Money Talks

This is a re-blog of Ann Cronin’s over at Real Learning CT. We do hope you’ll give it a read as we think it’s an important one. Ann’s a smart and savvy colleague working in the best interest of students in our country. Feel free to direct any correspondence to her. 

At first, I felt empathy for Bill and Melinda Gates as they spoke about the Common Core in an interview with Gwen Ifill on the PBS NewsHour. I always feel for people who are talking publicly about something about which they know very little. I then reminded myself that these two people who know so little are actually in charge, almost single-handedly, of American education. That is profoundly wrong. Children and adolescents are entitled to the best education their society can provide. And in a democracy, it is unconscionable for the wealthy few to decide what that education will be.

Please watch this 9:54 minute interview with Bill and Melinda Gates:

If you cannot see the video, please click this link

1. Bill Gates says the Common Core sets high standards, but the Common Core Standards are not high. The Common Core Standards are judged to be harmful and developmentally inappropriate by the most respected early childhood professionals in the country. The math Common Core Standards prepare students for math at the community college level and do not equip students with the high school math to set them on the path for STEM careers. The Common Core English Standards require a pedagogy, popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s but now discredited. The National Council of Teachers of English did not endorse the Common Core. The Common Core is the antithesis of what we know, from John Dewey and many others who have studied the learning process, about how human beings learn because those standards do not teach students to create meaning and construct knowledge.

2. Bill Gates said that the Common Core Standards “have gotten the K-12 progression down”, but the Common Core Standards have not done that. The standards are not based on the cognitive, social, and psychological development of children and adolescents and do not address how children and adolescents learn. Both are required for a K-12 progression.

3. Bill Gates said the Common Core Standards will help students who move from one state to another state, but those standards do not help those students.Standards are not curriculum. Just because using adverbial clauses is part of a Grade 9-10 standard does not mean that it will be taught on the same day or even the same year in Florida and in Massachusetts. There are 188 skills for 9th and 10th graders and no schedule for when they are taught within those two years. To have uniformity of instruction, there would have to be a national curriculum with daily, scripted lessons used in every state at the same time. And that is against the law.

4. Melinda Gates said the Common Core Standards eliminate the need for remediation at the community college level, but the Common Core Standards do not eliminate the need for remediation.  Standards alone never create achievement even when achievement is based on the low bar of standardized tests. According to the Brookings Institute,” the CCSS (Common Core) will have little or no effect on student achievement”. The Brookings Institute report provides data that demonstrates that students in states that adopted the Common Core Standards did not do any better than students in states that did not adopt the Common Core, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the largest and most respected national assessment of what U.S. students know and can do.

5. Melinda Gates said that the Common Core Standards were approved by the governors and state commissioners of eduction, but no governor or state commissioner approved the Common Core Standards. Governors and commissioners voted to adopt a set of standards a year before the Common Core committee convened to write the standards. They had no idea what those standards would be so it is not true to say that governors and commissioners decided that the Common Core Standards were better, higher, or lovelier than the standards the states already had.

6. Melinda Gates said the governors and commissioners of education voted for the Common Core Standards because they knew it was the right thing to do, but doing the right thing was not their goal. They voted for undetermined standards in order to avoid financial sanctions from the federal government for not having 100% proficiency (an impossible goal) as specified by No Child Left Behind.

7. Melinda Gates said teachers believe in the Common Core, but teachers increasingly oppose the Common Core. In fact, the more teachers work with the Common Core, the less they like it, the less they think it’s the right thing.

8. Melinda Gates said teaching the Common Core makes teachers “step up their game”, but teaching the Common Core requires very little of teachers. Teaching the Common Core drains the life out of teachers. Teachers do not need to think critically, plan thoughtfully, and design assessments to evaluate their the students’ growth and achievement. Teaching the Common Core also does not give teachers those rewarding moments in which the they see their students in love with learning and motivated to stretch themselves as far as they can because the learning environment is so inviting.

9. Bill and Melinda Gates equate assessments of learning with standardized tests. The two are not the same. Not even close. Every educator knows the difference between real achievement and standardized test scores. Bill and Melinda Gates must know that too because they send their children to a private school which neither teaches the Common Core nor assesses students with standardized tests.

10. Bill and Melinda Gates said the best part of their work in education was seeing great teachers at work, but they didn’t ask one teacher to be part of creating standards for K-12 education. How great do they really think teachers are? I would bet, in their work of fighting ebola and finding cures for AIDS, they asked medical people to play key roles. Teachers, K-12 curriculum directors, college professors, and researchers who are knowledgeable about how children and adolescents learn could have created excellent standards for education, but Bill and Melinda Gates didn’t ask them.

Bottom line: Money talks. Even when it doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

“Profiting from Those Least Able to Resist”: On the “Promise” of Charter Schools

Day five of CIED 694V: Progressive Education Policy welcomed a guest lecturer from Louisiana State University to talk about charter schools, especially the charterization of the city of New Orleans and surrounding areas. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell is associate professor of Literacy and Urban Education at LSU and coordinates the elementary grades teacher education programs. Beyond living through Hurricane Katrina in the area and bearing witness to what happened in New Orleans–the city is now 100% populated by charter schools–she recently co-edited a special issue of the journal Equity & Excellence in Education on “The Promises of Charter Schools.” The issue was built around a single question: “How is the promise of charter schooling, as a vehicle for social justice in public education, playing out? (Dowell & Bickmore)”

I’ve questioned the motives of charter schools for a host of reasons, including the concept that they are leading to increased segregation of our public school system and the notion that students should not, in any situation, be turned into a profit scheme. To me, charters are a smoke and mirrors attack on public education marauding around as “choices” for parents who might be disenfranchised with their local public school. When I invited Dr. Dowell to speak to our Progressive Education Policy course, I thought I might finally get some nuance to my stance.

Dr. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell provided a guest lecture at the University of Arkansas
Dr. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell provided a guest lecture at the University of Arkansas

In preparation for class and at the invitation of our guest, we read the introduction to the themed issue as well as a piece by Nancy Picard, a Louisiana attorney who penned Louisiana’s Great Education Giveaway, a lengthy blog post that captures the genesis and repercussions of the New Orleans takeover. Ms. Picard doesn’t hedge language in her opening paragraph:

Instead, [charters] create a separate and wholly unequal educational system masquerading as choice, which serves to destabilize and discredit public schools in the name of improvement and to make state funds accessible to a wide range of individuals and corporations with little or no oversight.

As Picard point by point explained what happened in New Orleans, the way the laws were changed without anyone in the city following the hurricane, the way African American teachers were fired when their school system was dissolved, the way the Recovery School District (RSD) has now spread across the state, I grew ill. Those interested in privatizing education didn’t miss a beat in attempting to take advantage of the crisis Hurricane Katrina left in its’ wake. If everyone in education were to read Ms. Picard’s post, the world might, in fact, be a better place.

She closed with damning words for her state:

Tossing around public school funds like so many Mardi Gras beads is irresponsible, short-sighted, and an evasion of our responsibility to educate all citizens.

That last phrase really stuck with me. Isn’t this what it’s all about, the evasion of responsibility to all citizens? Do we–Americans–really want equality in our schools or our country and if we do, why do our actions not support such when our actions are to sidestep and shirk our responsibility of educating all citizens in favor of engineering and then spending a windfall of cash on unproven charter schools?

Dowell was able to put names and faces to what exactly has happened in the area. As someone who has worked in teacher preparation and as a school superintendent and teacher, some of her research has taken her to these New Orleans charter schools. She related that some schools are “Mom and Pop” charters that operate loosely (she offered the example of a New Orleans East charter which ran out of money to bus kids in March of last year before closing) and others are good schools that reflect the part of the city from which they originated (she mentioned Homer Plessy and Morris Jeff as two examples of great schools). It sounded like the quality of the schools was–at least to some extent–dependent on the socioeconomics of the students from which each schools drew.

What’s happened in New Orleans represents one of the elements to education deform–destabilization, an element that Professor Dowell spoke of during her visit to class. The RSD took out all of the teachers with experience teaching in the area–not to mention deep roots in the community–in favor of quick fixes like Teach for America and other temp workers. Charter schools sweep into an area like New Orleans and provide temporary homes for students (and the all important $$$ that accompany them) and many charters–if the national trend holds–will go out of business, leaving students and parents in the lurch, leaving a path of destabilization one might liken to the destructive path of a hurricane.

Class also spent some time discussing issues related to the special themed issue of Equity & Excellence in Education that Dowell and her colleague Dana Bickmore, co-edited. The pair asked important and enduring questions, ones I think the country writ large needs to consider before opening one more charter school.

“But we wonder, how have charter schools empowered students, teachers, and families/parents, particularly in schools that are comprised of children of color and children from low socioeconomic backgrounds?”

Champions of charter schools are quick to point out that some students are achieving in those schools whereas their achievement was less certain in their former public schools. This achievement issue is a tricky one to navigate because how well students do is important to everyone. But because charters are presently conceived as being in competition with public schools and adhere to a different set of rules than public schools, the achievement issue is murky at best. Of course the biggest factor in this conversation is, again, the amount of income present in the home (you might be detecting a pattern here). As Kevin Welner eloquently points out in “The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment,” when education as competition is a game to be played and there’s hardly a limit to ways of gaming the system.

Part and parcel to that game, of course, is the high stakes standardized testing regime, about which Dowell and Bickmore offered this astute analysis:

We contend that one score as an evaluation tool denies social justice. Other outcomes might be appropriate for children who will live their entire lives in the twenty-first century. These outputs might include democratic citizenship and social responsibility, as well as critical self-reflection around unequal socially constructed relationships and enhanced capabilities of students, teachers, and local communities to address marginalization through race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability.

Let me be clear, Professor Dowell doesn’t see charters schools through a single lens. She wants the best possible learning situations for all students and that is something laudable and about which most of us can agree. When charters become, as I’ll argue they have in New Orleans, a source of profit for outside interests, a problem exists that needs to be addressed.

While touted as promising change for the betterment of children and public education in the U.S., charter schools as an educational reform strategy appear to be more aligned with profiting from those least able to resist. We posit that the shift in what constituted a charter school, coupled with the increase in standardized testing and the commodification and privatization of education, limit the promise of charter schools as social justice-inspired entities.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan might have uttered his most offensive words ever in 2010, calling Hurricane Katrina “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.”

If one’s goals are to risk the education of young people (despite overwhelming reasons to question charters), to change laws to make it easier to privatize a public education system, and to destabilize a region in the wake of a crisis, Arne and many others are “profiting from those least able to resist” (Dowell & Bickmore, 2015).

Who will stand up for them?

I Got To Meet the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans: Here’s the Question I Didn’t Ask Him

Sorry for the clickbait in the title, but this is indeed the question I didn’t get a chance to ask David Johns, who is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

Mr. Johns (Twitter @MrDavidJohns) was at the University of Arkansas to discuss “Paying it Forward in the Black Community”, which was sponsored by the Black Men’s Solutions Summit, a group that partners with businesses such as Walmart and Tyson Foods to provide free, educational, professional, and social development events for African-American men.

Mr. Johns and his message

The presentation coincided with the regularly scheduled time for our class on Progressive Education Policy and I was admittedly skeptical when my colleague Chris Goering suggested that we attend this session with our class rather than hold our regularly scheduled discussion. I wasn’t skeptical because of the topic, educational equity is #1 on my list of concerns about public education. I was skeptical because Mr. Johns works for President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, two of the people who I believe are largely responsible for the plundering of public education by corporations and other private interests. Unfortunately, my disapproval for the federal government’s education policy is so powerful that I am immediately suspicious of anybody who works for it. That’s not fair, but that’s where I am.

However, Mr. Johns changed my opinion of President Obama’s education policy somewhat. He had a powerful message on the importance of love when educating African American students. I believe that love is important when educating all students, and I’m sure that Mr. Johns does as well, though his audience was predominately African American and he heads up an initiative for African American students, so that’s where he went with the message. He reinforced his message by providing examples of black children with amazing academic accomplishments – further dispelling the notion that the success of African American students should be determined by a test score. He spoke of the importance of making sure that “black babies” are enrolled in high quality pre-school programs, which is one of the president’s primary policy goals. He gave the audience some concrete suggestions and places to find resources in order to make sure that African American children have access to similar opportunities as their future white classmates.

As I listened I went from dubious skepticism, to nodding my head along with his presentation, to a feeling of optimism. It seemed that for the first time, I was hearing something from the federal government (of which Mr. Johns is an agent) that really spoke of educational equity. Secretary Duncan has called standardized testing a civil right, though as I’ve said before, the appearance of equity doesn’t make education equitable.

And this is where my question started to form. The one I didn’t get to ask.

I blame myself for not asking the question. Mr. Johns was more than gracious with his time, and there were many members of the audience who had some great questions that he answered very convincingly. I blame myself because it simply took too long for me to formulate the question in my head, and by the time I had it right, time was up. Fortunately, in this space I can pose the question and then expand on why I feel compelled to ask it. So here it is:

“Why do I have to be on a university campus among a predominantly African American audience in order to hear this message?”

To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of Mr. Johns, but rather a criticism of the way in which the federal government has handled education policies surrounding issues of equity.

Nationally, the federal government praises and promotes the proliferation of charter schools – despite the academic research that says they are no better on average than their public counterparts and in the face of research that shows they are disproportionally segregated. African American students are more likely to attend the “No Excuses” charter schools that are far more about controlling black babies than loving them. Secretary Duncan has used his influence to disproportionately emphasize the importance of standardized tests – leading many low income schools to make drastic cuts to anything other than time spent on math and reading. Perhaps you’ve seen this Washington Post story about a student in Newark, NJ who is destined to spend the vast majority of his time preparing for standardized tests rather than receiving a well-rounded education. Ironically, I received an email during the presentation about the hunger strike in Chicago to oppose the closing of yet another neighborhood school. Chicago currently serves as a model for eschewing love in favor of closing neighborhood schools and opening charters staffed with temporary teachers (i.e. Teach for America). Where’s the love?

That brings me back to Mr. Johns. His message was music to my ears but it isn’t a major talking point in the mainstream message coming from our federal government. Aside from the major policy push towards universal preschool, the message that Mr. Johns brought to this audience is lost in the misguided rhetoric of Duncan. The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans is a commendable effort, but in the bigger picture, it reminds me of Black History Month – a special (and segregated) place in education where we pay attention to what we should be concerned with 365 days a year in the mainstream of public education policy.  Perhaps I didn’t look hard enough to find this White House initiative or find Mr. Johns before this event, but my point is that I shouldn’t have to.  Nobody should.

I have no idea what conversations about education on the highest levels of our federal government look like, but I hope that Mr. Johns and others like him are heard in those conversations. I sincerely hope they have a central and increasing role in deciding future policy.  That would give me some hope for the future of all students in this country, especially those who need far more love and far less technocratic nonsense.

Progressive Education Policy – Day Two: Know Yourself, Know Your History

Who decided it was a good idea to write a weekly blog post on a class? As I second guess that decision from a time commitment perspective, I’m pressing forward for several good reasons. By opening the doors to our classrooms in this fashion, we’re modeling positive behavior that we see in our local schools and in schools around the country, but we also admit that doing so is a risk. It’s much easier to shut one’s door and do what she or he thinks is best for the students, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. By sharing glimpses of class and materials and readings from a potentially enigmatic–privatizing education, for example, is en vogue across party lines–course like this, we are opening ourselves to criticism and the potential for outright attacks. That said, the door to Peabody Hall 307 is virtually and physically open for others to join because part of the point of this class is to communicate with those outside of the academy. It’s much easier to not practice what we preach.

Let’s start with a quick recap of last week’s class and a reminder of what was read and prepared for Day Two. Last week we kicked off the semester and partied like it was 1897 with John Dewey’s “A Pedagogic Creed.” Students concurred that the text is just as relevant today and it provided the impetus for all of us in class–instructors included–to begin to stake our claim in our own individual educational beliefs. Students and those following along at home were encouraged to take up the questions, “what’s your line in the sand and/or what do you most firmly believe about education?”

Peabody Hall

On Wednesday, September 2nd, we worked to take additional steps in addressing these “line in the sand” and “firm beliefs”  questions by presenting drafts of our educational oaths. We split the class into three groups for writing response. The format for the response groups was something I learned in the 2007 and 2008 Invitational Summer Institutes of the Northwest Arkansas Writing Project. While I’d participated in and directed students through a variety of peer revision and editing formats, as a teacher I’d never settled on one that truly worked. Rather than participants reading the papers of one another, these “NWAWP Response Groups” rely on oral readings of an author’s paper and then a conversation that following focusing on what the listeners liked, questioned, and suggested about the piece. It might be a form of educational alchemy because I’ve found it to work so well with so many different populations.

In listening to and reading my educational oath to others, I was both buoyed and challenged to further develop what I was writing. I’ve decided to tackle a teacher educator’s oath for a host of reasons, none perhaps as glaring as the fact the media and various pundits believe teacher educators to exist somewhere under the layer of pond scum that covers the local lakes each fall. Decisions are taken out of our hands, opportunities to influence our future teachers are taken out of our hands, and generally speaking our profession is being privatized right along side that of  the K-12 Public Schools. This is nonsense for lots of reasons, but I digress.

For those of you following along at home, you may want to attempt to replicate the experience of the response groups by both reading your oaths aloud and reading them aloud to someone unfamiliar and asking for structured feedback. They are due next Wednesday, September 9th at 6 PM.

In addition to developing and refining our educational oaths for Day Two, we also read two pieces for class–Chapter One of The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myth, and Lies and Stan Karp’s “Challenging Corporate Ed Reform: And 10 Hopeful Signs of Resistance,” that appeared in Rethinking Schools (a publication I can’t recommend strongly enough).

Dr. Endacott led our discussion of the two readings that students completed in advance of class. He started us out talking about the efficiency epidemics in education starting on page 14, a point Tienken & Ulrich make as part of a general unpacking of the attempted and failed education reforms of the past century. Perhaps an early theme of their book is the cliche notion that those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it, an issue that came up in Day One’s reading and discussion of Dewey as well.

To this issue of forgetting our history, it seems to me that at least some of this disappearing act of our educational and social foundations are not a coincidence. They represent efforts to deprofessionalize education and to ultimately make it into a for-profit business. An article that influenced my early thinking on this issue was written by Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon from the University of Tennessee, an article in The Journal of Thought in which she challenges the leaders in her college on the fact that she was then the lone remaining faculty teaching social foundations of education.

A nation that does not have citizens who are knowledgeable about their past, understand their cultural roots, are able to analyze their social institutions, and able to make an argument for what should be on the grounds of justice, care, beauty, truth, and goodness is a nation that cannot hope to be a democracy someday. (p. 6)

And while the article wasn’t part of our discussion, it provide a representation of the general experience we shared as readers of Tienken & Olrich’s Chapter One–this was a good reminder of what has been tried, what worked, what didn’t, and how important it is to know and keep current our knowledge of educational history.

One aspect of the efficiency notions of education in the early Twentieth Century are again ideas that seem to be very popular once again, especially in this quotation from the chapter that suggested that overwhelming research evidence “…did not defer the efficiency gurus and the wannabe business-captain superintendents from climbing aboard the efficiency train.” (Tienken & Olrich, 2013, p. 15)

The second reading, the article from Rethinking Schools, was equally as generative in terms of discussion. While Tienken & Olrich do a nice job of naming the challenges and outlining the historical perspective, Stan Karp’s piece outlined the current challenges but ends with then (2012) hopeful signs of resistance.

Some of the ideas that seemed hopeful in 2012 have evolved greatly in the last three years, especially the example of United Opt Out and the fact that 20% of students in New York state refused to take the PARCC exam last year. Others ideas have faded but new ones have surfaced too. Students in class brought to the fore a reference to the situation in Little Rock and a recent article published in Alternet (detailed below) detailing how parents organized to attempt to stop privatization efforts in the city following the state taking over the school district last year.

We finished class by outlining the projects and aim for class and handing out the syllabus. Students have a good amount of say in which topics we’re covering and when. They ranked potential topics for a course such as this and we’ve landed on eight topics  they want to cover in class as a class this semester. Drumroll:

High Stakes Accountability
Standardized Testing/Achievement Gap
School Choice (Charters, Vouchers)
High School & College Graduation Rates
Education & Inequity
Teacher Accountability, Merit Pay, VAM
Federal Education Policy (NCLB, CCSS, RTTT)
Alternative Teacher Preparation

In what we think is an important movefrom the 2013 iteration, we’re shifting writing and discussion leader responsibilities towards an outward audience. In other words, we had terrific discussions in class two years ago and the students took on projects of a public advocacy nature, but the work they completed were more academic in nature. Students will write blog posts instead of discussion papers, for example.

For next week:

1. Complete your Educational Oath.

2. Read and prepare Chapters 2, 3, and 4 from Tienken & Olrich.

3. Select two or three topics from the list about which you’d want to write and lead discussions.

Further reading:

Holloway, K. (2015). How the Billionaire Kingpins of School Privatization Got Stopped in Their Own Backyard. Alternet Retrieved from

Thayer-Bacon, B. (2013). Dear Dean Rider and Department Heads McCallum and Bell. Journal of Thought, 6-16.

Tienken, C. Standardized Testing is Not Teaching. Retrieved from

CIED 694V: Progressive Education Policy – Day One

Eight students joined us for the first night of CIED 694V: Progressive Education Policy. One of us–Chris tonight–is going to try to capture a sense of the class for anyone interested and reading along out there in EduSanity-land. The blog isn’t necessarily the class and vice versa but does provide another opportunity to collaborate on ideas related to education. If you are interested in reading the things we read and participating in any way you can imagine, contact one of us and let us know and we’ll make that happen for you.

The class, like so many great ideas, was born on a bar napkin in the spring of 2013 when Jason and I discussed the idea of constructing a class to help teachers recognize their own voices and power through the readings and discussion possible in such an environment. While having these sorts of conversations in academic setting is important, we decided from day one that in order for anything to help the current educational situation–one many of us can agree is untenable–we wanted the students to move their ideas, readings, and inquiry outside of the academic arena and to engage the community as part of the class. To this effort, a teacher formed a book club with other teachers in her school to discuss a book detailing the privatization of education. Another teacher, this one also a full-time graduate student–put together a public screening of Listen: The Film that featured student filmmaker, Ankur Singh.  The name of the first iteration of the course was Reclaiming the Conversation on Education.

The 2015 class starts at 6 on Wednesday nights and this week’s class began in a typical fashion–we spent the first 15 minutes of class getting a sense of who was in the class and why they specifically elected to enroll. The students in the course represent a broad range of experiences and backgrounds, an attribute we think will be important to how the class develops over the course of the semester. Ranging from a retired history teacher to a student finishing his teaching license and from special education to ESL, the conversations promise to be lively.

Starting out our past iteration of the class focusing on all of the various education reforms currently facing teachers and proponents of public education, we decided to instead spend the first night of class taking stock of what we individually believe about education. A go to text to inspire such a conversation is John Dewey’s “A Pedagogic Creed” from 1897 and that became our official first reading for the course.  I’ve cherry picked a couple of quotations from Dewey that captured at least some of the essence of our reading and discussion.

I believe that these interests are neither to be humored nor repressed. To repress interest is to substitute the adult for the child, and so to weaken intellectual curiosity and alertness, to suppress initiative, and to deaden interest. To humor the interests is to substitute the transient for the permanent. The interest is always the sign of some power below; the important thing is to discover this power. To humor the interest is to fail to penetrate below the surface and its sure result is to substitute caprice and whim for genuine interest (www.dewey.

Some larger thematic ideas and questions that came out of the reading: Dewey is timeless and connects to what good teaching is now and will always be but we wondered how many people know Dewey today? What purpose would it serve to erode the foundations of education in the learning and teaching of how to teach? Where do we see John Dewey in schools today? Do alternatively trained teachers read and study Dewey? Progressive educators are not necessarily progressives, politically speaking and finally, education must start with the child and children have power.

Save as the efforts of the educator connect with some activity which the child is carrying on his own initiative independent of the educator, education becomes reduced to a pressure from without. It may, indeed, give certain external results but cannot truly be called educative. (www.dewey.

I believe that all reforms which rest simply upon the enactment of law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile.

People used to say, “I’m a progressive educator or that I use progressive methods,” but Dewey said that there’s no such thing as being “progressive,” but rather a progressive educator is one who must be willing to change and through those changes, always make society better and more democratic.

Following our Deweyian beginnings, the next part of class was spent moving towards each person in class–professors included–staking a claim about what they believe in education, or to take another view, what they would not do. To this end, we read the Hippocratic Oath from the medical field which was followed by a spirited discussion. Next up was Gus Morales’ video about his Educratic Oath and his perception that the entire education profession needs to draw a line in the sand about what we will and won’t due. I highly recommended watching the video if you haven’t seen it. Gus’ words and passion engendered a conversation around the idea of “Why don’t we have an oath or ceremony when teachers begin in the profession?”

Writing down these ideas that were swirling in our heads was the next goal. We made a list of the things we believed or the things we would not do and then spent time working on a draft of these ideas. I said my list would probably get me in trouble and it might. For next week’s class, each student will return with a rough draft of their oath, creed, or general thinking.

To close the blog post, what’s your line in the sand OR what do you most firmly believe about education?


Course readings for next class:

Karp, S. (2012, spring). Challenging corporate ed reform: And 10 hopeful signs of resistance. Rethinking Schools, p. 34-39.

Tienken, C. H. & Olrich, D. C. (2013). The school reform landscape: Fraud, myth, and lies. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. (Introduction and Chapter One)

“An ethic for teachers of conscience in public education.” 

Recommendations for further reading:

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education.

Published: Teachers Views of the Common Core State Standards and its Implementation

So, what do teachers think about Common Core, its implementation, and the working conditions in which they exist? If you’d like to learn more about a new Educational Review article that Jason and I contributed to, follow this link which will take you to a place you can download the article (first 50 are free, contact me for further access).

Let’s start with the abstract.

Common Core State Standards are embroiled in controversy and politics. The need to continue to study the many facets of educational changes remains critical, especially from the perspective of the teachers experiencing such changes firsthand. Existing surveys of teacher perceptions regarding the Common Core State Standards have focused primarily on teacher awareness, preparedness and opinions regarding the quality of the Common Core State Standards and curricular alignment. This survey study addressed teachers’ views and support towards the Common Core State Standards and its implementation, their anticipated effects, and how its operation has affected their teaching, their anticipated effects, and their thoughts to leave the profession prematurely. Comparisons were made between tea- cher groups based on grade-level taught and years of experience. Overall, teachers had a positive attitude towards the Common Core State Standards and its imple- mentation. Attitudes tended to be more negative as grade-level taught increased and were significantly less favorable for those with thoughts of leaving the profession early; responses varied among teachers with differing lengths of experience.

CCSS PictureHere’s a bit of context. We took up this study in late 2012 as we were hearing several reports of mis-implementation  of CCSS, feedback arriving through email, social media, and through our student interns at the university. Whether or not those things were real outside our little ivory tower bubble was worth examining.

On a sad note, following data collection on the state and national surveys, we lost my dear friend George Denny who, besides being one of the world’s nicest and smartest guys, was a heckuva statistician and a very average racquetball player, a fact that had kept us ‘in court’ most of the then previous five years.

One of George’s students came on board to help with statistical analysis and eventually took on the lead author role for this article. Dr. Ki Matlock is an outstanding person and researcher, just beginning her second year as an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University. Dr. Vicki Collet, Jennifer Jennings-Davis, and Ginney Wright also contributed to this piece and the research project, the first of what we hope will be several articles to come out of the study.

In a nutshell, teachers in Arkansas liked and supported CCSS and CCSS implementation in 2013 when we collected these data. Since that time, I argue the standards have become increasingly political and controversial nationally. Whether those or other forces are factoring in is debatable but the preliminary analysis of our 2015 data collection (same survey, 25 months later) show major changes not for the better.

A closing statement:

If it is true that the working conditions for teachers are the learning conditions of students, paying close attention to the nature of teachers’ perceptions in the midst of broad sweeping educational change is warranted by previous research (Ma and Macmillan 1999).

And here’s a section of the introduction that points to a large part of the CCSS that critics agree is a central problem:

While creating a set of educational standards in this way is not, in and of itself, controversial, the inclusion of the CCSS in Federal legislation vis-à-vis the Race to the Top program predicated at least some of the backlash. Instead of standards existing independently as they were originally intended, they became intertwined with the United States Department of Education and more broadly, with President Barack Obama. Thus, political actors opposing the President or the Democratic Party had ample ammunition to level a charge of coercion against this move. In order for states to compete for billions of dollars set aside in the Federal Race to the Top program, they had to sign on to national standards. The pushback against the CCSS, interestingly enough, is not only a Republican versus Democrat issue, with candidates across the spectrum denouncing [and supporting] the standards and how they were brought forth.

I continue to meet people on all sides of this fence–those who adamantly support and defend CCSS, those who want them gone no matter what, and those who remain undecided. The nature of conducting educational research often means that data are collected, analyzed, and published after the court of public opinion has leveled charges and either sent the defendants packing to prison or set them free. In this case, overall positive reviews of the CCSS in 2013 may mark an important understanding when the history of this particular educational reform is retold.

Is the Illusion of Equity a Civil Right?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently gave an interview in which he stated that the federal government “would have an obligation to step in” if states fail to crack down on the parents like me who make the choice opt their children out of standardized tests. He argued that “folks in the civil rights community” want their kids to be assessed. Some took this comment as offensive, assuming that Mr. Duncan was inferring that white people like me who opt their kids out of standardized testing are racist because standardized testing data is valuable for uncovering educational inequity between white and non-white students.

Not surprisingly, since Mr. Duncan is a politician, his interview was quickly followed by a statement from 12 civil rights groups that voiced their opposition to the opt out movement. This statement, which was signed by organizations of great importance such as the NAACP and the National Urban League, seemed to lend credence to Mr. SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE HEARING ON THE IMPACTS OF SEQUESTRATIONDuncan’s claim that opting out of standardized tests is an act of opposition to the civil rights movement.

I took a while to think about this issue, principally because I know that my privilege affords me the opportunity to opt my children out of standardized tests without much fear of personal consequence. I wrote about that privilege in my personal opt out manifesto, which spanned the first 20 days of PARCC testing in Arkansas. Reason #20 for opting out centered on the fact that we can opt out and therefore we do opt out for all of the children who suffer from the detrimental effects that our national fetish with testing have wrought.

I don’t take offense from Mr. Duncan’s remarks because it is difficult to be offended when the affront originates from a place of well-meaning ignorance. I do believe that Secretary Duncan has just intentions when he argues for standardization of educational outcomes through the Common Core State Standards or accountability through high stakes testing. For those who aren’t trained educators, such as the Secretary of Education, the philosophical ideals of “equal” and “equitable” might appear to be the same.

It also didn’t take long for those experts who know far more about equity to weigh in with powerful critiques of the opt out statement.  I’m more impressed with evidence than rhetoric, which is why I found Wayne Au’s piece in the Washington Post to be particularly convincing. I would suggest that you read these critiques because they do a far better job of demonstrating how standardized testing has been far more damaging than helpful to people of color in the United States. The bottom line is that “equal” and “accountable” sound great in a political speech or interview, but in reality they lead to resegregation and the disproportionate denigration of educational experiences for children who are not white.

That’s primarily why I do take significant issue with the manner in which “folks in the civil rights movement” are used as a political chit to promote educational policies that really are not in their best interest. I was even more disappointed to find out that 7 of the 12 have been well-funded by the Gates foundation – one of the top grease providers to the wheels of CCSS and its attendant testing regime.

We need to think about how children are being used to further a political agenda that is harmful to their educational and overall well-being. Are we using data to turn students into “objects rather than subjects” by focusing on the numbers they generate rather than their actual lived experiences? Should those who use children as political leverage be held accountable for the negative consequences that result?

Besides, the argument that we need standardized testing in order to uncover the “achievement gap” doesn’t hold water.  We know that educational inequity in the form of an “opportunity gap” exists between white and non-white students.  It has been documented in any number of books by authors such as Jonathan Kozol, Paul Gorski, Lisa Delpit, Gloria Ladson-Billings, and many others.  They demonstrate how we should be focusing on the disparities that manifest themselves in the “achievement gap” in test scores that Duncan and others hold up as a cause rather than an effect of childhood poverty.  The “achievement gap” is quite misleading because contrary to popular belief, the test score gap between white and non-white students has been closing over the past forty years, yet the opportunity gap between students of different socio-economic statuses remains stubbornly fixed.  What happens if we succeed in closing that gap?  Are we going to be satisfied with the appearance of equality if the conditions that underlie them are anything but?  Will we wait until we have the facade of equity before we look critically at whether the ends justified the means?

Mr. Duncan has no legal authority to “step in” and compel my children or anybody’s children to take his tests. However, he does have the ability to punish states if they don’t “crack down” on parents like me who practice civil disobedience in order to protest the harmful and arguably racist standardized testing regime in this country.   He’s already done his part to compel states to adopt CCSS and teacher accountability systems based on standardized test scores by using Race To The Top money and No Child Left Behind waivers as a powerful carrot/stick combination.  But the backlash has begun in states around the country as state legislatures have woken up to the reality of what they signed on for back in 2010 when they were desperate for federal money.  Pushing states to crack down on their citizens is a path of political danger.  Frankly, a part of me hopes that is exactly what Mr. Duncan does, though his energies might be better spent worrying less about the appearance of equity and critically appraising his well-meaning but unintentionally harmful policies.

John Oliver Gets It

One of my favorite shows is “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”. In our modern age of corporate media, it is becoming more and more difficult to find real investigative journalism. John Oliver does his homework and pretty much nails it with his latest piece on standardized testing.

A Month of Opting Out of Standardized Tests: DAY 20! The PARCC is over!

This is the LAST of 20 posts I will be writing during the PARCC testing window of March 9 – April 10.  If you’re interested in the growing master list of reasons we opted out of standardized tests in 2015, you can find it here.

Reason 20:  Because We Can

In many ways we are the perfect and not-so-perfect parents to serve as a public symbol of the opt-out movement.

We are perfect because we know exactly why we are opting out and can explain it in 6000+ word manifestos that criticize the standardized testing racket with research-backed and experience-based critiques.  This is due largely to my experience as a middle school teacher in a public school, the Ph.D. I hold in Curriculum and Instruction, and the connections I have with teachers from around the country.  If there’s a story out there, I’ve probably heard it and I can relate it to research while throwing in a personal anecdote from my own experiences to make a point.  As a university professor part of my responsibility is to engage in public outreach, so I view my blogging as part of my job, though the “credit” I receive for it doesn’t quite match the effort I put in.  I am also currently aware of the legal precedents surrounding parents’ rights when it comes to educating their child though I’m hardly a legal expert.

On the other hand we are also not-so-perfect role models because our situation doesn’t really reflect the reality that most parents face when trying to decide whether or not to opt their children out of standardized tests.  I haven’t faced the same threats that other parents have faced when informing their child’s school of their intentions to opt out.  Whether that is because they don’t want to mess with a guy who can make a very public mess out of the situation or because our school district is particularly enlightened isn’t totally clear to me.  Then there’s the fact that I just keep our children home with me when they are opting out.  My job allows me the flexibility to work from lots of places (currently writing this at Panera) and home is one of them.  This makes it much easier to opt out because we don’t have to worry about sending our kids to school and putting the responsibility for opting out on them.  I’m constantly impressed by the stories I see of students who refuse the tests, often enduring the “sit and stare” treatment (i.e. they are required to sit and have nothing to do but stare at the wall during the test they are refusing).  Our children don’t have to face that.

All in all, opting out is relatively easy for us.  We are privileged in that regard and it is important for us to recognize that privilege.  But we also believe that it is important for us to use that privilege to do what is right.  It would be arguably more beneficial for us to have our children take the PARCC.  They would undoubtedly score well, which is reflective of their ability and the relatively privileged situation they live in.  They would almost certainly be among the “desired” students courted by schools of choice because their ability and socioeconomic status fit the profile.  That said, we sacrifice relatively little compared to other parents who wish to opt their children out of standardized tests but have a more difficult time asserting their parental rights.

Every parent should have the right to make the choice that has been relatively easy for us to make.  I’ve consulted with lots of parents and most choose not to opt their kids out of standardized tests though it’s usually because they are afraid of the consequences, not because they believe tests are good for their children.  I suppose that’s one of the aspects of standardized testing in the U.S. that concerns me the most.  There are few things that schools can impose upon parents and those that are imposed are designed for safety or protecting the learning environment.  Take immunizations for instance.  Schools require them because there’s a mountain of research that says they protect children, despite what former Playboy cover models will argue.  Still, you can opt your kids out of immunizations if you really want to with a religious exemption.  Yet, when it comes to standardized tests, states are adamant that there is NO exception for opting out.  This is concerning because unlike immunizations, the mountain of evidence about standardized testing doesn’t point to them being all that great for children.

When parents are compelled to subject their children to tests with a fervor unlike anything else in our schools, then one certainly has to wonder why.  Of course, if you’ve read the 20 days of opt-out posts I’ve laid out over the past month then I’m sure you’re not wondering at all.


A Month of Opting Out of Standardized Tests: Day 19

This is the 19th of 20 posts I will be writing during the PARCC testing window of March 9 – April 10.  If you’re interested in the growing master list of reasons we opted out of standardized tests in 2015, you can find it here.

Reason 19:  The Status Quo

One popular refrain you hear from politicians and education reformers is that the “status quo” isn’t good enough.  In fact, I couldn’t agree more.

Education reformers would have you believe that they are bringing fresh ideas of choice, competition and accountability to the classroom, and that these ideas will “disrupt” the status quo.  The only problem is that these ideas have been firmly entrenched in American public education since A Nation at Risk in 1983, and have been ratcheted up in influence with NCLB and Race to the Top.

In other words, the “status quo” over the past 30 years has been firmly in control of the standards-and-accountability crowd, and over the past 15 years it has been headed up by the standardized testing cabal.

So if you’re really interested in breaking away from the status quo, then opting out of standardized tests the ultimate act of individualism in the modern regime of test-prep-test-repeat.