Archives for category: Competition

Jeanne Kaplan is a veteran civil rights activist who was elected to serve two terms on the Denver school board. She has been active in multiple campaigns to stop privatization and over-testing and energize a genuine effort to improve the public schools. She wrote this piece for this blog.


  THE SISYPHEAN TASK IN DENVER

The dictionary defines Sisyphean task as something you keep doing but never gets completed, an endless task.  In Greek mythology Sisyphus is punished by the god Zeus and is tasked with endlessly pushing a rock up a steep mountain, only to have it roll back down each time he nears the top.  I will leave the deeper philosophical meanings to others.  Simply interpreted, public education advocates residing in the Queen City of the Rockies, “transformers” if you will, will find similarities to this story as we reflect on our battle to defeat “education reform.”  In Denver’s case the Sisyphean task master has not been a vengeful god, but rather a school board member or a school board itself which through their betrayals continues to keep “transformers” tasked with pushing the education transformational rock up the mountain.

Call it the Sisyphean Challenge, Groundhog Day, a Broken Record, Déjà vu.  However you describe it, these “transformers” are experiencing another setback in their attempts to stop or at least slow down the business-based “education reform” model. In 2009 Denver voters thought they had put an end to the then still budding “education reform” movement.  “Transformers” won four of seven seats on the school board but quickly lost that advantage when, within hours of the election, one supposed “transformer” flipped sides.  For the next ten years education reformers had free reign in Denver. Four to three boards became a six to one board, became a seven to zero board.  All for “education reform.”  Forward ten years to today.  “Transformers” once again gained control of the Denver School Board in theory.  This time the transformer majority was believed to be 5-2.  But local education reformers – with a lot of help from national reform partners – once again figured out how to get their privatization agenda through this hypothetically anti-privatization 5-2 Board.  By consistently voting to renew and re-establish privatization policies and projects, today’s Board has deprived Denver voters once again of reaching the mountain top, and usually by a 6-1 vote.  And from today’s perspective the rock has once again rolled down the mountain.

The below listed organizations, initiatives and foundations have all had their hand in preventing educational transformation in Denver. The list is thorough but not comprehensive:

1 – A+ Colorado30 – Empower Schools
2 – Adolph Coors Foundation31 – Gates Family Foundation
3 – Anschutz Family Foundation32 – Janus Fund
4 – Bellwether Education Partners33 – KIPP – Knowledge is Power Program
5 – Bezos Family Foundation34 – Koch Family Foundations
6 – Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation35 – Laura and John Arnold Foundation
7 – Bloomberg Philanthropies36 – Laurene Powell Jobs – Emerson Collective
8 – Boardhawk37 – Leadership for Educational Equity
9 – CareerWise38 – Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
10 – Chalkbeat39 – Lyra Learning – Innovation Zones
11 – Chan Zuckerberg Initiative40 – Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
12 – Schusterman Family Foundation41 – Moonshot
13 – Chiefs for Change42 – PIE Network (Policy Innovators in Ed)
14 – City Fund43 – Piton/Gary Community Investments
15 – City Year44 – Relay Graduate School of Education
16 – Colorado Health Foundation45 – Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation
17 – Colorado Succeeds46 – RootEd
18 – Community Engagement & Partners47 – Rose Foundation
19 – Daniels Fund48 – School Board Partners
20 – Democrats for Education Reform49 – Stand for Children
21 – Denver Families of Public Schools50 – Students First
22 – Denver Foundation51 – Teach for America
23 – Denver Scholarship Foundation52 – The Broad Academy/The Broad Center
24 – Donnell-Kay Foundation53 – Third Way
25 – EdLeadLeadership54 – TNTP
26 – Education Pioneers55 – Transform Education Now (TEN Can)
27 – Education Reform Now56 – Wallace Foundation
28 – Education Trust57 – Walton Family Foundation
29 – Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation

Below are some of the reform ventures coaxed through by these groups.  Many have been used to maintain the failing status quo.  Some have been used to make money for friends and colleagues.  Some have been outright failures.   But by its failure to address them or by its continued tolerance of them, the DPS Board has sanctioned the continuation of privatization in our city:

·      At a time when education reform was truly hanging on by a thread in Denver, the Board assured its continued existence for the foreseeable future by voting to renew the use of the racially biased state accountability system, going even further into reformland by promising to develop a new accountability “dashboard” (a key “reformer” tenet).  While testing is state mandated, the District did not even explore the possibility of waiving its obligation to rely on this system. This one decision has also allowed the proliferation of many of the above listed groups and has given new life to the overall privatization movement.  A lot of new players are making a lot of new money from the public education system in Denver. After all, what is the business model really about if it is not about making money?  This one vote has allowed the continuation of some of the most divisive and punitive practices such as:

1.     Relying on high stakes testing even though the Board has given lip service to wanting a waiver this year due to COVID; 

2.     Relying on a non-transparent Choice system, which some believe is being used to fill unwanted charters;

3.     Ranking of schools and continued competition resulting in winners and losers among students and schools;

4.     Relying on Student Based Budgeting where the money follows the student;

5.     Marketing of schools, whereby wealthier schools and schools with their own board of directors (charters and Innovation Zone schools) have a distinct advantage;

6.     Giving bonuses to employees of schools based on test scores.  

Other recent reform-oriented Board decisions include:

·      Voting to renew or extend all 13 charter school contracts that were up this year even when some were struggling for enrollment and academic success.  The Board claimed it did not want to disrupt kids and families.  Portfolio model.

·      Promoting school MERGERS as opposed to school CLOSURES for under enrolled neighborhood schools, somehow thinking voters won’t notice that merging schools results in the same failed policy as school closures, that campaign promises have been broken, and that charter schools are being treated differently.  Portfolio model.  

·      Voting to approve new Innovation Zones, the hybrid portfolio model that supposedly gives schools more independence while, unlike charters, is still under the control of the school board.  These Innovation Zones do, however, have their own administrative staff as well as their own boards and have ushered in their own cottage industry. Portfolio Model.

·      Working with City Fund funded School Board Partners for Board training. City Fund is a relative newcomer to the education privatization world and is largely financed by Netflix Reed Hastings and John Arnold of Laura and John Arnold Foundation.  Locally, City Fund has dropped $21 million into Denver’s own RootEd to assure “every child in Denver has the opportunity and support to achieve success in school, college and their chosen career.” This needs to be done equitably, of course!  And only within a non-union school!  Grant funding from private sources to promote private interests.

·      Hiring a Broad trained Superintendent search company, Alma Advisory Group.  Alma has also been involved in executive searches for both City Fund and The Broad Academy, two quintessential privatizers.  More than four months have gone by since DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova resigned.  Four metro Denver school districts have had superintendent vacancies this winter.  Two have already found their leaders.  Denver is still holding community meetings which if they follow DPS history, will end up be ing rather meaningless.  Most importantly, will this “reform” inclined group be able to bring a wide-ranging group of candidates forward? The Broad Academy, training leaders in education reform.

·      Continuing to allow and expand non-licensed teachers and administrators from programs such as Teach for American and Relay Graduate School of Education into DPS’ schools and continuing to tell the public they are just as qualified as professional educators.   Anyone can teach!

Why do these examples matter, you might ask?

For starters, review the list of organizations and people pushing privatization.  The sheer number is staggering.  Then check out the similarity of language in their missions, visions, and goals and the uniformity of strategies and messaging.

·      Every child deserves a great school. 

·      Every school deserves all the support it needs to ensure equity.

·      Every school should have parent and community partners.

·      Every school should be anti-racist, celebrate diversity, be inclusive.

These are all worthy goals, albeit very general ones.  But what is the overall strategy to achieve them?  Privatization and the business model focusing on innovative and charter schools using an accountability system based on high stakes testing to define success seems to be their answer.  And in spite of claims that “reformers” are agnostic as to the type of school they foster, there are a few common characteristics they demand in their privatized schools:  

·      the ability to hire and fire anyone at any time; employees do not have to be licensed; at-will employees if you will.  That’s right.  No unions in innovation or charter schools.  Anyone can teach. 

·      an accountability system based on high stakes tests; schools and employees evaluated and punished by the results of these racially inappropriate tests.

·      market-driven criteria used to define school success.  Winners and losers, competition, closures, choice, chaos, churn.

·      “learning loss,” the pandemic-based slogan, must be addressed by unrelenting dependency on high stakes testing.  No test waivers for this crazy school year.  “Reformers” must have that data, and they must remind everyone that in spite of Herculean efforts on many fronts, public education has failed. 

Add to this scenario the amount of money being spent to further this agenda. Determining this takes some patience because the tax records are often difficult to find and decipher. Then try to deduce who is benefitting from each program.  This also takes some digging, for let me assure you, public education has spawned not a cottage industry but rather a mansion industry!  Search the group you are interested in and check out its board and staff.  And finally, look at the effect all of this has had on kids.  Yeah, yeah, yeah. Isn’t it always about the kids?  In reality few of these extra ventures have had any effect on kids.  Fewer still touch kids directly.

Each privately funded unit on this list has had a privatized DPS connection of some sort.  Some initiatives are duplicative. Some are very narrowly focused. Some purport to be THE ANSWER to public education’s struggles.  There is no tolerance for differing beliefs.  Yet, after 15 years of experimentation Denver’s students remain mired in mediocrity, suffering from an ever narrowing curriculum and dependent on evaluations, ratings, and a definition of success based on racially biased tests.  Nationally, Denver Public Schools remains a leader in implementing “education reform” but alas, it also remains a leader in teacher and principal turnover and home to one of the largest achievement/opportunity gaps in the nation. 

We in Denver have been subjected to the high-octane version of “education reform” for more than 15 years.  Choice, charters, competition, closures have resulted in three unequal tiers of schools (charter schools, innovation zones, neighborhood schools).  Reformers call this “the portfolio model.”  I call it structural chaos. Michael Fullan calls it fragmentation, a system wrongly focused on “academics obsession, machine intelligence, and austerity.”  To those privatizers who say, “but you have no solution,” Fullan has one that would turn public education on its head and could possibly produce what all of us involved in the public education scene say we want: robust, equitable education for all.  Fullan has a solution for whole system success that would be focused on the human elements of public education:  learning and well-being, social intelligence, and equality of investments.   But in order for anything like this to work the superintendent and the board must be on the same page.  Elections matter.  And candidates need to understand what is at stake and what they have been elected to do.

Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy. (Given today’s America it might have slipped to second place behind voting rights). I ran for school board on that belief, I witnessed its importance through the lives of my immigrant parents. I do not believe our democracy will survive without public education, but the cornerstone must change. Radically.  Dramatically.

Imagine if all of the efforts of those 50 plus organizations were combined into one united movement focused on an anti-racist, equitable systemic change.  And imagine how truly revolutionary, transformative and unifying this movement could be if it included voices and ideas not aligned with the business model but with people who are willing to truly look at things differently, people who were willing to be honest and show leadership.  Imagine how during this unique time in our nation’s history this new system could have resulted in a new and exciting way of delivering and evaluating teaching and learning, well-being, equity and equality.  Imagine how exciting this unique time in Denver could been had we taken advantage of this opportunity.  , Instead, DPS decided to continue with the status where money and power continue to rule, where a business model has been buttressed to portray a non-existent success, and where an elected Board of Education has turned its back on its mandate.

Historically “transformers” in Denver have been dogged in their attempts to get that rock to the mountain’s peak.  We have kept fighting even when betrayed by school board members, even when organization after organization has put down roots to continue the mirage of success, even when untold millions of dollars have been invested in programs that have yet to make a significant difference in educational outcomes.  Can we in Denver defy Greek mythology and end this Sisyphean nightmare? Or are there too many yet unknown obstacles in our path to stop us once again?  Elections will decide. Time will tell. 

Valerie Strauss posted this article that I wrote on her Washington Post site “The Answer Sheet.” The tests now required by federal law are worthless. The results are reported too late to matter. The reports to teachers do not tell them what students do or do not know. The tests tell students whether they did well or poorly on a test they took six months ago. They do not measure “learning loss.”

Diane Ravitch is a former assistant secretary of education and historian. For more than a decade, she has been a leading advocate for America’s public education system and a critic of the modern “accountability” movement that has based school improvement measures in large part on high-stakes standardized tests.


In her influential 2010 book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” Ravitch explained why she dropped her support for No Child Left Behind, the chief education initiative of President George W. Bush, and for standardized test-based school “reform.”


Ravitch worked from 1991 to 1993 as assistant secretary in charge of research and improvement in the Education Department of President George H.W. Bush, and she served as counselor to then-Education Secretary Lamar Alexander, who had just left the Senate where he had served as chairman of the Senate Education Committee. She was at the White House as part of a select group when George W. Bush first outlined No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a moment that at the time she said made her “excited and optimistic” about the future of public education.


But her opinion changed as NCLB was implemented and she researched its effects on teaching and learning. She found that the NCLB mandate for schools to give high-stakes annual standardized tests in math and English language arts led to reduced time — or outright elimination — of classes in science, social studies, the arts and other subjects.


She was a critic of President Barack Obama’s policies and his chief education initiative, Race to the Top, a multibillion-dollar competition in which states (and later districts) could win federal funds by promising to adopt controversial overhauls, including the Common Core State Standards, charter schools and accountability that evaluated teachers by student test scores.


In 2013, she co-founded an advocacy group called the Network for Public Education, a coalition of organizations that oppose privatizing public education and high-stakes standardized testing. She has since then written several other best-selling books and a popular blog focused primarily on education.


She was also appointed by President Bill Clinton to the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress, and served for seven years.

In the following post, she provides a historical overview of standardized testing — and takes issue with supporters who say that these exams provide data that helps teachers and students. Instead, she says, they are have no value in the classroom.


The subject has resonance at the moment because the Biden administration must decide soon whether to give states a waiver from the federal annual testing mandate. The Trump administration did so last year after schools abruptly closed when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States, but said it wouldn’t do it again if President Donald Trump won reelection. Trump lost, and now Biden’s Education Department is under increasing pressure to give states permission not to administer the 2021 tests.

By Diane Ravitch


I have been writing about standardized tests for more than 20 years. My 2000 book, “Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform,” included a history of I.Q. testing, which evolved into the standardized tests used in schools and into the Scholastic Aptitude Test, known now simply as the SAT. The psychologists who designed these tests in the early 20th century believed, incorrectly, that you inherited “intelligence” from your family and nothing you might do would change it. The chief virtue of these tests was that they were “standardized,” meaning that everyone took the same ones. The I.Q. test was applied to the screening of recruits for World War I, used to separate the men of high intellect — officer material — and from those of low intellect, who were sent to the front lines.
When the psychologists reviewed the test results, they concluded that white males of northern European origin had the highest I.Q., while non-English-speaking people and Black people had the lowest I.Q. They neglected the fact that northern Black people had higher I.Q. scores than Appalachian White people on the Army’s mental tests. Based on these tests, the psychologists believed, incorrectly, that race and I.Q. were bound together.


One of the psychologists who helped create the wartime I.Q. tests was Carl C. Brigham of Princeton University. He wrote an influential book, called “A Study of American Intelligence,” in 1923, which proclaimed that the “Nordic” race had the highest intelligence and that the increasing numbers of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were causing a decline in American intelligence.


His findings encouraged Congress to set quotas to limit the immigration of so-called “inferior” national groups from places like Russia, Poland and Italy. Brigham, a faculty member at Princeton, used his knowledge of I.Q. testing to develop the Scholastic Aptitude Test in 1926. Because they could be easily and cheaply scored by machine, the SAT tests eventually replaced the well-known “College Boards,” which were written examinations prepared and graded by teams of high school teachers and college professors.


Standardized testing occasionally made an appearance in American schools in the second half of the 20th century, but the tests were selected and used at the will of state and local school boards. The Scholastic Aptitude Test was important for college admission, especially for the relatively small number of elite colleges. Nonetheless, it was possible to attend an American public school from kindergarten through 12th grade without ever taking a standardized test of academic or mental ability.


This state of affairs began to change after the release of the Reagan administration’s “Nation at Risk” report in 1983. That report claimed that the nation’s public schools were mired in “a rising tide of mediocrity” because they were too easy. Politicians and education leaders became convinced that American education needed higher standards and needed tests to measure the performance of students on higher standards.


President George H.W. Bush convened a national summit of governors in 1989, which proclaimed six national goals for the year 2000 in education, including:


• By the year 2000, United States students will be first in the world in math and science.

• By the year 2000, all students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competence over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history and geography.


Such goals implied measurement. They implied the introduction of widespread standardized testing.


In 1994, President Bill Clinton introduced his Goals 2000 program, which gave grants to every state to choose their own standards and tests.


In 2001, President George W. Bush put forward his No Child Left Behind legislation, which required every student in grades 3 to 8 to take a standardized test in reading and mathematics every year, as well as one test in high school. Test scores would be used to judge schools and eventually to punish those that failed to make progress toward having every student achieve competency on those tests. The NCLB law proclaimed that by 2014, virtually every student would achieve competency in reading and mathematics. The authors of NCLB knew the goal was impossible to achieve.


When Barack Obama became president, he selected Arne Duncan as secretary of education. The Obama administration embraced the NCLB regime. Its own program — Race to the Top — stiffened the sanctions of NCLB.


Not only would schools that did not get high enough test scores be punished, possibly closed or privatized for failing to meet utopian goals, but teachers would be individually singled out if the students in their classes did not get higher scores every year.
The Bush-Obama approach was recognized as the “bipartisan consensus” in education, built around annual testing, accountability for students, teachers, principals and schools, and competition among schools. Race to the Top encouraged states to authorize charter school legislation and to increase the number of privately managed charters, and to pass legislation that tied teachers’ evaluations to the test scores of their students.


Duncan also promoted the Common Core State Standards, which were underwritten by philanthropist Bill Gates; the U.S. Department of Education could not mandate the Common Core, but it required states to adopt “common national standards” if they wanted to be eligible to compete for a share of the $4.35 billion in federal funding that the department controlled as part of the recovery funds after the Great Recession of 2008-09.


The department was able to subsidize the development of two new national tests aligned to the Common Core, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). At the outset — in 2010 — almost every state signed up for one of the two testing consortia. PARCC had 24 state members; it is now down to two and the District of Columbia. SBAC started with 30 state members; it is down to 17.


Politicians and the general public assume that tests are good because they provide valuable information. They think that the tests are necessary for equity among racial and ethnic groups.


This is wrong.


The tests are a measure, not a remedy.


The tests are administered to students annually in March and early April. Teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions. The test results are returned to the schools in August or September. The students have different teachers by then. Their new teachers see their students’ scores but they are not allowed to know which questions the students got right or wrong.


Thus, the teachers do not learn where the students need extra help or which lessons need to be reviewed.


All they receive is a score, so they learn where students ranked compared to one another and compared to students across the state and the nation.


This is of little value to teachers.


This would be like going to a doctor with a pain in your stomach. The doctor gives you a battery of tests and says she will have the results in six months. When the results are reported, the doctor tells you that you are in the 45th percentile compared to others with a similar pain, but she doesn’t prescribe any medication because the test doesn’t say what caused your pain or where it is situated.


The tests are a boon for the testing corporation. For teachers and students, they are worthless.


Standardized test scores are highly correlated with family income and education. The students from affluent families get the highest scores. Those from poor families get the lowest scores. This is the case on every standardized test, whether it is state, national, international, SAT, or ACT. Sometimes poor kids get high scores, and sometimes kids from wealthy families get low scores, but they are outliers. The standardized tests confer privilege on the already advantaged and stigmatize those who have the least. They are not and will never be, by their very nature, a means to advance equity.


In addition, standardized tests are normed on a bell curve. There will always be a bottom half and a top half. Achievement gaps will never close, because bell curves never close. That is their design. By contrast, anyone of legal age may get a driver’s license if they pass the required tests. Access to driver’s licenses are not based on a bell curve. If they were, about 35 to 40 percent of adults would never get a license to drive.


If you are a parent, you will learn nothing from your child’s test score. You don’t really care how he or she ranks compared to others of her age in the state or in another state. You want to know whether she is keeping up with her assignments, whether she participates in class, whether she understands the work, whether she is enthusiastic about school, how she gets along with her peers. The standardized tests won’t answer any of these questions.


So how can a parent find out what he or she wants to know? Ask your child’s teacher.


Who should write the tests? Teachers should write the tests, based on what they taught in class. They can get instant answers and know precisely what their students understood and what they did not understand. They can hold a conference with Johnny or Maria to go over what they missed in class and help them learn what they need to know.


But how will we know how we are doing as a city or a state or a nation? How will we know about achievement gaps and whether they are getting bigger or smaller?


All of that information is already available in the reports of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), plus much more. Scores are disaggregated by state, gender, race, disability status, poverty status, English-language proficiency, and much more. About 20 cities have volunteered to be assessed, and they get the same information.


As we approach the reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act — the successor law to No Child Left Behind — it is important to know this history and this context. No high-performing nation in the world tests every students in grades 3 to 8 every year.


We can say with certainty that the No Child Left Behind program failed to meet its purpose of leaving no child behind.


We can say with certainty that the Race to the Top program did not succeed at raising the nation’s test scores “to the top.”


We can say with certainty that the Every Student Succeeds Act did not achieve its purpose of assuring that every student would succeed.


For the past 10 years, despite (or perhaps because of) this deluge of intrusive federal programs, scores on the NAEP have been flat. The federal laws and programs have come and gone and have had no impact on test scores, which was their purpose.


It is time to think differently. It is time to relax the heavy hand of federal regulation and to recall the original purposes of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act: to distribute funding to the neediest students and schools; to support the professional training of teachers; and to assure the civil rights of students.


The federal government should not mandate testing or tell schools how to “reform” themselves, because the federal government lacks the knowledge or know-how or experience to reform schools.


At this critical time, as we look beyond the terrible consequences of the pandemic, American schools face a severe teacher shortage. The federal government can help states raise funding to pay professional salaries to professional teachers. It can help pay for high-quality prekindergarten programs. It can underwrite the cost of meals for students and help pay for nurses in every school.


American education will improve when the federal government does what it does best and allows highly qualified teachers and well-resourced schools to do what they do best.


The Pastors for Texas Children sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education seeking relief from the deluge of federal funding for charters that is inundating Texas and undermining its underfunded public schools. PTC asks for regulations to prevent harm to the public schools that enroll the vast majority of children.

Read its letter in the PDF attached here.

Steve Hinnefeld, an Indiana blogger, reviews Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire’s new book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door and finds that it resonates with his own experience in Indiana.

He writes:

“A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door” focuses on a fundamental debate on the nature of schools. Education, the authors argue, is best treated as a public good that belongs to everyone.

“Like clean air, a well-educated populace is something with wide-reaching benefits,” Berkshire and Schneider write. “That’s why we treat public education more like a park than a country club. We tax ourselves to pay for it, and we open it to everyone.”

The alternative: education as a private good that benefits and belongs to those who consume it. In that increasingly influential view, families should choose schools – or other education products and services — the same way they choose restaurants or where to buy their shoes, with little concern for anyone else.

The threats they describe are not a wolf but a veritable wolfpack: conservative ideologues who want to reduce taxes and shrink government, anti-union zealots, marketers bent on “selling” schools, self-dealers making money from ineffective virtual-school schemes and technology enthusiasts who envision a future in which algorithms replace teachers.

That may make the book sound like a polemic; it’s not, at least in my reading. The authors offer a fair and accurate reading of opposing views and acknowledge that public schools aren’t perfect. All too often, they admit, public schools have excluded or failed students of color, immigrants, religious minorities, students with disabilities and others…

I remember, in the late 1990s, being surprised when the Indiana Chamber of Commerce said it planned to push for vouchers. Democrats controlled the governor’s office and the Indiana House. Just a few years earlier, a well-organized voucher push led by prominent business officials fizzled out.

But, as Schneider and Berkshire document, voucher supporters have played a long game, carried forward by groups like Indianapolis-based EdChoice and the American Legislative Exchange Council. In 2011, with a GOP supermajority in the legislature and Mitch Daniels in the governor’s office, Indiana approved vouchers. The program started small but grew to include over 300 private schools, nearly all of them religious, and over 36,000 students. Now there’s talk of expanding it further – or possibly of adopting education savings accounts, one of the “neo-voucher” programs that Schneider and Berkshire describe.

There is reason to hope, he writes, but also reason to be alarmed and vigilant.

Last year, Nancy Bailey and I co-authored a glossary of words, terms, and the names of organizations in education today. It is called Edspeak and Doubletalk: A Glossary to Decipher Hypocrisy and Save Public Schooling. Truly, folks, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and this book is the scorecard for education policy today.

Nancy has a great eye for how language is used to deceive, and in this post, she warns educators to beware of the infiltration of business language into education. When those terms are used, she says, there is an effort underway to turn parents into customers and promote privatization.

Beware when your superintendent is called a “CEO” instead of a school superintendent. In some districts, the switch covers up the superintendent’s lack of proper education credentials.

Beware “alignment,” which is an effort to standardize curriculum, instruction and testing, and to squelch teacher creativity and autonomy.

Beware “benchmarks” and “data-driven” anything, which fit widgets but not students.

Beware the use of “customers” instead of “parents”:

With privatization, parents are customers who choose the school they want because the school is a business.

When communities are devoted to their public schools, they follow and attend Friday night football games. They attend class plays and cheer for student accomplishments. They visit student art fairs and help with school fundraisers. Public schools can be a source of pride for the community.

Parents and those in the community never used to be called customers because they had ownership of the schools. The schools belonged to them.

Open the link and see many other examples of business language that does not belong in the lexicon of educators.

There was a time long ago when public schools were thriving, and Catholic schools were also thriving. They were not in competition for students or money. But as our financial demands began pressing on both sectors, Catholic schools began closing and struggling to survive. Among rightwing ideologues, it became conventional to proclaim Catholic schools as “better” than public schools because they were free to kick out the students they didn’t want.

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly, an editor at Commonweal, calls on certain tabloids (i.e. Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post) to stop using Catholic schools to shame public schools. She hearkens back to that long-ago ethic when the different sectors served different populations and knew it.

The Post is unlikely to cease its attacks on the city’s public schools, because Murdoch loves school choice and lionizes charter schools. The Post eagerly prints press releases from Success Academy without ever bothering to fact-check or to acknowledge that SA is an exemplar of high attrition rates and high teacher-turnover rates.

O’Reilly writes (and this is only part of her article):

I can’t comment on the soundness of the decisions being made by the New York City Department of Education. But I know who I see using the pandemic to stuff their pockets, and it isn’t fat-cat maintenance workers. The Post’s implication that public-school educators are unconcerned with their students’ wellbeing is disgraceful. And while it is true that Catholic schools can be a lifeline for students served poorly by public education, I have also known families who have moved their children out of Catholic schools because the public system provides—is required to provide—services for learning disabilities and other special needs that Catholic schools can’t always accommodate. “Putting education first” is not as simple as it sounds.

Catholics should be standing in solidarity with all our neighbors as we do our best to cope with this crisis. We degrade our witness when we allow Catholic schools to be used in a propaganda campaign against public services—or against an honest reckoning with the facts. As the 2020 election approaches, conservatives are eager to exploit the Catholic school success story to advance the claim—let’s call it what it is, a conspiracy theory—that liberals are dishonestly playing up the threat of COVID-19 to make President Donald Trump look bad.

The truth is, my kids and their schoolmates are part of a broad experiment to find out whether masks and distancing and all the other safeguards in place are enough to prevent the spread of the virus. All of us, public and private, parents, teachers, and administrators, are looking for the best way forward in a highly unstable situation. That situation is not the fault of teachers’ unions, or lazy public-school janitors, or even (despite his many sins) Bill de Blasio. It is a direct consequence of the reprehensible failure of the Trump administration to protect Americans from COVID-19. We are all still scrambling, months after schools first shut down in March, because we have inadequate testing and tracing, no national recovery plan, and a president who undermines public trust and sneers at his opponent for wearing a mask. The real scandal we’re all facing isn’t the lack of a functional school system. It’s the lack of a functional federal government.

Andy Hargreaves, a scholar of international renown, participated in a virtual seminar in South Korea about post-pandemic education.

His 20-minute presentation is brilliant, pithy, and compelling.

Look for it on this YouTube video. He starts at about 22:00 minutes and concludes at about the 43:00 minute mark.

He urges South Korea and the rest of the world not to “return” to austerity, competition, high-stakes testing, and education that is subservient to GDP, but to pursue a very different path.

To learn about that different and very alluring vision of the future, take 20 minutes of your time, watch and listen.

I recently read Pawan Dhingra’s new book Hyper Education, which explores the competitiveness that some parents feel about their children’s schooling and their fear that their children might be “falling behind.” This pressure, as many here have noted, makes children feel stressed out and deprives them of imaginative and creative activities. I invited Professor Dhingra to write a précis of his book for readers of the blog, and he kindly obliged.

Hyper Education and The Attack on Public Schools

Attacks on the public school take many forms, some of them even outside of the school system. For-profit tutoring centers like Kumon, Mathnasium, etc. have a role to play in educating children. But how big of a role and how much they should be supported by our federal government – that’s a different question. They have become some of the fastest growing companies in the country and show no sign of slowing down, especially under Covid, with significant implications for our public schools.

While one might imagine that it’s mostly children in learning centers who need support catching up to grade level, more and more it is children in higher-income families looking to get ahead. For my new book, Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough, I spent time with many parents, educators, learning center directors, children, and more around the pursuit of education outside of school.

Due to people like Bill Gates, parents are told that their schools are failing their children and cannot be trusted. As parents seek external for-profit learning options in response, it erodes the centrality of the public school. Even if we could get equal funding for our schools and avoid budget cuts, we would find growing educational inequality as some families afford to take advantage of these options.

Teachers see the effects in their classrooms of extracurricular academics. A third-grade teacher sees stressed and anxious children who are, “not talking. Being almost non-verbal. Overreacting to a small problem.” A health educator told me, “The thing that breaks my heart – because I’m an educator, I love to learn – is when I talked to high school students about what do you like about school. [They] respond, ‘Nothing. I hate it.’”

It is not only students who can suffer. Children in the classroom who have been exposed to such different amounts of knowledge complicates the entire teaching effort. Parents start to disrespect how much their kids are getting from school. A second-grade teacher was frustrated with the lack of appreciation. “I think if parents come one day, they would go, ‘Those teachers deserve a medal! How do they do it every day?’ And we do.”

I am not against students pursuing academics outside of school, and in fact I think it can be a wonderful thing for children depending on their interests, other commitments, and family atmosphere. But what we are seeing is a new normal in education that is prone to grow under Covid as parents wonder about their schools’ academic content. We need to understand what is motivating parents to seek extra learning, how the children feel, and hear from teachers. But right now, these voices are talking past one another. Only then can we work towards a school system that values compassion, solidarity, and equity.

Pawan Dhingra is a professor Of American Studies at Amherst College with over 20 years of teaching experience. His most recent book is Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough. He can be reached at pdhingra@amherst.edu. You can learn more at http://www.pawanhdhingra.com and follow him @phdhingra1

In this excellent article, Stephanie Jones, Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Georgia, draws a contrast between a real crisis–the pandemic–and the scare rhetoric of children “falling behind” in some mythical race. The only beneficiaries of the fake crisis are the testing corporations.

Jones writes:

Some crises are real and extremely difficult to prevent and respond to, like a highly contagious virus that is easily spread throughout communities. Other crises are human-created, easily preventable and also easily eliminated, like worrying about what students’ test scores in reading and math will be when they return to school.

Almost any teacher will tell you that the current tool of choice to attempt to measure student learning and teacher effectiveness – high-stakes testing – has distorted the purposes and possibilities of public education beyond recognition. Decades of research on assessment and testing back-up and validate their perceptions of tests, painting a very clear picture that high-stakes testing does extensive damage and provides very little helpful information.

This is critical for all of us (parents, community members, educators, leaders) to remember in this moment because we are hearing more crisis language about students “falling behind” during the pandemic school closures. But this particular “crisis” is only possible in a world of high-stakes testing. In other words, the tool that humans have created and continue to use to try to measure student learning created this crisis of falling behind.

Take for example the alarmist tone and language of the recent editorial essay in The New York Times “The Coronavirus’s Lost Generation of Children” (the original headline on Twitter) and similar pieces that weaponize the very language and metaphors tied to testing and have been used to dehumanize education for 20 years. Words they use — setbacks, losses, grim, disastrous, catastrophic, “hobble an entire generation,” aggressive remedial plans — are irresponsible and panic-inducing during our country’s biggest health, economic, and social crisis in a lifetime. These words also spin the ideological web that education is a race. One obvious problem with a race metaphor is that some people win races and some people lose races, which also means that some people are “ahead” in the race and some people will always be “behind.”

Please open the link and read the piece in its entirety.

Bear in mind that standardized tests are normed on a bell curve and the bell curve never closes. The gap is a social construction that guarantees there will always be a top half and a bottom half.

Lamar Alexander and Roy Blunt are senior Republican Senators who chair important committees. In this article, they propose a “shark tank” competition for government agencies, believing that the funding and the competition will ramp up the number of tests produced. They admit that the federal government has failed to supply the numbers of reliable tests needed by the American public to feel safe and ready to resume work.

Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is chairman of the Senate’s health appropriations subcommittee.

As I read the article, I couldn’t help but think that the premise of the article is silly. The scientists at NIH and other federal agencies need more funding but they don’t need a “shark tank” to spur them on. The scientists know the gravity of the situation. They are doing the best they can with the resources they have. If they need more resources for staff and equipment, they should get it without the phony spur of a “race.”

They should be encouraged to collaborate, not to compete. Science works best when scientists share what they know worth their peers.

Alexander and Blunt rely on the same thinking that leads to “merit pay,” which has always failed. That thinking presumes that most professionals are slackers and won’t do their best without incentives. It was wrong for teachers and it’s wrong now for scientists.

Give them the resources needed to do their job and let them do it without hokey tricks or “shark tank” competition. They want to develop better tests; they want to find a cure. They don’t need a prize to motivate them.