Shiny objects and false narratives: Time to refuse it all


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.

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

2 thoughts on “Shiny objects and false narratives: Time to refuse it all

  1. Rick: When taken as a whole this series of articles(the links and comments(which are most revealing of all because they seem to come from actual educators in the field)) are very revealing of how we have come to this point of obsessive useless testing and severe federal overreach in education that in my mind have widened the education and wealth gaps among our children. A lot of insight not so much from Weiss who was or is a federal lackey,but from the analysis and especially the comments on each segment that seem to come from teachers in the field. Bruce

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Data Disruptors

Fight The Ed Reform 2.0 Agenda

Peg with Pen

Authored by Morna McDermott-A blog dedicated to democracy, public education, and the power of the imagination

Dissident Voice

Authored by Morna McDermott-A blog dedicated to democracy, public education, and the power of the imagination

The in·ter·reg·num

A site for radical edu-science fiction


Commenting on the State of the World From Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Cloaking Inequity

A blog focused on education and social justice research

dr. p.l. (paul) thomas

educator, public scholar, poet&writer - academic freedom isn't free

Chris Mercogliano

Authored by Morna McDermott-A blog dedicated to democracy, public education, and the power of the imagination

Reclaim Reform

by Ken Previti

Re:education in Baltimore

A city mom thinks outside the sandbox.

Fred Klonsky

The thoughts of a retired public school teacher.

%d bloggers like this: