partner for the first time with Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials, starting in spring 2015. Afterward, income-eligible students will receive fee waivers to apply to four colleges for free.”

Question: Did we really need Kahn Academy to make test prep and college applications freely available to poor kids?  Never mind the wealth of documentation out there that has rightly challenged and debunked Kahn’s myth of success. It’s kind of like “the Texas Miracle” 2.0

Never mind about the facts. It certainly fits the agenda for Ted Mitchell who some predict will, “advocate for more federal promotion of online learning, ‘blended’ models of instruction, ‘adaptive learning’ systems, and public-private partnerships involving education technology.”

This plan fits nicely into ALEC’s scheme as well, with their “Course Choice Program Act”, which allows third-party private companies (i.e. Connections Academy and Kahn Academy) to be paid to “deliver” educational materials online IN SCHOOLS:

“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.

WHO are the course providers to be? Hmmm..what a mystery!

The Act adds: “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.”

Kahn Academy itself has sat at the ALEC table of bribery and secrecy itself. As part of the “2011 Philanthropy Roundtable” where many of ALEC’s funding foundations, think tanks and others including Kahn Academy met to discuss philanthropic activities for 2012. 

Bob Sloan reflects:

Consider that ALEC’s corporate members include companies manufacturing and selling the software for long distance learning, companies that provide internet access services, computer companies and companies involved in privatizing public transportation.  Each one has an interest in increasing sales and profits, and otherwise benefitting from a “front” organization such as the Khan academy.

Hell, if we can’t close ALL the schools and make them come to charters, then gosh darn it we will come to them!



Do you want to know how to tell the difference between a testing “reformer” and a testing resistor?

Easy…. Reformers are paid (and handsomely) to be spokespersons for Pearson, Achieve, PARCC, and the myriad of other corporate interests that have hatched Common Core standards and the new rounds of testing that are required under Race to the Top legislation. They take monies from Gates, Broad, and other billionaires to buy and sell their voices.

Resistors, on the other hand, are not paid at all for their efforts. In fact, if anything, they choose to stand up and speak out against education reform at the risk of personal, professional, and financial peril. There will be no promotions among the ranks for their efforts. Many have lost jobs, or been threatened with job loss. And right now, even more resistors are speaking out in Chicago.

The Wall Street Journal in an article today (States Rethink School Testing) showcased resistance efforts including: The Network for Public Education conference in Austin, Texas, happening as I type.  Additionally, United Opt Out has partnered with other national organizations including FairTest, Parents Across America, and Save Our Schools (SOS) to launch the Testing Resistance and Reform Spring.

But the major kudos right now goes to the teachers in Chicago.

Despite threats from CPS which warned teachers that the state can revoke their certification if they encourage students to boycott the ISAT exams, Chicago teachers are protesting against ISAT. While Michelle Rhee, the CEO’s of Achieve and Pearson receive comfortable, often six figure paychecks, to speak for the “need” for a national curriculum and “accountability” via testing…..teachers…REAL teachers…are risking their livelihood to do what they believe is right for children. And parents are facing punitive responses for refusing to test their children. We arent getting paychecks and promotions. We’re getting threats.

Testing resistance and refusal are acts of civil disobedience. Quite simply, what Chicago teachers and other resistors knows is this:

High stakes testing does not serve the interests of children….Instead, children are being forced to serve the interests of testing companies, and the other tentacles of “reform” that rely on test scores to achieve their goals.

Chicago has created a tipping point. To all those who have asked, “This is too big. It’s too powerful. How can defeat this?” the answer is: “HERE. NOW. US.”

Don’t leave Chicago out on the front lines alone to fight this for us. Chicago is fighting for my children. So I fight for and with them.

Visit to see how you can help. Spread the word.

Solidarity, not profits, are what we are working for!!!

Light it up.