Sunday, June 10, 2012


This is a brief detour from a series about U.S. higher education; call it an epilogue to SQUINTS K-12 after a year and 50 blogs.  It was prompted by reflection stimulated after a brief retreat from the challenge of weekly K-12 posts, and by the confluence of a series of blog and article posts this week.


The most effective media critic of the present maniacal path of public K-12 reform, arguably the genesis of a potential testing bubble mimicking our housing and financial debacles, has been The Washington Post, especially "The Answer Sheet" guided by WP's Valerie Strauss.  That feature has attracted posts by a blue-ribbon cadre of thoughtful educators, providing counterpoint to the propaganda machines being funded and manipulated by a Duncan, Gates, Rhee, Klein, Kopp, and sundry other players seemingly more highly motivated by self-promotion, or ideologies, or greed, than systemic K-12 awareness and true national need.

This week's “The Answer Sheet” produced four posts that capture some of the insanity of the present reform mentality.  They are linked as follows: Some candor about our students; the widening gyre; useless standardized tests; and why charters are not an answer.  Two more items came from the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science, and publisher of the definitive U.S. science journal, Science), on the challenges in teaching in the U.S. both evolution and climate science; juxtaposed against frequent public commitment to ignorance, mythology and religious and other demagoguery.

Ideally, the above citations should be read before proceeding.  Rhetoric continues to swirl around this real life educational "game of thrones," but those with the lead seem impervious to reason, refusing even the objectivity to entertain content or an alternative view that conflicts with their rationalizations for actions.  Some practicing in the public K-12 venue jump to denial, refusing even the possibility of addressing issues that represent any risk from even acknowledgment.  Comparatively, for those who practice or have practiced at a high level in the private sector, and taken the risks that accompany accepting hard targets, plus change and creative strategies to meet them, public K-12 education's spineless or self-righteous retreat from invention or change explains though it may not justify the contempt evoked in the private sector. The issue is that contempt is motivationally driving present corporate reform initiatives and dollars harder than concern for America's future learning.

Ready or Not – Twenty Questions

If you've read the above links, the following questions will not be surprising. Whether any force or coalition will be capable of countering what psychologist Irving Janis pioneered as an explanation that fits the current K-12 reform mentality -- "groupthink" and its effects in present reform -- is another issue.

The questions:  

Why is K-12 "reform" in the U.S. now the province of a sub rosa army of right wing corporate advocates and lobbyists reflecting educational ignorance, drive for profits, or twisted ideology, or even managerial ignorance?  Is this a perceived vendetta owed public education because it is assumed to represent "liberal social views breeding Democrats?" (Parenthetically, a large swath of public K-12 is so retro and reactionary that our corporate raiders are in essence sacrificing their own kind.)

Why have America's teachers been targeted as the apex of alleged accountability, when genuine accountability, the 360 degree imperative, should start with public K-12 education bureaucrats and administrators, ranging from many poorly trained and self-centric through genuine sociopaths, all lacking effective board oversight?

Why have our teachers' unions suddenly turned into meek recluse, going to ground instead of being the source of countervailing power protecting what has become a discriminated and persecuted teacher minority?  (One may argue that America's teachers' unions bested even public K-12 in refusing to read the room, and know when to become a partner with K-12 reform rather than its enemy.  The current political caucus is calling for elimination of all public sector unions, on the heels of Wisconsin's recall outcome.  Sounds good to all the union-busters, but without the countervailing power of, in this case, teacher representation with teeth, the risk of teacher abuse and despotic organizational performance soars.  If not precisely that, what is the effect seen in dismissal of teachers with proven performance on the basis of a flawed VAM calculation?)

Why has Mr. Obama: One, joined forces with some of the worst of right wing ignorance and cynical profiteering to continue to hypocritically allow discredited standardized testing over better assessments; two, allowed public K-12 education to be turned into in effect a Federally promoted and funded corporate takeover using VAM to whack teachers; and three, now incongruously advocated hiring more teachers even while false assessment actions are diminishing their ranks and demotivating them, that hiring of necessity coming from schools of education he has by default neutered in praising TFA?

Who are the unnamed and invisible liberal ideologues inside the U.S. Department of Education or the White House, willing to entertain the devastating strategic learning consequences of present testing-based change, to pursue a utopian fantasy of perfect educational equity; and who is writing the software animating the USDOE’s robot, Arne Duncan, producing endless and hypocritical propaganda on cue?

Charters are demonstrating the failing consequences of privatizing K-12 universal education: Why, when even Bill Gates acknowledges that privatized charters may never exceed 10 percent of all K-12 schools, are profit–driven, unaccountable, and even corrupted tax-funded charters still being forced on our nation’s parents and children?

Why in America’s heartland, and especially in its non-urban places, are schools like Ohio’s New Bremen system, or even Bloomington, Indiana’s Monroe County Community School Corporation (spanning a Big Ten university community), still mired in last century’s retro thinking and bureaucratic organization, meekly accepting dysfunctional testing or cheating, in denial that public K-12 is under attack, projecting self-righteousness and even arrogance, and offering transparency metaphorically only “arrow slits in the battlements?"

Why has U.S. public K-12 education as an institution rested on its laurels, or to be less complimentary, sat on its hands wearing blinders for the last several decades, letting the core function of learning assessment be ripped away from education and given to the corporate sector, instead of recognizing the reform straws in the wind and broadly initiating self-reform? 

Why have America’s collegiate schools of education both settled back into the last century’s thinking and literally gone to ground, when their products are being attacked by corporate education testing drones and Teach for America?

Why has Wendy Kopp elected self-promotion and profit by demagogically using Teach for America, even making it a cult, rather than using alleged passion for learning to reform our collegiate schools of education instead of undercutting them; and why has Obama embraced and even applauded the systemic treachery?

Why has a Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Riverside, ETS, etc., been allowed to simply monopolize and commercialize for profit the creation and scoring of K-12 testing, and when there is evidence the corporate expertise for that measurement is flawed and its practices reflect ethical lapses?

Is the present K-12 reform trajectory another bubble, that will burst when it is finally discovered or revealed that present testing does not advance genuine learning that can be leveraged to do the nation’s work, and the effect is an even deeper structural U.S. unemployment crater; and how can a public system disemboweled again be made whole, and over what time horizon given the damage inflicted?

How many extant examples are there of competent research validating the learning effects of present standardized testing and the use of VAM to flog K-12 teachers?  (Too easy, none.)

How much research has been funded and methodically pursued to create better testing models for high order thinking and learning, to experiment with their performance, and to make the testing actionable at the school level?  (Also too easy, virtually none.)

How many K-12 administrators have had sufficient training in management, strategy, technology, leadership or ethics?  (Ditto above.)

How many schools have been nudged by fear or arrogance into cheating either subtly or egregiously, to try to escape slavish state punitive test repercussions, souring an education system once based on ethical precepts?

How many public K-12 administrators would be hired in the private sector and remain employed if held accountable for performance, and how many should have their ticket to practice lifted, or belong in the slammer?

How many state departments of education are manned by education’s best and brightest, exuding objectivity, ethics and independent of political sycophancy?  Hint:  An answer is an equation that starts with “50 minus Ohio, Indiana, Florida, etc., etc.”

How many corporate right wing ideologues can actually think strategically about education, recognize unintended consequences, and can define K-12 learning versus business functions and cranking out product; and to what extent do we owe this deep philosophical perspective in part to the increasingly defective performances of America’s collegiate B-schools?

Lastly, how many Duncans, Gates, Rhees, Kopps, Kleins, et al., does it take to undermine American K-12 public education?  This one’s bone-head easy:  “One each.”

The Twenty-First

Our national lexicon bristles with shards of the “21st;” the century, the age of maturity, the twenty-one gun salute, the gaming table, the Twenty-First Amendment, so here’s a bonus twenty-first question:  

How has an alleged K-12 reform movement – pivoting on the historically developed concepts of intelligent performance measurement and accountability, steeped allegedly in the educational literacy of a national department of education and 50 state departments of such, and a corporate sector allegedly steeped in business theory and organizational performance expertise – managed to utterly and stupidly pervert both?

Accountability has a complex history of thought, and comes in a plethora of versions; vertical, horizontal, 360-degree, alignment with other precepts of organizational theory, and melded with sensible choreography of application in human organizations.  Testing has been ongoing since the Greeks, and likely long before, but attached to awareness and understanding of how any assessment of performance should serve to advance learning.  Even in the remains of the last century there was prescient work on learning measurement – along with advanced tools for administration – that should have set the course for improving its processes, rather than demonizing its most vulnerable recipients.  

Both elegant and hard won organization theory and performance concepts, and a half century of testing wisdom have been blatantly ignored, even venally repudiated by those advocating the prosecution, embarrassment, even denouement of public K-12 education to create liege to a fantasy of perfect markets and the alleged discipline of corporate control.  The ideology of the corporate reform hammer of K-12 is in fact manifest corporate ignorance and hubris; its mantra, that K-12 delivery of the processes that evoke learning and related accountability are monotonically equivalent to how business’ functions and utility are achieved, is just fundamentally wrong.  That tragic assumption is testimony that America’s education and accountability for business leadership has also come off the rails, and that realistic understanding of markets as the bases for resource allocation in an America that Adam Smith could not have imagined is equally or even more needy of insights than its public K-12 systems.

If an American K-12 public educational commons cannot stand in this republic, then America has truly devolved and set a course back to political and economic tribalism – let self-interest be the beacon, and the devil take the hindmost?  Is this to be America’s twenty-first century legacy to civilization, knowledge creation, and evolved social and economic intelligence?

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