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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

We must learn to stand together.

Paul Horton is a History teacher at the Chicago Lab School - an amazing private school which the Obama girls once attended and where our esteemed Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is an alumni. Horton is an advocate for all children and has dedicated a lot of time, energy, and passion in writing about the very real attack on public education.

Morning drop off back in the day at the Chicago Lab School.


He explains it in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Horton has written profusely on this topic and the toxic damage it does to our children and our society. Read more here and here. You can search his name yourself and read and read, if you'd like. You will certainly learn a lot if you do.

Kids and parents usually look forward to breathing a sigh of relief when high school graduation arrives. The kids are ready to move on and move out. They are excited to have a voice in what and how they learn, and are thrilled to get out from under the government's hand in their education. Sadly, the US government is using a legal loophole to create a K-20 (Yes, not K-12, but kindergarten through grad. school) open market in education. The US Department of Education claims that individual states elected to adopt the Common Core Standards. Due to this claim, they believe they are not breaking the "three federal laws that prohibit federal departments or agencies from directing, supervising or controlling elementary and secondary school curricula, programs of instruction and instructional materials." No longer is learning about children, about developing a love and passion for knowledge, developing intrinsic motivation to read and learn on one's own, or about gaining confidence as kids grow. Nope. It is now a business opportunity.



Horton writes, "A recent Washington Post article using a well-placed source within the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation essentially confirmed what many critics have suspected: that Bill Gates effectively controls the Department of Education in the United States through his former employees who serve in leadership positions within the Department of Education. Our education secretary also does a lot of listening to Michael Barber of Pearson Education. Although Mr. Gates and Sir Michael, as well as other reformers, are doubtless well intentioned, they view the colonization of K-12 education in this country and elsewhere as a 'win-win.' In their view, the quality of education will improve with greater accountability, and they will make billions creating and delivering accountability for students, teachers, and education schools."

Check out these familiar names who are working hard to end public education as we know it:

1. "The Murdoch newspaper chain, the Tribune chain, The Washington Post (now run by a neoliberal libertarian), and The New York Times."

2. PBS and NPR
Interestingly, " Money is funneled into NPR and PBS by organizations that support privatizing school reform in the name of 'support for education programing.' "

3. "A Gates-funded Washington consulting firm, GMMB, works 24/7 to sell the Common Core Standards and all other elements of the Race to the Top mandates that call for more charter schools, a standardized-testing regime, and value-added assessments of teachers based on this testing regime."

4.  "Representatives of the Washington-based Fordham Institute work together with GMMB to send weekly talking points to major editorial boards and education reporters to ensure that representatives from an 'independent foundation' are relentlessly quoted. Not surprisingly, the Fordham Institute is hardly independent, and is heavily subsidized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Michael Bloomberg, and the Broad Foundation, and many more funders of privatizing education."

Horton bravely extols, the Common Core State Standards "is the tip of a corporate iceberg that amounts to corporate control of education policy with very little participation of classroom teachers, parents, or school boards. The idea that the Common Core Standards are the product of a democratic process is simply misrepresentation of fact—a big lie that GMMB, our education secretary, Bill Gates, Pearson Education, and the Fordham Institute propagate.

I must be naive, but I had no idea that our government hired PR firms to manipulate us into believing that their desire for an open market in education actually has anything to do with improving learning for our children.




On the impact of testing, Horton continues, "Whatever one may think of the Common Core Standards on paper, because they are tied to a standardized testing regime, they will fail. The literature on this issue is voluminous, but our current educational-policy makers simply ignore it. Teaching to standardized tests narrows the curriculum and results in teaching to the test. Administrators will encourage drill-and-kill exercises to increase test scores and will be forced to allocate precious resources and time to preparing for standardized tests."

 As an English teacher, I found Horton's reflections on the limitations of the CCSS writing approach interesting. When we teach children to write so an algorithm can easily score a response, we are creating a genration of writers who will not only dislike writing, but who will have no human audience willing to read their work. Would you want to read a collection of that formulaic writing? Didn't think so.

Horton wisely observes, "The Common Core Standards seek to teach literacy, but in doing so, they neglect developing essential tools of critical and contextual analysis that are predictive of college success, the development of the ability to produce a complex essay or research paper (a paper that goes beyond what an algorithm can assess), and the development of ideas about social or civic responsibility that run counter to the core value of neoliberalism: 'get what you can for yourself, nothing else matters.' This notion simply does not jibe with what I am hearing when I am visiting colleges with my rising high school senior son where the emphasis is all about service. What I have heard at every college visit is that admissions officers have determined that standardized testing does not predict college success. The challenges that a student takes on and is able to overcome and the rigor of the courses that a student takes are much better predictors of college readiness. "



If standardized tests are not even perceived by colleges to predict college success, why are we playing their game? In my community, I often hear parents concerned about their children being ready for the next stage. Is junior ready for middle school? Is he ready for high school, and is high school getting him ready for college? Is college going to get him ready for life? A job? A career? Being a parent does involve a lot of worrying, because no one wants our kids to have a good life more than we do. However, if we are just receptacles that a PR firm (hired with our own tax dollars!) dumps fears and thoughts into, then are we really doing what is best for our kids?

Horton shockingly reveals, "The Common Core Standards prepare students in areas that experience issues with literacy for work at the community-college level. Applying this one set of standards to all American students represents a national policy error of catastrophic proportions."

Keep an eye out for MOOCs as your kids venture towards their college days. You may or may not have heard of MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses. These classes are a way of delivering online content with no limit on class size. Sounds like a dream for a business person, and a nightmare for a student or teacher. Horton ventures a guess that colleges are next in the Gates plan of open market domination in education. He states, "The reformers seek to reduce the costs of teaching to create a profit margin for potential investors and markets for big education vendors. This is the brave new world that all K-20 educators face. We must learn to stand together."

Wisest line ever: "We must learn to stand together." Parents, grandparents, teachers, professors, and all who care about children, learning, and the future of our country. Urban, suburban, rural. Wealthy, middle class, poor. Private school parent, private school teacher. Public school parent, public school teacher. We must stand together.




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