Orwellian Education Reform: Postmark 1985

George Orwell, author of “Nineteen-Eighty-Four,” was only off by a month when it comes to the rise of Orwellian education reform. As to the method that brought on this madness, he was right on.

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words,” says a character in 1984.

Gayle Greene chose that quote for “In the public schools, it’s been 1984 for quite awhile. It describes the intentional, well-financed war of words used to discredit, undermine, and destroy the U.S. institution of public education.

“In Orwell’s dystopia,…

The Ministry of Truth spawns lies and propaganda, the Ministry of Love supervises torture and brainwashing, and the Ministry of Peace promulgates war and atrocity.

Turn the words on their heads, and you get a glimmer of the truth.

And the Ministry of Education? There is no Ministry of Education. So now we have a Secretary of Education who’s a dedicated enemy of public education…. Betsy DeVos…”

No Ministry of Education? … Truth be told.

On February 6, 1985, President Reagan swore in Bill (William) J. Bennett as the United States’ third Secretary of Education. Then, the saga of Orwellian education reform began in earnest.

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.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Bennett used his appointment to accelerate the political agenda of standards, assessments, accountability, flexibility, and choice. All those words, all those concepts, were turned on their heads. Orwellian education reform hatched and grew.

The Minister brought in his Three C’s —content, character, and “choice.” But we weren’t asking for “choice.” Almost 80% of parents were satisfied with their schools. And notably, we were saying smaller classes would make a difference to each and every one of our children.No! The Minister says we need “accountability.”

AND, we need “higher standards.”

Only 17% of us thought “higher standards” would improve public education. Then WHY? Why push the theory of outcome-based (standards/testing) reforms on the nation? WHY transform our whole system?

BOTTOM LINE: Do “higher standards” increase student performance? …  In time that question is answered.

Because the public didn’t know the truth, the public didn’t fight the changes. Plus, Bennett said he cared about our students.

But at the time not everyone believed the Minister was sincere about his concerns for ALL our children.

“‘I think he [Bennett] still might be the subject of hearings if we had known during the [confirmation] hearing of his insensitivity toward the needs of students, particularly low- and low-middle income students who can only go to college because of federal aid,’ [Senator Robert] Stafford [R] said in a telephone interview from Burlington, Vt.

While time marched on so did the Orwellian education reform movement. As Ms. Greene explained,

“A handful of billionaires and their foundations bankrolled and orchestrated a multibillion-dollar PR campaign to convince people that public education is broken and private interests can do it better….

A billionaire snatch and grab passed off as a push for racial equality, the destruction of public education… passed off as a civil rights issue.

The confounding of language at its most basic level reduces us to a state of civic catatonia: we can’t think about these issues, let alone discuss them or act against them, when they’ve been so obfuscated, when words have been so twisted.”

Thus, the “information age” hatched the “knowledge economy” which multiplied technology profits at every turn. And the first Minister of Education took full advantage of being in on fronting technology and choice as “reforms.”

Co-founder Bennett & The Truth About K-12, Inc.

“K-12’s spread across the U.S. is due in large part to its lobbying prowess and its political connections. Enabling legislation, written by the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC), has been introduced in nearly every state. “ALEC, … coordinates a fifty-state strategy for right-wing policy. How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools, The Nation, December 5, 2011″

Ohhhhh…., too bad the D.C. revolving door of Orwellian education reform didn’t hit Mr. Bennett in the rear and knock him out of the circle of influence. The country was making real progress prior to being told we weren’t. ALL our children would have benefited from true education reform. But that isn’t how the story goes…Oh, so much truth to be told!

It is no secret that William Bennett and Lamar Alexander (Chairman of the Federal School Board) are buddies. They brought the Orwellian education agenda to exactly where it is today.

“Jack F. Kemp, William J. Bennett, and Lamar Alexander — All have been waiting in the wings as co-directors of Empower America [now called Freedom Works], the Washington think tank that promotes ‘progressive conservative policies….

After the [Bob Dole] campaign, 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,’ said spokeswoman Nicole Fluet.”

And Alexander landed where he sits today —chairing the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Committee…..Yes, HELP. … Talk about Orwellian. But alas, the plot thickens as the characters multiply.

“We should remember that it was George Bush, Lamar Alexander, Chester Finn, Diane Ravitch, Bill Bennett, the Hudson Institute, and the Committee for Economic Development that got the America 2000 ‘reforms’ rolling. And it was George Shultz in the Reagan Administration who signed the Carnegie-drafted U.S.-Soviet education agreements with Gorbachev. That was in 1985, the same year Carnegie brought Marc Tucker on board.”

“If we are to succeed in radically transforming schools, we must alter attitudes outside the schoolhouse door. …

The system we are about to describe is one interwoven fabric.  Each part is necessary for all the others to function properly.  But if there is a centerpiece, it is, without question, standards and assessment.” Marc Tucker

WHY? Why did we need higher standards, fewer-better tests, outcome-based accountability, (the undefined) flexibility, and “choice”?

Doublespeak? Absolutely. Marc Tucker doesn’t believe in fewer tests (as he now writes). He believes in “national” mastery tests in every subject and certification tests for everything. He believes in a tracking system that creates the perfect workforce-development system all under the guise of education and economic needs.

We were told our businesses asked for these reforms.

Sandia Report, 1993

NO! Employers asked that we improve the work ethic and social skills of our students —back then. Now, we also need to repair the damage done through standardization of curriculum and instruction….Oh, and the damage technology has done.

We asked for one thing; we got another.

Parents didn’t ask for this transformation towards a computerized, standardized, non-personal (but “choice”) education system. There was never any proof that any of it “worked.”

“Trust a billionaire to have the public’s interest at heart [?] …

Put kids in front of computers, increase screen time, increase class size – and call it personalized.” Gayla Green

Now “personalized” has a whole new meaning. And politicizing everyday language continues confusing the public.

But the BOTTOM LINE: This was to increase student achievement, right?

Truth. “Higher” standards don’t matter when it comes to increasing student achievement. As much as the truth is hard to believe, it’s harder to swallow. But after over 18 years of standards, testing, and data collection, the only good that has come out of this is the statistical proof of the truth.

Reading Achievement – States are listed on the bottom. Red represents how “high”/ rigorous the standards. Blue is the outcome for each state.


Reading – Grade 4 or 8, it doesn’t matter. The standards don’t predict the outcome. No direct correlation.

This is the outcome after well over a generation of students in a standards-based education system.

 

Look.

 

 

 

See the Relationship between the Rigor of a State’s Performance Standard and Student Achievement in your state and our nation…..There isn’t one.

 

The statistician/author is a retired NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) expert.

 

Math – same findings. There is no evidence that the standards make the difference.

 

The title of the researchers’ site indicates this is Idaho research (his location) but this is national data, nationally relevant.

Reading or math, 4th or 8th grade, it doesn’t matter. Standards don’t correlate to student achievement. They never deserved the attention NOR THE MONEY we focused on them.

Theory has been proven wrong.

Math 8th grade? The patterns are all over the place because the truth is in the numbers that the education oligarchy wanted collected.

 

So — now given the truth — to continue mandating an irrational political concept is government sponsored educational malpractice.

With the truth proven by the very measures we were forced to use, test scores, our duty to stop the Orwellian education reform movement should be clear.

.

Flipping the words of the new Minister of Education, they spell education tax credits and vouchers. They spell the destruction of our public education system.

And clearer yet is the fact that this has been “their” education revolution and they don’t care about ALL our children. Look at the push for excessive technology in schools. The pushers have no regard for what technology is doing to children, or even their test scores!!!!!….

…The public and lawmakers in my state of Idaho put technology ahead of teachers at a huge cost to taxpayers with an unknown cost to children and families.“[Albertson’s supermarket heir Joseph B.] Scott’s investment company, Alscott Inc., has brought in more than $15 million by selling part of its stake in Virginia-based K12 Inc., which was founded in 1999 by former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett.

But it isn’t just luck on Scott’s side. His family’s tax-exempt foundation has helped develop customers for K12. And Idaho’s taxpayers have been paying for it.”

….It is a familiar story across our great nation…. Those fooling the nation are calling themselves “philanthropic venture capitalists.” Do you know who they are in your state?Please join the struggle.

Do We Need 95% of Students to Take Tests?

Is the 95 percent participation in yearly testing, of all students, in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) justified? We need to know.

Currently a conference committee is putting together a replacement for NCLB ( ESEA reauthorization) but, as it stands, it will continue to mandate yearly standardized testing of all students with the 95 percent participation rate unmistakably emphasized.

trtesting1002aClearly, I have an opinion about standardized testing but I have been willing to explore other points of view while considering that I could be wrong. So in looking to find official information on the topic, I ran across an article titled “Why We Need 95% of Students to Take Tests.”

As I read it, I became confused.

Were parents ever…

“begging for their kids to be tested”

…as Stephenie Johnson wrote?

After 13 years of data collection under NCLB, does the public know how the data was used and what value it had in school improvement? Maybe the public no longer realizes that the original ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) intended to help provide a level playing field for children from low-income families.

My schools are schools with a high concentration of such children. I know what I saw in my own district.

Have I…

“forgotten what happened before participation was required”?

I have not. Before participation in yearly externally developed standardized testing was required by federal law for all children, we were making progress in my schools by focusing on correcting the mistakes that were made with reading and math instruction…for the students, based on those students, and based on individual school differences.

We already knew we had problems and which schools were having the most problems. We didn’t need new standards or new tests to tell us what we already knew.

And we knew we were always going to have a certain number of children with special needs. We always had special testing for that.

Ms. Johnson wrote,

“Ensuring that students with disabilities were participating in assessments not only gave parents important data about how their kids were doing compared to their peers, it also guaranteed that school districts were held accountable for their entire student populations, not just the portion that consistently fared well on the tests.”

Ms. Johnson seems to think that the participation of children with disabilities in assessments designed for children without “disabilities” or “special needs” is an overall good thing.

I’m not a specialist on “special needs” and I have a different perspective because of my many years assisting in classrooms. I came to believe that every child has a special need of some kind and learning differences (disabilities) are plentiful in the non-labeled children as well as those with a diagnosis of a more serious nature. So because I recognize how opinionated I am on this topic, I posted Ms. Johnson’s article in hopes of getting some views from educators. Here’s the two that responded:

Larry Lawrence My experience as a district administrator with the California Master Plan for Special Education in the late 70’s and early 80’s was that we had considerably more information about students with special needs than the rest of our students – without subjecting them to inappropriately leveled standardized tests. You only had to sit in on a few IPI (Individualized Prescribed Instruction) conferences to realize the sophistication with which the special education teachers dealt with individual student needs. Of course, we had more adequate funding in those days.

The central claim of “Why We Need 95% of Students to Take Tests” is that unless we administer these national high stakes standardized tests to students with special needs we will not know enough to meet their needs is so off base.

Sheila Resseger I am a retired teacher from the RI School for the Deaf. Ideally students with special learning needs have the full panoply of resources available in their school to diagnose, assess, and monitor their progress. This is what they need and what the IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] requires. To force them to be subjected to grade level assessments when their reading level is far below grade level, due to the impact of their disability, is abusive. There is no way to get meaningful “data” from this cruel enterprise. … This makes me crazy.

What I can tell you is that the mandated participation in yearly high-stakes standardized tests never “ensured” that districts were accountable to all students. In districts with limited resources (a real problem), the test results are used to prioritize the students who would be helped…leaving behind those in the non-prioritized categories… or who just didn’t make the cut. A test and sort system?

Ms. Johnson’s commentary is one of a recent barrage of articles (many paid for by astroturf groups) that are obviously aimed at parents in the Opt Out Movement or those considering test refusal. As a supporter of the use of test refusal as a means to a better end for education reform, I am personally offended by this comment,…

“…some are itching to rewind the clock, taking our education system back to a time when some kids—particularly students with disabilities—could easily be shunted to the sidelines.”

My truth, my perception, is based on my experiences. Ms. Johnson’s?…

“The truth is that we can’t protect these kids if the 95% participation threshold is rendered meaningless.”

Hogwash.

The truth is, participation in the standards-based testing reform concept has been a meaningless endeavor for my district since our state lawmakers put it into action in 1999 —before the concepts’ federalization in the 2001 NCLB. The same school in my district that had a notoriously poor reputation when I arrived here in 1990 was labeled “In Need of Improvement” under NCLB and now is a “Priority” school under NCLB waivers….Do the math!…. 25 years later, with higher standards and better tests, we have the same results but with an ever-changing label to tell a new generation of parents what earlier generations already knew.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 8.25.36 PM

This is how you sell a nation a product NOT how you reform schools.

Participation in yearly standardized testing didn’t change the status of the school because high stakes testing doesn’t help individual children. Standards and testing should not be the first step in a school improvement process.

 

 

But “higher” standards and “better” tests have been made priority #1 for school improvement. And the Powers-that-Be have put our dollars on that horse —repeatedly — for the last 25 years.

America's Choice, 1990 http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED323297.pdf

America’s Choice, 1990
http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED323297.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

“Encouraging parents to opt out of tests could undermine the rights of others who fought so hard for their children to be included.”

Undermine the rights of others?

That doesn’t make any sense to me. If parents want their children tested because they don’t trust their teachers or school, or just want another verification of progress, so be it. That is their right to request use of the available public testing resources. They have always had the freedom to make that request.

What gives the government the right to infringe on the rights of other parents who do not need, or see the value in, their child’s time being spent testing? But then it isn’t really the government making this request, is it?

Achieve, Inc., the Education Trust, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the National Alliance of Business launched the American Diploma Project (ADP) in 2001

2008 -Achieve, Inc., the Education Trust, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the National Alliance of Business launched the American Diploma Project (ADP) in 2001.                      Public knowledge of the plan?

We need to end the lies and deception. We need to be informed. We need to get back to insisting that our government does it job —for US.

One federal role in education is the monitoring of equal educational opportunity.

Student participation in our National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), as done using random sampling, has proven itself over time to be a useful tool for monitoring national progress and in monitoring the achievement gap. But even that data is useless if not adequately analyzed and put into a useful format — for use by the public for improvement purposes.

Senator Obama September, 2008

Senator Obama September, 2008

Where is the clear report card from the president, to parents and the nation, to keep us informed – for federal and state accountability purposes?

Now, just so readers don’t think I’m a totally disagreeable person, here’s the point of agreement I found with Ms. Johnson,

“…it would behoove us all to take a quick trip back in the time machine.”

Let’s go back to 1965. Let’s return to the goals of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Let’s rekindle the vision of its creators…..That would be the best first step towards progress in education reform.

"Education is the keystone in the arch of freedom and progress." JFK, 1963

“Education is the keystone in the arch of freedom and progress.” JFK, 1963

In a Word – Expectations

Standards are “things” we decide and use in comparative evaluations. Having expectations is not the same as setting standards.

And to make the right decisions about education reform, we must consider the words of reform for the wizards of the written word would have the public once again believing their propaganda. To be clear, it is standards-based education reforms that we have been witness to and victims of for the last two decades.

The use of the word “standards” is being periodically replaced in documents and in talking points by the word “expectations.”

An expectation is a belief that something will happen. It is not a thing. It is a human emotion, an idea with the potential to convey confidence in another person’s ability to succeed.

“High expectations” cannot simply be set down on paper for others to read and follow; they need to be felt. When students feel someone believes in their abilities and capacity to learn, they grow and “reach higher.” High expectations “work” because the student feels supported in their efforts.

Reaching for goals, together.

Reaching for goals, together.

So as the last two decades of “reform” of public schools has dragged on, little real change has been accomplished compared to the 70’s and 80’s — gaps in learning persist and schools in many areas have re-segregated themselves to the point where we must revisit the issue of separate but unequal.

And as we do, we should take more than a little time to consider the ideas of Rhona S. Weinstein in Reaching Higher: The Power of Expectations in Schooling. As she explains, “Change has not been dramatic because we have yet to address the deeply institutionalized roots of expectancy processes in schooling and we have failed to equip teachers and principals with the knowledge, resources, and support to teach all children in ways that help them reach their full potentials.…Suffice it to say that until unbiased instruction is provided to children — resulting in equal exposure to challenging material, equal opportunity to respond and demonstrate knowledge, equally nurturing relationships, and the absence of discriminatory labels and barriers to accomplishment —one cannot fully rule out environmental explanations for the achievement gaps that are documented.

We should use the power of expectations in our classrooms and communities.

This isn’t saying that all children need a set curriculum for “…the danger of a common curriculum and common method is that the individual differences of children (in learning style, pace of learning, and interests) are likely disregarded, ultimately leading to greater rates of school failure.”

This is about developing a school culture — an atmosphere —where the principal, counselors, and teachers have a deep-seated belief that every student is capable of being educated to the limits of his or her talents. And that belief is expressed through words and actions that set the expectations for the student. If they feel they can, they can.