Joyce Murdock Feilke has created and published this poster, that came about from her experiences in Austin, Texas as a Texas School Counselor. In several earlier posts, her experiences were featured on this blog, and you can read about them here.
The powerful message of this poster is clear in these words, but more evident in her deeds and courage in standing up to school officials in the Austin Independent School District. In her position as school counselor started speaking out about the dangers of the “high stakes testing” environment for elementary age children after she observed the signs of traumatic stress in children in her Texas school. She considers the punitive, authoritarian environment this obsession with testing has created as institutional psychological abuse.
Joyce is a strong advocate for children, and continues to give her voice to the growing resistance of Common Core. With this message, which she wrote after giving her resignation in protest of the “bullying” environment to children, Joyce advocates against the CCSS and it’s “one modality fits all” pedagogy, as well as the Pearson designed state tests and Pearson materials that are being promoted in the public schools.
Joyce is a career educator who believes that to maintain a strong democracy, our country must provide a public school environment that models democratic behavior, and not totalitarianism. Joyce believes that our nation’s children are our most precious resource, and they are being endangered in this harmful environment of CCSS.
The ten elements are policy statements that the FEE claims are the essential elements for a high quality digital learning environment. The 10 Elements are shown in Box 1, along with one of the criteria that states must adhere to or be marked down.
Box 1: Bush’s 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning & Sample Criteria
Student Eligibility: All students must complete at least one online course to earn a high school diploma
Student Access: No school district may restrict student enrollment in a full-time online school or in a part-time individual online course through enrollment caps or geographic boundaries
Personalized Learning: All students may enroll with more than one online course provider simultaneously.
Advancement: All students must demonstrate proficiency on standards-based competencies to advance/earn credit for a grade/course and to advance to the succeeding grade/ course.
Quality Content: All digital content and instruction must be aligned with state standards or Common Core State Standards.
Quality Instruction: State accepts alternative routes for teacher certification.
Quality Choices: Based on eligible statewide online providers, digital providers, are allowed to appeal decisions or revise and resubmit their applications after denial
Assessment and Accountability: State-mandated assessments in core subjects, including annual assessments, end-of-course exams, and high school exit exams, must be administered digitally.
Funding: Public funds are available for online learning to: all district public school students, charter school students, private school students, home-schooled students.
Delivery: All schools have high-speed broadband Internet access.
According to the Digital Learning Now website, 41 criteria categorized into the 10 elements for their rubric which according to them, “allowed for an objective evaluation of policies across all states. Using research-type language, they weight equally each of the 10 elements by grading each criteria (41 of them) on a 0 – 4 point scale. Thus scores can range from 0 – 164.
Each state completed ONE survey and returned it to DLN for analysis, and follow-up, if needed. According to the Bush group, staff consulted with several groups, none of which were universities or schools, but all were either private firms, or those with a financial interest in virtual schools and digital curriculum. The Bush digital foundation would have us believe that have a survey instrument which can be used to check the state of state’s digital policies. They use terms such as metric, which when you see the criteria you will at once notice that most of the “criteria” are based on Jeb Bush’s “Florida Miracle.”
In her new book, A Chronicle of Echoes (Library Copy), Dr. Mercedes Schneider highlights the Bush plan (in three chapters) for corporate education reform. Dr. Schneider shows who Bush, through several Foundations is using his model for self promotion:
One could consider Bush’s statement, that Florida education reforms are “now a model for the nation,” from two different perspectives. First, one might view such a statement to mean the Florida education reforms actually work, and are “a model to the nation.” Second, one might consider that, regardless of the efficacy of these Florida reforms, model legislation has been written and is being actively marketed to states across the nation as the panacea to “reform” education. Bush himself promotes both views.
Digital Learning Now is a way for Bush to package his “reforms” but in the context of digital learning and virtual schools. Schneider identifies the following as the six key parts of the Bush education reform plan:
Grading schools on a A through F scale based upon student standardized scores.
Using of high-stakes testing.
Preventing student social promotion.
Basing teacher pay upon student performance on standardized tests.
Using nontraditional avenues for teacher credentialing.
Supporting charter schools, vouchers for private schools, and online schools (“parent choice”)
These are all present in the Digital Learning Now plan, and in its survey instrument.
Box 2 shows three criteria which are used to assess the Eligibility, one of the 10 elements of high quality digital leaning. Note the word “must” in the first two criteria, and note that criteria #2 says that the state must require every student to take at least one online course to graduate. Who will benefit from this criteria? We see here authoritarian tactics used to promote a political and corporate plan in a democratic society.
Box 2. Student Eligibility
1. All students must be provided opportunities to use online courses throughout their entire K-12 experience.
2. All students must complete at least one online course to earn a high school diploma.
3. Student eligibility in digital-learning environments is not based on prior-year enrollment in the public school system.
So, one question to ask here is, How did the states do on “eligibility?” Thirty states got a grade of “F,” 15 got a grade of “D,” and only 5 passed. And by-the-way, Florida was rated highest, getting a 100% on this element.
You can see the results at the Digital Learning Now website. Using a series of maps, you can click on an element and see at a glance how the country did as a whole, or zoom in on a state and see its grade. Figure 1 are the grades for each state based on their overall score. Notice that only two states got an A, a few Bs scattered here and there, a lot of Cs in the midwest, but Ds and Fs elsewhere.
None of the data that they have collected would be acceptable if they tried to publish an article using the methods, tactics, and so-called “metrics” of their report.
The Bush group converts the scores they obtained from one questionnaire per state into a grade. Not only does this lack condor, it misrepresents what the states are doing in digital learning. For example, as I’ve stated, the largest score on the questionnaire is 164. But the Bush group does not use real scores. Instead they convert them to percentages, and then using a conversion chart of their making, they give each state a grade as follows:
There is no scientific basis to this conversion scale. The cut offs are opinion on qualitative and personal viewsof the Digital Learning Now staff. Nothing more. Nothing less. There is no basis for deciding that a score lower than 59% is an F, any more than a score above 90% is an A.
In their report 27 states were graded “D” or “F.” Or to put it another way, 54% of the states seem to be digitally challenged. To to make matters worse, another 22% were graded “C,” meaning less than a fourth of the states digitally qualified.
What if the data was analysed in a different way? What follows is an analysis of the Bush data using somedescriptive statistics and a more robust statistical process control. If the Bush team did this, their report would read very differently. But remember, if the Bush Foundation can show how poorly states are doing, then they put themselves into a position of pushing their reforms onto the backs of citizens in other states. There is a lot of money to be made in the digital world, and if you study the Bush Foundation rosters, you will see that its stacked with people ready to make the move.
I converted all the percentages to real scores earned by each state. Then, I examined the data using these raw scores.
The mean score on the questionnaire was 111 and median score was 118, and the standard deviation was 19.2. The scores ranged from 67 – 151.
Figure 3 is a histogram of scores which shows a nearly normal distribution for how the states scored on the DLN score card. It’s a normal distribution.
If we consider the variation in the scores, we find something very interesting about digital learning as measured by Bush and his team. Take a look at Figure 4. This is a flow chart of the scores that were released by Digital Learning Now.
There is variation from one state to another, but the variation is within Upper and Lower Control Limits. No state (even Florida) fall outside the control limits. The Bush report card is disingenuous because it fails to acknowledge that all states fall within expected limits, and that there is no state that needs to be “turned around,” or all of a sudden blamed for failing to meet their standards. Giving states a grade is dishonest. Indeed, Figure 4 shows that all the states fall within expected limits using Bush metrics!
Organizations such as the Bush Foundation use tactics that are on the edge of being unethical, if not unscientific. They use “instruments” to collect data from a few people, and then use these results to make outrageous claims about the state of education. How can 50 questionnaires be representative of the nation? Come on.
Do you think Bush’s Digital Learning Report Card is Misleading and Disingenuous?
The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) is an organization founded in 2008 by Jeb Bush. After reading about Bush’s claims that American teens were falling behind in math and science, and listening to his most recent speech at the Heritage Institute, I decided to investigate ExcelinEd, to find out what it is up to, and the extent of its intrusion into the various state’s education policies. I also wanted to find out to what extent there is influence peddling going on, and any reports on the Foundation’s connections with private companies that sell products and services to public school systems.
According to the ExcelinEd website, the Foundation started out as a conservative group that now is bi-partisan and national in scope (according to them). The Foundation works with state and local governments and legislative bodies to provide model legislation, rule-making expertise, and implementation strategies related to its reform agenda. Does this remind you of the American Legislative Exchange Council? According to the Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC is uses corporate money to influence state politicians by not only writing “model” bills, but by providing expertise, and convening conferences for state legislators to learn the ropes of the legislation that they will propose in their states.
The Bush Foundation for Excellence in Education does the same.
The Bush foundation agenda has seven priorities, and its work centers on influencing state governments to pass laws that are directly related to these reform priorities. The seven reform categories (shown in Box 1) are elements of the corporate and foundation led privatization of public schools, as well as the accountability system based on Common Core Standards and High-Stakes testing. The reforms shown here are embedded in the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Race to the Top. I’ve studied Georgia’s Race to the Top $400 million proposal and work plan; the state of Georgia’s education system is held in check by these categories of “reform.”
Box 1. Bush Reform Categories
Ccr: College and Career Readiness
Dl: Digital Learning
Etl: Effective Teachers and Leaders
K3r: K-3 Reading
Obf: Outcome-Based Funding
Sc: School Choice
Sa: Standards and Accountability
One of my first projects was to find out how much influence the Bush foundation has exerted on legislative efforts in each of the states and the District of Columbia. The Foundation website has a link to its State of Reform which takes you to an interactive map of the U.S. Clicking on any state map will take you to a page that will reveal which of the “reform categories” the Foundation has “had the opportunity to partner with reformers (in that state) to support development, adoption, and implementation of as many of the Bush reforms as possible.
So, the Foundation website provides evidence of its influence on legislation in each state.
To make sense of this data, I created an Excel chart that included the number of laws per reform category that the Foundation had a direct connection with lawmakers in each state. Counts of the number of laws per state by reform category were recorded. I interpreted the number of laws reported as an indicator of the degree of influence that the Bush foundation exerts on each of the states. In some states (including Alaska, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, and New York), there appeared to be no activity. But there were many states where the Foundation has made inroads by either providing model education reform bills for legislators to use and propose, or by providing consulting services to encourage the passage of bills that are congruent with the goals of the Foundation.
The degree of influence ranged from zero (0) to ninety-five (95). There are 18 states in which no education laws were passed based on any influence from the Bush foundation, while there were 16 states with some influence. The Foundation for Excellence in Education is moderately to extremely active in the remaining 18 states. It is clear from their own website that they are influencing legislation in these states that supports their intensions.
There is one state that stands out, and that of course is Florida. Florida, which is home to the Foundation, had an index influence score of 95. The Foundation influenced everyone of the reform categories in Florida as seen in Box 2. In fact, there was more influence peddling in Florida than in most of the remaining states combined.
Box 2: Bush’s Florida Influence: Number of Laws per Reform Category
Ccr: College and Career Readiness—21
Dl: Digital Learning—10
Etl: Effective Teachers and Leaders—9
K3r: K-3 Reading—16
Obf: Outcome-Based Funding—12
Sc: School Choice—20
Sa: Standards and Accountability—7
The influence of the Bush foundation in the states is shown in Figure 3. For most states, the influence exerted by the foundation falls within expected limits, but Florida is the exception, and is several standard deviations above the other states.
Although the graph paints a picture of evenness of influence throughout the country, don’t be fooled by these numbers.
All it takes is one case of influence peddling to call the organization out, and to expose them for what they are really trying to do. Digital learning and virtual schools is one of the areas that the Foundation of Excellence is eager to support and influence, because of the lucrative profits that will be realized if states pass laws that require students to take at least one online course to graduate, or offer the possibility of students opting for online courses rather than brick and mortar classes.
Virtual Schools in Maine–Poster Child for Influence Peddling?
In an investigative report, Colin Woodard published the story The Profit Motive Behind Virtual Schools in Maine. The Foundation for Excellence sponsors conferences for state officials in which presentations are made about the merits of the various reform efforts of the Foundation, especially virtual schools.
In 2012, according to the Woodard report, Maine’s education commissioner was paid to attend a three-day Foundation in Excellence conference in San Francisco. At that conference, Stephen Bowen, was introduced to two things that excited him:
Everything an educator needed to know about the merits of full-time virtual schools
The Foundation for Excellence in Education Digital Learning Now report card, grading each state on its efforts in digital learning (Graded from A – F)
Mr. Bowen, when shown the Digital Learning Now, 2012 report card, soon discovered that the state of Maine received an overall score of D+. Bowen’s goal was to improve digital access in Maine by deregulating online learning. According to Woodard’s article, Bowen was overwhelmed and didn’t have a staff to carry this out.
Not to worry.
He met Patricia Levesque, head of the foundation, although she is paid through her private foundation. It turns out she is paid as a lobbyist on behalf of online education companies. Woodard writes about how their meeting in San Francisco led to a partnership (a favorite word of the foundation). She writes:
Bowen was preparing an aggressive reform drive on initiatives intended to dramatically expand and deregulate online education in Maine, but he felt overwhelmed.
I have no ‘political’ staff who I can work with to move this stuff through the process,” he emailed her from his office.
Levesque replied not to worry; her staff in Florida would be happy to suggest policies, write laws and gubernatorial decrees, and develop strategies to ensure they were implemented.
“When you suggested there might be a way for us to get some policy help, it was all I could do not to jump for joy,” Bowen wrote Levesque from his office.
“Let us help,” she responded.
So was a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.
The Woodard investigation revealed much of Maine’s digital education agenda was being guided (and written) in secret by companies that stood to gain from any actions that Maine took with regard to digital education. Here was a poster child for influence peddling. K12 Inc. (an online company), and Connections Education (a subsidiary of Pearson) were involved, and there was evidence that thousands of dollars were spent to create “independent” boards who would run the digital and virtual programs in Maine. Each of these companies not only influenced state legislators in Maine, they also contributed financial aid to the Foundation for Excellence and the American Legislative Exchange Council!
The actions in Maine by the Foundation for Excellence in Education overlapped with the action of ALEC. But here is how influence peddling works, as revealed by Woodard’s investigation. She says in her article:
The corporate chair of ALEC’s education committee was revealed to be Mickey Revenaugh, Connections Education’s senior vice president of state relations, and members included K12, the International Association for K12 Online Learning, and Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. (Connections Education withdrew its membership in May.)
Bowen was also an ALEC member in March 2011, the month he was confirmed as commissioner, according to a second set of ALEC documents leaked to Common Cause and posted on their website earlier this summer. Bowen – then a senior adviser to LePage and the head of education initiatives for the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center – served as a private sector member of ALEC’s education committee, where he worked alongside officials from K12, Connections and other interested companies evaluating and approving model bills – including one creating centralized state clearinghouses for the sale of online courses.
The leaked documents also showed that ALEC-sponsored digital education bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country in recent years.
The connections between Bush’s Foundation, private companies, and state officials has set up the perfect storm for not just a privatization of schooling, but the expansion of a corrupt and secret, behind closed doors operation that changes laws to line the pockets of corporate officials. Is the Bush foundation nothing more than an arm or a subdivision of ALEC. Probably not. But it certainly behaves as if it received its training and marching orders from them.
What do you think? Is there any influence peddling of this sort going on in your neck of the woods? Please tell us about it.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s (AJC) Truth-O-Meter did a check on Jeb Bush’s claim that U.S. teenagers have fallen behind their international counterparts in math and science as reported last year by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
His speech was given May 12th at a dinner at the Manhattan Institute (where all conservatives speak their mind) in New York. Bush’s talk about education is a stump speech that he’ll use for the next two years if he runs for President. Bush, however, is in the company of Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, the Walton’s, the Fordham Institute, and Achieve (publisher of standards in math, science, and language arts), and they each agree that there is something wrong with the teaching of math and science in the United States. And they have the plan and money to get it on track.
The article in the AJC on the state of math and science education got my attention. However I had no idea that this story would uncover the 50-state plan Bush’s foundation has designed to influence American education, and how the wealthy get richer, and think they are entitled to tell the rest us what kind of education is best for us (but not them).
Bush is another politician who uses and interprets data for his own ends. Bush makes a lot of money going around the country advising local governments and corporations about his “reform agenda,” which is spelled out in his organization, Foundation for Excellence in Education. Bush is chairman and founder. Its top donors are Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, Helmesley Charitable Trust, and Walton Family Foundation.
In the Manhattan Institute after-dinner-speech, Bush told the conservative audience that “there is nothing more critical to our economic security than a full transformation of our educational system and the latest results only confirm the urgency of our charge.” And of course he has a plan.
Bush says that US teenagers have fallen behind many countries, including Ireland, Poland, and Vietnam in math and science. He used PISA data to say that between 2003 and 2012 the U.S. “flatlined” while other countries made more progress. Then, this very wealthy man challenges anyone who might suggest that poverty has anything to do with academic learning, and disses anyone who might bring poverty into the conversation. Basically, he’s saying, “get over it.”
His speech goes on to tell the conservative dinner guests that we (Bush) have proven reforms—just look to Florida. He said we need education that has more accountability, more choice, no more social promotion, raises the bar, and makes students career and college ready.
Now, if you go to his Foundation for Excellence for Education website, you will quickly learn why he goes around the country repeating the mantra that American kids are falling behind in math and science.
What is Bush’s education reform?: It’s privatization. Online digital learning. Corporate management style 101. Standardization. High-stakes testing. Charter schools. Turnaround schools. VAM.
Bush’s Education Reform Categories
Ccr: College and Career Readiness
dl: Digital Learning
Etl: Effective Teachers and Leaders
K3r: K-3 Reading
Obf: Outcome-Based Funding
Sc: School Choice
Sa: Standards and Accountability
If you click on a state map, none or one or more of these reform categories are shown. For example when I clicked on Georgia, where I live, three categories appear, Digital Learning, Effective Teachers and Leaders, and School Choice. Click on the + sign, and state legislation related to the category is revealed as shown in Figure 2.
Are American Teens Falling Behind in Math and Science?
Let’s return to the claim made by Bush that American teens are falling behind their counterparts in math and science. People like Bush benefit when things that look bad to him, are actually very good for him. To say that schools are failing, or that teens are not up to it when it comes to math and science falls right into his and other reformer’s hands. And they do this by using average scores of students, without looking any further into the nature of the data.
The truth is that American students’ scores have been stable for more than decade, and that even though American students have never done well on international standardized tests, American students are actually doing very well. I’ve shown this in Figure 3. Notice that the scores for US students and for OECD overall are on par, and persistent over time.
Bush, like his cronies, including Gates, Duncan, Rhee, & Kopp use academic data—national and international–to paint a picture of doom and gloom. Meanwhile they are living the high life, and have the audacity to claim that poverty has nothing to do academic performance.
In Figure 3, the countries that score the highest in math and science are nearly all Asian, except for Finland. The countries whose score in math is lower than the OECD average are Middle Eastern and South American.
Nearly all the countries that hover near the OECD average with the U.S. (including England, Germany, France, Spain, Australia, New Zealnd, Norway), embody what Finnish educator Pasi Sahlburg calls the Global Education Reform Model (GERM).
GERM is systematically being spread across U.S. state boarders. GERM symptoms are infecting schools east and west, north and south. No region is resistant to this infection.
Symptoms of the Bush’s strain of GERM include the
Charter schools run by charter management companies
Measures of Academic Performance MAP)
State level high- stakes tests
PARCC & SMARTER Assessments
The use of algorithms based student test-scores to rate teachers.
Two or more of these symptoms spells trouble for many educators, but is a success story of Bush’s Foundation of Excellence in Education.
Ignore the Data, Focus on Power
Cathy O’Neil over on mathbabe says it best: ignore the data, focus on power.
When I read her post today in the context of Bush’s claim about using PISA data for his own ends, I realized that Dr. O’Neil’s analysis “shines a light on powerful people,” such as Bush. She hits it on the head, when she said this:
I guess my point is this. Data and data modeling are not magical tools. They are in fact crude tools, and so to focus on them is misleading and distracting from the real show, which is always about power (and/or money). It’s a boondoggle to think about data when we should be thinking about when and how a model is being wielded and who gets to decide. (O’Neil, C, mathbabe, “Ignore Data, focus on power,” May 20, 2014, Extracted May 20, 2014)
Who should decide how data is analysed? Who decides what data is collected?
Bush’s ‘s claim about the state of math and science in American schools is biased in favor of his own agenda, and does not reflect the nature of math and science teaching and learning.
Math and science education in the U.S. produces more people who write patents, publish scientific articles, create new and innovative ideas, write more books…I could go on.
Well, what do you think? Is Bush using data for his own ends, or his he, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution claim, mostly right?
I started this blog in 2005 to augment my book The Art of Teaching Science (Public Library), and to write about progressive & humanistic science teaching. Over the years it morphed into a blog that not only explores science education, but its more of a discussion of the unnerving intrusion of corporate education-wannabes with lots of money who want to change education for their own ends.
In the research and reading that I do to write this blog, I’ve come to know a vanguard of voices who have created a movement to oppose a cabal of corporate pirates whose goal is to privatize public education, and mutate the teaching profession into nonprofessionals who have little experience and even shorter life expectancy as teachers.
In the title of chapter one of my 1992 book, Minds on Science (Public Library) I used the word “reconnaissance” as a way to introduce readers to the field of science teaching.
In this blog post, I am using the word “vanguard” to introduce you to people who are on the forefront of a movement to oppose and take action against groups and people who seek to privatize public education, and inflict harm into the nation’s schools by advocating standardization and high-stakes accountability. These persons are for the most part people or small groups who have taken risks to speak out and act on the positions they hold, often in opposition to forces more powerful and financially more resourceful.
Dr Mercedes Schneider’s book arrived the other day and I was thrilled to see the names and chapters devoted to many of those who I have written about on my blog. But you won’t find the kind of writing in Mercedes’s book about these people and organization anywhere else. In my view, Mercedes Schneider is at the vanguard of voices who are uncovering the harm that the people featured in her book are inflicting on public education. In amazing detail and wonderfully written you’ll be taken on journeys into the minds of corporate and education thieves, many of whom have become wealthy on the backs of American school students and teachers.
This vanguard is composed of educators who offer different accounts of what teaching and learning should be, and who should lead the effort to improve eduction. Here are a few that have influenced and inspired me.
A Vanguard of Voices
One of these educators is Dr. Mercedes Schneider, who writes a blog at deutsch29 on education reform. Dr. Schneider has a Ph.D. in Applied Statistics and Research Methods from the University of Northern Colorado, and was a professor at Ball State University. With teaching experiences in Louisiana and Georgia, she returned to Louisiana to teach high school English. From there she launched her blog, and just last week, published her first book.
Her book identifies people and groups that are very different from the “Vanguard” of voices that I’ve included in this post. Here is a little more of what I said about her book:
In this book we have at our fingertips answers to important questions about how such a limited number of individual’s faces crop-up in various media outlets as the experts on public schools. If you want to find how to get wealthy and have a really big office, read about Joel Klein in chapter 1. Find out how Teach for America is transforming teacher education into a temp business by reading the Wendy Kopp story in chapter 3. You’ll find important episodes about characters including Eva Moskovitz, Michelle Rhee, Erik Hanushek, Arne Duncan, David Coleman, Chester Finn, and others. You’ll also find out about organizations that fund each other in the name of reform, but in the end seek to dismantle public education. Welcome to TFA, the New Teacher Project, the National Council on Teacher Quality (not), the Aspen Institute, the Gates Foundation, and cousins Walton and Broad. And the best is yet to come as she saves the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation’s bill mill for the last chapter. The content of the book is thoroughly researched and authenticated. If you read her blog, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.
This is a must read book.
I met Anthony Cody several years ago online through his blog Living in Dialog which is published on Education Week Teacher. He was gracious enough to re-blog some of my blog posts, and introduce me to NEPC’s Best of the Ed Blogs. Anthony Cody worked for 24 years as a science teacher at a high-needs middle school in the Oakland Public Schools.
Anthony is a National Board-certified teacher, and leads workshops on Project Based Teaching. Recently he co-founded the Network for Public Education, which had its first annual meeting in Austin last month. He has worked endlessly to bring dialog to the issues surrounding educational reform. He was brave enough to engage the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation in a series of exchanges, and has written more than 100 blog posts about the billionaires intrusion into public education.
His blog articles are some of the best on the net.
Chris Thinnes is one of those educators you wished you had for a teacher. If you are a teacher, he is the kind of administrator that you would want to work with. His blog consists of his reflections and thoughts about education, and his reflections are deep and powerful. He blogs at Chris.Thinnes.me.
I’ve been a lifelong advocate for inquiry and progressive & humanistic education, and shared on this blog some of the work that Chris Thinnes was doing with his colleagues at school. I wrote this about his work:
Working together from the ground up, rather the top down, Chris Thinnes says on his blog how he and his colleagues work together to “formulate, analyze, prioritize, and activate driving questions that democratically find the intersections of personal interest and shared priorities.” You can go to Chris Thinnes blog, and read the kinds of questions he and his colleagues asked at their first meeting which focused on how a teacher creates an environment and climate conducive to learning. It is this kind of democratically organized work that leads to teachers growing into cultural workers, inquiry teachers, and artists in their own right.
As way of introduction, here is what Chris said about the in-school meeting among all the staff to explore ways to improve teaching:
For a variety of reasons, I have been inspired for several years by the idea that our teachers’ professional learning and collaboration should be governed by the same principles and aims as our students‘ learning and collaboration. To that end, each of six domains from the framework of our Goals for Learning (Create – Understand – Reflect – Transmit – Include – Strive) will be invoked as we establish language to articulate our core commitments to effective teaching practice; design driving questions that will facilitate further inquiry among our teams; identify teaching practices that should be visible to teachers, learners, and observers; explore resources drawing on a wide range of expertise outside our community; and create our own rubrics for self-assessment, reflection, goal-setting, peer observation, instructional coaching, and administrative evaluation.
But I want to reflect on the conference from a more personal, perhaps more emotional, and potentially more self-indulgent perspective. I want to explore some patterns that I noticed, and some dynamics I found inspiring, in the community of #NPEconference participants. These had a profound impact on me that I’m likely to explore in the weeks and months to come: they helped restore, and to create anew, a faith that we can ensure – precisely by recognizing the nature and the impact of these dynamics in our community, and in our solidarity — the fulfillment of a vision framed most eloquently by my dear friend Peter Gow: “We want to see democracy, not capitalism, survive as the root, stem, leaves, and fruit of American education.”
Like many of you, I became aware of Dr. Ravitch through her writings, not only through her most recent book, The Reign of Error (Public Library) but also when she published The Death and Life of the Great American School System (Public Library), and the blog she co-hosted with Deborah Meir called Bridging Differences. Dr. Ravitch’s blog, perhaps one of the most visited education sites on the net, uncovers and reveals the actions of a very large population of educators who are pushing back the efforts of the “billionaire boys club. (a Ravitch term).
For the people in this article whose ideas have inspired me, they would probably name Diane Ravitch as a person they look to as a beacon of strength and wisdom about the current state of education in America. I would, too.
Dr. Ravitch is an historian and a research professor at New York University. She is co-founder of Network for Public Education, and was the keynote speaker at the first conference of the NPE.
Dr. Thomas, a professor at Furman University is a voice that I go to learn the truth about poverty in the United States and how it affects the education of about 30% of the nations children and youth. His writing on “the becoming radical” (blog), is must read for education reform. Paul taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is a column editor for English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English) and series editor for Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres (Sense Publishers), where he authored the first volume—Challenging Genres: Comics and Graphic Novels (2010).
He has served on major committees with NCTE, and has been named Council Historian (2013-2015), and formerly served as co-editor for The South Carolina English Teacher for SCCTE. Recent books include Ignoring Poverty in the U.S.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Education (Information Age Publishing, 2012) and Parental Choice?: A Critical Reconsideration of Choice and the Debate about Choice (Information Age Publishing, 2010).
Dr. Heilig is professor of Educational Policy and Planning, and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas. I’ve come to know him through his blog, Cloaking Inequity, which brings a level of research, mixed with anecdotal experiences, that is very difficult to beat. It’s one of my favorite stops on the Internet, and I recommend it highly. Dr. Heilig writes about important issues and topics.
One of the organizations that I think has connived its way into American schools is Teach for America. Julian Vasquez Heilig has done extensive research to refute claims that TFA is a practical way to produce teachers for public schools. You can find his report here at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado: Teach for America: A Return to the Evidence. You will find that Dr. Heilig’s blog is a real experience, and one that will bring you in touch with crucial issues on educational reform.
My intention in this article was to make the claim that there is a grass-roots movement of people and organizations that are unearthing new realities to prevent public schools from falling into the hands of corporate and philanthropic America.
I can’t even make a dent in the number of people who are calling out the billionaires such as Gates, and Broad, and saying “enough is enough.” The struggle to prevent the continuation of test obsession and standardization is one that is fought on the ground every day.
To complete this article, I want to include the following people and organizations that are representative of a large number of courageous people who are willing to take risks to oppose actions of corporations and government that are not in the public interest.
Dr. Jean Sanders is an educational researcher and consultant who I met through this blog. She says on her LinkedIn site that “my main concern now is the travesty of “takeover” of public education by mandarins, neophytes and corporate types who never spent a day teaching anything in a classroom.” She has been gracious to read my blog, and take the time to write comments that extend my own learning.
Hanna Hurley is a fellow Georgian, and activist who questions and writes about education. She is a child advocate and special education consultant. Follow her on Twitter.
Ed is a fellow Atlantan, and is an advocate for public education, and a Deming scholar. He has written several posts on this blog, and he has shared Deming-based research on systems education, and in particular has analyzed NAEP Trial Urban District Assessments using control chart processes. He was a candidate for the Atlanta School Board. He has inspired me by his activism, and relentless service to improve education in the Atlanta Public Schools.
Matt Jones, a public school educator, founded EmpowerED Georgia, and working with citizens in the state has created an advocacy group supporting public education. EmpowerED Georgia has used its resources to oppose legislation that would privatize public education, or cut the funding for Georgia schools. Matt Jones has been the leader of this group, and has inspired many of us. Visit the EmpowerEd website for a collection of papers and positions on important education topics.
The Chicago Teacher’s Union, representing more than 30,000 teachers, has set the tone for the way teachers can work together to protect public schools from corporate intrusion and government give aways (to charter management), and to pavé the way to improve education in public schools. The union blogs at this site.
The Garfield High School Faculty
Teachers at Garfield High School boycotted the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). It was one of the first efforts by a school faculty to say no to administrators who insisted on using a test that the teachers felt was a waste of time and money. MAP represents (in my view) the extreme in our obsession with testing. Students are administered the test four times during the year to offer “measures” to tell if students reached certain benchmarks. The use of benchmarks is a clever device, but the problem is there is no research or scientific basis for benchmarks. They are pure opinion, and as the Garfield teachers rightly said, the tests don’t measure what they teach. You can go to their Facebook page at Solidarity with Garfield high School testing Boycott.
Joyce Murdock Feilke came to my attention when we learned that Atlanta’s new superintendent was before superintendent of the Austin Unified School District. Joyce, a school counselor with 30 years of experience, described what she called toxic environments in many schools because of our testing obsession. She and I communicated, and I wrote several posts (Psychological Abuse: A Springtime School Ritual?) about her struggles, and later resignation when the superintendent simply denied that any of this was going on in these schools. You can read her article in the Austin American-Statesman.
Ed Chamness, a former teacher, and parent in Austin, Texas, and professor Julie Westerlund founded the Texas chapter of the Opt Out Movement. I came in contact with Chamness and Westerlund when I reached out to Joyce Murdock Feilke to find out about what she called “psychological abuse” created by the state-wide obsession with high-stakes testing in an Austin elementary school where she was a school counselor.
Edy Chamness and Julie Westerlund were professional colleagues of Joyce’s and provided more and compelling evidence that children are being used in an experiment, rooted in punitive classic conditioning to meet the goals of the school district, which is increase student test scores and eventually graduation rates.
YONG ZHAO is currently Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, where is a full professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy and Leadership(EMPL). His recent series, “How Does PISA Put the World at Risk” (http://ow.ly/x0g48) is only one example of his evidence-based deconstruction of prevailing myths in education policy and politics, both on his blog and in a series of must-read book-length works.
JOSE LUIS VILSON is a math educator for a middle school in the Inwood / Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, NY. He’s also a committed writer, activist, web designer, and father. He co-authored the book Teaching 2030: What We Must Do For Our Students and Public Schools … Now and In The Future with Dr. Barnett Berry and 11 other accomplished teachers. He writes for Edutopia, GOOD, and TransformED / Future of Teaching, and has written for CNN.com, Education Week, Huffington Post, and El Diario / La Prensa NY. His first (and must-read) solo project, This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education, has just been released by Haymarket Books.
DEBORAH MEIER encourages new approaches that enhance democracy and equity in public education. She is on the editorial board of Dissent magazine, The Nation and the Harvard Education Letter. She was a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1987. Her books, The Power of Their Ideas, Lessons to America from a Small School in Harlem (1995), Will Standards Save Public Education(2000), In Schools We Trust (2002), Keeping School, with Ted and Nancy Sizer (2004) and Many Children Left Behind (2004) are foundational texts for those interested in the intersections and dependencies of education and democracy: so, too, her EdWeek blog on “Bridging Differences.”
THOMAS HOBSON is a preschool teacher, writer, speaker, artist, and the author of “A Parent’s Guide to Seattle.” For the past 11 years, he has been the only employee of the Woodland Park Cooperative preschools, allowing him to work very closely with families in a true community setting. His blog, by turns, demonstrates an exceptional acuity of insight about learning, teaching, children, and community — and lights a fire for us all to ask deeper questions about education in a democracy.