Archive for February, 2015



Taking a deep examination of the premises, facts, and outcomes of current education policies which are built on the corner stones of the Common Core, high stakes testing, and school closures/charters, one can see that in their development, implementation and results, what we are left with is “policy apartheid.” A strong accusation I admit, but perhaps not so far off as we wish. An honest examination of the evidence is warranted.

What does policy apartheid mean? In terms of implementation it suggests that those crafting the policies who are largely politicians and CEO’s from the “billionaire’s boys club”—wealthy and influential organizations or people (whether themselves White or male, or not)– embrace the development of policies steeped in a narrative born of White privilege. A definition of “failing school” framed by Whiteness, privilege, and social class as the defining characteristics for “success” results in further disenfranchisement of people from black and brown communities. Reform policies driven by high stakes testing is the most glaring example of this. The policy itself assumes a number of things that could only be embraced as logical within an APARTHEID mentality: 1) that poverty does not matter, 2) that meritocracy exists unfettered, 3) that any separation is merely an outgrowth of natural consequences, 4) that all children of color need is grit, and 5) that knowledge evidenced in a standardized test has any value. Number 5 warrants deeper examination since numerous studies spanning decades have proven them to be culturally, and racial and class biased. Standardized testing has its roots in the Eugenics movement. 

So why else would we allow a practice such as a system of rewards and punishments dictated by test scores be the cornerstone of reform unless we wished to continue to expand segregationist outcomes? This practice essentially tells already historically underserved students that: they must endure meaningless testing at the expense of meaningful learning, and funnel monies to Pearson that could go to real and meaningful resources, in order to receive an equitable and humane educational experience so freely given to their suburban peers. Why should some students be forced to test in order to prove they are equal to their middle class White peers and worthy of the same opportunities? So long as we buy into the narrative that tests can prove anything of value we will continue to then justify segregationist policies and practices while excusing this under the guise of “reliable science.” We must reject the myth that tests can offer scientific validity that perpetuate harmful and inequitable educational practices and then deny any responsibility for this.

And what of policy apartheid outcomes?

In order to understand how we arrive at increasingly segregationist outcomes we must carefully examine language and ask the question: Who is it that owns the narrative promulgating current reforms?  Sure, dujour (official) segregation largely went out with Brown v. Board and other Civil Rights legislation. So the system merely became more creative in achieving its aims. Systems that call for “accountability”, “grit narratives”, and “testing “ as a means of reward or punishment might not have the words “apartheid” printed on paper, but the results are just the same.

Reform language now is all about “disruption” innovation and breaking traditional systems. The claim is that in order to provide more “choice” and freedom” (using underserved communities as the target audience) policies must include vouchers and charters. The narrative insists we must “disrupt” the status quo which is code for unionized teachers and public schools. But ironically enough, the folks creating this narrative are themselves driving “top down” policies. It is scripted from the top and designed, not liberate people at the grass roots level or to empower those parents, teachers and students in those communities, but to re-inscribe a new ruling class and an oppressive system. Top-down mandated disruption disorients and disempowers communities who might otherwise push back. This new disruptive system intends on replacing the old so-called “monopoly” of public schools with a new “master”—the corporate owned schools. These masters of the new narrative challenge power merely to reclaim power for themselves. The outcomes of these policies are painfully clear: no accountability to the people they serve; children redefined as human capital; zero-tolerance policies aimed at submission, control, and obedience; and increasingly segregated schools. These polices use language to equate “public” (as in public schools) as itself the “problem” (outdated and monopolistic) and that “innovation” can only be performed by our new corporate and privately owned systems.

Why have we never tried to allow public school teachers the freedom to be innovative? Why have we never allowed public schools to tackle the problems of inequity, or respond to the demands of those communities that have for too long gone ignored? Yes, systems of inequity and lack of quality have pervaded our public institutions for too long. There exists a history of baised “interpretations” on the part of some as to what qualifies as student success, and thus has resulted in unequal opportunities. It is understandable that many civil rights advocates would seek to tighten up consistency in our evaluation systems to deter baised teaching practices. But do we really believe that corporations have the solution? Do we really believe that testing will rectify decades of harmful and biased practices?

A truly innovative disruptive system that flattens the power structure would empower the possibilities and freedoms of teachers and students themselves to reimagine what education can be; not corporations, testing companies, politicians and lobbyists deciding this for them. Rather than funding more testing, we should apply our resources toward a more meaningful preparation of educators to practice culturally-relevant and critically-minded teaching. The former reninscribes aparthied policies and the latter dismantles them.

We can compare the outcomes of two versions of “innovation” and see what each has yielded in terms of outcomes–the first includes innovations led by teachers and, and the second includes innovations led by those who own the “innovation” narrative launching “policy missiles” (to quote Brian Jones) into urban neighborhoods. So which one delivers on its promises to the communities they claim to serve?

Innovations and disruptions led by public school teachers/communities. Two examples:

  • The Ethnic Studies program in Tucson, AZ
  • The Youth Dreamers program in Baltimore City

These programs disrupted the status quo. These programs innovated and broke free of the yoke of system which were not working. The measure the success of a system is based on its outcomes.  So lets’ measure and compare.  By all forms of evaluation these programs were a success: Increased school attendance, graduation rates, school grades/performance, achievement of long range professional and college goals, reduction in “problem behaviors” of students. So what happened? These programs were closed by apartheid policies that refused to support the successes of individuals or groups themselves who were creating solutions that work. The Ethnic Studies program did not work for the racist policy- makers. They endured a long legal battle to reclaim a small ounce of their program, and face continuous attack. And the Youth Dreamer’s school apparently did not produce the “right” test scores according to policy makers, and subsequently was dismantled. Their success did not serve the needs or interests of those in power. These innovative programs disrupted apartheid policies.

The Policy-missile approach:

Conversely, Wall Street wants to disrupt “public” education and innovate it into a private system that continues to serve elite interests at the top. In order to ensure their own market success, they must design outcomes that result in an American apartheid—an education for “us”… and a system for “them”.

As P.L. Thomas states, “America’s public schools and prisons are stark images of the fact of racial, gender, and socioeconomic inequity in our society—inequity that is both perpetuated by and necessary for the ruling elite to maintain their artificial status as that elite.”

Disrupting public schools with current top-down charter school policies lead to disrupted communities where gentrification is planned to occur.

“Innovation” is merely code for a creative way to re-segregate urban communities without calling it what it is: Policy apartheid. Disruption and innovation as tools for liberation aren’t intended for those suffering at the hands of an unequal system. Public schools are closed and chopped up into charters. These charters reveal: high attrition rates, corruption, abusive and neglectful practices, and rejection of the neediest children. Black and brown children become a form of capital serving hedge fund companies. Promising that children will no longer be conscripted to a poor education opportunity “defined by their zip code”, they re-inscribe children to a system of poor education defined by the companies now owning their means of education. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Explain to me how this isn’t an apartheid mentality.

You decide. Is current reform developed by and reproducing apartheid policies? Simply examine the results of current outcomes and decide for yourself if they promote an apartheid mentality. Are these reforms growing, or reducing, inequities? Forget what the policy narrators say. What do they do? Who profits? At whose expense? Whom do the policies actually serve? How much better off are children as a result of these policies and practices? How much better off are the corporations and politicians who promoted them? Are we closing the income and equity gaps as a result of these policies? And if there exists programs that actually evidence success for children, why do policy makers work so hard to shut them down instead of supporting them?

These are tough but necessary questions to address. And the answers might require we hold a mirror up to ourselves as a society a little more closely.


Journalist John Merrow just published his analysis of the “refusal- versus- reform” battle for public education entitled What a Difference a Dash Makes. There are many amazing responses to his report well worth reading!

Here is my response:

Thank you, John for your coverage of this movement. Your report is indeed a vital starting point for a necessary conversation. I’d like to expand upon the report if I might.

You write, “As for the other side, the ‘Pro-Test’ camp has the appearance of substance.” Well, if by “substance” you mean MONEY, yes they do. Reform policy-makers have money to buy a multimedia campaign advertising their agenda…advertising. Selling. Fruit Loops might say “Part of a nutritious breakfast” on the front of the box but we all know to read the ingredients, and when we are being marketed claims rather than facts.

To that point, the media, placating their corporate sponsors offer little more than “repetitive stories and blogs that merely ask lame questions”–this is “hardly evidence of a full-blown” legitimate reform policy. Uttering the phrase “career and college ready” thousands of time in every media outlet money can buy does not make the claim any more true. Especially when there is no research or evidence to show that more or “better” tests can deliver on such an ambiguous promise. But never mind the facts. There’s volumes of research that demonstrates how these policies are failing. But keep calm and ignore the research seems to be their mantra I suppose. Any deep examination of policy “reform” in the name of research journalism cannot evade the profit motive of corporate “sponsorship” and lobbying efforts of testing and curriculum delivery systems that spent millions lobbying for the reforms from which they are profiting handsomely. It’s a shame that information was excluded from the report.  That’s kind of ignoring the giant elephant in the room isn’t it? Gates, Pearson and the “billionaire’s boys club” cannot be excluded from this conversation. I appreciate the nod you give the notion of money and power. But this warrants a more detailed examination to fully appreciate why our outrage exists.

Who is pro-test? Let’s take a look. It’s the politicians, non-profits and corporations who have political and monetary motives. Where are the pro-test teachers and parents? Crickets….

Well, except for the mention of Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, and the statement,  “If you don’t take the test, you won’t be counted–and you won’t matter”  which compels some such advocates representing marginalized groups, ie. special needs children, or children of color in underserved communities to buy the testing- our- way- into- mattering or proving ourselves narrative. What does it say about our democratic society and the promise of equitable education that we are basically telling these same groups and these same children (and their communities) that in order to “matter” or to receive programs and services on par with their White middle class peers they must subject themselves to costly and time-consuming tests (tests born of a testing history designed with the intention to sort and track people by their social class and race or ethnicity-yet we ask them to play the testing to prove yourself game when the rules of the game are rigged against them). We rob their schools of monies for greatly needed resources and meaningful curriculum in the name of “accountability” and avoid confronting the sad reality that without standardized tests these children will go underserved. Nice way to avoid dealing with the undercurrent of racism, classism, and bias all of which are reinforced by the same system which claims to be serving them: test driven policies. A must read on this by Ceresta Smith here.

Who are the protestors? The people (from across all political, geographical socioeconomic and racial spectrums) who live this stuff every day and see the implications of its effects of corporate driven test- based reforms. They don’t make a dime for their efforts either. No one gets paid. No one is making millions of dollars by refusing. I think that says a lot about the validity of the movement. There is no power or profit motive. A deeper investigation would reveal copious studies spanning decades that show how high stakes testing, and standardized testing in general has been harmful to children, teachers, and schools. You write “I haven’t found overwhelming evidence that hundreds of thousands of students are going to boycott the Common Core tests.”

We don’t receive millions of dollars to create a centralized data bank of opt outers across fifty states. You won’t find “evidence” by looking in any one place or event. Scores of parents refusing the tests and teachers supporting this movement go unknown (sometimes by choice to protect their jobs or their kids). Or, thanks to our corporate sponsored media, when protesters DO come out in large numbers, the public does not hear about it because well, then people might really know that push back and that real solutions/alternatives do exist. Are we as protestors marginalized because really we are so small in numbers? Or is it because the media manufactures the movement as such?  One thing is for sure about test driven reform: It certainly does an excellent job of blending and bending the lines between fact and fiction.

The first time I met Ben (when I drove an hour up to Frederick the day his mother Cindy spoke in front of the local politicians about her testing refusal) I was immediately brought back to my teaching roots. Back in 1990 (a time when phones were attached to walls and we walked to school up hill in the snow…both ways) I was a special education teacher. For many years I worked in early childhood and elementary education classrooms with children with moderate to severe multiple special needs.

Spending time with Ben (albeit briefly) I was reminded of Bubba who loved to paint when we attached a paintbrush to his shoes and he’d make the most amazing murals. I was reminded of Antoine who adored rhythm and colorful patterns. He was a heck of a drummer. I remembered Monica who loved her apple sauce more than anything. I was reminded of how many gifts students like Monica, Antoine, Bubba and Ben have to offer the people around them. I learned more about life, love, and being human than I could ever teach them.

But I never was forced to stick a pencil in their hand to test them.

We had assessments galore; determining the progress they were making on objectives catered to meet THEIR needs, and the needs of their families. I was taught (and practiced) listening to parents and families above “policy”, because what was important to them became important to me. My students were learning how to use pictures to communicate when they could not speak. They were sharing their imaginative capacities though they could not write. They were learning how to develop life skills and how to make friends. None of this would ever, could ever, be measured on a standardized test. But these were the days before No Child Left Behind, or Race to the Top.  I cannot even fathom now being in a position to force any of my former students to take a test that was not in their genuine best interest simply because some policy says “I must”.

Forcing any, and all, children to endure the harmful effects of high stakes standardized testing because some state or federal mandate requires all children be tested, ironically in the name of providing equitable and quality education, is the greatest insult ever hurled upon public education and children. To force a child like Ben, whose educational needs are so far removed from that which such a test can provide simply for “compliance sake,” is just heart breaking. It reveals how deeply flawed the system of accountability is, how failed our policies are, and how compliant in the face of insanity we have become … and most of all, how enmeshed we are as a society with a turn- a- blind- eye- faith in the testing mentality. How outraged do we need to be before we put an end to corporate-driven reform?

To see just how flawed, false, and harmful it is all you need to do is read stories like these:

And we must now add Ben’s story  to growing list of horrifying tales of compliance, asburdity, and harm. Here it is (as written by his mother Cindy):

“January 29, around 4:00 p.m. I learned without a doubt the ‘Administrators’ of Frederick County Public Schools value “testing” over children.  Our children are seen as ATMs to the billions in education dollars.  It turns out, they really are just test scores.

You don’t think so?

Rock Creek School has been on notice since September 2014 that I was refusing to allow my severely developmentally delayed son to participate in the Alt-MSA.  They allowed my daughter (after I sued) to refuse the test; other children were also recognized as “refusing” the test. 

The only difference I see in those who are allowed to refuse and my other child: they are normal healthy children with the ability to speak up and fight back.

Rock Creek School went behind my back and ignored my order not to test him.   

No notice came home informing me he was being tested.  They didn’t want me to know until it was too late for me to stop them.  How’s that for professionalism and trust?

Thursday a notice came home with my son saying I needed to come in and review and sign his test portfolio.  If I didn’t have to sign off would they have notified me?  Did they seriously think I wasn’t going to get angry?

They used a severely mentally and physically disabled child who cannot speak, communicate or read, who is for the most part confined to a wheel chair.  They took him from his classroom and forced him to perform like a trained monkey to prove to Pearson Publishing, he can master their test.  It doesn’t measure his “abilities”.  The test only exists so that schools can be accountable to the federal government in measuring success of special education children.  The goals are so ridiculous it’s obvious no research went into creating this test.

My son who struggles to follow the simplest of commands, like “’and me that cup’; is expected to ‘interpret a bar graph’ or ‘define the meaning of words within a text’. 

Rock Creek School would rather put my son through the humiliating act of taking a test he was destined to fail, or be manipulated into succeeding, than respect his humanity.   They used him because they could.

They used him because they wanted to make sure all their boxes were checked and they could pat themselves on the back for having been ‘accountable’.   It’s OK it was at the expense of my son’s dignity.  He won’t know any better….

To Parents in Frederick County Public Schools and elsewhere, stop kidding yourselves; public education like we grew up in is gone.  When a school is emboldened enough to sneak behind a parents back and manipulate a handicapped child to obtain a test score…….

Is this what we’ve come to? 

Our schools are accountable to the creators of the standards and the tests – parents be damned.  

Nothing, NOTHING will change until we, the parents and teachers make it happen.  Administrators are rolling in the power and the money; or they lack the spine necessary to reclaim education.

It’s time for county wide civil disobedience.

Will you remain silent and sitting until it happens to your child?    

Unless we do something that matters to them, they will refuse to listen to us. 

Refuse the assessments – Demand to be heard!”