The Education Reform Oligarchy & Their School Choice Conversation

Wish I could just turn back the clockThe education reform oligarchy of the 80’s had a school choice conversation —at least one that is a matter of record.

It’s doubtful that the public can recall what was discussed. It’s doubtful that very many were really invited to listen. What is more likely is that most people are left asking, what school choice conversation?

So here’s how the story went

“At its meeting in August 1985, the members of the National Governors’ Association [NGA] formed seven task forces for the purpose of examining in-depth critical problem areas in American education.”

Time for Results?

Time for Results?

It’s unlikely that very many people would argue against the idea that parent involvement in education is critical. Then — now, forever, and always — parent, community, and national involvement and support for public schools is a problem in critical need of being addressed with real solutions. How exactly school choice came to be seen as a “critical” problem depends …

“Whether the push for school choice is driven by economic and political forces, or by parents and educators, depends on whom you ask.”

What we know for sure is now our history.

To be clear, since the development of free desegregated public school education, people in the United States of America have had the freedom to choose between their local public schools, private schools, and home-schooling. There is no forced attendance at government-run schools only. There are compulsory attendance laws to protect a child’s right to an education but people have always had a choice in how to comply with that law. We have always had school choice. … to date.

But when was it discussed that school choice is the best answer for a lack of parental involvement? Who knows?

What was decided was to attach the issue of school choice to that of parental involvement. However, at the 1986 NGA meeting, a year after the topics had been decided, then Governor Lamar Alexander introduced the topic like this

“We will then hear presentations from three of the Governors who led the task forces on teaching, on leadership, and on choice.”

Their presentation of a critical problem area went from “parental involvement and choice” to “choice”?

Governor Dick Lamm of Colorado chaired that task force. As he explained it,…

“What we were looking at is how can we give additional flexibility to parents and students in choosing their schools within the public school context.”…

“Some of these could be magnet schools, some of them could be alternative schools, some of them could just be different options among the public schools.”

Lamm recommended PUBLIC choices. These choices were all under local district governance. And even though the topic was introduced as “choice,” Governor Lamm did share some views on parental involvement.

And he did acknowledge…

“The two things we looked at: choice, parental involvement. They are related but they are also separate.”

But in publication after publication, parental involvement and choice would be lumped together without any emphasis on “the choice” being “within the public school context.” It was never a significant part of the school choice public conversation.

The chair of the Choice Task Force wasn’t the only one voicing concerns.

Mr. Al Shanker (then head of the American Federation of Teachers) was one among many who tried to explain the potential pitfalls of “choice.”

“We live in a society where that [choice] is one of our top values.”

“Kids have more of a commitment when they decide on a program or a school than parents do.”

“I am very concerned, and I think all of us have to be concerned, that there are situations where choice could result, let’s say, in the top 25 percent of the students in a major city being offered nice spots in suburban schools, and leaving the schools in that city that might very well be on their way to coming back, leaving them without any role models at all for those other students.”

“Therefore, as we move towards systems of choice, I think you ought to be very sensitive that we may be leaving a lot of kids behind, and we have got to look at that. That’s not to argue against choice, it’s just to argue that we do it in a thoughtful way.”

“There is one other downside which hasn’t been mentioned on this…. The parents’ associations in England complain bitterly that if you have the right to switch, nobody wants to fight. That is, nobody is left to argue that you need improvement in the school because the dissatisfied people move out, leaving only those who either don’t know what is going on or who don’t care, or don’t have the time or the energy to move.”

“You rescue your own kid and say the heck with the rest of it. These things have to be watched.”

“I don’t know all the problems that are going to arise….I want to experiment. I want to make sure we don’t 
decimate the cities.”

Was it just the teacher’s union and a governor or two that questioned school choice as a reform strategy?

Ms. Georgeanne Sherrill, a career ladder 3 elementary teacher in Tennessee, was attending the 1986 NGA meeting to present information on instructional leadership and “career ladders” — an initiative of Lamar Alexander’s. She joined the conversation.

“I would just like to say one thing. I think it’s in connection with what Ms. Futrell [then president of National Education Association] said. I think we can give parents a choice in education without having to pull the students out of one school and put them in another school. We can work with parents to structure the program in that school to meet the needs of the parents that have children in that school.”

That suggestion seemed to be discarded at the time but is finding favor in some areas of the country now.

So it wasn’t just one union leader, or two, or one teacher that voiced objections and concerns. As the chair of the Parent Involvement and Choice Task Force, Governor Lamm went on to explain…..

“I, like I think most of the other governors, are desperately concerned about opening up choice to public or private school and the choice of a voucher or any similar thing, with cannibalizing the existing public school system, about taking resources that are already really too limited.”

There was definite dissention in the ranks of leadership. But the dissenting voices were effectively struck down at every turn by then Secretary of Education Bennett and the Chair of NGA, Governor Alexander.

The conversation going forward? It was framed.

Summary by Lamar Alexander

Summary by Lamar Alexander

What did we hear from the chair of NGA? We heard the question,

“Why not let parents choose the schools their children attend?”

And the talk was of a “better schools movement.”

“It will mean giving parents more choice of the public schools their children attend as one way of assuring higher quality without heavy-handed state control.”

And the project moved forward with the help of the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Bennett’s leadership. The nation had a new project, officially —Project Education Reform.Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 3.09.50 PM

The newsletter gave no explanation of "choice."

The newsletter gave no explanation of “choice.”

The critical problems of parental involvement and choice became joined at the hip —one dragging the other forward—but at this point in the story, not much was really said about the details of choice.

 

Did the report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education (A Nation at Risk) have school choice as one of its recommendations? No. The school choice agenda moved forward because influential and “gifted” people pushed it.

William Bennett was one such leader, for sure…

“He is a man of great brilliance and strong convictions, but he is a preacher, not a teacher. He is trying to manipulate public opinion to accept his ideas of what is right and wrong. This would be forgivable if he were not as gifted as he is and if he were not the Secretary of Education.”

”Bill Bennett is the first Secretary to understand the ideological and political possibilities of the office that were there from the beginning. In Bill Bennett we’re getting our first Minister of Education.”

“…he waded in with a controversial new voucher plan that would give parents of disadvantaged children funds that could be spent in private and parochial as well as public schools.”

School choice was part of the Bennett agenda from the beginning. How much he really cared about the disadvantaged, who knows?

But by 1989, we had a new president, a different secretary of education, and had some changes in governorships. What did not change was the Project Education Reform agenda —with one exception. The facade of parent involvement had been dropped. Instead of a task force on Parent Involvement and Choice, we now had a working group for Choice and Restructuring (pg.44).

Insert1And by 1991, it was Lamar Alexander who became secretary of education putting himself in a prime position to carry their reform agenda forward.

Today as head of the senate education committee, he has done his part to federalize the plan for school choice while being the artful dodger in avoiding any conversation concerning “choice.” The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is in conference committee…..tick, tock….

The bill to replace No Child Left Behind is a critical problem.

The bill to replace No Child Left Behind is a critical problem.

 

Time for the school choice conversation again? In light of the fact that the Dyett Hunger Strike is occurring in Chicago because an open enrollment neighborhood public high school is no longer a choice, we need to have the school choice conversation all over again…now. What is America’s choice?

“The hunger strike is now at Day 28 as of this writing (9/13/15) and the Chicago Board of Education has finally opened talks with the strikers.”

This level of sacrifice by a small group of people should make us all feel a bit humbled by their resolve, but a little sick inside that it has come to this — the oligarchy rules and, in general, they don’t feel the need to listen to any of us.

You-Haver-A-ChoiceThe public’s choice?

Bush’s Education “Blueprint” Before 9/11

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

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

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

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

About Bush’s education blueprint, Gary Ratner wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I Understand ESEA?

This question — do I understand ESEA — should have been a starting point for President Obama and all 535 members of Congress as they approached the reauthorization of ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act). I’m only attempting to answer the question today because a citizen on Facebook asked it and I happened to see it. It’s an excellent question with answers that have varied according to who is speaking and the depth of their understanding or political motivation.right-question-quotes-8

It is confusing.

ESEA —the original 1965 law— and NCLB (No Child Left Behind) are technically the same law but the similarities in their purposes and methods are few.

Here is an explanation directly from Senator Crapo of Idaho.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 5.16.24 PM ESEA was actually enacted in 1965 and its focus was on funding to children disadvantaged by poverty. The funds were to meet under-privileged children’s educational needs through improved teacher, counselor, and state leadership training, community support services, and increasing support for libraries and learning materials.

We stopped questioning authority?

We stopped questioning authority?

 

The provisions ended in 2007? That’s confusing. It makes it sound as if NCLB ended; it did not! Congress just FAILED at that point to do their jobs and the detrimental effects of the law continued unchecked for eight more years.

Here’s how it once worked.

To implement the original ESEA required low-income communities to identify the needs of impoverished children and develop plans to address those needs. This is because the focus of the law was on meeting the needs of “educationally-deprived” or “disadvantaged” children. This was the mechanism through which the original ESEA lawmakers envisioned offering poor children an equal shot at success in life as best as a good education can.

A committee reviewed the results of the 1965 law less than a year after it was put into action and found that the dollars were being used in a variety of ways….Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 6.32.04 PMThe 1965 ESEA was based on JFK’s vision.Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 3.16.21 PMThe “assessment” requirement was to prove the effectiveness of the school’s plans in meeting the needs of impoverished children. For example, the assessment of program effectiveness in decreasing the number of anemic children might include a variety of indicators (number of low-income parents attending adult nutrition classes, food distribution numbers, number of local nurses trained to educate new parents, final blood screening results, etc.). The assessment was to fit the program of improvement and the only mention of measuring achievement was this…

"Appropriate" was to be determined by focusing on what children need to learn.

“Appropriate” was to be determined by focusing on what children need to learn.

Were “achievement gaps” also monitored? Yes, eventually, but not in this law. It wasn’t the main focus. Monitoring the achievement gap became more important when the U.S. Department of Education was created in part to ensure equal access to quality education. They then went on to create the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is well-respected in the education field and not seen as objectionable by most of the parents who now are protesting and boycotting excessive standardized testing (which was not part of ESEA until NCLB).

Facebook Question: Isn’t it true that schools are entitled to additional federal funding if they meet performance standards?

It is true of the way NCLB was set up through its stipulations to punish low-performing schools and reward high-performing schools based on a free-market model of competition. It is also true because of the way the system set up “grants” of money based on who has the best grant writers and can make their student population perform well on standardized tests, or if they can manipulate their data well.

This was not true with the original ESEA. It’s funding was focused on children from low-income families and an accounting of wise use of federal dollars. Districts receiving federal funds needed to demonstrate results based on an assessment of how well they were meeting the needs of children (inputs) as well as improving success in academics (outcomes).

Facebook Question: Does that mean that schools can ignore ESEA and continue on as before?

Schools in areas of concentrated poverty shouldn’t ignore their dependency on federal education dollars through ESEA. Many use those dollars very wisely because they have honest, hard-working, knowledgeable leadership. Other places lack leadership capacity and play the teach-to-the-test game that narrows what is taught. Unequal access to quality education persists for that reason.

Facebook Question: What is wrong with the government expecting performance for our tax dollars?

Absolutely nothing. But the misunderstanding in this nation is that “performance” on standardized tests equates to the quality of education and equal access to it. It doesn’t.

The truth is counter-intuitive. Standards don’t ensure achievement.

Standardized test scores continue to correlate most closely to a child’s socioeconomic status, which doesn’t usually change dramatically from year to year. Yearly testing of every student for purposes of judging schools from the federal level is an unethical use of standardized tests. NAEP testing is done randomly and has been a good barometer of the achievement gap between rich and poor. (P.S. The gap narrowed most significantly in the two decades following the original ESEA.)

What we should expect in the way of accountability for tax dollars are appropriate indicators of resource inputs, parental and community supports, and a variety of outcomes….indexI could go on, and on….

These were great questions to try to answer! I’m so fortunate to have seen them. This is exactly the type of question/answer session the country needs if we have any hope of getting ESEA reauthorization (and education reform) right.

My thanks to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page for providing the forum that made this conversation possible.

Obviously regular people are asking the right questions while lawmakers remain ignorant of how poverty affects children and how federal education law can help improve the odds of each child having access to quality learning opportunities. We need to remedy that problem before Congress and the president reauthorize ESEA without correcting the mistakes made through No Child Left Behind.

(UPDATE: Too late. Congress & the Obama administration passed the Every Student Succeeds Act – ESSA – December 10, 2015. Same mistakes as NCLB. More emphasis on privatizing public education through “charters.”)

If they won’t ask good questions, we must find another way to inform them.

(UPDATE: My suggestion now is to #StopESSA #RepealReplaceESSA #Revolt and have the conversations we need to have.)

Pillars or Propaganda

pillars ancient

When you hear the word “pillars,” does it invoke an image of strong supports? Who would have thought this innocent but persuasive word would be used against us in the education reform wars?

 

The four pillars of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are,

  • Stronger Accountability for Results
  • More Freedom for States and Communities
  • Proven Education Methods
  • More Choices for Parents

Pillars or propaganda?

After 14 years, our reality should tell us that they were not pillars of school improvement. The propaganda machine behind NCLB was strong and effective. The wording of the pillars —like the name No Child Left Behind—were only the empty promises of a politically-motivated, greed-driven marketing campaign.

And now?lawmaking-process

Now we stand poised to have Representative John Kline (R-MN) chair the House-Senate Conference Committee to write the law slated to replace NCLB— if the combined bills once again pass through both houses and the president signs it.

 

Let the deal making and propaganda flow — in a very controlled manner.

As clearly explained,

No Child Left Behind greatly expanded the role of the federal government in public schools in an effort to ensure every student receive equal academic opportunities. The law required states to set academic standards, routinely test student proficiency and report the results.”

You could say the goal sounds noble. But NCLB stood upon the guiding principles (pillars) of “accountability, flexibility, and choice” and clearly used the force of law to require implementation of the reform theory of standards, testing, and public reporting of test results to push a failed reform method that we knew wouldn’t work.

THAT, we don’t hear discussed in the mainstream media.

Instead, the marketing campaign is being rolled out and the media is regurgitating what they are feed.

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As Kline explains

“The Student Success Act [House version H.R.5] is based upon four pillars – four sound principles upon which I think we can build common ground…”

  • Reduce the Federal Footprint
  • Restore Local Control
  • Shift from “Highly Qualified Teachers” to “Highly Effective Teachers”
  • Empower Parents

The sound bites rolled off the tongue.11192630_424448924428605_1947082176_n

“The Student Success Act will reduce the federal footprint and restore local control, while empowering parents and education leaders to hold schools accountable for effectively teaching students.”

SOLD…. Not so fast. To call these methods “sound principles” just isn’t the truth.

We were promised “freedom/flexibility” —now we are asked to swallow reducing the federal footprint and “local control.”

We were promised “proven methods” — now we think “effective” is better.

We were promised “choice” — now we get “empowerment” because choice has been proven ineffective repeatedly.

We are getting powerful words engrained in our consciousness; they are slogans not solutions.

The Senate version is no better. The Every Child Achieves Act (S.1177) to stands on such a multitude of “pillars” that people must read more than the well-written marketing pieces to know what is in the bill. You have to dig deep.

10389690_773525136032161_985265226383217614_nWhat we do know is that what will come out of the Conference Committee will be a combination of these two bills. Don’t both bills still stand on the principles of test-based accountability and the false promises of local control and choice while sounding as though they uphold the ideal of proven effective methods of reform?

The current pillars of federal education law have been proven to NOT work for America.

Now, the public should be exploring whether or not the underlying “pillars of reform” that No Child Left Behind stood upon will be sufficiently changed by this new law?

Based on what I know of both laws, it’s not likely.

The proposed pillars of The Student Success Act and The Every Child Achieves Act are based on the same guiding principles as No Child Left Behind. Only the words have been changed but the illusion of reform remains the same. There is no proof of effectiveness and the real fight is still against the big money interests already in control of our education dollars.

And don’t believe for a minute that…

“President Barack Obama is unlikely to sign the bill as written when it comes out of committee.”

The deal for him is being sweetened.

And President Obama does not have personal experience with the effects that No Child Left Behind had on children in low-income communities. He didn’t send his children to an under-performing school. He didn’t study the history of education reform or the development of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. What are the chances he has had the opportunity to hear and consider the stories people like myself could tell?

If he listens, what is he hearing?

He has not publicly discussed the alternatives that are available. They are more likely unbeknown to him — like they are to the majority of the public.

We are hearing the propaganda; we are not hearing about the true pillars of education reform.

UPDATE: S.1177 was passed with a change of the name to Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). President Obama signed it into law….The country remained relatively silent and we are now obediently complying with the law.

Reality Check

How many Americans care about preserving the institution of public education?

REALITY: Not enough!

******Reality******

******Reality******

Proof? No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was Introduced in the House by John Boehner on March 22, 2001 and its destruction of public schools has gone on, and on, and on for 14 years — even though its faults were immediately recognized.

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UPDATE: December 5, 2015— NCLB was changed after 15 years to another faulty law – ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act). Everything here STILL APPLIES – unfortunately.

Recognition of the major flaw in the laws has not deterred lawmakers or the education system from putting detrimental “reform” practices into our schools and system. That is the reality as demonstrated in this September 2001 article by Gary Ratner, Director of Citizens for Effective Schools.

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

What is NCLB?

“[NCLB]…is essentially just federal reinforcement of the states’ decade-old ‘standards, assessments and accountability’ movement…

…But history shows that approach is wholly inadequate…

…More of the same will not work…”

insanity

And Ratner and his organization developed a coalition of other like-minded organizations and individuals. They tried to draw attention to the problems with NCLB and to offer better solutions. One attempt was a full-page open letter to President Bush and Congress.

“The current Act fails to remedy the underlying problem: the need to dramatically improve the level and quality of Industrial Age teaching and family support for the millions of students the system never previously expected to perform well academically.”

Gary’s efforts, and those of many others, have continued. But the thing about Gary Ratner is that he actually organized and presented better ideas to Congress in 2004, wrote a better critique of NCLB than congressional members ever attempted, and even went so far as to take a chance on working with me at the grassroots level. That’s gutsy!

His efforts have been never-ending. Scroll down to the beginning of his news page and see for yourselves the long history of his involvement in this fight.

REALITY: Critical thinking, intelligence, knowledge, persistence,….dare we say “grit”….are what we want to see in American students but we ignore those characteristics in our citizens when it comes to lawmaking.

REALITY: Congress doesn’t give a damn what any of we minions want or what we need in education reform laws.

“No Child Left Behind” failed to live up to its name…period. After experimenting with the theory of standards, testing, and accountability, or as Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) wrote, after…

“…experimenting with our children — a whole generation of children, we know we left children behind”…

11752044_10203403321202540_2176278363644672217_n…the reality is, it’s time to STOP.

REALITY: We have never offer quality-learning opportunities to all children. No Child Left Behind only made that reality worse for children in low-income communities because it focused dollars on a standards-based system not on providing what children need in order to be able to take advantage of learning opportunities —when they are offered. Instead, competition created a race for scores. It produced scores without skills and instilled temporary knowledge in students without offering all of them opportunities to apply their knowledge. And NCLB once again proved that enforcement of “higher standards” is not the best first step in school improvement.

So in 2007 as the OFFICIAL deadline for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) approached —when NCLB should have been laid to rest—Ratner continued the effort to draw public attention to the real issues with NCLB. Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 1.07.33 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-21 at 11.02.20 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-21 at 11.02.02 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-21 at 11.01.09 AMSo what are we doing now? REALITY: We are pretending to turnover control of school improvement back to the states while insisting we still follow standards, testing, and accountability as the guiding principles for school improvement. We continue to ignore longstanding research on Effective Schools.

Should we expect that anyone in Congress has read and understood Gary Ratner’s attempt to assist in public development of skilled leadership, producing leaders knowledgeable in the common elements of effective schools, or have reviewed the 45 page University of the District of Columbia Law Review article on restructuring this broken law?

REALITY: We have set really, really low expectations for Congress.

Realistically, we are not going to agree with every aspect of any one person’s view. But, there is so much here to work with and, tragically, identifying problems and solving them is not how Congress has approached ESEA reauthorization at all. Congressional representatives —many of whom were in Congress for the signing of NCLB—should be able to explain why the law failed and how what they have now written fixes the problems. They haven’t.

REALITY: They don’t get it, so they can’t get it right.

The children in public schools need the public to support them. They are not represented by Congress. Children can’t win the war against the influential in public education let alone hold the line against those behind the scenes who are the REALLY BIG movers and shakers in the lawmaking process. Those people are the ones that had no qualms about experimenting on the children who became the modern-day Lost Generation. That generation, who are now young adults, are the “product” of both NCLB’s education policy and financial policies that created the deep money pit of the Great Recession. Together, those policies created by Congress undercut the future for our youth.

REALITY: The influential are not looking out for our future.

Will we? We can. #SunsetNCLB #GetESEArightphotography-quotes-reality-welcome-to-reality-Favim.com-581101We didn’t get ESEA right. Are we going to wait and see how ESSA “works”? Knowing the major flaw of NCLB is still the basis of ESSA, let’s do the right thing and end the era of education reform insanity. #RepealESSA #MakeESEAright

Wrong is Wrong

Senator Alexander believes in making “the Bush-era law work.” He stated that, “How well our children are learning is much more important than any political game” but his actions have not matched his rhetoric.images copy 3

The truth is that education reform has been nothing more than one BIG political game. A major part of Lamar Alexander’s life was spent in the political arena and his vision of reform has affected the education of the nation’s children.

Here’s how the game “worked”; the influential set our course for education reform 30 years ago. The nation’s schools, teachers, parents, and children have taken the brunt of their mistakes while those in power marched on never wavering from their goal despite evidence of their mistakes.

The influential were wrong in theory and in action. And given his history, Lamar Alexander has to be counted as one of the most influential players in this game.

puppetAs Secretary of Education, Alexander not only led us in the wrong direction, he also helped put blinders on us. In this politically influential position, he found multiple ways to pull the strings to get the country dancing to his tune.

“America 2000” was unveiled in April 1991 shortly after Alexander replaced Lauro Cavazos as Bush’s education secretary. Alexander was prime architect of the program, which included the proposed creation of national standards and voluntary national tests in English, math, science, history, and geography to be administered in grades 4, 8 and 12.”

And,….

“…voucher legislation first prepared in 1992 by Mr. Alexander, as secretary of education in the Bush administration, has been the basis for Mr. Dole’s “opportunity scholarship” proposal in an election in which voters say education is at the top of their agenda.”

And there were things he chose not to do.

Secretary Alexander chose to ignore the Sandia researchers report stating that the idea of school choice is in direct conflict with support for troubled schools.

“In early 1991, the Sandia team prepared a report, asserting that “evidence of decline used to justify system-wide reform is based on misinterpretations or misrepresentations of the data.”

The Sandia researchers have been muzzled. The Department of Education complained that the report was biased because “data shown are consistently supportive of a picture of U.S. education in a positive light.” The report, Secretary of Energy James Watkins charged, “is a call for complacency at a time when just the opposite is required. The Department of Energy will not permit publication of the study as presently drafted.” It has still not been released.” From the Myth of Public School Failures, Richard Rothstein, 2001

Secretary Alexander chose to ignore the warning of the Special Study Panel on Education Indicators…Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 11.53.15 AMA nation misled will eventually be lost…unless we self-correct. We have that freedom.

Lamar Alexander has exercised his freedom of choice and executed his political agenda with fidelity while keeping much of the country veiled in ignorance.

“Mr. Alexander, a former governor of Tennessee, became a co-director of Empower America in 1994.”

“…the Washington-based outfit has provided funding, staffing, and organization to help Messrs. Kemp, [former Reagan Secretary of Education] Bennett, and Alexander refine their policy ideas–including school choice and the devolution of federal education programs–and expand their political bases after departing from public office.”

“Empower America plans to continue promoting school choice, and Mr. Alexander is expected to take a lead role….We’re planning on [Mr. Alexander] coming back and being a part of a big school-choice initiative.”

Empower America is now called Freedom Works. Freedom Works’ motto for education reform is “Bring competition to public education and give kids and parents real opportunity.” Real opportunity?

Words, words, and more words. But….

Senator Alexander has managed to dodge explaining the failures of his theories and to put forth any evidence-based reasons for the federal government (the government of us) to financially support an ideologically driven, market-based, outcome-based, standards-based (test-based), reform law that sponsors privatization of public schools to replace what once was an anti-poverty law (ESEA). It’s wrong.

The Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177 NOTE: the name was changed to Every Student Succeeds Act ESSA & made into law) has it wrong for the very same reasons that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was wrong.

Instead of factual reasons why NCLB was so devastating to public schools, Senator Alexander reaches for his political game card.

“The problem has been that, starting with No Child Left Behind, we’ve created in effect a national school board and Washington has started requiring the standards and that’s created a huge backlash — first with the teachers’ union because they don’t like teacher evaluation from Washington or anywhere else, and second from conservatives who don’t like federal overreach.”

Dodge ball?

Alexander uses the nonexistent “national school board” as a catchphrase… “What states need is not centralized support for the new policies and procedures dictated by the national school board, but freedom from Washington …,”

If the nation wants national standards, who do they want to put in charge of them? The non-profit who currently holds the copyright to the Common Core? The powers that be? Answers Senator Alexander?

If the nation wants national standards, who do they want to put in charge of them? The non-profit who currently holds the copyright to the Common Core? The powers that be? Answers Senator Alexander?

He rallies his troops with empty rhetoric. Freedom, freedom, freedom works!

Three decades after the plot was set, the plans laid by Alexander and company are coming to fruition. They have convinced a nation (with the help of some of the best marketing firms in the world plus some deception) that standards and testing are an essential first step in education reform. They’re wrong.

Wrong is wrong no matter how you dress it up, talk it up, or mark it up in law. It’s wrong and as a nation we’ve been wronged.

The influential pulled our strings.

Our guiding principle in the design of a choice system is this: Public authority must be put to use in creating a system that is almost entirely beyond the reach of public authority.”

Is that the guiding principle the influential followed?

So much for ACCOUNTABILITY! Isn’t this FLEXIBILITY with our tax dollars to the extreme? CHOICE served up in law all because the country didn’t know the facts and marketers did a number on us?

No Child Left Behind was a bad law because its guiding principles are “accountability, flexibility, and choice.” We should not try to make it work. Its guiding principles are dead wrong.

Wrong is wrong. There is no making this education law right, unless…..we go back to the guiding principles of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)— supporting quality education and equality in opportunity by focusing on the children from low-income families. It’s the only way to make this right.Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 3.52.56 PM

“Education is the business of the American people.” Francis (Frank) Keppel

We jump in now or let the big players finish the game. You can see how it’s done. Just look at Senator Alexander and the position he is in today —- the vote on his law is coming in the next couple of days.

Playing politics has been Lamar Alexander’s game of choice (pun intended). There is only one way to right this wrong. Stop the process.

Doing the same thing, following the same leaders, and expecting different results is not only insane, it’s wrong.

54f226a5704f4351094d8dc6f02db40bStop playing follow the leader and take independent actions to hold lawmakers accountable. Make them do the right thing for the right reasons.

Double Standard

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

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

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

As this young man explains in Academic Imperialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

addressed is data and really went overboard with it!

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about soft bigotry?

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

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

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

Informed Citizens

For our republic to survive and prosper, informed citizens are vital. This fact was acknowledged long ago.Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 9.39.15 PM And as time has marched forward, there has been a notable commonality among U.S. presidents that dissemination of information is an essential national service. Education matters. The question has always been; how do we do it?index

With the civil war raging, President Lincoln answered in 1862 by signing the Morrill Act establishing the land-grant college system. He said at the time:

“The land-grant university system is being built on behalf of the people, who have invested in these public universities their hopes, their support and their confidence.”

Fifty-two years later, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act that established the cooperative extension system for disseminating practical applications of research findings from the land-grant colleges to the people who needed the education.

President after president has acknowledged the success of that dual system including President Ronald Reagan as quoted in A Nation at Risk.

“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.”

So, I personally am left wondering if President Reagan was unaware of the intention by President Johnson upon the advice of many, including his secretary of health education and welfare John W. Gardner, to model educational and community improvement after our successful programs in agricultural education.

In July 1964, John W. Gardner, then president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, headed a presidential task force that proposed establishment of the RELs [regional educational laboratories] as a vital link to interpret, shape, and communicate the centers’ research findings; tailor them for practical school use; and infuse them into the nation’s classrooms, including college classrooms.”

So as President Johnson set out to address the issues of poverty simultaneously with those of the education system, he saw the need to provide services for children that would “be adapted to meet the pressing needs of each locality.” He urged that we “draw upon the unique and invaluable resources of our great universities to deal with national problems of poverty and community development.” And it was envisioned that the university extension system could help the people to help themselves.Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.40.32 PM

 

Dissemination of information was seen as essential to improvement.

 

As envisioned by the main architect of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Francis Keppel, a network of regional educational laboratories was written into law. As Keppel expressed, they were “designed to serve education much as the agricultural experiment centers long served and stimulated the development of agriculture.”

He felt this would bring together schools and school systems, link proposal to practice, to provide “a missing link that is in good part responsible for education’s reputation for resistance to innovation.”

Today we have ten regional educational laboratories, but they are not serving as originally intended because their marching orders have changed with the changing of ESEA.

During the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty, the centers and laboratories were intended to be a network of institutions designed to revitalize American education through strategic research, development, and dissemination of new programs and processes. Since their inception, such external issues as the federal role in education and the allocation of funding, along with such internal issues as the challenge of applying research to real-world school settings, have significantly affected the mission and operation of these institutions.”

But despite all the changes and difficulties, the regional educational laboratories have put out some excellent research. However, the goal of forming a network to freely disseminate information and assist in training at the local level was never fully realized and has left us with pockets of schools in need of improvement but without the knowledge and skills to do so. We say they “lack the capacity” to improve.

The regional educational laboratories were intended to provide practical solutions to the issues facing schools. They were to serve as the bedrock of excellence. The information they provided was then to be disseminated to the schools and the general public— free of charge, for the most part. They would be supported by the public system. Flow of information needed to be in both directions ensuring that researchers were addressing what the stakeholders needed to know and be able to do.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 11.55.17 AM

When financial support for public research institutions is cut and private interests start picking up the tab, the integrity of research is potentially compromised. At what cost?

We currently have the system backwards — top-down, outcome-based, data-driven instead of student-focused, needs-driven local improvement.

General diffusion of knowledge, dissemination of information continues to be a recognized problem.

As President Carter established the U. S. Department of Education in 1979, the importance of dissemination of research findings was written into the purposes of the department with a few little words— to “share information” (#4).

Diffusion of knowledge, dissemination of research findings, sharing information — whatever we call it — the concept once held such importance that it had its own title in ESEA.Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 11.58.26 AM We once understood the significance of a national system for providing affordable practical education, doing basic unbiased research, and sharing practical, useful information for improvement purposes. And it worked!

Land-grant campuses collectively enroll more than 4.6 million students and have 645,000 faculty members. They conduct two-thirds of the nation’s academic research and charge a third as much as comparable private universities, even after years of price increases.”

…. “If a Congress fighting a civil war could pass the Morrill Act, I don’t think the fact that, today, Washington is so divided should stop us from recommitting to it [the land-grant system].”

Preserving, strengthening, and improving this part of the system is essential to K-12 improvement…And it is not clear from either the House or Senate versions for ESEA reauthorization that Congress sees the importance in dissemination of information and its significance in cultivating an informed citizenry. #DoSomething

Tell Congress to go back to the drawing board NOW! This country has waited way too long to end No Child Left Behind and get back to a law that works for US!

Turn Around Schools?

The whole point of standards, testing, school choice, school closures, and mass firings of school personnel was to turn around schools identified as failing to serve children — MOST of whom are disadvantaged by poverty. Right? These were the chosen school transformation practices of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

Common Core just happens to be the planner’s choice for the next generation standards upon which this scheme will go forward in state and federal laws. But should it?

Like the song says “Stop… Everybody look what’s going down.”

These strategies are not reforms. They didn’t improve schools. They didn’t improve opportunities across the board for children. They didn’t provide kids with an even start. They didn’t come close to giving them all a fair shot. They didn’t give children hope for a better life. If they had, we shouldn’t see rising suicide rates for black children.

The question is; what will we do? Be realistic?

Realistically, will a quality education lift all children out of poverty? No. But, it will provide that opportunity for many more. Can education make life better for all? Yes, it can. The correlation has been well documented. Education is a common good.

“Education is about more than just better jobs and bigger paychecks, important though they are in making families and individuals more financially stable. More education is also linked to better physical and mental health, longer lives, fewer crimes, less incarceration, more voting, greater tolerance, and brighter prospects for the next generation.”

So is school reform the silver bullet for all the misfortunes poverty can bestow on our American pursuit of happiness? No. But we have to do it anyway. And in the process, we can adopt policies and practices that support families and their children — but only if we make the choice to do so. Enters, The Elephant in the School Failure Debate by Joan McRobbie.

“Common sense tells us that improving child health and nutrition, making it so the family doesn’t have to move frequently to find affordable rent, and reducing family stress make it easier for children to learn.”

Don’t other people find it very disturbing that The Land of Opportunity doesn’t have a better social safety-net for children? We won’t even make equality in educational opportunity a national priority?

“The United States stands out as the country with the highest poverty rate and one of the lowest levels of social expenditure —16.2 percent of GDP, well below the vast majority of peer countries, which average 21.3 percent (unweighted).”Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 1.34.41 PMBut I don’t see Mexico included in this graph and I know their poverty rate is higher than ours, so we’re alright? No, we are not! And enters the argument that money isn’t everything. There is some truth to that.

lyndon-b-johnson-president-quote-education-is-not-a-problem-educationMoney isn’t invested wisely in education reform unless we understand the concept of community support for disadvantaged children and the schools they attend. That was the basis of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that was written through the efforts of many including President Johnson (D) and his Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, John W. Gardner (R) —the founder of Common Cause.

This is how we turn around schools.

This is how we turn around schools.

 

McRobbie gets it.

“Heroic efforts by excellent educators can only make a dent. Their efforts are swamped by concentrated poverty; by the daunting numbers of low-income students and the magnitude of the needs those kids have, through no fault of their own. And each year, more children with similar needs continue to pour in.

This isn’t a school problem. It’s a societal problem imposed on schools,…”

I’m not saying money is the total answer; it isn’t. But wise investment is. Strong communities and the social safety net they build for children is the foundation for excellent schools.

The chief architect of the 1965 ESEA, Frank (Francis) Keppel, saw federal appropriations of money for education like this; the way forward should not be seen as “aid” but as “federal support for special purposes . . . an investment in education . . . investment in people and therefore in the nation.”

Right now, the U.S. Senate version of the reauthorization of ESEA —up for a full vote of the Senate as S.1177, called “Every Child Achieves”— is set to invest heavily in standards, testing, and charter school start-ups. We know these things did not reliably, consistently, or in any statistically significant way improve the lives or education of children of poverty.

We get it. We now need to do something about it.

We get it. We now need to do something about it.

Is this the investment we want to make? Speak up. If the law isn’t about helping to turn around the schools that need our help by providing a better social safety-net for our youngest citizens, we have to stop what we are doing. We can simply say “Vote No” AND go back to the drawing board – NOW!

We need to decide.

Update: The bill came out of committee and in 10 days flat was approved and signed into law during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday (Dec. 2015, now titled Every Student Succeeds Act). Parents, you didn’t have a chance!….We should all be mad as hell!…The alternative is never considered. Why not?

Make It Right

In attempting to fix No Child Left Behind, Congress is struggling to make it right. Instead of thinking they can fix this mess, they need to approach the law as the rewriting of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) because that’s what it should be. Back to basics.

Here’s some advice —DON’T make it A “clear law.”…. O.K., this is where you are supposed to say…. wait, …what? Wouldn’t we want a law to be clear? That depends on how you define “clear.” Thus the need for lots of quotation marks in education reform writing. We are not on the same page! corruption2

As explained in Fixing Broken Government, when something goes terribly wrong in one of our government agencies,…

“The reflexive reaction is to demand detailed laws and rules to make sure things don’t go wrong again…. shackling public choices with ironclad rules… [while]…dictating correctness in advance supplants the one factor that is indispensable to all successful endeavors—human responsibility.

With that in mind, the right thing to do is to expect the humans at each level of the education system to be responsible for doing their jobs in serving the educational needs of children.

Since our laws exist to serve and protect citizens —in this case our youngest citizens’ rights to a quality public education— it is not right for the law to better serve the education-industrial complex.

john-morrison-quote-it-is-about-corruption-of-the-lawmaking-processFor citizens, the weak link in the federal lawmaking chain of events is when industry hires lobbyists who collaborate with legislative staff and a few lawmakers to write laws benefiting the industry, not us. We’ve been left out. The legislative process has been corrupted and bad laws like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are the result.

Some say we see “unintended consequences”; others see “loopholes” in education law as a move towards full privatization of public schools.

Loopholes have repeatedly burned the American public. Right? Here’s why. It’s a phenomenon created by the fact that…

“the more exact and detailed a rule, the more likely it is to open up loopholes…[because]…most regulatory language is inherently ambiguous. Dense rulebooks do not avoid disputes—they just divert the dispute to the parsing of legal words instead of arguing over what’s right.

With ESEA, since we are out to “make it right,” as so many officials have said — we have to replace detailed rules with principles that guide personal accountability.

“Legal principles have the supreme virtue of activating individual responsibility. Law is still supreme. … Law should generally be an open framework, mainly principles and goals, leaving room for responsible people to make decisions and be held accountable for results. Law based on principles leaves room for the decision-maker always to act on this question: What’s the right thing to do here?

This explains the craziness going on in schools right now over testing. We aren’t standing on principles; we are complying with laws and rules — without thinking.

All over the Internet, you’ll find stories about kids crying over tests. I haven’t written about it because, although I tend to believe the parents telling the stories, I didn’t personally know it to be fact. Now I do. And I could not have imagined an adult pushing a child emotionally— to the point of crying —over logging into a test when the parents had clearly refused the testing and the adult administering the test knew it.

It’s not acceptable.

Education law has adults seeing children as dollar signs instead of human beings. The fear of losing funding for non-compliance with the No Child Left Behind law has made school personnel act without asking, what’s the right thing to do here?

Think about that. NCLB was due to be rewritten in 2007. The public has acknowledged that NCLB was not helpful in their own schools. But eight years later, adults are still complying because it is the educational law of the land.

The law itself was NEVER sensible or workable.

The law itself was NEVER sensible or workable. END IT!

If ever there was no responsibility, no accountability for Congress being negligent in their duty, it’s with this law.

The country needs to see Congress make it right. No more excuses. Set principles we can understand and stand upon.

“With principles, a citizen can stand his ground to an unreasonable demand and have a good chance of being supported up the chain of authority.”

The only reason I can think of for not setting the necessary goals and proper guiding principles, in this ESEA re-authorization, is if the law really isn’t for the citizens.