Another Clinton Presidency? Let’s Recall the Role of the First Clinton in Establishing Achieve and the Common Core

Much is being written about the AFT’s early endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president.  As American citizens consider who they believe would make the best president when it comes to education policy, let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

In 1996, corporate superstar Lou Gerstner hosted an education summit at IBM headquarters in Palisades, New York.  This is where Achieve was born.  You remember Achieve, don’t you?  This organization is responsible for the construction of our Common Core State Standards  — the extension of their American Diploma Project.   In attendance at the Palisades Summit were our nation’s governors, accompanied by at least one corporate CEO from each of their respective states.   It was literally an elite  “who’s who” of education reform, too.  Marc Tucker (remember his letter to Hillary Clinton?) was there along with the leaders of the NEA and the AFT and other folks deemed to be “resource people.”  Diane Ravitch was there representing New York University.  Denis Doyle attended as a representative of the Heritage Foundation.  Doyle had recently co-authored the book Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America’s Public Schools with Lou Gerstner and he would go on to co-author a book  with Susan Pimentel (one of the chief architects of the CCSS).  And there were other folks as well who would provide commentary about what took place at Palisades.

President Bill Clinton was there and gave a speech on the second day.  What’s ironic is that some of the conservative education reformers in attendance sang the praises of Clinton’s speech at Palisades.  For example, as I explain and cite in my book (p. 121):

“The bipartisan spirit of the summit was impressive.  On the second day, President Clinton delivered a speech that Doyle described as ‘calculated to please.’  Doyle explained, ‘not surprisingly … it was a speech 95% of which any Republican could have delivered with complete conviction.’  Chester Finn, who attended the summit as a representative of the conservative Hudson Institution, noted that ‘it was a speech which Ronald Reagan could have given.’”

The love feast of Republicans and Democrats and corporate America at Palisades in 1996 resulted in the birth of Achieve and the Common Core State Standards.  President Clinton was there and wholeheartedly endorsed the process of systemically reforming America’s public schools.  “The president even gave a shout out to Bill Gates, a rising corporate superstar who would later join the ranks of CEOs with the big minds and big ideas about education reform, by referring to Gates’ book, The Road from Here.” (p. 121)

So — when you consider who you think will best serve the needs of our public school system in America, please remember that we already have the legacy of the first Clinton presidency in the public education arena.  And I have no doubt that this legacy will continue if Hillary is elected.

This is why I cannot support another Clinton presidency nor any presidency as a result of the current Republican gaggle.  I can only support a candidate who has vowed to address income inequality and to stave the economic and democratic public school blood-letting in our country.  Only Bernie Sanders has the courage to work in the interest of our democratic pluralistic nation and hold public spaces as sacred — not places to be exploited for profit by Wall Street.

Arne Duncan Kicks the Education Can Down the Road: NCLB Waivers for 3-4 Years!

Arne Duncan will allow states to apply for No Child Left Behind waivers shortly that will remain in place for three or four years.  Of course, in order to receive a waiver, states are required to implement Race to the Top policies such as college and career ready standards (CCSS or a mirror image) and teacher evaluation systems largely based on student test scores.

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/11/13/education-department-drops-new-no-child-left-behind-waiver-guidance

In effect, Duncan is kicking the ESEA can down the road and solidifying Obama education policies for the next few years — beyond the next presidential election cycle.  Of course, this is very good news for corporate education reformers and education entrepreneurs.  The Obama administration is sending out strong signals that he and Duncan will not be tampering with policies that maintain their ability to profit from the education field.  They can continue to operate in an unfettered free market and receive federal and state dollars to open charter schools, develop data systems to monitor school children, teachers, and schools, promote curricular material to support the CCSS, and create, administer, and score all those standardized tests!

It’s also good news for Republicans and Democrats on sides of the aisle.  They are off the hook now.  So what if they don’t get around to reauthorizing ESEA?  Heck, it hasn’t been reauthorized for a dozen years now.  No hurry.  Arne Duncan maintains a firm grip on the the noose around the public education sector and will for the next few years.  No need for messy debates in Congress about education policy.  No need for presidential candidates to debate education policy.  There’s absolutely no need to ruffle the feathers of those big foundations, corporations, and philanthropists who dominate education policy discussions.  Any threat to their stakeholder status in education may mean a reduction in their donations to political campaigns.   A grazing field of corporate profit continues to expand in America’s wild west of unproven free market education reform opportunities and initiatives.

The United States is not Alone in Fighting Misguided Free Market Education Policies: Great Britain’s Struggle to Maintain Local Authority Over Their Schools

Unfortunately, Great Britain seems to be following the Friedmanomic playbook when it comes to education policy in spite of mounting evidence that these policies inevitably lead to an erosion in local control over schools, a devaluing of the teaching profession, and corruption by those who see education as a steady stream of profit for business entrepreneurs.  And, according to the The Guardian, this is in spite of the fact that British citizens do not overwhelmingly support free market education policies.  In an article entitled “Poll shows opposition to education reforms” (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/apr/14/poll-opposition-education-reforms), Tom Clark and Rebecca Ratcliffe explain that “The biggest single structural change to English education … has been the rapid conversion of secondary schools into semi-independent academies.”  British academies are the U.S. equivalent to charter schools.  As in the United States, the invention of these schools was engineered by the liberal party, New Labour (Bill Clinton brought us federal government endorsement and funding for charter schools).  As Clark and Ratcliffe explain, the British brand of charter schools are “autonomous from local authorities while being funded through private contracts.”  Only 32% of the British citizens polled prefer the conversion of schools to academies.  According to the article’s authors, the “stampede to academy conversion” is being led by Conservative voters.

 

An attack on the teaching profession in Britain also seems to mirror the teacher hate that has become the norm in the U.S.  In 2012 academies were given the right to hire teachers who had not received formal training as professional educators.  This policy is aligned with Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan’s Race to the Top policies that favor Teach for America and other alternatively certified teachers. According to article authors, 63% of those polled felt that “teaching is a profession the requires dedicated training.”  Only 33% felt that “people with different career backgrounds should be welcomed into the classroom, to expand the teaching talent pool.”

 

As in the United States, corruption revolving around free market contracted schools is on the rise.  Guardian reporters Warwick Mansell and Daniel Boffey (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/aug/17/academies-run-superhead-advance-notice-ofsted-checks) revealed that academy schools run by Rachel de Souza received advanced notice before her schools were inspected by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.  Of course, this is highly possible since de Souza had previously been appointed as an inspector for this office.  And she used the advanced notice to warn students to watch their behavior over the coming week, get all the paperwork in order, and plant teachers who had never taught in one school before to teach model lessons.  These efforts earned de Souza’s academies the highest ratings by inspectors.

 

I urge British citizens to heed education policy in the U.S.  Micah Uetricht was absolutely correct when he wrote for The Guardian in 2013 an article entitled “Chicago is ground zero for disastrous ‘free market’ reforms of education” (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/27/chicago-teacher-strike-against-school-closures-and-privatization).   It will be a very long time before the U.S. is able to disentangle itself from the Friedmanomic education policies that are leaving our country’s federal education system in shambles.  The process of systemically reforming the U.S. education system to reflect the free market economics of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher began in the 1980s.  Since then, every presidential administration in the U.S. continued with the same failed notion that free market ideologues are the best authorities to decide education policy.  In the U.S. we like to identify who are the good guys and who are the bad guys and treat them accordingly.  Sadly, what we’ve ended up with is the wild west of education policies and education reformers who envision education as a gold rush through privatization.  My book The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy details the decades long campaign to privatize public schools in the U.S.    http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/the-origins-of-the-common-core-deborah-duncan-owens/?isb=9781137482679

Stop the War Metaphors when Talking About Education Policy: Have You no Shame?

In 1983 the National Commission on Excellence in Education declared, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”  And thus began an era in which a culture of shame was attributed to America’s public education system.  I don’t know about my fellow public school supporters, but I am quite frankly tired of the use of war metaphors by critics of public schools.  We are talking about children after all.

Lee Fang’s article, “Venture Capitalists Are Poised to ‘Disrupt’ Everything About the Education Market,” published by The Nation on September 25, 2014, illustrates how pervasive this use of violent war metaphors has become (http://www.thenation.com/article/181762/venture-capitalists-are-poised-disrupt-everything-about-education-market#).  Fang cites Michael Moe and a document produced by his investment firm, GSV Capital, entitled “American Revolution 2.0” which serves the dual purposes of providing a manifesto for education reform and a blueprint for how venture capitalists can make a lot of money in the educational sector.  According to Fang:

“The revolution GSV goes on to describe is a battle to control the fate of America’s K-12 education system. Noting that this money is still controlled by public entities, or what’s referred in the document as “the old model,” the GSV paper calls for reformers to join the “education battlefield.” (A colorful diagram depicts “unions” and “status quo” forces equipped with muskets across businesses and other “change agents” equipped with a fighter jet and a howitzer.) The GSV manifesto declares, “we believe the opportunity to build numerous multi-billion dollar education enterprises is finally real.”

Further examination of GSV’s 300+ page document (http://gsvadvisors.com/wordpress/wp-content/themes/gsvadvisors/American%20Revolution%202.0.pdf) is alarming.  Children are not referred to merely as students — they are “knowledge troops.”  GSV provides a “budget battle” detailing the expected market growth and profit through 2018 for every aspect of the education marketplace from pre-k education to charter schools and e-learning to test prep and counseling.  Other sections in GSV’s manifesto bear war inspired titles such as “Shock and Awe,” “Modern Weaponry,” “Time to Fight,” and “Weapons of Mass Education – Investment Themes.”

As Fang adeptly points out in the subtitle of his article, “Venture capitalists and for-profit firms are salivating over the exploding $788.7 billion market in K-12 education.”  And apparently, they have no shame when declaring a war on public education.  In their “Strategic Battle Plan,” they openly call for the elimination of local school boards and employ all the rhetoric of free market advocates.

And what about those “knowledge troops” — or children as I prefer to call them?  What is their role in this supposed war/revolution?  Should kindergarteners be issued combat fatigues on their day of school to complete the war metaphor?  Or, as is increasingly evident, are they collateral damage, suffering from battle fatigue and post traumatic stress disorder as the result of wave after wave of high stakes standardized tests being being launched at them?  If children are, indeed, as envisioned by corporate reformers and venture capitalists, the troops in this war on public education, then I have to ask, who protects the children from the ravages of war?

The use of violent metaphors has been a consistent theme for corporate and free market reformers.  In 1971, conservative libertarian economist and political theorist Murray Rothbard invoked the war metaphor in his attack on America’s public school system with his book “Education: Free and Compulsory” when he proclaimed on the cover, “We are Ready — How about You?  SCHOOLS AT WAR!”  In 2008, Matt Miller of the Center for American Progress, wrote an article entitled, “First, Kill all the School Boards” for The Atlantic.  At the 1995 National Governors Association meeting, corporate superstar Lou Gerstner (of RJR Nabisco and IBM fame) called for complete revolution in education policy, stating, “The only way this will happen … is if we push through a fundamental, bone-jarring, full-fledged, 100 percent revolution that discards the old and replaces it with a totally new performance-driven system.”  One year later, at a gathering of governors and corporate CEOs at the IBM Palisades NY headquarters, the organization Achieve, Inc. was formed — the organization that would bring us the Common Core State Standards.  And the bone-jarring revolution continues.  But whose bones are getting jarred in the end?  The federal Department of Education?  No — its still going strong.  The venture capitalists and corporate CEOs?  No, they’re getting richer by the minute.  The bone-jarring revolution, however, is leaving a lot of children bewildered and frustrated along with the teachers who spend their days with them.  And let’s not forget the parents who are trying to make sense of it all.

Thank you, Lee Fang, for reminding us that there is a price on the head of every child in America.  We’re not giving up, however.  I urge all Americans to call for unilateral disarmament in the war on public schools.  Of course, there is really nothing unilateral about it.  The reality is that there are no “knowledge troops” — just children.  They have no war machines to lay down.  They just want to pick up their books and learn.

I eagerly await the publication of my book by Palgrave Macmillan in January entitled, “The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy.”  I believe it will further expand the discourse among citizens and scholars interested in taking back their public schools.  Knowledge is power — and I’m not talking about the KIPP Knowledge is Power Program — and power in the form of knowledge is not violent.

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.  

The Conservative Mind and Education Reform

Thank you, Andy Smarick, of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, for your commentary on the role of conservatism in education reform (Change and preservation in education reform, August 6, 2014).  Apparently, Smarick and Michael Petrilli (the newly appointed president of Fordham) are wrestling with the education policies their organization helped engineer in partnership with corporate interests and presidential administrations (both Democrat and Republican) in recent decades.  Once again, the conservative lens is being employed to sort out the debacle that has culminated in the current state of education policy with all its accoutrements —  the Common Core, an explosion in student testing, massive data storage systems, value added measurements for teacher accountability, and, last but certainly not least, a free market driven system that ensures the free flow of dollars to the private sector through charter schools and products associated with RTTT education reform policies.

Smarick wonders if education reform is “inherently anti-conservative” and if things might “be better if we sought counsel from conservatism?”  He refers to an article by Phillip Wallach and Justus Myers in National Affairs entitled “The Conservative Governing Disposition.”

Smarick discusses the “conservative governing disposition,” citing several of the conservative’s favored political and economic thinkers and philosophers and concludes that a conservative governing disposition embodies a belief that “change ought to advance gradually… .”

While Smarick may be thinking about current education reform initiatives when suggesting that our country should have proceeded more cautiously and circumspectly in adopting the widespread sweeping reforms associated with the current administration, it is simply wrong-headed to look longingly back to conservative thinkers and wonder how much better education would be if we’d heeded their advice.  Smarick would be wise to consider the seminal works of conservatives like Albert J. Nock, Russell Kirk, and Murray Rothbard (to name a few).

In chapter 2 of my upcoming book The Origins of the Common Core:  How the Free Markets Became Public Education Policy (Palgrave Macmillan, January, 2015), I examine the ideas of several conservative thinkers on education policy.  For example, Albert Nock, writing in the 1930s, believed that “the progressive theory of ‘educational equality’ that undergirded America’s education system was particularly troubling because he felt it was based on a socialist model that created a ‘perverse’ popular doctrine leading people to believe that ‘everybody is educable.’”  Russell Kirk (considered a giant of conservatism and revered by President Reagan), likewise considered America’s public school system to be a reflection of “a socialistic federal government in collusion with progressive educators …”.  Murray Rothbard continued the conservative assault on public education in the 1970s, claiming that one of the major problems associated with public schools arises from compulsory education policies.  According to Rothbard, children who are “dull” and “have little aptitude” should not be forced to even attend school because it is a “criminal offense to their natures.”

Are these the conservative people we should be heeding?  Or are these the voices behind A Nation at Risk during the conservative Reagan era that lead the all-out assault on public education and teachers?  I think the latter.

In a previous posting, Smarick attempts to distinguish between free market advocates and the true conservative mindset, claiming that free market ideology is only “one strand of conservatism.”   I disagree.  I find the ideas that undergird free market economics — the supremacy of property ownership and the restriction of government intervention through taxes or regulation — to be an enduring theme throughout conservative thought.  Nonetheless, President Ronald Reagan, the icon of conservatism in America, embraced the free market ideas of Milton Friedman wholeheartedly and ushered in the era of laissez faire, free market policies that have governed our public policies across many sectors since the 1980s.  Friedman’s tenacity in promoting school vouchers, choice, and their latest iteration — school charters garnered him the title “the father of modern school reform” and his Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice continues to advocate for a free market, conservative approach in education reform.

And what of the conservative notion that change is best when it takes place gradually?  Conservative advocates of maintaining the Plessy v. Fergusen “separate but equal” policies certainly embraced that notion when they attacked the Brown v. Board decision in 1954.  Southern segregationists found a home among conservatives during their widespread resistance to desegregation of their public schools.  As a matter of fact the conservative National Review (William F. Buckley’s publication) published an article in 1958 by Anthony Harrigan lauding the “essential conservatism” of the south.  According to Harrigan, “The South … has an essential conservatism …. The original shapers of the Southern tradition believed that progress resulted not from equality of condition, but from fruitful inequalities.”

Let us not forget the terrible price American citizens had to pay while segregationists embraced essential conservatism.  A number of Americans were denied their right to vote, beaten, and even murdered.

In the 1950s Milton Friedman arose as a hero to segregationists when he advocated for the use of tax vouchers to send students to segregated private schools.  For Friedman, the fact that his idea was being embraced as a way to maintain segregated schools was not really a problem.  He believed that “the appropriate activity for those who oppose segregation and racial prejudice is to try to persuade others to their view, if and as they succeed, the mixed schools will grow at the expense of the nonmixed, and a gradual transition will take place.”  That sounds very conservative.  I suppose Ruby Bridges’ parents should have taken more time to “persuade” angry white segregationists to allow their daughter to attend the all-white William Franz Elementary School before sending her to school.  Same with the Little Rock Nine.  Friedman persistently referred to public schools as socialist institutions and government monopolies.  As a matter of fact he generally didn’t use the term public schools, referring to them instead as “government schools.”

I would, therefore, urge Andy Smarick to think more deeply about the conservative notion of gradual change.  We may agree about  the current RTTT debacle.  However, it is wrong to begin with an assumption that these reform initiatives are those of progressives or liberals.  There are no clean hands.  When it comes to education reform the apt metaphor may well be “hands across America” as one presidential administration handed off its policies with very little change to the next administration.   And the momentum kept growing with each new administration since Reagan, adding layer upon layer of policies.  The glue that has held the opposing parties together has been the conservative ideal of the free markets and competition as the arbiter of education policy.  And the biggest winners have been those who have financially gained the most from this era of free market education reform — big business and venture capitalists.

I wonder if we removed the profit incentive from education policy how much better our schools could become?  Even those involved in the “non-profit” charter school movement seem to be getting quite fat off the backs of America’s school children.

I’ve spent several years examining the impact of free market ideology on education policy — policies that have been embraced by both Democrats and Republicans since the era of “Reaganomics” and “Friedmanomics.”  The result is “The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy.”   I completed research for this book with one certainty.  Until education policy makers disavow themselves of market based reforms and cast the money lenders from the temple of public education, we will not have true reform.  Our challenge is, therefore, attempting to disentangle ourselves from the mess that has been created in recent decades and get back to the real work of schools — teaching our children to be informed, compassionate, well educated citizens.

 

References:

Deborah Duncan Owens, The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy (Palgrave Macmillan, January, 2015).

Milton Friedman, “The Role of Government in Education” in Robert A. Solo (ed.), Economics and the Public Interest (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1955).

Anthony Harrigan, “The South is Different,” National Review, (March 8, 1958).

Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind, 7th revised edition (Washington D.C.: Regency, 1985).

Albert Jay Nock,  The Theory of Education in the United States.  (reprinted by the Ludwig von Mises Institute in 2007).

Murray N. Rothbard, Education: Free and Compulsory (reprinted by the Ludwig von Mises Institute in 1999).

Chester Finn Steps Down!

On August 1st, 2014,  Chester Finn will resign as leader of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.  He will be replaced by Michael Petrilli.  The Fordham Foundation has been a leader in the creation and promotion of the Common Core State Standards, other conservative education initiatives, and the assault on public schools.  This will not change under the leadership of Petrilli.  As a matter of fact, I think it is fair to say that Petrilli will be a stalwart proponent of the Common Core as well as other free market conservative education reform initiatives such as school vouchers, choice, and charters.  I also think it is fair to say that we can expect the promotion of education policies that further erode the local control over public schools.   On the other hand, Finn, in his farewell address, seems to admit that the privatization of public education is problematic, leading to the feeding frenzy we have seen by those who envision the education of children as a boon to entrepreneurial capitalists.  Finn acquiesced:   “I hail the entry into the ed-reform camp of entrepreneurs with all their energy, imagination, and venture capital, but I’ve seen too many examples of them settling for making their venture profitable for investors or shareholders (or themselves) rather than educationally profitable for the kids it serves. That’s not so very different from traditional adult interests within the public and nonprofit sectors battling to ensure their own jobs, income, and comfort rather than giving their pupils top priority. …”   Thanks at least for that, Dr. Finn.  Professional educators and public school supporters will continue to try to clean up the mess you helped make.   Read Dr. Chester Finn’s farewell address at: http://edexcellence.net/articles/education-reform-in-2014 See you on the flip side! Deborah Duncan Owens