Archives for category: Global Education Reform Movement (GERM)

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of Mercedes Schneider’s wonderful blog!

I learned about it last night, too late to mark the actual blog birthday.

Mercedes is one of the sharpest, smartest voices of the Resistance to privatization. She is a hero of the Resistance thanks to her incisive, brilliant exposés of “reform” hoaxes.

She is a high school English teacher in Louisiana. She has a Ph.D. in statistics and research methodology. She could have been a professor but she wanted to teach high school students.

I started my blog in April 2012; she started hers in January 2013. We exchanged emails, and we met when I came to speak in Louisiana. We became fast friends. Mercedes has been a regular at annual conferences of the Network for Public Education, where she most recently gave lessons on how to obtain tax forms and other public data about “reform” groups, which sprout like weeds, with new names, lots of money, and the same set of actors.

Mercedes is relentless. While teaching and blogging, she wrote four books over the past decade.

In 2014, her first book was A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of Public Education, a vivid portrayal of the cast of characters who pursued privatization and teacher-bashing while calling themselves “reformers.” Might as well have called themselves “destroyers,” because that’s what they are.

In 2015, she published Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, with a foreword by Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education.

In 2016, she published School Choice: The End of Public Education?, with a foreword by Karen Lewis, the late and much-loved President of the Chicago Teachers Union.

In 2020, she gathered her advice about research and published A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies.

In her blogday post, she reflected on some positive developments in the past decade

Of course, the fight continues, but allow me to celebrate a few realities:

  • Bobby Jindal is no longer governor of Louisiana, and his 2016 presidential ambitions were a flop.
  • John White is no longer Louisiana state superintendent. In fact, he is not a superintendent anywhere at all.
  • Michelle Rhee is no longer DC school chancellor. She, too, is chancellor of nowhere at all.
  • Hanna Skandera is no longer NM school chief. She, too, is school chief of nowhere at all.
  • Joel Klein holds no sway over NYC schools. Chief of nowhere.
  • Teach for America (TFA) is losing its luster. Though it tries to reinvent itself, the bottom line is that the org depends upon class after class of willing recruits– a well that appears to be hitting bottom.

Yes, the fight continues. But today– today I take a moment to celebrate just a wee bit.

Happy Blogday to me.

I celebrate Mercedes too and happily name her to the honor roll of this blog.

Love you, Mercedes! May you keep on making a difference.

Christopher A. Lizotte of the University of Washington and Dan Cohen published an interesting research paper about how market-driven policies have been promoted and sold. The paper was published in 2014-2015, and the trends described here have become more powerful, promoted by some of the wealthiest people in the nation. The title of the paper is “Teaching the Market: Fostering Consent to Education Markets in the United States.”

Abstract. Marked-based reforms in education have garnered the support of politicians, philanthropists, and academics, reworking the nature of public education in the United States. In this paper we explore the methods used to produce consent for market-based reforms of primary and secondary (K-12) schooling in the United States, focusing on two case studies to interrogate how this consent is generated as well as how these reforms are resisted in place. In doing so we illustrate how market-making in public services is a contested terrain and the importance of understanding the nature of their roll-out at the local level.

Here is a brief excerpt:

We understand this shift toward marketization in education and its recent acceleration as being situated within the broad neoliberal shift towards privatization and deregulation of formerly public goods that has taken place over the past thirty years. As in other sectors that have been subject to this treatment, this process has occurred not simply through the retreat of the state but through the deliberate repurposing of the state to reshape its institutions in the image of a market (Peck and Tickell, 2002); indeed, many of the reforms that have taken place within education are the result of explicit state policies to create market pressures within education (Lubienski, 2005): These policies include (to name a few): the imposition of standardized testing as a method through which schools can be ‘judged’ by the market, the threat of school closures for ‘failing’ schools, and the use of selective grants to reward schools and districts conforming most closely to principles of deregulation and privatization. Crucially, however, these marketization processes require careful priming in order to generate public consent for market-based reforms. In particular, the marketization of education is powerfully promoted through the notion of school ‘choice’. Presented as an apolitical and socially neutral mechanism for allowing parents to maximize their children’s educational opportunities, choice is endowed with a moral authority that obscures the power inherent in who can exercise the power to choose and the available range of choices. This choice, it is argued, finds its natural expression in the expansion of markets as a supposedly level playing field where the best-performing options rise to the top and those that fail are eventually discarded. Indeed, as Rose (1999) claims, choice, defined as the individual maximization of opportunities, has become the litmus test by which good membership in the polity is defined. In this light, the term, like those used to describe other market-making projects in public services, hides assumptions about what kinds of choice can be legitimately exercised and under what circumstances. The power to ‘choose’ as it is understood under contemporary capitalism is a highly individualized capacity that seeks to maximize one’s return on investment. Other alternative possibilities tend to fade out of view in the language of most market-based school reformers.


No one has been more effective at describing and fighting the spread of GERM than Pasi Sahlberg, the Finnish educator now working to reform education standardization in Australia.

I recently visited Pasi and his family in Croatia. He and his Croatian-born wife have two beautiful children, ages 7 and 3. The boys are tri-lingual (English, Finnish, and Croatian). The older boy is learning Chinese.They have no television. The children play.

Read Pasi’s classic book Finnish Lessons, which demonstrates that there is a better way to educate children and prepare teachers, and his recent book with William Doyle, Let the Children Play. 

Unbeknownst to Pasi, some musical talents put his ideas into song. 

It is only a few minutes. Watch and enjoy.

You can also watch Pasi’s wonderful presentation at the NPE national conference in Indianapolis in 2018, where he used this song in his talk. 


Denisha Jones was recently invited to give a lecture at Sarah Lawrence College, and she turned it into this article.

She describes the corporate threat to education and children, which was named GERM (the Global Education Reform Movement) by Pasi Sahlberg.

Jones calls on teachers to become advocates and activists on behalf of children, protecting them from GERM.

You will enjoy reading the article, from which this brief excerpt is drawn:

We can see how GERM has infected U.S. education policy and reforms. The Common Core drives standardization and aligns with a narrow focus on math and literacy. The use of scripted learning programs, behavior training programs, and online learning is evidence of the search for low-risk ways to reach learning goals. While charter schools claim to be nonprofit, most are managed by companies with CEOs and CFOs who apply corporate models to education.

Teach for America and other fast-track teacher preparation programs also use a corporate model,  developing education leaders who get their feet wet teaching before moving on to become policymakers or head up charter schools.

Pearson’s PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium are drowning  public education  in test-based accountability.  Systems that punish and reward schools and teachers based on student achievement on standardized tests are the norm today.

While the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes language that protects the right of parents to opt out—a movement that has been growing in recent years—it also maintains the requirement that 95 percent of students participate. Test-based accountability is here to stay and rapidly evolving into competency-based and personalized learning, in which assessments occur all day every day as students are glued to computer screens.

We have failed to stop the expansion of choice, which threatens the existence of public schools through the proliferation of charters and vouchers. In the U.S., most school-age children are educated in traditional public schools, but we can expect to see this trend reversed under the administration of Betsy DeVos.  We have failed to stop the assault on public education through school closures in communities of color.

And then there’s the inexorable  push down of developmentally inappropriate standards onto young children. The Common Core, adopted by most states, imposes expectations on young children that are out of step with their development, not to mention the research. Empirical data confirm that kindergarten is the new first grade, and preschool the new kindergarten.

On top of this, we have failed to stop racist school discipline practices that suspended 42% of black boys from preschool in the 2011-2012 academic year. This failure stems from our inability to address the systemic and institutional racism that is prominent in public education but often masked by teachers with good intentions who lack an understanding of culture, bias, and systems of oppression.



The great Finnish scholar Pasi Sahlberg coined the term GERM to represent the Global Education Reform Movement. GERM is the advance of markets, standardization, choice, and rankings, which began in England and the U.S. and spread to other nations. GERM is corporate education reform, and no one has been more effective at countering the virus on the international stage than Pasi.

His presentation and my own appear in the same session. His begins at 27 minutes into the tape. He posted his slides and visuals on Twitter @pasisahlberg.

Pasi, the author of Finnish Lessons and Finnish Lessons 2.0, gave a brilliant talk about the history, the advance, and the stunning setbacks for GERM.

It is a remarkable talk, which follows my presentation in the first session of the NPE Conference in Indianapolis on October 20.

Pasi is currently working in a major education research Institute in Australia. He reports that New Zealand has ditched its national standards and will soon drop national testing. Watch for Australia to follow suit.

Alan Singer writes here about the alliances of the World Bank with the leaders of global greed.

The World Bank transmits What Pasi Sahlberg Calls GERM (the Global Education Reform Movement).

He writes:

Just because you call yourself the “World Bank” does not mean you care about the world. The bank was created after World War II by the United States and Great Britain to ensure their economic influence over countries devastated by the war and domination over former colonies.

While the World Bank claims one of its goals is to reduce global poverty, the way it goes about doing it manages to keep poor countries in perpetual debt to pay for questionable capital improvement projects and for refinancing debt they already owe to wealthy nations.

Critics of the World Bank, and there are many, include Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, Peter Hardstaff of the World Development Movement, and writer Naomi Klein. Stiglitz argues that World Bank loans to developing countries emphasize quick upticks rather than long-term benefits to a country. Hardstaff claims that conditions placed on World Bank loans benefit dominant capitalist nations by ensuring that poor countries repay debts as a condition for the new loans. Klein documents specific World Bank projects that manipulate Third World countries and calls the bank’s credibility “fatally compromised.” The World Bank forced Ghana to charge public school students and their families school fees, pushed to eliminate food subsidies in war-torn Iraq, and required Tanzania to privatize its water system.

More recently, David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International, questioned the World Bank’s new Human Capital Index (HCI). The bank will use the index to decide on loan applications from poor countries and it says it wants them to invest more heavily in health and education programs. HCI supposedly will measure the “human capital” that a newborn will acquire by the time it completes secondary school through an algorithm that combines the probability of survival to age five, the availability of healthcare, and levels of education determined by standardized test scores. In other words, to receive debt relief, the World Bank will force Third World countries to adopt the kind of packaged curriculum and curriculum-aligned high-stakes testing being promoted by edu-companies like Pearson.

Edwards has three key complaints about the World Bank’s HCI. First, he objects to education being treated as a capital investment rather than as a human right. For Edwards and Education International, “Merely churning out workers for the capitalist economy is not the purpose and value of education.” It should be about achieving a “more just, peaceful and sustainable world.”

Second, Edwards questions the need for another metric for measuring poverty. The HCI is a device for promoting the World Bank and demonstrating its concern for the poor, rather than something that will actually help poor nations.

Edwards’ third point is something that directly concerns parents and teachers in the United States where students are battered by high-stakes standardized assessments that turn schools into test prep academies. The HCI ranks countries “based solely on admittedly imperfect test-scores.” Edwards charges that the World Bank’s ability to use loans to dictate government policy will mean that instead of strengthening education systems, HCI ratings will encourage “teaching to the test and a narrowed curriculum.”

Waiting in the wings to benefit from the World Bank HCI loans are corporate vultures like British-based Pearson Education. Pearson is targeting what it euphemistically calls “emerging markets” as its textbook and testing business in North America reports multi-year declining profits. Egypt is currently seeking a large funding package, estimated at $2 billion, from the World Bank to finance their latest educational reform strategy. No surprise, Pearson is in line to provide the hardware, infrastructure, and training for the “reforms” new digital testing system and a “bank” of exam questions.

Nancy Bailey reports on Betsy DeVos’ trip to Europe and what she learned: Nothing. She returned convinced that American education sucks, which is what she thought before she left for Europe.

She returned convinced that education is workplace preparation, that public schools must be destroyed along with the teaching profession.

Can this GERM be quarantined?


Jack Hassard, professor of science education, assesses creeping authoritarianism and the growing resistance to it among educators.

“The authoritarianism of standardization has spread harm and inflicted damage to America’s public schools during the last two decades. The profits from standardized tests and teaching materials associated with the Common Core have overwhelmed the nature of learning in public school classrooms that one wonders if this goliath, which has trampled on the very heart of education in a democratic society, can be brought down.

“The conservative world-view is at the root of standardization, not only in the United States, but in most countries around the world. This world-view has set in motion the reform of education based on a common set of standards, high-stakes tests, and accountability metrics that demoralize not only students and their families, but the educators who families regard as significant and positive others in the lives of their children.

“I think of standards-based education reform as a kind of “spray” analogous to how we used DDT as an agricultural insecticide. We sprayed it everywhere to stamp out disease carrying bugs. For example, from 1940 – 1972, more than 1.3 billion pounds of DDT were released into U.S. communities indiscriminately. This indiscriminate and relentless spray would eventually be shown to be harmful and a serious threat to the basics of ecosystems.”

Hassard describes the fight to block authoritarianism in education, which is closely aligned with the resistance to authoritarianism in the public arena.

He writes about a vanguard of resistors, some of whom are gentle and others not so gentle (he uses the word “gentile” but I think that is an error or auto-correct gone amok, as I am neither gentile nor gentle).

”So, what is this vanguard voicing opposition to? All are questioning the lack of wisdom, profound ignorance, and inexcusable ineptness of an educational reform movement that is rooted in a very narrow purpose of schooling: teaching to the test. According to Sahlberg, the movement can be summarized in four words: Global Education Reform Movement GERM).”

Are you part of GERM or part of the resistance. Chances are, if you are reading this post, you are part of the Resistance.




Pasi Sahlberg, the great Finnish educator, has accepted a major research post at the well-funded Gonski Institute of Education in Australia. He will have a wonderful platform to continue his research into major education issues and his advocacy for wholesome, child-friendly schooling.

Pasi’s Award-wining book, Finnish Lessons, has been translated into many languages. If you have not read it, you should. He coined the term GERM to describe the Global Educational Reform Movement, a movement that places standards and test scores above the needs and interests of students.

In this article, Pasi describes the terrible effects of high-stakes testing. 

This is an opening shot to introduce him to Australians.

He explains that unnecessary emphasis on competition for test scores has caused the loss of more important activities, including the arts and play. A childhood without play is no childhood at all.

When children learn because they are eager to learn, their comprehension is far greater than when they learn because of compulsion.

Australia is lucky to have this great man to lead educational thought on behalf of the health, creativity, and well-being of children.


The testing monster is coming for our children.

Helge Wasmuth of Mercy College in New York writes here about the full-steam-ahead plan for international testing of five-year-Old children. As he reports, the planning has excluded experts on Early Childhood Education and has been shrouded in secrecy.

This is the latest and most disgusting manifestation of what Pasi Sahlberg dubbed GERM (the Global Education Reform Movement).

Wasmuth predicts that Baby PISA will lead to:

“increased standardization, high-stakes accountability, predetermined learning outcomes, control over teachers, business-based management models, and privatization.

“The goal of the study is to gather information on children’s cognitive and social-emotional skills as well as characteristics of their home and early education environments. Direct assessment, including actual samples of student work, will measure the domains of emerging literacy and numeracy, executive function, and empathy and trust. Children will be expected to do their work on a tablet, devoting approximately 15 minutes to each domain over a period of two days. Indirect assessment—parents’ and staff reports and administrator observations—will focus on cognitive and social-emotional skills. By participating in the study, OECD asserts, member nations will have access to the primary factors that drive or thwart early learning, developing a common framework and benchmarks.

“The study is now underway. A pilot that was originally planned, which would have provided a valuable opportunity for meaningful feedback and fine-tuning, has been scrapped. The organization has moved forward with data collection, to be conducted from the end of 2017 through 2019. This will be followed by so-called “quality control” and analysis, and the release of a report in 2020.

“While the original plan called for participation by three to six countries in the northern and southern hemispheres, a number of early childhood communities have already successfully registered protest, urging their governments to abstain. (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, and Denmark are among them.) The only outliers are England—Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not taking part—and the United States…

“Critique of the IELS has been fierce, and numerous concerns have been raised. Most egregious is the marginalization of the wider early childhood community. “The entire IELS project has been shrouded in secrecy from day one,” Mathias Urban, director of the Early Childhood Research Centre at the University of Roehampton in London, told me. Respected researchers and scholars in the field were not consulted, their input unwelcome. As has long been the case with early education policy, decades of research have been ignored.

“The OECD values objectivity, universality, predictability and that which can be measured. The organization seems to be oblivious to alternative ideas about educating and caring for young children. Nor have local contexts and traditions for this process been part of the conversation…

“So, why is all of this shrouded in secrecy? Why are we kept in the dark? Why are the experts and the field’s knowledge marginalized? One needs to ask: Who really benefits from such a study? The children? Will it really inform policymaking and improve educational practices in a meaningful way? Or is it another piece to open up public education sectors to corporate interests?

The disregard of the early childhood community is concerning enough. Don’t even get me started on the collection of child-based data on a global scale without the consent of children, parents, or practitioners. Or with assessing five-year-olds on a tablet. How flawed and meaningless are the results. How do you assess trust and empathy, or the complexities of learning and development?

“The impact on our field will be disastrous—maybe not immediately, but soon enough. OECD is a powerful and influential institution. Everyone should be clear about their goals of creating a common framework with benchmarks and assessing learning outcomes. Early childhood education will be reduced to what can be measured: literacy and numeracy.

“Ultimately, the field will fall even deeper into the clutches of GERM. Many countries will feel compelled to do well on the IELS, and the easiest way to do that is to align the curricula to what is measured. Pedagogical compliance will follow, along with teaching to the test—especially in countries, such as the U.S., with many private providers of early education, who will use their outcomes to win new customers. As in the case of the Common Core, a new market will be created, “Aligned to IELS” the new trademark.

“The quest for predictable outcomes leaves no place for the hallmarks of early childhood—for uncertainty, experimentation, surprise, amazement, context, subjective experiences. OECD values and measures what can be measured, but not necessarily what is important.”

Baby PISA opens a Pandora’s box. Out of it flies standardization, conformity, inappropriate pedagogy. Trapped in the box will Be Children, yearning to play.