Do Some Charter and Title I Schools Use a Pedagogy of Indoctrination


"Creative Commons Allensworth Classroom by Joseph Vasquez  CC By 2.0
“Creative Commons Allensworth Classroom” by Joseph Vasquez is Licensed under  CC By 2.0

I might be off my rocker on this post, but I want to get it out there, and ask you if there might be some truth in my claim.  My claim is that the No Child Left Behind Act set in motion a culture of schooling which seeks conformity and an authority to which participants must subscribe, meaning teachers, students and their parents.  Followed by the Race to the Top, we have created in American schools an environment that many have shown to be harmful to the psychological well-being of not only students, but teachers as well.

There is evidence that many charter and Title I schools use an authoritarian and behavioral change system of learning to make one change in student behavior and that is higher test scores. Because of federal and state regulations implicit in NCLB and RT3, a top-down system of accountability has played a role in making authoritarianism the principle of charter schools, and many public Title I schools.

The Strict Family and the Strict Classroom

In previous discussions on this blog I’ve applied the research of George Lakoff.  Dr. Lakoff uses the conceptual metaphor of Nation as Family and applies it to politics, literature, philosophy and mathematics.  Using this idea, ones (political) beliefs tend to be structured by how we think of family, and our early experiences in our own family which contribute to our beliefs. Thinking of a nation as a family is a familiar notion, as in phrases such as Mother Russia, Fatherland, sending sons and daughters off to war, the founders, Big Brother (see Joe Brewer, Rockbridge Institute, discussion here). In Brewer’s thinking, the conceptual metaphor of nation as family organizes our brains in this way: homeland is home, citizens are siblings, the government (or head) is parent, and so forth.

Lakoff would say that a conservative family would be based on authority, and would be represented by the “Strict Father Family”. In the Thinking Points Discussion Series published by Rockbridge, the conservative family can be characterized as follows (from Brewer, Conservative Morality):

  • The Strict Father Family is the traditional family with a father and mother
  • The father is the head of the house
  • The mother is supportive and upholds the authority of the father
  • A hierarchy exists and is never to be questioned
  • Children are weak and lack self-control
  • Parents know what is best
  • Children learn right and wrong when punished by doing wrong
  • When children become self-disciplined, respect authority, and learn right from wrong they are strong enough to succeed in the world.

In my earlier blog post, I wrote about Rocketship Education, a relatively new charter management system with schools in California and Wisconsin.  It appears to me that the Rocketship education model of education is authoritarian and relies on indoctrination for its success. It’s a model of education that fits the description of Lakoff’s conservative family.

Authoritarian Education

In that earlier post, I outlined four principles that characterize a Rocketship School based on the research of Gordon Lafer.  Here are the principles and comments I’ve made about each one. As you read these points, connect these principles to the principles in Lakoff’s theory:

  1. Replacement of teachers with computers for online learning–Digital learning is a way to make the school more economical, and using the schools “Learning Lab” large numbers of students can be accommodated with less staff.
  2. Reliance on a young and inexperienced teachers largely recruited from Teach for America–according to Lafer’s report, Rocketship has a contract with Teach for America to offer a pipeline of new recruits. Rocketship teachers are paid based on how their students score on math and reading tests. The model embraces a young staff and one that has a high-turnover rate. As you will see ahead, Rocketship schools are staffed with teachers who have between 0-5 years experience, where successful comparable public schools have staffs with 10 – 30 years of experience. Teaching staffs that are more experienced are by far more successful with students and their learning. The replacement or turnover rate for the Rocketship schools averages 29% each year.
  3. A narrow curriculum of math and reading–Rocketship Education describes its approach to curriculum as blended learning. Blending digital learning with face to face. However, its curriculum only includes math and reading literacy. You will not find a full curriculum at these schools.
  4. A relentless focus on preparing students for standardized tests—Rocketship teaches to the test–students are involved as full-time test takers at school and home. Students take the test Measuring Academic Progress (MAP) three times per year. This is the same test that teachers in Seattle boycotted. But instruction is totally centered around tests that are aligned to the state standards (the Common Core Standards next year).

The nature of the pedagogy outlined in these four points is a certain example of Lakoff’s conservative “Strict Father Family,” where the entire system is organized underneath an authority figure.  This could be the owner of the charter school management system, the principal of the school, or even the top-down rules and regulations upon which the school’s accountability depends.

But this tenor of authoritarianism is not limited to charter schools.


What has happened is that accountability has been reduced fundamentally to one cause, measurement or variable, and that is student test scores.  In Georgia, for instance, the state rolled out a new accountability system in which each school in the state is graded (A – F) by adding up the points earned in four categories.  However, each of the categories is dependent on one reason: student test scores.

The state, in Georgia and most other states, is the authority figure that controls the behavior of administrators, teachers and students. The state indoctrinates school staff to follow very strict guidelines to increase student test scores.  These guidelines are defined by standards (either state or Common Core State Standards), and what is known as College & Career Ready Performance, using expressed as an index or simply a number that can be used to compare schools, districts and states.

In Atlanta, all you had to do yesterday to verify this is to read the Atlanta Journal/Constitution newspaper which listed the top and bottom performing schools in school districts around the state.  Winners and losers?

So, the only purpose of teaching in schools that are served by an authoritarian regime is to teach to the test, and to spend as much time possible making students practice for the tests with worksheets, and obsessively stupid homework assignments.  The goal is to score high on the state mandated high-stakes tests, and to get as a high a grade for the school based fundamentally on student test scores.

The Rocketship Schools have taken the conservative model to the extreme.  By reducing the curriculum to essentially two subjects, math and reading, teachers are trained to teach math and reading only in so far as the kids score high on the tests.  In fact, in the Rocketship schools, teacher’s pay is dependent on student scores.  I am not saying that there is a salary scale based on specific scores, but given comments made on a PBS interview with the principal and two teachers at the school, there are targets to be met.

In this kind of school, teachers do not need to be educated, but they need to be indoctrinated and trained to follow the leader. Teach for America’s 5 week training is all that is wanted in schools that cut teaching to test preparation.  Not only does Teach for America supply Rocketship teachers, but TFA and the New Teacher Project have multi-million dollar agreements with several Race to the Top winning states (follow this link to see it work in Georgia).

Child Labor Violations

What is the role of the student in these extreme classroom situations.  The school day begins in the school courtyard or similar space in a kind of ceremony or rally to energize the students, and to instill in them “group think” and the requirement that they must conform to the authority of the school, and especially their teachers.

To some researchers and practicing educators, American obsession with statewide testing has led to an inhumane environment.  Stephanie Jones, a research professor at the University of Georgia has written that the current system of high-stakes testing might be exploiting child labor laws by creating a system in which students spend up to seven hours in school doing things that might be unethical.  As she sees it, children are the producing workers in the school system whose production of test scores will be used to reward the people above them—-their teachers and administrators, and indeed the superintendent of the school system.  Go ask Beverly Hall about this.

As Dr. Jones points out, Child Labor laws were enacted to prevent children from working under conditions of stress and long hours.  Sending them to school was one way to prevent business owners from using children during the day.  Now, schools seem to have taken over.

Psychological Abuse

Joyce Murdock Feilke is a 30 year veteran school counselor in the Austin, Texas independent school district (AISD).  On October 15, 2013 she filed a “Report of Psychological Abuse in an AISD Elementary School,” and sent it to Senator Jane Nelson of Texas, and the Committee for Health & Human Services.  The superintendent of AISD was Dr. Meria Carstarphen, who was hired to begin the superintendency of the Atlanta Public Schools in July, 2014.  According to reports that I have seen, there is evidence that Dr. Carstarpen covered up the abuse, and then after a month simply denied Joyce’s report.

Joyce Murdock Feilke wrote in her report about the psychological abuse of students at an Austin elementary school.  She begins by saying:

During the past 30 years as a school counselor, I have observed a steady decline in the elementary school environment.  This decline has resulted from complex reasons, but primarily from the obsession with statewide testing and corrosive school politics.  Children in most elementary schools of Texas are being forced to function in an environment of chronic stress.  Chronic stress is known to change brain chemistry in children and can lead to mental illness.  Many of these young children with genetic predisposition to autism and other neurological, sensory, and developmental delays are experiencing chronic traumatic stress and will suffer even greater psychological harm.  The demands for high-test performance ratings are causing these children to be exploited and experimented on as if they were caged mice in a science lab.  They are being psychologically abused on a grand scale that will impact the mental health of future generations (emphasis is mine).

The New 3 R’s System of Behavior Control

Feilke has exposed a system of teaching that uses punitive methods of behavior modification (now called Applied Behavior Analysis {ABA}) in Title I schools in Austin, Texas.  According to this veteran educator, a new system of 3 R’s (The Right Resources, The Right People, and the Right Systems) using behavioral engineering was initiated by a former structural engineer who became principal in the AISD.  The 3R’s model is applied in elementary schools with large populations of minority students.  Ms. Feilke provides insight into the 3R’s model.  She says:

The New 3 R’s System of behavioral engineering that AISD is celebrating and perpetuating uses the same methods of punitive classic conditioning that are known to enslave children for child labor and sex trafficking, and for obedience training for dogs and zoo animals.  It is the same dysfunctional system that kept the black culture of the South submissive to oppression for the hundred years after the Civil War.  It is the same dysfunctional system that led to the Nazi Regime in Germany prior to WWII.  The New 3 R’s System has the same sophisticated dysfunctional dynamics and abuse of power that can be observed in every poisonous pedagogy that has ever woven its way through history.  It can be observed in families, cults, and countries.  It is efficient, and it does result in high performance, but at the expense of great psychological damage to its victims.

The 3R’s was effective in raising Title I student test scores, so much so, that the district expanded it into other schools.

But the 3R’s systems, according to Feilke, is punitive.  It creates chronic stress in students, resulting in

desensitization, anxiety, loss of imagination, loss of spontaneity, loss of humor, regression, irritability, self injury, inability to concentrate, and dissociation.  However, the most destructive effects of this psychological abuse will not manifest until the children reach their teenage years, or early adulthood.  At that time, their conditioned emotional repression from victimization of institutional bullying and positive/negative ambivalent role modeling can lead to mental illness and criminality.

Punitive System of Teaching

Using qualitative research, Feilke documents specific examples of the effects of this punitive system on students.  As she points out, the teacher/caregiver dominate the class environment using punitive classical conditioning to “shape” behavior.  She makes the point here, when she expresses what happens to kids in this kind of classroom:

This poisonous pedagogy has been demonstrated throughout history to produce efficiency in human systems and gain desired performance, but at the same time repressing vitality, creativity, and emotions in children.

Imagine your child coming to school and you ask, what did you do today?  Well, at lunch, because I didn’t finish my work, I was told to stand up in front of everyone while the principal said I was bad for not finishing my homework.  I felt awful.  Some of the kids snickered at me, but Shane put her hand on my back, and said “don’t worry.”

Here is how Ms. Feilke describes the effect of this kind of behavior control on children:

Many of the younger children cry when forced to sit in isolation by themselves in front of everyone in the cafeteria.  Some of their peers show signs of sympathy, while others make sarcastic comments or looks, and others fear the same could happen to them.  Most of the children see the injustice, and feel helpless and sad for the victims.  This method of humiliating children causes strong emotions of shame, anger, and resentment for both the victim and the bystanders.  By using this method, teachers are modeling negative behavior of “bullying”, while presenting it to the child as “good discipline”.

There is more to this story, and I’ll follow-up later this week.

For now, I wish to thank Joyce Murdock Feilke for being such a courageous educator to take the risks to expose the dehumanizing pedagogy that was used in elementary schools in Austin.  After her superintendent, Dr. Meria Carstarphen, (who is the new Superintendent designee for the Atlanta Public Schools ) denied her report, Joyce resigned her position in the Austin USD in protest.  She said this in her letter of resignation:

I have attempted to speak up and advocate for children in AISD who are most impacted by this invalidating environment and dysfunctional administration. It is my goal to continue speaking up. I am submitting my resignation as counselor in order to pursue this advocacy without retaliation from an administration that does not recognize or respect the needs of children, or the rights of professionals who work to support and help them.

Joyce’s documentation of the injustices that prevailed in these schools was also published on Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog (Cloaking Inequities) and Diane Ravitch’s blog.  If you go to Cloaking Inequities you will find 99 comments in response to Joyce’s letter to Senator Nelson and the HHS Committee.

Do Some Charter School Models Use a Pedagogy of indoctrination?  What are your ideas?

In Science Teaching, What Does it Mean to Teach Evolution Objectively?

In a comment about the earlier post on this blog, Evolution Might be a Law, But Student Ideas are Important, Dr. Robert Lattimer, President of Citizens for Objective Public Education, raised an important idea about science teaching.  When evolution is taught in our schools, it should be taught objectively.

In context, here is what Dr. Lattimer wrote:

You say “there is now no alternative explanation of evolution….” That is only true if you accept methodological naturalism (an unproven assumption) and ignore the lines of evidence listed above.

You say that science teaching “should not be dogmatic.” I agree. But right now it is dogmatic – by employing MN (methodological naturalism) and offering only materialistic explanations for origins.

You say “multiple sides of an issue ought to be part of teaching,” but you apparently agree with current teaching methods that present an evolution-only view of origins.

Mine is not an argument that the teaching of evolution should be removed from the science curriculum. My plea is simply that it be taught objectively. The use of MN should be disclosed and explained, and the evidence challenging evolution and inferring design should be included along with the evidence supporting unguided evolution. Only then, quoting your article, will student learning “take place in an environment of openness….”

I responded to Dr. Lattimer’s comment.  Here are my comments.

Thank you for your comment, and that you to read my blog. I visited your organization’s website,, and understand your point of view, and the philosophy that undergirds your position on evolution, and the teaching of evolution in America’s classrooms.

Although Darwin used the word evolve only once in his On the Origin of the Species (he did not use evolution), his theory of natural selection or descent with modification is the definition that I would use for evolution. I also refer to the UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology which describes evolution as descent with modification, and this encompasses small-scale (micro) and large-scale (macro) evolution.

I am not sure why historical science (such as paleontology, paleoclimatology) does not have the same validity as lab science. Findings in the field are based on data and observations,  just as finding in lab science, and are in the world of science, not considered inferior, or any more tentative. At least that is what I think. See, Carol Cleland, Historical Science, experimental science, and the scientific method.

I do not accept yours or Ken Ham’s notion that science findings that are based on any sense of scale, in particular, historical scale are more questionable than bench or lab science. Nor, as you would say, does mainstream science.

The Big Bang theory posits that there was a Big Bang. It doesn’t imply pre-Big Bang, nor does it imply a creator. See The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe by Steven Weinberg. Weinberg describes the the universe including pre-first second.  

I am not sure if most biology teachers in American high schools would accept the points you list and include them in their biology curriculum. There is also the issue of what you mean by objectivity. Does it only apply to concepts that have some connection to religion. Too what extent is any learning objective? Emotions, subjectivity, and motivation are all important constructs to embrace as a teacher, and a learner. So, we are left with what is the meaning of objectivity, and does it make any sense to try to purify learning in this way.

Much to talk about here. I do appreciate your comments, and welcome them always.

Teaching Evolution Objectively?

What is objective  (or balanced? science teaching?  In some people’s mind, public school science teachers should tread carefully when they teach evolution.  According to some, objective teaching of evolution means that science teachers include supernatural, teleological and intelligent design principles along with the natural selection or descent with modification.

Is the idea of teaching objectively trying to impede, limit, or block the freedom to teach science based teachers’ professional knowledge of the content pedagogy of science.  As you will see here, there is some evidence trying to “objectify” teaching does this.

For example, Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) have filed a legal complaint against the Kansas State Board of Education (COPE, Inc., et al. v. Kansas State Board of Eduction, et al. In the Federal District Court of Kansas).  In particular COPE’s complaint is about the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  According to the COPE complaint, the NGSS takes students into the religious sphere by asking question about the cause and nature of life, e.g. “where did we come from.”   According to COPE, the NSGG pose an indoctrination to establish a “religious world view” based on what they call methodological naturalism or scientific naturalism.  According to the Complaint, the orthodoxy of the NGSS is an atheistic faith-based doctrine.  Finally, the Complaint alleges that the NGSS will infringe on the student’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

What’s very interesting about this Complaint is that it may not be very objective.  In fact, in the Motion to Dismiss, some of the Plaintiffs do not belong to COPE, and one of the Plaintiffs is Managing Director of the Intelligent Design Network, Inc., a Kansas non-profit to promote ID, and objectivity in “origins science.”   Further, the Motion to Dismiss suggests that the Complaint might not be “straight up”:
Plaintiffs’ Complaint attempts to transform the Framework and Standards into implements of religious indoctrination. To do this, Plaintiffs rely on conclusory allegations, none of which are tied to specific standards. It also contains numerous words and phrases in quotation marks , many of which do not appear anywhere in the Framework or Standards. See, e.g. , Complaint (Doc. #1) ¶¶ 12, 15, 66, 89, 91, 105.
As pointed out in the Motion to Dismiss, the key question raised by the Plaintiff, e.g. “Where did we come from” is not asked in the NGSS.  But surely it is an important question.  Studying science might lead kids to want to ask such a question.

Social Impacts of Evolutionary Teaching

It may be that orthodox science teaching may be more balanced than what COPE is asking for.  What happens when you bring people together representing different religious affiliations and raise the question, What does it mean to be human?
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has established a committee, Human Origins Initiative, Broader Social Impacts Committee.  One of the committee members is Dr. Wes McCoy, biology teacher and Science Department Chair, North Cob High School, Kennesaw, GA.  I know Dr. McCoy from our work together while he was a doctoral student at Georgia State University.  He is a leading science educator in Georgia, and in particular is a mentor to many science teacher, especially biology teachers.  As a Smithsonian committee members, he shares his insights about how to teach evolution in today’s high school classrooms.
41Kccr+fKrL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Another committee member is Dr. Connie Bertka, an astrobiologist, theist and Unitarian Universalist.  In her edited book, Exploring the Origin, Extent, and Future of Life, she asks questions such as Where did we come from?  Are we alone?  Where are we going?  As she says, an important driver for astrobiologists is evolutionary theory.   From the introduction of the book is this:
In this book, philosophers, historians, ethicists, and theologians provide the perspectives of their fields on the research and discoveries of astrobiology. A valuable resource for graduate students and researchers, the book provides an introduction to astrobiology, and explores subjects such as the implications of current origin of life research, the possible discovery of extraterrestrial microbial life, and the possibility of altering the environment of Mars.
We don’t need a debate between natural selection and intelligent design.  We need to talk about how to improve the teaching of natural selection in American high schools, not put barriers in front of professional science teachers and their students.  Teaching by its very nature is subjective, emotional, communal and personal, and to regulate teaching by insisting on some form of “objectivity” misses the mark with me.
What about you?  What is your view of objective science teaching?

How to Make Sense out of Educational Reform

P.L. Thomas explains that to understand U.S. educational reform, foundational differences among the various groups or camps of reform need to be clarified.  And, in a post he wrote this week, he has provided a map that we can use to help us understand educational reform.

He states that all reform is driven by ideology.  He says:

and thus, those ideologies color what evidence is highlighted, how that evidence is interpreted, and what role evidence plays in claims public education has failed and arguments about which policies are needed for reform.

Education Reform Boxes and Categories

Dr. Thomas classifies reform into two categories, mainstream reform, and radical reform.  Mainstream reform has been the dominant agent of change in U.S. education, with two “overlapping” reform divisions including technocratic and bureaucratic reformers.   Thomas then creates two other divisions grouped as radical reforms, including libertarian and critical reformers.  These reforms have been historically on the sidelines, but libertarians (who I’ve always considered as conservatives in disguise) have benefited from the movement to privatize education by both the bureaucratic and technocratic reformers.

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 9.30.38 PM
Figure 1. Educational Reform Chart, according to P.L. Thomas. Education Reform based on P.J. Thomas . Education Reform Guide Retrieved November 15, 2013, from


Reform as a Continuum

Thomas envisions the four categories at the bottom of Figure 1 as a continuum, moving from the left to the right as shown in Figure 2.  I think it is important to note that Thomas suggest that those that claim that public education is failing do so with the full knowledge of their ideological foundation.  For example, if the organization Achieve claims that American science education is failing, it needs to acknowledge its bureaucratic and technocratic philosophy is driving its public statements.

For those of us in science education, since 1957, the refrain has been: American science education is inferior to other nations, and that if science (and mathematics) is not upgraded, then the nation faces a reality of being at risk (A Nation at Risk, 1983).  In the most recent rendition, even the prestigious National Research Council, which received funding from the Carnegie Institute, agreed with the authors of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), that K-12 science education is taught as a set of disjointed and isolated facts.

This can be debated. Most science teaching is organized around major topics, concepts or ideas. They are typically not taught in a disjointed fashion as the authors of the new standards claim. Look at any science textbook, and you will find that chapters are organized as unified units of content.  But it was in the best interest of the dominant élite to make the claim that science (and mathematics) is contributing to America’s loss of competitive edge, that American students are lagging in achievement of students in other countries, and that the future workforce will be unable compete in the global marketplace.  Standards in science or math are typically written and promoted by élite groups or committees of professionals, e.g. mathematic professors, linguists, or scientists.  It’s not surprising that it was an élite group of scientists who wrote the science framework upon which the Next Generation Science Standards are based.  But, this is not a new idea.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that the NGSS were written by classroom teachers.  The framework was established by the élite committees appointed by the National Research Council.  The science that makes its way into texts and that show up in standards are written by those who have the capital, and they typically go out of their way to defend it.  Look carefully at the NGSS, and you find that the approach and the nature of the content, K-12, has not changed from the previous set of science standards which were published in 1996.

Figure 2. Ideological/Political Scale from Left to Right by P.L. Thomas
Figure 2. Ideological/Political Scale from Left to Right by P.L. Thomas. Education Reform Guide. Retrieved November 17, 2013, from

From Ideology to Reform Examples

In the framework presented here based on P.L. Thomas’ analysis of reform, the bureaucratic and technocratic ideologies of reform dominate the American education reform scene.  There is overlap in these dominant ideologies, and billions of dollars have been invested and provided by private corporations, and the U.S. Department of Education.  For example, $4.5 billion was awarded to 11 states and the District of Columbia to implement the federal Race to the Top (RT3) program.

The RT3 is the embodiment of the mainstream educational reform because of its bureaucratic and technocratic ideologies.  Since 2008, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has invested more than $2 billion in educational reform, most of it to support the RT3’s program of college and career readiness.  Follow this link to see a chart showing how the Gates Foundation spent it money on education.  College and career readiness are the code words for standards-based and high stakes testing.

In Dr. Thomas’ continuum scale, the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards are examples of educational reform initiatives that overlap the bureaucratic and technocratic categories.  These two sets of standards support the ideology that claims that American schools must make sure that students achieve at high levels of mastery, and that teachers implement a curriculum based on a common set of standards written by elites in the fields of mathematics, science and English/language arts.  If you read the literature on the Achieve website you will find its ideology spelled out in statements such as these ( (Next Generation Science Standards.  The Need for Science Standards. Retrieved November 17, 2013.

    • When we think science education, we tend to think preparation for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which are wellsprings of innovation in our economy.
    • In 2012, 54% of high school graduates did not meet the college readiness benchmark levels in mathematics, and 69% of graduates failed to meet the readiness benchmark levels in science
    • U.S. system of science and mathematics education is performing far below par and, if left unattended, will leave millions of young Americans unprepared to succeed in a global economy.
    • To be competitive in the 21st century, American students must have the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and in the knowledge-based economy. Today, students are no longer just competing with their peers from other states but with students from across the globe.
    • Many feel it is necessary for American students to be held to the same academic expectations as students in other countries. The successes of other nations can provide potential guidance for decision-making in the United States.

These statements provide some of the rationale for reform initiates that fundamentally focus on raising standards and increasing student achievement.  Educational reform can be evaluated using “big” data systems that are based on high-stakes testing.  Failures are highlighted quite easily by these reformers because they make unscientific statements about what constitutes success.

In Table 1, I’ve organized Dr. Thomas’ analysis into a chart identifying the sector and ideology of his reform categories.  I’ve added another column that includes a few examples of the categories.  These are my interpretations, and any criticism of my choices should be directed to me, not to Dr. Thomas.

Please note that many of the examples shown in the bureaucratic and technocratic sectors overlap, e.g Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards.  I’ve also included a few historical events (Sputnik Hysteria), organizations (Achieve), and people (Paulo Freire) to provide additional examples of reform.

Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 7.14.16 PM
Table 1. Ideologies and Examples of Education Reform based on P.J. Thomas . Education Reform Guide Retrieved November 15, 2013, from (Examples are my own interpretations).

P.L. Thomas has provided an important tool for thinking about educational reform.   As he said near the end of his article,

Regardless, then, of how accurate anyone believes this guide is, I would maintain that step one is to acknowledge that “educational reformer” is insufficient alone as an identifier and that ideology drives all claims of educational failure and calls for reform.

What reforms, events and people would you add to the examples posted in Table 1?

Georgia’s Governor Deal & Superintendent Barge Need to Think Differently

Political and corporate reformers claim that American schools and students have been left in the dust by schools and students in other counties.

The claim is based on faulty international and state achievement test analyses. And using faulty conclusions, a “weigh the cow” policy emerged in which we test the heck out of students thinking this makes them smarter. And to make matters worse we redefine how fat the cow should be each year. And guess what, the metric is never achieved which means the cow isn’t eating enough or the farmer is not giving them the right stuff. If we could just find the good farmers, and fire the bad farmers, why we’d have the fattest cows in the world.

sI am not kidding about this. Here is one of a few education policy statements on Governor Nathan Deal’s website.

For decades, Georgia students, consistent with the nation as a whole, have lost ground to global peers and now sit in the middle of the pack when it comes to overall student achievement. We must increase rigor and make sure that our requirements truly prepare students to compete nationally and internationally. Because the state bears a responsibility to make sure that our students get their best shot at a good education, Georgia joined 41 other states in adopting Common Core State Standards which will help define what our students need to know, increase rigor and provide tools to measure our students against their peers. It is critically important that we prepare our students for common core assessments, which come online in the 2014-2015 school year.

According to Governor Deal,

  • we’ve lost ground
  • we’re in the middle of the pack
  • need to increase rigor
  • need to measure students

So, the role of the state is to increase rigor and make sure that tests are given that measure students so comparisons can be made with students living on other continents.  The state has done this for years, and each year has raised the bar making it more difficult for students to do on state mandated tests.  The high-stakes tests used to obtain this metric are questionable and unreliable, especially if the results are used to make life changing decisions for students and teachers.

State officials will have you believe that public schools are not doing well, and the pressing need to root out bad teachers, close down schools that are “failing to meet the unreasonable demands” of the state, replace these schools with charters, and offer vouchers.

According to the Governor of Georgia, students sit in the middle of the pack. Solution: Test the students and using a league standings mentality, decide who the winners and losers are. We’ve been doing this for years, but the policy is not based on reliable data. If these officials would look at National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) long-term trend data they would see that student NAEP scores have trended up, not down. And if they would analyse international test data using more than simple averages, they would be surprised that U.S. students score very well.

Governor Deal and State Superintendent Barge need to look at the data over the past four decades collected by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and use it to make a different case about education in Georgia.

Now, nearly thirty years later, the crisis mentality is stronger than it was in 1983, and aided by huge sources of private money, and the continuing effort by the U.S. Department of Education to act in collusion with corporate take over schemes and benefactors, American teachers, schools, and students have become scapegoats for all the problems that American society faces.  Yes, there are problems with American schools.   But we have to realize that the current wave of reformers is no different than those who proclaimed in the 1980s that the nation was at risk.  Americans are told over and over that their schools are failing and getting worse with time.  But, In their book, A Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools,Berliner and Biddle have shown, this is simply not true.

For example, if we look at trends in average scores on NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) tests in mathematics and science, American students’ scores have moved steadily up for decades.  Take a look at these two graphs that are available from NAEP.  Math scores from 1990 have trended up.  Science scores have trended up since 1969.

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 8.32.21 PM


Where is the failure?  American science and math teachers seem to be doing it well.


Mr. Deal and Mr. Barge, as Steve Jobs would say, Think Different.

In the next post I’ll put on display the full education policy statement on the Governor’s website, and show how it might be altered.

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 9.08.18 PM

Messing with Georgia’s Social Studies Curriculum

According to the Governor of Georgia, now is the time to write a new social studies curriculum. Why now? Well, Mr. Deal has signed on to the Common Core, but rumblings from his own political party, especially the right-wing Tea Party have caused him to possibly reconsider the Common Core. But why the social studies curriculum?

In my opinion, Deal’s order to review and possibly rewrite the social studies curriculum is probably more of a political move than one that has any remote connection to a scholarly examination of what is taught in history, political science, geography, economics, and other “subjects” of the social studies.

A committee has been formed of parents, politicians, business types, and some educators. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution article entitled Social Studies Review Political?, members expressed these high-powered concerns:

  • students aren’t taught enough about geography
  • they don’t learn much about civil engagement
  • they don’t learn how to balance a checkbook
  • how to respect the flag
  • students don’t have a clue about the founding, the history of our country
  • they should learn more about fiscal responsibility

If these are some of the real concerns expressed by committee members, they clearly have not read the Georgia Social Studies Standards.

Don’t be fooled by Deal and other Republicans who insist on a review of the standards.  Their goal is to politicize the content of the social studies, much in the same way that politicians inflicted right-wing propaganda into the Texas social studies curriculum in 2010.

Bill Moyers analyzed the Texas “review” of the social studies.  He said:

In 2010, the board got a lot of attention when it approved over 100 amendments — many of which had a very clear conservative political agenda — to the social studies and economics curriculum standards.

You can read his analysis here, but here are three to gain your attention:

  1. They removed Jefferson from a list of great Enlightenment philosophers — including John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu and Jean Jacques Rousseau — who inspired political revolutions from the 1700s to today. They also removed the word “Enlightenment” and added Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. After much criticism, they added Jefferson back, but left out “Enlightenment” resulting in a standard very different from the original.
  2. In perhaps the most blatant political move, the board passed an amendment requiring U.S. history students to learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s,” but not about liberal or minority groups.
  3. The board approved a standard requiring students to learn about “any unintended consequences” of the Great Society, affirmative action and Title IX. Other attempts to change the way the civil rights movement was taught, including a provision that would require students learn that it created “unreasonable expectations for equal outcomes,” failed to pass.

Deal is opening the door to turning the curriculum into a political agenda, and not a scholarly pursuit of the nature of the social studies.  And, he is running for re-election, and realizes that he might have made a mistake endorsing the Common Core.  The review of social studies gives him an opportunity to gain the support of the Tea Party of Georgia who would endorse any of the analyses made by Moyers.

Deal also knows that his Superintendent of Education, Dr. John Barge, has announced his intention of running against Deal in the Republican primary for Governor in 2014.

What do you think about the Governor messing with curriculum?