Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Stopping The Coal Trains

Last summer, a couple hundred of us gathered at Westlake Center in downtown Seattle, listened to speakers warn us about the dangers of fossil fuel pollution as well as speakers who pumped us up about alternative energy, after which we marched down to a waterfront railway crossing where we successfully blocked a coal train making its way to one of our region's ports where it was to be shipped, I think, to China. It was quite exhilarating to actually force one of those trains to back up.

On Saturday, I met a friend at the Olympic Sculpture Park, which is at the same railway crossing, and we found ourselves waiting for several minutes as a long coal train passed us by. Business as usual.

That's the thing about fighting against big business. They don't have the moral high ground and we can make them back up on any given day, but they know that when the sun goes down we citizen activists have lives, families, and jobs to attend to. They know that if they just back up, hunker down behind a well-crafted press release, and wait, we will go home and they can go right back to hauling that coal in open cars, right through the heart of our city. They are relentless in their pursuit of a greasy buck.

A similar thing is happening with the corporate sponsored Common Core federal public school curriculum (yes, it is a curriculum). Last year, we bruised and battered the corporate reformers, with well-publicized test boycotts, many states withdrawing, and polls showing a rapid deterioration of support among teachers, parents, students, and the general public. I've declared it dying, if not dead, on these pages and I'm not the only one, but even as I wrote it, I knew I was really just engaging in some hyperbolic celebration of our progress, because even I am not naive enough to think that Bill Gates and his profit hungry crew would back their coals trains up for good.

Today, I want to draw your attention to a couple of important posts on other blogs. The first is from the incomparable Anthony Cody writing under the title Common Core PR Offensive Rewrites History to Ignore Failure, in which he details the slick efforts of corporate reformers to regroup and begin once more driving their coal train through our city. For instance, they are now attempting to claim that it wasn't just an ivory tower coalition of businessmen and politicians who created Common Core, but rather that "teachers were involved," an assertion that only avoids being a lie based upon a technicality:

The statement that "teachers were involved in the creation of Common Core" is like saying that the seamstress who hems your trousers was involved in making your suit. In reality, the Common Core was originally drafted behind closed doors by a small group of people what included only one teacher . . . At the time these folks seemed almost proud of the fact that the work was being done in secret.

And that one teacher was a college professor. There were no early childhood educators involved at any level. There wasn't even any field testing.

Cody takes apart the current PR spin piece by piece and it is well worth the read because I expect the hype will only ramp up as the new school year begins and it's important to know how to listen to these charlatans.

Another piece to which I want to draw your attention is by Peter Greene of the Curmudgucation blog fame, writing for Alternet, in which he addresses one of the most pernicious and, frankly, disappointing aspects of these PR efforts. They have managed to persuaded many well-intended teachers that the Common Core standards would actually be "just fine" without the high stakes tests. It's pure crap, of course, because Common Core is really all about the tests and simply can't be separated, just as the standards themselves are written in stone and cannot be changed:

(T)he (Common Core State Standards) are part of a coordinated, interlocking machine, and its creators will never let you take only a piece of it home. The testing regimen is not its own separate thing that can be just thrown out, any more than it was its own thing when it was the engine of (No Child Left Behind). If you want only one cog, you can't extract it from the machine.

Or as Cody concludes:

Common Core tests take the flaws of No Child Left Behind and magnify them, and the test scores project forward a thoroughly false image of a student's ability. I am sorry that people who know better (or ought to) think that we can "work together" to make this system work. Any system that uses these standards and tests as its engine will take our students and schools into a deep ditch.

If you are involved in public education in any way, and likely even if you're not, you will be targeted with these corporate reform PR messages. It will be worth your time to read these two posts to prepare yourself because the train may have backed up last year, but they've refilled their cars with coal and they'll only stop if we get down there again and block the railway crossing.

Update: If you are looking for more deconstruction of the corporate education reform PR spin, here is a recent op-ed from the New York Times in which the author tackles the zombie lie told by people like US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that Hurricane Katrina "was the best thing that ever happened to the education system in New Orleans." Corporate reformers took advantage of the disaster to replace the entire school system with privately run charter schools. They claim success, but not only are those claims dubious, they have come at the expense of the most disadvantaged children.

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1 comment:

NV Teacher said...

What kills me is the number of testing company employees that are listed on the common core writers list.