The Education Reform Oligarchy: How They Used Us

The education reform oligarchy set an agenda, carefully selected their mode of operations, and agreed upon the bait. They developed a vision, knew what they needed to do, how to do it, and they had the monetary and political support to move a nation to do their bidding. They used us to advance their plan.

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NOTE: Published in 1983.

With wisely selected words, they tapped into our frustration with bureaucracies and BIG government while marketing their wares, following their map, and sticking to their strategies — repeatedly and relentlessly.

They used mass messaging, mass media, and massively powerful organizations to launch and continue to float THEIR mass movement. Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 11.41.31 AMTo succeed with their plan, the oligarchy needed to undermine what was a strong public institution.

There was never any dispute that schools need to constantly be improving themselves and that unequal access to quality education exists because of socioeconomic factors.

And the oligarchy always claimed their plan was about systemic improvements.

At this point, I challenge the notion that their agenda was ever about educational improvement.

Published May, 1986

Published May, 1986

Did they really care about this country’s future?

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American Federation of Teachers, National School Board Association, and the National Education Association went along with the recommendations while ignoring the fact that the plan was market-based from its inception.

Business people look at markets. The oligarchy faced a fact, parents liked their schools. So, they expanded their market shares by creating an illusion of need. Their public persuasion took several forms.

This 1986 public poll shows that very few parents think their schools are failing.

This 1986 public poll shows that very few parents thought their schools were failing. (For the record, I’m one of the few.)

THEY TARGETED A POPULATION:

The marketing plan needed to target a politically active portion of the population who mostly lacked any real contact with —or direct knowledge of— the reality of our schools.

May 27, 1986

Voters understand that to get better jobs, you have to have better schools,” said [then] Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

August 26, 1986

“…parents are a declining percentage of the voting population in this country. It will not be sufficient to have just the parents in favor of better schools. We have got to have the retired population understanding that their future Social Security payments depend upon the earnings of kids who are now going into school.” —Mr. Lewis Branscomb , IBM scientist at the National Governors Association (NGA) meeting.

Was this about better schools or the education market?

“…the knowledge-based economy… ‘What 
is industry in a knowledge-based economy?’ The answer is the education industry.” —Mr. Lewis Branscomb, IBM, NGA meeting.

“Can we do education as an investment, a moneymaking profitable investment?” —Mr. Bradford Butler, Procter & Gamble, NGA meeting.

They had a financial target — to grow the education industry. (Now globally a $4.4 Trillion industry.)

They knew what was needed

“I think the key to engaging a long-term interest and commitment of companies is the adoption of a reform strategy…” Mr. Lewis Branscomb, 1986 NGA meeting.

THEY TAPPED INTO OUR VALUES and CORE BELIEFS.

We wanted assurances that our schools would improve; they sold us test-based accountability. We value freedom of choice and know how important parents are to a child’s education; they peddled school choice as parental involvement.

We have repeatedly asked for better-prepared teachers with a decent salary to match; they put forth merit pay and career ladders based on an unproven, and now statistically dis-proven, theory of reforms. The basis, “standards.” The weapon, “testing.” The attraction, “accountability.”

The standards, testing, accountability movement was rolling forward.

THEY USED OUR GOVERNMENT RESOURCES.

Regional educational laboratories that were established in 1965 to do research and development were used to push the outcome-based strategy.

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New Standards Project was Marc Tucker’s project. He is the director of NCEE (National Center on Education and the Economy).

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Source: It began as one of our regional educational laboratories. Now McREL International.

THEY USED OUR SYSTEM OF GOVERNING.

From 1991 to 1993, Lamar Alexander was secretary of education with Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch serving as his counsel and being responsible for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

What is most notable about this time-frame, other than the advancement of standardization, is what did not happen.

  • The Sandia Report was not discussed — it clarified many reform issues.
  • The warnings of the Education Counts panel were ignored —so we moved on with test-based accountability instead of a system that measures what matters.

THEY USED OUR LAWS to continue putting the outcome-based theory into practice throughout the states, as planned…

“…the Governors were the key to the necessary revolution in school policy.” Marc Tucker, 1986 NGA meeting.

And just like they created a false market for “financial products,” they did the same with the education market.…”To Market, To Market: The School Business Sells Kids Short

“Mary Tanner, managing director at Lehman Brothers, which sponsored the first educational investment conference last year, compares it to health care – ‘a local industry that over time will become a global business.’”

Then as tragedy hit us on  9/11/2001, the federalization of their movement moved forward without much national discussion. With billions on the line, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) sealed the deal with the wording “accountability, flexibility, and choice.” And once again, our government structure was used to support their goals. Instead of research centers, NCLB put in place technical assistance Comprehensive Centers. Now those centers are being used for a new product. But standards and tests are only one product. They want it all!

We believe in having the freedom to choose but with schools, most didn't NEED to do so.

We believe in having the freedom to choose but with schools, most didn’t NEED to do so.

But with only 1 in 4 parents willing to choose a school other than their neighborhood one, the education market needed to expand further. The oligarchy went big on this one.

With the Eli Broad Foundation and Michigan Governor John Engler starting the ball rolling in 2002, the BROAD CENTER leadership development program was launched and their graduates landed (or were strategically placed) in our largest urban school districts to lead school turnarounds. Mostly, we saw disruption through school closures.

The biggest market shares were in the fifty largest cities where the "dropout factories" were ripe for plucking.

The biggest market shares were in the fifty largest cities where the “dropout factories” were ripe for school closures.

Marc Tucker’s National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) wasn’t far behind. He took a different approach to school closures but he continues, to this day, to use our money for his projects. Why isn’t that money going into public institutions?Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 10.16.34 PM

The oligarchy went on to use what they know will work… “disruptive innovation.”

“a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market , eventually displacing established competitors.”

Traditional public schools are seen as their competitors.

And they “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Hurricane Katrina – school closures and re-opening as privately run charters. The Great Recession – an opportunity to accelerate the whole money-making plan using our Recovery Act dollars.

Over and over, they dangled autonomy, better teacher pay, and better schools in front of us. THEY USED OUR INCESSANT WILLINGNESS TO SUPPORT SCHOOLS.CDjZ3EQUEAA0IZI

But, finally, the resistance to pseudo-reforms has been growing. It is a fight against the GERM – Global Education Reform Movement.

The oligarchy’s sustained campaign —outcome-based, neoliberal, greed-driven, pretense of reforms — isn’t unique to the U.S. because this is a global market. So what we see here in the U.S. is what is being seen the world over. We win a battle here and there but…

“…the same ‘reforms’ are again back after one year, albeit in a new package this time. What does this tells us? This tells us that even though the [resistance] movement was strong enough to highlight one specific and temporary aspect of the ‘reform’ agenda; it was not able to make popular the comprehensive critique of the whole process.”student-protests-cbcs-fyup

We need to see their whole process.

As resistance to “disruptive innovations” rise, THEY will use “intervention design thinking principles” to manage the challenges involved in getting us “to engage with and adopt innovative new ideas and experiences.” But remember “innovative” or “new” doesn’t mean better schools for our kids. It more likely means a repackaged education product.

When will this nightmare end? It will only end when enough of us see that the oligarchy has used us, and, only we —collectively—have the power to stop it.

Bush’s Education “Blueprint” Before 9/11

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Before 9/11 of 2001, there was an article printed in The Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts titled “Bush’s education blueprint bound to be inadequate.” It was published on September 6th.360_bush_sep_11_classroom_hfs_0502

Bush’s education blueprint became No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

The national discussion of the issues with this reauthorization of federal education law never rose above the rubble left behind by the unfathomable reality of that terrible September day. NCLB’s importance paled in comparison.

I’m presenting the essence of the inadequacies presented in that September 6th article— now— not to point blame at anything or anyone but in hopes of bringing up the conversations that were buried by the 9/11 national tragedy.

About Bush’s education blueprint, Gary Ratner wrote:

“Its approach —increasing accountability— does not address the fundamental need: providing effective teaching, challenging curriculum and family support for all students.”

“If we are serious about maximizing the possibility of all students succeeding, we must provide these conditions for all students.”

“…merely intensifying pressure on employees to improve performance does not succeed where they lack the required knowledge and skills.”

Ratner recommended that President Bush follow a different approach by breaking the chore of school improvement into doable, logical, targeted pieces based on what we know to be common elements of effective schools.

As to curriculum, make it challenging for all classes, for all students.

As to existing teachers, make their professional development directly relevant to improving classroom instruction specific to their needs and the needs of their students. Ensure this happens through a targeted investment in professional development budgets. And, provide better education and training for principals and superintendents so that they are better able to support teachers in improving instruction.

As to future teachers, financially support improvements in teacher preparation, and personally support those individuals seeking to become teachers as well as those existing teachers wishing to advance their education.

As to family supports for student learning, expand adult education programs and parenting skills classes as well as mentoring programs for the students who do not have sufficient family supports.

None of this is new. Some of this is even in the newest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But, it is buried under the weight of the standards, testing, and accountability movements’ failed mechanisms of reform that have crippled our educational progress.

We do not have unlimited resources. We must make wise investments in our future.

Ask yourselves, has the progress been adequate enough to meet the needs of our students, our teachers, our families, and our nation?statue-of-libertyCan you see a better way forward?

What Debate?

The marketing campaign to FIX No Child Left Behind began back in January with announcements that there would be debate.

A draft of the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015 was released and many newspapers and education associations picked up the story including the American Educational Research Association.

“The draft bill contains several provisions related to research. If enacted, the bill would task the Institute of Education Sciences with evaluating Title I activities. In addition, state plans submitted to the Department of Education would be approved unless the department presented “substantial high-quality education research” that demonstrated that a plan would be ineffective or inappropriate. The bill does not define high-quality education research.

Alexander has made it clear that he hopes to have a substantial discussion about ESEA.”

Discussion? Debate? Both are important and citizens should have been included to help shape and direct the debate about “fixing” the law. After-all, we were the ones who were subjected to the consequences of bad ideas being passed by congress and signed into law, in this case, by then President Bush. And there was never an official parental complaint process!

But instead of the anticipated discussion, Senator Alexander immediately directed “the debate” to the topic of Testing and Accountability while avoiding the topic of national standards themselves by pacifying people with his standard “no national school board” meaningless rhetoric. And the marketers changed the law’s name to get away from the identifying language of the controversial Common Core Initiative (College or Career Ready). The Every Child Achieves Act proved to be more palatable.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 4.32.20 PMHow did the so-called debate go? Both the House and Senate bills to replace NCLB maintained the yearly standardized testing for accountability purposes in math and language arts just like in NCLB. What they did do, to sell this fallacy of test-based accountability again, was shift the responsibility for accountability mechanisms to the States. Does that change the problem with high-stakes testing? No. Resources focused on testing are spent. They can’t be used for other things.

But to appease the arts groups, the Senate threw them a bone.

“By naming music and arts as core subjects in the Every Child Achieves Act, the Senate has acknowledged and begun to address the national problem of the narrowing of the curriculum that has taken place under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for more than a decade now.”

How that will “work” in already underfunded and under-performing schools is questionable but these groups base their feeling of success right now on hope. And they now feel their voices have been heard —one group appeased.

The next topic Alexander approved for a “hearing” was that of Supporting Teachers and School Leaders. Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 4.32.28 PMAfterwards, Senator Murray delivered statements that sounded much like what we have heard for years —expressing things upon which we generally agree.

But in the bill itself, although teacher residency programs are prominent in the “definitions” section, it is other elements of teacher and school leadership development and evaluation that dominate the law. Federal “incentives” for teacher and school leader certification and licensing (aligned with challenging standards), alternative routes to teaching, and “reforming” tenure systems are all included. These things are not supported by research as being effective “to ensure that ever child achieves” —the purpose of the law.

And looking at the bigger picture, both the House and Senate versions claim to be shifting the control to the States. In the very real world of D.C. politics, certain organizations that represent the States stand to greatly increase their influence. Take the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO, chief creators of the Common Core Standards System) for example.

CCSSO has a teacher and principal preparation program ready to go. They have included multiple new elements requiring the expansion of technology and data collection systems including….Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.25.04 PMand…Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.26.45 PMThey have it under CONTROL. Kept in mind, CCSSO is a non-governmental organization that has no responsibility for being responsive to the public’s desires. They are in no way accountable to us. And they have had their sights set on ESEA reauthorization for years —the same number of years as the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

They have a “new deal” for us and for themselves it looks like. We should debate who’s goals they represent.

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Did we get to debate any of this? No, it was set in motion years ago with no public participation. Remember, there was no official complaint process for No Child Left Behind and these actions don’t fix that.

No record; no accountability. No debate, only a very controlled dog-and-pony show.

The House and Senate bills passed their respective houses proving that On The Hill, “We mean business on K-12 education.” Those in the education industry know that to be the truth!

Here’s how the market-based reformers see it….

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 9.19.33 PMExpanding charters and retaining annual testing ARE in both bills. But wasn’t that federal mandate at the heart of the problem?

Charters? Never debated. Never research proven to be an improvement over existing public schools. Not a reform.debate

“Streamlining” is a questionable term since programs are actually being CUT and we can’t debate whether or not that is a good thing since we don’t know specifically which ones are being cut other than the School Improvement Grants (which had some useful but never openly discussed results).

Transparency? Increased transparency? I don’t see it. Do they mean like we saw with Common Core<sarc>? Do they mean like we might get if the media covered what is really happening instead of what information is released? Do they mean transparency like we might develop if topics were openly debated in public and the alternative view WAS allowed to be heard?

Have we even had public officials openly debate what was wrong with No Child Left Behind? How do they know if they “fixed” it if the problems was never fully exposed?

Obviously the marketers know what people want to hear; on that, they did their research.

We want to hear that education reform was honestly discussed and debated. But, the question remains…

JFKdebate…what debate?

Double Standard

670085Some say it is a matter of black and white. Some say it is a matter of rich and poor. Some say the double standard in educational opportunity goes both ways — racial and socioeconomic.

“The nation is clearly no longer content with mediocrity, with just ‘getting by.’ It is demanding excellent education for all. Quality education has come to imply integration, for a white child taught in isolation is a deprived child. It implies an end to the double standard in education, a double standard that gives high-quality schooling to students in exclusive suburbs and inferior schooling to children in slums, that gives preference to some states over others.” —Francis (Frank) Keppel, architect of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

In the battle for access to quality learning opportunities, discrimination runs the gamut.

As this young man explains in Academic Imperialism

“Less conspicuous is the soft bigotry of educational ‘norming,’ that operates on the false binary of achievement and its diametric opposite of under-achievement….

When fourth-grade reading scores are paramount to forecasting prison matriculates, the social fabric is not only torn but also seismic shifted from protecting vulnerable members of our society, ….

If the idyllic version of community-centric schools is an expression of social inclusion of knowledge, then youth incarceration represents the symbiotic underside of social exclusion.”

How is it we have not found the will to address the issues so poetically articulated here?

“To follow historical trends, colonization is a magician that erases student identities and self-interest without the reciprocal chains of transcontinental slavery. It’s legacy still lives in today’s standards of high achievement…

The subtext of colonization is always ownership and representation. Whose veritable voice continues to echo throughout history but fails to reach the curriculum that serves its offspring? This is the soft bigotry of hidden curriculum.”

Very plainly stated, in The Crucial Voice,…Now would be a good time to consider the view of M. R. Olneck that, in addition to inputs and outputs, ‘two other concepts may serve as the basis for judgments about equal opportunity: representation and participation.’ We must have ‘participation in the process to have our ideas about what successful schooling is and how it should be judged represented . . .. In the absence of equal representation and participation, unequal outcomes are likely to persist since the terms of success are dictated by dominant groups’ (Gamoran, A., and D. A. Long. Equality of Educational Opportunity: A 40-Year Retrospective. Wisconsin Center for Education Research, December, 2006, p17).

IS it unreasonable to expect representation and participation in deciding how to judge equality of opportunity in our schools? This isn’t just about tests. This is about people deciding what success looks like for children. It isn’t all measurable.

And when it is clearly recognized that standardized tests don’t measure the quality of education and that tests are biased, why don’t we demand representation and participation when it comes to deciding what constituents student success and equal opportunity?

Is it ignorance, stupidity, apathy, self-imposed blindness, self-absorption? … I don’t know bobby-scott-bobby-scott-the-promise-of-equal-educational-opportunity… but obviously, offering quality learning opportunities to all K-12 children has not been a national priority. People always think it should be easy, just do what Finland did. Well, their first step was to make improving the quality of education a national priority.

In 1991, researchers acknowledged that this very issue of consensus would be a problem for America. But we never discussed or acknowledged it to be a problem. The only thing on this list that we have

Perspectives on Education in America, Summary from the Sandia Report, 1993.

Perspectives on Education in America, Summary from the Sandia Report, 1993.

addressed is data and really went overboard with it!

 

 

 

 

 

But let’s look at the BIGGEST double standard in our education reform process — federal education law.

We people have been taught that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Both Congress and President Obama need to be called-out on this one! Do they not know what the aim, purposes, and reasons for the titles of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) were? Their ignorance of this law is no excuse for perpetuating the pretense of reform set by No Child Left Behind and its “accountability, flexibility, and choice.”

There is a fix for ignorance; it’s called education.

But maybe I’m wrong; maybe it isn’t ignorance that has kept them beating the test-based “reform” drum. If it isn’t ignorance that has set the nation on the wrong path, what is it? Political ideology? Putting politics ahead of children’s needs?

Is it the pretense of reform set by free-market competition?

When competition for dollars splits us into groups each groping for a share of the pie, we lose sight of the real meaning of fairness. Each time we set up a public school education “program” that is not strictly aimed at meeting individual children’s needs, we are setting up a practice that will potentially discriminate. In these ways, we become divided in the quest for quality learning opportunities for all children in America.

“Equality, in the American sense of the word, is not an end but a beginning. It means that, so far as the state can do it, all children shall start in the race of life on an even line. The chief agency for this purpose is the public school system.”—Edwin E. Slosson

In the past, some have seen the need for the public school system to offer equal opportunity. Some do now. So how is it we have not ended the double standard in education? Should we call it a double standard? Should we call it inequality? Should we call it discrimination?

How about soft bigotry?

How about calling your Senator before the July 7th vote on the Every Child Achieves Act (S.1177) and simply telling them to vote NO. Their version only continues the mindset that we obtain quality education for all through “accountability, flexibility, and choice.” After following that belief for 13 years, we know it isn’t true.

It’s time we demand they go back to the original law for guidance. It’s time to demand they #GetESEAright !

If this nation cares about poverty-stricken children getting a fair shot, this law is one avenue through which to do it. But neither the House Student Success Act nor the Senate Every Child Achieves Act has the original aim in mind.

Obama’s Education Platform

I never liked Senator Obama’s education platform. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that too much of it reflected the outcome-based theory that is the basis of No Child Left Behind and the cause of the “unintended consequences” this country experienced as a result of its adoption.That doesn’t mean that Mr. Obama didn’t put forth some good ideas. He did.

Senator Obama spoke of…

an education agenda that moves beyond party and ideology, and focuses instead on what will make the most difference in a child’s life.”

And his  stance on education was most thoroughly and clearly expressed in Ohio.

“Closing the achievement gap that exists in too many cities and rural areas is right. More accountability is right. Higher standards are right.

But I’ll tell you what’s wrong with No Child Left Behind: forcing our teachers, our principals and our schools to accomplish all of this without the resources they need is wrong.”

And “…we have to make sure that subjects like art and music are not being crowded out of the curriculum.”

So at that moment in time, September 9, 2008, he stood firmly on the failed theory that standards and tests reform schools, but, he grasped the idea that resources —supporting children, families, and school personnel— were required to not only achieve test scores but to also provide a broad and varied curriculum that defines “quality” education. He almost had a clear vision for real reform.

But thus far, he has done what those before him did; he focused on the easier path of standards and testing.

His ideas back then,

“…a new Service Scholarship program that will recruit top talent into the profession, and place these new teachers in overcrowded districts and struggling rural towns, or hard-to-staff subjects like special education, in schools across the nation.”

“…more Teacher Residency Programs … especially in math and science.”

“…expand mentoring programs that pair experienced, successful teachers with new recruits.”

“…access to quality after-school and summer school and extended school days for students who need it.”

As the New York Times wrote,

In his last major educational speech of the campaign, Mr. Obama said: “It’s been Democrat versus Republican, vouchers versus the status quo, more money versus more reform. There’s partisanship and there’s bickering, but no understanding that both sides have good ideas.”

And he made the choice of Mr. Arne Duncan for Secretary of Education because as the director of educational policy at the Business Roundtable, Susan Traiman, said;

“Both camps will be O.K. with the pick!”

The Business Roundtable accurately represents one camp.

Political camps? What about reform philosophy? What about Obama’s education platform?

Mr. Duncan once wrote,

“When organizations and individuals harness their resources to support children and families, both schools and neighborhoods benefit….By inviting parents and diverse stakeholders into the school reform effort, we can collectively raise education to the next level in our neighborhoods and across the country.”

Problem? The political camps aren’t inviting everyday parents or welcoming diverse ideas. Their ideology is set. And obviously there is no understanding of the fact that the people working day-to-day with the children are the ones who are in a position to best identify and support “what will make the most difference in a child’s life.”barack-obama-quotes-4

We folks who care about our children shouldn’t need an invitation.That door should be open; these are our schools. And I’d be willing to bet that none of us invited the Business Roundtable to come save our schools! These groups could go away and not be missed.

But the politics of education reform isn’t going away any time soon; the camps have dug their trenches. What we can do is minimize the damage.

President Obama’s introduction to A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act included these words,

“We must recognize the importance of communities and families in supporting their children’s education, because a parent is a child’s first teacher. We must support families, communities, and schools working in partnership to deliver services and supports that address the full range of student needs.”

But the Blueprint did not reflect the rhetoric. It more accurately reflected the Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee camp which is a big one! It reflected the plans of those who support an illusion of reform based on testing, labeling, closing, and chartering our schools. four pillars of ed takeoverMeanwhile, a concept expressed by both the president and his secretary of education, that of community-based school improvement that was once favored by these men, was written into the Blueprint in a manner doomed to fail. The choice of wording was divisive.Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.44.08 PMAny education writers savvy to the politics in this country would not have stated the community education concept like that! These words had to have been written intending to draw fire from the right-wing. They are a politically divisive choice of words that takes a great concept and makes it sound like a federal take-over of our children.

So this is where we need to ask, was this administration sabotaged or simply swayed by the prevailing politics of “reform”?

I always wondered, but I’m no longer sure it matters. What matters is where we go from here. We could still follow the Obama vision even though he hasn’t.

Accountability?

“…in Washington [it] starts by making sure that every tax dollar spent by the Department of Education is being spent wisely. When I’m president, programs that work will get more money. Programs that don’t work or just create more bureaucracy and paperwork and administrative gridlock will get less money.”

I want you to hold me accountable. And that’s why every year I’m president, I will report back to you on the progress our schools are making because it’s time to stop passing the buck on education and start accepting responsibility. And that’s the kind of example I’ll set as president of the United States.”

Accountability?

“In the end, responsibility for our children’s success doesn’t start in Washington, it starts in our homes. It starts in our families. Because no education policy can replace a parent who’s involved in their child’s education from day one – who makes sure their children are in school on time, helps them with their homework after dinner, and attends those parent- teacher conferences. No government program can turn off the TV set or put away the video games or read to your children.”

Accountability?

“But we can help parents do a better job. That’s why I’ll create a parents report card…

…we need to hold our government accountable. Yes, we have to hold our schools accountable. But we also have to hold ourselves accountable.”

Yes We Can. By all means, let’s call for accountability.

Civil Disobedience

Test refusal is an act of civil disobedience.

52 years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. explained the chain of events that typically leads to civil disobedience and the reasons it must occur.

Civil disobedience landed MLK in the Birmingham jail where he penned these words on April 16, 1963.

Civil disobedience landed MLK in the Birmingham jail where he penned these words on April 16, 1963.

“IN ANY nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.”

The United Opt Out Movement is a campaign to, among other things, end high-stakes testing that has been firmly embedded in public schools through the No Child Left Behind law.. (and now continues with the Every Student Succeeds Act)…

As Dr. King explained it:

“There are just laws, and there are unjust laws…. A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law… Any law that degrades human personality is unjust… [it] distorts the soul and damages the personality…. [creating a] false sense of inferiority.”

Over-emphasis on standardized tests’ importance, their over-administration, and the inappropriate uses of standardized tests have made children, teachers, whole schools and districts feel inferior — most falsely so since these narrowly focused, single-point-in-time tests cannot accurately judge the quality of education nor diagnose an underlying condition with any accuracy. It’s like taking a temperature, blood pressure reading, or monitoring thyroid levels; they can change simply based on the time of day.

So…..

Step 1 in the campaign: Facts on testing and No Child Left Behind are clear. Research and time has verified the truth.

I’ll never forget being in a meeting of the Idaho Assessment and Accountability Commission and hearing person-after-person get up and testify to the absurdity of the test-based (outcome-based) mechanism of “accountability” that was about to go forward. The words “we are headed for a train wreck” still echo in my mind. Well, we are there.

Step 2 in the campaign: Negotiations were attempted repeatedly at the local, state, and federal levels.

And throughout the years, multitudes of people scattered across the country, separated by distance, differing ideologies, political party affiliation, socioeconomic stature, race, and a whole host of issues including the divisive topic of how to “fix” schools all continued trying to derail the standardization and privatization of our institution of public education.

“We realized that we were the victims of a broken promise.”…

“We did not move irresponsibly into direct action.”

Many made the determination that it was going to take a personal sacrifice of time and money to move forward. That is self-purification — acknowledging that personal sacrifices are needed for the sake of progress.

Step 3 in the campaign: Self-purification occurred knowingly and unknowingly as many of us gave our time, energy, and money to make the Save Our Schools March happen.

And that has led us to Step 4 in the campaign: Direct Action

So….

How will “opting out” work?

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.

It is the entrenched educational community; it is the dysfunctional community; it is the corrupted lawmaking communities that have refused to face facts, the issues, and the more logical solutions.

It is those “bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue” that have oppressed those wishing to move the efforts of education reform to focus on what is best for children and what child need us to do to ensure they have been provided with quality learning opportunities that fit their individual needs.

Martin Luther King saw others “smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society” and knew it was morally wrong to turn away. We must face that same problem now.

We are left “with no other alternative.” The time is right for civil disobedient in the education reform arena. Test refusal is the tool.

No Child Left Behind Accountability: A Joke

At the signing ceremony for No Child Left Behind (NCLB), President Bush joked, “I don’t intend to read it all.” But he was sure that in NCLB we would “find that it contains some very important principles that will help guide our public school system for the next decades. First principle is accountability.”

The signing of America's first federal education accountability law - No Child Left Behind.

The signing of America’s FIRST federal education “accountability” law – No Child Left Behind.

President Bush didn’t read NCLB before signing it. (How about your representatives?) That’s joke number one. Funny, huh? But what is even more amusing — sarcastically speaking— is trying to find where the word “accountability” was defined in the law. In laws and policies, key words are often defined so as to leave no doubt about the laws’ intentions. I word searched the desk copy and original. Didn’t find “accountability” defined. I could have missed it. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.

Is the country in this accountable state of being? Definition: Merriam-Webster.com

Is the country in this accountable state of being?
Definition: Merriam-Webster.com

NCLB says it will provide “greater” accountability; it will “increase” the accountability. How exactly this increase would occur based on the dictates of the law was always left to people’s imaginations and driven by emotions because, by God, we want someone “held” accountable for low school “performance.” And the country was led to believe that standardized tests for math and language arts would determine school quality— accurately. That fallacy would be joke number two.

As Bush declared a decade later, “it’s time to celebrate success [mission accomplished, eh?], but it’s also a time to fight off those who would weaken standards or accountability. I don’t think you can solve a problem if you can’t diagnose it.”

Standardized achievement tests don’t “diagnose” problems. They are only one indicator and because of their “nature,” yearly-standardized achievement testing is unnecessary.

It’s like taking an animals temperature and finding they have a fever. Yes, they have a fever but the thermometer reading doesn’t diagnose the problem.

New standardized tests, even so-called “better” tests, only give us information about a school at one moment in time with their given population — a snapshot. That snapshot changes slowly (unless you teach directly to the test). The most consistent finding (over at least five decades) is that standardized test results most strongly correlate to socioeconomic status (schools already have that personal data). More students from low-income families score lower on standardized tests— partially because of the nature of standardized tests.

I once attended a conference where one of the breakout discussions was led by a teacher from a neighboring community with a high-poverty, high-migrant worker population. Over the years, she had made the correlation that her students whose parents only spoke Spanish in the household would (on the average) score 20 percentage points lower on standardized tests.

Some could argue that this demonstrates the value of testing but the reality is, she knew this without the tests. And she didn’t need to keep proving it. She knew her students, knew their family’s background, observed the phenomenon, and test scores made no difference in how she went about teaching. The community situation was out of her control because of the lack of local authority to act on what WAS diagnosed as a problem.

She knew she had to do everything she could to properly educate her students. I know that from what the breakout was really about, how to teach English Language Learners. The test score discussion was an aside. Assessments and interventions designed to help students must take place in the classroom.

So, truth is, test results don’t necessarily give us a diagnosis. And certainly, as we know by now, accountability for math and language arts instruction alone does not make for a well-rounded education. The joke has been on us.

How many of these types of jokes will we take before we quit being amused?

Former President Bush went on to tell us that “people like [former school superintendents] Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, people who are willing to challenge the status quo, tell you that one thing that made it [NCLB] effective was the accountability.”

Whoa! Klein – former chancellor of N.Y. city schools – and Rhee – former chancellor of D.C. schools – say NCLB accountability made their schools “effective.” We had better ask them to define THAT word. And ask this dynamic duo why they were so central to developing new standards (Common Core) and tests while turning their backs on other needs in their communities. In 2009, were their school districts adequately funded? By what measure did they make that call? Where’s the accounting? If their schools were so effective, why did they push their Smart Options agenda in 2009?

Genuine accountability for educating America’s children is both a shared responsibility and a national necessity because the public has and is demanding it. The only rational way to satisfy the People’s demand is to make it right by using what we know.

No Child Left Behind yearly mandate for nation-wide testing of math and language arts for the purported purpose of “accountability” misled the nation. (That requirement is unchanged in the NCLB replacement called the Every Student Succeeds Act that was signed into law on 12/10/15.)

No Child Left Behind “accountability” was a cruel joke. There is a better way.

Accountability of Administration

Each layer of administration in our education system — in schools, on school boards, at the district level, in state’s departments of education and the United States Department of Education — exists for a reason and to serve a purpose. As institutions designed to serve the public need, how are they being held “accountable” to the public?

Many education officials seem to have become more “accountable” to federal or state authorities for record keeping purposes rather than for the real purposes for which they exist. And too many times administrators are ignoring the people they are supposed to serve — students, parents, and society.

The responsibility for public education is seen as a “states rights” issue – or so we believe. But what does it really mean when the courts imply that they are not responsible for “quality” education such as they did in Detroit?

“…the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on Nov. 7 the State of Michigan has no legal obligation to provide a quality public education to students in the struggling Highland Park School District.”

No legal obligation? That just blows me away! We are forced to test, label, close down schools, and move students all over the place but no one is responsible to ensure quality education is offered in all schools so that all schoolchildren can have equal access.

That is the problem and should be the focus of the solution!

We know there are huge disparities in this country.B8Uj_hlIMAAZ2XB.jpg_large

I happen to live in the state with the lowest per-pupil spending in the nation. Has our (or your) state defined: what are adequate funding levels? Do we have a funding formula designed to obtain more equitable funding? Do we have expectations for student “performance” to improve and “achievement gaps” to narrow? (SURE) Have we defined what resources they need to get there?????

We say we have higher “expectations.” Where are the quality indicators for all levels of the system and where is THE report card showing the progress institutions are making towards equitable learning opportunities? Or aren’t they really responsible for that?

Fair play would be for the public to have higher expectation of accountability for the system.

Fair play would be for the states to show us the indicators they use to prove they are being responsible stewards of our education system.

We have reached the moment when we should be able to see that ….

“We need an accountability system where there is local responsibility, true state accountability, and  a federal duty to monitor progress for the purpose of providing guidance and support.”… “School improvement must be a local responsibility shared through the democratic governing of schools. States must ensure accountability of their system through shared knowledge of measurable results and financial accountings of adequacy and equity. The federal government must return to its role of oversight, support, guidance, research and development, and dissemination of information, and serve when needed to protect and provide for the national interest.” (From The Crucial Voice of the People)

 We need to better understand the role of government in education.

State officials will be responsible for identifying their resources and establishing indicators of their success and to continually monitor and report on their ability to meet their responsibility.” … “The Federal Government has the primary responsibility to identify the national interest in education. It should also help fund and support efforts to protect and promote that interest. It must provide the national leadership to ensure that the Nation’s public and private resources are marshaled to address the issues discussed in this report [National Commission on Excellence in Education]. A Nation at Risk

I understand the federal role in education as originally described in The Smith-Towner Bill of 1918, the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and in the purposes of the U.S. Department of Education as listed in 1979:

  • to ensure access to equal educational opportunity;
  • to supplement and complement the efforts to improve the quality of education;
  • to encourage involvement of the public, parents, and students;
  • to promote improvements through research, evaluation, shared information;
  • improve coordination;
  • improve management and efficiencies;
  • increase accountability of federal programs to the President, Congress, and the public.

Yes, we have some things to work on!

What I do not understand is how we have gone for so long ignoring the fact that some states are NOT living up to their responsibility. Why are we hunting for witches while the elephant is trampling everything in sight?

Are we blind to the parasites destroying us ? Or have we just been fooled for so long that the lies became our truth?

Why are we not asking for clarity on the disparities? And right now, why are we not talking about the problems with No Child Left Behind – AS A NATION.

If we want schools to improve, we must have state, district, and local accountability that focuses on implementation of the elements of school improvement. It is the only way we will ensure equitable resources. It is the only way we get real and lasting improvement. … a continuous improvement process with indicators that match what matters.

Accountability for School Quality

Judge schools by the extent to which they satisfactorily meet the needs of all pupils…” Cooperative Study of Secondary School Standards (1939)

Looking at an array of “indicators” helps avoid the pitfall, as seen by the School Standards study, of using testing as “a sole method of accreditation or for similar widespread comparison” because testing tends to make “instruction point definitely to success in examinations,” cultivates “a uniformity that is deadening to instruction,” can “thwart the initiative of instructors,” and can “destroy the flexibility and individuality of an institution.”

Excessive testing takes time away from learning.

Excessive testing takes time away from learning.

Assessing our schools has a long history of research behind it. The Cooperative Study of Secondary School Standards laid out in great detail their methodology and the tools they used to evaluate the quality of schools. They concluded there are six elements within the school that should be used to judge quality of the learning experience: 1) Curriculum, 2) Pupil activities, 3) Library, 4) Guidance, 5) Instruction, and 6) Outcomes.

Accreditation in the United States http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1731/Accreditation-in-United-States.html

Accreditation in the United States http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1731/Accreditation-in-United-States.html

The school improvement process that was the focus of the original study was based on:

  • Ÿwhat the characteristics of a good school are,
  • Ÿhow you evaluate schools effectiveness in relation to its objectives,
  • Ÿhow a good school becomes better, and
  • Ÿhow to stimulate schools to continue to strive to become better.

The process is nothing new and it is being taught in some public institutions. An accreditation certification program at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) Extension System is one example. If you take a moment to glance through the list of topics covered, you’ll find it includes a multitude of ways to assess quality on everything from disaggregation of student data to analyzing community profiles.

To sustain an improvement process takes knowledgeable leadership. If we were serious about improving our public schools, we would quit handing over leadership training to private non-profits like the Broad Foundation’s Leadership Academy or Marc Tucker‘s “National” Institute for School Leadership. We would set standards for leadership training that included the best practices of school improvement processes. We would put quality control back in the public realm. We have no idea what these private philanthropic endeavors are teaching, but the country’s education system certainly is suffering under their leadership especially in the large urban school districts that they have taken over (last full paragraph is telling).

So to meet students’ needs a school improvement process must begin with a “needs assessment.” Various survey tools exist. We don’t need to reinvent any wheels to move forward.

From the Federation for Community Schools

From the Federation for Community Schools

Approximately 30 years after the Cooperative Study of Secondary School Standards, Effective Schools Research began to emerge. It gives us another framework by which we can approach school improvement. The Effective Schools Correlates are:

1) The principal’s leadership and attention to the quality of instruction;

2) A pervasive and broadly understood instructional focus;

3) An orderly, safe climate conducive to teaching and learning;

4) Teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students are expected to obtain at least minimal mastery; and

5) The use of measures of pupil achievement as the basis for program evaluation.

Approximately 30 more years passed and we now have Robert Marzano’s indicator framework developed around the Effective Schools Correlates with a bit more of a standards-aligned (standards-referenced) twist to the indicator system. The system is arranged in “levels” but should be worked on simultaneously.

 Level 1: A Safe and Orderly Environment That Supports Cooperation and Collaboration

Level 2: An Instructional Framework That Develops and Maintains Effective Instruction in Every Classroom

Level 3: A Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum Focused on Enhancing Student Learning

Level 4: A Standards-Referenced System of Reporting Student Progress

Level 5: A Competency-Based System That Ensures Student Mastery of Content

If you glance through the system of indicators, you’ll find that many of the “assessments” are simple low-cost surveys. But keep in mind; school evaluations need to be tailored to the schools needs. No one-size –fits-all mandate will suffice. “Stakeholder” participation in planning makes success more likely.

And as we know, schools don’t improve and then just stay that way. Students, parents, teachers, and leaders come and go; things change. Schools must see improvement as a continuous process, always striving to be better.

But, we do need oversight. So another “accountability” piece, that goes by various names (Quality Review, Inspection, Success, or Support Teams), is teams of “outside” evaluators. The long-standing recommendation is that a visit every five years is sufficient. If schools are having difficulties, more frequent visits are recommended.

These review teams could be established within state’s departments of education (once leaders are trained in sufficient numbers). State inspections could encompass such things as assessment of the curriculum assuring that it is broad and engaging, appraisal of teachers’ continuing education ensuring quality and sufficient learning opportunities are being offered, evaluation of the level of parental and family engagement opportunities and communications, and that there is satisfactory evidence that the school is conscientiously working towards improving rather than just complying with paperwork.

 Summary of Accountability Measures for Ensuring School Quality include,

  • An assessment of school needs (students, teachers, partners),
  • Establishment of indicators for improvement based on the needs assessment,
  • Continuous self-assessments of schools and classrooms,
  • Monitoring of student progress,
  • Monitoring of school progress based on the school’s indicators of quality, and
  • Evaluations by a Quality Review Team every 5 years or 1-2 years if needed.

“Common sense dictates that in order for students to achieve they must have appropriate opportunities to learn.” Wendy Schwartz – Opportunity To Learn Standards 

Opportunity to Learn (OTL) Assessments are “a range of measurable indicators that covered both classroom experience and the overall school environment.”… “The National Council on Education Standards and Testing (NCEST, 1992) asserted that OTL standards are necessary to help close the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.”

We have ignored establishing opportunity-to-learn standards but I believe they are incorporated into a school accountability system such as what is described here.

Currently, there are multiple versions of these ideas. I have read at least eight “new” plans from eight different organizations. Terminology varies but the major ideas remain the same. What we do know with certainty is….

“…accountability should be geared towards continuous improvement.”

—Joseph Bishop, Opportunity to Learn Campaign

Accountability Where It Matters Most

Shouldn’t we be accountable for providing quality learning opportunities to all children? Shouldn’t we be asking for accountability where it matters most? Aren’t we – the public – responsible for doing that?

The National Science Teachers Association “believes that individuals are accountable first to those directly affected by their actions and second to all other interested parties. Thus science teachers are accountable primarily to students and parents.

With the promise to finally “fix” No Child Left Behind, we really need to think this through.

How do we know students are learning what they need to know and be able to do?

Tests, assessments, measures of student achievement and performance…we measure students in multiple ways yet we should have figured out by now that higher scores on standardized tests do not equate to the quality of learning. That’s where the public needs to understand that it is “systemic” accountability we want and there are many layers!

In a perfect system, the teacher is a highly educated and trained individual, the teaching environment is healthy, safe, and conductive to learning, the objectives are clear, the teacher has all the materials to do the job, and the students are prepared to learn.

Assessing the student becomes simple. There are student-learning objectives that the 4c7866fd6a1029fa8037bad0e1e29877teacher evaluates the student against – called “formative” testing. Teachers use the information to assess what the student did or did not learn and adjust instruction to meet the needs of the student – becoming “accountable” to the student – being responsible for doing their job.

Other measures depend on the grade level and intended use. There are end-of-course exams that many of us probably recall as being “final” exams – called “summative” assessments. And there are other standardized achievement tests that can be used to assess trends.

So, at the student level isn’t it enough to have…

♦Teacher-created formative assessments of standards-aligned student learning objectives,

♦End-of-course exams, subject specific tests, or school or district summative assessments as necessary to address any problem areas identified, and

♦Standardized achievement tests given at transition points (grade-span testing, 4th, 8th, 12th grades) as an oversight?

At the student level, if parents are comfortable with this amount of assessment of their child and have confidence in their teacher’s ability to judge their student, is it fair or even reasonable for the public to demand more testing of students? The views of students and parents should matter.