The Education Reform Oligarchy & Stiff Accountability

Who convinced a nation that we should put “stiff accountability” in place without first ensuring that all schools and children had the necessary resources to achieve the excellence in education we demand of them? It was “them,” the rulers; not we, the People.

The education reform oligarchy marketed “accountability,” tied their sales pitch to freedom of choice, used statistics to the point of outright trickery, and suppressed the truth.

They set a game plan and methodically stuck to it.

They shifted our focus from what was set by the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — better educating teachers and counselors, providing sufficient instructional materials, ensuring students are supported, and engaging parents and the community —to— stiff accountability for student outcomes as judged by standardized test scores. And they took aim at teachers…from the start.

Hired to do public opinion polling by the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy under the direction of Marc Tucker, Mr. Lou Harris explained his findings at the 1986 National Governor’s Association (NGA) meeting.

“…people are convinced the heart of the matter lies in what is done about teachers.…

Of course, this means, in turn, new ground rules for teachers…such as, paying teachers by a new bottom line, …and finally, finally, at last, paying teachers competitive salaries on a level, for example, with accountants.

But then with these upside inducements must also go stiff, stiff accountability, such as annual reporting of school-wide student performance,… and this is the key one — allowing parents the chance to choose which public school to send their kids to as a device to reward schools that are successful.

…this means a new compact in education, a trade-off, if you will, between higher
 salaries and more autonomy for teachers on the one hand, in exchange for higher standards and accountability for teachers measured, in what: in terms of student performance. This is basic.”

There’s your basis for No Child Left Behind — in 1986. Mind you, it’s a theory… the outcome-based theory! Did it work? Did we get the results we sought?

Their focus was not on the unequal inputs that are inherent in a public school system the size and magnitude of our U.S. system. Their focus was not on our high level of poverty and the pockets of community decay that has been allowed to grow and fester. Instead, this group of politicians and think-tankers focused on “stiff, stiff accountability” in exchange for more pay.

They did it! We got a federal accountability system based on student performance but without elevating the teaching profession as a whole. Duped? You bet we were. Where is the accountability for that? Who is answerable for ignoring the needs of teachers and the desire of parents?hal-johnson-quote-we-feel-a-little-bit-like-weve-been-duped

You teachers…listen up…. jump those hoops, not because you are a professional doing your job but for the monetary reward. Worship the almighty dollar just like the oligarchy. It’s how they see things in their world…. these people who own and rule the world. This all made sense to them, well, not all of them.

Not everyone attending the 1986 NGA meeting agreed with the theory of outcome-based accountability.

Mrs. Mary Futrell, then head of the National Education Association, spoke out in favor of a different approach…

“We believe the primary responsibility of an accountability system or an evaluation system, it should be for professional growth. To help the teachers do a better job. We have a real concern that as we look at school-based or school performance or student performance, that we will try to tie teachers’ pay to that, even though there is no research to support it.”

Research? The agenda of the oligarchy was never backed by good research and still isn’t…29 more years later! Research and the dissenting voices have been ignored repeatedly. In this game, both are left on the sidelines.

The outcome-based political agenda moved steadily forward while the focus on inputs and real improvements took a back seat.

By the 1989 NGA annual meeting, President George H. W. Bush (41st president, 1989-93) had entered the picture and had been invited to speak.

“To have reform, excellence in achievement must be recognized and rewarded.

To have reform, federal dollars should be targeted to those most in need.

To have reform, we need flexibility and choice, choice for parents, choice for schools in their selection of teachers and principals.

And finally, the essence of reform is accountability in education and reward for those schools that show progress.”

The essence of reform is accountability — not improving schools to the point where all our schools are of high quality?

At that same gathering, then Governor Bill Clinton expressed,

“I support, as I think you know, your education position. I’m for accountability, choice, alternative certification.”

And by 1991, we had Lamar Alexander, a very strong player on the reform team, positioned at the D.C. front-line as the secretary of education.

“Alexander has also put together a new education agenda that includes a controversial proposal for instituting national achievement tests and more emphasis on adult learning and training for the work force. ”

New agenda? More adult training, just like better pay for teachers?

“His Better Schools program for the state [TN] included a new merit pay system for teachers, tougher standards for students and more emphasis on science, computers and mathematics.”

Then in 1996, the first Education Summit gathered together the governors with business and education leaders.

“Their mission: To start a national effort to establish high academic standards, assessment and accountability and improve the use of school technology as a tool to reach high standards.”

The gift that keeps on giving or taking?

The gift that keeps on giving or taking?

Education and the economy were wed in an unholy matrimony that put the quality of education for public school children at risk while putting a bundle of public dollars in a relatively small group of private pockets. This marriage also produced Achieve as “an external, independent, non-governmental” organization for moving the main agenda forward.

“All students should graduate from high school ready for college, careers, and citizenship.”

As we now know, the focus on citizenship didn’t happen. (For the research, scroll down to “In life” section of this blog.) Just like with teacher pay and more focus on adult training, we were duped again. They dangled carrots and we bit.

Throughout all these years, it was reported that the public supported “accountability.” There’s nothing wrong with that. But, did the public realize that it was always an accountability package that put the American education system up for sale?

The oligarchy’s plan always feed the education-industrial complex. William (Bill) Bennett, who went from being President Reagan’s second secretary of education to being a co-founder of K-12, Inc. in 1999, typifies how being politically powerful leads to profits and doesn’t require producing the promised results.

“As K12 Inc. notes in its annual report, ‘most of (its) revenues depend on per pupil funding amounts and payment formulas” from government contracts for virtual public charter schools and “blended schools'(combining online with traditional instruction) among other products. In 2014, K12 Inc. took in $919.6 million from its business.”

And all of the political maneuvering and manipulation of the public over these past decades opened the door further for the oligarchy to use ESEA (No Child Left Behind) as a way to forever (or maybe not) change the focus of the law from supports for children of low-income families and improvement of educational quality for all children —to—“accountability, flexibility, and choice.”

Enter Mr. Obama: He never promised anything that strayed too far from the NCLB goals. And the politics of neoliberalism (scroll to definition in this blog) has doomed him to repeat and amplify the mistakes of the past. The toxicity of D.C. politics is killing public education.

From Democrats for Education Reform - They say they are an "organization that cultivates and supports leaders ...who champion America’s public schoolchildren." Others beg to differ.

From Democrats for Education Reform – They say they are an “organization that cultivates and supports leaders …who champion America’s public schoolchildren.” Others beg to differ.

Education reform is their game and their message has been successfully framed. Data and disaggregation of it isn’t the problem. Who controls the data is.

Parents, you aren’t really players; you are targets of their messaging. And you are pawns. You need to get off the sidelines and into the action — and play responsibly. To do so, you need the truth.

What is missing is the truth.

In roughly 30 years, we have not been able to break away from Mr. Marc Tucker’s vision and plan for America’s education/workforce development system. This is the same man who now proposes that we can “fix” the accountability system by eliminating the power of local boards and putting us all under the thumb of State control (yes, with a capital “S”).

The country bought into the outcome-based theory of education reform. We experimented. Now, can’t we see the results?

Civil rights groups that support test-based federal accountability must face the facts.

Civil rights groups that support test-based federal accountability must face the facts.

“…a return to levels of integration last seen during the Johnson administration.”

Separate schools are inherently unequal which is why federal education law must focus on providing quality inputs while only monitoring outcomes for continuous improvement purposes.

The gains we made in narrowing the achievement gap, after the implementation of the 1965 ESEA, have slowed considerably since 2004. Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 11.15.33 AM

 

If we wanted equal educational opportunity, we are faltering.

 

 

If we wanted an accountability system that closes down neighborhood schools, fires teachers, and lowers the standards for entry to the teaching profession through alternative certification and emergency measures to fill needed teaching positions, we are there.

If we finally want to do the right thing for every child in our public schools right now, we have to kill No Child Left Behind, ditch the theory it was based on, and go back to a system that did produce results.

NCLB will be replaced, but, will the new law really be based on what we learned from this 30 year still-living experiment in outcome-based reform? Since Senator Lamar Alexander had a hand in developing the game plan from the beginning, he should be able to provide answers. Isn’t that what stiff accountability demands? Answers.

The Education Reform Oligarchy: Who Decided?

Who decided it was best to have an education reform oligarchy set the strategy for school improvements? This oligarchy is made up of politicians, business-heads, and philanthropic venture capitalists that are transforming our public education system. Did we decide we wanted these people to change our schools for us?

609106-668-1When did Americans decide that governing by the few was acceptable?

Who’s in this elite group?

The complete list of those who set the agenda for education reform remains a bit of a mystery but enough of the oligarchy have surfaced over the years to form for an accurate, yet incomplete, picture.

One thing is certain, the “iron law of oligarchy” rings true in the case of the National Governors Association (NGA). The law…

“…states that when organizations attain a certain level of complexity they inevitably give way to an oligarchy of elite control — elite domination. This phenomenon is due to the rise of politically sophisticated social elites within the organization as well as the organization’s need to maintain consistent command and control administrative governance in order to attain its goals.”

The approximate time when our modern-day education reform oligarchy was formally established is somewhere between 1982 and 1986. But it doesn’t really matter. The fact is, it is real and “They” (whoever they are) are still in control. NGA was, and remains, one reform tool central to their work. As then Secretary of Education William (Bill) Bennett told the governors at the NGA meeting in 1986 at Hilton Head, South Carolina,

“…you are in charge of schools in your states, and when you decide to act you can act.”

And the association, with counsel, took actions to transform the public education system based on a vision provided by those that see nothing wrong with a small ruling class dictating the change they have decided will work for us.

Here is some insight into their reasoning:

From Mr. Lewis Branscomb (in 1986) as the chief scientist for IBM who headed the task force on teaching for the Carnegie Foundation;

“We hear a lot about a knowledge-based economy. I think it’s important to appreciate that moving into a knowledge-based economy, if that’s what it takes to be competitive, that we can’t expect the smokestack industries to create the new employment.

Then we have to ask, “What 
is industry in a knowledge-based economy?” The answer is the education industry. The next question you ask is, “Well, how competitive is the education industry?” A question Governor Lamm asked in a very interesting paper I read. You have to say our education industry — to be sure a public sector industry, nonetheless an industry –is not competitive today. So, if our economy is going to be competitive, the education industry has got to be competitive.

I think the key to engaging a long-term interest and commitment of companies is the adoption of a reform strategy, like that proposed by the Carnegie task force and the Governors’ task force…

…parents are a declining percentage of the voting population in this country. It will not be sufficient to have just the parents in favor of better schools. We have got to have the retired population understanding that their future Social Security payments depend upon the earnings of kids who are now going into school.”

PDK/Gallup

PDK/Gallup

 

Targeting public opinion? We find a consistent difference of opinion between how parents see their own school —based on their experiences and knowledge of their school— and how they view the public schools in the nation. Is this a difference between what they see and hear for themselves and what the marketing for the reform strategy has produced?

 

 

 

From Marc Tucker (in 1986) as executive director of the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy;

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

The results are clear. The Governors and the members of the Carnegie Task Force are of one mind on the issues and on strategy. The Carnegie Forum stands ready to join with each of you and with the National Governors’ Association in implementation of our common agenda.

We now know that the Governors of this country are solidly committed to a new political compact in education and to a set of powerful strategies for completing that compact.”

oligarchy

 

Like-minded leaders targeting the public? The focus of the 1986 meeting was on what was being dubbed “the 1991 Education Report” which outlined their five-year plan.

 

From Lou Harris (in 1986), of Lou Harris and Associates polling organization hired by the Carnegie Foundation to assess the popularity of the Carnegie Forum report A Nation Prepared, these observations of his polling results;

“In this study we just concluded for the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy…the clear mandate is for nothing less than complete and comprehensive overhaul of the entire public education system….

What you do today will be national policy tomorrow, and a generation from now, it’s my view, that a grateful nation will give you its thanks for what you have done here this week.”

And the predictions from the chair of the NGA (in 1986), then Governor Lamar Alexander (who now leads the charge as chair of the Senate HELP – Health, Education, Labor, Pension- committee)…

“If you look over the horizon and see a big cloud of dust, it’s not likely to be the Russians or the buffaloes coming; it’s likely to be the Governors coming to save the schools, and coming in virtually every state.”

In a 1986 New York Times article, the author observed

“…what this political process has not been able to address thus far is how to move from the ‘input’ to the ‘output,’ or how the increased resources will be translated into students who can meet the higher standards.”

A couple of things are noteworthy about that statement; this was a political process, it was meant to move us from a focus on inputs to one of outputs (outcome-based education reform), and there was talk of increased resources. Talk.

Today we know that education budgets were cut dramatically during our Great Recession, funding remains inequitable and downright inadequate in many places, costs for testing with ever-changing new “higher” standards and all the new curriculum materials that go with them has driven up education costs dramatically while teachers still struggle with supplying the classroom materials they need. Outputs in the face of the wrong inputs? Silliness, or, the strategy?

By 1990, the teachers’ unions also had set a new agenda

“… to not only protect the job-related interests of their members but also ensure the success of the education industry.”

Doing the bidding of the oligarchy? Following the guiding principle to support the education reform market?100510giroux2

If success of the education industry is how education is tied to the economy then the strategy our rulers put forth makes sense. Private profits went up. Public dissatisfaction with school reforms went up and new education industry products appeared — giving us a choice, providing competition. Who decided this was the choice we needed?

The Reading Wars. The Math Wars. Someone always profits from wars.

Milwaukee-Public-Schools-Not-For-Sale1The education reform wars still continue to be a political process wrought with blunders because the American education reform oligarchy —the few that rule—don’t listen to the many that have a good solid base of experience and knowledge. We are many.

But back to the governors and their association, today, do they or we know what the actual recommendations were? Do we know if, in the 80’s, the governors were listening to the testimony of those outside their relatively small circle of influence? Time for results?

Do the ruling elite understand what was in the original plans? Many were present then and still ruling now. They should know. But is their focus on serving the common good by providing quality education to all children, or, supporting the economy by supporting the education industry? These things have not proven to be one-in-the-same.

I don’t think the public knows what was in the original plans. If we did, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be doing what we are doing to the institution of public education. We aren’t reforming; we are allowing systemic destruction to advance while the industry profits.

The education reform agenda, that has dominated the U.S. for three decades, was set for us by the education oligarchy.

We should decide if we wish to continue with their plan and strategies.

Decide: Should education reform continue as a political process or a school improvement process? Must we take control of both to set things right?power-to-the-people