Archive for September, 2015


2001: Students in Scarsdale boycott the state’s eighth-grade tests. Twenty-eight schools in New York are part of a growing movement of schools across the country that have protested the use of standardized testing, saying it forces them to abandon creative and stimulating lessons to focus on material in the tests.

2010: Arne Duncan was given an honor at Harvard. Citizens for Public Schools, Fair Test, Liza Womack and her Mom organized a protest at Harvard Square, Ruth Rodriguez (now a United Opt Out administrator)  was invited to speak at the rally, Nancy Carlsson Paige, Deb Meier and many others were also speakers. Then they all went with signs to the site as people were leaving from the event.

2010: Jesse Turner walked from CT to DC for the first time and participated in an event at American University (planned by Bess Altwerger and Vivian Vasquez). Literacy scholars from Center for Expansion of Language and Thinking (CELT) including Jesse, Rick Meyer, Bess and others created an anti standardized testing movement, emerging out of a whole language philosophy which had been publishing anti testing research since the late 1970’s.  During the American University event they discussed an idea ignited previously by Laurie Murphy and Chris Janotta who created a FB page called “The Million Teacher March.” From this, Save Our Schools March was born.

July 2011: Bess Altwerger (now a Howard County MD school board member and professor emeritus) along with other known Opt Out organizers such as nationally board certified teacher Ceresta Smith from Florida and Laurie Murphy (founding United Opt Out administrator) and Denisha Jones (current UOO admin and BATS organizer) as well as Anthony Cody (know at the time for his Letters to Obama movement) and is now one of the creators of NPE (with Diane Ravitch and Robin Hiller). Rosemarie Jensen (a current UOO admin), Ruth Rodriguez (current UOO admin and board member for SOS), Elizabeth Lynch (UOO leader) and Morna McDermott were also at SOS.

There was a strong Long Island contingency represented at the SOS march including Elizabeth Lynch (a current UOO leader).

Ceresta was one of the first parents to refuse the tests for her daughter back in 2010. This is important to note as one of the stereotypes of the Opt Out movement is that it is white middle class moms. Yet in the beginning one of the first opt out voices was a parent and teacher of color down in Florida.

Following on the heels of SOS, United Opt Out was born when Peggy Robertson reached out to Tim Slekar-another testing refuser in 2010, Morna McDermott, Shaun Johnson, Laurie Murphy and Ceresta Smith to form the organization. The first national network specifically dedicated to opting out  is created.

In August 2011 United Opt Out created a Facebook site, a website with 50 opt out guides, and a variety of parent resources and an email to help walk parents through opt out problems.

From United Opt Out, many state level opt out groups were born. Some grew tremendously to national attention such as Opt Out Long Island and Opt Out Orlando (Becky Smith, one of the founding organizers met Ceresta Smith at SOS who also lives in FL, and attended Occupy the DOE 2012).

December 2011 The shot (in the form of a letter from Long Island principals) is heard all over the country and sparks a flame.

March 2012  the first Occupy the US Dept of Education is organized by United Opt Out. This is the first time the words “Bad Ass Teachers Association” are uttered by Mark Naison. People in attendance loved it. What was a clever half serious phrase then in following years blossomed into its own powerful national teacher’s organization (p.s. NOT to associated with TFA’s bullshit “Badass” women’s association).

March 2013 United Opt Out Occupy the DOE 2.0 in Washington DC

2013: Teachers from the Seattle area, led by Jesse Hagopian, refuse en mass to administer the standardized tests.

April 2014: United Opt Out in Denver CO. The UOO website is hacked and destroyed.

April 2015: United Opt Out in Fort Lauderdale FL.  Michael Pena joins us as our newest United Opt Out administrator following this event.

Finally a nod must be given to those individuals and groups that have preceded ALL of this–  Fair Test has been around for thirty years, and education advocates such as Susan Ohanian, Ira Shor, Henry Giroux and Stephen Krashen  all of whom (with so many others) have been researching and writing about the problems with standardized testing for decades, and whose research has been critical to building the opt out movement.

Thank you Ceresta for sharing these historical links:…/educating-for-democracy-s_1… ,…/opting-out-of-state-test-you-ca…,…/03/20/ ,…/parents-take-stand-against-sta…/…


Joanne Weiss is the author of an article entitled Competing Principles:Race to the Top, a $4 billion US education reform effort, produced valuable lessons on designing a competition-based program.

Here’s the main page at Stanford: Competing Principles (SSIR)

Weiss’ main conclusion is: “Competitions are an imperfect way to drive change. Yet as our experience with Race to the Top shows, they can serve as a crucible of reform for forward-thinking leaders. A well-designed competition can spur innovation, create a marketplace for new ideas, engage multiple stakeholders in a broad-based reform effort, and create conditions in which rapid change is possible—even in a traditionally change-resistant field. We will not know the full impact of Race to the Top for several more years. Already, though, it has provided important lessons for policymakers.

But what else do we need to know about Joanne Weiss and her “competing principles”?

In research I did a while back regarding Common Core I noted:

“The director of Race to the Top is Joanne Weiss, who worked with the Broad Foundation, which also has as one of its acting members Chester Finn with the Fordham Institute. Broad Foundation is also a member of ALEC, which sponsored the bill called the Parent Trigger Act.”

Derek Furr, author of “Education in the Age of Neoliberalism,” states:

Joanne Weiss, Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s chief of staff, wrote glowingly that, ‘The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. … The adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.’ Taken in total, these reforms and initiatives effectively created a bonanza for a private sector that scurried to cash in.”

Jane Robbins in her post “Feds Confess Truth About Common Core” writes:

Joanne Weiss was the director of USED’s Race to the Top (RttT) program, the vehicle through which states were bribed to accept Common Core and the aligned assessments. In an essayrecently published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Weiss confessed that USED used strong-arm tactics to transform states’ standards and assessments systems: “[W]e forced alignment among the top three education leaders in each participating state — the governor, the chief state school officer, and the president of the state board of education — by requiring each of them to sign their state’s Race to the Top application. In doing so, they attested that their office fully supported the state’s reform proposal.

Peter Green, author of Competitive Baloney & Rehabilitating RTTT suggests,

Race to the Top kick-started the process of foisting an unproven, unsupportable standards created by amateurs, test manufacturers, and book publishers on an unsuspecting public … Race to the Top gave the test-and-punish policies of No Child Left Behind a giant shot of steroids, promising a level of testing quality that has still not been delivered while simultaneously chaining the professional future of teachers to that unproven testing system … Race to the Top set out to create winners and losers among the states, declaring that the federal government only needed to help some American students be educated. At the same time, it gave a jolt of support to the process of declaring individual schools losers and turning those schools into profit-making opportunities for charter privateers who echoed the new mission– educate only some of the students, but do it with everyone’s public tax dollars.

Blogger and activist Chris Chase summarizes Joanne Weiss’ rhetoric this way:
U.S. Dept. of Education officials write about accountability and evidence-based reforms, yet purposefully ignored  decades of research on successful learner-centered innovations and the dangers of high-stakes testing. Federal laws were ignored, new rules, measurement tools and standards were written out of thin air. By cutting professional teachers and education experts out of the formulation of education policies and seeking to “leverage” change, DOE’s leaders (directly connected to charter school investors) put in place one of the most destructive education policies in recent U.S. history. And, they broke the law to do it, in my opinion.
Did Former DOE Official Admit to Breaking U.S. Law?
Lessons (WE CAN) learn from Race to the Top?

  1. That people with self-serving political and profitable interests are the central “talking pieces” promoting hype and sound bite solutions that they are paid to sell. As educator and activist Susan Ohanian points out:        ” Before joining the Obama administration, Weiss, who has a degree in biochemestry, was the Chief Operating Officer and a Partner at NewSchools Venture Expert in Residence at the
    Harvard Innovation Lab(located in Harvard Business School), and a visiting lecturer in education policy at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. She sits on the boards of Learn Zillion and BloomBoard. Prior to joining the Obama Administration, she was a member of many boards, including Aspire Public Schools, Rocketship Education, Green Dot Public Schools, Leadership Public Schools, New Leaders for New Schools, Revolution Foods, Carnegie Learning, and Teachscape.”
  2. Advertising seems to win over facts and research in our “130- characters- or- less” consumer society. Knowing the truth just seems like…such…hard…work. It is easier to believe something that sounds good than work for something that IS good.
  3. Laws and ethical behavior are somethings only the rest of us are accountable for. Loop holes, double-speak and plan bullshit seems to suffice for corporate-reformers to push through their agenda. Selling out schools, communities, and our children-all for profit and the larger ideological goal of dismantling public education are buried beneath false promises. That’s what advertisers DO. Oil companies pretending to care about the environment, sugar lobbyists pretending to care about our health, or new miracle products promising us the cure for what ails us. This is the tactic.
  4. Most important lesson: They CAN and they WILL continue unless we fight back. Our complacency and complicity are what they require–so refuse to buy what they’re selling. REFUSE it all.



The resignation of Lillian Lowery as the State Superintendent of Maryland schools  has raised speculation as to what may change in current education policies. Given her close ties to PARCC (serving on the governing board), allowing Maryland to be the fiscal agent for PARCC, Pearson and David Coleman (to name a few) it’s no wonder MD has become deeply and uncritically embedded with corporate-run reforms. See:

Jack Smith is Lowery’s temporary replacement, but after that, who will fill the role of MD Superintendent? While Governor Hogan has a role to play in this appointment, The state board of education is the entity that will be responsible for selecting the next person to serve a four-year term and so it’s a wise idea to know the board if we are to anticipate who they deem a viable candidate.  The state board holds considerable power and influence over state policy. Their website states: “The Board sets the state’s education policies and standards for pre-kindergarten through high school and for Maryland’s public libraries, juvenile services education and vocational rehabilitation services. It passes regulations that have the force of law and is empowered to interpret the true meaning and intent of the law. It also reviews and approves three annual budgets (the Department of Education headquarters budget, the state aid to local education budget, and state-aided institutions budget) before they’re passed on to the governor’s office for approval or revision and then to the General Assembly for final action. The Board is also required to decide all controversies brought before it that arise under the law.”

Hogan has been responsible for appointing some of the board members, perhaps putting in to place those individuals whose agenda for education reflects his own. For a better sense of what Hogan is “for” in education policy see here.

In this post I do not intend to skewer an entire twelve person board. I am sure that many of them are simply nice people doing their best to serve the state of Maryland. However, there are some influential members who warrant our deeper examination (and concern). If we want to prepare ourselves for how the board will set policies regarding Common Core state standards, and state (or federal) level standardized testing (depending on what happens with the ESEA re authorization), charter schools, vouchers, and school curriculum, we should understand what other motives they may have.

1) Chester Finn (appointed by Hogan in May 2015).

Finn is former assistant secretary of education to former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

He served as founding partner and senior scholar with the Edison Project. Why this matters: Edison Project is a for-profit education management organization.

Finn serves on the boards of National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), and the Core Knowledge Foundation. Why this matters: Finn strongly supports the common core and charter schools. In fact, Finn was is an honoree in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (see Anthony Smarick below) “charter school Hall of Fame”

According to Wayne Au:

“Conservatives have been developing an infrastructure to attack teacher education at least since 2000, when the Thomas B. Fordham Institute created the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) … [The Fordham Institute] established NCTQ as a new entity to promote alternative certification … corporate education reformers have placed NCTQ in a position of national prominence. Diane Ravitch explains: ‘Today, NCTQ is the partner of U.S. News & World Report and will rank the nation’s schools of education. It received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to review teacher quality in Los Angeles. It is now often cited as the nation’s leading authority on teacher quality issues.’ NCTQ supports the use of high-stakes test scores in teacher evaluation (known as value-added measurement, or VAM), including using test scores of students to rate the teacher education programs from which their teachers graduated. Taking a page directly out of the rabidly pro-corporate American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) playbook on education reform, NCTQ has already issued report cards for teacher education by state and is on the verge of “grading” most individual teacher education programs in the country. Kate Walsh and the NCTQ are part of the cabal of corporate reformers dismantling public education today, and they have teacher education squarely in their sights.”

See more here:

2) Andrew Smarick (appointed by Hogan in May 2015)

He is Partner​ ​at​ ​Bellwether​ ​Education Partners. Why this matters:

Bellwether works with Stand for Children, and one of the board of the Partner -members is on the board of Democrats for Education Reform.

Andy Smarick was keynote speaker at lunch for the November 19 Summit on Faith-based schools, sponsored by The American Bible Society in NYC.

Bellwether Board of Directors includes prominent people from: Teach for America, Goldman, Sachs & Co., NewSchools Venture Fund, Rocketship Education, McKinsey, and ROADS Charter Schools, and numerous people from Bain & Company.

Smarick also ​helped found a college-preparatory charter school and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools​ ​(NAPCS) and was a founding board member of 50CAN. Why this matters:

According to Sourcewatch, “NAPCS is the national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement”

50CAN is one of the most influential corporate run reform efforts in the country. 50CAN currently has more than 40 full-time staff across the country, with a leadership team composed of Marc Porter Magee, Ph.D (CEO and founder), Vallay Varro (president) and Ingrid Reynoso (COO).[7] The organization’s board of directors is led by Sandy Vargas (president & CEO, The Minneapolis Foundation) and includes Dacia Toll (co-CEO, Achievement First), Ann Borowiec (former CEO, JP Morgan Asset Management), David Wick (chief external impact officer, KIPP Foundation) Jonathan Sackler (director, Purdue Pharma & founder of ConnCAN) and Marc Porter Magee.

(Note: Jason Botel is a founding member of MarylandCAN and founded KIPP Baltimore)

3) Larry Giammo

He is Managing Director with the Matrix Knowledge Group. Why this matters: Matrix Knowledge has been described as a major player (within the UK and the US) in the move toward privatization of public education and commodification of “policy knowledge” (Ball, 2010)

According to Ball, “the commercialisation and commodification of this leadership knowledge, as well as that involving ‘numbers’ and other forms of ‘policy knowledge’, and the emergence of what Gunter (forthcoming 2010) calls ‘the leadership industry’; which brings new voices and new knowledge brokers into the market of research ideas, and also, in a variety of ways, into the conversations of education policy. This involves a new generation of knowledge companies and consultants for whom policy is a business opportunity and from whom governments are increasingly purchasing ‘policy knowledge’. In the United Kingdom, Matrix Knowledge Group and A4e are examples of such knowledge businesses.”

Matrix Knowledge Group is also supported by ALEC. In an ALEC document called Questions State Legislators Should Ask About Higher Education “ is a new joint venture between the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Matrix Knowledge Group. This interactive website enables users to evaluate the performance of four-year public and private colleges and universities focusing on key outcome measures: graduation rates, first-year retention rates, education-related cost per student, cost per degree, student loan default rates, and the ratio of student loan payments to earnings for recent graduates.”

It appears from the associations examined here that Hogan is aligning the stars for a pro privatization agenda of Maryland public education. If the 3 board members discussed here are any indicators of the full board’s agenda for education policy, those of us fighting for public education are in for a rough ride ahead.