For many Americans it is becoming increasingly clear that the people behind current education “reforms” in the United States are purposefully attempting to sabotage the nation’s schools and deceive the public. Such is the story shared in a new book Common Core Dilemma by Mercedes Schneider and a documentary Education Inc coming out this August, by filmmaker Brian Malone. It’s a tale that was told last year by Diane Ravitch (see this excellent March 2014 Bill Moyer’s interview) and in Building the Machine: The Common Core Documentary. Here’s a summary of the fraud that is being perpetrated, a Letter to the Editor which I wrote to a local New York state newspaper last March…
Fraud at the Heart of Current Education Reform
There’s a scene in the film Dead Poet’s Society, set in 1959, where Robin William’s character Mr. Keating asks his students to read from the introduction of a poetry textbook. The text describes a rating method by which one can measure and assess the greatness of poems. After charting and rating a poem on the blackboard Keating tells his students this method of assessing poetry is “excrement.” Next he instructs them to rip the entire introduction out, which they proceed to do, putting the pages into a trash can.
“This is a battle, a war, and the casualties could be your hearts and souls,” Keating tells his students. We can’t understand poetry by measuring it with numbers, by comparing and ranking poems. We don’t study poetry in order to get good grades. “We read and write poetry,” Keating says, “because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.”
The film goes on to show how the students learn to express themselves creatively, to experience life more deeply as they come to appreciate how their lives are like verses of poetry. Both Williams and his character Keating encouraged all of us to live as poets, with gratitude and passion, to cherish the beauty of life, to appreciate our own uniqueness, and not to measure, rank or compare ourselves with others.
It’s an important life lesson, which unfortunately the architects of 21st Century school reform either do not understand, or do not care about. Since 2001, when George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” policies were put into motion, we’ve experienced a nation-wide obsession with assessment, ranking, testing, measuring, and quantifying both students’ learning and teachers’ teaching. Teaching to the test and test preparation have become a national priority; while art, poetry, music, sports, creative projects, students inner lives and the professional expertise of teachers have not.
In 2007, Presidential hopeful Barack Obama promised to change that, telling cheering members of the National Education Association during a televised campaign speech, “Don’t tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of a year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles on a standardized test. We know that’s not true. You didn’t devote your lives to testing, you devoted it to teaching! And teaching is what you should be allowed to do!”
Obama had sought advice from Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond (photo, left), a Stanford University education researcher, with expertise and knowledge of learner-centered practices and school reforms that had been successful with children living in poverty. With Darling-Hammond as his primary education advisor, Obama’s message was finely tuned, and in the 2008 election he was able to get the full support of America’s teachers.
What professional educators and the American public did not realize at that time, was that whispering in his ear was Obama’s advisor Rahm Emanuel (photo, right), whose many Wall Street connections included a group of hedge fund investors running a campaign financing organization called Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).
From what we know now, it appears that they were using President Obama as a kind of Trojan horse, with a hidden agenda, more in line with President Bush’s administration than with the innovative education models that Prof. Darling-Hammond was familiar with, such as the Mission Hill School piloted by Dr. Deborah Meier or the Comer School Development Development Program developed at Yale.
The goal of DFER’s Wall Street supporters was to ride into power under Obama’s wings, so that they could take control of the U.S. Department of Education, and then enact even more regressive policies than Bush had put in place, as part of the program Race to the Top (RTTT). Once in power they would set in place policies that used “rigorous” standards, high-stakes tests, teacher assessments and other punitive practices to take away teachers’ local autonomy and reduce the number of public schools in America, while enlarging the role of centralized testing companies and increasing the opportunities for charter schools to make a profit.
Their duplicity has been described in the book “Class Warfare” by Steven Brill, and DFER’s director Joe Williams bragged about their success, in a document put out (behind the scenes) during Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign:
“[Governors] of both parties nationwide have been empowered by the “cover” that has come from a Democratic President who has been willing to embrace reforms that are not always in line with the priorities of the nation’s powerful teachers unions. The evidence of what this shift in a political messenger can bring is clear-cut. As a result of the RTTT competition, fifteen states lifted caps on the creation of new charter schools, and one state enacted a charter school law. Charter schools flourished more under three years of Obama than under eight years of George W. Bush. Funding for state charter school grants, for example, stayed between about $68 million and $81 million during Bush’s two terms, but jumped to $138 million during Obama’s first full budget year.”
After (or perhaps before) Obama was elected his Wall Street connected advisors convinced him to “throw” education expert Linda Darling-Hammond “under the bus,” as radio journalist Dr. James Miller put it, placing a non-educator charter school supporter named Arne Duncan into the top position of the Dept. of Education.
Duncan had aggressively supported punitive measures, public school closings, standardized testing and charter school expansion in Chicago. He is connected to a billionaire “venture philanthropist” named Eli Broad (photo, right), who had created a “leadership” training school called the Broad Academy, that exists outside of education. Over the last decade Broad has been able to put hundreds of pro-testing, pro-charter graduates in leadership positions as superintendents, education department staff and school principals across the nation.
After Duncan was appointed as head of the U.S. Department of Education, a charter school investment executive named Joanne Weiss was put in charge of developing the Race to the Top program. Once this was in place they were able to exert control over state and district public school systems, implementing policy changes rooted in greater testing, ranking, teacher assessment, school closings and other policies that would increase the flow of public tax funds into the pockets of testing service companies and charter schools’ private investors. This was done even though there are laws which prohibit the Federal government from controlling the nation’s educational policies.
Once in power, Duncan also teamed up with Microsoft’s Bill Gates, working with an organization called Achieve to create the Common Core standards by which all the children in America could be assessed, measured, ranked and compared to one another. These standards, amazingly enough, were not based on current research or innovative and successful practices in education, but instead re-booted a method of teaching from the Cold War era called “New Criticism,” favored by David Coleman (photo, left) – the so-called “architect” of Common Core.
New Criticism’s pedagogy fit well with the Core’s testing agenda, as it emphasizes teaching with short excerpts from text, rather than through creative activities or reading entire books. In theory, teachers are encouraged to be creative and do interesting projects with students, but in practice they have been pressured not to, because of the introduction of punitive teacher assessments and rankings that came as part of the package state governments agreed to when they accepted money from Duncan and Obama’s RTTT grants. As the DFER document mentioned earlier explains:
“The politics of teacher evaluations changed instantly and forever when President Obama made improved teacher evaluations a cornerstone of his federal “Race To The Top” initiative. “If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that in too many places we have no way – at least no good way – of distinguishing good teachers from bad ones,” Obama said, in unveiling the RTTT competition. “Let me be clear: success should be judged by results and data is a powerful tool to determine results. We can’t ignore facts. We can’t ignore data.”
In states, Republican and Democratic governors such as New York’s Andrew Cuomo & Florida’s Jeb Bush, have lined up with the President’s objectives emphasizing testing, data collection and punitive assessments as well. Last March, Cuomo asked that student test scores count for 50% of a teachers assessment score and that the rest of the score be determined by outside observers, not the school principal.
There are at least two major problems with these policies. First, with their jobs on the line, teachers are pressured to cut the arts, creative projects and other meaningful activities to focus instead on test preparation and practice. Second, most professional researchers who study these teacher evaluation methods that state governments are using have said they are not reliable or valid tools of assessment. They don’t really measure what federal and state officials claim they measure.
According to Dr. Edward Haertal (photo, right), a leading psychometrician, careful analysis of the data has shown that individual teachers have only a small influence on student test scores, that there are many other factors such as family, poverty and peer pressure.
In other words, if we take three teachers and rotate them among three schools differing by poverty, safety, financial resources and community/family support, the scores of students will be more related to SES and other contextual factors then which teacher they have. Rich children with parents who are professionals and go to schools that have more funding will perform much better on standardized tests than poor kids whose parents are working class or unemployed.
What the Obama administration and nation’s governors are purposefully ignoring is the data and research which shows it is wealth and socio-economic status that accounts for test scores, not “good” or “bad” teachers. This is what most research experts believe, as the Nation reporter Dana Goldstein wrote in 2011:
“The research consensus has been clear and unchanging for more than a decade: at most, teaching accounts for about 15 percent of student achievement outcomes, while socioeconomic factors account for about 60 percent.”
Value-added assessments linked to student test scores, that rank and punish teachers, are not reliable or valid instruments. They do not measure what the president, secretary of education, governors and their financial backers claim they measure. This is a critical flaw (possibly even an intentional act of fraud) with current reform policies, which place more importance on questionable data collection and punitive measurements then on the professional expertise of educators, whose understanding is grounded in decades of slow and careful research.
The goal of scientific research in the field education is to give us a deeper understanding of the complex factors (social, cultural, psychological, economic, etc.) impacting on students’ lives and learning. To ignore such knowledge, when it exists, in ways that are harmful to teachers and children should (in my professional opinion) be regarded as an act of negligence.
The Obama administration and their wealthy corporate supporters are applying scientific methods in potentially destructive and inappropriate ways. When this is done in the field of medicine it is called malpractice. Teaching is an art form rooted in the wise and careful use of research and assessment tools. Teachers give tests, but they are trained to assess carefully, much as doctors and nurses learn to use care with needles and surgical knives.
When government policy makers and their corporate sponsors continue to implement evaluation methods that lack scientific validity and are criticized by education professionals they are embarking on a very dangerous nation-wide experiment. Focusing their attention on data collection, rigid standards and high-stakes testing creates the illusion of knowledge and control.
It allows people who lack professional understanding and expertise in the field of education to assert that they have it. They are implementing a marketing strategy that treats children and teachers like employees or commodities, ignoring the fact that schools are not a market place, and that children are not data points on a sales chart. They are making fraudulent claims, misusing scientific measures, reducing financial support for what is actually most important and measuring what is not easily quantifiable with numbers.
When President Obama decided to ignore his anti-testing promises before the 2008 election and became “willing to embrace” policies not “in line with the priorities” and expertise of America’s teachers, he was getting into bed with shady Wall Street investors perpetrating what journalist David Sirota called (in Salon magazine, September 12, 2011) the “Bait and Switch” of the “Great Education Myth.” As Sirota described it:
“The bottom line is clear: In attempting to change the mission of public education from one focused on educating kids to one focused on generating private profit, corporate leaders in the “reform” movement are pursuing a shrewd investment strategy. Millions of dollars go into campaign contributions and propaganda outfits that push “reform,” and, if successful, those “reforms” guarantee Wall Street and their investment vehicles much bigger returns for the long haul.”
In order to do this successfully, our nation’s leaders and their wealthy supporters made a conscious decision to ignore the input and criticism of America’s education professionals. They began making fraudulent claims that had no evidence to back it up, manufacturing and cherry picking data that supported their agenda, ignoring decades of careful research and innovation that already existed in the field of education.
“We cannot ignore facts,” the President said, and yet that is exactly what they have done, betraying America’s teachers, parents and students. Investing in money making schemes rather than the nation’s public education system. Betraying the hopes and dreams of the very people that helped get the President elected. If something is not done to change this situation soon it won’t be just education advisor Linda Darling-Hammond who was thrown under the bus, but an entire generation of American teachers and their students.
* Who are the Corporate Reformers? – Diane Ravitch * Why Hedge Funds Love Charter Schools by Alan Singer * The Common Core & Democratic Education – Johann Neem * The Daily News – Hedge fund execs’ money for charter schools may pay off (NY Daily News) * Ranking and Sorting: The Sordid History of Standards and Tests * In 2016 Democrats Have Good Reason to Run Against Obama’s Education Record * Walmart, Gates, Hedge Funds & Charter Schools (Business Insider) * Noam Chomsky on the Dangers of Standardized Testing * Why VAMs are Unreliable Measures for Evaluating Teachers * Schools That Learn – Peter Senge * Standardizing Education – Common Core’s Hidden Agenda * Toward a More Creative & Holistic Model of Education * Educational Malpractice – The Child Manufacturing Process * Real Learning is a Creative Process * Why Corporate School Reform Will Eventually Fail * Schools for Democracy – Deborah Meier * Who is Behind the Privatization of Education? (video) *
About myself: I’m a 1979 graduate of Clarkstown South High School, in Rockland County, New York. I majored in studio art at SUNY, Oneonta, graduating in 1983. From 1988 to 1993, I worked on my doctoral degree in Child & Adolescent Development at Stanford University’s School of Education. During that time I worked for about 3 years as a research assistant with the Accelerated Schools Project. After graduating from Stanford in 1993, I moved to Japan, where I have been teaching English language and culture at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.
Someone recently asked me how I felt about our President. I said, “He’s failed the schools. What good is he?” Here’s a narration of a revelatory conversation I had with a kid a couple of days ago. https://medium.com/synapse/interviewing-a-little-girl-about-school-30e141cb8aaf
Thank you Martha. Oh, God, what a terrible tale… how many hundreds of thousands of kids perhaps millions feeling the same way?
“Today I got to hang out with a little girl and talk to her. I was at the Art Co-op Store.. and I was painting a small watercolor of a horse. The little girl came in, and I gave her something to paint on and with and she sat down with me and we had a good time. She’s going into third grade. I said, “I remember liking third grade. I had fun then.”
This little girl said, “I don’t think I’m going to have any fun. We don’t have any fun at my school.”
“We just take tests.””
~Martha Kennedy, Interviewing a Little Girl About School
Reblogged this on Teaching a Generation and commented:
Always wise, well researched and insightful.
I appreciate your non-partisan view of the problems within our system. Well said.
I throughly appreciated your writing. I thought the connection to the movie with Robin Williams was a great eye opener. Sadly, that is what education has become – testing, rubrics and scales. As for the bait and switch tactics that does not surprise me in the least. The Trojan Horse connection seems plausible because in education there is corruption and lots of money to be made off vulnerable people. Honestly, I don’t think the corrupted system will change. Too much money and corruption is invested. I think parents opting out makes a dent into the political arena and again the officials will say anything to get into offices. As a parent I’m sad for my kids as a teacher I’m disgusted by the way we are devalued and under appreciated. I left education and I do private tutoring. Good teachers will be forced out and bad teachers will get a red carpet welcome.
The tragedy here is its become just like the market place, kids and teachers treated like commodities, numbers and data points. If we don’t somehow push this marketing mentality back the US is going to be in very very deep trouble.
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What are we going to do to fix the American Educational System?
We have to push out these guys out, they will destroy education if allowed to maintain control.
Christopher. This is such a well written, well referenced, clear account of how corporate ‘reform’ has, for decades, been actively devastating our profession and instruction interactions. This is a masterpiece because it articulates perfectly how these charlatans have invaded our profession. And, with their arsenal of powerful political bullhorns, have seduced the public to believe that the only hope for education salvation is quickly impliment their self-serving ‘innovations’ and their mis-use of inflated data. They have portrayed their grand mission(?) as saving America’s children while intentionally abusing their positions of public trust to discredit ‘authentic’ educators by with public policies soaked in lies, fraud and destructive propaganda. I would change just ‘one word’ in your article. You write, …“rigorous” standards, high-stakes tests, teacher assessments and other punitive practices to take away teachers’ local autonomy and power”….The term ‘power’ implies ‘strength at imposing one’s will’. As a teacher, I never had power, not political or economic or media power. I do not believe that successful teachers practice from a pulpit of power and it is erroneous to imply that ‘authentic’ teachers rely on a base of power. We perform from a base of knowledge and human understanding. As a seasoned, teacher of deaf and hearing impaired children for 45 years, I suddenly find my expertise and reputation, built on decades of success and arduous study, has been diminished and it does not feel like a loss of power, but more like a loss of authority. Taken from me was “authority”, not power. Authority that evolved from indepth knowledge, experience and a life-time of nurtured relationships with students and families. Upon that base of integrity, I had ‘authority’ in the culture of the education world. My professional judgments and decisions were respected, trusted and acknowledged as credibile. With the advent of the reform crusades, I felt my ‘authority’ being systematically usurped by monetary business jargon, Wall Street culture and investment values system. The educational jargon of relationships and interactions and human growth began disapppearing in the media and even from text books. ‘Students’ potential became ‘human capital’; ‘parents’ became ‘shareholders’; taxpayers became ‘stakeholders’; ‘teachers’ became ‘brokers’; classroom learning became ‘transactions’ and ‘exchanges’ ; ‘curriculum’ became ‘production schedules’, ‘lesson plans’ became ‘instruction flow charts’; ‘teacher expertise’ became ‘measured value’; ‘longevity’ became ‘risk liability’ ; ‘qualifications’ became “obstacles to innovation”, ‘valid research’ became ‘progress obstruction’ and ‘evaluation’ became ‘algorythm driven’. All continuums of education progress became replaced with quantitative values; the ultimate goal being to maximize production efficiency and profit by minimizing cost and monetary risk. The reform movement began destroying the education profession by eliminating the langauge, the valued practices, the honored traditions and the nurturing culture of the instruction world and replacing it with the language, values, practices and culture of the business investment world. And by doing so, were able to take ownership of our authority and control of the education conversation. I believe they will continue to dominate until we take back the professional ‘authority’ of classroom decisions and return to defining our work, culture, and practices using education language. We need to send the data hungry businessmen back to their counting houses and number powered culture.
Hi Jo, thank you. I will change “power” though as you don’t like “power” I am not comfortable with the word “authority”… It sounds like we are talking about expertise?
I agree wholeheartedly with your view and am adamantly against common core for numerous reasons, mainly because I feel the local school system and parents should have direct involvement and influence over the curriculum. My question is, what is the problem we are trying to solve? We want our kids to be educated – great. What is keeping that from happening? I don’t know… At the same time, some teachers are a problem, yet we can’t seem to find a good way to assess them such that the good ones are rewarded and retained while the poor ones find a new line of work. What do you propose?
Principals walk in to the ROOM – numerous times over the course of a school year. They meet with the teachers once in a while and discuss what they like and what they didn’t. they go to less district BS paperwork crap and be on campus to BE the Principal. Poor teachers need a mentor and help before throwing them to the curb. PAY all teachers what they are worth – that is all they ask.
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Terrific thoughts on our current educational disaster. As an interested NY teacher, could you please change “who’s” in paragraph 7 to “whose”?
Yes, thank you!
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“The research consensus has been clear and unchanging for more than a decade: at most, teaching accounts for about 15 percent of student achievement outcomes, while socioeconomic factors account for about 60 percent.”
So why are they using test scores as 40+% of my evaluation even though I do not teach a Standardized test year? In my 19th year of teaching I am again deciding whether to continue to teach in fear of losing my job, or do what I know is right for these kids-even if it means leaving a profession that I have dedicated my life to for so many years. Especially when we end up living paycheck to paycheck! Thank you for your article, it has helped reaffirm what I believe for yet another year.
Have you read any of John Taylor Gatto’s work?
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Oh hey, I just figured out how to reblog a post!
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Not even sure how I got here, actually. Your essay is well-made, and your points clearly documented. I don’t like the corporatization of education we are witnessing. I’m fairly certain most parents aren’t cognizant of these changes. We in education are; we are pushed to change our terminology with each passing semester. While Common Core probably has its issues I am a proponent of ensuring some well-established set of guidelines or criteria for a couple reasons. One, it works against anarchy. With over 3,000 school districts in the United States, I’m not sure 3000 different educational plans work to our advantage, especially in the South where we have Kentucky senators advocating for Bible Literacy in public schools, or high school seniors needing to pass a citizenship test to graduate. Secondly, we do need some consistency across the board so our educated population is as well-educated as Germany’s, or France’s, or Singapore’s population. While Higher Education is not directly impacted by Common Core, some states like Illinois, Kansas, and Kentucky may be falling under sway of those who would like to re-imagine higher education with no liberal arts, no language, no humanities. Kentucky, for instance, recently hired a former employee of Achieve, Inc., as their Department of Education Commissioner. Having become familiar recently with Achieve, Pearson, and the authoring of Common Core policy I can see where Kentucky is going to fall under the spell of these folks seeking to remake education in their own image. Additionally, our new governor, Matt Bevin, is no fan of public schools, homeschools his own 9 children, yet is a vocal proponent of charter schools, and in spite of Bachelor’s Degree in East Asian Studies (and speak fluent Japanese, supposedly) has no regard for liberal arts education, and has been quoted as saying something to the affect “anyone can have a liberal arts education but not at the taxpayers expense.”
Thanks for the thought-provoking essay.
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Just claimed somewhere, Measurability (in Education) is a War Crime! The amount of children on pills, dropping out, being depressed, feeling inadequate, committing suicide is stunning. Education is not organized to boost learning but the measure, read control, progress. And it actually takes away spirit and aliveness. It’s basically training in disconnection. Or as sir Ken said: the industries need workers.
The global and American future will be decided by people educated in this way. Machines who don’t care about what they do, as long as the profits go up. And the world? It keeps on sinking.
Do you have any new article and books related to how education is supposed to be?
Hi. How about this? https://creativesystemsthinking.wordpress.com/2015/09/18/how-children-naturally-learn/
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