Christopher Lubienski’s Review of The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy

I am indebted to Christopher Lubienski for taking time to review my book, The Origins of the Common Core:  How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy.  I consider his scholarship to be a valuable resource for anyone engaged in the quest to reclaim the democratic institution of public education in the U.S.  His book The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools (co-authored with Sarah Theule Lubienski) provides much needed insight into the failure of market-based education reform efforts.  Dr. Lubienski is a professor of education policy, organization and leadership at the University of Illinois.

I felt very honored to read Dr. Lubienski’s review of my book on the Palgrave Macmillian website:

“This timely book goes beyond the tired debates about the Common Core State Standards and asks instead: How did we get here, with self-appointed “reformers” casting public schools as the enemy, and unproven market models for education as the answer? This comprehensively documented treatment of that question proves that Deborah Duncan Owens is a voice to be reckoned with in education policy debates.” – Christopher Lubienski, Professor of Education Policy, University of Illinois, USA; Sir Walter Murdoch Visiting Adjunct Professor, Murdoch University, Australia; and author of The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools (2014)

Again, thank you, Dr. Lubienski!

Deb

Thank you Susan Ohanian for Reviewing The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy

A number of years ago, when I was beginning my research in education reform I found a trusted voice.  Susan Ohanian’s website has been a ready source for commentary on education and she has been a stalwart supporter of public education.  Her book Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools, written with Kathy Emery in 2004, is a must read for anyone trying to understand how corporate reformers were able to highjack education policy in the U.S.  She’s written numerous other books, articles, and commentaries in support of teachers, students, and parents.  In 2003 she was awarded the NCTE Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language her contribution to public discourse about education policy.

Susan Ohanian generously agreed to provide a pre-publication review of my book The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy.  I was delighted to read the following on the Palgrave Macmillan website:

“Deborah Owens offers a detailed probe of the corporate-political alliances that cross party lines to push radical ventures traveling as education reform. She provides a needed history of what is really behind the Common Core, the curriculum and testing it requires, and why anyone who supports the survival of local public schools should care.” – Susan Ohanian, Fellow, National Education Policy Center

Susan Ohanian’s endorsement of my book means a great deal to me.

Thank you,

Deb

Why I Wrote “The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy”

My book will be released next January by Palgrave Macmillan.  It represents a number years of research which began when I was an elementary public school teacher in Mississippi.  What originally began as an inquiry into the voucher movement emerged throughout the implementation of No Child Left Behind and the introduction of the Common Core State Standards and Race to the Top policies.

http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/the-origins-of-the-common-core-deborah-duncan-owens/?isb=9781137482679

It’s Sunday morning and my husband, Thomas Fiala,  and I are listening again to an interview with David Berliner that was posted on Chalk Face radio last summer.*  Berliner has been a valuable voice in education policy for quite a number of years.  The book he wrote with Bruce Biddle in 1995, The Manufactured Crisis, is an essential read for anyone attempting to understand education policy history.  I read The Manufactured Crisis when it was first released.  It remains on my bookshelf, now highlighted, annotated, and a little worse for wear — an enduring valuable resource.

David Berliner was asked by Shaun Johnson, how do we go about having a conversation with our teacher colleagues about what’s happening in education?  Berliner basically said, by somehow getting enough people to talk about it will get the conversation going.  I found it interesting that the interview began with the notion that we need to get a conversation going, given that the blogosphere seems to be well populated with voices opposing Race to the Top policies and the Common Core.  Grassroots movements, such as the opt-out movement, have indeed been fueled by the blogs.  However, it’s hard to stop a freight train, particularly when it carries a cargo laden with millions of federal RTTT dollars and a slew of free market devotees poised to make huge profits from charter school expansion policies, creating data mining systems, publishing and administered standardized tests, and promoting Teach for America and alternate certification paths for teachers.  Well funded conservative think tanks have dominated education reform discussion for many years and they continue to fuel the education reform freight train, persevering in efforts to free-marketize and privatize public education.

The grassroots movement to address failed education policies certainly lack the financial resources of those who are actually making education policy in the U.S.  To the billionaires who have a seat in policy discussions, the blogosphere represents a swarm of mosquitoes biting at their heels, which they too often seem to easily swat away. Will grassroots efforts have an impact?  YES!!  Certainly, for example, the opt-out movement has the power to impact education policy — and it doesn’t cost a thing to simply refuse to take a standardized test.

One of my motivations in writing the Origins of the Common Core was to do my part in helping to get a meaningful conversation started.  However, I wanted to not only get teachers involved in the conversation, but to get all citizens involved who support their public schools and local control over those public schools, something that Berliner indicated was important.  I realized that what was needed was a coherent story that helped explain how we ended up in this place and time in education policy history.  On March 2, 2014, as I was completing my book, Diane Ravitch spoke at the first Network for Education conference in Texas, echoing my thoughts.  In her speech she explained, “The problem that liberals have is liberals believe that facts will persuade people.  Conservatives understand that stories persuade people, so we must have our story.  We already have the facts. … There is no question that the facts are on our side.  But we have to shape the narrative. … So its very important that we shape our narrative to say we’re defending American democracy, we’re defending the children, we’re fighting for what’s right.  We have the narrative.  We’ve got to think about our rhetoric and get the story to the public …”.**   In writing this book I have tried my best to accomplish this task.

Over the years, as I transitioned from elementary teacher to teacher educator, first at Arkansas State University and now at Elmira College in New York, I continued to try to make sense of what was happening in education policy. Why is America so convinced that our public schools are a failure?  Why were the dominant voices in education policy coming from conservative think tanks, continuously promoting school choice, high stakes standardized testing, VAM teacher accountability models, the erosion of local public school governance, and national standards?  And in spite of the voices of scholars like David Berliner, Susan Ohanian, Alfie Kohn, Patrick Shannon, Joel Spring, and Gerald Bracey, to name just a few, who for many years warned the American public that we were on the wrong track, the freight train of systemic education reform continued at break neck speed.  Nevertheless, the voices of these giants should be heeded as never before!  Seamlessly, however, from one presidential administration to the next, education policies were re-hashed, re-framed, re-named, and foisted on the American public.  I breathed a sigh of relief when Barack Obama spoke along the campaign trail about the problems associated with high stakes testing and promised to address these issues once he became president.  It soon became obvious, however, that President Obama would heed the siren song of free market ideas in the education arena.  His appointment of Arne Duncan solidified his position and, once again, the U.S. would continue its quickstep march toward free market education reform. Race to the Top policies would solidify the Obama administration’s allegiance to free market reform initiatives in education.

While much has been written about the current problems associated with the Common Core and corporate reformers, and certainly Bill Gates is being well and thoroughly blasted on the blogosphere, how is it that the Common Core so readily became the law of the land?  And why are charter schools seen as the panacea for education reform?  I set out in The Origins of the Common Core to lend my small voice in telling that story.  It was an interesting journey, leaving me to realize that our federal education policy makers acquiesced their decision making responsibilities to corporate reformers a long time ago.  Tech companies have led the way.  Bill Gates is walking, albeit with much more money at his disposal, in the footsteps of other technology corporate superstars like David Kerns and Lou Gerstner, who led the charge to revolutionize education policy through systemic free market reform education policies.  Other billionaires would lend their effort to these efforts.  Along the way, the voices of less monied education scholars were systematically silenced.  Federal policies, built on the false notion that America’s public schools were a total failure, continued to thrive in spite of documentation to the contrary.

The titles of the chapters in The Origins of the Common Core demonstrate a road map to my journey in writing the book:

  1. The Nation Was at Risk and the Public Schools Did It
  2. Public Schools: Conservative Coalescence and the Socialist Threat
  3. Friedmanomics, School Vouchers and Choice
  4. Corporate Superstars and an Inconvenient Truth
  5. Public Schools and a Third Way of Governing
  6. NCLB and the Texas Tall Tale
  7. Education Reform and the Deep State: An Alternate Universe
  8. The CCSS: Systemic Education Reform Writ Large
  9. CCSS: The Gorilla in the Room for Free Market Education Reform

*http://www.blogtalkradio.com/chalkface/2014/08/17/david-berliner-the-chalk-face

**http://www.publicschoolshakedown.org/diane-ravitch-speech-network-public-education-conference

http://www.amazon.com/The-Manufactured-Crisis-Americas-Schools/dp/0201441969

Bill Gates and the “Boogeymen” of Free Market Systemic Education Reform

By Thomas J. Fiala

In an attempt to explain, by a fellow traveler who also supports America’s important public school system, how the CCSS came to be, blogger Peter Greene (http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/posted the following:

“When David Coleman and Gene Wilhoit (summer 2008) decided they wanted to standardize American education, they did not come up with a plan to sell such a program on its education merits. They called on Bill Gates to use his money and power to convince state governments to legislate systemic changes to education.

Let’s remember that philanthropist Bill Gates (who had already reaped the benefits of free market capitalism) was not new to the free market feeding ground of systemic public education reform in 2008. He had been increasingly funneling millions of dollars for systemic reform since at least 2001-02. In 2005, he gave the keynote speech at the National Governor’s Association Summit. He gave millions to the original 2001 American Diploma Project and supported the projects 2004 report “Ready or Not” that has been heralded as a forerunner to the CCSS. Very importantly, in July 2008 this project trotted out the report “Out of Many One” that added more detail and clarity to the eventual creation of the CCSS. We do not know specifically what was discussed during the Coleman, Wilhoit, Gates meeting in 2008. However, it seems logical that the report “Out of Many, an extension of the 2004 ADP report “Ready or Not,” was something that was included in the meeting that was used to convince Gates to infuse even more money into systemic education reform. Clearly, Coleman and Wilhoit had a plan in hand when they met with Gates in the summer 2008 meeting. However, it is clear that Gates was already on board the systemic education reform express.

We need to be careful with making Gates the wellspring of the CCSS. Gates is a really big fish that financially helped facilitate the creation of the standards. The story of the origins of the CCSS, however, is even scarier than simply looking at the insidious and manipulative hand of the Gates Foundation – and that’s scary enough! Gates, however, is merely one of the corporate voices that echoes throughout the path to the Common Core and currently is by far the biggest voice. Our country’s total allegiance to free market ideology and to the supremacy of the corporate vigilantes has resulted in a strange conglomeration of free market policy makers devoted to school choice initiatives, philanthropist organizations lending credence to free market ideologues, and venture capitalists poised to make a buck on charter schools, high stakes testing, the infusion of expensive technology as a central focus in school curriculums, and a vast number of “opportunities” created by RTTT and other education policies over the years.

What is most frightening to me as a supporter of America’s locally controlled public schools, is that Gates and a whole raft of other corporate and governmental players were involved in an alternate universe of education reform that was a reflection corporate and governmental mutualism. This relationship was able to carve a path to the CCSS even while NCLB – the “official” reauthorization of the ESEA – was holding the attention of those of us in education trying to deal with the ramifications of NCLB. This, and much more, will be made clear in Deb’s new book, “Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy.”

We supporters of locally controlled public schools cannot allow these free market types to destroy one America’s most important institutions! Peter Greene’s voice is important in the struggle.  We are fellow travelers.  I am merely adding to his and other voices in our collective attempt to take back our public schools.  

Common Core Origins: A New Book on the Horizon

As a long time supporter of public schools, a former public school teacher, a teacher educator, and a believer in democracy and local school governance of public schools, I am pleased to announce that my book The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy is on the horizon.  It is currently in production with Palgrave Macmillan, with a scheduled release date of January, 2015. While this is scholarly endeavor, it is also written from my heart.  I began researching the impact of free market policies on education fifteen years ago while working as an elementary teacher in Mississippi.  This research led me to Milton Friedman, who has been hailed as the “father of modern school reform” and is often credited with originating the idea of school vouchers and school choice — a concept that has morphed into the charter school movement.  Of course, within this book there is a great deal more  than a discussion about Friedman!

I will discuss further details about my book in future postings on this website as well as further research on this topic.  The goal of this book and website is to add to the efforts of those bloggers and authors who are valiantly defending America’s democratic institution of public schools, an institution that has historically served America well.  I hope my future contributions will help those millions of public school supporters in their quest to maintain the integrity of American public education.

I am providing a few short selections from the book’s forward, which I believe captures the spirit of The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy:

“What Owens has been able to accomplish is an explanation of how … the free market became public school policy.  As Owens points out, within this process, America’s public school system has once again become a scapegoat for all that ails American society, while heralding all the ramifications of free market systemic education reform as the means of saving the U.S. from its supposed enemy – the public school system writ large. …

For those individuals on the political and ideological right or left who are militantly wedded to their ideas, however, this book will not provide safe haven.  This is because, as the book makes clear, both political parties have found common ground in a unified allegiance to a free market approach to systemic education reform that has created an educational sea of profit at the expense of America’s most important resource – its children. …

For those who see the numerous reform initiatives such as high stakes testing, charter schools, vouchers, value added measurement, student data collecting, and the disempowerment of citizens in decision-making when it comes to their public schools as the wrong approach to meeting the education challenges confronting the U.S., this is an empowering book. …” (by Thomas J. Fiala)