Sunday, April 29, 2012


With the exception of the recent post by a much admired Marion Brady, too much of present critique of standardized testing and VAM has exhibited a surplus of niceness or at least a dispassionate blandness.

Resistance is finally starting to build to the testing epidemic that has been imposed by the Obama Administration; with more than a little assistance from the “let’s kill public education” extremists, and a sleazy corporate oligopoly profiting by perpetuating and even falsifying standardized tests. It can't happen fast enough to keep at least a generation of American youth – those whose parents can't afford private K-12 academies that actually educate, reference Mr. Obama's children and those of our “one percent” – from being turned into rote zombies by inappropriate testing and the curricula it implicitly fosters.

Where Are We?

Not in a good place, and pushback isn't happening fast enough to potentially brake before the cliff.

Saturday's Washington Post, "The Answer Sheet," presents contrasting tones. Stanford Professor of Education Linda Darling-Hammond, an alleged champion of public education, and advisor to Mr. Obama before his election, mechanically repeated the platitudinous squibs well known for over a decade, that income and cultural differences among schools and students have more to do with performance than what are presently being institutionalized as reforms.  Apparently, neither Mr. Obama nor his subsequent attack leader, Mr. Duncan, registered the message, then, or since.

In the same "The Answer Sheet," and contrast, a parent and founder of a Philadelphia parent group, passionately addressed a proposed restructuring of Philadelphia's public schools that is right out of the  corporate playbook, and as meaninglessly hyped as one can get from the public relations flacks. Even with "resistance," the game plan is still on and being brazenly and despotically pursued to privatize America's public schools.

Churned up in a related search, Indiana University's "Center for Evaluation and Education Policy" reported the results of a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the income/culture-performance question, but either shortly before or after this century's turn, inferring that most of the variation in public schools' performances could be statistically linked to demographic, socioeconomic, and cultural attributes of their participants.  Also reported at the old stomping grounds, and also over a decade ago, a meticulous review of research on classroom teaching methods, indicating that little of the experimental results purported to be the definitive "methods" guides for public K-12 classrooms reflected fully defensible research or analytical techniques.

But NCLB, RTTT, and standardized testing have moved the goalposts and improved scoring, right?  Another tidbit reported that hasn't received much attention by its state's press, dated April 2012: "...25 percent of Indiana's students passing its Core 40 testing (Indiana's graduation test) require remedial course work entering postsecondary work."

If that isn't straight enough, continue reading.

The Duncan Disaster

At the top of the present mess is an educationally delusional, politically hardened, or just hypocritical Arne Duncan, who should be removed from the U.S. Department of Education’s head shed, forthwith, and with prejudice.  “The Answer Sheet” recently made the case for impeaching his leadership.  

Naïve Thinking?

A property of virtually all of the critique of standardized testing being floated revolves around the value judgment that it is testing various wrong things – test validity – or that the testing is unreliable.  Legitimate research of the present standardized testing suggests both cases can be made, but the roots of an entire dysfunctional movement, imposed so aggressively and with so little intelligent deliberation, go much deeper than failure or perversion of the psychometrics that allegedly underpin the tests.  One has to start with basic causes.

The first observation will certainly not be popular with many of those in public education finally awakening and registering current reality, that one intent of the testing mechanisms being hustled is to push public K-12 out of the education business. If you are one of those late bloomers, let's be clear, that is one of the goals of some fraction of the shadowy and diverse origins of present testing; the goal is privatization of K-12 in the misguided belief that “markets” will cause competition to perfect our schools.  That naïve view is the alleged wisdom of neoconservatives lacking a functioning cerebral cortex, and arguably any economic education.

What triggered this point of view?  This will also not be appreciated:  What created the present devolution of U.S. K-12 is the broad and historically extended failure of public education self-assessment, and it's teacher feedstock creator, our fumbling schools of education.  Public K-12 has had at least a half century to start understanding learning, moderating the ignorant dependence on deduced "methods” – while neural biology is supplying real answers – and reducing the liberal political correctness that infiltrated virtually every U.S. public school last century. Remedial steps, including reforming curricula, and adopting the organizational knowledge and managerial theories and practices that drive ethical private sector performance and creativity, never made it across the starting line. Those failures – translating into some visible fraction of public education school boards, administrators, and teachers being incompetent, or dogmatic, or wallowing in hubris, or unethical – are what initiated and have fueled the present disaster.  

Somewhere in the shadowy halls and crevices of public sector leadership the belief was formed that public K-12 could or would never reform itself, and that the only Federal tool out there was the test hammer of NCLB, subsequently chosen to flog public K-12 schools and teachers, perpetuating the most simplistic and punitive properties of ESEA.

Beating a Dead Horse?

If this seems pejorative, one only has to observe in real time some of our heartland’s allegedly "excellent" systems based on test scores. One of the more malfeasant systems observed in a decade is in this blog's backyard: Administrative bullies ranging to sociopathic; a school board that is incompetent and perhaps worse; perpetual and naive hype of "excellence" based on allegedly teaching-to-the-tests; a financial officer who has allegedly been "cooking the books" for a decade or more; poorly trained, and even ignorant teachers; obsolete materials, retro technology adoption, and flawed curricula and courses; attempted fraud in a recent levy attempt (which parenthetically failed, a first defeat in this century, suggesting that the wisdom of the crowd is still alive and well, with awareness exceeding that school board's); a decade of extolling sports and nurturing parental delusions and nonsense icons, at the expense of learning; and a decade of evading transparency and even Ohio’s open records and open door laws.  

Is this the public K-12 education it’s worth saving by going to the mat with the USDOE, an Arne Duncan, or a Bill Gates, or with our politicized state education departments and the corporate testing and charter lobbying muscle?  In sophisticated language, Darling-Hammond suggests we simply need to play nice and bring together all of the social/institutional components effecting K-12.  The answer, or a reality deficit?  The conundrum represented, draconian attack of public schools with narrow testing, local debauched public K-12, two-faced Federal leadership, and an electorate with the capacity for strategic time scales and delayed gratification of our 21 year old cat; all challenge finding solutions that can actually advance public U.S. K-12 schools and real learning.

The Infamous Accountability Challenge

Accountability is like “ahhhh, Bach;” who can be against accountability? 

But let’s put it in place where it most effects genuine learning:  Congress kicking the AESA/NCLB can down the trail; moving on to Arne Duncan and an extreme liberal and now operationally nearly despotic U.S. Department of Education; a couple of generations of scattered but embedded incompetent or arrogant/dogmatic public K-12 superintendents and principals; an equivalent swath of incompetent to worse local school boards; some fraction of the products of our schools of education who really are incapable of intellectualism and competent classroom teaching/coaching; let’s not forget the politicized and educationally questionable denizens of many state departments of education; our schools of education hiding on our campuses; the farm-team academics typically producing most K-12 texts, and the corporations aggressively lobbying every state to continue to peddle them; schools misunderstanding and rejecting proper technology adoption; and maybe lastly, let’s not ignore a wide swath of parents clueless or desultory about the full role they are supposed to play in seeing their children educated.

Accountability?  Damn right we need it, but who’s delivering?

The Testing Mysteries

Moving on, the majority critique of alleged standardized testing revolves around its relevance to real learning, then the tests’ specific validity and reliability, each having multiple parts.  All three points are relevant, but peek behind the wizards’ curtains.

Who, specifically, is writing the tests’ questions, based on what logic, with what credentials, supervised by what expertise, with oversight by which subject matter experts, with what inputs from real classrooms, using which psychometric principles, field tested when and where before being rolled-out nationally, and subject to what mechanisms for critique and resolution of test failure or performance distortion?  Who is watching the corporate creators of these multi-billion dollar businesses – the answer of course is no one supported by regulations or with the power to create confidence in what’s being delivered.  Does this scenario conjure an aroma of financial meltdown déjà vu?

Have you ever heard of the JCSEE?  The acronym stands for the "Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation," representing the major national associations that have anything to do with K-12, spanning 18 associations from the American Association of School Administrators to the National School Boards Association.  Since 1988, the JCSEE has for K-12 schools published, and updated every five years:  Personnel Evaluation Standards; Program Evaluation Standards; Student Evaluation Standards; and accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI, that every technical professional will recognize), making those standards “American National Standards.”

Give or take a little Kentucky windage, the current standardized tests being bought with billions of tax dollars, to allegedly metrically gauge manufactured recall and goad teachers, violate virtually every caveat of these standards.  To add insult to injury, the testing, to the extent it is transparent, appears to violate most of the caveats articulated for test design specified by the psychometric literature.  In any discussion of that testing to date, we have yet to hear which theory of measurement, if any, has been used to create the test items:  Item Response Theory, Item Characteristic Curve Theory, Latent Trait Theory, Rasch Model, 2PL Model, 3PL Model, or the Birnbaum Model; all of the above; none of the above?  Listening. 

In fact, we don’t know how these tests are being conceived, or who is by indirection calling out what has become sadly de rigueur by state for all subject matter to be tested, hence learned?  If this is a “black box,” who is defining learning in U.S. K-12 schools, with what logic, with what purpose, with what demonstrated expertise, and by what authority?  Is the game to support our uncontrolled text/test oligopoly of barely visible corporate profit machines, manipulating both what they with uncertified portfolio declare to be knowledge, then enforcing that omniscience by also writing its tests?

If so, fools are determining the contents of U.S. K-12 education.

A small part of the above puzzle was addressed in an April 27 post to The Washington Post’s “The Answer Sheet,” “Pearson and how 2012 standardized tests were designed.”  It is only a partial answer, but on its face already a basis for challenging the entire standardized testing strategy underpinning alleged but seriously flawed reform.

Where the Radical Left Joins the Radical Right, Centrism Isn't the Product, and Everyone Loses

The next issue is the product of literally years of puzzling:  Specifically, why is the Obama Administration in bed with the most zealous enemies of public education?  Who are the players behind closed doors who have executed what tactics, paid what amounts, and used what intimidation or extortion to blend Obama oil and extreme right wing swamp water.

If the argument is this testing and VAM are the only tools available to Federal enforcement under the Constitution, there is at least some logic in the tactics; simultaneously, failure to recognize or callous disregard of present tactics’ unintended consequences is egregious intellectually and ethically.  But the extended question is whether the actions being pushed by Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan actually represent an extreme liberal delusion that was never subjected to proper vetting?  How is what is being inflicted on U.S. public education by this Administration any less destructive than how public K-12 brought down its own house, or the educational Darwinism advocated by the worst of political and educational retrograde thinking on the right?

Lastly, by failing to challenge the National Governors Association, and short-circuit CCSSI perversion of knowledge standards to ramp up ignorant state testing and curriculum options, the Administration has set up virtually all K-12 to be nickel-and-dimed into strategic mediocrity and reversion to a past century.  The stupidity of state actions is already being unfolded, for example, just launching in state bully-driven and retrogressing K-12 in Indiana and Ohio, even while nationally protests are building to cease the testing blitz.

A Small, Still Material Unintended Consequence, and a Huge One

There are multiple negatives strewn across the U.S. by the present manipulation and dissembling being called reform, most already called out by our best students of K-12 history and prospect.  Today's "The Answer Sheet" notes another unintended consequence:  Discouraging students from challenging themselves and choosing higher level courses when they may have fewer normal grade implications, if the course test results are factored into rating their teachers.

The huge one, however,  that has not received attention is the consequence of the diversion of attention, intellect, and energy to firefights on testing, versus addressing an educational tsunami:  Playing political or utopian games with last century’s bases for learning, while those very conceptual bases are undergoing massive transformation.

Churning just beneath the surface of applicability is a mushrooming universe of technologies and expanded knowledge bought with the R&D investments of the last half-century. What the philosopher terms knowledge, and pragmatically new understanding are changing core beliefs of how everything works, universe to elementary particles through individual human and social behavior, and aggregating and doubling at a rate exceeding Moore's law*.  We are already at the boundary – primarily effecting secondary education, but inching toward the baccalaureate level – where what we've assumed for over a half-century can be trimmed or surveyed and introduced in 7-12 or 9-12, simply won't fit anymore.  Indeed, unless there is a sea change in the re-education of K-12 teachers, or rethinking the seat-time model, or rethinking even the entire basis of pre-postsecondary education, the whole alleged learning package becomes retro smoke and mirrors.

You either craft a new theory of what K-12 and especially 9-12 should be, or the subject matter obsolescence of what issues in future U.S. classrooms or any of its external complements, and as presently tested, is not just useless but destructive of this society’s economic growth and sustainability. Present “reform” of U.S. public K-12 is stomping on educational ants and unfairly many teachers, while Mr. Obama pontificates, and while rogue elephants trash the public classroom, real learning, and the American educational future, pun intended.

*Footnote:  In the 26 April 2012 issue of the world science journal, Nature, neuroscience author, science journal publisher, and professor Michael Shermer, as part of a book review noted:

"It has been estimated that, from the beginning of civilization -- 5,000 years ago or more -- until 2003, humanity created a total five exabytes (billion gigabytes) of information.  From 2003 to 2010, we created this amount every two days.  By 2013 we will be doing so every ten minutes, exceeding within hours all the information contained in all books ever written."  He concludes:  "...the mountain of facts is now so vast that we cannot hope to learn, let alone remember, them."

Thus, it just makes sense to repeat last century's production model of education; memorize facts, with disconnected fragments of knowledge, and flog with standardized tests, that engender no questions nor creativity?  Add that future manufacturing may more nearly resemble 3-D printing.  America's thrust for its future?  Well, not so much.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012



From:       Ronald Willett <>
Subject:    Duncan/USDOE
Date:        April 23, 2012 12:43:39 PM EDT
Cc:           Arne Duncan <


TO:       Edunation Distribution
CC:       The White House
DATE:  April 24, 2012 
SUBJ:   SQUINTS Postscript

Good morning.  

If there is an argument why Arne Duncan shouldn't be removed as U.S. Secretary of Education, and promptly while there is some vestige of due process left in American K-12 oversight, a pair of communications challenges the case.

Today's post in The Washington Post, "The Answer Sheet," by Mary Broderick, president of the National School Boards Association (and in the vanguard of the traditional education establishment), addresses the question of present reform and testing dysfunction in a letter to Mr. Obama.  The query is temperate and refined:

The following 4/23/2012 citation, addressing implicitly the U.S. Department of Education's and Mr. Duncan's dishonesty and demagoguery, trashes any argument: 

Mr. Duncan has demonstrated autocracy, hypocrisy, and educational incompetence, in sourcing peremptory and counterproductive K-12 education dogma, in an Administration that can ill afford to impose more top-down requirements on this nation's public schools that need to restore creativity and genuine learning.

The true origins, and diverse motivations flogging the present standardized testing/VAM epidemic remain shrouded.  The strategic consequences of present tactics, however, are clear to any thinking student of education, and even if unintended, carry the potential for setting back genuine U.S. K-12 learning, knowledge creation, and creativity analogically on some scale with the prior Bush Administration's economic destruction.

This USDOE performance, reflecting some alternate ideology as dysfunctional as that being floated by the NGA and extreme political right wing, and arguably complicit with a profit-driven to unethical corporate test oligopoly, and charter scams, may even add to the case for denying Mr. Obama a second term.


   Ron Willett

Saturday, April 21, 2012


TO:      Valerie Strauss, “The Answer Sheet,” The Washington Post

SUBJ:  Preaching to the choir?

As an active social science researcher for decades, an observation that took almost that long to mature is that explanation starts with perceived and frequently naïve simplicity, logistically moves to complexity as interacting mechanisms of cause and effect and concomitancy are revealed, then as robust theory emerges, trends again toward simplicity. 

Mountains of rhetoric are being expended to try to make the current public K-12 reform tactics and allegedly standardized testing appear sophisticated and righteous, to sell the gullible it is complex and meaningful, and to promote the alleged magic of markets; or create imagery that invoking longitudinal measurement, or citing a model, or chanting pyschometrician connotes understanding and test relevance (witness "the talking pineapple").

The issue is that sell-job, sometimes simply educational ignorance, can also be a deliberate attempt to deceive the untutored. Presently with the topics K-12 and standardized testing, it has become malevolent and deception; and a large swath of America’s parents, voters, politicians, even its educators are being deceived. The elementary function and learning narrowness of present standardized testing, being billed as K-12 education’s reform silver bullet, become tacitly accepted as state-of-art and fact.

Not politically correct, but too many of America’s citizens and parents – challenged by present dysfunctional politics, U.S. economic woes, and youth on new trajectories – have been steered to view public K-12 education focused on, instead of learning performance, school sports, mascots, inter-community competition based on school bricks & mortar, school protocols, paranoia about their progeny’s self-esteem, and specious omniscience of superintendents and school boards. Many view K-12 only through the filter of their own past experiences or local culture.  The knowledge, technology, and even literacy can be missing to challenge propaganda from a politically subservient state department of education, or an uncomprehending but dogmatic school administration, or headlined in a sycophant local press.

Human fallibility can make the “big lie” seem more attractive than the truth, tapping the demonstrated capacity of the human brain to create its own reality consistent with personal beliefs.  It is a sour commentary on American maturity as a nation and a society that the above technique has become an operating tactic of its politics, governance, and now public K-12 reform hyperbole.

“The Answer Sheet” plus other Washington Post blogs offer arguably the best national coverage of contemporary K-12 education issues.  But as multiple professional and truly knowledgeable bloggers writing there have observed, the messages seem to bounce off U.S. policy makers and self-proclaimed experts driving America’s K-12 reform epidemic.  Even in the District, the messages delivered by a Diane Ravitch and peers, by award-winning teachers, and by accomplished school administrators appear ignored.  As presented in your recent post, “Education reform protests pick up steam,” some broader awareness beyond education resources is emerging, but the total count might not elect more than a few metropolitan school boards.

A reasonable hypothesis is that the Post has attracted to this feature readers who are already knowledgeable about primary and secondary education, and about the discoveries and technologies of the last several decades that should be shaping school learning strategies.  Critically, they are also likely more aware of the potential strategic downstream impact on a generation of youth exposed overwhelmingly to fragmented and undigested material being imposed on our classrooms by present testing, literally being made those classrooms' raison d’être.

This week’s post from Alabama, “Testing day: ‘More like lockdown than an elementary school’,” has the ambience of George Orwell’s 1984.  The destruction of genuine K-12 learning and knowledge creation from a distorted and naive conception of reform may even be an unintended consequence of present tactics, but it is a consequence its proponents appear too ideologically, politically, or profit-driven to ethically note or trigger pause.

What is perplexing is that those in positions of leadership with the power to amend the present trajectory, and who arguably are smarter than most, have expressed total indifference to the unintended consequences of present tactics, or have demonstrated egregious hypocrisy.  Or as Diane Ravitch pointed out in another post, about Michele Rhee, they may be driven more by self-promotion than altruism.  Perhaps, as in the case of the Obama Administration, and an Arne Duncan, the extreme liberal dogma and social entrepreneurship driving their vision of reform, focused on some utopian universal classroom equity, simply overwhelm good leadership and even common sense?  

Limited broad public comprehension of the diverse motivations driving present alleged K-12 reform, many buried or disguised, presents a dilemma.

Because of the pattern of most media coverage of K-12 reform issues, a reasonable assertion is that most of our media also lack the awareness of the technology of learning to fully understand the standardized testing issues, what is being installed by literally every politicized state department of education, by a NGA, by profit-driven corporate market aggression, much less offer critique.  Without greater mass communications coverage, given near cluelessness of the majority of U.S. citizens about the real K-12 action underway, you have a formidable roadblock to slowing alleged school reform.

Our states – Ohio’s education oversight has become a corrupted and destructive example, littered with failed charters and financial improprieties – using glowing language are acclaiming the present testing as the solution to needed U.S. public education reconstruction, doubling-down on bubble tests, creating elaborate rating schemes for their systems, labeling and misrepresenting those schemes to appear indicative of learning quality.  But stripped of the verbiage the issue is narrow, simple, and venal – the testing being employed is misinformed, detached from the thinking classroom, naïve, punitive, and based on test designs with psychometric roots*, but not measuring extensible learning.  Hypothetically, the only thing that might change that arguably political partisanship motivating many states’ testing prosecution is the reality of a bipartisan voter revolt. 

There is even reason to believe that a disturbingly large percent of especially rural and smaller community superintendents, principals, and teachers actually buy that the present standardized testing blitz will advance U.S. public K-12 education.  Repetitively, public systems' pronouncements suggest limited awareness that they are under attack, and that present testing is the weapon of choice.  Too many public systems continue to dismiss self-assessment, and fail living within budgets, fecklessly chasing more levies, affirming their critics.  That is the unfortunate status of much public K-12 hidden from wider viewing accorded selected urban systems and genuinely quality public systems that do get elevated press coverage.

Lastly, what should be embarrassing America’s private sector, is either the ignorance, or awareness matched with ethical degeneracy, that describes the dubious corporate brain trust on the right, supporting the present attempted destruction of U.S. public K-12 schools to install charters, and slavish pursuit of profits from perpetuating the testing scams. 

As a former B-school professor, that is not how our markets should operate; generations of management scholars have offered value systems, strategic logic, and organizational learning that can balance the profit motive and social responsibility, seemingly a vacuum in present thinking.  Even the most basic premise of a sustainable business system – delivering output that meets genuine consumer needs – is being perverted by our test oligopoly.  That isn’t the creativity, entrepreneurship, and market dynamism rational conservatives perpetually extol.

The bottom line, a small army of knowledgeable students of education, most with credentials that eclipse those held by an Arne Duncan and other names that frequent reform (mis)reporting, have been shut out of the reform debate.  Indeed, dystopian, the public square has been suppressed and censored, there has been no debate, and the standardized testing mechanisms driving alleged reform were imposed without logical or scientific pretesting.

“The Answer Sheet” has been offering thoughtful answers to what needs to be curtailed, and what needs to actually be changed to put America’s public K-12 schools back on course – but few except for the choir appear to be listening and comprehending the sermon.

*Note:  One of the more egregious effects of present test design occurs because designers must choose questions to force large variance in responses, to create discrimination among test-takers.  In the case of this application of large population measurement, it means questions designed to spread responses, or to test for facts that may not be uniformly available from relevant instruction, or questions unethically designed to create broad failure to perpetuate the market, or questions that just reflect designer bias or ignorance as depicted by the "talking pineapple."  This may be commercially acceptable or do minimal harm, for example, in marketing research where consumer preferences are being sought, and the application of results is to classify or stratify markets.  But applied to K-12 education, and high stakes testing, where students’, teachers’, and even schools’ futures are on the line, it represents out-of-control technocracy with questionable ethics.

Saturday, April 14, 2012



The following post is a modified repeat of the prior sequel to "Fourteen reasons..."  It focuses, amends, and further details proposals that might represent actual reform of U.S. K-12 schools, versus the present menu of punitive standardized testing, and replacement of public schools with privatized education and charter schools.

4/15/2012 Post

In a prior post in The Washington Post, “The Answer Sheet,” “Fourteen reasons schools are troubled (and no, it’s not all about teachers),” it was asserted that U.S. classroom teachers are neither unilateral cause of classroom learning success nor the controlling factor in impeding K-12 learning performance.  Following are thirteen strategies -- and one lament -- for addressing those issues, offered not as ideals, but to provoke debate. 

No one in our public policy halls of power apparently wants to hear applause for anything beyond standardized testing and VAM, and more test business for the corporate oligopoly of Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Wireless Corporation, et al.  But neither set is arguably part of a strategic K-12 reform solution.

The reality is genuine K-12 school reform is systemic, multidimensional, and evolutionary, each of those concepts having extensive operational contents.  It is not channeling Ayn Rand and emulating chimeric dogma.  Neither the odd couple of ideologically diverse reformers huddled in the same space capsule, nor the back-room horde of standardized test designers, nor VAM modelers and consultants, nor a Bill Gates, should be permitted to unilaterally shape U.S. K-12 reform.

Potential Solutions

Only schools as systems can craft sustainable organizational and related performance change.  The present reform movement won’t get you there.  For debate, proposed strategies for changing the game:

Let the Competitive Games Begin?

Two major arguments are offered for present tactics:  The market, if allowed to work, will drive out poor performing schools and lift all K-12 ships; and if enough pressure is put on schools, teachers, and even children driven by fear of reprisal, vilification, or dismissal, the quality of learning and its universality will automatically improve.

The assumption that markets will function “efficiently,” and competition will mediate excesses and abuses is a grossly naïve view of economic theory as it plays out in real-world markets.  Brand substitution is constrained by location; entry and exit are restricted; product utilities are complex, socially mediated, and time-referenced; the price mechanism is either disabled or institutionalized, and reflects virtually the opposite of classic diminishing marginal utility.

In managerial terms, the standardized testing crowd is not big on Douglas McGregor and “Theory X Theory Y,” or the argument that learning and knowledge don’t come bite-sized, packaged in one flavor.  The private sector regularly demonstrates that Theory Y and participative management work, and drive creativity.

The false premise, that markets and Adam Smith can or will mediate the multi-layered and socially complex system of U.S. K-12 education, its governance and development adjudicated by the buffeting of an "invisible hand," needs to be scrapped.  Our schools aren't intended to produce interchangeable "widgets" although standardized testing may be closing the gap.

What Isn't Known Beggars What's Assumed

We actually know less about most of our K-12 public schools than is known about U.S. households.  Execute a national benchmark census of U.S. K-12 schools, with uniform categories of questions and data, to provide a baseline assessment of status and need.  Utopian?  The decennial U.S. Census manages to assess over 117MM households; there are roughly 100,000 schools.  We are hammering K-12 education wearing a blindfold.

Support But Reinvent Teachers

As reported in a recent post by educator Anthony Cody, there has been a 15-point decline in teacher satisfaction in the last two years – driven by increases in U.S. poverty, but also arguably exacerbated by the haphazard punitive effects of VAM teacher assessment – that may make teachers an endangered species within the decade.

A half-baked “Teach for America” won’t fill that hole.  What might both stop the exodus, and build a new American teaching corps, are reforms of U.S. schools of education, and a sea change in the manner teachers are perceived in the U.S. – throttle some American exceptionalism, and use Finland’s model as at least a values’ guide.

Eliminate the bachelor's degree in education; require for a master's in education an acceptable bachelor's degree in a discipline of the intended teaching venue.  This deficit has been on the table for decades in U.S. schools of education, untouched.  The result is the goal of a Teach for America, but properly executed.

Lastly, rethink and revisit earlier proposed initiatives to make it easier for already accomplished professionals and even retirees to enter K-12 teaching.  That concept had started to gain some traction, but has been starved by state education bureaucracies seemingly intent on blocking entry to the K-12 sorority/fraternity.

Education and Certification for Administration

Few K-12 school administrators have been trained to manage anything, primarily because U.S. schools of education have barely discovered management as both B-schools and sophisticated practice have refined it.

Require to assume superintendent responsibilities, the EdD or PhD, plus two years of internship as an administrator under the direction of a certified administrator, plus a certification peer review based on national standards for school leadership.

Require in the above work neural psychology, organizational behavior and development – from an accredited B-school or school of public administration, as well as upgraded thesis or alternative experience emphasizing classroom research capability and technology applicable to the classroom.

Testing -- No One is Advocating Eliminating the Right Brand

Launch a major research effort to develop and validate assessment instruments beyond present standardized testing, and from the get-go key that testing to digital capabilities.  Phase out most present standardized testing. Return to human gestalt assessment of classrooms, and shift strategy to a TQM (total quality management) and process control quality assurance logic, plus the few properly constructed summative tests to maintain national assessments of progress.

Revisit the prescient work of Harvard's Howard Gardner, the critiques by Diane Ravitch, and the testing scholarship of Harvard's Daniel Koretz.  

Pedagogy & Classrooms

Return to the prior U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) strategy of researching what pragmatically works in the classroom, with a national program of mandated K-12 school involvement in such research.  Make controlled school and classroom experiments of alternative pedagogies a standard of both administrative and teacher performance.

Estrangement of education research from the real world is endemic; for grants starting mid-2011 to mid-2102, just for education research related to STEM, the National Science Foundation lists 50 individual grants totaling over $48MM – a few pass the “sniff test” for practical effect. 

Meanwhile the USDOE program, “Doing What Works,” has just announced, nationally, a massive six grants, none to a school system proper, totaling perhaps less than $.5MM.  Some of these were to education service centers or their equivalent – in this blog’s home state some of the most corrupt education bureaucracies going – where those dollars will produce little beyond more bureaucracy.

Make an arm of an aggressively reformed USDOE the focal point for coordinating a national assessment of U.S. schools of education, creating standards for products, and being a catalyst for education schools' periodic review and certification.

As a dystopian reform movement has unfurled, critique of both testing and learning protocols has taken on the ambience of drinking from a fire-hose, but frequently short on scholarship.  An example is the critique of "constructivism," an anti-"standardized testing" vaccine.  The issue is, as in virtually all cases of pedagogy, context is critical.  In the specific case, constructivism isn't a nostrum for all learning, but needs to be tailored to stage of learning and its context.  In contrast, examples such as "reform math," and Indiana's "IREAD-3" testing logic, evoke the sense of intellect interrupted, to be generous.

Lastly, the drumbeat about tests, teachers, and classrooms has drowned out the 21st century issue that seat time and the traditional classroom may be on the verge of obsolescence.  An unintended consequence of the standardized test-based reform binge, the question of what future schools, and more effective teacher-school-student-parent links should be has been shoved to the back-burner?  These issues need to return to the head of the class.

Communication and Interaction

Create multiple online networks for K-12 teachers, allowing exchanges of experiences, ideas, techniques, attitudes, opinions, and beliefs without censorship.  Model self-help online offerings via the USDOE program and site, “Doing What Works,” after cleaning up its act. Add to that site online social networking programs to engage more of America’s parents, with contents scaled to parental interests.

Local School Boards

There are at least fifteen widely cited opportunities for reform of selection and operations of local school boards, and on the table for decades, but not pursued by the states; mandate pursuit of those changes by states as part of any Federal funding for K-12 education.


Turn all present charters into essentially private K-12 schools, allowing phasing out of present tax-based funding; simultaneously, establish in every state effective oversight of present charters to enforce the same standards being applied to public schools, including prohibition of selectivity in enrolling students at any level.  Ongoing research and media disclosure suggest – excepting some excellently managed chains of charters – that episodic charter takeovers are educationally underperforming and producing fiscal improprieties.  Ohio’s stealth program to install charters has resulted in their occupying the bottom of the education performance barrel, even using the State’s own challenged rating system, and recently revealed millions of dollars given to failed and discontinued schools.

As in other examples of U.S. market-based enterprise, it may take “chain” scales for charters to attract the quality of management and exhibit the scale efficiencies needed to excel.

Driving Public K-12 Reform

A first proposal is that U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan be removed from the driver's seat of K-12 education reform, before it is driven by naive standardized testing into a crater without an exit ramp.  Mr. Duncan may have all of the instincts for social altruism and entrepreneurship, but as the New York Times' David Brooks pointed out this week, "...important issues always spark disagreement.  Unless there is a healthy political process to resolve disputes, the ensuing hatred and conflict will destroy everything the altruists are trying to build."

Additionally, Mr. Duncan's tenure has been associated with:  The failure of intellect to understand the systemic and strategic nature of public K-12, or what the naive testing motif will ultimately reap; repetitive hypocrisy in giving lip service to proper evaluation and supporting public education but doing the opposite; and the credibility of that altruism by allowing a cadre of corporate profiteering and manipulation, and personal agendas and demagoguery to kidnap alleged reform.
There is a strong argument that what are emerging as the products of Mr. Duncan's reform fantasies -- widespread cheating, undercutting public education, states' slavish and unquestioning adoption of narrow testing for dollars or NCLB relief, charter scandals and theft of tax dollars, unethical defamation and dismissal of teachers from VAM, and an unknown future epidemic adult learning deficit -- constitute both necessary and sufficient condition for seeking new USDOE leadership.
The second proposal for remediation would require every public K-12 system to be partnered with some U.S. college or university generally in its state, that institution having the power to form “boards of visitors,” with the authority to periodically visit, require full transparency, and assess a system’s strategic plans for change and performance against those targets.  Peripherally, it also would help to address the long-standing critique of the chasm between secondary education and postsecondary work.

Curricula -- What Gets Tested Gets Featured -- View Cart Pulling Horse

There has been a quickening of rhetoric about K-12 curricula since the publication of the so-called Common Core Standards (CCSSI), initiated by the NGA (National Governors Association).  Are these alleged standards a step forward for U.S. K-12 education?

To most casual viewers of education’s current dystopia, and apparently our media, the initiative may appear a rare instance of American solidarity in an otherwise partisan period of our history.  The standards must represent consensus of our best and brightest in every relevant subject matter discipline, and based on the media hype, U.S. knowledge crème-de-la-crème?  Well, not so much, in addition to reflecting the major inputs from Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Bill Gates, et al., objective and disinterested players?

The NGA, billing itself as “bipartisan,” is not, guided heavily by conservative staffing and other organizations that have been identified as part of the so-called corporate reform movement.  Perhaps the most distressing – and illuminating – indicator of the origins of the CCSSI, and the biases reflected in the NGA, is the repetitive statement on the NGA website that the Federal government (we assume including the U.S. Department of Education) had nothing to do with the creation or validation of the standards, and further, overt advocacy there be no Federal input in either the implementation or oversight of their use in the states by our K-12 schools.

Whether one philosophically believes in common K-12 standards or not, the CCSSI alleged K-12 standards, how they were contrived by NGA, their adoption by most of our states without critique, and the abdication of the U.S. Department of Education, may represent a new low point in America’s K-12 intellectual integrity.

Solutions are challenging, implying now literally educational warfare between our states (at least as represented by NGA) and Federalism, even when sense favors the latter.
There are in this nation multiple bodies of competent discipline experts, both academic and in areas where knowledge is applied, who have the genuine competence to assemble needed learning standards for K-12. One solution is a consortium of representation from the professional bodies and organizations that set the criteria for U.S. and even world knowledge and serve by consent as its oversight; for example, AAAS.  Created and promoted, competent knowledge (not methods) standards could push the politicized artifice of CCSSI off the table before it further debases American K-12 education.

Technology Is Everywhere, Except K-12 Classrooms

There are public K-12 schools that have shown leadership in integrating digital technologies into their classroom practice, some likely as advanced as our technology creators.  But, assessing the entire population of U.S. K-12 schools, using sociologist Everett Rogers’ construct for describing the diffusion of innovation, an assertion is that the vast majority of those schools and their leaderships are either “late adopters” or “laggards.”

The insanity of this posture is that digital technology and STEM, in addition to being the additional languages of our world, are perhaps the premier hopes for America’s thrust to recapture historical levels of creation of new product and service utilities and their growth factor as economic stimulus.

Bottom lines are:  That much U.S. public K-12 leadership is not only ignorant of contemporary technologies that might assist learning, but also either fearful of such exposure and deflecting it, or dogmatically denying its materiality; and that to date when many products reflecting such technology have been employed in K-12, they have been layered on top of existing rubrics rather than recognized as calling for ground-up rethinking of how learning can be enhanced or even redesigned by the usage.

Integrating digital technologies with K-12 curricula and into both classrooms and non-classroom delivery should be one of the prime directives for the Department of Education, not the misguided and utopian attempts to use K-12 education to address U.S. social injustice – make technology integration a core mission.

Congress -- Solution or Problem?
The elephants in the room – America’s increasingly lopsided income distribution, finding political sanity in Congress but even in local cultures, and greater parental awareness of the potential malpractice in their local school systems – go beyond what can simply be referenced as subject to “fixes.”  They are tectonic drift compared to problem solving at an organizational level, manifestations of increasingly disparate cultural shifts in American life that beggar the imagination, with implications of cumulative failed K-12 education for decades.

In a recent editorial, a national pundit in commenting on NCLB change, and noting the Act’s increasing attention and criticism, observed that those factors damn its correction in Congress – the “hot button” quality promptly sends the U.S. Congress into its foxholes.

Solutions?  There appear none in the present political morass; a lame duck with a nine percent approval rating in a poisoned partisan pond, where the busy paddling under the water is mostly by lobbyists.

Parts Are Parts?

The above prescriptions -- compared to standardized testing and VAM teacher assessments being promulgated as K-12 education's "silver bullets" -- are strategies, but still discrete concepts.  Basically changing U.S. K-12 performances might be more effectively expressed and understood by viewing our states' funding of education, their structures for facilitating education, means of providing and qualifying school administration and teachers, and oversight, as a problem in general systems theory.

The beginnings of a systemic approach to understanding K-12 appeared in the latter decades of last century, but never reached a high level of maturity or widespread awareness before the alternative vision of forcing overall change in our public schools emerged as a political rather than a functional or technical imperative.  NCLB arguably squelched many such efforts that might have been embryonic at the onset of this century.

One provocative area of inquiry is the organization model for our K-12 institutions, essentially unchanged since their emergence as the present public school model.  Tantalizing, in that century, organization theory, understanding of human interaction, organizational designs, motivation and management of human resources, technological linkages with human performance, and now even core neural biological understanding of how learning works have undergone a revolution, or even successive revolutions. Organization of our K-12 schools by and large remains a petrified forest, and the basic format of K-12 organizational design needs to be re-imagined.

Cultures and Mindsets

Genuine and sustainable remediation for K-12 will require strategic time scales and culture changes, the latter something that can never happen without broad-based professional and citizen willingness to do the hardest intellectual chore they may encounter in a lifetime -- confront and challenge their own assumptions and beliefs.

Monday, April 9, 2012


In an appearance in a D.C. classroom, Arne Duncan called: "... education the civil rights issue of the 21st century."  The occasion was surprising D.C. Teacher of the Year Stephanie Day in her charter school classroom; Ms Day, in turn, appraising her move from a bachelor's degree in sociology to teacher courtesy of Teach for America, noted that originally she:  "... never intended to use the classroom to fight social injustice."

Education Implies Learning?

Let's be clear.  The whole complex of U.S. education, from early childhood exposure through our collegiate institutions, then beyond via adult education and development, has the mission of equipping the nation to make good choices across the spectrum of life’s decisions; and yes, to strive for some optimal patterns of social justice by providing minimum delivery of learning opportunity.  The issues are, does that happen in quick time, in a simplistic even bone-headed conception of classroom cause-effect, is it a matter of memorizing de facto trivia, can it be mandated, or can it be installed by adopting and making bubble testing its delivery mechanism?  Education may be a necessary ingredient for normative social justice, but is it sufficient?

Is the true overarching purpose of the present aggressive and test-based alleged reform of public K-12 as it is being imposed, erasing perceived social injustice rather than addressing composite national learning deficits, and is that what is driving the present tactics being imposed by the Obama Administration and Mr. Duncan's diligent, even prosecutorial fanaticism?

It doesn't take rocket science to infer there are major flaws in the isolated or even primary use of K-12 schools and standardized testing as tactical instruments to erase U.S. social injustice, if erase can ever be used as a descriptor of changing inevitability in any complex society short of Aristophanes' utopian “Cloud Cuckoo Land.”

Testing is the Fix?

As of today, the nation manifests domestic social injustice, in no particular order, in: Racial profiling and deaths in Florida and Oklahoma, ALEC, corporations that allegedly "are people" but deny the responsibilities of citizenship, Citizens United's Super PAC sequela, strip searches, subjugation of women, TSA, Ryan’s budget, branding structurally and still cyclically unemployed workers irresponsible while chopping training dollars, non-regulated financial markets, dogmatic climate change deniers, viral political partisanship, voting in Minnesota, Wisconsin's Scott Walker, widespread voting roadblocks for blacks, religious overreach, Arizona, lack of immigration reform, Detroit, healthcare overall, Indiana and Mitch Daniels' "misplaced" one-half billion dollars, the values of "the 1%," Augusta National, SCOTUS when it is in session, the present U.S. Congress even when it’s not in session, and the list goes on.

Given the above as perspective, targeting a public K-12 education system of approximately one-hundred thousand schools and 3.5 million teachers, that was still passably working – though in need of housecleaning and repair – with dystopian testing as the centerpiece of tactical eradication of social injustice, connotes shallow to vacuous educational understanding and public policy incompetence.  Indeed, viewed from any distance, it suggests severe liberal perceptual distortion – the anti-Ayn Rand, and as chimerical as its reciprocal fiction – or a monstrous political vendetta against public education, or ironically both?

Systemic – Which Word is Misunderstood?

As a process, K-12 education is a broad and slow-acting variable in inducing changes in social status, income generation, acting out civic responsibilities, and delivering a quality of life.  If any variable impacting a society could ever be classified as strategic, education certainly qualifies.  By the same token, the changes in any education complex as massive as the U.S., and as diverse, are going to have to be multidimensional, systemic, and evolutionary. 

It may be ego satisfying and propaganda to waltz into selected inner-city systems and wave the magic wand of Teach for America, or apply the standardized test and VAM hammer to a classroom, or hang out thousands of teachers to twist in the wind based on flawed testing projecting that the bottom of the barrel might opt out, but that is not how large-scale systems or processes work or achieve excellence.

It may come as a surprise to Washington's education establishment that America’s K-12 issues aren’t limited to inner-city schools or challenged sub-cultures, and don’t disappear when you add money.  Some of the most intellectually mediocre schools in the nation are in our heartland, many even flush with levy dollars, but populated by poorly trained or programmed teachers, ignorant or worse administrators, with mixed board oversight, doing more indoctrination than education, using sports as a community narcotic, and powered by last century’s knowledge and rubrics. Present standardized testing won't change those conditions, and now even rewards such systems because of cheating on that testing.

Drilling deeper, children receiving less than optimal educational product in culturally challenged and low income population clusters, generally receive that performance because of cluster poverty.  Charters or firing teachers in those classrooms may mitigate a few of the social factors that ripple though those sub-populations and impede childhood learning, but the fundamentals of systems hamstrung by poverty, school funding, and local control won't be nudged by ad hoc fixes and tests. 

The separation of control of K-12 education from national goals is not news, nor are the funding constraints introduced by state and city spending priorities, just national conversation not politically correct because of beliefs and partisanship.  Finland’s school success isn’t magic; it is the product of a national view and policy, not impeded by 50 states with varying fiscal values, education mismanagement, political manipulation, bizarre belief sets that deny science and intellectual achievement, and willing to follow a Federal mandate off a cliff for dollars.

Tactics Versus Cognition

Lastly, the downright asinine:  Tactically attacking the wrong end of the K-12 learning model with corporately devised standardized tests of material that falls short of real learning and knowledge, in the surreal belief that precipitating failing schools and teachers, and threatening them with extinction or replacement will ignite changes in schools’ and teachers’ sustainable performances – or suddenly erase social injustice.  The model is the opposite of all views of the genesis of useful human behavior, of every managerial view of organizational behavior that works, denies the definitions of true learning and knowledge creation, and fails every test of how sustainable societal changes are achieved.  

Thus far the “K-12 reform" fielded has primarily created multiple forms of cheating by schools, corporate profits and test manipulation, profiteering and failing charters, defamed quality teachers, promoted intellectually qualified but nascent teachers not ready for prime time, rewarded drill and memorization over cognition, catalyzed a bizarre NGA-based parody of common curricula, is accruing a huge national opportunity cost, and has alienated an entire profession by bureaucratic imposition while dispatching little social injustice, perhaps creating some.  The reform/testing defender usually responds with the “testing versus atrophy,” or "don't you want teachers accountable" arguments, distortion qua simplistic thinking, and asserts that misreads of domestic issues can’t happen at this level because of the intellect and wisdom of national leadership.

Can anyone decode “GSA?”  The question has to be asked:  Where is the Obama Administration actually going with the present reform tactics, what is the end game, is there any strategy at all, for it isn't improving U.S. K-12 learning per the overwhelming majority of legitimate K-12 education scholars and professionals?  Challenging “judicial activism” while perpetrating destructive “educational activism” adds to the hypocrisy already surrounding present K-12 reform rhetoric from above.

Good job, Arne!

Mr. Duncan’s fanaticism, inability to think or move beyond tracked talking points, repetitive hypocrisy, misunderstanding of either systems’ behavior, or human behavior, or of managerial concepts that produce solid performance and creativity, and ties to Gates and others seeking privatization of American K-12 education or pursuing personal agendas, strongly suggest he be replaced as Secretary of Education and the Department's missions reassessed.

The present model for U.S. K-12 school reform – if it primarily represents misdirected and misconfigured attempted social reform – has all the ambience of bombing public K-12 education into submission or out of existence to eradicate those nefarious educational WMD – cognition, constructivism, creativity, reflection, individuality, intellectualism, seeing work as hard fun, gateway to a path to wisdom, and paradoxically, the progenitors of social awareness.