Corporate Reform Movement Cause of Atlanta Cheating Scandal

As stated in the Governor’s  Investigative Report a “culture of fear” took over the Atlanta School System, and led to a conspiracy of silence which enabled the bubble sheet erasure scandle to happen.

But in the last two posts I have opened the door to examine causes that go beyond the Atlanta School District.  The Governor’s report offered three reasons why cheating occurred (p. 350, Volume 3).

  • The targets set by the district were often unrealistic, especially given their cumulative effect over the years. Additionally, the administration put unreasonable pressure on teachers and principals to achieve targets.
  • A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation spread throughout the district.
  • Dr. Hall and her administration emphasized test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics.

One statement in the report that is interesting in the context of this post: “APS is indeed a “data driven system,” and whether or not a school meets targets is the most important data of all” (Volume 3, p. 355).  Yet is does not go on a ask why.  The answer is simple.  The State Department of Education is “data driven,” and if you don’t believe me, please go to this page, and you will be able to access hundreds of Excel Spreadsheets showing the data the state uses to determine whether a school and its district has reached targets set by the state.  And much of this mind-set can be traced back to the NCLB Act which has set the target that 100% of students will be proficient in reading, language arts, and math.

The Corporate Take Over of the Nation's Schools

The mess we are in could be do to a “corporate reform movement” that has as its backers a billionaire club of investors, businesses, and corporate “charities” that have poured billions of dollars into funding charter schools, the Common Core Standards, and the forthcoming set of end-of-year tests designed to measure the Common Core Standards.

Months ago the film Waiting for Superman was released (See trailer here.) The Guggenheim film, which touts the efforts of a school in New York that was funded by corporate giants to the tune of millions of dollars, and pits public school teachers as the agents of evil, against the “good guys” that teach in charter/private schools.  The film is more propaganda, and is based not on any research, but on a preconceived notion that our public schools are failing, and that the way to save them is look for superman.  Behind most charter schools, such as the Kipp Foundation, are foundations and corporations, and indeed Wall Street investors, who see a quick return on investment in schools that have not been shown to be any more effective than public schools.

As one educator in Chicago suggested, do we want the business model that caused the Great Recession to take over and be the model of schooling.  Slowly, but surely, this same business model has become the reform movement of those in power—governors, corporate heads, wealthy foundations.

Waiting for Superman was the Corporate Reform Movement’s theme song.  Now, at last, a film has appeared that questions the corporate model, and suggests that citizens, parents, and teachers offer quite a different picture and it has been captured in the film The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman.”  Take a look at this trailer for the movie.

The film premiered recently in New York City, in this video, you can see footage from that premiere, and what some of the viewers had to say.



Why the film, “Waiting for Superman” demonizes public education

Over the past month, I’ve written several posts about the film Waiting for Superman, and wanted to return to it today, and point you to the Bridging Differences Weblog by Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier, and their criticism not only of this film, but how the forces behind the film, and the standards and test culture have resorted to the demonization of public schools, and misleading the public about the “success” of charter schools.

Here is how Diane Ravitch begin her recent post entitled Demonizing Public Education:

I reviewed “Waiting for ‘Superman'” for The New York Review of Books. I thought the movie was very slick, very professional, and very propagandistic. It is one-sided and very contemptuous of public education. Notably, the film portrayed not a single successful regular public school, and its heroic institutions were all charter schools.

The public is being told that charter schools are more successful than public schools, and that some of the charter’s produce “amazing results.”  Some do, but so do public schools.  What is going on here is an effort to attack public schools, and to weaken the confidence that we have in our public schools.  Some analyses point to fund managers and foundations behind the movement because of the public funds that are available for charter and for-profit schools.

In the website Not Waiting for Superman, you can find out how conservative Republicans and techno-Democratic billionaires have bonded to foster educational reform based upon misinformation and the desire to control education.  Here is the introduction for a piece written about this:

This article, written expressly for, explores the money behind the movie, its promoters, and those who will benefit from the movie. As author Barbara Miner writes, “In education, as in so many other aspects of society, money is being used to squeeze out democracy.” After examining the role of hedge funds, foundations and other players, she asks, “Should the American people put their faith in a white billionaires boys’ club to lead the revolution on behalf of poor people of color?”

I recommend you scroll through the Bridging Differences website to find out more about educational reform.  You might also take a look at the Not Waiting for Superman site.

The Superman Hero is actually your 7th Grade “Science” Teacher!

Who travels faster than a speeding bullet?  Who jumps buildings in a single bound?  No, its not superman, its probably your 7th grade science teacher!  I’ve written about a movie which was just released titled Waiting for Superman.  Here is the official movie trailer.  After watching the trailer, you may or may not agree with what I say.

In the movie, public school teachers are depicted as the evil ones, and charter school teachers are seen as the good guys. Harold Meyerson, in a Washington Post Op-Ed column says it a lot better:

In the world of “Waiting for Superman,” every public school is a disaster, every charter school is a rigorous (but nurturing) little Harvard or Oxford, and the blame for the plight of public schools and the paucity of charter schools can be laid entirely on the unions’ doorsteps. You’d never know from the film that charter schools produce test results that aren’t any better than those of public schools, or that the teachers at a number of charter schools — including charter schools that do produce high test results — are, horror of horrors, unionized.

In the current political environment, schools, teachers and principals have been blamed all of the deficiencies of American education.  To depersonalize this attack, the critics of schooling put the blame on teacher unions, in particular the AFT and NEA.  It’s a lot easier to launch negative ads against a union, rather than teachers in our local schools.  And so, with a continued barrage of rhetoric, many are convinced that teachers should be punished for the conception that the schools are failures.

Thus, the reform of education, as currently conceived, is to standardize curriculum (The Common Standards movement), hold students responsible by administering high-stakes tests yearly, and hold teachers accountable by using student gains on the high-stakes tests.  Some are convinced that teacher’s pay should be determined by student achievement gains.

But teaching and learning are not as simple as some would have the public believe.  To think that the only factor that influences student achievement is what the teacher does with a group of students in a classroom is to deny factors that may be as important: the socio-economic level of the student’s families, social relationships, family relationships, housing, technology, television, peers to name a few.  In the current school environment, a didactic model of teaching and learning is implied in that it is the teacher who is responsible for student learning.  Yet, this flies in the face of learning research which shows that learning is constructed by the students through social interaction, and experience.  Much of learning takes place indirectly, not the direct result of a teacher lecture, a slide show, or worksheet.  These methods can be important, but only in so far as they are related to the students interest, and need for the information in these approaches.  Teaching is artistry, and more of a craft.  It’s not the simple teach-test model that current reformers advocate.

Artistry in science teaching isn’t something that one acquires in professional training programs, but developed over time through real experiences with colleagues and students. Rooted in professional artistry is the idea that science teachers (any teacher for that matter) constructs knowledge about teaching and learning rather than adopting the knowledge claims of others. Teaching is a tough endeavor, as is learning, and it takes an attitude of commitment with ones willingness to experiment, tinker, explore, ask questions, collaborate with peers to become a successful science teacher.

Teacher assessment is important.  But it is not simply a matter of “measuring” student learning.  Meyerson puts it this way:

The intensity of the local battle might blind them to the experience of cities where the school district and the union have jointly embraced a reform agenda, even including a version of merit pay. And yet, such an agreement — an impossibility, if we are to believe the conventional narrative — was reached just two weeks ago in the faraway city of Baltimore.

The Baltimore contract, on which teachers will vote Oct. 14, bases pay on acombination of professional development training, joint management-teacher evaluation and measured student achievement. As Shanker, who headed the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) from the 1960s through the 1990s, long advocated, this system establishes a career ladder for teachers — a four-step progression from “standard teacher” to “lead teacher” — that rewards excellence while still recognizing seniority. The criteria by which teachers will be judged will be aligned with state standards that Maryland is developing in which 50 percent of a teacher’s score will reflect student achievement.

Teachers are the heros that work with students to help them create a future.  To blame teachers for any dysfunction in school or society misses the mark, and as Meyerson says:

Blaming teachers for the dysfunction of inner cities and the decline of American industry lets a lot of other, more culpable, parties off the hook. But if our goal is to improve education, and not just exculpate ourselves for our social and economic decline, we should be applauding the Baltimore contract and the reformers, in think tanks, district offices, classrooms and, yes, unions, who seek to better our schools and our country.

The movie, Waiting for Superman, is a simplistic attack on teachers and schools, and denies the realities of public schools.  Superman is already here—just look to any local school, K – 12.  As an antidote for the superman movie, I recommend that you see the Race to NoWhere, a film which challenges a system and culture obsessed with the illusion of achievement, competition and the pressure to perform.

Waiting for Superman: A Documentary Film on Educational Reform

Yesterday I wrote about the documentary film The Race to Nowhere: The Darkside of America’s Achievement Culture by filmmaker Vicki Abeles.  The film, which will be shown Nationwide later this month, challenges the Federal and corporate reform efforts of standardization and high-stakes testing.  One statement made by Abeles sets the tone:

We cannot wait for large institutions or the government to make the changes our kids need today. Education should not be driven by political and corporate interests. There’s too much evidence that it isn’t working for any of our kids. Layers of change are needed, starting from the ground up.

From the ground up educational reform is a competing approach to educational reform—one that this blog supports, and describes as a humanistic paradigm.   Follow this link to read an interview of Vicki Abeles by Tracy Stevens to further understand Abeles philosophy of schooling.

The competing, and dominant approach (top down) to reform in American schools is a testing and charter school (choice) paradigm that is supported by the Federal Government, most state departments of education in the U.S., Corporate Boards, and the Billionaire’s Boy Club (a chapter title from Diane Ravitch’s book, Death and Life of the Great American School System.  Waiting for Superman, a powerful and new documentary film, offers us a look at this paradigm.

Waiting for Superman

On September 24th, Waiting for Superman (or when disaster strikes in America, heroes rush in) will be shown in selected theaters, nationwide.  The film was produced and directed by Davis Guggenheim, Academy Award Winning Director of An Inconvenient Truth.  The film probes the hopes, dreams, and untapped potential of five kids in different American cities.  It also focuses on several leading educators including Geoff Canada (Director of Harlem’s Children Zone) and Michelle Rhee (Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. schools).  The film “demonizes” the American Federation of Teachers, especially its President, Randi Weingarten, furthering the argument that something is wrong with teachers, and that “we” need to weed out the “bad teachers.”  The film also argues that Charter schools offer a solution to “failing schools.”

One thoughtful review of Waiting for Superman was written by John Merrow, education correspondent for the PBS Newshour.  Merrow, who has seen the film, starts off by saying there is much to admire about the film—the story, the graphics, the characters, especially Geoff Canada.  He also says:

The film strikes me as a mishmash of contradictions and unsupportable generalizations, even half-truths. And while it may make for box office, its message is oversimplified to the point of being insulting….The message of the movie can be reduced to a couple of aphorisms: charter schools are good, unions are bad, and great teachers are good.

There are other reviews of the film. In this review, I found the comments by readers enlightening about the film, especially questioning the assumption that the root of the problem are teachers, or that education can be isolated from the rest of society, thereby suggesting that simply improving schooling will in the long run help the students that need it most.

That said, here is one of the trailer’s for the movie.