Obama’s Race to the Bottom


Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty(rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

On the eve of President Obama’s Inauguration for his second term, I thought it might be useful to look more closely at one of his policies that is not working for students or parents. I am referring to his educational policy, better know by its marketing name, Race to the Top.  This “quaint” title for his corporate backed privatizing plan hides the negative impact it has had in the schools themselves.  It is has led to school closings and teacher firings for the sole purpose of school districts being eligible for  the Race to the Top grants from the Federal government! 

While this foundation backed type of “reform” was started by the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind program, President Obama has taken the No Child Left Behind program to even greater lows.  “The current wave of school closings is latest result of bipartisan educational policies which began with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and have kicked into overdrive under the Obama administration’s Race To The Top. In Chicago, the home town of the president and his Secretary of Education, the percentage of black teachers has dropped from 45% in 1995 to 19% today. After winning a couple skirmishes in federal court over discriminatory firings in a few schools, teachers have now filed a citywide class action lawsuit alleging that the city’s policy of school “turnarounds” and “transformations” is racially discriminatory because it’s carried out mainly in black neighborhoods and the fired teachers are disproportionately black.”  Common Dreams

In order to understand how misguided this Race to the Top is, we need to take a moment to review just how does it work and how do schools and school districts “win” these federal grants. I apologize for the length of the following quotation, but it is necessary to understand how destructive this program can be.

“Secretary Duncan at his side, President Obama introduced Race To The Top, drawn up by the Bill & Melinda Gates, the Eli Broad, Boeing, Walton Family and other foundations. Under Race To The Top states and school districts are forced to bid against each other for many of the same education dollars they used to receive as a matter of course. The winning districts are those who apply Race To The Top’s four official solutions to their so-called “failing schools.”

Race To The Top’s four federally mandated “solutions,” which are never spelled out by corporate media news outlets, are “school transformations,” “school turnarounds,” “school restarts,” and “school closures.”

Race to the Top defines a school transformation,” its first remedy, as firing the principal and up to 50% of teachers, replacing them with temps and newbies, hiring expensive consultants, often the same folks who drafted Race To The Top guidelines or their cronies, to redesign curriculum and personnel policies. “Transformed” schools tie teachers jobs to test scores (that’s what caused the national epidemic of cheating scandals) lengthening school days with no extra pay, cutting wages & benefits and of course lots more costly and useless tests.

Race To The Top calls its second remedy “school turnaround.” Turnarounds are exactly the same as school transformations, with high priced “run the school like a business” consultants, increased reliance on standardized tests, sanctions for teachers and all new hires sourced from Teach For America type agencies, except that transformations fire up to 50% of school staff, but to be called a turnaround schools must fire at least 50% of school staff.

School restarts,” are the third Race To The Top solution. In a “restart” you close the public school and reopen a new school with new staff and the same connected consultants used for transformations and turnarounds, but all under the management of a private corporation. In other words, you close the public school and open a charter school in the same building. Charters of course can use public money to hire even less qualified teachers, pick and choose the students it serves, and often to generate handsome private profits.

Race To The Top ‘s fourth remedy isschool closure. ” You fire the staff, padlock the school doors and let families take their chances on the free market, or find another public school if they can.

The states and school districts quickest to carry out the most transformations, turnarounds, restarts and school closings are the ones who get to keep or increase their levels of federal funding. Those who drag their feet lose federal education dollars. That’s why it’s a race, but not exactly to the top.”
Common Dreams

That is a lot of information to digest, but the bottom line is that school districts have to fire teachers and close schools to increase their chances of getting the much-needed federal education dollars!  Race to the Top takes the Bush inspired teach to the test nonsense and includes the requirement that school districts must “turnaround” schools by firing teachers and/or closing schools many times in areas that can least afford the closing of any public schools.  Why would President Obama and Sec. Duncan push this kind of abhorrent policy?  Your guess is as good as mine, but my guess is that by firing teachers and forcing schools to close serves the privatization model pushed by these very same foundations and corporations.

Is it a good thing that inner city schools are closed and that qualified and experienced minority teachers are replaced by inexperienced teachers in the schools that remain open? Is it any wonder that the Chicago Teachers Union has fought back by striking and by fighting the discrimination of minority teachers firings in court?  The Seattle teachers are now fighting the teach to the test mentality that is not preparing our students to think critically.

“For the Seattle teachers, the issue is the district decision to require Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests three times per year and to use the results to judge teachers.  The testing juggernaut is out of control and teachers and students are the ones who are directly in its path.  Similarly, when Chicago teachers went on strike in September, a key issue was the misuse of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Both actions are part of a growing national resistance to high-stakes testing that includes not only teachers but parents, students, principals, school boards, and education professors and researchers. This resistance includes a National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing signed by more than 475 organizations and 14,000 individuals.  In Seattle, some parents had been opting their children out of the tests even before the teachers’ boycott. These parents understand that the Garfield teachers have a powerful case against these tests and their uses.”  Yahoo News

Not only is this bad education policy, it continues the corporate backed austerity measures that do nothing but make the economy worse by firing people and making it harder for those same companies to get qualified and educated workers.  Is it possible that the true goal of the Race to the Top program is to make sure the public school system fails and allows for charter and private schools to fill the void at a huge cost to the public?

I realize some schools are not successful, but to make the closure of schools that are working to obtain more Federal dollars is not a progressive policy.  What do you think?

114 thoughts on “Obama’s Race to the Bottom

  1. I’ve been involved in quite a few professional situation involving designing eligibility criteria for programs, implementing same, and applying for funds under such programs. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a blatantly negative policy driven set of criteria.

    Is it a continuation of the privatization push that conservatives have been advocating for all manner of governmental services? Add to which is the ideologically driven charter school movement which, it has seemed, is a misguided attempt to take a meat axe to school budgets and supposedly create savings while, at the same time, creating a for-profit motive redounding to the benefit of the same foxes who devastate the hen house.

    With the US continuing to fall behind in educational measures, it seems clear that appropriate change is required. But whoever sold Obama this heavy handed approach — and I’d really like to see the empirical justification for the methods behind this program — needs to be hauled before Congress.

    Oh, I forgot, Congress is about useless, except perhaps the money behind this program somehow fits into members’ strategy for feathering their own nests, and getting reelected.

  2. Raff,

    A very important topic expounded excellently. Almost every study of public school privatization has shown failure and economic excess to be the result. Yet this Obama administration seems determined to contiinue giveaways to educational for profit corporations. Another example of exploitation of the people in the pursuit of corporate socialism.

  3. The Golden Handcuffs of federal funding programs. Thank you for posting it is good to know.

    This does seem rather draconian. Close the school down and lock it up so that you can better educate the children, the education analogue to “We had to destroy the city to save it.”

    I am rather tired of seeing how the federal government coerces the states and local governments, making the states indentured servants of the feds.

    Ordinarily I am against state income taxes. But I wonder if there is something to be said about states having these state taxes being used to pay for the money the feds provide to other programs so the state can then decline to accept federal funding. My understanding is (though I have never paid state income tax so I don’t know) that state income tax can be deducted from federal taxes. Hopefully this is a wash in what is paid is the same in the end to the tax payer.

    Like anything else, when you become a dependent, you give up some of your freedom. There is seldom a free lunch.

  4. Mr. Rafferty:

    Haven’t studied the issue, so I can’t suggest solutions.

    Chicago public schools have been failing their kids for many years. Little changed (except education got worse) over the past 20 years. Young people left the Chicago school system destined for a life of failure.

    I have no idea if the current plan will work, but the old plan was abysmal.

    I don’t care if the percentage of black teachers is 100%,45% or 0; the only criteria has to be competence and the old system failed too many kids over too many years.

    I don’t care if the teachers union hates this plan – their ox is getting gored and they contributed to the current failure.

    You make a lot of statements attacking this plan – I am willing to accept that premise (I am no Obama supporter) if you can give objective reasons saying why.

    I hope that you will write a longer article that explains why this current plan is worse that the old failing system.

  5. This guy has a library to build … a monument to himself to construct. Five million dollars is the conservative estimate for the building then we have the endowment to keep the brass polished and guarantee his family and friends a place to work. Well, not work, exactly, but a Board to sit on and draw pay from.

    Privatizing public education is a great way to earn legal contributions for his library/monument. That’s going to be his only real contribution to education for the next four years. We’re on our own, as usual. Fight this issue at the state and local level and through your Federal representatives. Make it an issue that affects their election campaigns.

    Forget looking to Obama for help … he’s going to be spending the next 4 years tending to his post presidency, “I LOVE ME”, building.

  6. So far I am very much enjoying the comments here. (and it is early and I expect some delicious ones to come)

    I enjoy seeing people who have different and strongly held beliefs coming together collectively to oppose something that all agree is garbage. And the icing on the cake is each one of those persons do so for very different reasons, and the cherry on top is that they are all correct in their views.

    The examples so far:

    Lawrence: These foolish programs are hurting childrens’ educations.
    Idealist: Another example of the government mishandling a program
    Don: Useless members of congress use this to line their own pockets.
    Mike: The government sells out to corporations so they can profit off us.
    Darren: Federal Government coerces states with money, States Rights are being destroyed.

    A diverse and eclectic opposition is important in converting the idea that something is viewed as being merely lacking to one that is viewed as being fundamentally broken or even dangerous; a unification that can actually grow in strength to tear down these bad policies.

    It also fosters over time a sense of kinship between groups that may not have seen common interests with each other but in the furtherence of their unified opposition to an issue their communication between each other forms understandings and even mutual respect. In the end maybe if it continues long enough maybe these groups will view themselves as a team or a culture, respecting each other’s viewpoints and valueing their diversity and as being equals.

    Most believe monocultural and being in power holds the key to unity, but I would say being the opposition can be equally as strong.

  7. And to Blouise whos contribution came in while I was writing my post:


    Blouise: Obama is only using this to help build his library / legacy.

  8. Thanks Rafflaw, I could not agree with you more. The corporate goal of destroying public education has all but been achieved. Parents are convinced that turning over the education of corporates sponsored charter schools is all that separates their children from disaster when the real impact is a end game of education on the cheap in order to increase profits. When all education is private education will return to its ancient roots as a luxury afforded only to the wealth or the well connected.

    There is nothing more telling than the fact that American programmers are losing their jobs while Microsoft lobbies for more special visas so that they can import cheaper more pliant ones.

  9. Steve,
    as a Chicago area native, I understand the concern of the past failings of the Chicago Public school system, but privatizing never works. You may not care if the teachers in schools with primarily minority populations are minorities, but the students and the community that they work in do. No one is suggesting that these schools should maintain a certain prescribed minority teacher level, but the staff should reflect the community to some degree.
    please expound on how the teachers or their union made the school system worse? The teachers and union do not make policy. They have to work with subpar materials and buildings and many in communities with extreme poverty. How will closing their schools help that? How will forcing students to go farther away from home induce them to stay in school? How will for profit schools make it cheaper and better?

  10. Thanks ID, Thunder and Mike S. and Darren and Justice Holmes.
    Blouise, in my opinion, this kind of program is not designed to help any President build their presidential library. It is merely a misguided attempt to satisfy corporate donors while at the same time making themselves look good. On the other hand, I guess if they or the donors are happy with the sell out of our schools, maybe they will give more money to a library. Maybe you are right.

  11. “Most believe monocultural and being in power holds the key to unity, but I would say being the opposition can be equally as strong.” (Darren.)

    Witness the Tea Party as part of the coalition defeating SOPA.

    I would like to think principled opposition and coalitions of convenience might portend the realignment of political power and perhaps the arising of a viable third party. But I think this is not likely, and perhaps the best that can be hoped for is shifting coalitions of non-politicians with enough temporary clout to override the politics of corporatism, croneyism and greed.

    It will be interesting, for instance, to see if the potential power of the progressive hacker community, as opposed to the corporate technology juggernaut, materializes in the wake of the Swartz scandal. (and it is and should be a massive scandal to the federal ‘justice’ system)

    Sorry to go OT.

  12. I like Darren Smith’s comment above. Reading this blog on a regular basis gives one insight into the viewpoints of others. We are not all of the same elk and it shows. Sometines I agree with both sides to an argument. When I comment, I end up with humor. I am not making fun of people or commentors here but reminding them that we need to enjoy the day.

    The school system is one of our biggest problems in America. Often we take pokes at teachers. I was privileged to have many very good teachers in a public school. [back when I was a humanoid] But the problems in schools are tied to the problematic parents. A single parent might think that he or she is Sir Gallahad but having a mom or dad in the house can help not only with homework but with building an adult outlook in the child as he or she grows up. Its 18 up or out in America if one goes by the 26th Amendment to the Constitution and 18 can arrive sooner than an Okie from Muskogee. The early pre school years seem to be important to me as a way of reform. We need single parents to find an aunt or uncle to fill in the void for the absence of papa or momola. Granpa do your best. We need TWO parents to show up at the parent teacher conference. Not just one and certainly not Zero.

    These refrom methods will come and go. I say that each kid needs two parents. If daddy dont live at home with momola then he needs to be there early and often with kiddo and certainly at the parent/teacher meetings. Big Bird is ok but after the evening news the TV has to go off and books get opened. Mom and dad can learn to read too. And quit smoking.

  13. Another example of how the elites are purposely destroying that ladder to success (or making it increasingly difficult) for entry into the middle class for the poor (remember, if everyone-in the US-obtained a college degree, then Walton Family wouldn’t have anyone to work at Walmart (remember our economy depends on the need for low-skilled/educational workers); probation and parole officers would slowly lose their jobs; prisons and jails would no longer be filled, and every federal, state, and local law enforcement would only be needed to writing speeding tickets.

    The NCES (National Center for Educational Statistics) has delineated steps to improve our educational system, including: making sure the student to teacher ratio is no higher than 10 students to each teacher in order for effective learning to occur; ensuring that teaching and learning styles are utilized to develop the ‘whole’ student (a holistic or reflexive learning approach); importance of healthy meals (breakfast and lunch) for childrens; diversity sensitivity training for all teachers, administrators, and staff; and increase federal and state funding for all school districts to ensure every student have a chance of update facilities, including technology (smart classes), libraries, security and safety, etc.

    However, our government continues to ignore these recommendations, leading me to believe that this is done on purpose, and not by accident (did anyone know that, according to the NCES, America’s high school graduation rate is actually 55%-the time a student enters the 9th grade and completes the 12th grade; this 55% includes private and public schools combined, and it is much lower if you remove the private schools).

    Carter G. Woodson’s book, “The MisEducation of the Negro”, was one of the 1st books that delineated the truth about our educational system: it is not designed for blacks (or minorities) and women. According to this book (and there have been others that have substantiated his claim, particularly on the feministic view of education), blacks and women learn different (learning styles). Therefore, teaching methods (or styles) must match their learning styles in order for effective learning to occur (A great book on teaching and learning styles is “A learning that Last” by Marcia Mentkowski and Associates, 2000).

  14. DonS wrote:
    It will be interesting, for instance, to see if the potential power of the progressive hacker community, as opposed to the corporate technology juggernaut, materializes in the wake of the Swartz scandal.
    You might find the below article to be of great interest and inspiration.

    Etoy Toywar

    I followed that very closely when it was going on and to me it was the most glorious case of hacktivism in history: With a truly supreme outcome.

    The article does not mention that the corporate types talked a judge into fining these folks $10,000 a day if they did not obey what the internet community at the time regarded as a totally unacceptable and misinformed injunction. But do read the article. The full story of what happened, if you research it for your review, is legendary in my view.

  15. Also, there was a court case here in Missouri (see attached link) where elected and non-elected officials districts, students and parents, etc challenged the state’s funding formula for funding school. The plaintiffs alleged that the current funding formula creates a disadvantage to the poor, and low-income students. The courts all agreed that the current funding formula is adequate. Everyone knows that the schools in the City of St. Louis and in parts of North County are underfunded compared to the students in Clayton, Ladue, Richmond Heights, etc. See attached link:


  16. raff,

    Please read the following link including this excerpt from same:

    “The former Illinois senator who in 2008 campaigned for president pledging to curb the role of money in politics has decided to accept unlimited corporate dollars for his second inauguration. His shift from four years ago, when he banned company funding, marks an early strategic step toward building the organization that will finance his presidential library, foundation and other post-White House aspirations, advisers say.”


    These guys are no longer content to wait for somebody else to honor them with a Mount Rushmore. Under the guise of “library” and “foundation” they get to see a grand “I LOVE ME” edifice during their lifetime. I suppose going from most powerful man in the world to the chicken dinner circuit is an ego shock somewhat cushioned by an I LOVE ME edifice.

    The problem of course is in kissing up to the money. Obama has four years to kiss up and get the foundation laid. Hello Corporate America … what can I do for you today?

  17. this is what happens when you have a large government. It steps on the people.

    The reason, as near as I can tell, this is being done is to create a standardized, national education system dependent on Washington, DC for both money and curriculum content. It is an exercise in control and a further reduction of our rights as individuals.

    Education should be left up to the local school boards and the parents in the local communities.

    I dont know how a progressive can criticize this when most are all for larger government and more control of people’s lives.

  18. My, how nice to return to see such loooonnnnggg comments.

    Will be short as I am only calling to folllowup the DN post re “Kill anything that moves”, to the TomDispatch linked at the end, to the journalists who was there as many others only seeing a small bit of the big picture, and who reviews with his own recollections from there..

    Why is this pertinent? And not OT?
    Because we spend many hours here discussing repression, etc etc etc and are doing so on this thread.
    And while not showing the historical process behind it, the book well illuustrates that the disinformation, denial of deeds done, strategies planned for genocide there, is a continuation of disinformation consciously planned.

    Why is this relevant 50 years afterwards? Do I leave too great a gap to hop over?. Do you see that they did it to us then, and are doing it to us now—more than ever?

    Are Kerry and the Sec War nominee meant to change things? Isn’t that naive? We are so easily misled, blinded by so many things.
    Can we really expect these two men to effect the strivings of the MIC and the Pentagon/State to move away from the corrupting influences of today and serve us truth, not fiction? Do good deeds and not hide evil ones.
    One is hell, embellishing on it with planned genocide is too much.

    Do? Do what? Read Tomdispatch, watch DN or Seymour Hersh who revealed My Lai. Revisit DN and look at the picture of the dead in My Lai.
    Do you feel it is unreal. That when the director yells cut and next scene, then all the dead mothers will rise, pickiing the dolls representing their dead children, etc etc. No, they won’t and it is real.


    Myself, I sit here a fellow human with vietnamese, who go home every year, han chinese with Vietnamese names (Trienh Minh) and others who I can only be myself with, to these strangers who are excluded from being Swedes with blond hair etc. Their children are hopefully retaining their cultural roots, and yet becoming Swedes in spite of the barriars of bias.

    And I designed B-52 bases in 1965-66 in Bangkok. What do we have as a share of this past conduct? Of the ten-year war in Afghanistan? Of the Iraq war. Of changing our system?

    I am too long and the subject and contingent problems are never-ending.

    Again good work all, today especially Raflaw.

  19. Raff,

    Wonderful exposé …. No real difference between no child left behind and this…. They are stepping stones to dumbing down Americans…. For all of LBJs faults…. He built on Kennedy’s promises…. If you privatize education…. How long will it be before Plessey is fully implemented?

    I worked for NEA and value education…. Too bad those in power are short sighted…. Thanks for a valuable contribution this week…..

  20. RWL:

    “(remember, if everyone-in the US-obtained a college degree, then Walton Family wouldn’t have anyone to work at Walmart (remember our economy depends on the need for low-skilled/educational workers)”

    People said the same thing about a high school education and look how well that has turned out. Today college basically prepares people to work for corporations. And not everyone with a college degree is going to become a CEO.

    if everyone in our country earned a college education it would mean nothing at all. There would still be plenty of people who would be working at Wal Mart-the ones who werent able to perform at a higher level.

    I also might point out that Wal Mart has managers, accountants, facilities managers, logistic professionals and a good deal more job descriptions which require having a brain and motivation. A college degree isnt necessarily required.

  21. What Bill Gates wants, Bill Gates gets.

    Whether it is a privatized school system or GMOs from Monsanto pushed into nations, rich and poor, all over the world.

  22. Bron,

    You said, “Today college basically prepares people to work for corporations”…..this is only true if you have a certain degree, for example IT, Health, Accounting, Teaching, or Science(s). In today’s job market, if you don’t have connections, most employers want full-time work experience along with a college degree.

    You said, “if everyone in our country earned a college education it would mean nothing at all.” Not true at all.

    20 years ago, as an undergraduate, I used to work for Walmart, and the store manager and hr coordinator told me the exact same line as they told my children and nephews who are currently working at walmart: “we usually frown upon hiring college students, because we know that you will probably leave in a couple of months or after you graduate.” My nephew was inteested in walmart’s management trainee program; however, when the store manager told him that he will have to work rotating shifts, weekends and holidays (except for christmas-walmart is closed), my nephew said: “H#$* no!!” He asked him about working at the corporate office, and my nephew said, “I refuse to live in Bentonville, AR; I will probably be the only black man there.lol”

    Bentonville AR is less than 2% black, and the average household income is $33,000.

    My daughter went on to say that even at their school carer fairs, where walmart is always there, she stated that everyone knows that it is embarrassing to go to their (walmart’s) booth. She went on to say: “If I get that desparate, then I will go back to school and become a pediatrician.”

    NCES studeis have shown that those with a college degree committ fewer crimes, make more money, and live healthier lifestyles than those who do not complete a degree.

  23. HenMan,

    Thanks…. Hope you know this will probably make you very unpopular with the Obamas it crowd….

  24. raff,

    I take back what I said last weekend. This is your best column to date. Bravo!

    And what Justice Holmes said.

  25. The tea party is doing its best to destroy public education in Texas, and they hate Obama. It’s not all about Obama.

  26. rafflaw,

    Thank you! As you know, I am a retired public school teacher. I witnessed what the craze for high stakes tesing of young children was doing to the educational process in my elementary school. It’s the reason that I left the classroom and became a school librarian.


    “Is it possible that the true goal of the Race to the Top program is to make sure the public school system fails and allows for charter and private schools to fill the void at a huge cost to the public?”

    I think you already know the answer to your question. Don’t forget the desire of the moneyed class and the powers that be to bust teacher unions.

  27. RWL:

    retail is hard work.

    “NCES studeis have shown that those with a college degree committ fewer crimes, make more money, and live healthier lifestyles than those who do not complete a degree.”

    I am going to bet the same thing was said about universal high school education 100 years ago.

    I am also betting that if you compare college educated people with people who make the same amount of money but who do not have college educations, you will find similar statistics.

    People seem to make the mistake that you need a college education to be educated or informed.

  28. AY-

    Obama can’t touch me. I was drafted in 1964,


    You are right about Obama’s goals for his second term. He apparently thinks “Race To The Top” means his own race to the top horse-country community with the top exclusive country club. “Barrington Hills, here I come!”

    Swarthmore mom-

    It won’t work anymore- we have seen the man behind the curtain.

  29. rafflaw,

    I thought you might find this 2008 article interesting:

    Obama’s Betrayal of Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling
    Wednesday 17 December 2008
    by: Henry A. Giroux and Kenneth Saltman

    Since the 1980s, but particularly under the Bush administration, certain elements of the religious right, corporate culture and Republican right wing have argued that free public education represents either a massive fraud or a contemptuous failure. Far from a genuine call for reform, these attacks largely stem from an attempt to transform schools from a public investment to a private good, answerable not to the demands and values of a democratic society but to the imperatives of the marketplace. As the educational historian David Labaree rightly argues, public schools have been under attack in the last decade “not just because they are deemed ineffective but because they are public.”[1] Right-wing efforts to disinvest in public schools as critical sites of teaching and learning and govern them according to corporate interests is obvious in the emphasis on standardized testing, the use of top-down curricular mandates, the influx of advertising in schools, the use of profit motives to “encourage” student performance, the attack on teacher unions and modes of pedagogy that stress rote learning and memorization. For the Bush administration, testing has become the ultimate accountability measure, belying the complex mechanisms of teaching and learning. The hidden curriculum is that testing be used as a ploy to de-skill teachers by reducing them to mere technicians, that students be similarly reduced to customers in the marketplace rather than as engaged, critical learners and that always underfunded public schools fail so that they can eventually be privatized. But there is an even darker side to the reforms initiated under the Bush administration and now used in a number of school systems throughout the country. As the logic of the market and “the crime complex”[2] frame the field of social relations in schools, students are subjected to three particularly offensive policies, defended by school authorities and politicians under the rubric of school safety. First, students are increasingly subjected to zero-tolerance policies that are used primarily to punish, repress and exclude them. Second, they are increasingly absorbed into a “crime complex” in which security staff, using harsh disciplinary practices, now displace the normative functions teachers once provided both in and outside of the classroom.[3] Third, more and more schools are breaking down the space between education and juvenile delinquency, substituting penal pedagogies for critical learning and replacing a school culture that fosters a discourse of possibility with a culture of fear and social control. Consequently, many youth of color in urban school systems, because of harsh zero-tolerance polices, are not just being suspended or expelled from school. They are being ushered into the dark precincts of juvenile detention centers, adult courts and prison. Surely, the dismantling of this corporatized and militarized model of schooling should be a top priority under the Obama administration. Unfortunately, Obama has appointed as his secretary of education someone who actually embodies this utterly punitive, anti-intellectual, corporatized and test-driven model of schooling.

    Barack Obama’s selection of Arne Duncan for secretary of education does not bode well either for the political direction of his administration nor for the future of public education. Obama’s call for change falls flat with this appointment, not only because Duncan largely defines schools within a market-based and penal model of pedagogy, but also because he does not have the slightest understanding of schools as something other than adjuncts of the corporation at best or the prison at worse. The first casualty in this scenario is a language of social and political responsibility capable of defending those vital institutions that expand the rights, public goods and services central to a meaningful democracy. This is especially true with respect to the issue of public schooling and the ensuing debate over the purpose of education, the role of teachers as critical intellectuals, the politics of the curriculum and the centrality of pedagogy as a moral and political practice.

    Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, presided over the implementation and expansion of an agenda that militarized and corporatized the third largest school system in the nation, one that is about 90 percent poor and nonwhite. Under Duncan, Chicago took the lead in creating public schools run as military academies, vastly expanded draconian student expulsions, instituted sweeping surveillance practices, advocated a growing police presence in the schools, arbitrarily shut down entire schools and fired entire school staffs. A recent report, “Education on Lockdown,” claimed that partly under Duncan’s leadership “Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has become infamous for its harsh zero tolerance policies. Although there is no verified positive impact on safety, these policies have resulted in tens of thousands of student suspensions and an exorbitant number of expulsions.”[4] Duncan’s neoliberal ideology is on full display in the various connections he has established with the ruling political and business elite in Chicago.[5] He led the Renaissance 2010 plan, which was created for Mayor Daley by the Commercial Club of Chicago – an organization representing the largest businesses in the city. The purpose of Renaissance 2010 was to increase the number of high quality schools that would be subject to new standards of accountability – a code word for legitimating more charter schools and high stakes testing in the guise of hard-nosed empiricism…

  30. Henman. The movement toward privatization started way before Obama and will go on well after he has gone, and there were failing schools before he took office, and there will be when he is no longer president. Chicago had failing schools when I was a kid which is getting to be a very long time ago. Obama had not even been born yet. I will bet you that Obama never lives in Barrington Hills. It is not his style.

  31. Secretary Duncan Owes an Apology to Teachers
    By John Thompson
    Posted: 06/01/2012

    Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked teachers in New Haven, “how do we as a teaching profession create a climate in which everyone is clamoring to come into schools” being turned around under his School Improvement Grant (SIG) experiment. I hope that the word “we” means that his administration and teachers should be partners, and that he will stop aiding “reformers” in their war on teachers. If so, Duncan should start with an apology to teachers in general, and inner city teachers in particular.

    Duncan seemed perplexed that only one teacher left a top-performing school to join a turnaround of low-performing school. This should be especially unsettling to Duncan because New Haven has worked with the American Federation of Teachers to create a balanced evaluation system. In many or most districts that have responded to Duncan’s campaign to use test scores for firing teachers, leaving a low-poverty school for a turnaround school, where it will be harder to meet test score growth targets, could be career suicide.

    And that gets to the first reason why Duncan needs to apologize. While he empowered enlightened districts like New Haven, Duncan has also empowered teacher-bashing in Washington D.C., with its abusive top-down IMPACT system for firing teachers. Duncan praised collaborative systems such as Hillsborough and Pittsburgh, while funding efforts in states like Florida and Tennessee to turn schools into test prep factories. Pressure from Duncan’s DOE is cited as the reason why Buffalo must be willing to fire teachers based on the test scores of chronically absent students, but New York City and D.C. faced no sanctions when they used policies inspired by Duncan’s SIG and RttT to drive out good teachers based on flawed test score models.

    So, Duncan should start by saying he is sorry for imposing collective punishment on teachers in schools destined for turnaround. His demand that 50% of teachers be replaced in those schools, along with his incentives for using a statistical model for firing teachers, means that effective educators have lost their careers simply because they taught in ineffective schools. His mass dismissals perpetuate the “reformers'” myth that teachers’ “low expectations” are the cause of dysfunctional schools. Under Duncan’s rules, districts did not have to impose litmus tests on teachers or to systematically drive veteran educators out of the profession. But he funded districts that, predictably, used federal rules to get rid of Baby Boomers’ higher salaries and benefits, and to keep veteran teachers from expressing their professional judgments.

    For instance, two of the three teachers who spoke their minds to Duncan explained that teaching in the inner city is different, meaning that they need more training and supports. A New Haven teacher told Duncan that “teachers who are not familiar with urban education are ‘not ready’ for an environment like New Haven.” Those sorts of judgments are heresy to many school and district leaders, however. Under SIG, expressing such opinions can be grounds for dismissal for being a “culture killer.” Under SIG, administrators are empowered to impose their own culture on schools by getting rid of teachers who believe what The Turnaround Challenge concluded — that instruction-driven reforms, even those fueled by “high expectations,” are inherently incapable of turning around the toughest schools and that schooling must be a team effort.

    Duncan should also apologize for his heavy-handed micromanaging of local policy. He created incentives for spending much (or most?) SIG and RttT money on computer systems, tests, and consultants. He has said nice things about full-service community schools and even provided a few meager grants that would fund the socio-emotional interventions and the early education that are required to overcome intense concentrations of poverty. At a time when those researched-based best practices are being cut, however, Duncan is lavishing funds on performance pay and the test-driven infrastructure that it requires. He again revealed where his heart is when a New Haven teacher said, “No one becomes a teacher to get rich.” Duncan replied, “we’re working on that.”

    Duncan asked, “where is the badge of honor” that would attract teachers to the toughest schools? The greatest reward for a teacher is the opportunity to teach effectively. We would feel honored, however, if our professional wisdom would be heeded before billions of dollars are spent (wasted?) on market-driven policies that were adopted simply because the “billionaires boys club” liked those types of policies. Had he respected the conclusions of inner city teachers and researchers at the Johns Hopkins Everyone Graduates Center, Duncan could have invested in the human capital necessary to provide mentors and other support staff necessary to make teaching a team sport. He could have invested in a farm club for nurturing talent for the toughest schools.

  32. About That Bipartisan Consensus to Privatize Public Education
    By Diane Ravitch
    November 18, 2012

    If ever evidence was needed about the bizarre mind meld between the Obama administration and the far-right of the Republican party, here it is.

    Secretary Arne Duncan is giving the keynote to Jeb Bush’s Excellence in Education summit in Washington, D.C. on November 28. Another keynote will be delivered to the same gathering of the leaders of the privatization movement by John Podesta of the Center for American Progress, who headed the Obama transition team in 2008. This is sickening.

    Jeb Bush’s organization supports vouchers, charters, online virtual charters, and for-profit organizations that run schools. It also supports evaluating teachers by student test scores and eliminating collective bargaining. Jeb Bush believes in grading schools, grading teachers, grading students, closing schools, and letting everyone “escape” from public schools to privately-run establishments. The free market is his ideal of excellence, not public responsibility, not the public school as the anchor of the community, but privatization.

  33. A Battle Between Education and Business Goals
    Pauline Lipman

    Chicago was the birthplace of neoliberal education reform — high-stakes testing, closing neighborhood public schools and turning them over to private operators, expanding charter schools, running schools like businesses, test-based teacher evaluation, prescribed standards, and mayoral control of schools.

    Over the past 15 years, these policies were promoted nationally by corporate philanthropies, conservative think tanks, and recently by billionaire-initiated education reform organizations like Stand for Children and Education Reform Now. The Chicago agenda became the official national agenda when President Obama appointed Chicago’s chief executive schools, Arne Duncan, to be his Secretary of Education.

    The first thing Duncan did was fly to Detroit and tell that financially devastated school system that they would have an infusion of federal funds, but only if they did things very differently – that is, implement the Chicago model. That model became the criteria for awarding $4.3 billion in federal funds to states, known as Race to the Top.

    Yet, closing schools has destabilized students and communities and had little positive effect on achievement. Test-based merit pay has been shown to have little validity as a measure of teacher effectiveness. And charter schools are doing no better, and sometimes worse, than regular public schools and are more racially segregated.

    But more deeply, at the school level, there is plenty of research showing that these policies have reduced the curriculum to what is tested, demoralized teachers and degraded the teaching force, and left parents and students with no public school options in their communities.

    These are not education policies, but rather business policies applied to schools with business goals: promoting top-down management, weakening unions, shifting the purpose of education to labor force preparation, and opening up the $2 trillion dollar global education sector to the market.

  34. Another Bush family member has a big financial stake in one of these so called ‘education’ corporations. Barbara Bush donated some money to Houston after katrina, but it could only be used to buy his crappy system for the schools..

  35. Excellent article. Your words need to be spoken from the highest mountain to the lowest valley.

    I may offend others by what I think will improve schools but here goes…

    Stringent testing of new teachers. Do any of you know any of the “average” teachers who are beginning their career in education? Well, I know several and I would not want them teaching my child. Read something they have written or look at their checkbook for simple math skills. Oh, they can relate to the kids much better than our teachers did, but that is only because they are on the same maturity level. It is both sad and scarey.

    The older teachers are not much better but in a different way. They are so bogged down with “teaching to the test” mentality, discipline problems, social work training, drills for fire, safety and attacks that they have little time to actually teach. And then there is the paperwork. Someone needs to look back fifty years ago and find out where we started going wrong.

    I take issue with the amount of money spent on sports programs in schools. I am much more of a calisthenics and then get to work kind of individual. I also believe in solid classes and one period a day for a class that the student shows a particular interest in…art, music, cooking, etc. We need to get back to the basics of solid learning and a lot less of the “free to be you and me” learning our schools have turned into.

    I remember the days when a teacher would stay for an hour after school to help students who were struggling. I remember mentoring programs where a student from the high school would come to the grammar school to work one-on-one with a struggling student. How about a clean, healthy environment where kids can learn and grow without fear.

    Just fond rememberances from a bygone era I suppose, but none the less, a better education system than we have today.

  36. Beverellie,
    I don’t know about your schools, but my wife teaches in a middle school in far suburban Chicago and she stas after school every day to help students. She does have to deal with family problems and discipline issues, but many of her problems revolve around parental issues.

  37. I think people have veered off course when they start talking about whether privatizing schools “works” or if private or charter schools teach better than public schools.

    Privatizing schools (and vouchers that encourage that) or a for-profit system in schooling is discriminatory on the basis of wealth, that is what is wrong with the idea; it creates and perpetuates a caste system. It leaves the bottom economic 50% less educated than upper economic 50%, that makes the children born into the bottom 50%, through no fault of their own (and often no fault of their parents) less educated, therefore less employable, less expert in navigating the system, more likely to experience various deprivations in housing safety, health care, developmental nutrition, and income that all contribute to the desperation and societal resentment that are the true causes of crime and drug use.

    The point of providing a basic education for all children is to give them a better chance of reaching their potential, no matter their color or economic status.

    It is at least a plausible premise that expensive private schools with financial resources for teaching tools and teachers have a much better success rate than a school in an economically poor school district whose average parental income is in the bottom 30% of all school districts.

    Why is that relevant? We already know it is politically impossible to increase the nationwide per-student budget to “good private school” levels for all students. Without a radical (near revolutionary) political reform, we cannot send every kid to the “Harvards” of elementary and high school.

    Our sights have to be set for what is uniformly achievable with the resources that we have. To achieve that uniformity, poorer districts need more money than richer districts in order to meet the greater problems of poorer students; they need more security, they need more nutritional supplement programs, and they often need more nurses and psychologists and teachers. Unlike the richer districts, the poorer districts have to overcome a culture of poverty stricken adults that are, for various reasons, indifferent to academic success.

    But just because the parents are indifferent, we have mountains of evidence that nutrition, safety, and academic success are in fact the key to their children escaping the poverty that is not their fault, and failing to provide that key perpetuates the cycle of poverty to the next generation, and wastes minds and resources that would otherwise have been contributors to society, instead of drains upon it.

    The answer is not to close schools, fire teachers, and concentrate the money in the schools for children that already have a leg up. In fact I think that will do more harm than good and the opposite is true; sending the money into the poorest school districts, at the expense of the richest, does the most good by (partially) leveling the playing field. The richest school districts already have the culture of academic success, sufficient health care and nutrition and safety and financial resources to let their children bloom; they need the LEAST of society’s money to succeed.

    It is the schools with the worst outcomes that need help, and as is usually the case, the solutions to the problem are not direct but indirect: The school has to become safe (also from bullies, gangs, and drug dealers), transportation to and from home has to be safe, the children need to be medically and nutritionally cared for; vision and hearing need to be tested and corrected, and classes need to be small enough that individual problems can be addressed individually.

  38. “The answer is not to close schools, fire teachers, and concentrate the money in the schools for children that already have a leg up. In fact I think that will do more harm than good and the opposite is true; sending the money into the poorest school districts, at the expense of the richest, does the most good by (partially) leveling the playing field.”

    Tony’s comment, which the above is just a part of, brilliantly states the essence of this issue and its effect upon not only education, but economic equality in this country. A thought that occurs to me is that beyond the academic benefits of going to better schools there is another benefit that is pervasive, but seldom mentioned. Friendships developed in elementary and high school often become lasting ones. One of the ways people advance economically in this country is by being hired by people who know them. We know the interrelationships in the upper class among people who have attended the same Prep School often lead to successful futures. This is yet another advantage that is lacking for those who are on the “bottom”.

  39. I feel very thankful that I can afford private education for my child. Unfortunately, American Public Schools no longer have any value with respect to educating our children. They are, however, wonderful income generating mechanisms for union members.

  40. “They are, however, wonderful income generating mechanisms for union members.”


    As I said on another thread you are an idiot. My guess is that you get your information from FOXNews solely.

  41. Eric,
    please show us how the schools make millionaires out of teachers. I am not talking about administrators or board members, but teachers. Most teachers are college educated and in many instances with advanced degrees and they have the most important job in our society,but we can’t pay them for what they are worth.

  42. I know what you mean Elaine! My wife still has 2-4 years left before retirement and even then she might not be able to afford to retire then.

  43. What Race to the Top Has Accomplished
    By Diane Ravitch
    October 6, 2012

    Let’s give credit where credit is due.

    Because of Race to the Top, most states are now evaluating teachers based in significant part on student test scores. The American Educational Research Association and the National Academy of Education say that the methodology for doing this is inaccurate and unstable. The ratings bounce around from year to year. Such ratings reflect which students were in the class, not teacher quality.

    Because of Race to the Top, more states are permitting privatization of public schools.

    Because of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, all schools are labeled by their test scores.

    Because of Race to the Top, there is more teaching to the test, more fear and anxiety associated with testing, more narrowing of the curriculum, more cheating.

    Because of Race to the Top, many schools in poor and minority neighborhoods will be closed.

    Because of Race to the Top, many principals and teachers will be fired.

    Is this what President Obama meant when he referred to the “results” of his Race to the Top? It explains why Romney applauded it and specifically hailed Arne Duncan.

    This reader has a different view of Race to the Top:

    In addition to the intimidation and demoralization of teachers, Race to the Top is having its intended results: the destabilization, fragmentation and privatization of the public schools.

    In their public utterances on education, Obama and Duncan are frauds, but the education reform complex is being managed by very intelligent and far seeking -venal, but far-seeking – people. They know exactly what they are doing, and more often than not are getting their way.

  44. Mike Spindell — I never watch Fox News, but thanks for the stereo type. I guess anyone who disagrees with you on an issue must be “one of them”. You have aptly demonstrated one of the biggest problems in America today – the inability to have a conversation with someone you disagree with without resorting to insults and name-calling.

    I have been reading this blog for quite some time. I agree with many of your posts and disagree with others – its called dialogue. We are seeing the results of this new national behavior (I/We are 100% right and everyone else is 100% wrong – and “stupid” or of lesser value – or even evil) on a larger scale playing out in Washington right now.

    I firmly believe that none of us has 100% of the answer and that each of us has part of the answer – we all have different life experiences and perspectives to offer. Together, if we are willing to listen to each other openly, we can solve any problem.

    Rafflaw — you are correct and I made an over-generalization. That said, I see two issues with public education that are, in fact, related to unions. The first is in fact the total value of their pay package. While I agree with all of your assertions regarding the education and value of teachers, in many districts throughout the country, they are paid far more than taxpayers with similar qualifications who must pay the taxes to support them. Second, the adamant refusal of the teachers’ unions to allow any measurement of job performance at all leaves them uniquely alone — most of us, have our performance regularly reviewed by superiors, peers, and even subordinates. Without feedback, none of us can grow.

    In general, I am a strong supporter of unions as they help even the “power imbalance” between workers and large employers. However, in the case of public unions, you have a ‘warping” of the economic incentives of the participants on both sides that skews the results. Public sector unions give millions of dollars to those elected officials who are negotiating the appropriateness of the union members’ pay and benefits. This distorts the negotiation and the taxpayer is left out in the cold. Rather than workers and management negotiating to obtain an efficient result, you really have no one at the table looking at the “cost” side of things for the taxpayers.

  45. Does Obama understand Race to the Top? — Ravitch
    By Valerie Strauss

    This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch for her Bridging Differences blog, which she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website. Ravitch and Meier exchange letters about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement that she just updated.

    Dear Deborah,

    I don’t know about you, but I am growing convinced that President Barack Obama doesn’t know what Race to the Top is. I don’t think he really understands what his own administration is doing to education. In his State of the Union address last week, he said that he wanted teachers to “stop teaching to the test.” He also said that teachers should teach with “creativity and passion.” And he said that schools should reward the best teachers and replace those who weren’t doing a good job. To “reward the best” and “fire the worst,” states and districts are relying on test scores. The Race to the Top says they must.
    Deconstruct this. Teachers would love to “stop teaching to the test,” but Race to the Top makes test scores the measure of every teacher. If teachers take the President’s advice (and they would love to!), their students might not get higher test scores every year, and teachers might be fired, and their schools might be closed.
    Why does President Obama think that teachers can “stop teaching to the test” when their livelihood, their reputation, and the survival of their school depends on the outcome of those all-important standardized tests?

    Funnily enough, President Obama said something similar last year during a town hall meeting. He said that his daughters, who attend the elite Sidwell Friends school, took a standardized test, and they didn’t have any preparation for it. He said:
    “Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn’t a high-stakes test. It wasn’t a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn’t even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time. They didn’t study for it, they just went ahead and took it. And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.

    “Too often, what we’ve been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we’ve said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressure-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that’s not the only way we’re judging whether a school is doing well.”

    Teachers must have been excited when they heard what the President said then because he showed that he really understood the dangers of high-stakes testing. He said:

    “So what I want to do is—one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you’re not learning about the world; you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math. All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that’s not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.”

    Teachers must have been jumping for joy when they heard this, because they know that states and districts have been reducing the time available for the arts, history, civics, physical education, everything other than the tests of reading and mathematics. That excellent teacher-blogger Anthony Cody pointed out in his review of his speech that the President was “blasting his own education policies.”

    Do you think that President Obama just doesn’t understand that Race to the Top has encouraged states to double down on high-stakes testing? Maybe he doesn’t realize that the strategies of his administration rely totally on test scores. Do you think no one from the U.S. Department of Education has explained that merit pay has been tried again and again and has never succeeded? Did anyone tell him about the Vanderbilt study of 2010, in which Nashville teachers were offered bonuses of $15,000? Did anyone tell him that those big bonuses didn’t lead to higher test scores? Did anyone tell him about the New York City plan for school-wide bonuses, which cost the city $56 million, and produced no difference in test scores? Has anyone told him or First Lady Michelle Obama about the districts and states (like Florida) that may eliminate (or have eliminated) their requirement for physical education because more time is needed for test prep?

    Do you think he understands that his Race to the Top program is demoralizing teachers across the nation? Does he know that teachers are not allowed to teach with creativity and passion because they might be fired for not following their district-mandated script?
    He’s a smart man. I can’t believe that he really doesn’t know that Race to the Top is no better, and in some ways is even worse, than No Child Left Behind. NCLB holds schools accountable; Race to the Top holds individual teachers accountable. Does he know that almost one of every three principals in the state of New York has signed a letter of protest against the test-based evaluations that Race to the Top imposes?

    He wants the teacher-bashing to end, but I wonder if he knows that the worst teacher-bashing started because of his and Arne Duncan’s rhetoric about firing teachers if their students got low test scores?

    When I saw Linda Darling-Hammond last week in California, she gave me charts from the U.S. Department of Education’s Schools and Staffing Survey which show that the modal years of teaching experience in 1987-88 was 15 (meaning that there were more teachers with 15 years of experience than any other group); in the latest published survey, 2007-08, the modal years of experience was one. That means that in 2008 there were more teachers in their first year of teaching than any other group. This is frightening. What sane nation would want to lose its experienced teachers and rely increasingly on newcomers?

    Of course, teachers should be evaluated, but they should be evaluated by knowledgeable professionals—their supervisors and peers. Of course, incompetent teachers should be fired, but first they should have a chance to improve. If they can’t improve, they don’t belong in the classroom.

    The irony of all this is that President Obama opposes high-stakes testing. He has now said so twice. Why does he endorse policies that require what he personally opposes?

    The pesident also said that states could reduce the dropout rate by requiring students to stay in school until they are 18. Do you think students drop out because they aren’t required by law to stay in school? I think the president should learn more about the reasons students leave before he proposes a law to force them to stay against their will. If he did, he might have better suggestions for lowering the dropout rate.

    And one other thing. President Obama referred approvingly to the Chetty-Friedman-Rockoff study of value-added assessment and said that “good teachers” would produce lifetime gains of $250,000 per classroom. Did anyone tell him that if there are 25 students in a class and each of them works for 40 years, then each one will gain $250 a year? Now, I’m not putting down a gain of $250 a year (that’s four or five times to fill your gas tank), and I certainly believe in the importance of good teachers. I don’t think that doubling down even more on standardized tests in reading and math is the right way to identify good or great teachers. If we push more on that line of thinking, teaching to the test is a necessity, not a choice.

    I just wish that the president would change course on Race to the Top. It’s even more demoralizing for teachers and principals than NCLB. It emphasizes testing at every turn, and it will not allow anyone to “stop teaching to the test.”


  46. Eric,

    “Second, the adamant refusal of the teachers’ unions to allow any measurement of job performance at all leaves them uniquely alone…”

    All school districts–as far as I know–have systems in place to evaluate their teachers. Many teachers, however, do object to the proposed use of student test scores as the main method of evaluating their classroom performance.

  47. Elaine – I understand the difficulties involved in measuring teachers performance based on student test scores, however, if the primary goal of teaching is for students to learn, how then could we measure the performance of a given teacher if we don’t measure them at the end of each year to see what they have learned?

  48. Bruce – I don’t actually avoid Fox news any more or less than I do CNN or other American news channels. Much of our television news seems to be very light on unbiased facts (which are costly to collect since they require reporters in the field) and very heavy on unsubstantiated opinion – which is very cheap to obtain – just get a talking head from each side to shout at each other.

  49. Very relevant comments regarding our American News channels from Mr. Turley’s most recent post:

    I also continue to amazed at the coverage by Fox and MSNBC — two networks that tend to follow predictable takes on Obama. MSNBC anchors have been gushing over his popularity despite the polls showing little change in the unpopularity numbers. Fox has been highlighting the divisive views of Obama to a degree that makes him look like a bunkered recluse. It is part of our new echo chamber of news where people just watch networks that reaffirm what they want the world to look like — despite evidence to the contrary.

    I could not agree more. How is it that CNN World is so much better than the CNN we are able to watch here? Is it purely the competition from the likes of BBC World and Canada’s CBC World?

  50. What the advocates of privatization don’t seem to understand is that we tried that already: it is called monarchy. A monarchy is a private government, as is feudalism, for all intents and purposes.

    And what those who buy into the market-based thinking behind privatization don’t seem to understand is that, when markets work, they are highly unpredictable: if a competition is fair, the outcome is uncertain. That’s what a competition means. Markets are therefore a poor tool for the securing of basic rights.

  51. @Mike: I agree with that corollary, if you attend school in a poor district the majority of your friends will be lucky to step up just to the next 10% economic bracket (above their parents), they will not have (or inherit) social and business contacts for jobs or investment capital, they are much less likely to attend college and have skills that make them worthy sweat-equity partners, and the 1% of gifted that can power through those obstacles with raw talent are celebrated, but that is hardly a prescription for the other 99%.

  52. Eric,
    your statement that the union teachers are paid more than their educated peers does not compute. show me the numbers. You have some wealthy districts that are able to pay their teachers more than others, but most are paid below what people with Masters or PHD’s or EDd’s would make in the corporate world.
    The reason teachers and their unions do not want to be judged by test scores alone is that each and every year the students you get in front of you as a teacher are varied in their abilities and family stability. When you have students whose parents are not involved to say the least, that student has an uphill battle. When you include the handicapped or disabled students into the mainstream, should their test scores be included in the teacher’s evaluation? Should the tests which, in many cases do not measure what the student has actually learned. Teaching to the test only measures that the students can remember the data that is going to be on the test. It does not evaluate their critical thinking skills and in some cases, their life skills.
    Teachers are evaluated on a daily basis by students, administrators and even parents. By forcing districts to evaluate strictly on test scores, you will be losing good teachers on a year to year basis and the students will not be any better prepared for their next step in education or life.
    You may want to read or re-read Elaine’s link at 10:59 am concerning Deborah Ravitch’s comments on high stakes testing and evaluating.

  53. Eric 1, January 21, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Elaine – I understand the difficulties involved in measuring teachers performance based on student test scores, however, if the primary goal of teaching is for students to learn, how then could we measure the performance of a given teacher if we don’t measure them at the end of each year to see what they have learned?



    The results of students’ high stakes test scores SHOULD NOT be the major criterion upon which we determine a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. There is way too much focus in education today on prepping children for such tests. It limits the curriculum. Teachers are forced to spend valuable class time prepping students for paper and pencil tests. Such tests don’t provide us with an overall view of everything children actually have learned and how much they have progressed in a specific school year. The tests are limited as to what they can evaluate.

    I think we should be looking at how much money is being spent in this country on the purchase and scoring of these tests. I believe the money could be better spent. We should be implementing the best educational practices that get children involved and excited about learning–not constantly prepping them to take tests.

    What teachers will want to take the neediest students into their classrooms if they think they may lose their jobs because their students don’t test well enough? Some of the best teachers at the school where I taught got more than their share of students with educational needs and discipline issues. Should such teachers be punished/lose their jobs because their classes don’t test as well as the classes that have fewer needy students.

    Testing can play a part of a teacher’s evaluation–but should never be the determining factor as to a teacher’s excellence/ineffectiveness. In addition, one would have to look at students’ previous testing record to know if a child had actually made progress.

    I’d say the issue of evaluating both students and teachers is a complicated one. Some people like the idea of using only test results because it’s not complicated–it’s simplistic.

  54. @Elaine: What teachers will want to take the neediest students into their classrooms if they think they may lose their jobs because their students don’t test well enough?

    An excellent point.

    @Elaine: Some people like the idea of using only test results because it’s not complicated–it’s simplistic.

    Like many other things in politics (like polarization) I think demanding standardized tests are a form of frustrated shouting, “For God’s sake, at least teach them to add and read Godammit!!!!!”

    People are frustrated, and politicians continue to pull BS that favors their rich friends that have “solutions” that cost a lot and do nothing. (There is a Demotivational poster about consultants (my former profession) that reads, “Consulting: If you cannot be part of the solution, there is a lot of money to be made in prolonging the problem.”)

    The simplistic ideas are simple on purpose, this is what we are reduced to when the complex ideas go forever undone. We want our children learning calculus, civics, medicine, computer programming. But failing that: Please, just do this one brain-dead thing!

    I think the polarizations we see in the USA (both in political parties and on a hundred issues), the very simplistic demands for bright lines between success and failure, are all the symptoms of frustration at the apparent inability of our ‘leaders’ to get anything done that doesn’t just seem to make things worse, or cost a fortune without any visible changes.

    I also think that is a symptom of rampant corpocracy and most citizens do not yet realize that. They think government is incompetent, but I think the opposite is true; our politicians are expertly funneling billions of dollars exactly where they want it and without any accountability.

  55. I would like to echo Tony C.’s kudos to Elaine. The testing mandates are not producing better educated students. Teachers need to be evaluated on a broader level of criteria than relying mostly on test performance. If you keep relying on test scores, the practice of kicking kids out who don’t perform well will become the norm. Didn’t that happen in Texas when NCLB was formulated there?

  56. All you union folks just need to get Hillary elected. She’ll get you all back to the good ol’ days. But..you know that anyway.

  57. @nick: I am generally opposed to unions. I am also opposed to Hillary; during her Presidential campaign she proved herself to be a straight-up liar, and she was a breathtakingly wasteful spender of campaign funds, and she stiffed small-business owners in a dozen states she had contracted to set up stages, sound systems, and infrastructure (porta-potties, first responders, water bottles, etc) for her rallies. IMO Hillary Clinton is not an honorable person. If she had to stiff somebody, she should have stiffed people that could afford it, like her incompetent campaign manager.

  58. rafflaw, Just a bit!

    TonyC, One of the best indicator of Hillary’s character comes from the days she practiced law. Believe it or not, there is some honor among attorneys. A settlement, stipulation is agreed to verbally and it’s honored. Most attorneys who dealt w/ her when she worked for Rose agree that she had no honor. You had to get EVERYTHING in writing w/ Hillary. I personally know 2 attorneys who had that experience w/ her. I think they’re both Dems. They say she could not be trusted and told me there were others they knew who said the same. I had not heard of her being a campaign scofflaw shitting on small biz people, but it fits her personal profile. There are Hillary worshippers here so get ready for some blowback.

  59. @Nick: A list of the expense leaks I saw included multiple $10,000 a night suites in Vegas, $250 bottles of wine at lunch when it was just her and her senior staff, dinner bills exceeding $2000 for four people, again not entertaining, just routine stuff. Thousands of dollars worth of custom tailored cloth drapery and cloth bunting for every stage, used once and then discarded, instead of the paper other candidates (including Obama) used. She and her staff spent campaign donations to live like royalty, while screwing the peasants. (Sarah Palin was doing the same thing, just as inexcusable.)

    And the “duck and cover” lie (running from an airplane under gunfire, later refuted by video of her walking across the runway to meet schoolchildren bearing flowers) was, for me, just the inexcusable icing on the cake. To this day.

  60. Rumor today is that Joe Biden is going to run for potus next time. Just say ‘no’ to Hillary. We can find a better woman for that office.

  61. rafflaw,

    The bait and switch of school “reform”
    Behind the new corporate agenda for education lurks the old politics of profit and self-interest
    By David Sirota

    In recent weeks the debate over the future of public education in America has flared up again, this time with the publication of the new book “Class Warfare,” by Steven Brill, the founder of American Lawyer magazine. Brill’s advocacy of “reform” has sparked different strands of criticism from the New York Times, New York University’s Diane Ravitch and the Nation’s Dana Goldstein.

    But behind the high-profile back and forth over specific policies and prescriptions lies a story that has less to do with ideas than with money, less to do with facts than with an ideological subtext that has been quietly baked into the very terms of the national education discussion.

    Like most education reporters today, Brill frames the issue in simplistic, binary terms. On one side are self-interested teachers unions who supposedly oppose fundamental changes to schools, not because they care about students, but because they fear for their own job security and wages, irrespective of kids. In this mythology, they are pitted against an alliance of extraordinarily wealthy corporate elites who, unlike the allegedly greedy unions, are said to act solely out of the goodness of their hearts. We are told that this “reform” alliance of everyone from Rupert Murdoch to the Walton family to leading hedge funders spends huge amounts of money pushing for radical changes to public schools because they suddenly decided that they care about destitute children, and now want to see all kids get a great education.

    The dominant narrative, in other words, explains the fight for the future of education as a battle between the evil forces of myopic selfishness (teachers) and the altruistic benevolence of noblesse oblige (Wall Street). Such subjective framing has resulted in reporters, pundits and politicians typically casting the “reformers’” arguments as free of self-interest, and therefore more objective and credible than teachers’ counterarguments.

    This skewed viewpoint becomes clear in this excerpt of a C-Span interview with Brill about “Class Warfare,” in which Brill is talking about a group called “Democrats for Education Reform” — a group financed by major hedge fund managers:

    “[The group] was created by a small group of frustrated education reformers … They happen to be well-to-do frustrated education reformers who were Democrats and they had an epiphany … And the epiphany they had was that the Democrats, their party, their party that they thought stood for civil rights, were the political party that was most in the way. And what frustrated them was they consider education reform to be the civil rights issue of this era. And they really couldn’t believe it was their party that was blocking their idea of reforms that are necessary. So they describe it repeatedly … as a sort of Nixon-to-China gambit in which Democrats are going to reform the Democratic Party and they’ve made lots of progress.” (emphasis added)

    Though self-billed as a work of objective journalism, Brill’s book reads like an overwrought ideological manifesto because — like much of the coverage of education — it frames the debate in precisely these propagandistic terms.

    As Brill and most other education correspondents tell it, those most aggressively trying to privatize public schools and focus education around standardized tests just “happen to be” Wall Streeters — as if that’s merely a random, inconsequential coincidence. Somehow, we are to assume that these same Wall Streeters who make millions off of “parasitic” investment schemes to leech public institutions for private profit couldn’t have ulterior motives when it comes to public schools.

    No, in the standard fairy tale sold as education journalism, these “reformers” are presented as having had an honest, entirely altruistic “epiphany” that led them to discover that “the reforms that are necessary” (ie., only the policies Wall Street deems acceptable) comprise “the civil rights issue of this era.”

    In this framing, millionaires and billionaires trying to eviscerate traditional public education from their Manhattan office suites are the new Martin Luther Kings — even though the empirical data tell us that their schemes to charter-ize and privatize schools have been a systemic failure, often further disadvantaging the most economically challenged students of all (one example: see Stanford’s landmark study showing more than a third of kids whom reformers ushered into charter schools were educationally harmed by the move).

    The truth, of course, is that for all the denialist agitprop to the contrary, corporate education “reformers” are motivated by self-interest, too. In a sense, these “reformers” are akin to the Bush administration neoconservatives when it came to Iraq. Some of them wanted to invade for oil, some wanted to invade to create a new sphere of influence, some wanted to invade to further isolate Iran, and still others wanted to invade to “spread democracy.” But as Paul Wolfowitz famously said, they “settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction” as the public rationale for war.

    Same thing for those who fund corporate education “reform”: they have a lot of different self-interests, but they’ve settled on schools as a political target that unifies them all.

    So, then, what are those self-interests? Here are three of the biggest ones that go almost entirely unmentioned in the ongoing coverage of the education “reform” debate.

    Self-Interest No. 1: Pure Profit

    First and foremost, there’s a ton of money to be made in the education “reforms” that Big Money interests are advocating.

    As the Texas Observer recently reported in its exposé of one school-focused mega-corporation, “in the past two decades, an education-reform movement has swept the country, pushing for more standardized testing and accountability and for more alternatives to the traditional classroom — most of it supplied by private companies.”

    A straightforward example of how this part of the profit-making scheme works arose just a few months ago in New York City. There, Rupert Murdoch dumped $1 million into a corporate “reform” movement pushing to both implement more standardized testing and divert money for education fundamentals (hiring teachers, buying textbooks, maintaining school buildings, etc.) into testing-assessment technology. At the same time, Murdoch was buying an educational technology company called Wireless Generation, which had just signed a lucrative contract with New York City’s school system (a sweetheart deal inked by New York City school official Joel Klein, who immediately went to work for Murdoch.

    Such shenanigans are increasingly commonplace throughout America, resulting in a revenue jackpot for testing companies and high tech firms, even though many of their products have not objectively improved student achievement.

    At the same time, major banks are reaping a windfall from “reformers’” successful efforts to take public money out of public schools and put it into privately administered charter schools. As the New York Daily News recently reported:

    Wealthy investors and major banks have been making windfall profits by using a little-known federal tax break to finance new charter-school construction. The program, the New Markets Tax Credit, is so lucrative that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years…

    The credit can even be piggybacked on other tax breaks for historic preservation or job creation. By combining the various credits with the interest from the loan itself, a lender can almost double his investment over the seven-year period.

    No wonder JPMorgan Chase announced this week it was creating a new $325 million pool to invest in charter schools and take advantage of the New Markets Tax Credit.

    On top of this, “reformers’” initiatives to divert public school money into voucher schemes — which data show have failed to produce better student achievement — means potentially huge revenues for the burgeoning for-profit private school industry, an industry that “has fascinated Wall Street for more than a decade,” reports PBS Frontline.

    The bottom line is clear: In attempting to change the mission of public education from one focused on educating kids to one focused on generating private profit, corporate leaders in the “reform” movement are pursuing a shrewd investment strategy. Millions of dollars go into campaign contributions and propaganda outfits that push “reform,” and, if successful, those “reforms” guarantee Wall Street and their investment vehicles much bigger returns for the long haul.

    In light of all the money that’s already being made off such “reforms” (and that could be made in the future), pretending that businesspeople who make their living on such transactions are not applying their business strategies to education is to promote the fallacy that the entire financial industry is merely a charitable endeavor.

    Self-Interest No. 2: Changing the Subject From Poverty and Inequality

    Inconvenient as it is to corporate education “reformers,” the well-proven fact is that poverty — not teacher quality, union density or school structure — is the primary driver of student achievement. We can see this most easily in two sets of data.

    First, as the Nation magazine reports, “The research consensus has been clear and unchanging for more than a decade: at most, teaching accounts for about 15 percent of student achievement outcomes, while socioeconomic factors account for about 60 percent.” Second, as Dissent magazine notes in its examination of U.S. Department of Education data, American students at low poverty schools consistently score near the top on international tests. Indeed, U.S. students in public schools with a poverty rate of less than 10 percent “outperformed students in all eight participating nations whose reported poverty rates fall below 10 percent.”

    The reason America’s overall scores on such tests are far lower is because high poverty schools produce far worse results — and as the most economically unequal society in the industrialized world, we have far more poverty than our competitors, bringing down our overall scores accordingly. Predictably, as economic inequality and poverty have spiked in America during the Great Recession, those poverty-fueled education problems have gotten even worse.

    This reality obviously represents a problem for the growing ranks of economically struggling Americans. More and more citizens simply cannot afford to live in rich neighborhoods that benefit from a property-tax-based education financing system which has created gated communities out of school districts. As documented in a new study by the University of Kansas, this system allows wealthy enclaves to disproportionately target their tax revenue to their own public schools and “hoard” public monies — all while other schools in low-income areas are starved for resources.

    This structure is hugely beneficial to the super-rich — but the poverty question poses a potential political problem for them. As the New York Times recently put it, if America realizes that “a substantial part of the problem (is) poverty and not bad teachers, the question would be why people like (Wall Streeters) are allowed to make so much when others have so little.”

    That question, if it became central in our political discourse, would potentially lead the growing ranks of economically struggling Americans to start demanding governmental policies that address wealth inequality and its consequences — policies such as re-regulating Wall Street, raising taxes on millionaires, eliminating tax policies that allow revenue hoarding, and targeting disproportionately more public funds at schools in high-poverty areas rather than at schools in wealthy neighborhoods.

    But, then, those policies are precisely the ones that offend and threaten rich people. So the wealthiest and most politically astute among them have constructed front groups like “Democrats for Education Reform” to press a message of education “reform” that seeks to change the subject from poverty altogether. Their message basically says that the major problem in America is not the fact that our public policies are helping make more citizens poor, nor the fact that the same economic structure that allows the Walton family to own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the whole nation has one in five kids living in poverty.

    No, reformers give us what I’ve previously called the “Great Education Myth,” telling America that the real problem is supposedly the schools — and that if we just make radical and empirically unproven school changes then everything will supposedly be great. And, tellingly, the “reformers’” specific policy prescriptions tend only to be those changes that don’t ask rich people to share in any sacrifice.

    Thus, for instance, the “reformers” push to tear up teachers union contracts and demonize the structure of public schools, rather than, say, initiating a discussion about raising more revenue for schools most in need. Seeking to avoid any larger debate about raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for such new education investment, they float their favorite one liner about how we “can’t throw money at the problem,” even though many of the schools with the biggest challenges need more resources to combat poverty.

    You don’t have to believe me to know that the need is there; just listen to the corporate education “reformers’” own much-celebrated hero, Harlem Children’s Zone’s Geoffrey Canada, who insists schools in high-poverty areas “can’t succeed … without substantially increased investments in wraparound social services,” reports the New York Times. But since those are investments that probably require tax increases, they aren’t the thrust of the corporate “reform” movement’s agenda.

    In the bait-and-switch of the “Great Education Myth,” then, the corporate “reformers” get to pretend that they care about poor people and brag that they are benevolently leading “the civil rights issue of this era,” when what they are really doing is making sure America doesn’t talk about the macroeconomic policies that make Wall Streeters so much money, and impoverish so many others in the process.

    Self-interest No. 3: New Front in the War on Unions

    Today, unions are one of the last — and, unfortunately, weakening — obstacles to corporations’ having complete control of the American political system. Whenever there is a fight over economics in particular — whenever a Wall Street-backed tax, deregulation, Social Security privatization or trade bill comes down the pike — it is the labor movement that comprises the bulk of the political opposition. Therefore, crushing unions in general has been an overarching goal of the corporate elite, and one way to crush unions is through education policy that undermines one of the largest subsets of the labor movement: teachers unions.

    Looked at through this prism, we see a key reason that education “reformers” are not satisfied with merely finding common policy ground with unions on points of potential consensus. They don’t want any agreement with unions because the underlying goal is to destroy those unions entirely. Hence, “reformers” are increasingly focused on promoting union-free charter schools and diverting public school money into union-free private schools as a means of crippling the labor movement as a whole.

    To know this truth is to know that the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame is now one of the biggest financial forces in the education “reform” movement. As the single most anti-union force in contemporary American society, the family now annually holds out a huge wad of Wal-Mart cash as a hard-to-resist enticement for cities to divert public school money exclusively into union-free charter schools or union-free “innovation” schools. Essentially, the money is offered, but on the condition that policymakers put it into education initiatives that undermine teachers unions.

    While the foundation publicly insists it is looking only to help kids excel, union busting — not student achievement — is clearly what drives the Walton family’s education activism. As but one example proving that motive, consider that just five days after news broke that Los Angeles’ traditional public schools are outperforming charter schools, the Walton family announced it is dumping a massive new tranche of Wal-Mart cash into a plan to expand the city’s charter schools. If the family was truly focused on helping kids, it would have put that money into traditional public schools that were showing success. Instead, the money went to the union busters, student achievement be damned.

    Brill epitomizes how that motive has been ignored by establishment reporters covering education. After spending years reporting a massive tome on the education debate, he told the New York Times with a straight face that “I didn’t see it as the rich versus the union guys,” as if schools’ being an arena for the age-old battle between capital and labor is so preposterous, it didn’t even cross his mind.

    Brill may be telling the truth here, because corporate education “reformers” are so ubiquitously branded as disinterested altruists, that any other motive probably never did cross his mind, just like it never crosses most other reporters’ mind. But just because the union-busting part of the story isn’t being told, doesn’t mean it isn’t a key objective of the “reform” movement.

    None of this is to argue that teachers unions don’t act out of self-interest. They do. The point, though, is that they do not have a monopoly on self-interest in the education debate. As the modern-day version of what Franklin Roosevelt would call “organized money,” the underwriters of the corporate education “reform” movement are just as motivated by their own self-interest. It’s just a different portfolio of self-interest.

    For Americans looking for credible voices in the confusing education debate, the question, then, is simple: Which self-interest is more aligned with improving schools for our kids?

    Teachers unions’ self-interest means advocating for better teacher salaries and job security — an agenda item that would, among other things, allow the teaching profession (as in other nations) to financially compete for society’s “best and brightest” and in the process help kids. The unions’ self-interest also means advocating for decent workplace facilities, which undeniably benefits not only the teacher, but also students. And it means pressing for curricular latitude that doesn’t force educators to teach to a standardized test, a notion that would help actually educate students to think critically, rather than train them to be test-taking robots.

    Corporate education “reformers’” self-interest, by contrast, means advocating for policies that help private corporations profit off of public schools, diverting public attention from an anti-poverty economic agenda, and busting unions that prevent total oligarchical control of America’s political system. In short, it’s about the profit, stupid.

    Neither side’s self-interest is perfectly aligned with the goal of bettering our education system. But one side is clearly far more aligned with that goal than the other.

  62. “Self-Interest No. 2: Changing the Subject From Poverty and Inequality”


    Thank you for the David Sirota article all of which I totally endorse. My belief is that the most important “self-interest” is number 2 above. One has only had to work on the front-lines of poverty, as I have, to understand that the education problem doesn’t begin in schools, it begins at home. When you have a situation of underfed (or badly fed) children, living in hovels whether urban or rural and lacking the means of obtaining the equipment need to excel in public school, we could only expect the most extraordinary to overcome their environmental circumstances. With my own children, living in a fully employed two-income household it was a stretch to provide for their needs for the quality suburban school district they attended. I can remember putting off a utility bill so I could buy one daughter the expensive Scientific Calculator that was the requisite for her trigonometry course. They both thrived in school and in College, as they now do in their careers. They were of course helped by having educated, education oriented parents, with the means to move to a quality school district and to supply them with the encouragement and wherewithal to succeed.

    This was in direct counterpoint to the poverty work that was my career where I would see people struggling to put food on the table and to try to raise their children in horrible, over crowded housing. So much of anyone’s success in life has to do with the environment in which they have been raised. The wealthy elite (.01%) in this country breaks down to perhaps three separate categories:

    1. Those to the manor born, who believe that they have been chosen by heavenly powers for their good fortune and that everyone else is to be exploited. Think GE Bush, Donnie Trump and the Walton’s.

    2. Those who have made the “leap” from the comfortable middle class to great wealth and so feel a sense of “noblesse oblige” to the poor, but secretly harbor the belief that being poor in and of itself is a condition of failure. Think Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

    3. Those who have escaped poverty, reach a high level and believe those who haven’t aren’t trying hard enough. Think Jamie Dimon

    With these attitudes education simply becomes another industry to be exploited for profits and another cover for the public pretense of charitable piety. After all Rockefeller and Carnegie made up for their vicious rapaciousness by becoming “philanthropists” to cultivate their historic images.

    I damn them all, but mostly I damn more their parasitic minions professing expertise on poverty, education and racism. Their fatuous pronouncements of insight merely allow them to serve as Pied Pipers, but instead of rats, leading suffering humans to destruction in a sea of need. While the evidence is already in that America ranks quite low on the economic equality scale, these supposedly “caring” experts succeed in keeping the discussion focused away from the reality of wide economic disparity being the measure of lack of success scholastically, to blame it on the system itself. Given that the reality is that poor school districts have always been underfunded, their testing and measurements are a cruel hoax, perpetrated as a coverup for greed and privilege.

  63. What real education reform looks like
    Teachers unions aren’t the problem. Poverty and punitive funding formulas for poor schools are
    By David Sirota

    Now, at year’s end, we’ve learned from two studies just how powerful economics are in education outcomes — and how disadvantaged kids are being unduly punished by government policy.

    The first report, from Stanford University, showed that with a rising “income achievement gap,” a family’s economic situation is a bigger determinative force in a child’s academic performance than any other major demographic factor. For poor kids, that means the intensifying hardships of poverty are now creating massive obstacles to academic progress.

    Because of this reality, schools in destitute areas naturally require more resources than those in rich ones so as to help impoverished kids overcome comparatively steep odds. Yet, according to the second report from the U.S. Department of Education, “many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding.” As if purposely embodying the old adage about adding insult to injury, the financing scheme “leav(es) students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources than schools attended by their wealthier peers.” In practice, that equals less funding to recruit teachers, upgrade classrooms, reduce class sizes and sustain all the other basics of a good education.

    Put all this together and behold the crux of America’s education problems in bumper-sticker terms: It’s poverty and punitive funding formulas, stupid.

    Thus, we arrive at the factor that decides so many things in American society: money.

    As the revelations of 2011 prove, students aren’t helped by billionaire-executives-turned-education-dilettantes who leverage their riches to force their faith-based theories into schools. Likewise, they aren’t aided by millionaire pundits sententiously claiming that we just “need better parents.” And kids most certainly don’t benefit from politicians pretending that incessant union-busting, teacher-bashing and standardized testing represent successful school “reforms.”

    Instead, America’s youth need the painfully obvious: a national commitment to combating poverty and more funds spent on schools in the poorest areas than on schools in the richest areas — not the other way around.

  64. Phony school “reform” agenda takes a beating
    The media barely noticed, but voters in three states rejected the profit-driven fraud that is education “reform”
    By David Sirota

    If your only source of news about American education came from docu-propaganda like “Waiting for Superman,” Hollywood politi-schlock like “Won’t Back Down” and elite-focused national news outlets in Washington, D.C., and New York City, you might think that the so-called education “reform” (read: privatization) movement was a spontaneous grass-roots uprising of good-old-fashioned heartlanders generating ever more mass support throughout the country. You would have no reason to believe it was a top-down, corporate-driven coalition of conservative coastal elites trying to both generally undermine organized labor and specifically wring private profit out of public schools, and you would similarly have no reason to believe it was anything but wildly popular in an America clamoring for a better education system.

    In other words, you would be utterly misinformed — especially after last week’s explosive election results in three key states.

    In Colorado, the out-of-state, corporate-funded group Stand for Children, which previously made national headlines bragging about its corrupt legislative deal making, backed a campaign to hand the state Legislature to pro-privatization Republicans, specifically by trying to defeat Democratic legislators who have stood on the side of public education. Though the group and its affiliated anti-union, pro-privatization allies have become accustomed to getting their way in this state, 2012 saw them handily defeated, as the targeted Democrats won election, giving their party full control of the statehouse.

    In Indiana, the results were even more explicit. There, as the Indianapolis Star reports, Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Bennett became “the darling of the reform movement” by “enthusiastically implement(ing) such major reforms as the nation’s most expansive private school voucher program; greater accountability measures for schools that led to the unprecedented state takeover of six schools last year; an expansion of charter schools; and an evaluation system for teachers that bases their raises, at least in part, on student test scores.” For waging such a scorched-earth campaign against teachers and public education, Bennett was rewarded with a whopping $1.3 million in campaign contributions, much of which came from out of state. According to Stateline, Bennett was underwritten by “some of the biggest supporters of education reform in the country, including Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, billionaire financier Eli Broad and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg,” and NPR reports that he also received big donations from private corporations that stood to profit off his school takeover policies.

    Ultimately, he was able to grossly outspend his underfinanced opponent, local educator Glenda Ritz, by more than $1 million. Yet, in the conservative union-averse state of Indiana, he was nonetheless booted out of office in what the Star called “the Election Night shocker.” That was thanks not to some brilliantly vague personality campaign by Ritz, but to a substantive, laser-focused assault on Bennett’s corporate-driven privatization agenda. As the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported, she “attack(ed) Bennett for his school and district accountability system, voucher program and use of student testing data for teacher evaluations”; “criticiz(ed) Bennett’s policies as funneling taxpayer dollars to private companies”; and slammed Bennett’s corporate donors — all while she “advocated returning local control to districts, ending the current administration’s focus on standardized testing and spending more on early childhood education”; and pushed to “provide more support for low-performing schools instead of threatening them with sanctions.”

  65. Excellent Elaine….

    BTW, I read here that you buy a previously owned vehicle….aka….used car….. I didn’t realize that there was much of a market for Bentleys….

  66. Elaine,

    The way I hear it being told…. Not only do you have chauffeurs… But, butlers, maids and chefs….. Do you still light your hand rolled Cuban cigars with…. 100 dollars bills…. While sipping on brandy….

  67. Elaine,

    You don’t inhale….. Heard that phrase before someplace…. I prefer champaign as well….lol…. I suppose even blind monks can do something’s excellent… Ok, he was a monk…. There’s speculation on being blind…

  68. Thanks for the wonderful links Elaine. I am surprised you have the time since those Bentley’s need so much maintenance work! :)
    Mike S.
    You are absolutely correct that the poverty issue is a huge indicator of educational success.

  69. rafflaw,

    I believe it’s the Jaguars that are always in need of maintenance.

    Published on Thursday, July 14, 2011 by The Nation
    ALEC Exposed: Starving Public Schools
    by Julie Underwood
    (This article is part of a Nation series exposing the American Legislative Exchange Council, in collaboration with the Center For Media and Democracy.)

    Public schools,” ALEC wrote in its 1985 Education Source Book, “meet all of the needs of all of the people without pleasing anyone.” A better system, the organization argued, would “foster educational freedom and quality” through various forms of privatization: vouchers, tax incentives for sending children to private schools and unregulated private charter schools. Today ALEC calls this “choice”—and vouchers “scholarships”—but it amounts to an ideological mission to defund and redesign public schools.

    The first large-scale voucher program, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, was enacted in 1990 following the rubric ALEC provided in 1985. It was championed by then-Governor Tommy Thompson, an early ALEC member, who once said he “loved” ALEC meetings, “because I always found new ideas, and then I’d take them back to Wisconsin, disguise them a little bit, and declare [they were] mine.”

    ALEC’s most ambitious and strategic push toward privatizing education came in 2007, through a publication called School Choice and State Constitutions, which proposed a list of programs tailored to each state. That year Georgia passed a version of ALEC’s Special Needs Scholarship Program Act. Most disability organizations strongly oppose special education vouchers—and decades of evidence suggest that such students are better off receiving additional support in public schools. Nonetheless, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Florida, Utah and Indiana have passed versions of their own. Louisiana also passed a version of ALEC’s Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act (renaming it Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence), along with ALEC’s Family Education Tax Credit Program (renamed Tax Deductions for Tuition), which has also been passed by Arizona and Indiana. ALEC’s so-called Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act has been passed by Arizona, Indiana and Oklahoma.

    ALEC’s 2010 Report Card on American Education called on members and allies to “Transform the system, don’t tweak it,” likening the group’s current legislative strategy to a game of whack-a-mole: introduce so many pieces of model legislation that there is “no way the person with the mallet [teachers’ unions] can get them all.” ALEC’s agenda includes:

    § Introducing market factors into teaching, through bills like the National Teacher Certification Fairness Act.

    § Privatizing education through vouchers, charters and tax incentives, especially through the Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act and Special Needs Scholarship Program Act, whose many spinoffs encourage the creation of private schools for specific populations: children with autism, children in military families, etc.

    § Increasing student testing and reporting, through more “accountability,” as seen in the Education Accountability Act, Longitudinal Student Growth Act, One-to-One Reading Improvement Act and the Resolution Supporting the Principles of No Child Left Behind.

    § Chipping away at local school districts and school boards, through its 2009 Innovation Schools and School Districts Act and more. Proposals like the Public School Financial Transparency Act and School Board Freedom to Contract Act would allow school districts to outsource auxiliary services.

    ALEC is also invested in influencing the educational curriculum. Its 2010 Founding Principles Act would require high school students to take “a semester-long course on the philosophical understandings and the founders’ principles.”

    Perhaps the Brookings Institute states the mission most clearly: “Taken seriously, choice is not a system-preserving reform. It is a revolutionary reform that introduces a new system of public education.”

    ALEC’s real motivation for dismantling the public education system is ideological—creating a system where schools do not provide for everyone—and profit-driven. The corporate members on its education task force include the Friedman Foundation, Goldwater Institute, Washington Policy Center, National Association of Charter School Authorizers and corporations providing education services, such as Sylvan Learning and the Connections Academy.

    From Milton Friedman on, proponents of vouchers have argued that they foster competition and improve students’ learning. But years of research reveal this to be false. Today, students in Milwaukee’s public schools perform as well as or better than those in voucher schools. This is true even though voucher schools have advantages that in theory should make it easier to educate children: fewer students with disabilities; broader rights to select, reject and expel students; and parents who are engaged in their children’s education (at least enough to have actively moved them to the private system). Voucher schools clearly should outperform public schools, but they do not. Nor are they less expensive; often private costs are shifted to taxpayers; a local school district typically pays for transportation, additional education services and administrative expenses. In programs like Milwaukee’s, the actual cost drains funds from the public schools and creates additional charges to taxpayers.

    But a deeper crisis emerges when we privatize education. As Benjamin Barber has argued, “public schools are not merely schools for the public, but schools of publicness: institutions where we learn what it means to be a public and start down the road toward common national and civic identity.” What happens to our democracy when we return to an educational system whose access is defined by corporate interests and divided by class, language, ability, race and religion? In a push to free-market education, who pays in the end?

  70. The reform movement is already failing
    By Diane Ravitch
    August 23, 2011

    In my nearly four decades as a historian of education, I have analyzed the rise and fall of reform movements. Typically, reforms begin with loud declarations that our education system is in crisis. Throughout the twentieth century, we had a crisis almost every decade. After persuading the public that we are in crisis, the reformers bring forth their favored proposals for radical change. The radical changes are implemented in a few sites, and the results are impressive. As their reforms become widespread, they usually collapse and fail. In time, those who have made a career of educating children are left with the task of cleaning up the mess left by the last bunch of reformers.

    We are in the midst of the latest wave of reforms, and Steven Brill has positioned himself as the voice of the new reformers. These reforms are not just flawed, but actually dangerous to the future of American education. They would, if implemented, lead to the privatization of a large number of public schools and to the de-professionalization of education.

    As Brill’s book shows, the current group of reformers consists of an odd combination of Wall Street financiers, conservative Republican governors, major foundations, and the Obama administration. The reformers believe that the way to “fix” our schools is to fire more teachers, based on the test scores of their students; to open more privately-managed charter schools; to reduce the qualifications for becoming a teacher; and to remove job protections for senior teachers.

    The reformers say that our schools are failing and point to international test scores; they don’t seem to know that American students have never done well on international tests. When the international tests were first launched in the 1960s, our students ranked near the bottom. Obviously these tests do not predict the future economic success of a nation because we as a nation have prospered despite our mediocre performance on international tests over the past half century.

    The last international test results were released in December. Our students ranked about average, and our leading policymakers treated the results as a national scandal. But here is a curious fact: low-poverty U.S. schools (where fewer than 10% of the students were poor) had scores that were higher than those of the top nations in the world. In schools where as many as 25% of the students were poor, the scores were equal to those of Finland, Japan and Korea. As the poverty rate of the schools rose, the schools’ performance declined.

    An objective observer would conclude that the problem in this society has to do with our shamefully high rates of child poverty, the highest in the developed world. At least 20% of U.S. children live in poverty. Among black children, the poverty rate is 35%.

    Reformers like to say — as they did in the film “Waiting for ‘Superman’” — that we spend too much and that poverty doesn’t matter. They say that teacher effectiveness is all that matters. They claim that children who have three “great” or “effective” teachers in a row will close the achievement gap between the races. They say that experience doesn’t matter. They believe that charter schools, staffed by tireless teachers, can close the gap in test scores.

    Unfortunately, research does not support any of their claims.

    Take the matter of charter schools. The definitive national study of charters was conducted by Stanford University economist Margaret Raymond and financed by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation and the Dell Foundation. After surveying half the nation’s 5,000 charter schools, the study concluded that only 17% got better test results than a demographically similar traditional public school; 37% got worse results, and the remaining 46% were no different from the matched public school. An eight-state study by the Rand Corporation found no differences in results between charter and regular public schools. On federal tests, students in charter schools and regular public schools perform about the same.

    The overwhelming majority of charter schools are non-union. They can hire and fire teachers at will, and teacher attrition at charter schools is higher than in regular public schools. Many studies have shown that charters have a disproportionately small number of students with disabilities or students who don’t speak English. Yet, despite these structural advantages, they don’t get better results. Furthermore, right-to-work states where unions are weak or non-existent don’t lead the nation in academic achievement; most are middling or at the bottom on federal tests. Brill simply refuses to acknowledge these inconvenient facts because the charter movement is a central part of the “reform” claims.

    Research provides no support for Brill’s belief that the teacher is the ultimate determinant of student success or failure. Economists overwhelmingly agree that families, and especially family income, have a larger impact on student academic performance than teachers. Typically, economists estimate that teachers account for 10-15% of student performance; non-school factors influence about 60%.

    And what about the reformers’ claim that three great teachers in a row close the achievement gap? It is a sound bite, not an actionable policy proposal. The reformers can’t point to a single school or district that has actually made this happen.

    The reform movement is already failing. Its remedies don’t work. It ignores poverty, which is the root cause of poor academic performance.

    If we are serious about improving education, we would work to improve both schools and society. We would invest in the recruitment and preparation of career teachers and make sure that every child has a curriculum that includes the arts, history, civics, foreign languages and other subjects. We would also invest in prenatal care so that every child is born healthy and invest in high-quality early childhood education, so that children arrive in school ready to learn. We would stop the budget cutting that is now increasing class sizes and reducing needed services to children.

    Unfortunately, such research-based strategies are not part of today’s reform movement, which is why it will most assuredly end up in the dustbin of history, like so many others.

  71. “An objective observer would conclude that the problem in this society has to do with our shamefully high rates of child poverty, the highest in the developed world. At least 20% of U.S. children live in poverty. Among black children, the poverty rate is 35%.

    Reformers like to say — as they did in the film “Waiting for ‘Superman’” — that we spend too much and that poverty doesn’t matter. They say that teacher effectiveness is all that matters. They claim that children who have three “great” or “effective” teachers in a row will close the achievement gap between the races. They say that experience doesn’t matter. They believe that charter schools, staffed by tireless teachers, can close the gap in test scores.
    Unfortunately, research does not support any of their claims.”


    Thanks for Ms. Ravitch’s article of which the essence in the quote above bears repetition.

  72. The race to the bottom has many facets.

    Let elderly people ‘hurry up and die’, says Japanese minister


    Why should old angels and young angels have to wait so long to die?

  73. @Mike: There is a fourth category, I know for a fact. Some of that elite are smart enough to know they just got lucky. Lucky in parents, lucky in school, lucky in brains, lucky in talent, even lucky that they could pursue something out of pure obsession that unintentionally resulted in a windfall.

    In a way, anybody that thinks the poor are failures sells themselves short. Isn’t it the equivalent of claiming their own talent and brains are nothing special? (I doubt they believe that.)

  74. “@Mike: There is a fourth category, I know for a fact. Some of that elite are smart enough to know they just got lucky. Lucky in parents, lucky in school, lucky in brains, lucky in talent, even lucky that they could pursue something out of pure obsession that unintentionally resulted in a windfall.”


    I agree with that which is why if you look I referred to it as the .01%. There are many people who number in the 1% who don’t see their good fortune as privilege and their “right” as “superior” people.

    “it’s axiomatic that the best schools have the best students and vice versa.”


    That may be axiomatic but often the qualitative difference between “best” and “worst” has little to do with innate potential and much to do with environment. “All mean are created equal” refers to opportunity and not ability.

  75. I would like to offer an analogy to the charter school movement. As someone who suffered many years from severe heart disease I learned that certain hospitals, known for the Cardiology Departments, would keep their success statistics high by not dealing with the most severe cases. I think that many charter schools also do this, but what is amazing is that they still prove little better than the “broken” public school system. The hospital where I had my heart transplant is a teaching hospital interconnected with a public hospital, with a clientele that has little money. Their transplant unit has as high a success rate as any in the country. Public institutions can be excellent, if they receive adequate funding and curiously they still are less costly than private institutions.

  76. @Mespo: No it isn’t. Harvard is widely recognized as the “best” school, but within Harvard there is a cultural split, between the legacy brats and (as one legacy brat told me) the people that ‘deserve to be there.’

    Harvard has more freshman applicants that are Valedictorians of their graduating high school class than they have seats in the freshman class, and half of those seats are going to the legacy kids of alumni that get an automatic seat (for fully paid tuition).

    At least a few of the legacy kids will tell you the difference between an “A” and a “B” in Harvard is about 50 IQ points. Ivy League college is a business; it is a combination of the best and the wealthiest students that go to the best schools.

  77. Tony C:

    “Ivy League college is a business; it is a combination of the best and the wealthiest students that go to the best schools.”


    Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien? (The “best” as enemy of the “good’?)

  78. Elaine,

    That was one of the positive benefits of being purchased by Ford… They fixed the wiring harness that kept causing issues for Jags…..


    Maybe when your wife retires from teaching… Then you’ll be able to afford all sorts of new toys… That’s when the real dough starts coming in….. Teacher retirement….. If she’s IEA she’ll do better than AFT….

  79. @Mespo: Well, yeah. With some definite exceptions, the children of the rich are seldom motivated to work hard at academic pursuits. Growing up, they do not need to try to get into Harvard, they are going to Harvard. They don’t need a good job, because they really do not need to work at any job at all, and if they want to work at a job, they can buy the job by buying a business or funding a startup (or talking their Dad into it). The rich go to ivy league colleges to party and make connections, and put in time for their gentlemen’s “C”, to get a diploma they hang on the wall that impresses people that don’t know the difference.

    The “scholarship” crowd at Harvard, the children of the non-rich, is about 2/3 of the freshman class (earlier I said half, that was wrong), about 1/3 are full-pay legacy students. The freshman class is about 2100 students. There are about 5.5 million high school graduates every year; so the 1400 in the scholarship crowd at Harvard represent the 0.025% (1 in 4000) academic success stories.

    So although the children of the rich will have nutrition and safety and excellent health care and resource filled schools in their developmental background, they are otherwise normally distributed in intelligence. The extremophile heavyweights with whom they attend classes are going to crush them, academically speaking; it is very much like a high school football team (the full pay rich) playing against the NFL champions (the scholarship crowd), and both teams know the difference.

    That does not necessarily breed resentment, the rich are not at risk of losing anything, they can coast to the finish line if they want, and it is probably a good opportunity to meet and greet the brains they want to employ and /or finance and / or partner with after college.

  80. Raff,

    People dismiss the value of a good teacher…. There are some folks that take an egalitarian view of education once they have there’s. Clarence Thomas comes to mind. It is one of the most rewarding jobs and tearful jobs at the same time.

    I was lucky, I had a great teacher in 10th grade that turned my value for school around….

  81. For the first time in a long time I find myself generally in agreement with a relatively progressive article. This is, however, far too important to ignore and even more debilitating to the education of our children when all of what rafflaw said is enhanced with the addition of the diabolical effort to collect the personal data on our children into a federally controlled database (another requirement for RTTT funding under the guise of the Common Core State Standards (brought to you, again, by Bill Gates). Being from West Virginia, there is little difference between “rural” and “city” schools and few have had to close as a result of RTTT but then again WV was denied funding because they didn’t score high enough (evidence that the article is obviously on target). Our problem is one of dictatorial control by a twelve-member state board of education that have been declared by our supreme court to be “Equal to the Governor and Legislature” and cannot be overruled by either when it comes to School policy. How they “interpreted” this from the Constitution of West Virginia which states only that the WV State School Board is empowered to “supervise the elementary and secondary public schools of the state” I do not know, but we live with the results. A small but growing group of private citizens are attempting to make enough noise to get the board to reverse their decision to participate in this fiasco any further. There is only a minority of the board members left from the days when they approved Common Core, so there is a slim chance that we can stop it. A loud and vocal minority setting brush-fires of freedom can do more than a majority. Time to speak out on this one, folks. Progressive or Tea Party doesn’t matter. It’s only about the kids and both parties are to blame anyway so keep it non-partisan and fight for the kids.

  82. To Mike Spinell:

    In any discussion of poverty, it is totally dishonest to not direct a significant part of the blame for it on the breakdown of morality and the nuclear family. It is documented statistically that intact traditional families produce higher-achieving children and children who are far less likely to remain in poverty when they reach adulthood. Unfortunately when a country has taken the slide down the muddy slope of immorality that results in over 50% of the babies that survive the decision to abort them are born to unwed mothers, a growing group of poverty-stricken children is the logical result. Not everything can be blamed on luck or race. This is apparent when the stats on white poverty and black poverty show the same or similar differences in results between single-parent children and intact traditional family children. The common denominator is the family life they experience – the environment you mentioned.

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  84. Interesting as so many including yourself praised President Bush fake no child left behind when the program was only to give private schools, religious schools and companies like Ignite Learning own by Bush Family, Arts of education/ Foundation excellence education owned by Jeb Bush. Even Florida Director appointed by Bush/Scott took the billions while changing the grades from d to a. At lease we can blame Obama for no child left behind because it is better then telling the truth.

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