The National Governor’s Association (NGA), corporate leaders, foundations and other special interest groups advanced a clear plan to use the rise of the Information Age to float the economy. Their vessel? Our public education system.
Necessary or not, the school policy revolution began.
1969 — 75% of parents sampled (PDK/Gallup) said they would like to see one of their children teach in a public school.
1979 — 86% of parents with children 13 years and older had no desire to send their children to a different public school.
The hook: the idea of “flexibility” in exchange for “results.”
The pretense of accountability in an outcome-based (pay-for-results) system was launched ahead of the Reagan administration’s report A Nation at Risk.
The Test-Based Accountability Ship Sailed
Demand for testing needed to be created but a couple of barriers stood in the way — local control and an established and effective education system. So a clear plan to take over school policy needed to begin with a strategy to undermine the public’s trust in the institution of public education. This was known:
Parents know a good deal more about the schools … than nonparents. They are heavily influenced by firsthand knowledge, whereas the opinions of nonparents derive more often from the media,… (PDK/Gallup 1984)
“When the Carnegie Forum Task Force began its work, we knew that the Governors were the key to the necessary revolution in school policy.”
With Governor Lamar Alexander chairing the NGA, they released a report titled Time for Results.
The Reagan administration supported the clear plan to support the education industry.
“What is industry in a knowledge-based economy?” The answer is the education industry.
Lewis Branscomb —1986— IBM Chief Scientist, Head of Carnegie Foundation Task Force on Teaching
The education industry would profit from two main concepts, outcome-based education and “school choice.” But the establishment of national standards were essential for industry “efficiency,” or to reach “economies of scale” (higher return on investment). National standards provided a national foundation for large-scale operations.
The Course was Set: “Education Reform.”
1987 — With Governor Alexander navigating both state and federal policy waters, the governors floated projects in several states with 1991 as the target date for reporting the results. Supposedly “the results” would determine if these “real reforms” should be scaled-up nationwide. Trustworthy analysis was crucial.
It appeared that our national research and development system—Regional Education Laboratories— put in place under the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — would be central to that research.
1988 — Before leaving office, Reagan signed the Hawkins-Stafford Amendments to ESEA.
Including: “requirements regarding accountability evaluation of programs conducted in accordance with national standards to be developed by the Department of Education.”
Boundaries Were Crossed
That policy change took ESEA from a law that prohibited any federal influence over curriculum and instruction to placing evaluation of programs associated with national standards under the direction of the Secretary of Education. Not just schools, but the whole governing structure of schools was to be restructured, not just reformed.
“Restructuring” Schools: Creation of the School to Workforce/Military Pipeline
1989—Marc Tucker advised President-elect Bush about the education restructuring efforts underway by businesses and the NGA.
Tucker’s own organization, National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), created the National Alliance for Restructuring Education (NARE) to promote Standards-Based Education. And…
… privately, an education summit was planned. New NGA chairman, Terry Branstad, hoped “the focus of the meeting would be on tailoring our education system for the workforce of the future.”
The first (invitation only) National Education Summit was held for the president with governors, business leaders, and a few representatives.
A joint statement confirmed that the setting of national goals and the development of “a system of accountability that focuses on results” had been agreed to.
1990— Tucker’s (NCEE) publication of “America’s Choice” continued the push for policies to focus on output measures (hear Tucker explain beginning at minute 33:30) as Governor Bill Clinton summarized …
“We need a national exam, measured by international standards, and the continued development of a quasi-governmental institution.”
A Quasi-Governmental Institution? As that sinks in, please keep reading.
1991— President George H.W. Bush appoints Lamar Alexander as his second Secretary of Education.
With Alexander in charge, and his Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) being the “lead agency” for research, the nation should have heard results from Project Education Reform: Time for Results. Instead, the nation got a report card.
The results? This New York Times reporter gives us some clues about Alexander’s strategies and the results.
“…disappointingly superficial on the issues…
“He resists detailed debate …”
“…and the program he’s got is not a winner, …”
The Alexander agenda included national standards and testing, teacher merit pay, change through competition, and “choice.”
The “Education Council Act of 1991” established a temporary 32 member council — National Council on Education Standards and Testing (NCEST) — “most of whom were appointed by the Secretary of Education.”
1991 also marked the nation’s first voucher legislation (proposed by Secretary Alexander).
1992 —No surprise. NCEST recommended national standards and testing. But it was without answering some important questions and …
1992— President Bush lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.
Marc Tucker penned his infamous November 11, 1992 letter to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“Tucker’s plan would change the mission of the schools from teaching children academic basics and knowledge to training them to serve the global economy in jobs selected by workforce boards.” Thinker, RealistNews
Presidents Changed: The Politically Powerful Continued the Policy Journey
“To remold the entire American system for human resources development.” Marc Tucker
1993— D.C. think tank “Empower America” was co-founded by former Reagan Education Secretary William (Bill) Bennett.
Empower America philosophy: “…opportunity, competition, ownership, and freedom—must be the framework for reform of century-old public systems such as K-12 education, the tax code, and social security.”
1994— President Clinton signed the “Improving America’s Schools Act” (IASA).
Clinton’s ESEA reauthorization -IASA;
- mandated accountability based on grade-span (3rd,8th,11th) standardized testing,
- called for content standards to be set by ALL states, and
- added funding for charter schools into ESEA for the first time.
Meanwhile, Lamar Alexander became a co-director of Empower America.
“We’re planning on [Mr. Alexander] coming back and being a part of a big school-choice initiative.” Empower America
Remember, industries were counting on public education money and governors were always key to the “necessary” school policy revolution.
“The role of the governors … was crucial because they mobilized the public and legislators in their states to support educational reforms.”
The Technology Industry Took the Helm
1997 — Lamar Alexander & Bill Gates addressed the NGA. Alexander mused about how after all the years of governors “leading the charge” and pouring money into “their plan,” charters and standards had not improved education.
1998 — Tucker’s NCEE created the “America’s Choice School Design Program” (later purchased by Pearson Inc.).
NCEE was asked by Carnegie Corporation, joined by the Broad Foundation, the Stupski Foundation and the New Schools Venture Fund, to create a design for a new kind of national organization to train school principals to lead high performing schools.
Time to Drop Anchor on The Nation
2002 — The 2001 President George W. Bush’s ESEA reauthorization, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) went into effect.
Among other things, NCLB:
- expanded standardized testing to yearly (3rd-8th grade and once in high school),
- required ALL students be “proficient” on state tests by the 2013-14 school year,
- promoted and assisted states in “enhancing” achievement through technology,
- expanded “school choice” through a variety of programs (Clinton era – $15 Million expanded to $214.8 Million by 2007. Now, FY2018 $1.4 Billion “for public & private school choice opportunities” ),and NCLB
- allowed access to student data for military recruiters.
In addition to NCLB’s passage, the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 changed the federal system of research, development and dissemination of educational practices by created Comprehensive Centers (Regional and Content Centers).
Failure to get results from standards (Outcome-Based Theory) and “choice” had been blamed on being “too timid,” the addition of federal CENTERS worked to more aggressively implement the agenda. Instead of functioning to meet regional needs like the Regional Educational Laboratories originally did, these centers are being used to “provide frontline assistance.” For example, they were used to implement the Common Core Initiative, an initiative designed and controlled by a quasi-governmental organization.
Last but not least of the 2002 policy anchors, the Educational Technical Assistance Act of 2002 established the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS).
Full Speed Ahead
2003 — Lamar Alexander began his senate career.
2005 — Having been recognized as the most influential person in School Policy, Bill Gates co-chaired the National Education Summit.
2006 — The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) Launched at the Data Summit.
The campaign promoted the Gates’ “ten essential elements” of a longitudinal data system, which included the ability to match student records between the Pre-K and post-secondary systems.
2007 — NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND should have been left behind. (ESEA review & reauthorization IS required every 5-6 years, by law.) NCLB remained anchored in place while common standards and assessments were being “piloted.”
2008 — Idaho was the last state to complete a statewide longitudinal data system with all the elements required by Gates’ DQC.
Meanwhile, unofficial “reports” declared an educational crisis in cities while the Great Recession disrupted the nation.
The Race Begins
2009 —Oh what a year! 43 percent of all large urban superintendent openings were filled by Broad Academy graduates.
quasi-governmental institutions went to work on spending those funds.went into effect and the
Race to the Top began: “And finally, for the first time in history, we have the resources at the federal level to drive reform.”
Bill Gates explained at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) that a thorough data collection system is the best way to track student success.
2010 — Common Core became a common problem.
The Workforce Data Quality Initiative began granting federal money to connect education and the workforce data.
2011 — The undercurrent of revolt against outcome-based policies —high-stakes testing and the “accountability” systems based on them— began to surface. The resistance organized; we marched and we met.
2012 —The Obama administration called for Congress to “reform NCLB” but instead the nation got accountability waivers in exchange for adoption of “more honest standards.” Honestly, “college and career ready standards” meant the Common Core standards.
2013 — The NCLB replacement the “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act” was introduced by Senator Alexander.
2015 — Lamar Alexander took over the chairmanship of the Senate education (HELP) committee and introduced a new name for the NCLB replacement, “The Every Child Achieves Act,” which later became the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) we now have as our ESEA reauthorization. Is ESEA better than NCLB? You decide.
The flaws in No Child Left Behind remain. The funding for testing, technology and school choice are increased.
Clear Sailing to the Finish Line of the Revolution in School Policy
The finish line? A quasi-governmental organization controlling common national standards and testing with all data collection and consolidation in a single office for use in the Workforce Placement System.
A “computer-based system for combining this data” was always central to the Tucker Education-Labor System Plan.
The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking passed as HR 4174 (sponsored by Speaker Paul Ryan) but its identical sister bill was sponsored by Gates’ Washington State Senator Patty Murray.——–2019——–signed into law by President Trump.
This “honestly” is a bipartisan revolution in school policy
54% of Americans say they would NOT want their child to become a public school teacher, a majority for the first time in a question initially asked in 1969.
70% of parents still give their oldest child’s school an A or B grade.
The Republic? Creeping or Leaping Towards Totalitarianism.
Lamar Alexander has consistently claimed to support “local control,” but what is left to control?
For those requiring more proof of these historical events, more detailed of educational results, or the references not already provided, please review (and download for free) the journal article Assessing the Cornerstone of U.S. Education Reform.
Congress’s role in governing our republic includes the responsibility to create necessary and proper laws within the authoritative boundaries of constitutional powers. But the current process by which a bill becomes a law desecrates the Founder’s ideals. The “institutional defenses” built into the constitution have been eroded by the malicious use of deception and disregard for ethical principles.
“The most significant danger old republics like ours face is not the sudden assault of an aspiring autocrat but the slow erosion of their cultural and institutional defenses.” The Fall of Rome and the Lessons for America
Here’s How A Recent Data Bill Went Through Congress
“Laws begin as ideas” so they can come from any of us, ideally. But in today’s reality, it’s more likely a special interest group will solicit one of our representatives to move their proposal into law. Enter (in this case) the technology industry — through the Data Summit and the Data Quality Campaign that was launched in 2005.
By 2008, Idaho was the last state in the nation to have a longitudinal data collection system “that provides individual level student data across multiple years from grades K through 12 and into postsecondary education.” (Report to the Idaho Legislature)
With the Great Recession holding the country’s attention, both the Bush and Obama administrations loosened a major privacy law allowing expansion of data collection and its use in “research” on a Human Capital Development Data System.
Acceptance of federal stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, Recovery Act) served as an incentive for completion of the project to collect, share, and link student data between agencies and across states.
One strategy used to put these data collection systems in place was to NOT have open discussions or public debates.
The “do not engage” practice moved the project along at the state level. Next up was federal legislation, which requires the kind of broad support that only money can buy these days.
The messaging needed to be just right. The “best practice” of not exposing an idea to too many people, or too much scrutiny, was taken to the next level — to both houses of congress with both political parties involved. The adoption of a federal data consolidation bill began by asking for a commission to study the idea. It was approved by a Voice Vote.
A Voice Vote means there is no record of individual votes.
Three Months Later, The Report Was Released
It didn’t take long for the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking bill to emerge.
That was on November 15, 2017 —2017 pre-holidays —and Twitter lit-up in protest.
Throughout the holiday season education activists watched for movement of the bill in the Senate. Pre-Christmas had become a favored time for education bills to quickly become law. This time nothing happened. Had it died in committee? NOPE!
December 20, 2018 —Back to the House.
DECEMBER 21 —the Friday before Christmas with a Lame Duck Congress at 4:14 PM—the House did a roll call vote TO SUSPEND THE RULES. The bill known as HR4174 (FEPA – Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking) officially passed both houses of congress. But the story doesn’t end. Congress recessed.
The bill did not go immediately to the president’s desk. If it had and he did not sign it within 10 days, this bill would have been killed by what is called a “pocket veto.” But if Congress is in session and the president does not sign the bill within 10 (working?) days, it becomes law.
JANUARY 2, 2019 —FEPA HR4174 (sister to Washington Sen. Murray’s S.2046) went to the president’s desk.
Today is January 14th. My senators are not answering their phones at 4:14 PM. Nor is the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee (the one that slipped this bill out of committee a year after activist had eyes on it).
Is this acceptable?
So, WHAT’S In The BILL? Better question: What is not in the bill?
The public is being told that the recommendations made by the FEPA Commission were followed. They were not. Data privacy recommendations were ignored.
“The Commission’s recommendations for improved data access and strong privacy protections rely heavily on the establishment of the National Secure Data Service [NSDS]. … The Commission envisions that the National Secure Data Service will operate an effective and efficient service that can be held accountable by policymakers and the American public.” The Promise of Evidence-Based Policymaking
Here is what the public should have heard debated.
“Even where data has been de-identified it is still possible to combine certain data sets with others to determine extensive amounts of personal information.”
“…there are real challenges to ensure that the creation of the NSDS does not create a centralized repository of data on Americans, like the proposed National Data Center which was broadly opposed by the public and led to the enactment of the Privacy Act.” Electronic Privacy Information Center
It is a sad day for the republic.
When it comes to Open Government, the Sunlight Foundation asked this about a Trump White House.
“Congress is the ultimate watchdog. Will Congress provide aggressive oversight?”
If Congress is the ultimate watchdog, the republic is in deep trouble.
Please, take a good look at the graphic truth about public education in America.
National leaders and much of the media repeatedly call the system “failed.” That is their version of the graphic truth. They point to test scores as “evidence.” President Trump described the institution as an …
“education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”
That’s disturbing. Also disturbing is this reporters response to Trump’s “facts” in Trump’s vision of education begins and ends with schools being bad.
“… it’s true that the United States spends quite a bit, relatively speaking, on education, and test results are fairly disappointing.”
But let’s dig deeper into the Trump/DeVos “facts.”
Look closer at the Graphic Truth About Spending and OutcomesTotal costs DID rise dramatically. So did employees. But why? Blame the teacher’s union? Not so fast.Look closer at “The Other Half.”
“America now spends a greater percentage of its education funding on non-teachers than any other country in the world besides Denmark.” CBS News
And the Graphic Truth About Our Education “Outcomes”?
In the news article previously referenced, the reporter states that…
“…tests that try to measure how American students stack up to their peers show that the US is far from No. 1. On the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). … American 15-year-olds scored as average in science and reading and were below average in math.”
Below average in math is what makes the headlines. But to this reporter’s credit, she also stated that…
“Another test with different methodology found American students fared better but still scored below Singapore, Japan, Korea, and Russia.”
That other “test” she referred to is TIMSS (Trends in Math and Science Study). It is a study with test results being ONLY one portion of the study —the only portion that makes the news. How about progress on our own national test (NAEP – National Assessment of Educational Progress)?
And now, the public education system must defend itself against its current education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who sees traditional public schools as “a dead end.” She, and our other political leaders, need to see the graphic truth about our national progress in a broader historic perspective.
Ending illiteracy was a primary reason for developing the public education system. Progress was most definitely made …. until it wasn’t!
*The following is a MUST KNOW Small but Essential Piece of Education Reform History*
During the 60’s, the nation began making universal efforts (through the force of law) to offer educational opportunity to ALL of America’s children.
To help monitor our progress towards that goal, NAEP was designed to provide a randomized sample of education-related information. NAEP provided statistics for researchers to monitor and help guide the nation’s schools towards equal access to quality education. It was not a tool for ENFORCING accountability where it matters most. Unfortunately, the scores have become a weapon.
So if you look back at the colored NAEP charts, you can see that the country was indeed showing MARKED improvement in basic reading and mathematics skills for groups of children that typically were being under-served (disadvantaged groups). And we were making this progress without detriment to the majority group. That was exactly what we wanted to be doing.
Given what was happening in schools and society at the time, a “flat-line” in the early years of NAEP was perfectly acceptable. But yes, we believe it isn’t good enough to remain educationally stagnant especially with such dramatically increasing costs. However, that is why the public needs to understand a bit more of the politics behind the statistics.
Where Congress Took A Wrong Turn
In 1976, Congress began the policy change FROM federal funding focused on meeting the needs of disadvantaged children TO funding achievement in “basic academic subjects.” That took the public’s focus off indicators of educational equity and quality and put it on the simplistic measure of higher test scores.
By 1992, standards-based (outcome-focused) education had taken over the states. Education reform plans were “built solely around achievement tests.”
And it didn’t take long for the money-making predators in the education industry to see where profits were to be made. The public was told the restructuring of schools was for our own good — to remain economically competitive internationally. The reality: those selling “education products” benefited most.
The quest for higher “scores” in basic subjects cost the nation in multiple ways.
Truth Be Told: Education is more than a score!Before the takeover of educational improvement by political and corporate leaders, we led the world in higher educational attainment.
And after the federalization (NCLB) of Outcome-Based Education Reform???? Look at the graphic truth. From 2000 to 2016, we went FROM being second only to Canada (36% to their 40%) TO having four other countries surpass us.
Yet, we had cultivated educational excellence in our best and brightest —in this country— without common national standards.
So why would we want to “benchmark” basic academic standards to these other countries? … ?
We are a productive people.
And before No Child Left Behind (2001) and Common Core (2010) wreaked tyranny upon the local control of education, most PARENTS were satisfied with their local public schools.
Politicians and other leaders —with political and monetary agendas— disrupted our educational progress, upset parents and teachers, and decreased the quality of education for many children. They restructured our schools into a standardized, outcome-focused gutted version of what was a great system.
That is what we have allowed.
A Call To Action is Overdue
If this country now wishes to stop the destruction of public schools, we have to take action. The current leadership has no intention of preserving and improving public schools.
To save this system from the current destructive forces of federal law and those administering their wrath upon this nation’s public schools, a wide-reaching Congressional Oversight Hearing concerning the actions of Secretary DeVos are warranted and necessary as a first step.
Then Congress needs to go back to the drawing board on federal education law and MAKE IT RIGHT this time. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) did not fix what was wrong with No Child Left Behind.
“Zombie ideas … are policy ideas that keep being killed by evidence, but nonetheless shamble relentlessly forward, essentially because they suit a political agenda.” Paul Krugman
Exactly! … Policymakers have been using zombie ideas to dismantle, transform, and restructure the public education system. But there is a mountain of evidence that the zombie ideas in No Child Left Behind didn’t show any appreciable improvement in student achievement. So why not end the zombie invasion killing our public schools, now?
What Zombie Ideas?
The test-based, metric-driven accountability of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law is based on a political agenda, not proven education reforms. Now, NCLB is called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) but the same policy ideas and political agenda remain in place. The same detrimental consequences persist because the aim and purpose of the law did not change.
Zombie Ideas in Education: High-Stakes Testing and Graduation Policies*
Solórzano (2008) found that the results of high-stakes tests used as a high school diploma requirement “show quite clearly that Blacks and Latinos (and English Language Learners) are disproportionately failing them, whether enrolled in Texas, New York, California, or Minnesota” (p. 312).
He goes on to say that students who do poorly on these exams “are viewed as the problem; they are retained, tracked, or denied graduation” (p. 316) and cites several sources for this statement.
Then, comes the most logical and obvious, yet often negated fact of this matter: “They are held solely responsible for their grades, when in fact, they may not have had equal chance of learning because of the unequal resources and opportunities at their disposal at their school site” (p. 316).
The policy of high-stakes testing that has led to multiple incorrect, unethical, and detrimental uses of test results is just one example of a zombie idea that needs to die —permanently.
Other Zombie Ideas That Just Won’t Die!
Choice and competition are market-based ideas whose theories have been applied to public education to transform and restructure our public system into a privatized system. So based on the idea of school choice as a reform, researchers** examined student achievement under this Market Theory — with the demand side being “school choosers” and the supply side being schools. They did so while also cautioning that psychologists are well aware of the effect of “choice.”
Theory On the Demand Side:
“The simple act of choosing a school then might contribute to a family’s satisfaction with that school.”
Theory On the Supply Side:
“Decentralized decision-making itself might be beneficial to students. … This local control could lead to more efficient, locally appropriate use of resources, better alignment and camaraderie among the school personnel, and improved responsiveness to opportunities and challenges.”
“While there are isolated (and sometimes very impressive) success stories, school choice reforms have not proven to be unambiguously effective on the whole.”
Charter or Voucher: It Doesn’t Matter
“Much like the charter school literature, the literature on private school vouchers does not conclusively link the use of vouchers to improved academic performance.”
Existing Public Schools are Forced to Compete: True
“While most principals report competing for students, few report that they compete by making curricular or instructional changes that might appeal to parents. Instead, they are considerably more likely to report competing through outreach and advertisement.”
Choice and competition are zombie ideas that increase return on investment to the education industry — and the cottage industries of marketing, data analysis, and advertising. School choice is not a systemic reform. It is a market theory that doesn’t tackle the solutions we should focus on — those that strengthen and improve educational quality and opportunity FOR ALL CHILDREN.
Rising from the Depths of the Swamp: More Zombies or Real Reform?
While the political agenda behind the zombie ideas focuses the nation’s attention on “outputs,” the idea of focusing reforms on “inputs” keeps getting buried alive. Even though it is logical and obvious that learning requires specific inputs, that poorer communities have fewer resources, and that the schools that struggle to provide better education are located in areas of concentrated poverty — our laws remain fixed on Outcome-Based (output) Theory.
While federal and state lawmakers continually mandate higher learning standards, “service delivery standards” remain buried in history.
Yes, it is true. Once upon a time America saw educating its youth as a public service. We were going to set a quality standard for delivering that service. While we still hear the phrase “Opportunity-to-Learn Standards,” those pushing their political agenda to privatize the system kill that conversation. Their actions say they don’t care about all the nation’s children. If those in power really cared, they would have pushed for “service delivery standards” to support local school improvements.
Instead of bad policy ideas being killed by evidence, those with a political agenda are killing the public education system.
These zombie reform ideas —high-stakes testing, metric-driven centralized accountability, competition through charters and vouchers — don’t die because they serve a political agenda. It is the “brains of the operation” that we must expose and politically destroy.
*Kern, Diane. Zombie Ideas in Education: High-Stakes Testing and Graduation Policies. New England Reading Association Journal 49.1(2013): 96.
**Loeb, S., Valant, J., Kasman, M., Increasing Choice in the Market for Schools: Recent Reforms and their Effects on Student Achievement. Forum on the Education Reform in an Era of Fiscal Imbalance. National Tax Journal, March 2011, 64 (1), 141–164.
Spoken by Martin Luther King and repeated often, do the words “the fierce urgency of now” no longer stir our souls? Did they ever?
Why the Urgency NOW?
The urgency is the need for all of us to filter out the divisive political language coming at us from all sides. In this moment, we need to look back at what was once only a theory. Now our reality is that economic theory fostered a political strategy to supplant our constitutional republic with “a private governing elite of corporate power.” *Those pushing corporate control understand how essential it is for them to …
“…kill public education because it tend[s] to foster community values…” *
And market-based education reforms became the weapon of choice. But the role of political economist James M. Buchanan is only now being closely scrutinized. Buchanan’s theories explain much about the divisiveness destroying our schools and our nation.
“…[Buchanan] observed that in the 1950s Americans commonly ASSUMED that elected officials wanted to act in the public interest. …[T]hat was a belief he wanted, as he put it, to ‘tear down.’ His ideas developed into a theory that came to be known as ‘public choice.’” *
Public Interest vs. Public Choice
Public interest is defined as “the welfare or well-being of the general public.” It is a national goal clearly stated in the Constitution’s preamble — “in Order to … promote the general Welfare…”.
To “tear down” our assumption that officials are acting in the public’s interest is one thing. To destroy our union is another. That goal does NOT appear to be one of the aims of Buchanan’s original 1986 Nobel Prize winning work on “Public Choice Theory.”
In its announcement of the prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted, “Buchanan’s foremost achievement is that he has consistently and tenaciously emphasized the significance of fundamental rules and applied the concept of the political system as an exchange process for the achievement of mutual advantages.” Tennessee Encyclopedia (James McGill Buchanan)
His “research program” ** centered on the belief that people make purchases (market choices) based on value. He saw the public making political choices they believed would benefit them. He viewed us as making choices based on our own “venal self-interest.” *
So he and his ilk developed what they called “non-market decision-making.” Finding that name “awkward” and not as appetizing to “free-market” thinkers, the groups’ organization and publications took on the name “Public Choice.” **
Choice or Coercion?
Some researchers believe that Buchanan’s Public Choice Theory began as an “optimistic conception” based on “unanimous consent of the people.” But he later adopted a more “pessimistic view” about “social organization” and people’s “intolerance” to entering into the discussions necessary to reach consensus on issues. Thus Buchanan’s emphasis morphed from “individual freedom” to the need to “enforce order.” ***
As Buchanan explained “Public Choice” to an audience (2003) …
“Public choice, in its basic insights into the workings of politics, incorporates an understanding of human nature that differs little, if at all, from that of James Madison and his colleagues at the time of the American Founding.” **
Buchanan wrote that for public consumption. It’s a distortion of history, which is likely being perpetuated through institutions such as George Mason University in Virginia.* And in misrepresenting the American Founding Principles, Buchanan opened himself up to being viewed as a major manipulator in our historic fight against corporate control.
James Madison vs. James Buchanan
As a key author of the Constitution, Madison left a record of discussions about our nations founding principles. Therefore, a better understanding of the American Founding political views can be gleaned from Madison’s correspondence with a colleague who Buchanan also admired. ***
James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 17 October 1788 (The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Julian P. Boyd, ed., vol. xiv, pp. 18-21) …
“With regard to Monopolies, they are justly classed among the greatest nuisances in Government. … Monopolies are sacrifices of the many to the few. Where the power is in the few it is natural for them to sacrifice the many to their own partialities and corruptions.”
Madison went on to express his doubts about a government takeover by monopolies being skeptical …
“…that a succession of artful and ambitious rulers may be gradual & well timed advances, finally erect an independent Government on the subversion of liberty. … Is there not also infinitely less danger of this abuse in our Government than in most others? … with the power as with us is in the many … It is much more to be dreaded that the few will be unnecessarily sacrificed to the many …”
It appears the expressed sentiment of that last sentence was taken to imply that corporations are the ones in need of constitutional protection from the masses. But Buchanan obviously took Madison’s words out of their historic time and context. Regardless, Buchanan did communicate to the public an association of his “public choice theory” with our nation’s founding principles.
Same Old Fight: Big vs. Smaller Government?
Not Quite! Think about the following in relationship to the privatization of public education through “school choice” models. The allure of choice is deadly.
With our political choices being analyzed under market-based economic theory, it is assumed people make choices based on their own self-interests — first and foremost. We shouldn’t deny that as a truism. But when market forces through privatization of public services or goods come into play, competition for a limited supply will result in winners and losers. Always does.
We risk having children lose, or never develop, the safe and secure sense of belonging that defines “community values.” When all of us are seen as “self-interested players in the marketplace,” **** we are vulnerable to division. Competition for public services runs the high risk of destroying community values, but, that part of the equation didn’t seem to garner much consideration.
Instead, Buchanan saw the need to bring his vision to life by NOT focusing on who rules because who the public chooses doesn’t matter since elected officials don’t act in the public interest anyway. Therefore, this brilliant political economist focused on the rules themselves.
“… the Holy Grail was the Constitution: alter it and you could increase and secure the power of the wealthy in a way that no politician could ever challenge.” *
“Subversion of Liberty”? Translation: Sabotage of Authority
What Madison saw as improbable under our constitutional republic — “a succession of artful and ambitious rulers” changing the balance of power — is exactly what is happening. Our federal government IS under the control of special interests. Many state governments are no different because too many of our representatives ARE no longer serving in the public interest.
The toxic divisiveness of party politics is permeating our communities. The principles of localism and populism, which formed the fabric of our founding documents, are being replaced by corporatism. Thus, when we can no longer reach consensus on the issues that matter, the authorities will step in and set the rules “to enforce order.” ***
This scenario should sound familiar to Baby Boomers. It was a shared American experience on many college campuses during the protests of the 60’s and 70’s. Martial law was declared in many places, which Buchanan supported (at Berkley***). And not to be forgotten were the killing of students by the National Guard. That’s about the time Buchanan’s vision of “unanimous consent of the people” *** seemed to change.
Now? Consider this.
“[historian Nancy] MacLean details how partnered with [Charles] Koch, Buchanan’s outpost at George Mason University was able to … promote new curricula for economics education, and court politicians in nearby Washington, D.C.”
“… MacLean points to the fact that Henry Manne, whom Buchanan was instrumental in hiring, created legal programs for law professors and federal judges which could boast that by 1990 two of every five sitting federal judges had participated. ‘40 percent of the U.S. federal judiciary,’ writes MacLean, ‘had been treated to a Koch-backed curriculum.’” *
Think about the urgency demonstrated during the confirmations of both Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Ask yourself, why the fierce urgency?
Think about it. When changing the Constitution is still out of reach, CONTROL of the U.S. Department of Education and having corporate-minded allies on the Supreme Court are a handy pair of tools. Then it requires pushing appeals through the court system to the level of the Supreme Court. Once there, having enough justices interpreting our Constitution and rules in ways that favor corporations and the wealthy is almost as good as a “constitutional revolution.” *
This is no longer just theory and we knew this day was coming. Now …
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” MLK
Vote, of course.
Is that enough? Absolutely not.
* FROM THE LEFT ⇒ Lynne Parramore, “Meet the Economist Behind the One Percent’s Stealth Takeover of America”
**ORIGINAL SOURCE ⇒ James M. Buchanan, Nobel Laureate in Economic Science, George Mason University, “What is Public Choice Theory?”
***STUDY OF BUCHANAN’s EDUCATION SPECIFIC WRITINGS ⇒ Jean-Baptiste Fleury THEMA, Université de Cergy-Pontoise, Alain Marciano MRE, Université de Montpellier, Montpellier, Franc. “The Making of a Constitutionalist: James Buchanan on Education”
**** FROM A LIBERTARIAN VIEW ⇒ Daniel J. “Dan” Mitchell, former senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “A Taxpayer-Funded Smear Job of Professor James Buchanan”
The Declaration of Independence is seen as our nation’s promise. It contains guiding principles upon which our nation was built. Its words invoked a vision, a place to be created, a destination. Because of it, America became the “separate and equal” sovereign nation it set out to be.
By 1954, it was decided that when it came to public schools “separate but unequal” was our reality. A socioeconomic and racial inequality in America was acknowledged. That fact alone was justification for the writing of federal education law in 1965. And we set our course of action on offering equal access. However, desegregation —a forced attempt to offer that access—overshadowed full implementation of the law.
So as 1983 rolled around, the National Commission on Excellence in Education openly questioned the quality of our public secondary schools and made the call that we were A Nation at Risk based on eleven “indicators.” The majority of those measures were standardized test scores. The course was set. The destination was higher scores.
At that time, the commission’s analysis of statistics painted a bleak picture. And even though some of us still believe their recommendations were generally in the best interest of improving education, it is the commission’s “final” diagnosis of the quality of education in America that has been a topic of dispute in education circles for 35 years — with good reason.
A decade after the release of A Nation at Risk, researchers at the Sandia National Laboratories conducted their own study of elementary and secondary education. The only article about this investigation that the public has some access to is a summary titled “Perspectives on Education in America” (The Journal of Educational Research, Volume 86, Number 5, May/June 1993).
Sandia researchers did their own analysis of U.S. student’s performance on international and national test scores in addition to looking at “the education goals proposed by President [H.W.] Bush and the nation’s Governors.” They wrote that their analysis “focused on popular measures used to discuss the status of education in America.”
They found that in “nearly every” popular measure there was a “steady or slightly improving trend.” These researchers did not interpret this to mean that we don’t need to improve; they questioned the appropriateness of the popular measures, the difficulty of predicting the future educational needs of the country, and they found us “clearly deficient” on some measures they felt were appropriate.
So if left to their own devises, would the Sandia analysts choose different indicators of educational quality and achievement? The country did not ask.
Have our policymakers taken their findings into consideration? The country cannot possibly know.
This group of engineers — admittedly looking at education from an apolitical, outsiders’ view — summarized for us; the challenges we must face, the barriers that can impede educational improvement, and the conflicts they anticipated with the “reforms” being proposed.
Their findings should have been taken as cautionary. But the country did not hear them.The report was suppressed. The report, and the perplexing act of its contents being censored, failed to draw the attention of the media.
This lack of pertinent information has left us drifting along using “questionable measures.” And we lurched forward with full sails into the gusty winds of conflicting reform theories while anchoring them firmly in law — without good reason.
Any comparisons of U.S. scores on international tests should be seen as irrelevant in discussions of reform until the faults in those comparisons are clearly explained to the public.
What there should be no doubt about is that Gerald Bracey was correct in his observation that 20 years after A Nation at Risk, “The various special interest groups in education need[ed] another treatise to rally round. And now they have one. It’s called No Child Left Behind. It’s a weapon of mass destruction, and the target is the public school system. Today, our public schools are truly at risk.”
Now we know the destination set for the nation is privatization of our public schools.
Today, to effectively use history as a guide, we need the unfiltered insight of some of our best and brightest minds. We need the truth.
As the Sandia report quoted Clark Kerr, then President Emeritus of the University of California:
“Seldom in the course of policymaking in the U.S. have so many firm convictions held by so many been based on so little convincing proof.”
And that is now sadly true of the nation as a whole. We set course towards an illusion that raising test scores would produce “excellence.”
Good decisions are based on observation and evidence.
When information is withheld, we are more inclined to choose a course of action that takes us in the wrong direction. And the destination set for us appears to not be the one the American people desire.
Once upon a time, we were on course “To strengthen and improve educational quality and educational opportunities in the Nation’s elementary and secondary schools.” We are now running full speed ahead towards the alluring but deceptive goal of better test scores.
It is time to write a better passage in this reform saga by starting with the long ago expired and fault-ridden federal education law inappropriately named “No Child Left Behind” and now called the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” To do so responsibly requires we have a true assessment of our education system.
If this country’s leaders sincerely believe in excellent education for all, they will bring the missing Sandia Report up from the depths and welcome re-analysis of both it and A Nation at Risk. Our course in education reform, and our monitoring of it, depends on wise and informed decision-making. Our republic requires it.
(P.S. A version of this blog was originally posted on TruthOut in 2014.)
The false crisis —created by politicians pushing a political agenda— focused the nation’s attention on the wrong reforms.
The political debate that followed the release of A Nation at Risk kept the public from hearing the potential solutions offered in the report itself. While President Reagan’s report on education in America is famous for the words that helped create the false crisis, “a rising tide of mediocrity,” the lesser-known words from A Nation at Risk were those describing the creation of a “Learning Society.”
Unfortunately, Reagan did not speak in public about a “Learning Society” — a concept that has now been redefined by a variety of organizations further muddying our political “education reform” waters.
The National Commission on Excellence in Education clearly conveyed the ideal of a Learning Society by its…
“commitment to a set of values and to a system of education that affords all members the opportunity to stretch their minds to full capacity, from early childhood through adulthood…”
The concept of the Learning Society is centered on creating life-long learning as the norm. It is about the need for our education system to ensure all children are learning how to learn. It is about becoming self-reliant in an ever-changing world.
The Commission began its study in 1981 with some well-defined items of “concern” to be addressed in their investigation. Included was “defining problems which must be faced and overcome if we are successfully to pursue the course of excellence in education.” The focus of the study was secondary schools (high schools and colleges). On the other hand, the false crisis was about all of K-12 education.
Instead of explaining the recommendations of the commission, Reagan declared that his administration would work…
“for passage of tuition tax credits, vouchers, educational savings accounts, voluntary school prayer, and abolishing the Department of Education.”
He stated that the political agenda was…
“to restore quality to education by increasing competition and by strengthening parental choice and local control.”
None of President Reagan’s political rhetoric was written in the report.
And as Valarie Strauss recalled Reagan’s education legacy, he “may best be known for his oft-stated desire to eliminate the Department of Education. What some may forget is that he changed his mind” in 1983 after the release of A Nation at Risk. Now, we can only speculate as to why that might be.
But if the past is but prologue, it behooves us to now hear some of the actual findings and recommendations from the commission that wrote A Nation at Risk.
The study found “inadequacies in the way the educational process itself is often conducted.” And researchers narrowed their list to “four important aspects of the educational process: content, expectations, time, and teaching.” Their recommendations focused on those four areas.
The commission expressed an understanding of an “emerging national sense of frustration [that] can be described as both a dimming of personal expectations and the fear of losing a shared vision for America.” They expressed their hope that this [education reform] “could well become a unifying national preoccupation.” They warned.
“This unity, however, can be achieved only if we avoid the unproductive tendency of some to search for scapegoats among the victims, such as the beleaguered teachers.”
Today we know with certainty that the warning was ignored.
The National Commission on Excellence in Education asked that we use “history as our guide.” They felt it important to remind us,..
“In the 19th century our land-grant colleges and universities provided the research and training that developed our Nation’s natural resources and the rich agricultural bounty of the American farm” … and that… “American schools provided the educated workforce needed to seal the success of the Industrial Revolution and to provide the margin of victory in two world wars.”
The American system has not FAILED to serve our country. And the recommendations were made based on the belief that the future required improvement.
20 years later, the late and much respected educator Gerald Bracey called the recommendations “banal”— nothing new. Another decade passed as did reform law after reform law. And here we are, still fighting the same historical battles.
As with any history, our history of education reforms are viewed based on the personal perspectives of both the writers and readers. The readers have the choice of putting their own views aside and trying to understand that of the writer. Here’s how I see things:
Those of us born in the late 50’s, who experienced childhood in the 60’s and adolescence in the 70’s, have the advantage of hindsight; our experiences are now our country’s history. I was of the generation investigated by the “Nation at Risk” commission. The quality of education in my small, mid-western, blue-collar town with its racially mixed schools was viewed, by many of us, as mediocre. Its high school is now closed and the students are bused to their school of choice. Our town was put at risk.
So 35 years after the National Commission on Excellence in Education published their report, I can also look back through the lens of my children’s educational experiences during the implementation of No Child Left Behind in a western city — high-minority, high-poverty setting — and I wish the people of this nation had insisted that all schools follow the banal recommendations of A Nation at Risk. As a parent, I would have been pleased to have my schools offer what this report endorsed.
Now, I can only hope we will set things straight for the next generation —using history as our guide.
(P.S. A version of this blog was first posted on TruthOut in 2014.)
A Nation at Risk began as a commissioned report to define problems in America’s schools. It became known more for the longstanding political debates that developed. But did this single report produce the ocean of reforms that now threaten to destroy our public schools? Was it the report that forced us to set our course on national standards and testing? Or did a few choice words, and powerful people, set us drifting on the ocean of reforms that are now eroding the educational foundation of America?
“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.”
Like or loathe them, those words from A Nation at Risk live on in education reform infamy.
As President Reagan explained, he and his Secretary of Education T. H. Bell “agreed that it was imperative to assemble a panel of America’s leading educators, an assembly of such eminence that the Nation would listen to its findings.” So when the nation did listen, it was Ronald Reagan, not the experts, we heard say, “…our educational system is in the grip of a crisis caused by low standards…” The words grabbed and held the nation’s schools hostage.
The New York Times reported that we were…
“being threatened by lax standards and misguided priorities in the schools” and that “the commission said low educational standards constitute a serious problem.”
If members of the National Commission on Excellence in Education did speak those words in 1983, they did not choose to write them in the official report!
What the report really said about high school and college standards was this:
“We should expect schools to have genuinely high standards rather than minimum ones, and parents to support and encourage their children to make the most of their talents and abilities.”…
“…we find that for too many people education means doing the minimum work necessary for the moment, then coasting through life on what may have been learned in its first quarter. But this should not surprise us because we tend to express our educational standards and expectations largely in terms of ‘minimum requirements.’” …
“In some colleges maintaining enrollment is of greater day-to-day concern than maintaining rigorous academic standards.”
And their advice for setting standards for high schools and higher education:
“We recommend that schools, colleges, and universities adopt more rigorous and measurable standards, and higher expectations, for academic performance and student conduct, and that 4-year colleges and universities raise their requirements for admission. This will help students do their best educationally with challenging materials in an environment that supports learning and authentic accomplishment.”
“Persons preparing to teach should be required to meet high educational standards, to demonstrate an aptitude for teaching, and to demonstrate competence in an academic discipline. Colleges and universities offering teacher preparation programs should be judged by how well their graduates meet these criteria.”
What A Nation at Risk Did NOT Say
You can read, reread, and word search the document and you will not find a recommendation that we set K through 12 academic standards at a level that all students will meet. Instead, we were urged to NOT see standards as the goal but instead set the expectation for students that they will do their personal best to push themselves to the limit of their talents and continue through life as life-long learners.
In A Nation at Risk, you will NOT find “standards” being held up as either the silver bullet nor the major problem despite what foes and fans alike —and the public—have been led to believe.
Look closely at the actual recommendations for standardized testing.
The commission wrote:
“Four-year colleges and universities should raise their admissions requirements and advise all potential applicants of the standards for admission in terms of specific courses required, performance in these areas, and levels of achievement on standardized achievement tests in each of the five Basics and, where applicable, foreign languages.
Standardized tests of achievement (not to be confused with aptitude tests) should be administered at major transition points from one level of schooling to another and particularly from high school to college or work. The purposes of these tests would be to: (a) certify the student’s credentials; (b) identify the need for remedial intervention; and (c) identify the opportunity for advanced or accelerated work. The tests should be administered as part of a nationwide (but not Federal) system of State and local standardized tests. This system should include other diagnostic procedures that assist teachers and students to evaluate student progress.”
This one recommendation — that standardized tests of achievement be administered only at major transition points — should have replaced the yearly testing mandated in No Child Left Behind (NCLB). But yearly standardized testing remained in NCLB’s replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Thus, accountability based on testing remains a senseless detriment to educational progress.
It was never A Nation at Risk that led the standards, testing, and accountability movement. As Valerie Strauss recalled, it was “Reagan’s second education secretary, William (Bill) Bennett, [who] continued to pursue a policy that focused on standardized testing.”
Influential people set this nation adrift on the faulty belief that somehow raising the bar with different standards and more testing would float all boats and stem the “tide of mediocrity.” It didn’t float all boats; it sank a whole lot of dreams.
The political focus on standards and testing drowned the discuss on the more important topic of expectations.
Getting Back On Course: We Need A Real Wake-Up Call
Think about it; thirty-five years of having political leaders telling the public, parents and educators that standards and testing improves schools is long enough. No, it’s too long! It obviously did nothing but create conflict, narrow the goals of education, and put money in the pockets of education corporations rather than in classrooms.
Let’s get back on course. Start by simply asking congressional candidates and representatives to pledge to remove the yearly testing mandate from federal K-12 education law (the Every Student Succeeds Act). It’s up to us to end this testing nonsense.
As A Nation at Risk affirmed,
“It is by our willingness to take up the challenge, and our resolve to see it through, that America’s place in the world will be either secured or forfeited.”
P.S. This blog originally appeared as an article in TruthOut (9/19/14) BEFORE No Child Left Behind was renamed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The name was changed; the need to fix it was not. The process to FIX ESSA should begin next year.
Parents — the most influential people in a students’ life — are too often the least well-informed about the need to partner with schools in a productive way.
Life itself is a risk-taking adventure and with young children and adolescents, it is even more so.
How many times have you heard of “good parents” who lost their child to drug addiction or the ultimate of losses, suicide? No one is totally immune. The best we can do is reduce the risks as much as possible, in every way possible. And for that, we do need partners.
Schools continue to be an institution whose role in many students’ lives is second only to their parents. But have we done all we can to foster parental partnerships with schools? Are we even consistently informing parents as to what their constantly changing role in education is?
In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education came out with this statement:
To Parents from a Nation at Risk (p.35)
“You have the right to demand for your children the best our schools and colleges can provide. Your vigilance and your refusal to be satisfied with less than the best are the imperative first step. But your right to a proper education for your children carries a double responsibility. As surely as you are your child’s first and most influential teacher, your child’s ideas about education and its significance begin with you. You must be a living example of what you expect your children to honor and to emulate. Moreover, you bear a responsibility to participate actively in your child’s education.”
This presidential commission on education studied secondary schools (middle, junior, and high schools) and made recommendations for this often overlooked and misunderstood age group. And they had much more to say to secondary school parents:
“You should encourage more diligent study:
► monitor your child’s study;
► encourage good study habits;
► encourage your child to take more demanding rather than less demanding courses;
► nurture your child’s curiosity, creativity, and confidence;
► be an active participant in the work of the schools;
► exhibit a commitment to continued learning in your own life;
► help your children understand that excellence in education cannot be achieved without intellectual and moral integrity coupled with hard work and commitment.”
Clearly understanding our roles and responsibilities for every “stage” of our children’s education is a good first step but only if the information is correct.
Too often parents hear that teenagers don’t want them “involved” at this age, Not true. Involvement in their lives will take on different forms, yes, and partnerships are especially helpful in staying involved albeit at a bit more of a distance. And this is where the larger community, and parent partnerships, comes into play.
Parents must of course fulfill their responsibility to their own children first. But anyone can watch out for and help others. It isn’t government that is needed to accomplish this; it is people building a sense of community. At a time when society desperately needs to foster well-educated, well-informed citizens, we all need to look at what we can do to create the conditions for personal partnerships to develop and grow.
Little acts can have a big impact.
We won’t improve education without educating each other. When you read or hear something that you believe is valuable, find a place to share it; it will surely have value for others. If your school administrators are not receptive to your views, refuse to allow those barriers to stand in your way. Find another way to be heard. It is, after all, your vigilance and your willingness to act that is the “imperative first step” in the improvement of YOUR schools.The principles of partnership building are nothing new or excessively complicated. Partnerships develop as people begin to understand their common concerns. Conversations about concerns foster respect for each other’s opinions and allows a forum for expression of our expectations — of each other. Partnerships are a two-way street.
It takes personal relationships to form partnerships.
Invest your time where it is most important and will decrease the risks associated with the growing incivility of our society. Build partnerships in your child’s school and community.
(Note: This blog was first posted on April 3, 2013 under the title “Every Child at Risk.”)