A Clear Plan: The Revolution in School Policy

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.

1983 — Governor Lamar Alexander created TN’s “Better Schools Program,” which put a merit pay system (pay for performance/career ladder) at the heart of the plan.

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.

6-14-1983 President Reagan participating in a Regional Forum on the National Commission on Excellence in Education Report with Governor Lamar Alexander at the Farragut High School in Knoxville, Tennessee

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)

The larger voting block — non-parents — became the first target for an information campaign.

1986:

“When the Carnegie Forum Task Force began its work, we knew that the Governors were the key to the necessary revolution in school policy.”

Marc Tucker 1986— then executive director of the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy

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.”

This project was under the direction of Secretary of Education William (Bill) Bennett with assistance from his political bedfellow, Governor Lamar Alexander.

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.

In addition to our Regional Educational Laboratories, the Research and Development (R&D) Centers are also part of our U.S. R&D system.

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 agencyfor 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 …

NCEST does not explain why the proposed tests will not narrow the curriculum.” Daniel Koretz & Others

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

1996-2002 — The school policy revolution shifted to state efforts to expand outcome-based accountability mechanisms (exit-standards testing) and charter schools.

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

1996 — The Education Summit, as the story goes, gave birth to the Gates’ supported Achieve, Inc.

Keep in mind; setting “higher”content  standards was never proven to improve academic achievement.

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.).

1999 — Tucker’s NCEE launched the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) and Bill Gates launched the “Gates Learning Foundation.” 

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 Broad Academy was founded. Source: The Christian Science Monitor

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.

For me, this map represented the War Plan. I watched as city schools and family’s lives were disrupted with school closures. This “report” was prepared with support from America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Race Begins

2009 —Oh what a year! 43 percent of all large urban superintendent openings were filled by Broad Academy graduates.

In the Education Reform Toolkits by The Broad Foundation.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 went into effect and the quasi-governmental institutions went to work on spending those funds.

 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.

2014 — Revolts against the college, career and military ready Common Core National Standards grew.

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

The Outcome of the School Policy Revolution?

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?

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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.

We Set Our Course On The Wrong Destination

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.

But equal access alone was never enough; the American standard is one of quality.

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.)

A False Crisis Set Education Reform Adrift for 35 Years

The false crisis —created by politicians pushing a political agenda— focused the nation’s attention on the wrong reforms.

6-14-1983 President Reagan participating in a Regional Forum on the National Commission on Excellence in Education Report with Governor Lamar Alexander at the Farragut High School in Knoxville, Tennessee

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.

It took another decade before the false crisis was significantly challenged and then the evidence would be buried.

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.)

35 Years Adrift on an Ocean of Reforms

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.

MormonWiki Secretary of Education Terrel Bell with President Reagan

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.”

In addition,

“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.

The Truth

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.”

US Secy. of Education William J. Bennett (L) standing with Pres. Ronald W. Reagan during ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

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.”

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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.

The Common Good & Education

Republican political analyst and writer David Brooks’ spoke about Character and The Common Good last week in Boise, Idaho. His conflicting views on the importance of community versus our current education “reforms” were striking — to me.

Is doing what is best for the next generation considered a common good?

Is doing what is right for the next generation considered a common good?

Brooks spoke about how love, relationships, and friendly interactions changes lives.

He believes the country is suffering from “a crisis of the social fabric.” He sees the hope for humanity in communities’ picking up communities thereby building a “denser moral fabric.”

He knows we are divided by education.

He feels our need for personal relationships.

He sees how both Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln supported “limited but energetic government to enhance social mobility.”

But my theory here is that David Brooks can’t see how education reform policies are destroying our social fabric. There’s a couple of reasons. One, A Nation At Risk (in his own words) marks his involvement with education reform. And two, if you view education reforms from a narrow political perch you can easily fall off. If you fall off, you can’t see far enough back to clearly view the road to educational quality and equality. You can’t see our history.

But, let’s consider the education reform road he, and the nation, traveled.

After the release of A Nation At Risk in 1983, there was a flurry of media sound bites unleashed on the public (more propaganda than substance). But what followed is what really set the stage for standards, assessments, accountability, and technology to be the education reform “gift” from the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and others. (See the fine print below.)

The gift that keeps on giving or taking?

The gift that keeps on giving, or taking?

In the decades that followed, many attendees of this 1996 Education Summit remained major players in education laws that govern our public K-12 system. That reality did not change with congress’ newest law – the Every Student Succeeds Act – ESSA. “They” pushed the law into existence. They rule.

Their governing philosophy —the foundation upon which they built our reforms— is that we were entering the information age and the economy was dependent on dollars flowing into the education “industry.”screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-6-00-59-pm

The fact that the majority of parents were satisfied with their child’s school drove the need to wage a propaganda war on public schools. “They” needed to create a market. (To Market to Market, 1997)

Keep in mind, changes in education take roughly a decade to unfold. During the period prior to the standards, assessment, accountability, technology movement, the United States was making significant educational progress in our K-12 system. This was also a time when our higher education was still the most highly revered in the world.

What the hell were we thinking?

Fast forward to post-9/11 of 2001 when David Brooks wrote One Nation, Slightly Divisible. He talked about the education gap and how the income gap had widened as we entered the information age (aka knowledge-based economy).

And in 2005 Mr. Brooks noted the maturation of the information age, in The Education Gap, as he linked “economic stratification” to “social stratification.” He documented behavioral differences in divorce rates, smoking, exercise, voting, volunteer work, and blood donations linked to educational attainment. Stating that this might be a “more fair” (?) system, he acknowledged that the system was creating

“brutal barriers to opportunity and ascent.”

A couple of months later (and four years after No Child Left Behind), Brooks noted in Psst! ‘Human Capital’ that…

“When President Bush proposed his big education reform, he insisted on tests to measure skills and knowledge…. No Child Left Behind treats students as skill-acquiring cogs in an economic wheel, and the results have been disappointing.”

… Brooks saw skills and knowledge as superficial components. And he went on to mention one of our “classic” government studies…

“…James S. Coleman found that what happens in the family shapes a child’s educational achievement more than what happens in school.”

So despite recognizing inadequacies and the misdirection of the No Child Left Behind law, ITS GOVERNING PHILOSOPHIES REMAIN IN PLACE — student outcomes as measured on standardized tests continues as the basis of our “accountability” mechanism?

Call it fed-led or state-led; it doesn’t matter. The nation doubled down on it…quietly.

And in 2009, David Brooks got caught up in the frenzy of “standing up to the teachers’ unions” as expressed in The Quiet Revolution. He, and many other Republicans across the country, jumped on-board the Democrats’ Obama/Duncan bandwagon of what they were calling “real education reform” — coupling student outcomes and teacher pay.

Never mind that test-based accountability didn’t yield real reform.

Never mind that family and other social supports are extremely important to student success in life. … regardless…

…the Quiet Revolution was celebrated.

By 2010, many involved in the American education reform war declared that Teachers Are Fair Game. Many people still believe that the major problem in education reform is that union rules “protected mediocre teachers.” I know many of my representatives here in Idaho do. But the vast majority of American parents don’t see their children’s teachers as the problem.

Time to Reflect, Reconsider, and Respect the Evidence?

By 2005,  the country recognized the major faults with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). But it remained the education law of the law for an additional decade. The name was finally changed to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) but these guiding principles (the major problems with the law) remain in place…

  • yearly standards-based, test-based accountability,
  • the push for “personalized” learning through technology instead of supporting better teacher-student personal relationships, and
  • “choice” through funding of charter schools (which has been sold to us in the name of “parental engagement,” “flexibility,” “competition,” “free-market,” “a civil right,” and “equality of opportunity” to name a few). It’s the ultimate education-real-estate market.

We know what doesn’t work but we’re being pushed into more of the same through the rules that govern our schools —federal, state, and local.

Consider This: Our Common Ground

In 2001 in One Nation, Slightly Divisible, David Brooks asked; Are Americans any longer a common people? Do we have one national conversation and one national culture? Are we loyal to the same institutions and the same values?

According to his research, we agree “too many children are being raised in day-care centers these days.”

You see, we do value family and support the ideal of family.

In The Education Gap (2005) he stated that we “believe in equality of opportunity.”

You see, we do value the ideal of equal educational opportunity as expressed in the aim of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965 ESEA, changed to 2001 NCLB and now 2015 ESSA).

How We Missed Seeing the Trees for the Forest

In keeping with most journalists, Brooks only quoted PART of the work of James S. Coleman. Missing is the rest of the Coleman story.

Brooks touched on the importance of a child’s willingness to learn which Coleman delved deeply into and discussed it as “the pupil attitude factor.”screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-6-45-44-pm

Coleman discovered, as Brooks finally did, that a strong community support system for school children is essential to giving every student the opportunity to excel. Coleman dubbed that safety net “social capital” and defined it.screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-6-45-56-pm

So we do see!

In Psst! ‘Human Capital’ (2005), Brooks expounded on what works.

“The only things that work are local, human-to-human immersions that transform the students down to their very beings. Extraordinary schools, which create intense cultures of achievement, work. Extraordinary teachers, who inspire students to transform their lives, work.”

And by 2015 Brooks looked smack in the face of the solution. He does see. In Communities of Character he talked about …

“super-tight neighborhood organizations” and revealed, “…very often it’s a really good school.” These schools “cultivate intense thick community.”

And earlier this year, Brooks once again brushed-up against a solution to offering equal educational opportunity in The Building Blocks of Learning. About this I write with extreme trepidation!

David Brooks wrote,

“Education is one of those spheres where the heart is inseparable from the head.

Even within the classroom, the key fact is the love between a teacher and a student.

For years, schools didn’t have to think about love because there were so many other nurturing social institutions.….emotional engagement is not something we measure and stress.

Today we have to fortify the heart if we’re going to educate the mind.”

So here’s my reason for concern. Just because something is important to student learning does NOT mean WE should:

  • measure it in the children,
  • scapegoat the teachers if the outcomes don’t meet our arbitrary standard, and
  • make damned sure it is anchored to standards, assessment, accountability (and the technology to do that accountability) in our laws!!!!!

Stop already!

We know functional communities are safer, healthier, and better educated. The people in those communities instinctively understand the concept of a strong social fabric and supporting the common good.

Dysfunctional communities don’t get it. Their safety net does not include the strong fabric of our common good. And standards, assessment, accountability, and technology are no substitute for increasing the resources necessary to supply the proper and necessary fabrics.

“Better policy can help.” We need education reform laws that are free from the dirt and stench left behind by the education reform vulture-capitalists. Does the nation agree?vulture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And are David Brooks’ views on the common good and education reform policies conflicting to others, or, do they clearly echo the sentiments of the nation?

“We” should have a national conversation about that!

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 aren’t we 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.

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Update: December, 2015, No Child left Behind was changed to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The wording has changed; the problems remain.

What Is the Diagnosis?

As a veterinarian, when I’m presented with a sick animal my first step in problem solving is a good history. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. For example, in a crisis I skip the history taking and go directly to doing what’s necessary to save a life.

The objective of a good history is to gain clarity as to what happened that may have contributed to or created the problem. A good history guides us in deciding the proper tests to run — always with the goal of making the correct diagnosis.

In education reform, we have been “reforming” at a steady clip for over 30 years. The patient —the public education system—has not been cured, has been given prescription after prescription all of which have made it appear clinically sicker, and the main diagnosis we are working off of is that the standards aren’t “high” enough plus we have now added that the tests aren’t good enough.

So let us go back to the time when a crisis was declared and the history of standardization of instruction, which had been tried in America in the early 1900’s and mid 1930’s, was skipped over in the process of making a diagnosis. Let’s pick up where we left off.

Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education reported that we were “A Nation at Risk” and ever since, the general public has believed that standards were both the problem and the solution. So we set our course of reforms on standards and testing.

We misdiagnosed both the problem and what that famous report said.

It is important that we know this because when we look at the patient today, the initial problems still exist but our misdiagnosis and the wrong cocktail of prescriptions have made the system worse.

Now, the country is addicted to the treatment; dependent on tests to tell us how the patient is doing versus looking at the patient itself. We are monitoring our system into destruction.

A wise old vet school professor once advised,

“if you see a patient back three times for the same thing, you need to get a new set of eyes on the problem. You’re missing something.”

Well, it turns out that another set of eyes was put on the problem and their diagnosis was quite different. The Sandia National Laboratories gave good explanations concerning both the interpretation of test scores and the proposed (now in action) “reforms.”

Censorship is as detrimental as a lie.

Censorship is as detrimental as a lie.

Some powerful somebodies silenced the report

#TruthBeTold ? Only if we demand it.

My prescription to revive the dying patient is this:

  • Demand Congress remove the No Child Left Behind (now called the Every Student Succeeds Act – 2015) federal mandate for yearly standardized testing and replace it with checks on the system at 4th,8th, and 12th grades only in addition to the random use of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
  • Reopen the wound of national standards. Air it out. Is it what we want or do we want national guidelines (benchmarks) around which we tailor standards to fit our needs? That discussion needs to happen in the open.
  • Let’s get new eyes on this issue and start with a full and truthful history. If there is a good reason that the Sandia findings should not be heard, let’s hear it.

Assessing the Risk

Is it fair to have said in 1983, and to say now, that we are a nation at risk? My gut tells me yes, forever and always, we should be viewing this republic in that light lest we become complacent. Wait! Too late? … Not really.

The words “rising tide of mediocrity” from Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education report, titled “A Nation at Risk,” lives in infamy to stir a divisive debate. Were those words a fair assessment?

To decide, I reviewed the 11 statistical indicators used by the commission but then I got to thinking; education reports of any true significance to long-term progress (which is what should be part of our concern) tend to run a decade or so behind any given change. And that is when it dawned on me to ask my fellow 1974 graduates what they thought of the education we received in our small, mid-western, blue-collar town.

I posted this on Facebook: “Albion High School (AHS) Graduates: how would you describe our education at AHS? Great/Mediocre/Poor?” Was this scientific? No. Is it significant? You decide.

Those that responded overwhelmingly judged their education in the late 60’s and early 70’s as mediocre leaning towards poor. Was it a “rising tide”? I don’t know. But what I do know is, as expressed in the responses by those that had gone to other schools, our school was “not as challenging as the other schools. I couldn’t believe the difference!”

This was unequal access; it existed then, it exists now.

John W. Gardner, an influential Republican in a Democrat's administration.

John W. Gardner, an influential Republican who served both parties and helped bring to fruition a federal education law under a  Democrat’s administration.

However, if you read down through the responses from my wise classmates, you’ll find that they/we were not fully crippled by the mediocrity of our educational background and we recognize that it took concerted individual effort to overcome the shortcomings of our formal education. Some acknowledged what a privilege it was to come from families that had and valued books and many of those that responded were, one way or another, able to pursue higher education.

I was left wondering about those that did not respond. Did they find support and fill the educational gaps? Did they have talents they never developed to their full potential? How much American talent is lost when mediocre education is accepted anywhere?

 How is this a fair shot?

And why are education pundits, bloggers, leaders, etc. still blaming a report for the take-over of education reform by the education industry? Is that a fair assessment? More importantly, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of children for us to look at and reevaluate our history of education reforms in a positive light?

Take the good; leave the bad behind. Change; improve; make progress

How Our Great Education Institution Was Created

“Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”  George Washington, Farewell Address

And as our American education story goes, it was President Abraham Lincoln who signed the Morrill Act “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in several pursuits and professions of life.” This set the foundation for the land-grant college system, our agricultural experiment stations, and extension (diffusion) of practical research-based information.

How do we grow a nation?

How do we grow a nation?

Lincoln believed that “The legitimate object of government is ‘to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves’.”

A hundred years later, the need to maintain the integrity of educational research and development through the use of our public institutions of higher learning was recognized by the educational visionaries of that time and written into law – the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And the role of the federal government was clearly understood as expressed by John F. Kennedy,…

“A century of experience with land-grant colleges has demonstrated that Federal financial participation can assist educational progress and growth without Federal control.”

A network of regional educational laboratories was to be developed intending to provide the basic research and development of practical solutions to the issues facing schools. They were to serve as the bedrock of excellence promoting use of best practices ( Theory of Action). The information they provided was then to be disseminated (diffused) to the schools. But the goal of forming a network to freely disseminate information (diffusion of knowledge) and assist in training at the local level was never fully realized.

And time marched on. The Reagan administration report, A Nation at Risk, pointed to the Cooperative Extension System as an example of America’s can do spirit. Ronald Reagan recognized that…

“Despite the obstacles and difficulties that inhibit the pursuit of superior educational attainment, we are confident, with history as our guide, that we can meet our goal. The American educational system has responded to previous challenges with remarkable success. 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.”

How we make progress is up to us.

How we make progress is up to us.

By using the right foundational building blocks, it is possible to erect an institution for the diffusion of knowledge that is built to last.

(This is the last of a ten blog series on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that began with The March Begins.)

What Do YOU Mean “Standards”?

Our modern-day standards movement can roughly be marked by the release of A Nation at Risk in 1983. And “standards” crept into federal law under George H. W. Bush with the help of Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ratvich who promoted the use of “academic” standards.

We use descriptors of every kind when we talk of standards: academic, performance, process, content, curricular, core, opportunity-to-learn, and always “higher.”

But let’s talk about how to use standards. As Charles M. Reigeluth explained in “To Standardize or to Customize Learning?”—“If not properly conceived, standards can do far more harm than good….They can be used as tools for standardization—to make all students alike. Or they can be used as tools for customization—to help meet individual students’ needs”

We can look at it this way: There is no standard way to drive; there are rules, there are guidelines, but when it comes to getting behind the wheel, it’s an individual thing with decisions made based on variables. Reigeluth provided this —“To use a travel analogy, standards for manufacturing are comparable to a single destination for all travelers to reach, whereas standards for education are more like milestones on many never-ending journeys whereby different travelers may go to many different places.

Who chooses the road for our young travelers?

Who chooses the road for our young travelers?

As long as we offer all of our education traveler’s quality opportunities along the way, we have fulfilled the promise of equal opportunity. But we have not.

The process for using standards is not simple. It seems reasonable to have content standards developed in cooperation with experts in the content areas; that is where “experts” can help “locals.” And after that (again quoting Marzano & Kendall,1997) “standards-based approaches must be tailor made to the specific needs and values of individual schools and districts.”

So, the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) regional educational laboratory long ago developed a data base of content standards along with advice on how to use them to develop classroom curriculum to meet the needs of the community. My advice is to use what we know.

This controversial and divisive topic of “standards” comes down to the fact that we can take a “content” standard, which is a description of what the student should know and be able to do (as defined by experts in a given subject) and turn it into a “curriculum” standard which takes into account how a subject is best presented along with suggested activities. This produces a usable instructional framework.

Ultimately, what is “best” for students in any given classroom can only be decided right there in the classroom, in real time, with much prior planning. This is a starting point in the travel toward excellence.

But we must be clear — standards for academic achievement are not the same as standardization of instruction.

And as was pointed out in A Nation at Risk, standardized tests of achievement should be “administered at major transition points from one level of schooling to another and particularly from high school to college or work.”

We sure as shootin’ blew that advice to hell and back!

Part 6 of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.