How the educational testing industrial complex was created

It didn’t come from parents

No Child Left Behind represents the latest manifestation of a bipartisan bandwagon of standards based advocates – a bandwagon built in the summer of 1989 by the top 300 CEOs in our country. At this meeting, the Business Roundtable CEOs agreed that each state legislature needed to adopt legislation that would impose “outcome-based education,” “high expectations for all children,” “rewards and penalties for individual schools,” “greater school-based decision making” and align staff development with these action items. By 1995, the Business Roundtable had refined their agenda to “nine essential components,” the first four being state standards, state tests, sanctions and the transformation of teacher education programs. By 2000, our leading CEOs had managed to create an interlocking network of business associations, corporate foundations, governor’s associations, non-profits and educational institutions that had successfully persuaded 16 state legislatures to adopt the first three components of their high stakes testing agenda. This network includes the Education Trust, Annenberg Center, Harvard Graduate School, Public Agenda, Achieve, Inc., Education Commission of the States, the Broad Foundation, Institute for Educational Leadership, federally funded regionally laboratories and most newspaper editorial boards.

By 2000, many states legislatures, however, were balking at the sheer size and scope of what corporate America was demanding. The Business Roundtable took note of this resistance when publishing, in the spring of 2001, a booklet entitled Assessing and Addressing the “Testing Backlash”: Practical Advice and Current Public Opinion Research for Business Coalitions and Standards Advocates. The mantra is everyone should go to college. But the facts have always been clear that the number of jobs requiring a college degree have not increased nor are they projected to do so. Read Richard Rothstein. Go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. In The Shell Game, Clinton Boutwell postulates that Corporate America wants to increase the number of college educated engineers and computer programmers to increase the supply of college educated workers well beyond the need for them, thereby paying them less. I set up my website against NCLB — http://www.susanohanian.org — in 2002, a couple of months after it was signed into law. By now, I feel rather like a reverse of Dickens’ Mme. Defarge, keeping track of what’s going on, knitting a register of outrage. I get a lot of mail from desperate teachers, parents, grandparents. — After three years in kindergarten

— Ready for first grade.

— Ready for what?

— Poisonous humiliation?

— Every failure teaches something,

— But not a belief in democracy.

Too old? Too bad. Too poor? Too bad. Too hungry? Too bad.

The seven deadly sins:

Food, clothing, firing, rent, taxes, respectability and children. Nothing can lift those seven millstones from Man’s neck but money…

With those millstones

How can the spirit soar?

Florida Governor Jeb Bush said, “It’s OK to hold them back So that they can acquire these skills And they will soar.” (7-8)When Childhood Collides with NCLB.

Shamefully, there has been no attempt by union nor professional organizations to organize teachers in opposition to the de-professionalization of their craft.

Follow the Money—

and I don’t mean McGraw-Hill

Shamefully, neither unions nor professional organizations have set about organizing teachers in opposition to the assault on children. Instead, they try to preserve their funding territories and political alliances.

“The move to eviscerate the program [Reading First] by drastically cutting it is the ultimate example of throwing the baby out with the bath water,” said Alan E. Farstrup, the executive director, International Reading Association. —Education Week, June 8, 2007

In a conference call on June 19, 2007 about NCLB Reauthorization, when Rich Long, IRA lobbyist, was asked about IRA’s position on NCLB Reauthorization (and possible support of the Educator Roundtable Petition), he replied “IRA would never tell Kennedy and Miller things they don’t want to hear.” In December 2007, Joel Packer, Director of Education Policy and Practice at the National Education Association (NEA) justified NEA’s opposition to the Educator Roundtable Petition to Repeal NCLB by insisting the union would lose its “seat at the table” if it advocated such a polity (Phi Delta Kappan Dec. 2007).

In our rebuttal, Philip Kovacs and I quoted Malcolm X’s warning: “Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on thatplate.”

In a film tribute to Sen. Edward Kennedy at the 2008 AFT Convention in Chicago, Kennedy is shown enthusing about AFT President Ed McElroy “It’s nice to be with a president I can agree with.” In a film that closes with a picture of Ted Kennedy on the screen, a voice intones that AFT blocked the NCLB bill and that the union gives members access to the political process they would not otherwise have. If we lined up everybody who NOW claims to have helped defeat NCLB, maybe we could NOW get them to sign the Educator Roundtable petition calling for the end of NCLB nearly two years ago.

Instead of unanimously endorsing Barack Obama, the union should call on the NEA and the professional organizations to put Obama’s feet to the fire and tell him to acknowledge:

1. that Reading First is a bad law based on bad research and even worse pedagogy

2. that only through strong-armed and extra-legal tactics could states and schools be forced to adopt it and continue to conform to it.

3. that no school or school district has any obligation to continue to use a program or test that was forced illegally on them.

4. that the roots of the problems with Reading First are in the law itself and that the law must be dumped. 5. that in the future the full range of professional input needs to be consulted.

A Los Angeles area teacher tells me that student texts in her first grade classroom add up to 45 pounds. Each six-year-old is responsible for the material in 45 pounds of books.

Ask yourself: What if we had labor sections in newspapers as well as business sections? What if we had teacher unions who looked out for teachers and children instead of spending their time vying for a seat at the corporate table?

Who’s Speaking out for Teacher Judgment? Not our professional organizations, not our unions.

Dateline: Madison, WI: “Relying too much on Teacher Judgment…”

After providing Dr. Kathryn Howe [Reading First technical assistance center at the University of Oregon] with extensive documentation, Madison officials received a letter from her and the center’s director, saying that because the city’s program lacked uniformity and relied too much on teacher judgment, they could not vouch to Washington that its approach was grounded in research. (—New York Times, March 9, 2007).

The T-shirts given away at the AFT convention in Chicago bear the label: “This garment is proudly manufactured in the USA by Intl. Brotherhood of Teamsters Union Members.”

Surely, teachers belonging to AFT ought to be able to make the claim, “This classroom is proudly designed by a member of the AFT.” Surely, the AFT works for their right to be professionals.

“The perfect teacher…” As one of the graphics available on my website suggests, the “Perfect Teacher” is not an infantry soldier, but a teacher who carries a Number 2 pencil for standardized tests instead of a rifle. [This graphic is available at susanohan ian.org.]

Perfect for what? As pencil carriers for the Business Roundtable? God said “Let there be teachers” And they were not without form. Nor void. Nor in need of Corporate scripts. . . . Taking on a deluge of deterministic detail From the NCLB central processing unit, Teachers Strive to answer the federal question Why Can’t a Third Grader Be More like a Stockbroker? (16-18)

Here is an e-mail from Alyson: “’Good’ teachers are the ones who teach to the test, rather than those who employ creativity, excitement and a positive learning environment. In my school, a specialist has written a rigorous ‘bell-to-bell’ schedule, in which each minute of our day is mapped out. We are told what and how to teach, what to put on our walls, what interventions to provide.”

A Nation at Risk, Al Shanker, and the ‘Accountability’ Movement

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

With this introduction, the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983 is a good starting point, not because there weren’t other corporate screeds attacking public schools before then, but because it provided such a powerful rallying point, and it really is the grandfather of NCLB.

Incoming American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten confirmed this in her presidential remarks. Embracing A Nation at Risk, Weingarten claimed it “affirmed that we should accept nothing less than universal attainment.” Weingartem continued, “We believed in high standards — and we still do.”

Democratic (small “d”) educational theorist David Gabbard has observed that we should consider A Nation At Risk as the greatest lie that the state has ever produced regarding America’s public schools.

More than a document, this report has provoked a warehouse of policies and reforms over the past twenty-five years. It comes as no surprise that the AFT still embraces A Nation at Risk in such glowing terms. After all, Al Shanker was a key backer. And the thing that was most clear to me from witnessing the AFT officials at the 2008 convention was that “Al lives.” Speakers frequently invoke his spirit and his policy, saying to the assembled throng, “What would Al do?” That’s a direct quote from Randi Weingarten, appearing in the 8th sentence of her presidential address on July 14.

If it is significant that Al Shanker supported A Nation at Risk, it’s also significant that Bill Clinton spoke at Shanker’s memorial service. Two wily, thoroughly corporatized politicos who loved standards and testing. NCLB is their legacy. They both fought for national standards. I’m happy to say they lost, but watch out: The demise of NCLB could well mean the elevation of NAEP to the status of national test. It is a compromise the Democrats would embrace.

— How Does NAEP Label a Reader “Proficient?” An Inside Look at Children’s Responses Labeled “Inadequate”

http://susanohanian. org/show_research.html?id=103

— Who’s Who and What’s What: A Scoring Guide for NAEP, the Outfit Claiming to be The Nation’s Report Card. See who’s behind the huge corporate-politico push to make NAEP the nation’s test, pushing a national curriculum. http://susanohanian.org/show_research.html?id=104

Also in 1983, Billionaire H. Ross Perot, who got rich off government money, was chosen to head the Select Committee on Public Education in Texas, and he had a solution: “We’ve got to drop a bomb on them. We’ve got to nuke them. That’s the way you change these organizations.”

As Eli Broad and Bill Gates would do two decades later, Perot used his own money and zeal to stamp his vision on education reform, though certainly Perot was more colorful and headline grabbing. Not one reader in ten thousand knows who Eli Broad is; everybody knew Perot. The two have a lot of similarities in their approach to education. They don’t bother to talk to educators, dealing instead with political and corporate power brokers. (Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? 101)

In 1989 the Business Roundtable CEOs had reached consensus on what school reform should look like and they began cranking out materials and strategies enabling its members to speak with one voice. They devoted their entire annual meeting to their plan for education reform.

What I don’t understand is why education bloggers do not spend more time cultivating their allies at TPM, DailyKos, OpenLeft, Booman Tribune, and other community blogs.

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