Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

Corporate reformers don’t like democracy. They don’t like elected school boards. They like mayoral control, state takeovers, all-charter districts, emergency managers. Anything but democracy.

In Dallas, the corporate reformers had the idea that the way to by-pass democracy was to utilize an obscure state law that would turn the district into a “home rule” district. Billionaire John Arnold helped to fund a group called “Save Our Public Schools,” which collected signatures for a referendum to create a home rule district. No one knows how it would have worked, but its backers were hoping it would turn Dallas into an all-charter district like Néw Orleans.

Despite the money and activity, the proposal simply died. With Dan Patrick, a voucher advocate as Lt. Governor, it is likely to come back again.

“Last night in Dallas, the commission that could have completely redesigned the city’s school system—handed control to the mayor, done away with elected trustees or rewritten teacher contracts—voted instead to call off its school reform experiment entirely.

“It’s a quiet end to a dramatic reform drive that began almost a year ago, when a group called Support Our Public Schools announced its plans to make the state’s second-largest school system into its first “home-rule charter” district.”

Investigative journalist George Joseph called this reform the “Big Dallas Plunder.” he says the business community wanted to open the charter floodgates. All those poor kids with low test scores, they thought, need charters, not small classes.

George Joseph is rapidly becoming one of our best education writers. In this article in The Nation, he shows how education “reform” is contributing to the “school to prison pipeline.” At best, he says, “no excuses” charter schools are preparing black students for low wage jobs.

He writes:

“As assistant professor of education Beth Sondel and education researcher Joseph L. Boselovic detailed in a Jacobin Magazine investigation, the “No Excuses” disciplinary approach, promoted by KIPP, the largest charter school chain in America, has transformed schools into totalizing carceral environments. Sondel and Boselovic write:

“There were, for example, specific expectations about where students should put their hands, which direction they should turn their heads, how they should stand, and how they should sit.… Silence seemed to be especially important in the hallways. At the sound of each bell at the middle school, students were expected to line up at “level zero” with their faces forward and hands behind their backs and, when given permission, step into the hallway and onto strips of black duct tape. There they waited for the command of an administrator: ‘Duke, you can move to your next class! Tulane, you can walk when you show me that you are ready!’ Students then marched until they reached the STOP sign on the floor, where their teacher checked them for hallway position before giving them permission to continue around the corner. Throughout this process, students moved counter-clockwise around the perimeter of the hallway (even if they were going to a classroom one door to the left).

“This extreme control over the movements of black students teaches them that they neither have, nor deserve control over their own bodies—a disturbing message to send in a country still shaped by the legacy of slavery. Furthermore, it perpetuates the normalization of surveillance and domination that law enforcement authorities inflict on black communities every day. Indeed, as the education writer Owen Davis points out, this “no excuses” disciplinary approach is a direct adaption by schools of the “broken windows” policing theory.”

Joseph relates that black students are beginning to protest the abuses that are inflicted on them by paternalistic authorities. That is an awakening that could change the narrative.

United Opt Out sent a letter to Senator Lamar Alexander, who chairs the HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee in the Senate. Senator Alexander intends to rewrite No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was originally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act when it was first passed in 1965. At that time, the law was passed to send federal aid to poor districts. It said nothing about testing and accountability. But NCLB turned the federal law into a high-stakes testing mandate. Senator Alexander conducted his first hearing on January 21 and plans another hearing on January 27. Senator Alexander proposed two options in  his draft legislation: option 1 was to replace annual testing with grade span testing; option 2 was to keep annual high-stakes testing (the status quo). UOO is opposed to high-stakes testing in the federal law, period. (So am I.)

 

Here is UOO’s letter:

 

 

United Opt Out Public Letter to Senator Alexander

 

 

 
January 22, 2015

 

Dear Senator Alexander,

 

There is a great deal of discussion about where education leaders and organizations “stand” when it comes to the latest revision for ESEA titled Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015. In response, the organizers of United Opt Out (UOO) find that we stand between Scylla and Charybdis, between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

 

In your bill you pose the question of support for Option 1, a reduction in testing to grade span, or Option 2, which continues the current testing nightmare; we support neither. We find many items in the 400 page document too egregious and insupportable even though we do accept the notion of “grade span testing,” preferably via random sampling, as an alternative to what is in place now.

 

While we understand why many of our respected colleagues have shown support for Option 1 in your bill, we cannot endorse either. This is because both options are tucked neatly inside a larger bill that promotes the expansion of charters and other policies destructive overall to the well-being of students, public schools, and communities. Another reason we are reluctant, no matter what enticing promises are included therein, is due to those who lobbied for this bill in 2013: The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Alliance for Excellent Education and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has immense ties to ALEC.

 

While we are inclined to support H.R. 4172 – Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act sponsored by Rep. Chris Gibson and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, which also calls for grade span testing, we would like to see additional safeguards included against possible punitive (i.e. high stakes) state policies. Also, as stated above, we prefer random sampling. In our assessment, H.R.4172 does not go far enough to protect children, educators, and communities against state policies that are damaging in nature in spite of good intent. To elaborate, this bill requires those tests be administered at least once during: (1) grades 3 through 5, (2) grades 6 through 9, and (3) grades 10 through 12. However, “under H.R. 4172, the states would retain the ability to exceed federal testing requirements if they seek to do so.” In other words, students could be tested just as much as they are now if states choose to do so. The bill is not a guaranteed protection against over-testing and its punitive consequences; it’s just a hope. We believe that hope alone is not sufficient.

 

Make no mistake, Senator Alexander, we understand fully that you are a supporter of the privatization of public schools. Despite that fact, your bill and Gibson’s may be preferable to some who are against the privatization of public schools because they contain the possibility of being better than the existing federal and state policies. However, they are not appealing to many, in particular states that have suffered the negative impact of high stakes testing. Furthermore, we can’t see how either of the current bills proposed are the “solution” to problems such as equity in funding, re-segregation, compromised pedagogy, data mining, or the intrusion of corporate interests – to cite from a list of many – that continue to fester in public education.

 

We agree that education decisions should be decided in state legislative and local district bodies, but safeguards should be in place to ensure horrific policies such as over testing and attaching results to student, teacher, school, and community worthiness are not pushed through state and district legislative bodies. Your bill and Gibson’s include no such safeguards for polices that have been detrimental to the non-white, special needs, immigrant, and impoverished communities.

 

UOO and most other human rights organizations will vigorously oppose ANY state level measures that sanction the following:

 

Increase standardized testing even if it’s under “state control”

 

Support using high stakes to make decisions about students, educators, school buildings, or communities

 

Use of sanctions such as “shuts downs” or “turn overs” based on test data of any kind

 

Display favoritism toward increased charters and state voucher programs

 

Facilitate data mining and collection of private student information

 

Engage in sweet insider deals between state policy makers and corporations or testing companies using tax-payer dollars and at the expense of safety, quality and equity in public education

 

Therefore, we demand greater safety, equity and quality for ALL schools and that includes the elimination of ALL standardized -paper based or computer adaptive testing – that redirects tax-based funding for public education to corporations and is punitive or damaging to children, teachers, schools, and communities.

 

We will not accept ANY bill until the following criteria are included:

 

Increased resources for the inclusion of local, quality curricular adoptions devoid of “teaching to the test”

 

Quality, creative, authentic, and appropriate assessment measures for general students, special needs, and English language learners that are sustainable and classroom teacher-created

 

Smaller teacher/student ratios

 

Wrap-around social programs, arts, physical education programs, and creative play recess

 

Career-focused magnet programs

 

Additionally, we demand legislation that supports a broad and deep system-wide examination of the power structures that perpetuate poverty-level existence for millions of Americans.

 

To conclude, we find ourselves having to choose between being shot in the head and being shot in the foot. For now, we choose neither. Instead we call for continued revisions of current legislation to include the items and protections outlined in this letter. We thank you for this opportunity to share our sentiments and our voice.

 

Sincerely,

 

United Opt Out Administrators:

 

 

Rosemarie Jensen
Denisha Jones
Morna McDermott
Peggy Robertson
Ruth Rodriquez
Tim Slekar
Ceresta Smith

 

 

The Néw Yorker has a long article about Jeb Bush’s passionate interest in reforming public education by high-stakes testing, report cards, and privatization. Since his own children attend private schools, they are not affected by his grand redesign of public education.

To boil down his approach, regular public schools get loaded down with mandates and regulations. Charter schools are free of mandates and regulations, and many are run for profit. As public schools are squeezed by the competition with charters, they get larger classes and fewer programs. Meanwhile, Bush’s friends and allies get very rich.

It is a thorough story about Jeb Bush’s mission to turn public education into an industry.. One conclusion: If he were elected President, it would be the end of public education as we have known it for more than 150 years.

Arthur Camins, director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., remembers when the idea of revolution was about social equality and a just, humane society. That was then. This is now.

But something has happened to the revolution.

He writes:

“Strangely, we are now confronted with a different brand of revolutionaries, education reformers who seek not to expand democracy, but instead to restrict it and not to wage a war to end poverty, but instead to make a path for a lucky few to escape from poverty. Lennon lyrics may now have meaning when self-proclaimed “game-changers” advocate improvement through disruptive innovation. Their vision is at once expansive — disrupt the basic structure of democratically governed public education — and pathetically small and selfish — provide competitive opportunities for advancement for the few.

“Today’s education revolutionaries believe that they need to destroy the current structures of education in order to improve it. The problem is not so much the idea of destroying structures — after all the legal structures and cultural practices that supported segregation needed to be destroyed. The problem is reformers’ values, what is in their queue for destruction and their disregard for consequences. Their list includes eliminating elected school boards and teachers’ unions and opposing class-size reductions. It includes replacing the joy of learning with the joy of winning competitions for top test scores. The casualties of such destruction are parents’ and citizens’ democratic voices through state take-overs of school systems, mayoral appointment of school boards rather than elections, and governance transfers to privately run, but publicly-funded, charter schools and vouchers. The victims of that destruction are children whose unstable lives, already disrupted by poverty, are made even less stable by school closings and dismissals from charter schools. The victims of that destruction are those students whose motivation to learn is replaced by the drudgery of test preparation. The list goes on….

“When Lennon referenced evolution in the lyrics to “Revolution,” he might have been unintentionally prescient about another feature of the current education reform mantra. The prime mechanism for biological evolution is natural selection — the interaction of natural variation and random mutations in populations with changes in the environment. With their advocacy for planned competition among schools for students, among parents for student entry into schools, and among teachers for pay increases, reformers appear to be misapplying biological evolution to social policies, favoring a long discredited survival of the fittest social strategy.

“When they talk about that kind of socially destructive competition as the route to improvement, Don’t you know, you can count me out.

“Great vision, citizen action, social movements and public investment brought us great achievements. These include: an end to slavery and much later and an end to legalized segregation. Other achievements include unemployment insurance, overtime pay, child-labors laws, Social Security, Workman’s Compensation Insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, food, medical, occupational heath and safety regulations, the interstate highway system, the Internet and great widely-accessible K-12 and post-secondary education systems. The revolution we still need builds on the values of equity, democracy and community responsibility that drove these advances. The revolution we still need seeks even broader racial, social and economic justice. Of course, we need to elect people who support these values. However, only a reemergence of the spirit and reality of a mass social movement will realize these values in people’s day-to-day lives.

“For that revolution, you can count me in.”

Douglas Harris is an economist at Tulane University who was recently appointed to lead the Education Research Alliance in New Orleans. Harris has written extensively about value-added measurement (VAM). Mercedes Schneider is a high school teacher in Louisiana with a Ph.D. in research methods and statistics; she is also an outspoken critic of privatization and corporate style reform of the kind that has eliminated public education in New Orleans.

 

Mercedes recently attended a meeting convened by Professor Harris to discuss the choice program in New Orleans. Afterwards she talked to parents who participated on a panel, and she talked to Doug Harris, who made a point of meeting Mercedes. She had written some strong blogs (cited in her post) wondering whether a research organization like Harris’s could be neutral. In her conversation with Harris, she was blunt, as you would expect. Face-to-face contact is always useful when people disagree. Mercedes had a chance to size up Harris, and Harris now knows Mercedes. We hope that both of them benefit by the introduction.

 

Mercedes followed up that post with another one expressing her disappointment that the 3-day conference on the New Orleans reforms is heavily weighted towards advocates of privatization and has little representation of those affected by the reforms or local researchers. She says there is “too much Tulane” and not enough local community to judge the reforms.

Veteran educator Arnold Dodge warns that the corporate reform movement, led by the U.S. Department of Education, threatens democracy and creativity. In its quest for data and standardization, the DOE will crush imagination and innovation. Standardized tests reward right answers, not original thought.

Not content to standardize children and their teachers, the DOE now wants to control teacher education by collecting test scores of students and linking them to the institutions that prepared their teachers. Test scores above all!

Dodge quotes John Dewey, who wrote:

“”Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth, something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.”

“Lack of the free and equitable intercourse which springs from a variety of shared interests makes intellectual stimulation unbalanced. Diversity of stimulation means novelty, and novelty means challenge to thought.””

Yohuru Williams, professor of history at Fairfield University, has written a brilliant and powerful piece about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the current effort to privatize large sectors of public education, especially in urban districts.

 

He scoffs at the idea that turning public schools over to private management is “the civil rights issue of our time,” as so many “reformers” say. He cites a number of statements by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that claim the mantle of civil rights for policies that actually exacerbate segregation.

 

He cites Dr. King at length to show that he would  not have supported the use of standardized testing as a means of “reform.”

 

Dr. Williams writes:

 

“We must remember,” King warned, “that intelligence is not enough . . . Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” He asserted, “The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”

 

King saw the goal of education as more than performance on high-stakes tests or the acquisition of job skills or career competencies. He saw it as the cornerstone of free thought and the use of knowledge in the public interest. For King, the lofty goal of education was not just to make a living but also to make the world a better place by using that production of knowledge for good. “To save man from the morass of propaganda,” King opined, “is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.” The notion that privatization can foster equality is fiction.

 

Dr. King understood the dangers of privatization, writes Dr. Williams:

 

King saw how school privatization was used to maintain segregation in Georgia. He witnessed the insidious efforts of Eugene Talmadge’s son, Herman, a distinguished lawyer, who succeeded his father in the governor’s office. Herman Talmadge created what became known as the “private-school plan.” In 1953, before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Talmadge proposed an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to empower the general assembly to privatize the state’s public education system. “We can maintain separate schools regardless of the US Supreme Court,” Talmadge advised his colleagues, “by reverting to a private system, subsidizing the child rather than the political subdivision.” The plan was simple. If the Supreme Court decided, as it eventually did in Brown, to mandate desegregation, the state would close the schools and issue vouchers to allowing students to enroll in segregated private schools.

 

What we are seeing in the name of “reform” today is the same plan with slight modifications: brand schools as low-performing factories of failure, encourage privatization, and leave the vast majority of students in underfunded, highly stigmatized public schools.

 

This effort will create an America that looks more like the 1967 Kerner Commission’s forecast, two societies separate and unequal, than Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community.

 

Dr. Williams says that the corporate education reform movement is the opposite of what Dr. King sought:

 

For King, the Beloved Community was a global vision of human cooperation and understanding where all peoples could share in the abundant resources of the planet. He believed that universal standards of human decency could be used to challenge the existence of poverty, famine, and economic displacement in all of its forms. A celebration of achievement and an appreciation of fraternity would blot out racism, discrimination, and distinctions of any kind that sought to divide rather than elevate people—no matter what race, religion, or test score. The Beloved Community promoted international cooperation over competition. The goal of education should be not to measure our progress against the world but to harness our combined intelligence to triumph over the great social, scientific, humanistic, and environmental issues of our time.

 

While it seeks to claim the mantle of the movement and Dr. King’s legacy, corporate education reform is rooted in fear, fired by competition and driven by division. It seeks to undermine community rather than build it and, for this reason, it is the ultimate betrayal of the goals and values of the movement.

 

Real triumph over educational inequalities can only come from a deeper investment in our schools and communities and a true commitment to tackling poverty, segregation, and issues affecting students with special needs and bilingual education. The Beloved Community is to be found not in the segregated citadels of private schools but in a well-funded system of public education, free and open to all—affirming our commitment to democracy and justice and our commitment to the dignity and worth of our greatest resource, our youth.

 

 

 

 

This is one of Arthur Camins’ best articles about education and its ills. He poses the question of whether there is too much federal meddling in education or whether the federal role has been corrupted by pursuing the wrong goals.

 

He argues on behalf of a vigorous federal policy in education by referring to other areas–like Social Security, Medicare, and civil rights laws– where the only “fix” was federal policy. The reason that so many are now disgusted with federal policy in education is that the Obama administration has pursued the wrong goals and alienated its allies. Its reckless promotion of high-stakes testing and privatization has actually undermined the appropriate goal of federal policy, which should be equity and justice. The so-called “reform” movement relies on federal power to impose unpopular and failed mandates, wielding power in a manner which is inherently undemocratic and even anti-democratic.

 

Camins writes:

 

The problem over the last several decades of education policy is not overreach. It is that the federal government has been reaching for the wrong things in the wrong places with the wrong policy levers. For example, the nation has largely abandoned efforts to end segregation, arguably a prime driver of education inequity. The large-scale, community-building infrastructure and WPA and CCC employment efforts of the Great Depression have given way to the limited escape from poverty marketing pitch of education policy following the Great Recession. Whereas the 1960s War on Poverty targeted community resource issues, current education efforts target the behavior of individual teachers and pits parents against one in other in competition for admission to selected schools.

 

It cannot be repeated often enough: No country that has made significant improvement in its education system has done so through test-based accountability, teacher evaluation systems, charter schools or other school choice schemes. Improvements will only come from a national commitment to the values of equity, democracy, empathy, respect and community responsibility and by providing the funding for solutions based on those values.

 

Community and individualist values have been in tension throughout U.S. history. The diminishment of inequality that characterized the 1930s-1970s was the result of empathetic community responsibility values and strong unions. The growing inequality of the 1980s through the present is the result of the dominance of competitive individualist values. When inequity is the norm, policies that favor competition over collaboration turn potential allies into foes. When competition is the norm among parents for their children’s schools and among teachers for professional advancement, narrow individual solutions undermine broad systemic solutions.

 

The rhetoric to support current education reform is that individual poor families should have choices about which schools their children attend just like rich folks. Tellingly, this does not mean that rich and poor or black and white children attend the same schools. Instead, new charter schools are located in racially and economically isolated communities so that poor families compete with one another for admission. The result has been increased segregation with no effort to ameliorate resource allocation differences between wealthy and poor communities.

 

We do not need the federal government to specify teacher evaluation mechanisms, rank teacher preparation programs based on the test scores of their graduates students, fund privately operated charter schools or promote education entrepreneurs. The proper role for the federal government is to be the guarantor of justice and equity.

 

Unfortunately, given the Obama administration’s ties with the uber-wealthy philanthropists who believe in free-market competition, there is no hope that it will change direction. It will continue to push for the very policies that promote “competitive individualist values” and pay lip service to the “values of equity, democracy, empathy, respect and community responsibility.” We can only hope that the next administration changes course from the status quo. If not, the public will turn against the federal role altogether as the values of “justice and equity” are sacrificed and abandoned. And this will be the sad legacy of the Obama administration.

Jersey Jazzman gives the highlights (or low points) of a very bad, very terrible, truly awful week for corporate reformers in Néw Jersey. It started with Cami Anderson’s grilling by a legislative committee, followed by the NJ state board of education’s admission that students could opt out; and capped by the revelation that the NJ Charter School Association filed an ethics complaint against a Rutgers professor for identifying herself as a Rutgers professor when expressing her views.

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