Archives for category: Education Industry

Maybe it is just me, but I find myself outraged by the “reformers'” incessant manipulation of language.

“Reform” seldom refers to reform.

“Reform” means privatization.

“Reform” means assaults on the teaching profession.

“Reform” means eliminating teachers’ unions, which fight for better salaries and working conditions.

“Reform” means boasting about test scores by schools that have carefully excluded the students who might get low scores.

“Reform” means using test scores to evaluate teachers even though this practice has negative effects on teacher morale and fails to identify better or worse teachers.

“Reform” means stripping teachers of due process rights or any other job security.

“Reform” means that schools should operate for-profit and that private corporations should be encouraged to profit from school spending.

“Reform” means acceptance of privately managed schools that operate without accountability or transparency.

“Reform” means the incremental destruction of public education.

I am reminded of George Orwell’s lines from his prophetic novel 1984:

“War is peace.

“Freedom is slavery’

“Ignorance is strength.”

The goal of the leadership in the novel was to teach the population “doublethink.” To believe in contradictory ideas.

So we see schools closed, teachers and principals fired, and we are supposed to believe this is “reform.”

The media, with few exceptions, say that what is happening almost everywhere is “reform,” so it must be reform to replace public schools with privately managed charters, and to fire experienced professionals and replace them with newcomers, with untrained and inexperienced teachers and with principals who taught for one or two years.

It must be reform to allow out-of-state billionaires to buy local and state school board elections so they can control the schools of a state they don’t live in.

I confess I am also irritated by the habit of referring to young children as “scholars.” To me, a scholar is someone who has devoted his or her professional life to the advancement of knowledge. If a five-year-old is a “scholar,” what do you call a distinguished university professor who is widely recognized for her research and publications?

Has the public been suckered into believing that the destruction of public education is “reform”?

Does the public willingly accept the idea that hedge fund managers and equity investors are taking control of what is supposed to be a public responsibility?

Will we let them monetize our children and their public schools?

Does the public understand that a small group inside the Beltway wrote the “national standards” behind closed doors, that one billionaire (Bill Gates) paid for them and paid millions to national education organizations to advocate for them, and that the federal government bribed 45 states to endorse them?

How long will the public tolerate tests tied to those standards that are designed to fail 65-70% of the nation’s children?

How much longer will we allow the nation’s children to be labeled and sorted by standardized tests whose outcomes may be predicted by family income?

When will the public realize that test-based accountability does not improve education, does not promote better teaching, and actually reduces the quality of education?

How long can the Emperor parade through the streets before someone tells him he is naked?

How long can a charade persist before the public knows they have been conned?

How long will it take to unmask this great theft of a democratic institution that belongs to the public, not to entrepreneurs, foundations, rightwing ideologues, hedge fund managers, or their compliant politicians?






Lisa Rudley, the leader of the New York State Allies of Parents and Educators and a prominent proponent of Opt Outs, here presents to the Cuomo Commission to review the Common Core standards and tests. Lisa is a public school parent in Ossining, New York.

She explains the origins and flaws of the Common Core standards, and she explains the critique of them.

She also offers specific recommendations to improve education in the state.

She expresses the impact of the standards and high-stakes testing on children with disabilities and students who are new to English.

She demands a thorough review and changes in standards, assessment, curriculum, and teacher evaluation.

She says, “When you hurt teachers, you hurt kids. And when you hurt kids, parents get very angry.”

With leaders like Lisa and NYSAPE, parents are leading the way to a much better, far richer, quality of education than the one offered by the “reformers.”

But whoa! Hang on. Don’t turn it off when Lisa finishes. She is followed by the informed and eloquent Jamaal Bowman, principal of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action. He has a series of clear and pragmatic recommendations on truly reforming the public schools.


Peter Greene here explains why he objects to Mike Petrilli’s defense of “no-excuses” charter schools that exclude or push out students they don’t want. Mike is the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which supports school choice, vouchers, charters, and high-stakes testing. In an article on the “Bloomberg View” website, Mike argued that disruptive students hurt high-achieving students, so it is appropriate to throw them out so the other students have a chance to reach their full potential.


Petrilli wrote:


Imagine that we wanted to prioritize the needs of low-income students who demonstrated the aptitude to achieve at high levels and a willingness to work hard — the kids with the best shot to use a solid education to put poverty behind. What might we do?

First, we would put in place “universal screening” tests to look for gifted students in early elementary schools. We would ask all schools, including those with a high percentage of poor students, to identify at least 10 percent of their students for special programs, and then allow these kids the opportunity to spend part of their day learning with other high-achieving peers, and to go faster or deeper into the curriculum. A recent study by David Card of the University of California at Berkeley and Laura Giuliano of the University of Miami demonstrated that this sort of approach is particularly effective for high-achieving, low-income students.

By middle school, we would embrace tracking so that poor, bright students had access to the same challenging courses that affluent high achievers regularly enjoy, and that are essential if young people are going to get on a trajectory for success in Advanced Placement classes in high school and at more selective colleges.

Finally, we would ensure that schools were safe and orderly places to be — balancing the educational needs of disruptive students with the equally valuable needs of their rule-abiding peers.

Yet in most cities we do very few of these things. This is in large part because many progressives are convinced that any sort of tracking is classist and racist, and amounts to giving up on certain kids, and they have worked to ban it. (Ironically, political leaders in the poorest neighborhoods themselves are asking for more schools for the gifted and talented.) Most accountability systems still work on getting low-performing students up to basic proficiency in reading and math, rather than pushing schools to help all students get as far as they can.

Meanwhile, discipline “reforms” are focused overwhelmingly on reducing punishments, often with little attention to the potential downside for learning in the classroom. Yet as common sense — and solid research — tells us, that downside is real. For instance, a study by the group Public Agenda found that 85 percent of teachers and 73 percent of parents felt the “school experience of most students suffers at the expense of a few chronic offenders.”

Frustrated that the traditional public schools aren’t willing to prioritize their children’s needs, many low-income strivers have turned to high-quality charter schools instead. But now those are under attack, too. In recent weeks, the “PBS Newshour” and “New York Times” had highly critical coverage of Success Academies, charter schools in New York City that have shown excellent results in improving student performance. The reports focused on the academies’ suspending students aggressively and removing those who are chronic disrupters. There were similar controversies over the relatively high rates of suspensions and expulsions at charters in Chicago and Washington in recent years.

Peter Greene takes issue with Petrilli on a number of points.

He writes that he does not want docile and compliant students.  I don’t need compliant students. I need students who have some drive and initiative and are occasionally obnoxious because they are excited about stuff. Just in general, I see a real contradiction between striving and complying….

Petrilli talks about disruptive students as if disruptor status is permanently and unwaveringly a thing. The student who is a gigantic, disruptive pain in the butt on Monday may be the shining light on Wednesday. Being a disruptive student is not like being left-handed. For that matter, the student who is absolute disaster in your class may be my top student.

This is betterocracy at work, the notion that some people are just better than others, and that’s just how it is, and the purpose of public institutions like school is to sort out the Betters from the Lessers, allowing the Betters to rise and the Lessers to stay in place, as if every persons level of Betterness is fixed and static, wired into their dna.

Disruptosity is not an absolute, static condition. Worse, talking about “disruptive students” is like talking about “bad kids”– it locks a child into some sort of permanent state that colors all our interactions with him, instead of recognizing that we’re seeing a particular behavior on a particular day, but that behavior is not who the child is.

If a child is disruptive, Greene writes, he wants to know why. I may need to find a way to shut my disruptor down now so I can do my job for the rest of my students. But part of my job is to find out what is going on with the disruptor, because there’s a long list of reasons that a student might act out, and all of those reasons are important to know, particular as a representative of the school that is quite possibly the only place where the child encounters caring, professional adults.

Greene writes that the disruptive students may include some of the smartest students:

Like much of his talk on this subject, his call for universal screening to look for gifted students in elementary school seems to assume that academic aptitude goes hand in hand with striverliness, while not going along with disruptorosity. That is kind of hilarious. Because nobody knows how to spread chaos, disorder, and disruption like a really smart student. Particularly a really smart student who finds himself up against a school that wants him to show how compliant he is.

Greene has a proposal that will solve everyone’s problems with disruptive students:

It’s probably fair to say that there are some students so troubled and challenged that a traditional school setting just doesn’t work for them, and they become chronic disruptors. But that’s a small percentage. And since they are a small percentage of the school population and charters only have capacity for a small percentage of the school population and charter operators claim to know the secrets of making all students from all backgrounds successful, why don’t we do this– let the charters have the disruptors.

The strivers will be left in disruption-free public schools, safe and freed from Those People who interfere with their education. The disruptors will be set straight by the edu-wizards of the charter world. It’s perfect.

Now there is a modest but feasible proposal: Let the charters be the schools that solve the problems of disruptive students, a tiny fraction of the student population. Then everyone would join in the Hallelujah Chorus to charter  miracles.


Anthony Cody gives us an overview of the past 14 years, in which the common theme is that teachers cannot be trusted to grade or assess their students.

Having survived the onerous and intrusive NCLB and the teacher-bashing of Race to the Top, educators and a growing part of the public realize that it is not the schools that are failing, it is the “reforms” of Bush and Obama.

So with the failure of test-based accountability, the next wave of disruptive innovation is upon us. Led by former Gates executive Tom Vanderbilt Ark, the latest thing is competency based learning and competency based assessment. The idea is even embedded in the President’s “Testing Action Plan.”

Cody writes:

“We have been badgered for the past 14 years by reformers insisting on the fierce urgency of change, and they have had their way – twice! First, seven years of NCLB, followed by the past seven years of Race to the Top, and now the “next generation” of tests, which were promised to be “smarter,” computer-adapted, and deliver results more quickly. None of it worked. Scores on the independent NAEP tests are flat or down. The SBAC and PARCC tests are more difficult without being any “smarter” in telling us about what our students can do. The idea that these tests could somehow promote and measure creativity and critical thinking is debunked. The growing opt out movement poses a huge threat to the standardized testing “measure to manage” paradigm.

“So what is to be done?

“Reinvent the tests once again, using technology. And who better for the job than Tom Vander Ark, formerly of the Gates Foundation, and now associated with a long list of education technology companies. The latest package of solutions is being called “competency based learning,” and it was featured prominently in the Department of Education’s latest “Testing Action Plan.”

So here we go again, but this time with the technology leading the way. This is the breakthrough that equity investors have been waiting for.

Don’t fall for it. Empower teachers, not computers, to assess their students.

Stop the financialization and monetization of public education. Don’t be fooled.

Emily Talmage lives in Maine, where she blogs about the latest fads to “reform” American education. In this post, she shows the relationship between the theories of B.F. Skinner, a psychologist who was renowned in his time for his belief in behaviorism, and today’s big new idea: competency based education. In President Obama’s recent “Testing Action Plan,” he endorsed the strategy of competency based education, where every student moves at his or her own pace through programmed instruction on computers. The plan sets aside $25 million to encourage states to try new forms of assessment, including competency-based models. Although this approach is often referred to as individualized, customized, and personalized instruction, it is a direct descendant of B.F. Skinner’s teaching machines. In a previous post, she noted that:


A shift to competency-based education has been in the works a least a decade, with the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Gates Foundation, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education (among others) at the helm of this shift.



Here, she sets the ideas of B.F. Skinner, enunciated in the 1950s, alongside those currently on the website of testing company Questar, whose assessments have been adopted by New York State:


Here’s Skinner:

As soon as the student has written his response, he operates the machine, and learns immediately whether he is right or wrong. This is a great improvement over the system in which papers are corrected by a teacher, where the student must wait perhaps until another day, to learn whether or not what he is written is right.

Such immediate knowledge has two principle effects: it leads most rapidly to the formation of correct behavior. The student quickly learns to be right…


Now compare the Skinner quote with this description that comes from the website of Questar – the testing company recently adopted by New York State:

With tablets and the right software, this approach is possible on an individualized basis: after every five minutes of individualized tablet-based instruction, students would be presented with a brief series of questions that adapt to their skill level, much as computer-adaptive tests operate today. After that assessment, the next set of instructional material would be customized according to these results.


Here’s Skinner again:

Another important advantage is that the student is free to move at his own pace. With techniques in which a whole class is forced to move together, the bright student wastes time, waiting for others to catch up, and the slow student, who may not be inferior in any other respect, is forced to go too fast. …A student who is learning by machine learns at the rate, which is most effective for him. The fast student covers the course in a short time, but the slow student, by giving more time to the subject, can cover the same ground. Both learn the material thoroughly.


Now, compare this with Questar:

Because students progress through subject material at their own pace, they can be grouped by ability instead of grade level, similar to competency-based learning approaches currently being tried in various schools and districts.

Questar and Skinner…pretty much indistinguishable, aren’t they?



Tim Farley is a parent and educator in upstate New York. He is on the board of New York State Allies of Parents and Educators (NYSAPE), which led the historic 2015 opt out movement. When leaders of NYSAPE met with Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in August of this year, she said that the post-Pearson testing would be embedded into instruction. Farley explains what the future holds in store for students in New York and elsewhere.

The Camel’s Nose of Competency Based Education

There is a fable in which an Arab miller reluctantly allows his camel to stick his nose under his tent on a cold night in the desert. This is quickly followed by other parts of his body until the camel is entirely inside the tent and refuses to leave. The moral of the fable is to illustrate that once the “camel” (Governor Cuomo’s $2 billion Smart Bond Act) gets his nose in the tent, his body (competency based education) will soon follow. This is what we have with the Questar testing company, with which the NYSED Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia signed a $44 million contract ( The contract locks into place a five year deal and offers districts the “option to administer the tests on computers”. Isn’t that convenient.

As part of the NYSED press release, Elia is quoted as saying, “Questar, Inc. will also provide computer based TESTING (emphasis added) platforms that will help reduce the need for stand-alone field tests, and more importantly, help make our assessments even better instructional tools.” For the sake of brevity, let’s forget about the fact that the contract with Pearson is still in effect for the 2015-2016 school year and the multi-billion dollar British conglomerate will still be producing the spring 2016 NYS ELA and math tests.

According to Questar’s April 1st publication (sadly, it is not an April fool’s prank), “Reimagining the Classroom Experience” (, Eric Rohy, Questar’s Chief Services Officer, writes, “Most educators agree that the current LECTURE-STYLE (emphasis added) approach to teaching is flawed.” He further writes, “….this approach limits the teacher’s ability to adapt his or her classroom to meet a number of 21st century teaching needs such as INDIVIDUALIZED AND PERSONALIZED INSTRUCTION (emphasis added), personalized learning, competency-based grouping and progression, seamless blending of instruction and assessment, and timely impact of assessment results to affect instruction.” WOW! When was the last time Eric Rohy visited an American classroom, the 1950’s? Teachers do not use “lecture style” anymore, nor have they in several decades.

What does Mr. Rohy mean by “individualized and personalized instruction”? He writes about a four-part implementation. First, eliminate the lecture-style (“one-to-many teaching approach”) by “giving every student a TABLET DEVICE (think iPad) that WIRELESSLY CONNECTS to ADAPTIVE SOFTWARE in the cloud…. instruction tailored to their individual learning styles and capability levels; and LEARNING MODULES (emphasis added) presented just to them.” Rohy continues, “Seamlessly integrate assessment with the instruction presented to each student on his or her TABLET (emphasis added). Again, Rohy makes a false generalization of our teachers by writing, “…most teachers do not teach this way (checking for understanding on an ongoing basis throughout a lesson) for two reasons: pedagogical momentum and a lack of technology that integrates instruction and ASSESSMENT (emphasis added) seamlessly so it doesn’t disrupt the flow of the class. With TABLETS (emphasis added) and the RIGHT SOFTWARE (emphasis added), this approach is possible on an INDIVIDUALIZED basis: after every five minutes of INDIVIDUALIZED TABLET-BASED INSTRUCTION (emphasis added), students would be presented with a brief series of questions that adapt to their skill level…” He continues, “The student would then be reassessed and the cycle would continue. With both the instruction and the assessments integrated into the same software and presented as a continuous ‘flow’ to each student, there is almost NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INSTRUCTION AND ASSESSMENT (emphasis added) in the mind of a child.”

Mr. Rohy also posits that grade levels could be ELIMINATED, “because students progress through subject material at their own pace…” He ends the publication with, “It would be naive to think that such a holistic change to classroom structure and pedagogy would be easy. A number of SIGNIFICANT FUNDING (i.e. – $2 billion Smart Bond Act), process, training, and political challenges would need to be addressed. He ends with a paraphrased quote of Apple CEO Tim Cook – “we must be ‘willing to lose sight of the shore’ and make UNCOMFORTABLE changes to make a significant leap forward in education.”

The “reformers” of education want to replace “teacher” with “individualized instruction” and/or “tablet”. They believe that quality teachers can be seamlessly replaced by a tablet, some headphones, and some wifi. Let me show you a picture of what that means:

Image from×225.jpg.

The Smart Schools Bond Act ( is the camel’s nose, the rest of the camel is represented by Questar’s CBT program, Commissioner Elia and Governor Cuomo represent the Arab miller, and the tent is a metaphor for our public schools.

Would Bill Gates, President Obama, current US DOE Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, soon-to-be US Secretary John King, and Andrew Cuomo subject their own children to this education environment? No, nor should they and nor should we. I do not want my children to be connected to a tablet all day in the name of “individualized instruction.” I want a high quality teacher to teach my children.

If Commissioner Elia believes that the opt out movement will become a moot point due to competency based education and assessments, she had better re-think her belief. Opt out numbers are likely to hit 500,000 this spring. When the 2016-2017 school year begins, opt outs will be close to 1,000,000.

Gene V. Glass here quotes a young woman, Susan Tran, who completed her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and is now finishing graduate studies to be certified as an elementary school teacher. He wonders how new teachers are able to resolve the contradictions between what the demands of the state and their professional ethics.

Glass writes:

Susan is mature and intelligent; she recognized early in her career that becoming a teacher in the Age of Reformation is forcing idealistic young teachers to resolve contradictions — contradictions between 1) messages from reformers who believe that teaching is a low level trade that has no right to organize on its own behalf and for which six weeks of indoctrination are adequate training, and 2) messages from university-based teacher trainers who believe that good teaching is rooted in children’s unique interests and capabilities and treats them as individuals, not as replicates of a governmentally defined template.

Susan Tran writes (quoted in part):

Throughout my education to be a teacher, one of the biggest questions that has arisen for me is “How do I meet the expectations and standards of the state and district, while also meeting the true needs of my students?” One of my biggest fears coming into the teaching profession is that we have started to confuse the acquisition of knowledge with the process of learning. In an effort to meet numeric goals and score high on standardized tests, we have become obsessed with how to get our students to perform in a way that satisfies a checklist, or a numerical score, or a national standard. I’m fearful that we have forgotten about instilling passion, excitement, and curiosity in our students. It is becoming less important to us to create better people, who care about each other and the world around them and think of ways to deal with the problems that they see in front of them. We discuss world problems only in so far as they fit into our standardized curriculum, but we don’t address the difficult yet inevitable issues that our students will eventually find themselves confronted with in the very near future.

I do understand the need for progression in a student’s knowledge. I see why it’s important that our students are exposed to and encouraged to master a large variety of topics. However, I do not understand why we have begun to think that the best way to do this is to have them fill in a bubble sheet, or sit in front of a computer for an hour and take the exact same test. We’ve become immersed in this notion that there is a “standard,” which then implies that there is a norm. There’s a ‘normal’ level that a student must attain at a certain time, and that the best way to get them there is to maintain the same timeline across the board.

In spite of the fact that our methods classes certainly cover the topics of differentiation, and “meeting the needs of each student,” we see classrooms all around us that teach to the same set-in-stone standards, which translates into more information and less context, relevance, and appeal to students’ interests. This may all sound like a long rant criticizing the methods of current teaching, and that is absolutely not the point that I am trying to make. I think that teaching and teachers should be one of the most highly valued professions. I think that many schools do their very best to create well-rounded students who will enter the world as functional citizens who can contribute to society. I am simply trying to express the fact that we are in danger of getting lost along the way. We have focused too much on the numerical scores that we are producing rather than the wonderful, creative, and inspired individuals who we are helping to shape.

I know that I am entering this profession at a time of great change. There are shifts occurring within the standards, the expectations, and the focus of what we are teaching. I constantly wonder how I am going to be the teacher I imagine myself to be during this time of reform. I wonder how I am possibly going to adhere to these state and national standards with each class that I have, since I know that every single student, and thus every classroom, is unique. The state declares that a class must be at a specific point in the curriculum at a specific time, but what if we need more time? What if we need less? How can I possibly fit in all of the projects and support and guidance that my students will need to fully understand why what they’re learning is important and applicable to the real world? How will I foster minds that love learning, instead of ones that dread testing and begin to believe that they are “too stupid” to learn because they’re not categorized in the “correct” numerical column? These are all things I’ve seen already, and it would be a lie to say that I’m not overwhelmed and terrified.

Conflict of interest? How could it not be?

Billionaire Eli Broad is underwriting education coverage at the Los Angeles Times.

Eli Broad wants 50% of the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District to be enrolled charter schools. He intends to pool $490 million to create 260 new charters.

The LA Times wrote an editorial endorsing Broad’s plan to privatize a huge part of public education.

One man wants his way. Eli Broad does not believe in democracy.

From a reader:

Journalists do not really seem to understand the gravity of what is happening to education in the United States. There is a reason that highly educated parents are opting their children out of standardized tests. It is a scary time to be a teacher and an even scarier time to raise a child.

Since 1997, the testing market in the United States has grown 835%, or roughly 14% annually, from $263 million to over $2.46 billion. That’s nearly double the annual rate of return of the S&P 500. A lot of people have made a lot of money off of the test-based accountability movement and a lot of corporations now have a lot to lose. Corporations and politicians promised us a lot when they seized control of the nation’s education policy and enacted No Child Left Behind in 2002.

Since then, the rate of growth in NAEP scores has declined, SAT scores have declined, ACT scores have remained flat, and PISA scores have declined.

As if that wasn’t enough, politicians and their corporate backers doubled down on the dismantling of public education by withholding funding, taking over school districts, and threatening to close down schools. In Washington D.C., after linking 50% of teacher evaluations to standardized test scores, teacher turnover increased to 82%, schools in communities with high poverty rates showed large or moderate declines in student learning outcomes, and the combined poverty gap expanded by 44 scale-score points causing poor students to fall even further behind their more affluent peers.

Realizing the calamity of these reform efforts, the American Statistical Association, the National Academy of Education, the American Educational Research Association, the Economic Policy Institute, and educators throughout the country issued statements urging policymakers to reconsider the use of high-stakes tests which have robbed teachers of their autonomy and forced hundreds of hours of test prep on our students.

While some states have responded to limit the stakes until more is known about the validity and reliability of the assessments, officials in New York State continue to press forward.

It is long past time to acknowledge that the high-stakes accountability movement has failed our children. We must hold politicians responsible for withholding funding from our public schools and allowing poverty to wreak havoc on our education system. The United States now has its highest level of income inequality since 1928. Yet when you control for poverty, we have the best PISA scores in the world.

Our schools are not failing our children, our politicians are. It takes a real hero to ignore the impact of poverty and threaten to punch teachers in the face. But parents can see right through the lies, the decept, and the corruption. In 2016, opt out rates will double and this grass-roots parent movement will ensure that the American Dream is not permitted to skip a generation.

The U.S. Department of Education says that the correct number of standardized tests is 2% of instructional time.

In most districts, that would be about 20-24 hours of taking tests. Not prepping for them, just taking them.

That would be an increase in the amount of time now allocated in most places to standardized tests. Should children in grades 3-8 really sit for 20 hours of tests? Sounds nutty.

Peter Greene has a different idea. He says the correct number of standardized test is zero.

He writes:

Students need standardized tests like a fish needs a bicycle. Standardized tests are as essential to education as a mugging is essential to better financial health.

Is there a benefit to the child to be compared and ranked against the rest of the children in the country, to be part of the Great Sorting of children into winners and losers? No. Having such rankings and ratings may advance the agenda of other folks when it comes to writing policy and distributing money, but those benefits are for those folks– not the children. The mugger may benefit from mugging me, but it does not follow that I enjoy a benefit.

Are there standardized tests from which a classroom teacher can glean useful information? Sure– but those tests are best chosen to fit the needs and concerns of one particular teacher and one particular collection of students. A diagnostic test might help me with Chris, but there’s no reason to believe it would help me better understand Chris if it were given to every other student at the same time.

Read on.


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