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.

Governor Cuomo and Public Education: Wall Street, Conservatism, Milton Friedman, and the ‘Third Way’ of Governance

By Thomas J. Fiala

I think America, and in particular New Yorkers, need a more exact definition of New York Governor Cuomo when it comes to public schools and education reform. I think that in spite of his supposed political mantle seen by many as a champion of liberal thought and action, when it comes to America’s democratic institution of locally controlled public schools, he is certainly a neoliberal conservative loyalist.   Clearly, Governor Cuomo loves the conservative neoliberal ideas of Milton Friedman when it comes to dismantling America’s democratic institution of public education.   What might even be scarier for those who support locally controlled democratic public schools, is that Cuomo is continuing the tradition of “third way governance” by Democrats begun by the Bill Clinton Administration. As Diane Ravitch stated in a speech in 2014 , “I am absolutely furious that the Democratic Party has merged with the Republican Party around a bipartisan agenda that is actually a Republican agenda.”

Four years earlier in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, Ravitch had explained how “Bill Clinton and the New Democrats championed a ‘third way’ between orthodox politics of the left and the right.” So what is this ‘third way’ of governance, and how does Governor Cuomo, a political clone of this Clintonesque approach to running society and who seems intent on proceeding along the neoliberal path of education reform, go about making his pact with Milton Friedman and the billionaires of corporate Wall Street when it comes to privatizing America’s democratic institution of public education at the expense of Main Street?

If you want to begin to get a simple handle on his notion of the ‘third way’ check out the writing of William Black. As Black explains “Third Way is not a liberal think tank. It’s not even a ‘think tank.’ Third Way (at least in America) is a creature of Wall Street.” The goal is to privatize what is now public. Often third way devotees choose to take a liberal position on certain issues such as gun control or gay rights, but when it comes to Wall Street, privatization and making cash, in the case of education reform the ‘third way’ devotees are able to put a price on the head of every child while claiming that their approach to school reform also demonstrates how making cash can also help those students who just do not measure up academically. Cuomo is, indeed, a Clintonesque ‘third way’ type of guy!

Now understand he is also a devotee of the conservative libertarian economist Milton Friedman when it comes to education reform. He may not say it outright, but when one looks carefully at his views and comments about public schools and education reform, it’s almost impossible to conclude otherwise. What we find is that the NY Governor, when it comes to school reform is a Friedmanomics Neoliberal!

Neoliberalism is something for which everyone should become familiar. It’s complex when you start looking into it, so if you’re just beginning this educational journey, think about it as an intellectual imperative all Americans should understand – a least a little bit! There are many many, sources that discuss neoliberalism and in particular the education ideas of Milton Friedman, although my bias comes out when I suggest reading “The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free market Became Public Education Policy,” and particularly Chapter Three, “Friedmanomics, School Vouchers, and Choice.   Nevertheless, when it comes to public schools, conservative neoliberals (like Milton Friedman and Governor Cuomo) believe that the institution of American public schools is a government monopoly and a reflection of a socialist state. Therefore, it needs to be destroyed through privatization – or at the very least, challenged by creating a perverse competitive environment in which the supposed free market creates a raft of often unregulated alternative approaches to educating America’s children, regardless of whether the efficacy of these approaches have actually been substantiated. So what neoliberal thought rests upon as Milton Friedman made clear, always understanding that neoliberal is actually conservative in nature, is that you take advantage of a crisis, and then make radical changes to address it.  In the case of education and public schools, a neoliberal like Milton Friedman, and his followers like Governor Cuomo, base their actions on the “manufactured” crisis that the entire public school system in America is failing. This all started with the infamous report A Nation at Risk in 1983. Now if you want to get a handle on why this report is really an obfuscation of the truth, and in particular if you actually believe what has been promulgated about public schools since 1983, then you have to read stuff! Blogs are OK, but real analysis is better. This takes some work and intellectual dexterity – but overwhelmingly most Americans can do this if they put their minds to it!  Again there are some good books out there that begin to destroy this myth, for example Berliner and Biddle wrote a book in about 1995 called the “Manufactured Crisis,” and again my bias leads to me suggest reading “The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy.” There are other books out there that address this topic to one degree or another, but as they say – Knowledge is Power. However, gaining knowledge does take a little effort.

Now let me be clear. I do not believe this neoliberal take on public schools – so I do not agree with people like Milton Friedman, who passed away a few years ago, and Governor Cuomo who carries on the education ideas of Friedman. I believe that America’s locally controlled public schools are a manifestation of democracy in the best sense of the American experience through which efforts are made to help all Americans get a good education. These schools, as we all know, take on the challenge of overcoming many of the hurdles that have stood, and continue to stand, in the way of a child getting a good education. Yes – we are talking about those factors like social class, race, lack of jobs, crime in neighborhoods, drugs – well – I’m sure everyone reading this can add to the list! Now let’s get down to the “nitty gritty” of Cuomo’s assault on the institution of locally controlled public schools!

The fact that Governor Cuomo claims that his $150 million or so tax credit now being proposed is somehow a reflection of what is in the best interests of the profound notion of the American public is a cunning political ploy. That’s what I believe and I am not alone in thinking this.

http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Gov-Andrew-Cuomo-seeks-150-million-education-6259573.php

  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/23/opinion/a-costly-tax-break-for-nonpublic-schools.html `

It seems that when the educationally conservative, neoliberal, Wall Street devotee Governor Cuomo makes claims such this, for many, it is like putting “lipstick on a pig.” It is a shameless attempt to hoodwink America – and in particular New Yorkers – into believing that the Governor is the great Democratic egalitarian – fighting for the rights of Main Street over Wall Street. Unfortunately, when a person takes this approach to education, once again we see, in the case of preserving the democratic institution of locally controlled public schools, it is hard to serve two masters – making money and helping public schools. This is getting to sound a bit Biblical, but that is not my intent. Somehow the Governor believes that New Yorkers – and the rest of America – are going to believe that his “choice approach” to education reform would make him Mr. Egalitarian when it comes to education. I, for one, do not believe that the majority of New Yorkers – let alone Americans in general – are going to buy his education snake oil. By now everyone should know that the Conservative Cuomo – a person I believe is a neoliberal conservative when it comes to following the money and education reform – sees public schools as a monopoly that needs to be “busted.”

He said this even before he was re-elected last November – and God knows why so many teachers, teacher union leaders, and supporters of public schools are now shocked by his current actions! Take a look at this video.   What is really indicative of his loyalty to Milton Friedman’s ideas about education is his view that locally controlled public schools are a monopoly. If he is NOT an anti-public schools ‘third wayer’ who does NOT see locally controlled public schools as a pillar of our republic – and if he is NOT a devotee of Milton Friedman neoliberalism – then I must be a guy smoking my Crayola’s! Trust me – I am militantly against smoking Crayolas no matter what the color! That’s what I am seeing in this video anyway! Most shocking is that I also see an important defender of America’s public schools passively sitting as Cuomo assails this long honored American institution! As a former public school teacher and a former member of the AFT governing board within the school district in which I taught, this kind of inaction both saddens me and infuriates me. Do some teacher union leaders actually believe that America’s democratic institution of locally controlled public schools is nothing more than monopolistic entities that need to be destroyed?   Do locally controlled public schools need competition to meet the challenges these schools face on a daily basis? Challenges such as those associated with social class, money, and the historical reality of racism in America, poverty, and lack of jobs in many communities where historically marginalized individuals and groups often reside, communities in which good families and their children must face the daily challenge of crime and drugs that impede their daily lives?   Do these public schools need competition from charter schools that can easily send those students and their families back to the public school when they cannot measure up – or do not live up to the contracts they sign before being allowed into the charter school? Do these public schools need competition from private schools who will be able to take public tax money away from public schools and use the funds to finance their curricular and social views – without public scrutiny?    I support the right of private schools to exist and flourish! Does it make sense, however, to send one’s education tax money to a private school – whether non-sectarian, Catholic, Baptist, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever other kind may pop up as a result of “free market entrepreneurship,” without some kind of public control over what is taught in these type schools? Everyone needs to think about this, including the private schools who might think about taking public money for their private school. Do New Yorkers really want to support school vouchers in their state even if it is disguised as a tax credit for billionaire donors? This is what Governor Cuomo wants!

One thing is sure. Governor Cuomo, when it comes to education, is a neoliberal conservative that sees locally controlled public schools as a monopoly that needs to be “busted.” He takes a Clintonesque ‘third way’ governance approach to running education in the State of New York. He favors Wall Street over Main Street under the guise that big money folks must be allowed to engage in making even more money as they supposedly go about helping New York’s children.   Now if only the media can get Governor Cuomo to acknowledge all of this, and in the process do their job in helping inform the democratic electorate about what is really at the root of Governor Cuomo’s course of action when it comes to New York’s locally controlled democratic institution of public education. However, I am not holding my breath that this will happen. In any case, that is my definition of Governor Cuomo when it comes to public schools in New York. One thing must happen Governor Cuomo, if a school is publicly funded, then it MUST be transparent in all they do and held up to public scrutiny! Or is this just too “democratic” for your political ‘third way’ of governance?

Mmmm? I wonder how Hillary feels about all this – let alone those dozen or so Republican presidential hopefuls that seem to be sprouting everywhere like dandelions this time of year?

Lamar Alexander: And the Beat Goes On ….

It seems that July 1991 was an important month for education reformers.  Lamar Alexander as Secretary of Education under President H. W. Bush was very busy on two fronts: 1) laying the groundwork for a national system of assessment (that would require the eventual development of a set of national standards); and 2) facilitating the corporate world’s entre’ into the education arena in full force.

Thanks to C-Span, we have a front row seat to some of the events and pronouncements of Lamar Alexander in which his education reform agenda is laid on the table – in full view of the American public – and we’re feeling the repercussions in full force today.

At a July 1, 1991,  National Education Goals Panel meeting the groundwork for a national system of assessment was laid.  Democrat Governor Roy Romer of Colorado, with Secretary Lamar Alexander at his side, explained the formation and purposes of the Council for Standards and Testing that was the result of a newly enacted law.  As you will note, beginning at approximately 1:19 on the video counter, Romer provides a graphic of the development process for the national assessment, explaining that NAEP testing was inadequate in that it only provided a national picture of educational progress and comparisons between states.  What was needed was a national assessment or set of assessments based on individual student achievement.  NAEP would remain in place; however, a newly developed national assessment would be administered to every child.

Lamar Alexander follows Romer with these insightful words:

“ Sometimes things that look big don’t amount to anything.  Things that seem small amount to a lot.  This is one of those small steps that amounts to a lot — because it represents a beginning to taking the first concrete steps forward to how to exactly develop a national system of examination.  That’s one part and the second part is it includes within that discussion, without committing themselves to a particular way to do it, members of Congress — and I think it’s important to say the Republican and Democratic members of Congress took an issue about which they could have played a game or two with — because there were competing versions of an idea and they put it together.  Dale Kildee [Democrat from Michigan] especially in the House of Representatives took a leadership role in doing that and I think took a very constructive step and it is moving swiftly — but the country needs to [act] as swifty as it accurately and responsibly can in this area because people want some progress.  It is an important step and I thank you [Romer] and Governor Campbell [Republican Governor of South Carolina] deserve a great deal of credit for your leadership in it and that the Congress, both the Democratic and Republican members deserve a lot of credit for putting their partisanship to one side and getting on with this in very rapid order and there are very few things that move through Congress that swiftly and I think it is a very encouraging step.”

Exactly one week later, on July 8, 1991, President H. W. Bush and Lamar Alexander announced the “New American Schools Development Corporation” as the new vanguard approach to reforming public education. This “private” venture was lead by both political leaders and corporate CEOs from companies such as R.J.R. Nabisco, Boeing, AT&T, and Rand.

Several things to note:

  1. …. the declaration that charter school legislation is as an important factor in implementing privatization efforts;
  2. …. Lamar Alexander’s comment that the New American Schools project was “moving rapidly;”
  3. …. the response to a reporter about the possible need for congressional oversight in this new private venture into public education.  This question drew an almost terse response: “There is absolutely no need for that. As a matter of fact, this is an entirely private corporation.  There’s no reason for Congress to be involved in this wholly private venture…”; and
  4. … last, but certainly not least, the mention of Chris Whittle’s private venture foray into the education arena.

Chris Whittle was an important player in the private sector’s incursion in education reform:

In a New York Times article in 1989, Bill Carter reported the names of the luminaries who would serve on Whittle’s Channel One’s board.  These names would include former Department of Education Secretary Terrel Bell (who brought us “A Nation at Risk” under President Ronald Reagan) and Lamar Alexander (then serving as President of the University of Tennessee).  Later in July, 1991, Lamar Alexander’s official position regarding Channel One was, “There’s room for everybody on the reform bandwagon.”

Lamar Alexander’s agenda for education reform has been clear for many years now — national assessment, national standards, and privatization.  I’m detecting a pattern in Alexander’s leadership style.  He likes to move rapidly.  He’s pushing ESEA reauthorization through in the same rapid manner he promoted over two decades ago.  So, does anyone really think he is going to eliminate standardized testing?  And, to be sure, he is moving full steam ahead in the privatization of America’s public schools.

School Choice, Vouchers, and Charter Schools are OFF THE CHAIN!!!

This coming week will see the “Nation’s Largest-Ever School Choice Celebration.” With the ESEA reauthorization process firmly underway and charter school funding largely undebated and undiscussed as a failed experiment by federal policy makers, clearly a celebration is in order for free market devotees and corporate/entrepreneur ed reformers.  Sure, Lamar Alexander is hailed as a hero for holding congressional hearings to discuss the overuse and misuse of standardized testing, but he and his cronies are are very pleased to divert attention away from the big grab for the privatization of public schools.

January 23-31 is now officially, albeit self-proclaimed by school choice/charter advocates, National School Choice Week:

“The largest celebration of school choice in US history will officially start on Friday, January 23, 2015 at a special event in Jacksonville, Florida.

National School Choice Week 2015 will kick off at the Florida Theatre at 12:30 pm on January 23. The event is the first event of an unprecedented 11,082 independently planned and independently funded special events taking place across all 50 states during the Week, which runs until January 31, 2015.

The goal of the Week is to shine a positive spotlight on effective education options for children, and to raise awareness of the importance of, and benefits of, school choice in a variety of forms.”

Headliners for the School Choice Week kickoff celebration include Senator John McCain and Vice President Joe Biden’s brother, Frank, along with other notables from well-funded charter school organizations and we can look forward to a dizzying 11,000 events across the country.

Milton Friedman would be so proud.  What an absolute testament to the economic policies of Ronald Reagan. This is the fruition of all they hoped for in education policy for the U.S.  We can thank Reagan for making Friedman’s voucher concept politically palatable in our country when he substituted the term “school vouchers” to the more benign term “school choice.”  H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama, would continue to promote school choice through charter schools — attaching all the accoutrements of equity, civil rights, and education excellence to the p.r. campaign to the American public — while stripping away the democratic intentions of local school governance.  The free market of education policy is the clear winner.  The private sector is celebrating and planning their next strategy for grabbing the tax dollars that students carry with them into the schoolhouse door and the federal grants that will help create more and more charter schools.  And now they’ve claimed a national week of celebration.  Presidents get a day to honor them; Martin Luther King gets a day; labor gets a day; there’s one 4th of July; but — school choice advocates have proclaimed an entire week.  The dog is off the chain!

 

ESEA Reauthorization – Beware – What’s on the Table and What’s under the Table

I’ve been watching the heated debate about the ESEA reauthorization process and standardized testing.   The joint statement by the AFT and the Center for American Progress is clearly problematic for those who want to end the onslaught of testing in public schools and represents an about face of the AFT.  And the call for maintaining standardized testing as part of the reauthorized ESEA by civil rights groups has the potential to thwart efforts to minimize our country’s obsession with testing and data.  I’m not surprised by these actions.  The same things occur whenever federal education policies have been debated.  One thing is consistent, however.  Over the years, the monied lobby groups tend to prevail — not because what they seek is good for children, but because federal policies represent a whole lot of capital that can be exploited and used to increase the coffers of the private sector.  

It’s a good thing that Congress will hold hold hearings to discuss standardized testing.  At least there will be an official record of the concerns of citizens about the abuse of standardized testing and its impact on children, teachers, schools, and public education.  It’s a good start.  However, the AFT and the civil rights coalition have supplied corporate education reformers with a rationale for maintaining standardized tests as a key component of ESEA.  By framing the discussion about testing as an issue of equity, and by invoking the NCLB mantra of “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” the path for maintaining standardized testing is made clear — whether or not that path is paved with good intentions.  And never forget that standardized testing has proven to be very lucrative for free market corporate education reformers.  

But the conversation about standardized testing is on the table, visible for all to see.  There are, however, other ESEA policy issues at stake, too.  One education policy issue that will survive is the promotion of charter schools and funds for starting charter schools.  And that’s a good thing for the corporate education privatization movement.  I would argue, that they embrace the rancorous discourse regarding standardized testing because it takes the focus off of their real motive — privatization.  As I explained in a recent post about the domino effect and charter schools:

“… hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs aren’t so much concerned about [ academic achievement] in spite of their catch phrases, advertising slogans, and cliches.  They just want more charter schools full of students that bring with them a hefty sum of tax dollars.  I have a feeling that once charter schools dominate in the education sector, standardized test scores will become less consequential.  The Republican legislature is already hinting at a move to lessen the emphasis on standardized testing.  That only makes sense when you think about it.  Standardized testing is not demonstrating the superiority of charter schools over public schools.  So, standardized tests are less appealing than they were in the years leading up to NCLB, when choice proponents were convinced that public schools would be shamed into closing when they had to compete with charter schools.”

I fear that there is another big issue that the public is not aware of that is at stake in the ESEA reauthorization debate.  According to David DeShryer of Whiteboard Advisors,  “Sen. Lamar Alexander’s discussion draft bill provides new supplement, not supplant language that may have significant implications for the education market.”  To be clear, Whiteboard Advisors is in the business of promoting entrepreneurship in the policy arena.  Its co-founder is Ben Wallerstein who once served as an aide to David Kearns — the former Xerox CEO who worked with Diane Ravitch at the Department of Education under George H.W. Bush during the era in which choice, school vouchers, and charters gained solid footing as a potent education reform mechanism.  Whiteboard Advisors is a go-to source for business as a way to monitor federal and state governmental policies that favor their profit interest.  DeShryer explains how Lamar Alexander’s proposal for ESEA reauthorization would benefit private interests.  Title I funds, intended to “serve at-risk students in schools with concentrations of poverty,” could be tapped without oversight or accountability.  Alexander’s proposal “says that no district would be required to identify individual costs or provide specific services through a particular instructional method or setting in order to demonstrate compliance.”

DeShryer further states:

“The importance of the change cannot be overstated. Today, unless a school is operating a “school-wide” model, the test to ensure compliance is rather fact specific and burdensome – a gift to auditors and attorneys. That changes under this bill. A district need only to show that the methodology of getting state and local funds to its schools is clear and transparent enough to ensure that Title I funds are not used to supplant state and local dollars. Under that test, it does not matter if an innovative digital learning program benefits Title I eligible students and all other students in the district. It does not matter that the service can both address core instruction and remediation. These factors are not relevant to the founding formula compliance test, and this opens up the market and makes innovative school leadership much easier to realize.”

This has huge implications for schools, teachers, and, most importantly, students.  Congress is throwing a party, in the form of congressional hearings, to discuss standardized testing in the spirit of democratic and transparent discourse — setting the table for the issue they are willing to put on the table for discussion.  However, what is most important is what is going on under the table.  While invoking the equity argument to maintain standardized testing, what the AFT and the civil rights groups are not discussing is the fact that Lamar Alexander’s proposal for ESEA reauthorization could, in fact, deprive the students, who need Title I funds the most, of the resources they need to be successful.  An unfettered free market of education would certainly benefit one group the most — the businesses who market their services and wares to public schools.  Cha Ching!!!

Charter Schools and the Domino Effect

Two items caught my eye this week.  The first was a news item about proposed legislation in Wisconsin that would require traditional public schools with low test scores to be closed and converted into charter schools.  The second was a posting by Gene V. Glass entitled “Cream Rises to the Top in Charters?”

School choice and the charter school movement is a failed experiment on our nation’s school children.  Enough time has elapsed now and enough data has been gathered to demonstrate that this is a failed experiment in the quality of education in the U.S.  However, it has been a huge success for corporate free market education reformers.  So, while our nation’s children and local communities are the ultimate losers in this grand venture, hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs are the ultimate winners.

As Gene Glass explains, “Charter schools have long been known for their filtering out at the admissions stage of students who might require special services or who might lower their test score average.”  In short, “choice” and charter schools are not so much about children and families choosing schools, but about charter schools choosing the students who can bolster their bottom line, increasing their capital in the form of higher test scores that will add to their brand and keep them in business — with a steady stream of income from the tax dollars citizens pay for public education.

The impact of Wisconsin’s proposed legislation would be extremely beneficial for the free market of education.    In essence, this legislation will have a domino effect on public schools and hasten their demise and the unity of the local communities these public schools serve.  If passed, the legislation would require that “persistently low-performing public schools would be turned into charter schools.”  In other words, low performing public schools would disappear, never to be improved and never to return to the democratic public sector.  There is no indication that low performing charter schools would be converted back into traditional public schools.  Rather, they would most likely merely be turned over to another charter school operator.

The impact could be devastating for public education because inevitably and by design, once opened, each charter school would begin the process of weeding out low performing and special needs students.  And where would they go? To the remaining traditional public school.  Of course, then, the student population of the public schools would shift as they accommodate more and more of the poorer performing students and students who require more services in order to be successful.  Their test scores are likely to go down — not because they are not good schools and not because their teachers are ineffective, but because they are doing what all public schools should be doing — trying to meet the needs of all students.  But, eventually, these remaining public schools run the risk of being deemed failures as their test scores decline.  And then, of course, according to the proposed law, they will be turned into a charter school — which will again further weed out the low performing and special needs students.  This is the domino effect.  One by one, public schools will fall.  A fait accompli for the private sector.

And what about standardized testing in this brave new world of privatized education?  Will student achievement rise across the nation?  Will our students’ scores top the list on PISA tests?  Of course not.  But, hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs aren’t so much concerned about that in spite of their catch phrases, advertising slogans, and cliches.  They just want more charter schools full of students that bring with them a hefty sum of tax dollars.  I have a feeling that once charter schools dominate in the education sector, standardized test scores will become less consequential.  The Republican legislature is already hinting at a move to lessen the emphasis on standardized testing.  That only makes sense when you think about it.  Standardized testing is not demonstrating the superiority of charter schools over public schools.  So, standardized tests are less appealing than they were in the years leading up to NCLB, when choice proponents were convinced that public schools would be shamed into closing when they had to compete with charter schools.

The Flipping of Education Policy: When Big Government Became a Good Thing and Local Control Became Bad

Several years ago my husband, Thomas Fiala, and I presented a paper at the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) conference regarding education policy.  President Obama had recently been elected and No Child Left Behind was choking the life out of public education. The steady drumbeat of free market privatization was clearly echoing across the nation.  Race to the Top was starting to boil across the country and its scalding corrosive steam was beginning to be felt.  Our paper explored the convergence of education policy discussions across the decades and we presented it at a political science conference because it was as much about the intrusion of economic policy and conservative ideology in the education arena as it was education policy.  The MPSA conference was an excellent venue for vetting our ideas.  Instead of preaching to the choir, we were talking with scholars from other disciplines who could challenge us and help us in our quest to understand how we ended up in this place and time with the federal government driving education policy — something that has been traditionally considered a local issue or, at best, in the hands of state governments to decide.

One of our discussants at MPSA posed an interesting question, asking, “How do you explain the fact that conservatives have always been opposed to centralized federal government and yet it was a Republican president who brought us the most far-reaching federal education policies in U.S. history?  How do you explain that?”  “Aaaah,”  We responded.  “That is the question that drives our research.”  Far from being definitive, our paper had opened up a number of questions that were not easy to answer.  And so we continued to delve into our research.

By 2014, the Common Core State Standards had become a lightning rod in the U.S. and was driving an angry groundswell of dissenters on both the political right and left.  While many conservatives were angry about the federal overreach in promoting a set of national education standards that were suspect by their very nature, many liberals were crying foul over the continued assault on public education and teachers, and an onslaught of standardized tests. And both sides were questioning the profit motive that was driving corporate influence in education policy.

The time was right to write The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy.  In this book I try to answer the question posed at the Midwest Political Science Association conference several years earlier.  While the key to understanding current education policy is acknowledging the powerful influence of conservative voices that have never missed an opportunity to criticize the very notion of public education since at least 1931 when Albert Jay Nock wrote The Theory of Education in the United States, to understand how these ideas became the wellspring of current education policy requires an examination of public policy in general. Conservative thinkers such as Nock and those who followed him, most notably free market economist Milton Friedman, were provided a national stage when President Reagan was elected.  And while Reagan’s first order of business in the education policy arena was intended to be the abolition of the federal Department of Education, the publication of the erroneous, misleading, and factually wrong report A Nation at Risk created a heady atmosphere among Reagan supporters that their conservative ideas could finally form the basis of national education policy in the years to come.  While ANAR did not immediately yield the fruit of their most cherished idea — vouchers and school choice — it did provide a platform for promoting the privatization of public education.  And the inflammatory report did provide the impetus for dismantling our nation’s public school system by creating a crisis mentality and promoting the zeitgeist that all our public schools are failing.  This zeitgeist has gone largely unchallenged, and when it was challenged in the early 90s with the Sandia Report, the administration of George H.W. Bush had the report buried so that it would never be publicly reported to the American citizens.

When a Democrat was elected as president, our nation had an opportunity to reclaim our nation’s public school system and celebrate the achievement of a nation that had for so long envisioned public schools as an arena for hope and equity.  Acknowledging that schools serve and reflect communities and that there was still so much work to be done to overcome structural problems like poverty, income disparity, racism, and unequal funding for public schools that interfere with a child’s educational attainment, we could have embarked on an era of genuine reform — both socially and educationally.  Instead, we placed our faith in Bill Clinton and understanding his public and education policies is essential if one is to understand the origins of the Common Core.  He opened the gate, through his allegiance to the free market and his adoption of third way politics, to corporate leaders who took a place at the head of the table in education policies.  And corporate leaders seized the opportunity with gusto.  As a result, Bill Clinton became the architect of what would become No Child Left Behind, which would be skillfully named by George W. Bush to reflect the trademarked motto (“Leave no Child Behind”) of Marian Wright Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund.

Corporate leaders have been setting the agenda in education for several decades now.  They do not act in a conspiratorial way.  They were invited to the policy table and they have not left.  No one blinked an eye when they openly declared that they envisioned the education arena as a way to make huge profits.  They organized summits and conferences to plot their strategy.  Corporate leaders and think tank executives move freely between governmental appointments and private enterprise to expand their influence.  They act boldly and brush off any criticism about their actions because they can afford to do so.

A growing number of scholars have begun to acknowledge that governmental decision making in the U.S. has been corrupted by this third way of governance.  Mike Lofgren calls it the Deep State, explaining the phenomenon on the Bill Moyers show.  In deciphering the policies that have culminated in RTTT and CCSS, I think I now understand how we got here.  The question now remains — how do we get out of here?  How do we reclaim our public schools?   A first step, I believe, is reclaiming local control over public schools.  This we cannot surrender.  A growing number of education critics are arguing that local school governance is the problem.  We are seeing a growing trend in which entire school districts are being turned over to private management firms and the power of local school boards is being assaulted.  It is only at the local level, with democratically elected school boards, that we can complete the work of reclaiming public schools and address problems inherent with faulty standards, curricula, high stakes testing, teacher evaluation, data mining, and the other toxic policies emanating  from centralized authorities who long ago relinquished their responsibilities to corporations intent on using education policies as a way to make a buck on the backs of our children.  School boards have the power to drive the money lenders from the temple.  Of course, they must seize their power by collectively demanding that our elected officials restructure school funding so that school districts do not have to bow to the altar of state and federal officials to ensure that their children receive equitable funding for their public schools.