Archives for category: U.S. education

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, has been studying the spread of the fake “reform” efforts across the nation (aka the Destroy Public Education Movement).

In this post, he reviews the damage done by authoritarian education “leaders” who have robbed students and teachers of the joy of learning while attacking public schools. He names names.

He begins:

For more than two decades, bureaucratic style top down education “reform” has undermined improvement efforts by professional educators. For budding teachers, beginning in college with the study of education and their own personal experience as students, an innate need to better education develops. However, in the modern era, that teacher energy to improve education has been sapped by the desperate fight to save public education from “reformers,” to protect their profession from amateurs and to defend the children in their classrooms from profiteers. 

Genuine advancements in educational practices come from the classroom. Those edicts emanating from government offices or those lavishly financed and promoted by philanthropies are doomed to failure...

Sadly, every business and government sponsored education innovation for the past 40 years has resulted in harm to American schools. Standardized education, standardized testing, charter schools, school choice, vouchers, reading science, math and reading first, common core, value added measures to assess teachers and schools, mandatory third grade retention, computer based credit recovery, turnaround schools, turnaround districts, and more have been foisted on schools. None of these ideas percolated up from the classroom and all are doing harm.

This is a great article, written in 2015. How could I have missed it!

It was written by Salvator Babones, a professor of sociology at the University of Sydney and the Institute for Policy Studies.

He begins:

When did reform become a dirty word? Thirty years of education reform have brought a barren, test-bound curriculum that stigmatizes students, vilifies teachers, and encourages administrators to commit wholesale fraud in order to hit the testing goals that have been set for them. Strangely, reform has gone from being a progressive cause to being a conservative curse. It used to be that good people pursued reform to make the world a better place, usually by bringing public services under transparent, meritocratic, democratically governed public control. Today, reform more often involves firing people and dismantling public services in the pursuit of private gain. Where did it all go so wrong? Who stole our ever-progressing public sector, and in the process stole one of our most effective words for improving it?

At least so far as education reform is concerned, the answer is clear. The current age of education reform can be traced to the landmark 1983 report A Nation at Risk, subtitled “The Imperative for Educational Reform.” Future dictionaries may mark this report as the turning point when the definition of reform changed from cause to a curse. In 1981 Ronald Reagan’s first Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell appointed an 18-person commission to look into the state of US schools. He charged the commission with addressing “the widespread public perception that something is seriously remiss in our educational system.” The commission included 12 administrators, 1 businessperson, 1 chemist, 1 physicist, 1 politician, 1 conservative activist, and 1 teacher. No students or recent graduates. No everyday parents. No representatives of parents’ organizations. No social workers, school psychologists, or guidance counselors. No representatives of teacher’s unions (God forbid). Just one practicing teacher and not a single academic expert on education.

It should come as no surprise that a commission dominated by administrators found that the problems of U.S. schools were mainly caused by lazy students and unaccountable teachers. Administrative incompetence was not on the agenda. Nor were poverty, inequality, and racial discrimination. A Nation at Risk began from the assumption that our public schools were failing. Of course our public schools were failing. Our public schools are always failing. No investigative panel has ever found that our public schools are succeeding. But if public schools have been failing for so long—if they were already failing in 1983 and have been failing ever since—then very few of us alive today could possibly have had a decent education. So who are we to offer solutions for fixing these failing schools? We are ourselves the products of the very failing schools we propose to fix.


“A Nation at Risk” was published in 1983. It launched the false narrative that American public schools were failing. The nation was in recession, and the authors of the report blamed the schools. When the economy improved, no one said, “Oops, we were wrong about the schools.”

In this article, James Harvey and David Berliner reflect on what the report said, and what needs to change to create real reform.

Although there is powerful evidence of significant improvement in American schools since 1971, as Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama’s first secretary of education, recently noted, “A Nation at Risk” itself ignored that evidence in favor of launching what turned into a “shock and awe” campaign that promoted a consistent narrative of school failure.

Part of the shock and awe campaign used the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  With the encouragement of Secretary Bennett and his allies, this excellent assessment was diverted from its original purpose of measuring what students at various grade levels actually know to a new goal: judging what students at various grade levels should know.

Adding to the confusion, NAEP’s governing body, the National Assessment Governing Board, adopted three vague terms to define performance benchmarks: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. Almost nobody understands what these terms mean. Analysts, journalists, and state officials use the term “proficient” as the barometer of success despite the fact that the government has consistently maintained that what most people would consider to be proficient performance would not meet NAEP’s definition of proficiency.

So we are told every few years that only about a third of our students are “proficient” in reading or mathematics under NAEP’s benchmarks as though that were information of great value. Yet it is clear from recent research published by the National Superintendents Roundtable and the Horace Mann League (“How High the Bar?”) that the vast majority of students in most nations cannot clear the NAEP bar of “proficiency.”

Indeed, government officials acknowledge that to understand how many students in the United States are performing at grade level, the appropriate benchmark to examine is “basic,” not “proficient.“

What to Do?

Nobody should think for a minute that there aren’t very real problems with learning in America.  There’s a lot to be done.  But we’re not going to solve our school problems by exaggerating them or by misleading the public about school quality.

It is simply not true that American schools are failing 60 percent or more of their students, as NAEP’s proficient benchmark suggests. NAEP’s data indicate that nearly 70 percent of fourth graders are performing on grade level in reading, with 80 percent performing on grade level in mathematics. For 8th graders, the rates are 76 and 70 percent, respectively. While it would be gratifying to see higher numbers, these results are a much better guide to action than the deceptive picture of failure painted by the misleading term “proficient.”

“How High the Bar?” recommends that NAEP adopt benchmarks used by international education assessments, such as low, intermediate, high, and advanced. These terms provide a much more neutral and accurate take on student achievement.

It’s time also that we put an end to educational policy-making grounded in testing and tax cuts. As the recent wave of statewide protests across the nation indicates, educators are tired of standing by, their dignity under assault while their incomes stagnate and books and buildings fall apart.

Of course we should build more flexibility into the system, along with more variety and greater responsiveness to student and parent preferences.

Finally, we should go back to some of the advice the excellence commission received during its hearings but tossed aside in developing its report.  Oddly, President George H.W. Bush adopted some of these ideas in his “America 2000” program. Make sure all infants have a decent start in life so that they’re “ready” when school begins.  Worry about the 80 percent of their waking hours that students spend outside the school walls.  Provide adequate health care for children and a living wage for working parents, along with affordable day-care.

We can’t afford these things? Nonsense!  The United States is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. It can certainly provide its citizens with the basics that other nations provide to theirs.

Please read this wonderful statement!

Willam Mathis is Vice-Chairman of the Vermont Board of Education and Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center.

Losing our Purpose, Measuring the Wrong Things.

“Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.”

■ Thomas Jefferson

“For our first 200 years, the paramount purpose for building and sustaining universal public education was to nurture democracy. Written into state constitutions, education was to consolidate a stew of different languages, religious affiliations, ethnic groups and levels of fortune into a working commonwealth.

“As Massachusetts’ constitutional framers wrote, “Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, (is) necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties….”

In the nineteenth century, Horace Mann, father of the common schools movement, said “Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men – the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” Through the twentieth century, the popular view was that universal education would produce an equal and democratic society.

“Pulitzer Prize historian Lawrence Cremin and economist John Kenneth Galbraith viewed the GI bill’s educational entitlements as the key building blocks of the strongest democracy and economic power in world history.

“As a result, higher education became democratized and millions were lifted into the middle class. The nation was at the zenith of world influence and democratic parity.

“But our social progress is checkered. Residential segregation and unequal opportunities still blight our society, economy and schools. Unfortunately, rather than addressing politically unpopular root causes, it was far more convenient to demand schools solve these problems.

“The Shift in Educational Purposes – No serious effort was made to assure equal opportunities, for example. Thus, the achievement gap was finessed by blaming the victim.

“Instead of advancing democracy, our neediest schools were underfunded. The new purpose, test-based reform, appealed to conservatives because it sounded tough and punitive; to liberals because it illuminated the plainly visible problems; and it was cheap – the costs were passed on to the schools.

“​Having high test scores was falsely linked to national economic performance. In hyperbolic overdrive, the 1983 Nation at Risk report thundered,”the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

“After 35 years of this same Chicken Little jeremiad, the nation is still the premier economy of the world, leads the world in patents, registers record high stock prices, and is second in international manufacturing. (For the nation as a whole, the independent Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that we do not have a math and science shortage).

“By declaring schools “failures,” public monies were increasingly diverted to private corporations. Yet, after a half-century of trials, there is no body of evidence that shows privatized schools are better or less expensive. Large-scale voucher programs actually show substantial score declines. The plain fact is that privatization, even at its best, does not have sufficient power to close the achievement gap — but it segregates. It imperils the unity of schools and society. This proposed solution works against the very democratic and equity principles for which public systems were formed.

“The Genius of American Civilization – As a nation, our genius is in when we work with common and united purpose. We came together and defined nationhood with the common schools movement. We recovered and rebuilt our society and our economy with the New Deal and the GI bill. Education became universal and we protected the poor and those with special needs with considerable success.

“Regrettably, we are still dealing with echoes of our great civil war, economic segregation is greater than what we saw in the gilded age, environmental catastrophes threaten entire species, economic uncertainty unsteadies many, health care is still unresolved, and our federal government’s lack of stability has reached crisis levels. We are torn by a new racism, bigotry and selfishness.

“If our purpose is a democratic and equitable society, test scores take us off-purpose. They distract our attention. Rather, our success is measured by how well we enhance health in our society, manifest civic virtues, behave as a society, and dedicate ourselves to the common good. Jefferson reminds us, “If the children are untaught, their ignorance and vices will in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences than it would have done in their correction by a good education.”

“The great balance wheel turns slowly. We must select leaders who embrace higher purposes and in John Dewey’s words, choose people who will expand our heritage of values, make the world more solid and secure, and more generously share it with those that come after us.”

William J. Mathis is vice-chair of the Vermont Board of Education and is the Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of any group with which he is affiliated.

NPE Action exists to fight school privatization and to demand better resourced, more equitable schools.

Here is the latest news on the privatization front.

Good News! House Bill HR 610, the School Choice Act, Appears to Have Stalled

HR 610 was written to eliminate the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was passed as a part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” and to create block grants to “distribute a portion of funds to parents who elect to enroll their child in a private school or to home-school their child.” It would also lower nutritional standards for free or reduced priced lunches.

Thanks to your efforts, the Network for Public Education generated over 32,000 emails to members of the U.S. House of Representatives in opposition to this bill. That is a job well done, members!

Be our Eyes and Ears in Your State

Voucher bills and bills that expand charter schools are popping up in nearly every state. When we learn of such bills, we create an action alert that produces a barrage of emails to lawmakers. We need your help in keeping us up to date.

Become a member of our state alert system. If you know of a bill in your state that would promote vouchers, so-called education savings accounts, or tax credit funded “scholarships” to private schools, let us know using the form below. If there is a bill that would expand charter schools or reduce their governing regulations, tell us.

You can find the sign-up form here. Please be sure to save it in your favorites for easy access.

We will then investigate the bill and help mobilize activists in your state.

NPE Action Welcomes Tina Andres to its Board of Directors

Tina Andres has been a public school teacher for 30 years in Santa Ana, California. She has taught elementary special education classes and middle school mathematics for 25 years. She has served as a math curriculum specialist, and mentored over 50 student teachers from public universities throughout her career. Tina is married with two children who attend Santa Ana schools. She is an active member of NEA and CTA and serves on the State Council. Tina is also a member of the BATs Board of Directors. She is a proud advocate for public schools. We welcome Tina to our NPE Action Board.

Are you a School Board Member? It’s Time to Organize!

NPE Action is creating a nationwide Grassroots School Board Members Network. If you are a member of a board of education, please sign up to join​.

This new grassroots group will provide a means by which you can share resolutions, actions, and communicate with like-minded board members who are intent on supporting and preserving public education.

We believe that School Boards are vital for democratically goverend public schools, and we want to fight with you to make sure that the public understands their importance. We will also provide resources and information.

There is no cost to you–our only motivation is to help you find like-minded board members with whom you can communicate in this important struggle to save our public schools from privatization.

If you would like to join, please fill out our short form that you can find here. If you are not a school board member, please share the form with a school board member.

G. F. Brandenburg, a fearless blogger who taught math for many years in the schools of D.C., writes here about the hypocrisy of reformer rhetoric. 


He writes:


If you look at the lingo used to justify all the horrendous crap being imposed by “Ed reform”, you’ll see that it’s all couched in lefty-liberal civil rights language. But its results are anything but. Very strange.


He takes, for example, the flowery language used to recruit college students to join Teach for America. They are led to believe that their presence will reduce the achievement gap and bring us closer to the day when all children, regardless of zip code, get an excellent education.



He writes:


GFB: However, the way TFA works in practice is that the kids who need the most experienced, skillful teachers, instead get total newbies straight out of college with no teaching experience, no mentoring, and courses on how to teach whatever subject they are they are assigned to. Their five weeks of summer training are mostly rah-rah cheerleading and browbeating. Their only classroom experiences during that summer are a dozen or so hours teaching a handful of kids, **in a subject or grade level totally different from whatever they will be randomly assigned to**.

What underprivileged students do NOT need is an untrained newbie who won’t stick with them. If anything, this policy INCREASES the ‘achievement gap’.


He then proposes 17 ideas that would actually improve the lives of children and their education. Begin, he says, by getting non-educators out of the drivers’ seat.


Get people who don’t have actual, extensive teaching or research experience out of the command and control centers of education except as advisors. So, no Michelle Rhee, Andre Agassi, Arne Duncan, Billionaire Broad at the helm.


Read his other good ideas, and add your own.



Rebecca Mead writes in The New Yorker that the presidential campaign has almost entirely overlooked K-12 education. The subject never came up in the presidential debates (nor did climate change).

She writes:

Unsurprisingly, the candidates differ as much on their approach to education as they do on virtually every other issue, as the Washington Post outlined in a helpful analysis earlier this month. In September, Donald Trump delivered a speech at the Cleveland Arts and Sciences Academy, a charter school in Cleveland, Ohio, in which he offered his vision, though not before delivering an extended peroration about the perfidies of his Democratic opponent—e-mail, Iraq, the Clinton Foundation—unrelated to educational concerns. When he did get around to his own proposals, he spoke of expanding existing school-choice programs, promising that in a Trump Administration twenty billion dollars of federal education funds would be reassigned to provide a block grant enabling the eleven million students living in poverty to attend the private or public school of their parents’ choice. “Competition always does it,” he said. “The weak fall out and the strong get better. It is an amazing thing.” He advocated merit pay for teachers, stated his opposition to Common Core, and spoke in favor of charter schools and against teachers’ unions. “It’s time for our country to start thinking big and correct once again,” he declared, thereby failing to meet the second-grade Common Core standard 2.1.E. (“Use adjectives and adverbs, and choose between them depending on what is to be modified.”)

Clinton has a long-standing commitment to educational issues; as First Lady of Arkansas, in 1983, she headed a committee to improve academic achievement among the state’s public-school students. She has declared the intention of “preparing, supporting, and paying every child’s teacher as if the future of our country is in their hands,” and has given some suggestions as to how that estimable goal would be accomplished. She has said that she will provide funding to increase the teaching of computer science; she has also pledged to fund the rebuilding of school infrastructure, and to address the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, whereby African-American and minority students are disproportionately subject to overly punitive disciplinary policies, often involving law enforcement, within the schools they attend; she would fund interventions in social and emotional learning, to the tune of two billion dollars.

Clinton has left us all guessing about charter schools, but she has a balancing act: She needs money to run her campaign (think DFER), and she needs to satisfy the her strong supporters, the teachers’ unions, whose very existence is put at risk by the growth of the non-union charter industry (more than 90% of charter schools are non-union).

But of this we can be sure: Trump is 100% aligned with the far-right that hates public schools and unions. He loves charter schools and vouchers. He thinks he will “get rid” of the Common Core, but he doesn’t know that the president does not have the power to do so. His surrogate Carl Paladino of Buffalo, New York, said that Trump would not put an educator in charge of the Department of Education. The Trump campaign seems to look at public education as a cancerous growth on American society.

A vote for Trump is a vote to cripple and perhaps abandon public education.

A vote for Clinton is a vote for a candidate who has some good ideas and who knows that Obama’s education policies have been unsuccessful. Many think she will continue the status quo, but count me as one who expects that she will look for ways to improve public schools, not destroy them.

Jersey Jazzman cringed (I imagine) as he watched Donald Trump Jr. spout off about the failures of American public education. Young Trump wants all children to have the same choices that he had. That’s what makes great education, right? Choice.

But Jersey Jazzman (aka teacher and doctoral student Mark Weber) knows that all children will never have the same choices that the son of a billionaire had.

Trump Jr. said:

Growing up, my siblings and I, we were truly fortunate to have choices and options that others don’t have. We want all Americans to have those same opportunities. Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class. Now, they’re stalled on the ground floor. They’re like Soviet era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers. For the teachers and the administrators and not the students.

You know why other countries do better on K through 12?* They let parents choose where to send their own children to school. That’s called competition. It’s called the free market. And it’s what the other party fears. They fear it because they’re more concerned about protecting the jobs of tenured teachers than serving the students in desperate need of a good education.

Don Trump Jr. and his brother Eric attended The Hill School in Pottstown, PA, where the tuition for boarding students is $55,600 per year. (Ivanka attended the Choate School, another elite boarding school.) The student-teacher ratio at the Hill School is 7:1. The average class size is 12-14 students. Many of the teachers get free housing on campus. The facilities, the academic curriculum, the extra-curricular activities, and the sports offerings are splendiferous.

Don Trump Jr. is right! All children should “have those same opportunities.”

But that means spending much more money on education, not giving kids a voucher worth $7,000. How about a voucher worth $55,000 so they can go to the Hill School or Choate?

Jersey Jazzman gives almost equal heat to Hillary, not because she sent Chelsea to Sidwell Friends (a choice also made by the Obamas, the Nixons, and Al Gore), but because she has not addressed the need to increase funding for the schools with the greatest needs.

Since George H.W. Bush in 1988, every president has promised to be the “Education President,” but none has been willing to make sure that the nation’s schools have the resources they need for the children they enroll. Instead they prefer to push choice or testing or standards or some other “fix” that fixes nothing.

The US Department of Education reported that the high school graduation rate rose to another historic high.

The rate represents those who graduated in four years. It does not include those who graduated in August or took five years to graduate. The overall graduation rate of the population 18-24 is higher than the four-year rate. Sometimes I think it was set at precisely four years to make the schools look bad. Personally, I think both rates should be reported at the same time: the four-year rate and the rate for the group 18-24, which shows a truer picture.

It should also be noted that the pressure to raise graduation rates as a marker of success may have inflated the graduation rate through such dubious means as “credit recovery,” in which students who failed a course may get full credit by taking a short-cut program, often online, often fraudulent in terms of learning.

It should also be noted that the District of Columbia has the lowest graduation rate of any state (DC is reported in federal data as both a state and a city). DC is widely hailed as one of the stars of the corporate reform movement. It has been under mayoral control since 2007, when Michelle Rhee took charge as chancellor. Bill Gates once said it would take a decade to know if “this stuff” works. The clock is ticking. Maybe he meant to say two decades or three.

When I was a young historian, back in the 1970s, I would occasionally search for a fact about American education in the nineteenth or early twentieth century to help me write an article or book. There was no Internet. I wasn’t sure which books had the right statistics. So I invariably called the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education (actually there was no Department of Education until 1980 [Congress passed the legislation in 1979, and the Department became operational in 1980]; the NCES was the longstanding research and statistics arm of the U.S. Office of Education). The federal role in education began in 1867 under President Andrew Johnson with the creation of a Department of Education, whose sole mission was to collect and disseminate information on the condition and progress of education in the United States. In 1868, however, due to fears that the new Department might eventually seek to exert control over state and local education policy, the Department was demoted to the U.S. Office of Education. Its central purpose, the collection and dissemination of accurate information, is today the role of the NCES.


When I called for information, there was one person who knew where to find whatever I was looking for. Not opinion or interpretation, just the facts. His name was Vance Grant. He invariably took my calls and just as invariably found the answer, if it existed in federal records.


In 1991, I became Assistant Secretary in charge of OERI (the Office of Education Research and Improvement) and NCES was part of my agency–the most important part. I met Vance Grant, and I had an idea. Why not assemble all the historical data into a publication? With the help of the very able career staff at NCES, especially Tom Snyder and Vince Grant, and with the help of historian Maris Vinovskis, who had taken a leave at my request from the University of Michigan to work with OERI staff, the publication became a reality.


It is called 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait.


I can say now in retrospect that this publication was the most useful thing I did during my two years in the federal government.


You too can browse its pages and charts and graphs via the Internet to see the growth of education in the United States.


Although not many people know of its existence, it is still the only reliable source of historical data on American education.