Why A New Generation of Teachers is Angry at Self-Styled Education ‘Reformers’

This is an excellent essay at Medium that I learned about from Peter Greene of Curmudgucation. I copy and paste it in its entirety in case you don’t like signing into Medium.

Why New Educators Resent “Reformers”

Let’s consider why so many young educators today are in open rebellion.

How did we lose patience with politicians and policymakers who dominated nearly every education reform debate for more than a generation?

Recall first that both political parties called us “a nation at risk,” fretted endlessly that we “leave no child behind,” and required us to compete in their “race to the top.”

They told us our problems could be solved if we “teach for America,” introduce “disruptive technology,” and ditch the textbook to become “real world,” 21st century, “college and career ready.”

They condemned community public schools for not letting parents “choose,” but promptly mandated a top-down “common core” curriculum. They flooded us with standardized tests guaranteeing “accountability.” They fetishized choice, chopped up high schools, and re-stigmatized racial integration.

They blamed students who lacked “grit,” teachers who sought tenure, and parents who knew too much. They declared school funding isn’t the problem, an elected school board is an obstacle, and philanthropists know best.

They told us the same public schools that once inspired great poetry, art, and music, put us on the moon, and initiated several civil rights movements needed to be split, gutted, or shuttered.

They invented new school names like “Green Renaissance College-Prep Academy for Character, the Arts, and Scientific Careers” and “Hope-Horizon Enterprise Charter Preparatory School for New STEM Futures.” They replaced the district superintendent with the “Chief Educational Officer.”

They published self-fulfilling prophecies connecting zip-coded school ratings, teacher performance scores, and real estate values. They viewed Brown v. Board as skin-deep and sentimental, instead of an essential mandate for democracy.

They implied “critical thinking” was possible without the Humanities, that STEM alone makes us vocationally relevant, and that “coding” should replace recess time. They cut teacher pay, lowered employment qualifications, and peddled the myth anyone can teach.

They celebrated school recycling programs that left consumption unquestioned, gave lip-service to “student-centered civic engagement” while stifling protest, and talked up “multiple intelligences” while defunding the arts.

They instructed critics to look past poverty, inequality, residential segregation, mass incarceration, homelessness, and college debt to focus on a few heartwarming (and yes, legitimate) stories of student resilience and pluck.

They expected us to believe that a lazy public-school teacher whose students fail to make “adequate yearly progress” was endemic but that an administrator bilking an online academy or for-profit charter school was “one bad apple.”

They designed education conferences on “data-driven instruction,” “rigorous assessment,” and “differentiated learning” but showed little patience for studies that correlate student performance with poverty, trauma, a school-to-prison pipeline, and the decimation of community schools.

They promised new classroom technology to bridge the “digital divide” between rich, poor, urban, and rural, while consolidating corporate headquarters in a few elite cities. They advertised now-debunked “value-added” standardized testing for stockholder gain as teacher salaries stagnated.

They preached “cooperative learning” while sending their own kids to private schools. They saw alma mater endowments balloon while donating little to the places most Americans earn degrees. They published op-eds to end affirmative action but still checked the legacy box on college applications.

They were legitimately surprised when thousands of teachers in the reddest, least unionized states walked out of class last year.


The No Child Left Behind generation continues to bear the fullest weight of this malpractice, paying a steep price for today’s parallel rise in ignorance and intolerance.

We are the children of the education reformer’s empty promises. We watched the few decide for the many how schools should operate. We saw celebrated new technologies outpace civic capacity and moral imagination. We have reason to doubt.

We are are the inheritors of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” We have watched democratic institutions crumble, conspiracies normalized, and authoritarianism mainstreamed. We have seen climate change denied at the highest levels of government.

We still see too many of our black brothers and sisters targeted by law enforcement. We watched as our neighbor’s promised DACA protections were rescinded and saw the deporters break down their doors. We see basic human rights for our LGBTQ peers refused in the name of “science.”

We have seen the “Southern strategy” deprive rural red state voters of educational opportunity before dividing, exploiting, and dog whistling. We hear climate science mocked and watch women’s freedom erode. We hear mental health discussed only after school shootings.

We’ve seen two endless wars and watched deployed family members and friends miss out on college. Even the battles we don’t see remind us that that bombs inevitably fall on schools. And we know war imposes a deadly opportunity tax on the youngest of civilians and female teachers.

Against this backdrop we recall how reformers caricatured our teachers as overpaid, summer-loving, and entitled. We resent how our hard-working mentors were demoralized and forced into resignation or early retirement.

Our collective experience is precisely why we aren’t ideologues. We know the issues are complex. And unlike the reformers, we don’t claim to have the answers. We simply believe that education can and must be more humane than this. We plan to make it so.

We learned most from the warrior educators who saw through the reform facade. Our heroes breathed life into institutions, energized our classrooms, reminded us what we are worth, and pointed us in new directions. We plan to become these educators too.


How do Putin’s Russia and Trump’s USA Compare?

A screenwriter whom I knew back in junior high school here in DC, and who, like me, was an anti-war activist back during Vietnam, and with whom I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree, wrote:

Retweeted Doug Henwood (@DougHenwood):

Anyone left of center who took the Russia paranoia seriously, look where it’s taking us. This is extremely bad news. https://t.co/64ZUUe4p9K

I replied as follows (edited by me for clarity and accuracy):


I cannot find any actual facts in that tweet. (And yes, I followed the link)

On the other hand, here are a few things that I think are objectively true, and a few that are my own opinion:*

the Russian government is… (1) oligarchical,

(2) a kleptocracy on every level,

(3) steals from its own people and rapes its environment for the benefit of a small group of billionaires,

(4) murders, muzzles, or imprisons people who dissent,

(5) supports friendly dictators abroad,

(6) builds and sells military weapons all over the world, and

(7) meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries.

By contrast, the American government has recently been adjudged by experts (not me) as

(1) an oligarchy that systematically works for the benefit of a small wealthy class of businessmen to thwart the wishes of the majority,

(2) assassinates lots of people (mostly overseas; the murders of black men by police seems to be a local, not an explicitly national, policy),

(3) while the billionaires have been quite successful in breaking labor unions in the US and reducing wages for working people, we have had over time all sorts of vigorous [and sometimes somewhat successful] movements [which are now under hard attack from the current party in power] to preserve the rights of workers, consumers, and the environment,

(4) the US does in fact allow critics [for example, I’ve been to any number of anti-government demonstrations over the past 50 years and have only been arrested a couple of times for it, never beaten up by police; however, there have been plenty of times when the power of the State lined up firmly on the side of corporations to help break labor unions],

(5) supports friendly dictators abroad [of course proclaiming them to be lovers of freedom,

(6) builds and sells more weapons than anybody, and

(7) meddles in foreign elections and so forth [I recently saw a very long list of countries where the US had interfered with internal affairs or overthrew the government since WW1].

There are a couple of differences, though:

In many countries, you can’t get ANYTHING done at any level of government (from the head of state down to dog-catcher) without bribing somebody. That is not (yet) true in the US. However, it looks to me like Trump and his family are working hard to bring the US up to the level where our corruption is even higher than in Russia, China, India, the Philippines, or Nigeria. And 45 has certainly called for beating up protesters like myself, and praised corrupt, murderous foreign dictators like Putin and Duterte. However, there is still a lot more freedom of the press and assembly here than in the four countries I named!

Vive la resistance!


* which statements are fact, which are opinion? I type – you decide.

Has Mayoral Control In DC Caused A Miracle Regarding Hispanic Students?

I will now post graphs showing how Hispanic students in fourth and eighth grade in DC have scored in math and reading in comparison to other US large cities and the nation’s public schools. As with the previous post, I drew a thick, vertical, red, dotted line showing where the previous, democratically-elected school board was replaced by mayoral control under a law called PERAA.

Here are the ‘average scale scores’ for eighth-grade Hispanic students in math and reading in DC (green), the NAEP sample of Hispanic 8th graders in US large cities (orange), and the NAEP sample of all Hispanic 8th grade students in public schools:

Do you see a miracle that happened to the right of that dotted red line?

I don’t.

What I do see is that in math, the rate of improvement for DC’s Hispanic 8th graders from 2000 to 2007 (under democratic local control of schools) seems considerably faster than the corresponding rate afterwards (under mayoral control).

In reading, it seems like Hispanic 8th grade students in DC were scoring generally higher than their national peers, but after PERAA, they scored lower than their peers. Some miracle.

Let’s look at 4th grade:

Once again, from 2000 through 2007 (under local democratic control of schools), the rate of increase in DC Hispanic students’ scores in both math and reading was considerably higher than after the mayor took over.

Some miracle.

And not just MesoAmerica!

This is important stuff! The roots of democracy run deep, and wide — ancient history was not all ruled by pharoahs, emperors, and gilded billionaires.

An article describes research I never heard of that shows that there was in fact quite a continuum from pure democracy to pure autarchy in past history — and if we look carefully at clues left behind in the archaelogical record, we can get an idea of how democratic (0r not) various ancient societies actually were.

I quote:

They come up with a scale of popular participation in government that runs from autocratic regimes to more collective or democratic regimes. In their causal model the internal or external origin of state revenues causes or determines the scores on the governance scale (see the diagram). In short, reliance on internal revenue sources leads to greater bureaucratization, greater popular control over rulers, and more provisioning of public goods. Rulers rely on their subjects for taxation, so they must treat them better. External revenue leads to the opposite pattern. Rulers get their revenue from elsewhere, so they have no incentive to treat their subjects well by providing public goods or giving them any say in governance.

Blanton & Fargher 2008: 254

Blanton and Fargher’s scale of rulership, which runs from autocratic to democratic or collective, is a major advance in understanding ancient states. Not all states were the same. Some rulers were despotic and seriously exploited their subjects, but other states had more collective forms of rule, which means that commoner subjects had some say in governance. They analyze the thirty polities in their sample on a host of variables, which are scored in various ways to produce three numerical scales: public goods provision; bureaucratization; and control of the ruler. The scores for these scales are summed to produce their governance scale, which runs from a low of 23.5 (Bakitara; Aceh, Nupe, and 12th century England are near the bottom) to a high of 52 (Classical Athens; also near the top: Republican Rome, Ming China and Lozi in Africa).

The Matthew Effect in American Education

(Another old post that never made it out, from August 2014)

What’s all this nonsense about American schools being designed for a “democratic society … united by our education system through common values, comprehensive curriculum … and free K-12 education for every child”? (Per
http://dianeravitch.net/2014/08/17/edward-berger-on-the-tenets-of-education-in-a-democracy/ )

There are many who don’t believe a word of that stuff about equal rights or common values. From well before the American Revolution, it was illegal to teach slaves to read or write. Many of our Founding Fathers owned slaves and most states limited the vote to those who owned property. The US invaded Mexico so that white Texan slaveowners could keep their slaves. A large portion of the nation seceded from the union lest they be unable to further expand slavery into those new territories.

It took a bloody civil war to smash the idea and practice that some people were so inferior that all their labor could be stolen from them and they had no rights even to live as a family or go where they wished. Of course, after the Confederacy was smashed, the war criminals and traitors who led that treacherous rebellion were eventually allowed back into power in the South; corporations in the North were given free reign to profit from the merciless exploitation of “free” laborers from all corners of the globe, while Southern plantation and factory owners were permitted to re-enslave black workers through Jim Crow vagrancy laws. (Please see http://www.slaverybyanothername.com )

Our system is in a constant war between the forces of democracy and the forces of the power elite (or the Ruling Class, or “the 1%”) and those who agree with them.

This is true also in education.

Can anybody doubt that the children of the wealthiest have always received the very best educations, with the best instruction known in the arts, music, foreign languages, sports along with the best in the sciences, writing, math, literature and so on — for the purpose of allowing them to think for themselves? And that the poor and working classes are generally given an education designed to weed them out or to toe the line and be obedient workers, blindly pledging allegiance to a system that basically disenfranchises them?

The “Matthew Effect”, as you can read in Wikipedia, means quite simply, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” It comes from Matthew 25:29, and the KJV says “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.”

The nation’s billionaire education “reformers” are at it again. They claim that the best type of school for the poor and brown or black kids is one with a few temporary teachers and a lot of profitable computers, all in one room. Or a school where there is nothing but relentless force-feeding of math “facts” and “brief constructed responses” and SLANT in English. And kids who can’t handle this stultifying regime get bounced out back to the regular public schools.

While students at Choate, Chicago Lab School, Phillips Exeter, Sidwell Friends, and so on (where the 1% send their own kids) get the royal treatment.

It’s going to take a huge movement to stop this incredibly unequal treatment. Parents, teachers, students and ordinary citizens, please step up and be counted in that struggle!

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