Standardizing Whiteness: the Essential Racism of Standardized Testing

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“As a method of social production, as well as social reproduction, standardized testing has had serious cultural implications, not the least of which has been the eternal question of American identity. Consistent with notions of American identity, standardized testing, as an opposition to a cultural other, represents the normalization of whiteness, richness, and maleness.”
-Andrew Hartman

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
-Toni Morrison

We talk about standardized testing as if we don’t really understand what it is.

We say we want No child left behind!

And then we pass a law named after that very sentiment that ensures some students MUST be left behind.

We say we want Every student to succeed!

And then we pass a law named after that very sentiment that ensures every student will NOT succeed.

It would be absurd if not for the millions of children being forced to endure the harsh reality behind our pretty words.

It’s not these ideals that are the problem. It’s standardized testing.

Researchers, statisticians, and academics of every stripe have called for an end to high stakes testing in education policy. Parents, students and teachers have written letters, testified before congressional committees, protested in the streets, even refused to take or give the tests. All to deaf ears.

The federal government still requires all students in 3-8th grade and once in high school to take standardized tests.

But these assessments are graded on a curve. A certain amount of students are at the bottom, a certain amount are at the top, and most are clustered in the middle. This would be true if you were testing all geniuses or all people with traumatic brain injuries.

It doesn’t matter how smart your test takers are. There will always be this bell curve distribution. That’s how the tests are designed. So to talk about raising test scores is nonsensical. You can raise scores at school A or School B, but the total set of all test takers will always be the same. And some students will always fail.

But that isn’t even the worst part.

Standardization, itself, has certain consequences. We seem to have forgotten what the term even means. It’s defined as the act of evaluating someone or something by reference to a standard.

This socket wrench is a good socket wrench because it most closely resembles some ideal socket wrench. This McDonald’s Big Mac is good because it resembles the ideal McDonald’s Big Mac.

That’s what we’re doing to people – children in fact. We’re evaluating them based on their resemblance to some ideal definition of what a child should know and what a child should be.

But children are not socket wrenches nor are they Big Macs. It is not so easy to reduce them to their component parts and say this is good and that is bad.

When you try to abstract them to that point, it is impossible to remove various essential factors of their identity – race, gender, socio-economic status, etc. Nor would it be admirable if you could, because you would have abstracted to the point where the individual is no longer visible or valued. A child raised in poverty is simply not the same as a child from a privileged upbringing. A child from a culture that values cooperation is not the same as a child from a culture that values individual achievement. And that’s often a good thing.

But when you define a standard, an ideal, you make certain choices – you privilege some attributes and denigrate others. Since the people creating the tests are almost exclusively upper middle class white people, it should come as no surprise that that is the measure by which they assess success.

Is it any wonder then that poor kids and children of color don’t score as well on these tests? Is it any wonder that upper middle class white kids score so well?

We’ve known this for almost a century. Standardized tests do a poor job of assessing intelligence or knowledge. Those things are too complex and the tests are too simple. If you’re evaluating something equally simple like basic addition and subtraction, these tests can work alright. But if you’re trying to get at something complex like critical thinking or creativity, they end up doing little more than prizing the way some people think and not others. In short, they elevate the thought processes most associated with rich white kids.

It doesn’t mean poor and/or black children are any less intelligent. It just means rich white kids have the things for which the test designers are looking. Some of this is due to economic factors like greater access to private tutoring, books in the home, parents with more time to read to their kids, coming to school healthy and more focused. However, a large portion is due to the very act of taking tests that are created to reflect white upper class values and norms.

Think about it. Almost all the questions are field tested before they become a permanent part of the exam. Students are given a question that doesn’t count to their final score, but test makers tabulate how many kids get it right or wrong. So when most white kids answer a field tested question correctly and most black kids get it wrong, it still becomes a permanent test question because there are so few blacks relative to whites. Maybe it’s a question that references sun tan lotion, something with which darker skinned people don’t have as much experience. Imagine if a question referencing the hair care practices of  black people became a test item. White people would have difficulty with it because they can’t easily relate. But the field testing process doesn’t allow that because it normalizes whiteness.

So black kids stumble while white kids have an easier time. We even have a name for it: the racial proficiency gap.

Many well-intentioned progressive voices have bemoaned this problem and wondered how to solve it. But it’s not the scores that are the problem. It’s the assessments. They are doing exactly what they were designed to do.

That’s right. You cannot have such obvious, historical problems perpetuated year-after-year, decade-after-decade, and still think they are mere unintended consequences.

This is how the system was designed to work. This is how it’s always been designed to work.

If you were going to create a racist and classist school system from scratch, what would you do? How would you go about it?

You’d need the lower classes to have SOME mediocre education so they are able to do the menial work that keeps society running. But only so much. Education as a social ladder is all well and good as propaganda. But you don’t want that ladder to lead out of the basement for more than a few.

You need something that will create a hierarchy with people of color at the bottom and poor whites only slightly better off so they can feel ennobled compared to their darker subordinates.

You need a biased sorting mechanism – something that allows you to put students into privileged and unprivileged categories but that will look to all the world like it was doing so fairly. It would have to appear like you were choosing students based on merit.

You’d need something like standardized test scores.

This is how these assessments have functioned from their very beginnings.

When Carl Brigham and Robert Yerkes, U.S. Army psychologists during WWI, designed the alpha and beta intelligence tests to determine which soldiers deserved to be officers, they were creating a pseudoscientific justification for white privilege. They used biased and unfair assessments to “prove” that rich white folks were best suited to give orders, and the rest of us belonged in the trenches.

Brigham and Yerkes were drawing upon eugenics, also called “racial hygiene” or “scientific racism.” This was a radical misreading of Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin. Eugenicists thought positive traits such as intelligence were widespread in Northwestern European races and almost nonexistent in others. Moreover, negative traits such as laziness and criminality were common in nonwhites and almost absent in those same Northwestern Europeans.

“We should not work primarily for the exclusion of intellectual defectives but rather for the classification of men in order that they may be properly placed,” wrote Yerkes.

THIS is the basis of standardized testing.

After the war, Brigham took the same principles to create the Scholastic Aptitude Test or S.A.T. – in principle the same exam still taken by 2.1 million teenagers every year to ensure they get into their chosen college.

The test was further refined by fellow eugenicist Lewis Terman, Professor of Education at Stanford University and originator of the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. Together these three men created the foundations for the modern field of standardized testing. And make no mistake – its axiomatic principle is still that some races are genetically superior and others are inferior.

Or as Terman put it:

“A low level of intelligence is very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among Negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come… They constitute a grave problem because of their unusually prolific breeding.”

After WWII, the eugenicist brand suffered from comparison to the Nazis who had been inspired by the findings of Brigham, Yerkes and Terman among others. In the post war years, we’ve discarded the overtly racist language but kept the assessments. Yet they still function the same way – sorting out blacks and the poor while prizing the rich and white.

This information is not secret. It is not kept under lock and key in some hidden military base somewhere. It’s accessible to anyone with Internet access or a library card.
We ignore it, because otherwise it would destabilize the current power structure – the corporate education policies that drive school practices in our country. We close our eyes and pretend it isn’t happening.

But it is.

“Standardized tests are the last form of legalized discrimination in the US,” said Education and Psychology Prof. Phil Harris.

With them you can give rich and middle class whites every advantage while withholding the same from students of color. And we don’t call it racism or classism because we pretend the whites earned their privileges by their test scores.

“We are using the testocracy as a proxy for privilege,” said civil rights theorist Lanni Guinier. Test scores are the excuse for prejudicial and unjust practices that would be impossible without them.

For instance, if you really wanted to help someone who’s struggling, you might offer extra help. But low test scores are used as the reason for withholding that help. We actually use these invalid scores as a means of demeaning and firing poor black kids’ teachers – as if anything they could do could completely overcome biased assessments and poverty. In this way, we not only remove those already in place to help these kids, we ensure few people will volunteer to take their place.

And when you have a teacher shortage in these poor urban neighborhoods, you can use that to justify further deprivations. Instead of teachers with 4-year education degrees, you can hire lightly trained Teach for America temps – college grads who’ve taken no coursework in education beyond a six weeks cram session.

And if the parents of these children complain, you can open charter schools to pull a quick bait and switch. Make them feel like they have a choice when really you’re pulling the rug out from under them. You provide them with a school with none of the safeguards of a traditional public institution – no elected school board, no transparency on how tax dollars are spent, little oversight, a right to refuse any student they wish, etc. And when the school goes belly up, these kids will be pushed back to their former traditional public school that has had to make due with less funding and now can provide even fewer  services than it could before students jumped ship.

Using standardized test scores to judge not just students but whole schools, you can destabilize the entire system of public education. Charter schools and traditional public schools fight over ever-dwindling funding, one required to prove everything it does, the other able to do whatever it wants until it closes with little to no consequences for charter operators who take the money and run.

The US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs Board that we can’t have “separate but equal” schools because when they’re separate, they’re rarely equal. But somehow that doesn’t apply to charter schools.

Somehow we’ve stopped caring about integration – one of the central victories of the Civil Rights movement! This plays right into the hands of the corporate education reformers. They have done everything they can to increase segregation because it makes it so much easier to privilege rich white kids and crush poor black ones.

They don’t want an equal mix of black and white, rich and poor in our schools. That would make it much harder to select against one class of student while boosting another.

They need to keep the races and classes as separate as possible. Charter schools help in this regard, but they would be insufficient without the help from many white families who flee from these “other” darker complected kids. It’s just another way to send more funding to white kids and less to poor black kids. They say it’s based on local property taxes. That way they can pretend it’s all fair and above board. Rich folks have a right to be able to give their kids the best, and if poor folks can’t afford to do the same, who do you expect to pick up the tab?

Oh! And let’s not forget setting “high academic standards” while all this is going on. They throw out everything that’s been working and come up with a Common Core of knowledge that all kids need to learn. Don’t include black and brown history, culture or the arts – just the stuff the business community thinks is valuable because they know so much about what’s really important in life. And have the whole thing written up by non-educators and non-psychologists and don’t bother testing it out to make sure it works.

Your rich white kids will have no problem jumping through these hoops. But your poor black and brown kids will stumble and fall – just as planned.

This is what has become of our public schools.

This is corporate education reform.

This is our racist, classist school system.

And it’s all based on standardized testing – a perfectly legal system of normalizing rich whiteness.

What If Clinton and Trump Debated Education Policy?

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The second Presidential debate was a bust for the millions of Americans who care about public schools.

 

Instead, we got Donald Trump mansplaining away his vagina-grabbing days. We got Hillary Clinton blaming Machiavellian duplicity on a movie about Abraham Lincoln. But not a word about K-12 education.

 

After all these debates in the primary and only one more debate left in the general, it seems a pattern is emerging. The media just doesn’t ask the kind of questions parents, teachers and students really care about. After all, there is no defined position staked out by each political party on schools and schooling. Both sides are kind of the same. Asking about it wouldn’t support the usual narratives about so-called “conservatives” and “liberals.”

 

So once again I appeal to the power of education bloggery to give you what I imagine a debate on this subject might sound like from Clinton and Trump.

 

Hold on to your pussies. Here goes…

 


 

Me: Thank you, Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump, for being here today to talk about education issues.

 

Clinton: You’re very welcome.

 

Trump: (sniff) Yes. I am very glad to be here. No one cares more about education than me. Okay?

 

Clinton: Well, hold on there, Donald. I’ve spent my entire career fighting for kids and families…

 

Trump: (sniff. sniff.) What about the kids and families of Benghazi?

 

Me: O-kay! Let’s begin. Shall we? This question is for both of you. How would you describe your education vision? Mr. Trump, you won the coin toss, so you go first.

 

Trump: Thank you, Steven. And let me just say I have lots of education vision. My education vision is just tremendous. I think public schools are the most important thing in our country. The taxes we pay for them are just incredibly high. No one pays more taxes for schools than we do. Not the French. Not the Chinese. Not the Russians. And as President I would make America great again by cutting taxes on schools. The business community doesn’t need this. It hurts competition and that hurts education. And there are too many taxes for you regular people out there, too. Unlike my opponent, she’s just terrible. Isn’t she, folks? I’d cut taxes while she would raise them.

 

Me: Your time is up, Mr. Trump.

 

Trump: …and I just want to say this one last thing, Steven. Hillary Clinton is a liar. And I would never lie like her. Ask Bernie Sanders about that.

 

Me: Thank you, Mr. Trump. Secretary Clinton? Same question.

 

Clinton: Thank you, Steven. I want to take this opportunity to thank you, personally, for being here. As a country, we don’t appreciate teachers enough. You are our number one resource. And a renewable resource. Right? You can clap here, People. Ha! Ha! But seriously my vision for education is a strong one. I’ve fought for children and families all my life as First lady of Arkansas, as First Lady of the United States, as a U.S. Senator and as Secretary of State. You might say that I am the most qualified candidate for President in U.S. history.

 

Me: Thank you. Madame Secretary. Though I wish you had answered the question.

 

Clinton: Oh I will answer the question. That’s why I have been endorsed by the largest teachers unions in the country…

 

Me: Next question. Secretary Clinton, you mention your experience. Some have criticized you for putting the needs of Wall Street ahead of working families. How would you prioritize the needs of students and parents over the corporations and edu-tech industry?

 

Clinton: As you said, Steven, I’ve been around a long time. I’ve seen a thing or two. Like you, I’ve raised a daughter and know how to navigate the pitfalls of our education system. And, honestly, I don’t think we have to have a conflict of interests between business and education.

 

Trump: Crazy Bernie says differently.

 

Clinton: …I see our public schools and public charter schools working together hand-in-hand to provide our children with a world class education. You know my husband and I have long supported…

 

Trump: You should be in jail.

 

Clinton: Donald, I think this is my time. Is this my time, Steven?

 

Me: Yes, Mr. Trump. Please stop interrupting. You’ll have a chance to respond.

 

Trump: Sorry, Steven. I’m just not used to a woman talking for so long. It’s exhausting.

 

Clinton: Anyway, I’ve always been a booster for higher academic standards. And as President I would do everything I can to make sure our students get the best education possible.

 

Me: Mr. Trump. Same question.

 

Trump: What was that question again, Steven? I kind of forgot while I was listening to that long speech she just gave. Talk. Talk. Talk. This isn’t the Bengazhi commission, Hillary, but I wish it was. Trey Gowdy…

 

Me: Mr. Trump. The question was “How would you prioritize the needs of students and parents over the corporations and edu-tech industry?”

 

Trump: Students and parents? They’re just wonderful. We need more students, but I guess that’s where parents come in. That’s why I had so many kids, and they’re all so successful. We didn’t stop with just one. We raised one, two, three… a whole bunch of them. And they’re just tremendous. So I would definitely make sure their needs were being met. Their needs are my needs and so, of course, I would make sure they were being met. You know, perhaps she should have spent more time meeting her husbands needs. Do you know what I mean?

 

Me: Mr. Trump, the question was about corporations servicing public schools.

 

Trump: (sniff.) In that case, I’d service corporations. I believe in business. I’ve been a businessman all my life. Very successful. No one knows success like Trump. And I’ve just got to say we all might have been better off in the ‘90s if she had serviced her husband more. I have to tell you.

 

 

Me: You are disgusting.

 

Trump: (shrugs) This debate is rigged.

 

Me: The next question is for you, Mr. Trump. Whenever you’ve spoken out on education issues, you’ve consistently criticized Common Core. As President, what would you do about Common Core and what role do you think is appropriate for a President in setting national education policy?

 

Trump: Common Core? I’m against it. It’s no secret. I think it’s been just terrible. It’s been a disaster. A national disaster. And one of the first things I’d do – well the first thing I’d do is throw you in jail…

 

Clinton: Donald, I…

 

Trump: But after that I’d get rid of Common Core. There would be no more Common Core. Our kids don’t need Fed Ed. Period. They need more choice. Parents should get to pick the schools they send their kids to. We should stand back and let the parents choose. That’s what I did for Ivanka and my other children and they turned out just fine. Don’t you think they turned out fine, folks? You all saw them on my hit TV shows ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’ Those were great shows. Award-winning TV. Must See Television. Those were good days.

 

Me: Secretary Clinton. Same question.

 

Clinton: Thank you, Steven. I appreciate the quality of your questions. It’s clear that this debate has been put together by educators and not representatives of the media. Though I thoroughly support the field of journalism as a profession and a calling.

 

Trump: You never had a TV show.

 

Clinton: As to Common Core, I just want to ask Donald something.

 

Trump: (pops a Tic Tac) It’s surprising you’re going to give up your time to let me talk. I have to say. This is the first time you’ve let somebody else talk…

 

Clinton: How do you propose to get rid of Common Core when the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives that power back to the states?

 

Trump: (sniff.) E-S-S-A? Never heard of it. I’ll have to ask Mike Pence about it. But the President can do what he wants. You know the old saying, folks: it’s good to be the king.

 

Clinton: You talk a good game about states rights, Donald, but when you propose getting rid of Common Core, you’re proposing a federal policy that takes away states rights. Every state legislature has the power to change academic standards or retain…

 

Me: Secretary Clinton, that may be true, but the question was meant for you. What would YOU do about Common Core as President?

 

Clinton: Nothing. I would respect the law.

 

Trump: THAT’S a first!

 

Clinton: I would encourage states to adopt high academic standards and if those standards were the same as Common Core then so be it.

 

Me: How would you encourage them? By withholding federal grant money like the Obama administration did?

 

Clinton: I… I think the federal government has a strong role to play in the education of our children. But I would not violate the spirit of the ESSA, unlike Donald. He says he’s for states rights but he calls for a bigger federal power grab than anything my party has ever participated in.

 

Trump: (sniff.) Wrong.

 

Me: Okay. Next question. Since we’re talking about the federal role in education, let me ask you both what role you see for the U.S. Department of Education under your administration and whom would you nominate as Education Secretary? Secretary Clinton. You go first.

 

 

Clinton: Thank you, Steven. As I said, I believe in the Department of Education. I believe in the Secretary of Education. I believe in teachers. And if we’re going to give our students a leg up – all of our students – then we need to strengthen our public schools and public charter schools. That’s where the Department of Education comes in. Not to enforce education policy but to set the agenda. It helps the states get things done through competitive grants, research and data collection.

 

Me: So whom would you nominate to head the department?

 

Clinton: I would have to talk about that with my advisors…

 

Me: Give us the shortlist.

 

Clinton: Perhaps someone like John King.

 

Me: John King!?

 

Clinton: He’s already there and as my daddy said, if it ain’t broke do not fix it.

 

Me: Mr. Trump. Same question. What in your opinion is the federal role in national education policy?

 

Trump: Well, Steven, I don’t think there is one. You know the government that governs best governs least. I learned that from my good friend, Gary Busey. You know? Come to think of it, he’d make a pretty good Secretary of Education, but no. One of the first things I would do is completely disband the Department of Education. On day one. Gone.

 

Me: So what would happen to Pell Grants, for example, and all the federal money that helps buoy our public schools?

 

Trump: Do we need it? I was able to raise my family without any help from the federal government.

 

Clinton: Unless you count your nine bankruptcies, and using loopholes to avoid paying any federal income taxes for over a decade at least.

 

Trump: I did it all on my own. My father gave me a loan but I made it pay out for me so I could build the Trump empire.

 

Me: Didn’t you inherit most of your money?

 

Trump: I’m surprised at you, Steven. I expect something like that from her. She’s bleeding from her… whatever. But you should know better. You think Americans are stupid. And I just think they are strong enough to do it on their own. They don’t need the government to help. We don’t need the regulation, the taxation. Parents can use state money to choose and that will be good enough. Let the free market decide.

 

Me: Okay. Next question. Standardized testing has come under fire for assessing children’s economic situation more than what they’ve learned. Would you continue to mandate annual testing for all public schools? Mr. Trump?

 

Trump: I dunno. I’ll have to ask Pence on this one.

 

Me: You have to ask your vice president what to think on standardized testing!?

 

Trump: Yes. I mean no. I’m not really sure. Could you make this one multiple choice?

 

Me: Secretary Clinton? Same question.

 

Clinton: Standardized testing has been an important part of how we hold school districts accountable. While I understand the concern about over-testing, I think it is important we keep testing our children in grades 3-8 and once in high school. It helps us make sure our schools are meeting all our students’ needs and not violating their civil rights. Many of my former colleagues in the Senate expressed the same concern you mention, Steven, but changed their minds when they were approached by various civil rights organizations…

 

Me: Many prominent civil rights organizations such as Journey for Justice and various chapters of the NAACP still oppose testing. Why do you chose to side with the organizations who are beholden to the testing industry for their funding?

 

Clinton: I think… maybe we can give the situation more study and find solutions that would satisfy both the civil rights organizations and testing critics. But it is imperative that schools are held accountable…

 

Me: What about politicians? Shouldn’t they be held accountable for adequately funding our public schools? That’s why schools struggle. They serve poor populations and don’t have the resources to help their kids excel.

 

Clinton: This is something you’re obviously passionate about. I have always listened to teachers and with the NEA and AFT would strive to work together to find a solution that’s mutually beneficial to everyone.

 

Me: Okay. Last question. Since you brought up civil rights, Secretary Clinton, one of the biggest issues facing our schools today is segregation. Many modern schools are as segregated or more segregated by race and socio-economic status than they were before Brown vs. Board. What would you do about that?

 

Clinton: That is a problem. We must make sure that all our students needs are being met. We cannot let our schools revert to old bad habits. We cannot have schools for blacks and schools for whites. Black lives matter – even when they’re in school. As President, I would make sure everyone had the opportunity to go to the best schools possible. Students who don’t get what they need at school end up on the streets. They feed the school-to-prison pipeline. They end up lost, and many of them become super-predators.

 

Trump: (laughs)

 

Me: Isn’t that the term you used as First Lady to describe black youth when your husband’s mandatory sentencing policies expanded our prison population exponentially?

 

Clinton: Yes and I stand by that statement. We need to help minorities rise above their circumstances. We need to give them a helping hand. They deserve all the same amenities my daughter had, because all lives matter…. Oh shit.

 

Me: Mr. Trump? Your response?

 

Trump: Do I have to?

 

Me: Yes.

 

Trump: Okay then. Let me just say that segregation is a bad thing. It’s terrible. I’m not exactly sure why but that’s what I’m hearing. We need to make sure only the best students get to go to the best schools and the worst students get their own schools, schools that are right for them. That’s why we need school choice to weed out the worst kids and let them go to the schools that are right for them.

 

Me: Isn’t that just segregation?

 

Trump: N…No. That was a really stupid thing to say. Too many people are just stupid today. That’s why I’m going to make America great again. We’re going to have the best schools. You won’t even believe it. They’ll be just the best anyone has ever seen. Okay?

 

Me: But they’ll be separate schools for blacks and whites? Rich and poor?

 

Trump: I’d like to pass, Steven.

 

Me: Okay. That’s all the time we have for today. I’d like to thank both candidates for coming…

 

Trump: Steven, I just want to say one last thing.

 

Me: O-kay.

 

Trump: I… uh… I never grabbed anyone’s pussy. That was just locker room talk.

 

Clinton: Oh please! It’s just that kind of talk that empowers rapists…

 

Me: Thank you both for coming…

 

Trump: Your husband certainly understands this, Hillary. Men like us with such big hands, we’ve never had any complaints. You know? Here let me show you. (reaches into pants.)

 

 

Me: Cut their microphones please. Call security on, Mr. Trump. Thank you, everyone, for coming. We’ll see you at the polls in November. Just remember, you picked these two assholes. We could have had Bernie Sanders but we’re left with these two tools. This is your democracy at work. We should have let Jill Stein in here to class up the joint. Oh well. Goodnight and good luck.

If I Were Secretary of Education – A Classroom Teacher’s Fantasy

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I will never be Secretary of Education.

Frankly, I’m just not qualified.

I’m only a classroom teacher. The powers that be don’t trust someone like me with that kind of responsibility. It’s okay to give me a roomful of impressionable children everyday, but there’s no confidence I can make sound policy decisions. For that we need someone with experience in management – not schools, pedagogy, children or psychology.

The presiding incumbent in this prestigious position, John King, somehow overcame that handicap. He had taught for three whole years at a charter school, but the bulk of his experience is in administration – administrating a Boston charter school with high suspension and attrition rates. He also was New York State Education Commissioner, where he single-handedly dismantled the state system of education and sparked one of the largest parental revolts in the nation in the state’s opt out movement.

The previous Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was much more qualified, having never taught a day in his life. Before getting Congressional approval, he was appointed to run a charter school and later was entrusted as CEO of Chicago City Schools where he likewise blundered his way to the top with policy decisions that devastated a great system of public education.

What do I have to offer compared to all that? I only have more than a decade’s worth of experience helping kids learn. I’m only one of 3% of teachers nationwide who are Nationally Board Certified. I’ve only earned a Masters degree in Education. I only help run a more than 56,000 member national education advocacy group, the Badass Teachers Association, and write a popular blog dedicated to education and civil rights.

 

I’ve never sunk a major metropolitan school. I’ve never been run out of a populous state chased by citizens armed with torches and pitchforks.

But let’s close our eyes and imagine that somehow through the magic of education bloggery I was whisked into office at the U.S. Department of Education.

What would a person like me do as Secretary?


1) Respect the Limits of the Job

Though George W. Bush and Barack Obama come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, these two Presidents did more to increase the powers of the Department of Education than any chief executives before them. They turned it into – as former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander puts it – a national school board with the Secretary was the national superintendent.

The department forced test and punishment policies on the states, cudgeled and bribed state officials to enact lousy Common Core Standards, and held federal grants hostage unless states accepted every corporate education reform scheme big business could think up.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a New Deal Franklin D. Roosevelt Democrat, but even I think these two administrations blatantly abused their power and overstepped their Constitutional authority.

So the first thing I would do is take a step back and follow the law. The recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) sets explicit limits on federal power over education policy returning much of it to the states. As Education Secretary, I would respect the power of the states to control public education. It is the state’s job to set policy. It is the federal government’s job to provide support, encouragement and oversight.

Therefore, the role of the Department of Education is to ensure public schools are being properly funded, civil rights are not being violated and to be a repository for national data and research. I’d dedicate myself to that – not some corporate fueled power trip that both parties condemn except when they’re practicing it.


2) Push for More Federal Funding for Public Schools

Therefore, the first thing I would do is use the full power of the office to ensure the federal government is giving its utmost to help state public schools. I would use whatever grants were available to increase federal funding to the most impoverished schools. I would fully fund Title I. I would increase the federal share of Special Education – (Under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) the federal government is supposed to fund 40% of the per pupil cost of all special education students but has never met this obligation. I would seek to rectify that if possible.) I would enact a national after school tutoring initiative. I would provide funding to hire additional teachers to reduce class size.  And as far as is possible, I would forgive college students loan debt so they can begin their lives with a clean slate.

This is something that those who seek to disband the U.S. Department of Education never seem to understand. The federal government has an important role to play in our school systems. It’s not the unfounded power grab of the last few decades, but we need another robust player on the field to help the states achieve their goals and also to keep the states honest.

If we disbanded the Department of Education, as some conservatives from Reagan to Paul to Cruz to Trump suggest, what would happen to Pell Grants, for instance? What would happen to the bundles of federal money that boost our public schools? Who would make sure states are doing their jobs? Where could we go to find accurate data about how our schools are doing nationally and not just state-by-state?

If we got rid of the department, at best these jobs would fall back on other government agencies that haven’t the funding, staff or ability to accomplish them. More likely, it would result in the elimination of billions of education dollars that the states simply couldn’t (or wouldn’t) replace. Abuses against students on the grounds of civil rights, gender, special education, etc. would skyrocket with little to no recourse. And we would be in the dark about how well we were educating our nation’s children.


3) Encourage States to Enact Accountability Measures that Don’t Include Standardized Testing

Accountability has become a dirty word in many education circles because of the way the Bush and Obama administrations have perverted it to mean test and punish. It has become a boondoggle for the standardized testing industry, an excuse to close poorly funded and often urban public schools to be replaced by unaccountable charter schools. While this is a terrible misuse of federal power, states must be responsible for the education they provide their children. And contrary to popular belief, this can be accomplished without resorting to the usual corporate reform measures.

As Secretary, I would put an immediate stop to the era of test and punish at the federal level. As it stands, the ESSA allows states to determine what they will use to demonstrate their educational progress for students. This is a state decision, but I would encourage states not to use standardized testing. I would offer to help any state interested to find new ways to show accountability. For instance, districts could submit to a simple audit showing student-teacher ratios, per pupil funding, discipline data broken out by race, degree of segregation, richness of the curriculum, etc.

Let me be clear: it is up to states to make these decisions. As Secretary, I would have no power to force legislatures or departments of education to do any of this. However, I’m willing to bet that many states would be excited by these possibilities and jump at the opportunity. Helping them achieve this would be my job.


4) Stop Federal Funding to Charter Schools, Teach for America and Common Core

Speaking of encouragement, I would stop all federal help for corporate education reform policies. That means turning off the money faucet for programs that enrich corporations and big business at the expense of school children.

This means not one more federal dollar to help private companies open new charter schools. Teach for America would have to rely on its corporate donors, not the taxpayers. And the Common Core gravy train would come to a screeching halt. No more money to help states enact the standards, no more bags of cash for book publishers and test manufacturers.

If states that had enacted the Core wanted to keep it, fine. If not, fine. But they would be on their own.

(In a sad aside, opposition to Common Core is most virulent from conservatives, yet there are an awful lot of state legislatures completely in GOP control that could get rid of Common Core tomorrow but which have done – and continue to do – nothing about it. No matter who the next Education Secretary is, the fate of Common Core is in the hands of state legislatures across the country – not the President, not Congress and not the Education Secretary. There’s far too much rhetoric and not nearly enough action.)


5) Do Everything I Can to Increase Teacher Autonomy, Respect, Pay and Training

Finally, I would use my position as Education Secretary to boost the greatest resource we have to help students learn – teachers. I would speak out on the need for educators to have autonomy in the classroom so they are empowered to meet student needs. I would work to increase public perception and respect for the profession. We simply can’t afford teacher bashing, because when you disrespect educators, you reduce their power to help kids. I would boost teachers pay through matching state grants. If you want the best possible teachers, you have to pay for them. If you want to attract the best people to the field, you need to ensure they will have a reliable middle class income and not have to work a second job or use their own money to buy school supplies. I would invest federal funds in training programs so the newest crop of teachers are up to date with the latest pedagogy and techniques. I would encourage more people of color to enter the field. And I would partner with teachers unions to strengthen protections for teachers while educating the public on the meaning of due process and the reality that strong unions mean fewer bad teachers in the classroom.


 

Are there more things we need to do to help improve our national system of public education? Certainly.

 

We need to start integrating schools again and stop the constant push to segregate through charter schools and white flight. We need to ensure every student receives adequate, equitable, sustainable funding. We need to change charter school laws so that they can’t cherry pick students and are as transparent and accountable as traditional public schools. We need to stop closing struggling schools and address root causes. We need to stop state takeovers except under the most dire of circumstances and set limits on how long states can stay in control. And we need to pass strong student privacy laws – even updating the Family Education Privacy Act (FERPA) to protect our children from predatory ed-tech companies that constantly data mine students and sell millions of data points on our children to the highest bidder.

There are a whole host of things needing done. However, most of these things go beyond the powers of the Department of Education and its cabinet level Secretary. They can only be addressed by the President, Congress, state legislatures and/or the court system. The Education Department can help steer that agenda, it can be an ally to real positive change, but it can’t go it alone.

Unfortunately, no matter who wins the Presidency in November – Clinton or Trump – neither seems likely to nominate an Education Secretary who would do any of the things I’ve outlined.

 

For all his talk of reducing the size of the government, Trump proposes increasing the federal footprint with school choice initiatives turning the Department of Education into a wheelbarrow marked “free money” for big business and parochial schools while forcing states to accept his school policies. Meanwhile, Clinton is likely to continue the course set by Bush and Obama of embracing every corporate school reform package from which Wall Street benefits.

It’s a crazy time full of crazy candidates and crazy solutions, but of this we can be sure – no one is crazy enough to let a teacher make decisions about public education policy.

You Can’t Be Anti-Opt Out and Pro-Democracy

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Our lawmakers have a problem.

This summer they doubled down on one of the most anti-democratic mandates in the federal repertoire yet they claim they did so to protect states rights.

Here’s the problem.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of public school parents across the country opt their children out of standardized testing.

But Congress voted to keep mandating that 95% of students take the tests.

It all happened with the much celebrated bipartisan passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal law that governs K-12 schools.

While lawmakers made changes here and there to let the states decide various education issues, they kept the mandate that students participate in annual testing.

They didn’t leave that to the states. Whether they were Republican or Democrat, almost all lawmakers thought it was just fine for the federal government to force our children to take standardized tests at least every year in 3-8th grades and once in high school.

If any school district, has more than 5% of students that don’t take the tests – for whatever reason – the federal government can deny that district funding.

Think about that for a moment.

Our lawmakers are supposedly acting in our interests. They’re our representatives. We’re their constituents. They get their power to pass laws because of our consent as the governed. Yet in this instance they chose to put their own judgement ahead of ours.

They could have made an exception for parents refusing the tests on behalf of their children. They just didn’t see the need to do so.

Why? Because they were worried about minority students.

It’s a laughable claim in so many ways.

It goes something like this – without standardized testing, we’ll have no way of knowing if public schools are educating students of color.

Let’s say for a moment that this were true. In that case, we can expect no parent of color would ever refuse standardized testing for his/her child.

First, this is demonstrably untrue. Black and brown parents may not be the most numerous in the opt out movement, but they do take part in it.

Second, in the majority of cases where white parents refuse testing, that would have no bearing on whether testing helps or hurts students of color. If the point is the data testing gives us on black kids, what white kids do on the test is irrelevant.

Third, even if opting out hurt students of color, one would assume that it is the parents prerogative whether they want to take part. If a black parent doesn’t want her black son to take a multiple choice exam, she should have the right to waive that exam and the responsibility would be on her head.

So there is absolutely no reason why lawmakers should have overstepped their bounds in this way and blocked all parents rights about what the schools do to their children.

It is a clear case of governmental overreach. And there are plenty of parents just waiting to bring it to the U.S. Supreme Court for the ultimate Constitutional test.

However, that probably won’t happen for the same reason it never happened through the 15 years of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which also contained the annual testing rule.

The federal government has never withheld tax dollars based on students not taking standardized tests. officials at the U.S. Department of Education have made threats, but they have never devolved into action.

The bottom line is this: they know how Unconstitutional this mandate is, and they aren’t itching to have it tested in the highest court in the land.

It would open a whole can of worms about standardized testing. What is the federal government allowed to do and not allowed to do about education policy?

The ESSA is an attempt to reduce the federal role, but keeping the annual testing mandate was either a grievous mistake or the last vestiges of federal hubris.

But let’s return to the reasoning behind it – so-called civil rights fears.

Various groups including the NAACP asked for it to be included to protect minority students. Annual testing is the only way, they claimed, to make sure schools are teaching students of color.

It’s nonsense.

There are plenty of ways to determine if schools are meeting the needs of minority students – especially since most students of color go to segregated schools.

Even after Brown v. Board, we have schools that cater to black kids and schools that cater to white kids. We have schools for poor kids and rich kids.

It is obvious which schools get the most resources. Why isn’t that part of this “accountability” scheme? We can audit districts to see how much is spent per pupil on poor black kids vs rich white kids. We can determine which groups go to schools with larger class sizes, which groups have more access to tutoring and social services, which groups have expanded or narrowed curriculums, which groups have access to robust extra-curricular activities, which groups have the most highly trained and experienced teachers, etc.

In fact, THAT would tell us much more about how these two groups are being served by our public schools than standardized test scores. We’ve known for almost a century that these test scores are more highly correlated with parental income than academic knowledge. They’re culturally biased, subjectively scored and poorly put together. But they support a multibillion dollar industry. If we allow a back door for all that money to dry up, it will hurt lawmakers REAL constituents – big business.

So why were civil rights groups asking the testing mandate be kept in the bill? Because the testing industry is comprised of big donors.

Only a few months before passage of the ESSA, many of these same civil rights groups had signed declarations against standardized testing. Then suddenly they saw the light as their biggest donors threatened to drop out.

Make no mistake. Standardized testing doesn’t help poor minority children. It does them real harm. But the testing industry wrapped themselves up in this convenient excuse to give lawmakers a reason to stomp all over parental rights.

The conflict wasn’t between civil rights and parental rights. It was between parental rights and corporate rights. And our lawmakers sided with the corporations.

Let me be clear: legislators cannot be against opt out and in favor of individual rights.

The two are intimately connected.

Our schools have no business telling parents how to raise their kids. But our parents DO have a right to do the opposite. In fact, that’s how the system is supposed to work.

We, parents and citizens, control our schools – not you, our representatives. The principal can’t say you haven’t a right to opt out your kid. He’s just your representative. So is the teacher.

Everyone who works in the school is there to do what you want them to do for your child. Yes, they are well trained and have a world of knowledge and experience that we should draw on. And in most cases, they’re being forced to confront us by lawmakers who are tying their hands and directing them to do the dirty work.

We have common cause. We need to stand with our teachers and principals, our school boards and education professors. We need to stand together against lawmakers who think they know better.

In short, we don’t need lawmakers consent to opt out. They need our consent to stop us.

They get their power from us. They work for us.

And it’s time they get to work and rescind the annual testing mandate.

State Senator: Get Ready to Sue the PA Department of Education Over Common Core Testing

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Pennsylvania State Sen. Andrew Dinniman is mad as Hell and he’s not going to take it anymore.

The West Chester Democrat is furious at the state Department of Education (PDE) over the Keystone Exams.

In February, the legislature unanimously passed a law to delay for two years using the Keystones as a graduation requirement for public school students. The exams will still be given to high school students in Algebra I, Biology and English, but passing them is not necessary to receive a diploma. During this time, the legislature is supposed to investigate alternate assessments above and beyond standardized testing.

However, Dinniman sent out an email to supporters this week claiming PDE is “blatantly ignoring the law and issuing directives to local school districts to use the exam if they want to for graduation.”

This goes against the delay, says Dinniman. The legislature is unsure requiring the Keystone Exam is a good idea, yet the state Senator contends the current administration is advising districts to move forward anyway.

Under the old law that was put on hold by the delay, if parents decided to opt their children out of standardized testing, students had to complete a Project Based Assessment. However, even though there is no test-based graduation requirement for current seniors, Dinniman says PDE still is forcing these children to complete Project Based Assessments.

“It appears that PDE is forcing the children of parents who opted out to take the Project Based Assessment, whose use is currently suspended by the legislature,” he says.

“There seems to be no respect by PDE for the rights of parents concerning their own children.”

Dinniman, who also serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, has long been a critic of the Keystone Exams. He lead the charge to delay their implementation.

Now that PDE seems committed to the project despite concerns by legislators, he is asking for parents and other concerned citizens to contact him about suing the organization.

“If you know parents or organizations who might want to take PDE to court or file amicus briefs, let me know…  This is a matter of great importance. A number of us have been working for years against excessive testing and have serious concerns about Common Core.”

He will hold an open meeting for those concerned about the issue on Monday, Sept. 12, at 7:30 pm in his district office along One North Church Street in West Chester.

One of the issues at stake is the exorbitant costs of the Keystone and Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests. With education budgets shrinking at the federal, state and local level, this money diverted to huge testing corporations could be better spent elsewhere.

Since 2008, the Commonwealth has spent $1 billion to proctor, grade and create new versions of the PSSA and the new Common Core-aligned Keystone Exams. Of that figure, $741 million went to Data Recognition Corporation.

Dinniman included in his email an explanation of the Commonwealth’s contract with Data Recognition Corp., a chart showing how much has been paid to the company, a list of materials PDE requested from the company but that has not yet been provided and an article written by education historian Diane Ravitch published in the New York Times explaining why these tests are troublesome.

In 2013, the state Conference of NAACP Branches issued a statement condemning the Keystone graduation requirement in extremely strong terms.

The organization called it a “present day form of Eugenics”, “a human rights violation”, “a clandestine social movement that strips children of their dignity and self worth” and that it would deprive impoverished and minority students  “of decent income, decent food, decent homes, and hopeful prospects as well as the security of justice.”

The statement can be read in full here.

In the halls of state government, Dinniman has been one of the most vocal critics of high stakes testing and national academic standards.

“I have been fighting against the use of these standardized tests as the sole determinants of high school graduation since they were first proposed by the previous [Corbett] administration in 2012.”

“Strong standards and effective assessments are needed in our schools, but they must come with the necessary resources and support to be implemented in a way that does not negatively impact both students and taxpayers,” he says.

Chester County, where Dinniman is from, has been a hotbed of testing criticism. Located in the southeastern most part of the state, parents, teachers and students publicly spoke out against the exams. Almost all school boards in the county passed resolutions opposing the Keystones and 58 superintendents and Intermediate Unit Directors up through the Philadelphia suburbs also expressed opposition.

If the delay had not been approved, this year’s seniors would have been required to pass all three Keystone Exams in order to graduate. Now the exams won’t be a graduation requirement until the 2018-19 school year.

The federal government still requires the exams be given for evaluative purposes, but it was the Republican dominated Tom Corbett administration that went the extra step of making the exams necessary to receive a diploma.

The delay is supposed to provide additional time to resolve consequences of implementing the exams. This means investigating and reporting on the following:

    • Alternative methods for students to demonstrate proficiency for graduation in addition to the Keystone Exams and project-based assessments.
    • Improving and expediting the evaluation of the project-based assessments.
    • Ensuring that students are not prohibited from participating in vocational-technical education or elective courses or programs as a requirement of supplemental instruction.

Moreover, the newly passed federal K-12 education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), allows the Commonwealth even more leeway to implement fairer and more affective means of assessment, Dinniman says.

“Until now, education policy has been largely dominated by regulations implemented by the State Board of Education in accordance with the federal government. Some of these regulations seemed to be enacted with little to no consideration of fiscal impacts or educational value,” Dinniman said.

“However, the state legislature has a Constitutional duty and responsibility to oversee and provide for ‘a thorough and efficient system of public education.’ Going forward, I believe the legislature will be more aggressive in reasserting its role in the process.”

Dinniman can be reached by phone at 610-692-2112 (District Office) and 717-787-5709 (Harrisburg Office).

He can be reached by email here.

He is on Facebook and Twitter.

Below is the full text of Dinniman’s Email:


(Source: optoutpa.blogspot.com)

 

To Supporters of Ending Common Core Exams in Pennsylvania:

Despite Act 1 of 2016, which suspended any use of the Keystone exams or the Project Based Assessments for graduation purposes during the two year period of 2016-18, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is blatantly ignoring the law and issuing directives to local school districts to use the exam if they want to for graduation.

It certainly appears that PDE has shown their solid commitment to the Common Core testing process and the continued collection of data.  They don’t seem to care about or respect the law.  This is not government by the elected legislature but government by the bureaucracy.

You will be interested to learn the taxpayers of Pennsylvania, since 2008, spent $1.1 billion on these Common Core tests, with $741 million of that going to one testing company, Data Recognition Corporation (DRC).

Please view the supporting material at the following links:
1. An explanation of the Data Recognition Corp. (DRC) contracts.

2. A chart showing the DRC contracts, which come to $741,158,039.60, and the total paid to date of $440,512,625.69.

3. A listing of material requested from PDE but, as of this date, not provided.
4. A column from the July 23, 2016 New York Times providing background on these Common Core Exams, which in Pennsylvania are the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and Keystone Exams.

Additionally, it appears that PDE is forcing the children of parents who opted out to take the Project Based Assessment, whose use is currently suspended by the legislature.  There seems to be no respect by PDE for the rights of parents concerning their own children.

So the question now is “what will we do about this situation?”  If you know parents or organizations who might want to take PDE to court or file amicus briefs, let me know.

In the meantime, I am having a meeting for those concerned about PDE’s actions in my district office, One North Church Street, West Chester, on Monday, September 12th, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.

This is a matter of great importance.  A number of us have been working for years against excessive testing and have serious concerns about Common Core.  Please invite your friends to join in the September 12th meeting.

Respectfully,

Andrew E. Dinniman

State Senator, 19th District

Why is Common Core Still Here?

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Common Core has become a national joke.

 

In fact, the set of academic standards has inspired a new genre of grade school humor – Common Core comedy.

 

For instance:

 

One student turns to another and says, “Common Core is about making us college and career ready.”

 

The other student replies, “It’s working. It’s making me drink more everyday.”

 

Here’s another one:

 

Question: Why can’t mommy help you with your Common Core math homework?

 

Answer: She only has a four-year degree.

 

And finally:

 

Question: How many whiteboards does it take to show you how to screw in a light bulb?

 

Answer: One, but it takes dozens to explain 1+4 in Common Core.

 

Parents nationwide know the pain of Common Core by the looks on their children’s faces.

 

They see bright, curious youngsters go to school and come back hating education and thinking they’re stupid.

 

Parents get the same feeling trying to decipher their children’s homework.

 

Meanwhile the majority of teachers hate the standards – and as they become more familiar with it, that number grows every year.

 

So why do we keep using Common Core? Why haven’t our schools thrown this bad idea on the trash heap of failed education policies?

 

In short – because industry is making a lot of money off it.

 

Common Core was created by private industry.

 

It was not made by the states, nor was it written by the federal government.

 

It was created to sell a new generation of standardized tests and textbooks.

 

It’s raison d’etre is profit not education.

 

School children didn’t need a unified set of academic standards. Big business needed them to sell more books and tests.

 

 

The standards were written by Achieve, Inc., a Washington, D.C., organization formed in 1996 by corporate leaders and six state governors. The endeavor was funded by Bill Gates and other corporate interests. It was reviewed by individuals and organizations also funded by Gates.

 

 

Then the federal government stepped in to strongly encourage states to adopt the standards. Not because anyone actually thought they were necessary. They did it because that was what wealthy donors wanted.

 

Eventually the standards were adopted in 42 states, but not because legislatures voted on them. The standards were quietly approved by state boards of education, unelected state education chiefs and boards of education. Many lawmakers didn’t even know what Common Core was or that their state had implemented it until voters started calling and asking questions.

 

Moreover, at the time of their adoption, the standards weren’t even completed. They were enacted in many cases sight unseen.

 

How did the federal government get state officials to do this? Money and threats.

 

Public schools were strapped because of the great recession. So the Obama administration swooped in to help – on the condition that states enact a series of reforms including Common Core.

 

The Obama administration did not write Common Core, but it did everything it could to make sure states enacted these standards. In the 2009 stimulus package, there was $4.35 billion in discretionary funds given to the U.S. Department of Education to hand out as state grants. But in order to qualify for these grants, states had to adopt the Common Core. With education funding at a premium, bureaucrats were only too willing to bend over backwards to keep their state’s schools running.

 

And when the carrot wasn’t enough, the federal government used the stick.

 

Many states were applying to the federal government for waivers to the disastrous No Child Left Behind legislation. Adopting Common Core and several other corporate education reforms was made a pre-condition. If states didn’t adopt these standards, their schools would be labeled “failing” and lose even more federal funding.

 

Despite all this, the media still often misrepresents the facts.

 

It is an objective fact that the Core was written by private industry. So the media never asks that question. It asks if the Core was “state led.” That way there is room for spin.

 

Who led the effort to enact these standards? Since a handful of governors and other government officials were involved in their creation, media patsies are able to pretend the initiative started with the states. But don’t believe it. It started with private interests – people like David Coleman and Bill Gates – trying to influence government to do what they wanted for their own ends. As President of the College Board, Coleman stood to profit off new books and tests. As co-founder of Microsoft, Gates stood to profit from the new technology needed to run many of these new tests and materials. They led the initiative, not the states.

 

No government official was ever given a mandate by the voters or their empowered representatives to create or enact Common Core. Those that did so acted in their private capacities. Bribing a handful of governors doesn’t make something a state initiative.

 

Just because a government official does something doesn’t make it policy. When Chris Christie orders a footlong hoagie for lunch, it isn’t the start of a government program to feed people at Subway. He’s just ordering lunch.

 

Moreover, when government officials are coerced into adopting a policy because otherwise they won’t be able to fulfill their obligation to voters, that isn’t an endorsement of those policies. You can’t offer a starving child a sandwich on the condition that he shouts a swear word and then pretend it was all his idea. You can’t offer a glass of water to a man dying of thirst on the condition that he shave his head and then pretend that he likes being bald.

 

Common Core was not adopted by states because they liked it. It was adopted to keep schools running.

 

Special interests used the federal government’s power over the states to circumvent the legislative process.

 

The result is a set of poor quality standards that are developmentally inappropriate and don’t help students learn. This should be no surprise since they were written with minimal input from classroom teachers or child psychologists. Instead they were created by standardized test authors. But even if the standards had been good, the process of their adoption was highly undemocratic.

 

Sadly, this is how government works now.

 

Charter schools, Teach for America, standardized testing – Public education has been high jacked by business interests.

 

 

Once upon a time, the goal was to help students learn. Now the main objective is to help big business profit off students.

 

If you can make a buck off something – even if it doesn’t help or actually hurts school kids – do it.

 

 

Nowhere is this clearer than with the Common Core.

 

 

Unfortunately, our 2016 Presidential candidates don’t seem to get it.

 

 

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump seems to understand the problems with Common Core.

 

 

Clinton thinks the only issue is the way the Core was implemented in schools – not federal coercion, not poor quality standards, etc. Schools didn’t implement them too quickly. The standards are badly written, unproven to help and increasingly shown to hurt.

 

 

Trump, on the other hand, thinks it’s all wrong, but he has no idea why or what he can do about it. Like too many Republicans, he acts as if the only problem with the standards is Obama’s participation. He ignores or omits the one-time advocacy of prominent members of his own party for the Core like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee.

 

Neither candidate seems to understand that the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) bans the federal government from doing anything to promote Common Core, or any other set of education standards. This does not, unfortunately, repeal the standards. It emphasizes the states’ power to choose their own academic standards.

 

Each state legislature can keep, revise, or repeal Common Core. And in some cases, this has already begun. In Oklahoma, for example, Common Core was repealed entirely. In other states, like New Jersey, Common Core has been revised but largely left in place. In other states, the standards remain untouched.

 

Why hasn’t Common Core gone away? State legislatures haven’t acted.

 

No matter who wins the presidential race, whether it’s a candidate in favor or against Common Core, he or she has zero power to do anything about it. Hopefully, no one tries to exceed that authority by coercing states one way or another.

 

Meanwhile, state legislatures need to pay attention to the wishes of voters. If Common Core is repealed – and that’s what the majority of taxpayers want – we can only hope it’s done so in a more democratic fashion than it was approved. We can only hope it isn’t replaced with something worse.

 

Whatever happens it should be to benefit students, not corporations.

 

Or to put it another way:

 

Question: What if Common Core was created just to drive parents crazy?

 

Answer: Somebody must be making a fortune on crazy meds!!

How Far We Have Come Fighting Against the Testocracy: Network for Public Education Conference Ramblings

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Kelly Ann Braun said it best.

 

“Do you remember three years ago when I said this would all be over in 6 months?”

 

And we all laughed. Me the loudest, because back then I had thought the same darn thing.

 

Corporate education reform is on its last legs. Once we tell people about the terrible mistakes of standardized testing and Common Core, it will all be over in an election cycle or two.

 

Kelly, that incredibly dedicated member of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) from Ohio, hadn’t been the only one.

 

It seemed so reasonable back then. Once it became common knowledge, our leaders couldn’t keep perpetuating policies that harm our children, we thought.

 

No one would actually continue to stomp on the futures of our little kids once we’d pointed out that that was what they were actually doing! Right?

 

Now the Network for Public Education is having its third annual conference – this one in troubled Raleigh, North Carolina. And far from being on its last legs, the testocracy is mightier than ever with a new federal education policy, the Every Student Succeeds Act, rebranding and refreshing its same horrific disdain for the young.

 

But that’s not really news, is it?

 

The powerful have always tried to find ways to keep the poor and minorities under heel. It’s a struggle as old as civilization, itself.

 

What’s new is us.

 

Yes, us – the ragtag band of rebels and revolutionaries who gather together every year to celebrate our victories, lament our losses and plan for the future.

 

This is a real community – stronger than anything I’ve ever experienced. During the year we all have our separate support systems, be they Badass Teachers, United Opt Out, our teachers unions, our communities or – for many of us – some unique combination.

 

But once a year we all come together from our separate corners of the country (and in some cases beyond) to commune, to gather strength from each other so we can carry on the fight.

 

I cannot express to you the power and the glory I got this morning listening to Chicago parent activist Rousemary Vega talking about the pain of losing her children’s community school. This is still a raw wound for her, gushing blood. One moment she was heartbreaking sorrow; the next she was frightening strength and determination.

 

She told us how to learn from her example, how to put up a fight, how to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to ever do this again. And when she was done and I had dried the tears that she had somehow cried with my eyes, I found that I had a tiny Rousemary inside my heart. I will never forget her story. I hope I can call on even a fraction of her strength.

 

Later I sat in on a conference about Competency Based Education. Two of the founders of United Opt Out, Denisha Jones and Morna Mcdermott, gave the best presentation on the topic I have yet heard.

 

This is the future of standardized testing. It goes something like this: you don’t want a big high stakes test at the end of the school year? Okay. How about we sit your kids in front of a computer all day, everyday, and they can take endless high stakes mini-tests?

 

Morna would keep apologizing that what she was saying sounded too far-fetched to be true, but then she’d prove its veracity. Subsequently, Denisha explained how proponents of this new educational scheme had slipped this all under our noses by redefining and co-opting language we all thought we knew. You want “individualized” education? Fine! Kids can sit by themselves as individuals and take these standardized test snippets – in perpetuity.

 

I left them with a much clearer understanding of how this was happening and exactly what kind of push back is necessary.

 

Perhaps most inspiring so far though was the keynote address by the Rev. William Barber, president of North Carolina’s NAACP and organizer of Moral Mondays. He put the whole fight in perspective.

 

History, philosophy, economics, religion all mixed together into a picture that would have been grim if he hadn’t made it so beautiful. Our children are being harmed by the standardization and privatization of public education. The ones hurt the most are those who are poor and minorities, but that doesn’t make them any less “our” children.

 

This fight can’t just be about your school and your child. We have to love and care about all children and all schools. Only then can we really have a public school system worthy of the next generation.

 

Finally, the moment came when I couldn’t just sit in the audience and passively take all this in. I was actually on the program – I was part of a bloggers panel!

 

It was called “Blogging and Other Tools to Educate, Persuade and Mobilize Targeted Audiences.” It featured the amazing talents of Julian Vasquez Heilig, Susan DeFresne, Dora Taylor, Anthony Cody, Jonathan Pelto and – somehow – me!

 

It was the first time I had presented anything at one of these conferences. Sure I’m in front of my students every day, but this was a room full of adults, many with PhDs or more, who really know what they are talking about.

 

I had agonized over what I was going to say, wrote out a few remarks and then was told by fellow BAT and activist Gus Morales that I shouldn’t read it. I should just go with the moment. That’s what he says he did during his TWO TED Talks!

 

I practiced. I tried it his way, but I just couldn’t make it work. So when my time came, I compromised. I talked off the cuff when I could and then returned to the script when I couldn’t.

 

It seemed to work. I got laughs. I got applause. It looks like no one noticed how utterly terrified I was. (Sh! Our secret.)

 

And so another year’s worth of inspiration has ended – all stuffed into that first day.

 

We’re a different group than we were last year. We’re more somber, perhaps. Maybe a bit more seasoned, more knowledgeable.

 

There’s a sadness that society hasn’t joined us to crush those who would harm our children. But there’s also a renewed commitment to the struggle. A feeling of our place in history.

 

We hear the marching feet of those who came before. We see their pale upturned faces, their sad smiles. And somewhere in the distance that may be the sound of our own children marching in our footsteps continuing this same fight.

 

We will have victories. We may end high stakes testing. We may abolish Common Core. But we may never see the promised land.

 

One day perhaps our children will get there. And the only thing we have to propel them to that place is our love and activism.

 

At the Network for Public Education, you begin to realize these are really the same thing.