Monday, October 26, 2015

Opt Out And Yell Louder

Some education news came out of Washington, DC last week: the Obama administration is calling for limits on standardized testing in public schools. You might think this is big news, but it's not. Some are calling it a victory for teacher, parents, and students who have seen our schools turned into virtual test score coal mines over the course of the last couple decades, starting with the policies of George W. Bush and intensifying under those of the current administration.

Says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation's largest teacher's unions, "Parents, students, educators, your voice matters and was heard."

Of course, in politics, and in particular when it comes to the corporate-sponsored "Shock Doctrine" style politics being practiced on education policy, being "heard" does not mean that anyone has changed their minds. No, being heard simply means that parents, teachers and students have managed to create enough of a political storm that our deep-pocket opponents are forced to change their tactics. Make no mistake, their end game remains exactly the same: the full-on privatization of our schools and the elimination of democratic control in the name of profit.

Remember it was not that long ago that soon to be departed Education Secretary Arne Duncan tried to dismiss opposition to federal-corporate education policies as just a bunch of frustrating "white suburban moms" selfishly fretting about junior. Even as part of last week's announcement, the only blame Duncan took upon himself is being responsible for "problems with implementation." This does not sound like a man who has "heard" anyone, let alone someone who has any intention to "solve" anything other than, perhaps, a public relations problem.

A major study that hit the newswires at almost the same moment Obama was finally "hearing" us white, suburban moms after a decade of shouting at the tops of our lungs as if our children's futures depend on it, and they do, confirms what we have been saying:

The number of standardized tests U.S. public school students take has exploded in the past decade, with most schools requiring too many tests of dubious value . . . A typical student takes 112 mandated standardized tests between pre-kindergarten classes and 12th grade . . . By contrast, most countries that outperform the United States on international exams test students three times during their school careers.

But let's be very clear, the administration is not responding because it has seen the light in terms of what is best for children or for education, they are responding to political pressure. Indeed, as Peter Greene points out, they've tried to pacify us with lip service about high stakes testing before and, despite the headlines, they aren't really taking any blame:

. . . before you get excited about the administration taking "some" blame for the testing mess, please notice what they think their mistake was -- not telling states specifically enough what they were supposed to do. They provided states with flexibility when they should have provided hard and fast crystal clear commands directions for what they were supposed to do.

You see, these guys don't think like you and I. They are incapable of seeing their failings as anything more than public relations obstacles to overcome. To paraphrase Stephen Colbert: they always believe the same thing on Wednesday that they believed on Monday no matter what happens on Tuesday. They have never been interested in quality public schools. They have never been interested in quality schools period. They are only interested in schools run on so-called "free market" principles, ones from which they and their buddies can cash in. As Bill Gates, the leader of the corporate take-over crowd, famously said, "(We will) unleash powerful market forces on our schools."

This is what Rick Hess, the director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote back in 2012 after taking part in an education summit sponsored by Jeb Bush and attended by many of the leading figures in the corporate education reform movement (parenthetical comments are mine):

First, politicians will actually embrace the Common Core assessments (and indeed, most states adopted the standards, sight unseen, before they were even developed) and then will use them to set cut scores that suggest huge numbers of suburban schools are failing (the classic "Shock Doctrine" technique is to create an artificial crisis). Then, parents and community members who previously like their schools are going to believe the assessment results rather than their own lying eyes (surveys consistently show that parents love their own schools; it's the other schools they think are failing). Finally, newly convinced that their schools stink, parents and voters will embrace reform.

I first became aware of this when the propaganda film Waiting for Superman was released, seeing it for the fear-mongering it is.

Common Core advocates evince an eerie confidence that they can scare these voters into embracing the "reform" agenda. 

These quotes were included in a Washington Post piece authored by Carol Burris, executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education Fund, as a follow-up to education dilettantes Bill and Melinda Gates' recent PBS sit down interview with Gwen Ifill, in which they once more revealed themselves, and not for the first time, to be completely ignorant when it comes to education, teaching, and the real challenges facing American schools. It doesn't matter what happened on Tuesday to these people: they are convinced they can scare us into subjecting our children to their for-profit plans.

The bad news is that we will never persuade the Bill Gateses and Arnie Duncans of this world. They are too invested in being right, in scaring us with their manufactured crisis, one they've created with testing designed to guarantee failure so they can play Superman for profit.

The good news is that we don't need to persuade them if parents, teachers, and students stick together. Too many of us have noticed that their capes are tattered. Our political storm, the one that has been created by us sticking together, may not change their minds, but our movement is growing. Each year, more parents are opting their children out of the test score coal mines, we are starting to see the horror of their charter school dreams, and even the mainstream media is starting to realize that there is another side to the story.

Normally, Bill Gates gets the stage to himself, but last week, PBS and Gwen Ifill gave one of our own, Jesse Hagopian, equal time. Here's what he said:

And if you want to read what Jesse said about the experience on his blog, here's the link.

We are winning, but don't let the Obama administration's announcement last week convince you that it's over. Now is the time to opt out and yell louder. Our voice matters and it's being heard.

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1 comment:

Laura Strom said...

I very much enjoy and appreciate your blog. Thought you might like this LA Times test on standardized testing.