Nancy Bailey is a retired teacher with long experience in the classroom. She has a talent for picking out charlatans from the pundits who make a living telling teachers what to do, despite their lack of experience. She gets irritated by purveyors of doom and gloom, especially when it is not warranted. Arne Duncan and Margaret Spellings inflicted irreparable harm on America’s public schools by their imposition of the failed No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top programs; these federal mandates continue to erode what’s left of the joy of learning by their emphasis on standardized testing and pressure to close public schools and open privatized charter schools.

Nancy and I collaborated on a book published by Teachers College Press called Edspeak and Doublespeak: A Glossary to Decipher Hypocrisy and Save Public Schooling. It names names and calls out the privatizers who call themselves “reformers.”

She wrote on her latest blog:

Arne Duncan (Obama) and Margaret Spellings (G. W. Bush), noneducators and former education secretaries, recently appeared on PBS News Hour, “Study shows parents overestimate their student’s academic progress” to dash any hope parents might have that their children are doing well in school. Who’s behind such gloomy reporting?

Here’s how PBS begins, and here’s the survey:

A survey conducted in March of 2023 for the group Learning Heroes found 90 percent of parents think their kids are doing fine, but standardized test scores show otherwise. Among eighth graders, for example, just 29 percent were proficient in reading either at or above their grade level. In math, just 26 percent were considered proficient. This sheds light on what’s being called the parent perception gap.

Learning Heroes? They’re a group called a campaign, seemingly to create divisivenesssowing distrust in teachers and public schools, to tell parents about so-called gaps in student learning. They call parents learning heroes. They appear to be critical of grades and a teacher’s evaluation of the student, and they focus on standardized test scores.

Gaps have been the focus for 22 years since No Child Left Behind, and Duncan and Spellings had their chance to reduce the learning and opportunity gaps they speak about. They never discuss or seem to reflect on their accountability for public school problems, especially their emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing.

Learning gaps are the difference or disparities between what students learn and grade-level expectations. Adults create expectations with standardized tests. Few raise questions about whether such expectations could be developmentally inappropriate, and even when they do, they’re ignored.

Opportunity gaps are life factors children struggle with surrounding ethnicity, race, gender, disability, and income. Many children facing opportunity gaps attend poor schools without resources or quality curricula.

Learning Heroes receives support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Charles and Lynn Shusterman Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

None of the above champion public schools. Most promote school privatization and, for years, have praised charter schools, which continue to do poorly in many places.

Looking closer at the learning heroes team, many come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The PBS report also references Go Beyond the Grades, connected to the Chamber of Commerce, which has never been optimistic about public education either. Remember their state-by-state report called Leaders and Laggards?

What’s ironic is that these same individuals helped put high-stakes standardized testing and Common Core State Standards in place years ago, along with other bad reforms, and they still complain that public schools are failing. They’re criticizing their own failed ideology in the name of school privatization!

This is a wonderful post. Please open the link and read it all!

Inspired by Nancy’s post, I wrote a letter to PBS Newshour. I hope you will too. Write to:

Dear Newshour Staff, 

I was disappointed to see that you invited the overseers of the past two decades to discuss the situation of American education. 

No Child Left Behind (Spellings) and Race to the Top (Duncan) were both disasters. Both inflicted and intensified the overuse and abuse of standardized testing in America’s public schools. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of schools were closed based on these invalid and unreliable measures. 

Spellings and Duncan spent years promoting failed policies and are now called upon by PBS to comment on the outcomes of their punitive and ineffective ideas. They are in no position to say where we went wrong, because they were the architects of the disaster. 

You really should invite dispassionate experts to review their record, rather than invite those who imposed bad ideas. 

Can anyone honestly say that “no child was left behind” after more than a dozen years of NCLB? Can anyone say that the $500 billion spent on Race to the Top was successful in any respect? The answer to both questions is no. 

NCLB and RTTT have demoralized a generation of teachers; destroyed the joy of learning; and produced no improvement. Worse, they created a canard about “failing schools” that completely ignores the root causes of poor student performance. 

What if those billions had been spent on reducing class sizes; raising teachers’ salaries; upgrading obsolete facilities; ensuring that every child had access to nutrition and medical check-ups? 

It boggles my mind that the Newshour would buy into the myths of the past 20 years instead of digging deeper to understand the underlying issues. 

Diane Ravitch 

Author and Historian