There is an old saying that’s been running through my mind quite a bit these days: “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.”
Alas, alas…some seem to disagree.
For the past decade American teachers have been in the cross hairs of the most well financed, relentless, and hydra-headed public relations campaign against a legal profession in our history. Nothing else even comes close. Indeed, I can think of no other formally respected profession ever so targeted. Anywhere. At any time. This campaign, which masquerades as a movement, was created by and is bankrolled by the richest individuals in the nation and backed by some of the most powerful political figures in the land under the rubric of education reform. Most prominent in the former category are Bill Gates, the Walton family, Eli Broad and any number of hedge fund managers such as instant education expert Whitney Tilson, founder of the egregious Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Prominent in the latter category are Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo, Rahm Emmanuel and Barack Obama. Despite such powerful figures, the campaign likes to present itself not merely as a movement but as a grass roots movement, spontaneously erupting like a long simmering volcano, it’s gases escaping from the magma chambers of the American educational earth.
The campaign is masterful at the creation and propagation of demands and the dissemination of lies, deceptions and false accusations. Central to the campaign is the idea of teacher accountability. Indeed, the campaigners want to hold teachers accountable for their student “a performance”, a performance measured in large part by highly unreliable high stakes tests.
What follows are a few of their most insidious and blatantly false claims:
Poverty is an excuse and is no obstacle to student achievement.
Tenure guarantees a teacher a job for life.
Standardized tests are true indicators of a quality education and quality teachers.
The real problem with schools is that selfish teachers and their thuggish unions are forever putting their interests over the children they are charged to serve.
Of all the lies hurled at teachers ad infinitum, none is more repugnant and underhanded than the last and none gets more mileage by the messianic corporate reformers. It carries within it, albeit in embryonic form, the zero sum ideology of corporate education reform: it is somehow impossible to reach an accord in which both teacher and student are treated fairly and with dignity. For these folks, one side must dominate the other. That’s simply how life is, you see.
(The fact that the charge of teacher selfishness emanates from billionaires and hedge-fund managers is completely congruent with the surreal nature of the entire corporate education campaign in which the least knowledgeable and experienced are somehow, mystically, the most qualified, the most insightful as well as the most concerned. )
This particular lie has been perhaps most effectively (because unconsciously) propagated in the very names of any number of reform organizations: names that in many ways serve as accusations in and of themselves. What conclusion can one draw from an organization that calls itself Children First Network ? Or Students First. Org ? Or Stand For Children ? What conclusion other than someone ( psssssssss… hint: teachers ) or something ( psssssssss… hint: teacher’s unions ) out there is putting these poor kids last ?
Then there is the masterful motto of the New York City Department of Education: “ Children First. Always.”
Except, it seems, when tending to the needs of corporations like Pearson and their (equally misleadingly named ) Common Core State Standards, currently being presented to the nation as the panacea to all that ails American education.
Not to mention the millions of dollars to be made in the production and sale of Common Core based tests, Common Core Text books, Common Core guides, and Common Core learning aids and accessories of every conceivable (and inconceivable) kind.
But there is a problem in paradise.
Somehow in the frenzied production of all these Common Core based paraphernalia, both city and state failed to insure the production of the element most essential to the possibility of the Common Core having any kind of real educational success. Somehow both city and state failed to produce a curriculum. It is difficult to overestimate how grand a failure this is.
Imagine, for example, someone trying to sell you a car with a speedometer but no engine.
In the place of a curriculum, New York City and New York State have offered teachers and administrators the Common Core Standards and sample “bundles”, implying that said standards, said “bundles,” and curriculum are more or less the same thing, an error that no one even vaguely knowledgeable in or concerned with education would ever make, not to mention those determined to “put kids first.”
This is, of course, one of the many problems with allowing people with little no educational experience — think Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Dennis Walcott — to completely remake an education system.
But, in typical fashion, it has become the problem, not of those who created it but those who must deal with it. That is to say, teachers. For New York City and New York State, the solution to their failure to provide curriculum for their teachers is to have teachers write curriculum. No matter that it is not the responsibility of teachers to write curriculum. (Teachers are meant to write lesson plans from curriculum not lesson plans and curriculum. ) No matter that most teachers most have no idea of how to write curriculum. No matter that teachers are not contractually obliged to write curriculum. (The issue is now in arbitration at the New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB.) No matter that teachers have never even seen the test that they are to somehow, magically, write curriculum to prepare their student for. So what if 17,00 New York City schools produce 17,00 different curricula, hodge-podged together by people who have no business doing anything but teaching. So what if the third to eighth grade tests administered in March will be up to two grade levels more difficult than anything the students or their teachers have ever seen before.
So what that the New York State Department of Education knowingly decided that millions of children will be forced to take Common Core based high stakes tests of which many haven’t a prayer of passing. So what if this unconscionable incompetence leads directly to demoralizing millions of kids. So what if the same test scores are used to evaluate teachers, principals, and schools and may be used to terminate the former and close the latter.
The imperative, it seems clear, is to ram the unproven, untested, unknown entity called Common Core State Standards into the very center of the educational lives of these kids and their teachers as fast as possible, ready or not. Now. Before it’s too late. There’s not a moment to spare.
Let the chips fall where they may.
After all, hasn’t Arne Duncan spent the last four years criss-crossing the country enlightening all to the notion that “education is the civil rights issue of our time?” Didn’t Condoleezza Rice declare at the Republican National Convention that education is now a matter of national security?
Seen in those glaring lights, the absence of a curriculem seems almost petty.
On the other hand, on what planet can this kind of educational malfeasance be considered “putting children first?” And what about that tricky issue of accountability? Who is responsible for this ? How is it possible that a screw –up of this magnitude is allowed to go by not merely without heads rolling, but without barely a peep in the press? Where are the hedge funders weeping copious tears for the poor children now? Where are the apostles of accountability with this travesty?
The larger question, of course, is what is the priority here? It is kids or corporations? Is it to help make kids “college or career ready” so as to compete in the ever more savage global economy? Or is it to shovel millions of taxpayer dollars to Pearson and associates on Common Core accessories before most people even know what Common Core is?
“ We’ve been working really hard around Common Core, said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, whose educational experience consists of one year teaching kindergarten. “We’ve been really light years ahead of the rest of the state in terms of the implementation of Common Core but at the same time, we’re ready for the new curriculum to be put in place as well.” Asked when that might be, Walcott replied, “I don’t know. I’ll let you know.” That was last month.
So much for putting children first. So much for accountability.
By way of excusing the inevitable results of this farce, Walcott added: “We’ve said that we expect scores to go down. We just don’t know to what level. I mean, this is going to be a tough, tough test.”
I’ll say. And it’s hard cheese, old chap!
State Education Commissioner John King (whose educational experience consists of teaching for three years) at least provided an answer if a completely unacceptable one. The curriculum will be ready “by Fall, winter 2013, said King.
Why is the media not all over this? Where are all those concerned faces found on Education Nation? Why is this not considered a major scandal by all of those pundits forever gasbagging about selfish unions and the holy efficiency of the business world ?
The absence of criticism is understandable but not excusable. It is understandable because both the people running the school system and those commenting on those running the school system have no idea what they are talking about and could easily believe a standard is a curriculum. Why wouldn’t they? Many seem to believe that closing down schools and mass firings of teachers are somehow great accomplishments.
My fear, bordering on absolute certainty, is that no matter what the real pedagogical value of the Common Core actually is, it will be declared a success. Indeed, it has already been declared so. Unique among federal impositions, contrary to common sense or common decency, there has been no attempt to field-test the Common Core. It is assumed ready to go on arrival. Even, apparently, without a curriculum.
What we are witnessing here is the slow motion creation of a system that is built to be too big to fail. It is built to be too big to fail because there is simply too much money to be made in its implementation. Millions and millions on tests alone. It will generate more tests than have ever been seen before on planet earth. That is not hyperbole. Because of Common Core, writes Diane Ravitch, “Our children shall eat, live and breathe tests, from birth to the end of their education.”
If nothing else the Common Core is a virtual industry on a scale hitherto unknown in American education. We have seen this before, of course in other fields. We have seen it with Goldman Sachs or Fannie Mae or any number of colossi, too big to fail operations that failed anyway and almost brought the entire world down with them. We have just never seen this kind of thing in education before. But then, ours is a time in which there are many, many things we have never seen in education before.
As I write the Common Core is being used to lead children to slaughter. Right behind them are the reputations of teachers and principals and entire schools. If you wish to see the abject contempt in which corporate reformers and their employees in elected office hold our children and our families look no further. If you wish to see children being put very far behind immense corporate profits, look here. If you want to see the opposite of accountability, you’ve come to the right place.
It is a place where what is good for the goose is very, very good indeed for this goose is a very, very golden goose.
And never you mind the gander.