Field Tripping: Economists Take Education Faculty to Visit Charter “Success”

In this guest post, Dr. Donna Wake, Associate Dean of Education at the University of Central Arkansas, relates an experiences taking a trip to visit a charter school with two economics faculty members. Donna has written other posts for this blog, including one about cursive writing (see here), and another about the educational mistreatment of Emma, (see here). Readers are encouraged to contact Dr. Wake with responses to this piece and/or engage in the comment section below.  

In the fall term, two economics faculty from my university’s College of Business contacted me about a trip they were taking to visit a charter school in the Arkansas Delta. The first email came on a Tuesday afternoon. Two economists, one who positioned himself as an educational policy analyst, were planning this trip and wondered if faculty from the College of Education might be interested in joining them. On Friday. In 3 days.

Despite the inconvenience of shuffling my week’s schedule for an impromptu trip to a school 3 hours away, I appreciated that they thought to include us, albeit at the last minute. With that in mind, and given my own curiosity about this specific charter school, I convinced a colleague to join me and made arrangements to go on the trip.

Friday morning arrived. After a three hour drive into the Arkansas Delta, we spent the morning touring the school’s various facilities, visiting classes, and talking with students and faculty and administrators. Collectively, my education associate and I asked the school personnel hundreds of questions in our three hours at the school. We asked about teacher turnover, free and reduced lunch rates, bus routes, and percentage of traditional versus non-traditionally certified teachers. We asked about parental involvement, class demographics, administrator preparation, use of Common Core, and school response to the recent changes in test requirements. We asked about the newly implemented teacher evaluation system, professional development initiatives, and state funding models. The economists followed us, listened, and took notes.

At times, we worried that we were “taking over” the economists’ trip. But when we individually asked the economists if we should allow them more time for their questions, they told us keep driving the conversations. Our questions helped them to think about this school.

In contrast to our many questions, the economists asked multiple school personnel only one question, repeatedly – “to what do you attribute your success?” When pressed to define “success”, the economists cited recent standardized test results, particularly when compared to local districts.



Economist #1 (E#1), the educational policy expert, clearly assumed the school’s impact was positive, and he assumed this positive impact was correlated with standardized test scores. Unfortunately, I was not able to uncover any depth of research behind his assumptions. In fact, both E#1 and E#2 were openly surprised when I asked about how the school’s presence might be harming the local contexts by de-stabilizing the local school structures.

I began to feel as if our presence had been arranged simply because the economists didn’t know what questions they should be asking. This suspicion was confirmed the following Monday when E#1 emailed me to ask what was the difference between a traditional and non-traditionally trained teacher. I carefully typed my response and connected him to the department of education website as a resource.

I heard nothing from the economists for several months and had almost managed to forget the whole exchange. Then in January I received an email asking me to recommend a film for an economics student group as they discussed “School Choice Week.” I cautiously complied by recommending “Waiting for Superman.” I use “Waiting for Superman” in my own classes to talk about the complexities of public education and the positive and negative impact of school choice on districts, families, and students.

I also suggested that perhaps the students stage a panel discussion after the film viewing to include education faculty. I felt that the students might need guidance in discussing the history of school choice as well as both the pros and cons of school choice. I even volunteered my own time for this event.

I soon learned that my panel idea had been rejected by the student group. That’s right… rejected by the student group. But, they wondered if I might let education majors know of their film screening by sharing the following information:

This Thursday: Film Screening & Dinner Discussion of Waiting for Superman

Want to improve kids’ education? Come learn about realistic changes that make huge differences in the lives of children.

To celebrate National School Choice week (January 24th -30th), the Young Americans for Liberty are hosting a screening of the documentary Waiting for Superman. Great conversation, pizza, and beverages will be provided.

Perturbed does not begin to describe my emotional response. I immediately responded that I would not be sharing the announcement. I also asked that the world “celebrate” be replaced by the word “discuss.” In fact, I pointed out that using the word “celebrate” was based on the assumption that school choice is something to celebrate and represented a bias in programming that should really be a part of the larger conversation happening around this topic.

Here is my take away from this sequence of events… It is wonderful that so many people care about kids and education. It is fantastic that people outside the field of education want to help and think they can help support teachers and kids in schools. However… we in the education profession all need to be much more blunt about our communication with people outside of our field. To make real differences in the lives of teachers, students and schools requires a deep understanding of context and requires a great deal of time working within school structures and thinking about issues related to educational practices and policies. I wish to refute the idea that “anyone can teach.” I want to support the idea that teaching is a profession with long standing traditions and discourses. While the field certainly has its issues, it is impractical and troubling to think that those from outside the system can enter and “fix” the system with no knowledge of the field.

While people enter into these situations with the best of intentions, this intrusion into the field was ineffective and potentially harmful in that it promulgated the narrative that school choice is a “solution” to all of the complexities and challenges facing modern educational contexts. Put simply, if you want to play in my sandbox, then spend some time studying the field (e.g., perhaps take coursework and earn a degree or licensure) and spend some time yourself as a teacher in local schools. Once you do that, then engage with me in a conversation. Until then, I will not be celebrating choice – particularly when we do not know the impact those choices have on teachers, kids, and schools in local contexts, where it matters most.

Guest Post: Shaving Cream Lattes and Educational “Innovation”

The Progressive Educator is happy to welcome our University of Arkansas colleague (all thoughts posted here are his or ours or those of someone, anyone else other than our employer) Dr. Derrick Mears to the blogosphere and feature a post he wrote with this audience in mind. Before you run to the closest wastebasket at the thought of shaving cream lattes, know that the ideas–buying shaving cream, rejecting free lattes, and educational “innovation”–are separate. Feel free and encouraged to contact Derrick at the link below. ~czg

By Derrick Mears

Recently I attended an international conference attempting to recruit students to graduate programs at my university. I witnessed a strange new phenomenon that made me ponder just exactly where our American education system is headed. This observation struck me because it was in close proximity to another I made while shopping for groceries just the week before.

While shopping for shaving cream I wandered down the aisle and overheard conversations between store executives standing in the isle (making it difficult to get to the shaving cream) discussing how, through shelf placement and packaging, they could convince the customer to spend a greater amount of money for the same product. The discussion provided an overview on how this tactic would be not only convince the consumer to spend more money but also convince them to purchase a lower quality product. This made me think, how much of my shopping behavior is being manipulated by this type of marketing? How much of my behavior as a consumer overall was the result of these gimmicks? As an educator who works in curriculum and educational technology I also began to wonder whether this same type of marketing strategy was used to educate our children in public schools and to provide resources for teachers?

My answer came in the form of frothy lattes at the international conference I mentioned in the opening paragraph. I walked into the exhibit hall and caught the aroma of fresh brewed coffee and steamed milk and wondered, what was that wonderful smell? Unfortunately, the answer was not what I expected. One of the large textbook manufacturers had set up their own “Free Latte Station” complete with a barista that would customize your order. Though I love coffee it seemed odd that giving away coffee was being used to sell textbooks. Being curious and remembering my experience buying shaving cream, I begin to browse the products being offered. What I discovered was the “latte gimmick” was just one piece of the puzzle. There were multiple gimmicks and slogans being used in an attempt to sell not only textbooks but web-based resources as well.


As I declined my free latte (though it was tempting) I was reminded of a recent TED talk by Richard Culatta on “Reimagining Learning.” In the introductory portion of this video he spoke about how technology integration in school systems in many cases is merely taking a traditional medium of information delivery (like the textbook) and “digitizing it.” For example, take the classroom lecture, video-record it, and put it on line, then call it an “innovative new method of content integration.” This video also made me realize that what was being sold under the context of “free lattes” had strong parallels to what I observed when purchasing shaving cream.

Many of the companies at this particular conference were promoting digital content that was “aligned to common core state standards” or content that “tracked student progress” but were for the most part merely textbooks that had been digitized with used self-grading multiple choice quizzes to check for knowledge and comprehension. Many of these virtual textbooks would even highlight where the content was discussed in the text related to what was missed on the test so the student could go back and re-read the “important” parts. But even more concerning was the marketing slogan that these materials promoted “higher order thinking skills”.

Anyone in the educational field has heard (hopefully) of Bloom’s Taxonomy. A classification system for educational activities developed in the 1950’s and recently re-tooled that focuses upon helping educators design projects, questions and interventions. Activities which can be categorized into the upper tiers of Bloom’s are considered activities that promote what is referred to as “higher order thinking”. These types of activities require students to engage in in-depth analysis and/or evaluation of content or create something that didn’t previously exist. As I searched the virtual shelves (trying to ignore the smells of warm chocolate and caramel syrup being added to the roasted coffee beans behind me) I was finding it hard to see evidence of how reading a series of web-based textual content segments followed by electronic multiple choice tests was facilitating this type of learning. However, these products were flying off the shelves as districts were looking to meet 21st Century Learning guidelines for technology integration (which seemed like another promotional buzz slogan being used quite often by vendors).

The issues related to what I observed through my attempt to purchase shaving cream and watch the barista hired by the textbook company serve up lattes, continued to escalate until I realized what was really happening. So to end this meandering of thought, I want to share with you a hypothetical scenario to consider when evaluating and choosing educational interventions to facilitate student learning. Hopefully, it will also put into perspective what some corporations are doing to our educational system in the name of “integrating instructional technology into education.”

Imagine an individual with no background in computer programming walks into the MicroApplesoft Corporation. Upon arriving, the individual brings free donuts to all of the programmers who are busy writing the code for the newest operating system and tells them about the great computer system they would like to sell them that would revolutionize how they write code, ensure that code was aligned to appropriate practice in code writing, and revolutionize how individuals use the personal computer. The individual then gives them free coffee and shows them a cool video with pictures of people looking at the computer, smiling and nodding their heads like they easily understand what is on the screen. The individual (who I remind you knows nothing about writing code) through the convincing marketing tactics of free donuts and coffee then convinces the MicroApplesoft Corporation to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into the computer system. The individual then leaves and here is what arrives at MicroApplesoft Corporation’s office.




This is what many of the efforts at “revolutionizing” education through the use of technology are doing, merely “digitizing” content. Our children deserve better. They deserve opportunities to create projects using technology, engage in using and developing the new technologies, and guide the interventions and actual innovations of the future. So, the next time you buy shaving cream, instructional technology, or textbooks, keep the barista in mind and ask whether the shelf placement or gimmicky trick is really “revolutionizing” anything, or whether “digitizing” a textbook is really innovation.

Education Voters Must Consider Number 27 at the Primaries


It’s fairly simple: 15 plus 12, 10 plus 17, 9 times 3. The number 27 is divisible by 3 and 9, and 27 less than 54.

It’s inexcusably horrific: the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world has the 27th ranked childhood poverty rate.

27th is the way we are treating our most vulnerable, helpless, and defenseless population–our children.

We gave a lecture at Keene State College in New Hampshire on Friday detailing and dispelling myths surrounding education and the media’s constant Dystopian narrative about how bad our schools are, how lame teachers are, and how gooey and wonderful charter schools and vouchers would taste on the American palette of free enterprise and choice.

Rubio, Cruz, and Trump want to close the Department of Education and end Common Core. Sanders and Clinton and Rubio want to expand access to college. All five support school choice in some form or another. Only the democrats list education as issues on their campaign site. Not surprisingly, education is mostly missing from the debates during this primary season but the American people deserve to know how our country can fix education.

We ask that education voters forget about all of the issues candidates are or are not discussing designed to help improve education, myth or reality. All of the educational reform or innovation in the world will not overcome the damning effects of childhood poverty, will not change the 27.

What will or won’t allegedly fix education is irrelevant because none of it will change our rankings on achievement tests (that are nearly perfectly correlated with family income, by the way) or help the children of our country that desperately need us to act boldly on their behalf. What will address poverty is the only question we educators should ask during this election.

Forget charters, Teach for America, universal pre-K, Finland, and Common Core. Forget ESSA, ACT, accountability, and private schools. Not a single thing matters if we don’t address number 27 first. All of this is moot if we address the real issue.

We believe that anyone telling you otherwise is either ignorant, misled, or purposefully obfuscating the reality of education for their own personal, political, and/or financial gain. There’s plenty of static out there about what will help our “failing” education system. It isn’t failing, our economics are.

No change in the education equation matters other than addressing the egregious wealth inequality our country faces. Educational achievement and family income levels line up like Kindergartners heading for the bathroom.

27th in childhood poverty.

We agree that Hillary Clinton might be a terrific president and she’s the choice of many due to her longstanding education work, her experience as a politician, and the support she enjoys of both major teachers unions. We are honored to call her former home of Fayetteville, Arkansas our home. Hillary’s great.

Think 27.

Attachment-1There’s only one candidate that education voters–those Americans concerned about children or our future–should support in the upcoming primaries tonight, tomorrow, and in the coming months: Bernie Sanders. Bernie’s been advocating for wealth equality since before it was cool and until our country faces the hard truth of 27, the crippling effects on our children of what it means to grow up without enough food or safety or supervision or any of the unquantifiable effects of poverty, an issue we believe only he is uniquely qualified to address, lets place a moratorium on ideas how to fix or “reform” an education system that, by the way, when one controls for family wealth, is the best in the world.

In our view, nothing else matters to education, to our country’s future, or to this time in world history more than the number 27. Think of that number and think Bernie Sanders.

Guest Post – PARCC Reports

When I received the following email yesterday morning, I temporarily had my waning faith in email restored. Justin Escher Alpert wasn’t a name I recognized and immediately I wondered, given the title of PARCC Reports, who had sold my email address. As I started reading the message, an excellent piece of satire about the educational failure known as the PARCC exam unfolded in front of me. I still don’t know Justin Escher Alpert but he authorized the reprint of this, and I find myself wanting to read more. Enjoy, Chris


Dear Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers:

Congratulations on the PARCC test reports finally coming out.  It will be great for the kids to come back from the holidays to work on where they fell short last spring.  Thanks for bringing it back up.  Without your efforts, it would be very hard to compare our children to those in Washington D.C. or New Orleans… that is… unless we had the means to actually visit and take in the Culture.

One point for your consideration, please:  That the reports were going to be IN COLOR was a major selling point of the PARCC Exam.  Take a look at the attached sample report.  The colors are dull and faded.  It is almost like we cheaped out on ink.  As long as we are reducing our children to two-dimensional depictions, couldn’t we use more vivid colors, if only to evoke the rich full spectrum of possibility that Life has to offer?


Thank you for your continued interest in the few PARCC states remaining.  Perhaps we might compare our lowest-performing schools and work together to fix the underlying socio-economic problems exposed by standardized testing.  The remnants of the PARCC structure would be a wonderful scaffolding to reverse the flow of information and effect innovation at the grass roots level.  Besides, just by sampling the lowest-performing schools, we could extrapolate the issues nation-wide and empower further responsible and accountable local Control.  You know, upon reflection, maybe we could cut back on the amount of testing and just do a statistical sampling.  Nobody ever needed a road map where one inch equals one inch.  You’d spend all of your time cartographing, lost in the details, and sort of miss out on the real-world beauty and adventure of the travel and interactions with People.  Just saying.

That’s all.  Well that, and your science is fundamentally flawed.  If you would like, I could put together a team to show you how to use data more effectively.  There is seemingly a conflict-of-interest bias that affects your results.  Maybe in the beginning of April you could submit your findings for peer review.  A continuing conversation.

Anyway, happy holidays to you and your whole PARCC team.  There is no reason why with critical thinking and rigor, we can’t raise the nature and quality of your work up to our standards of excellence in the New Year.

Very truly yours,

Justin Escher Alpert

Livingston, New Jersey

Money Talks

This is a re-blog of Ann Cronin’s over at Real Learning CT. We do hope you’ll give it a read as we think it’s an important one. Ann’s a smart and savvy colleague working in the best interest of students in our country. Feel free to direct any correspondence to her. 

At first, I felt empathy for Bill and Melinda Gates as they spoke about the Common Core in an interview with Gwen Ifill on the PBS NewsHour. I always feel for people who are talking publicly about something about which they know very little. I then reminded myself that these two people who know so little are actually in charge, almost single-handedly, of American education. That is profoundly wrong. Children and adolescents are entitled to the best education their society can provide. And in a democracy, it is unconscionable for the wealthy few to decide what that education will be.

Please watch this 9:54 minute interview with Bill and Melinda Gates:

If you cannot see the video, please click this link

1. Bill Gates says the Common Core sets high standards, but the Common Core Standards are not high. The Common Core Standards are judged to be harmful and developmentally inappropriate by the most respected early childhood professionals in the country. The math Common Core Standards prepare students for math at the community college level and do not equip students with the high school math to set them on the path for STEM careers. The Common Core English Standards require a pedagogy, popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s but now discredited. The National Council of Teachers of English did not endorse the Common Core. The Common Core is the antithesis of what we know, from John Dewey and many others who have studied the learning process, about how human beings learn because those standards do not teach students to create meaning and construct knowledge.

2. Bill Gates said that the Common Core Standards “have gotten the K-12 progression down”, but the Common Core Standards have not done that. The standards are not based on the cognitive, social, and psychological development of children and adolescents and do not address how children and adolescents learn. Both are required for a K-12 progression.

3. Bill Gates said the Common Core Standards will help students who move from one state to another state, but those standards do not help those students.Standards are not curriculum. Just because using adverbial clauses is part of a Grade 9-10 standard does not mean that it will be taught on the same day or even the same year in Florida and in Massachusetts. There are 188 skills for 9th and 10th graders and no schedule for when they are taught within those two years. To have uniformity of instruction, there would have to be a national curriculum with daily, scripted lessons used in every state at the same time. And that is against the law.

4. Melinda Gates said the Common Core Standards eliminate the need for remediation at the community college level, but the Common Core Standards do not eliminate the need for remediation.  Standards alone never create achievement even when achievement is based on the low bar of standardized tests. According to the Brookings Institute,” the CCSS (Common Core) will have little or no effect on student achievement”. The Brookings Institute report provides data that demonstrates that students in states that adopted the Common Core Standards did not do any better than students in states that did not adopt the Common Core, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the largest and most respected national assessment of what U.S. students know and can do.

5. Melinda Gates said that the Common Core Standards were approved by the governors and state commissioners of eduction, but no governor or state commissioner approved the Common Core Standards. Governors and commissioners voted to adopt a set of standards a year before the Common Core committee convened to write the standards. They had no idea what those standards would be so it is not true to say that governors and commissioners decided that the Common Core Standards were better, higher, or lovelier than the standards the states already had.

6. Melinda Gates said the governors and commissioners of education voted for the Common Core Standards because they knew it was the right thing to do, but doing the right thing was not their goal. They voted for undetermined standards in order to avoid financial sanctions from the federal government for not having 100% proficiency (an impossible goal) as specified by No Child Left Behind.

7. Melinda Gates said teachers believe in the Common Core, but teachers increasingly oppose the Common Core. In fact, the more teachers work with the Common Core, the less they like it, the less they think it’s the right thing.

8. Melinda Gates said teaching the Common Core makes teachers “step up their game”, but teaching the Common Core requires very little of teachers. Teaching the Common Core drains the life out of teachers. Teachers do not need to think critically, plan thoughtfully, and design assessments to evaluate their the students’ growth and achievement. Teaching the Common Core also does not give teachers those rewarding moments in which the they see their students in love with learning and motivated to stretch themselves as far as they can because the learning environment is so inviting.

9. Bill and Melinda Gates equate assessments of learning with standardized tests. The two are not the same. Not even close. Every educator knows the difference between real achievement and standardized test scores. Bill and Melinda Gates must know that too because they send their children to a private school which neither teaches the Common Core nor assesses students with standardized tests.

10. Bill and Melinda Gates said the best part of their work in education was seeing great teachers at work, but they didn’t ask one teacher to be part of creating standards for K-12 education. How great do they really think teachers are? I would bet, in their work of fighting ebola and finding cures for AIDS, they asked medical people to play key roles. Teachers, K-12 curriculum directors, college professors, and researchers who are knowledgeable about how children and adolescents learn could have created excellent standards for education, but Bill and Melinda Gates didn’t ask them.

Bottom line: Money talks. Even when it doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

“Profiting from Those Least Able to Resist”: On the “Promise” of Charter Schools

Day five of CIED 694V: Progressive Education Policy welcomed a guest lecturer from Louisiana State University to talk about charter schools, especially the charterization of the city of New Orleans and surrounding areas. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell is associate professor of Literacy and Urban Education at LSU and coordinates the elementary grades teacher education programs. Beyond living through Hurricane Katrina in the area and bearing witness to what happened in New Orleans–the city is now 100% populated by charter schools–she recently co-edited a special issue of the journal Equity & Excellence in Education on “The Promises of Charter Schools.” The issue was built around a single question: “How is the promise of charter schooling, as a vehicle for social justice in public education, playing out? (Dowell & Bickmore)”

I’ve questioned the motives of charter schools for a host of reasons, including the concept that they are leading to increased segregation of our public school system and the notion that students should not, in any situation, be turned into a profit scheme. To me, charters are a smoke and mirrors attack on public education marauding around as “choices” for parents who might be disenfranchised with their local public school. When I invited Dr. Dowell to speak to our Progressive Education Policy course, I thought I might finally get some nuance to my stance.

Dr. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell provided a guest lecture at the University of Arkansas
Dr. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell provided a guest lecture at the University of Arkansas

In preparation for class and at the invitation of our guest, we read the introduction to the themed issue as well as a piece by Nancy Picard, a Louisiana attorney who penned Louisiana’s Great Education Giveaway, a lengthy blog post that captures the genesis and repercussions of the New Orleans takeover. Ms. Picard doesn’t hedge language in her opening paragraph:

Instead, [charters] create a separate and wholly unequal educational system masquerading as choice, which serves to destabilize and discredit public schools in the name of improvement and to make state funds accessible to a wide range of individuals and corporations with little or no oversight.

As Picard point by point explained what happened in New Orleans, the way the laws were changed without anyone in the city following the hurricane, the way African American teachers were fired when their school system was dissolved, the way the Recovery School District (RSD) has now spread across the state, I grew ill. Those interested in privatizing education didn’t miss a beat in attempting to take advantage of the crisis Hurricane Katrina left in its’ wake. If everyone in education were to read Ms. Picard’s post, the world might, in fact, be a better place.

She closed with damning words for her state:

Tossing around public school funds like so many Mardi Gras beads is irresponsible, short-sighted, and an evasion of our responsibility to educate all citizens.

That last phrase really stuck with me. Isn’t this what it’s all about, the evasion of responsibility to all citizens? Do we–Americans–really want equality in our schools or our country and if we do, why do our actions not support such when our actions are to sidestep and shirk our responsibility of educating all citizens in favor of engineering and then spending a windfall of cash on unproven charter schools?

Dowell was able to put names and faces to what exactly has happened in the area. As someone who has worked in teacher preparation and as a school superintendent and teacher, some of her research has taken her to these New Orleans charter schools. She related that some schools are “Mom and Pop” charters that operate loosely (she offered the example of a New Orleans East charter which ran out of money to bus kids in March of last year before closing) and others are good schools that reflect the part of the city from which they originated (she mentioned Homer Plessy and Morris Jeff as two examples of great schools). It sounded like the quality of the schools was–at least to some extent–dependent on the socioeconomics of the students from which each schools drew.

What’s happened in New Orleans represents one of the elements to education deform–destabilization, an element that Professor Dowell spoke of during her visit to class. The RSD took out all of the teachers with experience teaching in the area–not to mention deep roots in the community–in favor of quick fixes like Teach for America and other temp workers. Charter schools sweep into an area like New Orleans and provide temporary homes for students (and the all important $$$ that accompany them) and many charters–if the national trend holds–will go out of business, leaving students and parents in the lurch, leaving a path of destabilization one might liken to the destructive path of a hurricane.

Class also spent some time discussing issues related to the special themed issue of Equity & Excellence in Education that Dowell and her colleague Dana Bickmore, co-edited. The pair asked important and enduring questions, ones I think the country writ large needs to consider before opening one more charter school.

“But we wonder, how have charter schools empowered students, teachers, and families/parents, particularly in schools that are comprised of children of color and children from low socioeconomic backgrounds?”

Champions of charter schools are quick to point out that some students are achieving in those schools whereas their achievement was less certain in their former public schools. This achievement issue is a tricky one to navigate because how well students do is important to everyone. But because charters are presently conceived as being in competition with public schools and adhere to a different set of rules than public schools, the achievement issue is murky at best. Of course the biggest factor in this conversation is, again, the amount of income present in the home (you might be detecting a pattern here). As Kevin Welner eloquently points out in “The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment,” when education as competition is a game to be played and there’s hardly a limit to ways of gaming the system.

Part and parcel to that game, of course, is the high stakes standardized testing regime, about which Dowell and Bickmore offered this astute analysis:

We contend that one score as an evaluation tool denies social justice. Other outcomes might be appropriate for children who will live their entire lives in the twenty-first century. These outputs might include democratic citizenship and social responsibility, as well as critical self-reflection around unequal socially constructed relationships and enhanced capabilities of students, teachers, and local communities to address marginalization through race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability.

Let me be clear, Professor Dowell doesn’t see charters schools through a single lens. She wants the best possible learning situations for all students and that is something laudable and about which most of us can agree. When charters become, as I’ll argue they have in New Orleans, a source of profit for outside interests, a problem exists that needs to be addressed.

While touted as promising change for the betterment of children and public education in the U.S., charter schools as an educational reform strategy appear to be more aligned with profiting from those least able to resist. We posit that the shift in what constituted a charter school, coupled with the increase in standardized testing and the commodification and privatization of education, limit the promise of charter schools as social justice-inspired entities.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan might have uttered his most offensive words ever in 2010, calling Hurricane Katrina “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.”

If one’s goals are to risk the education of young people (despite overwhelming reasons to question charters), to change laws to make it easier to privatize a public education system, and to destabilize a region in the wake of a crisis, Arne and many others are “profiting from those least able to resist” (Dowell & Bickmore, 2015).

Who will stand up for them?

Progressive Education Policy – Day Two: Know Yourself, Know Your History

Who decided it was a good idea to write a weekly blog post on a class? As I second guess that decision from a time commitment perspective, I’m pressing forward for several good reasons. By opening the doors to our classrooms in this fashion, we’re modeling positive behavior that we see in our local schools and in schools around the country, but we also admit that doing so is a risk. It’s much easier to shut one’s door and do what she or he thinks is best for the students, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. By sharing glimpses of class and materials and readings from a potentially enigmatic–privatizing education, for example, is en vogue across party lines–course like this, we are opening ourselves to criticism and the potential for outright attacks. That said, the door to Peabody Hall 307 is virtually and physically open for others to join because part of the point of this class is to communicate with those outside of the academy. It’s much easier to not practice what we preach.

Let’s start with a quick recap of last week’s class and a reminder of what was read and prepared for Day Two. Last week we kicked off the semester and partied like it was 1897 with John Dewey’s “A Pedagogic Creed.” Students concurred that the text is just as relevant today and it provided the impetus for all of us in class–instructors included–to begin to stake our claim in our own individual educational beliefs. Students and those following along at home were encouraged to take up the questions, “what’s your line in the sand and/or what do you most firmly believe about education?”

Peabody Hall

On Wednesday, September 2nd, we worked to take additional steps in addressing these “line in the sand” and “firm beliefs”  questions by presenting drafts of our educational oaths. We split the class into three groups for writing response. The format for the response groups was something I learned in the 2007 and 2008 Invitational Summer Institutes of the Northwest Arkansas Writing Project. While I’d participated in and directed students through a variety of peer revision and editing formats, as a teacher I’d never settled on one that truly worked. Rather than participants reading the papers of one another, these “NWAWP Response Groups” rely on oral readings of an author’s paper and then a conversation that following focusing on what the listeners liked, questioned, and suggested about the piece. It might be a form of educational alchemy because I’ve found it to work so well with so many different populations.

In listening to and reading my educational oath to others, I was both buoyed and challenged to further develop what I was writing. I’ve decided to tackle a teacher educator’s oath for a host of reasons, none perhaps as glaring as the fact the media and various pundits believe teacher educators to exist somewhere under the layer of pond scum that covers the local lakes each fall. Decisions are taken out of our hands, opportunities to influence our future teachers are taken out of our hands, and generally speaking our profession is being privatized right along side that of  the K-12 Public Schools. This is nonsense for lots of reasons, but I digress.

For those of you following along at home, you may want to attempt to replicate the experience of the response groups by both reading your oaths aloud and reading them aloud to someone unfamiliar and asking for structured feedback. They are due next Wednesday, September 9th at 6 PM.

In addition to developing and refining our educational oaths for Day Two, we also read two pieces for class–Chapter One of The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myth, and Lies and Stan Karp’s “Challenging Corporate Ed Reform: And 10 Hopeful Signs of Resistance,” that appeared in Rethinking Schools (a publication I can’t recommend strongly enough).

Dr. Endacott led our discussion of the two readings that students completed in advance of class. He started us out talking about the efficiency epidemics in education starting on page 14, a point Tienken & Ulrich make as part of a general unpacking of the attempted and failed education reforms of the past century. Perhaps an early theme of their book is the cliche notion that those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it, an issue that came up in Day One’s reading and discussion of Dewey as well.

To this issue of forgetting our history, it seems to me that at least some of this disappearing act of our educational and social foundations are not a coincidence. They represent efforts to deprofessionalize education and to ultimately make it into a for-profit business. An article that influenced my early thinking on this issue was written by Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon from the University of Tennessee, an article in The Journal of Thought in which she challenges the leaders in her college on the fact that she was then the lone remaining faculty teaching social foundations of education.

A nation that does not have citizens who are knowledgeable about their past, understand their cultural roots, are able to analyze their social institutions, and able to make an argument for what should be on the grounds of justice, care, beauty, truth, and goodness is a nation that cannot hope to be a democracy someday. (p. 6)

And while the article wasn’t part of our discussion, it provide a representation of the general experience we shared as readers of Tienken & Olrich’s Chapter One–this was a good reminder of what has been tried, what worked, what didn’t, and how important it is to know and keep current our knowledge of educational history.

One aspect of the efficiency notions of education in the early Twentieth Century are again ideas that seem to be very popular once again, especially in this quotation from the chapter that suggested that overwhelming research evidence “…did not defer the efficiency gurus and the wannabe business-captain superintendents from climbing aboard the efficiency train.” (Tienken & Olrich, 2013, p. 15)

The second reading, the article from Rethinking Schools, was equally as generative in terms of discussion. While Tienken & Olrich do a nice job of naming the challenges and outlining the historical perspective, Stan Karp’s piece outlined the current challenges but ends with then (2012) hopeful signs of resistance.

Some of the ideas that seemed hopeful in 2012 have evolved greatly in the last three years, especially the example of United Opt Out and the fact that 20% of students in New York state refused to take the PARCC exam last year. Others ideas have faded but new ones have surfaced too. Students in class brought to the fore a reference to the situation in Little Rock and a recent article published in Alternet (detailed below) detailing how parents organized to attempt to stop privatization efforts in the city following the state taking over the school district last year.

We finished class by outlining the projects and aim for class and handing out the syllabus. Students have a good amount of say in which topics we’re covering and when. They ranked potential topics for a course such as this and we’ve landed on eight topics  they want to cover in class as a class this semester. Drumroll:

High Stakes Accountability
Standardized Testing/Achievement Gap
School Choice (Charters, Vouchers)
High School & College Graduation Rates
Education & Inequity
Teacher Accountability, Merit Pay, VAM
Federal Education Policy (NCLB, CCSS, RTTT)
Alternative Teacher Preparation

In what we think is an important movefrom the 2013 iteration, we’re shifting writing and discussion leader responsibilities towards an outward audience. In other words, we had terrific discussions in class two years ago and the students took on projects of a public advocacy nature, but the work they completed were more academic in nature. Students will write blog posts instead of discussion papers, for example.

For next week:

1. Complete your Educational Oath.

2. Read and prepare Chapters 2, 3, and 4 from Tienken & Olrich.

3. Select two or three topics from the list about which you’d want to write and lead discussions.

Further reading:

Holloway, K. (2015). How the Billionaire Kingpins of School Privatization Got Stopped in Their Own Backyard. Alternet Retrieved from

Thayer-Bacon, B. (2013). Dear Dean Rider and Department Heads McCallum and Bell. Journal of Thought, 6-16.

Tienken, C. Standardized Testing is Not Teaching. Retrieved from

CIED 694V: Progressive Education Policy – Day One

Eight students joined us for the first night of CIED 694V: Progressive Education Policy. One of us–Chris tonight–is going to try to capture a sense of the class for anyone interested and reading along out there in EduSanity-land. The blog isn’t necessarily the class and vice versa but does provide another opportunity to collaborate on ideas related to education. If you are interested in reading the things we read and participating in any way you can imagine, contact one of us and let us know and we’ll make that happen for you.

The class, like so many great ideas, was born on a bar napkin in the spring of 2013 when Jason and I discussed the idea of constructing a class to help teachers recognize their own voices and power through the readings and discussion possible in such an environment. While having these sorts of conversations in academic setting is important, we decided from day one that in order for anything to help the current educational situation–one many of us can agree is untenable–we wanted the students to move their ideas, readings, and inquiry outside of the academic arena and to engage the community as part of the class. To this effort, a teacher formed a book club with other teachers in her school to discuss a book detailing the privatization of education. Another teacher, this one also a full-time graduate student–put together a public screening of Listen: The Film that featured student filmmaker, Ankur Singh.  The name of the first iteration of the course was Reclaiming the Conversation on Education.

The 2015 class starts at 6 on Wednesday nights and this week’s class began in a typical fashion–we spent the first 15 minutes of class getting a sense of who was in the class and why they specifically elected to enroll. The students in the course represent a broad range of experiences and backgrounds, an attribute we think will be important to how the class develops over the course of the semester. Ranging from a retired history teacher to a student finishing his teaching license and from special education to ESL, the conversations promise to be lively.

Starting out our past iteration of the class focusing on all of the various education reforms currently facing teachers and proponents of public education, we decided to instead spend the first night of class taking stock of what we individually believe about education. A go to text to inspire such a conversation is John Dewey’s “A Pedagogic Creed” from 1897 and that became our official first reading for the course.  I’ve cherry picked a couple of quotations from Dewey that captured at least some of the essence of our reading and discussion.

I believe that these interests are neither to be humored nor repressed. To repress interest is to substitute the adult for the child, and so to weaken intellectual curiosity and alertness, to suppress initiative, and to deaden interest. To humor the interests is to substitute the transient for the permanent. The interest is always the sign of some power below; the important thing is to discover this power. To humor the interest is to fail to penetrate below the surface and its sure result is to substitute caprice and whim for genuine interest (www.dewey.

Some larger thematic ideas and questions that came out of the reading: Dewey is timeless and connects to what good teaching is now and will always be but we wondered how many people know Dewey today? What purpose would it serve to erode the foundations of education in the learning and teaching of how to teach? Where do we see John Dewey in schools today? Do alternatively trained teachers read and study Dewey? Progressive educators are not necessarily progressives, politically speaking and finally, education must start with the child and children have power.

Save as the efforts of the educator connect with some activity which the child is carrying on his own initiative independent of the educator, education becomes reduced to a pressure from without. It may, indeed, give certain external results but cannot truly be called educative. (www.dewey.

I believe that all reforms which rest simply upon the enactment of law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile.

People used to say, “I’m a progressive educator or that I use progressive methods,” but Dewey said that there’s no such thing as being “progressive,” but rather a progressive educator is one who must be willing to change and through those changes, always make society better and more democratic.

Following our Deweyian beginnings, the next part of class was spent moving towards each person in class–professors included–staking a claim about what they believe in education, or to take another view, what they would not do. To this end, we read the Hippocratic Oath from the medical field which was followed by a spirited discussion. Next up was Gus Morales’ video about his Educratic Oath and his perception that the entire education profession needs to draw a line in the sand about what we will and won’t due. I highly recommended watching the video if you haven’t seen it. Gus’ words and passion engendered a conversation around the idea of “Why don’t we have an oath or ceremony when teachers begin in the profession?”

Writing down these ideas that were swirling in our heads was the next goal. We made a list of the things we believed or the things we would not do and then spent time working on a draft of these ideas. I said my list would probably get me in trouble and it might. For next week’s class, each student will return with a rough draft of their oath, creed, or general thinking.

To close the blog post, what’s your line in the sand OR what do you most firmly believe about education?


Course readings for next class:

Karp, S. (2012, spring). Challenging corporate ed reform: And 10 hopeful signs of resistance. Rethinking Schools, p. 34-39.

Tienken, C. H. & Olrich, D. C. (2013). The school reform landscape: Fraud, myth, and lies. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. (Introduction and Chapter One)

“An ethic for teachers of conscience in public education.” 

Recommendations for further reading:

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education.

Published: Teachers Views of the Common Core State Standards and its Implementation

So, what do teachers think about Common Core, its implementation, and the working conditions in which they exist? If you’d like to learn more about a new Educational Review article that Jason and I contributed to, follow this link which will take you to a place you can download the article (first 50 are free, contact me for further access).

Let’s start with the abstract.

Common Core State Standards are embroiled in controversy and politics. The need to continue to study the many facets of educational changes remains critical, especially from the perspective of the teachers experiencing such changes firsthand. Existing surveys of teacher perceptions regarding the Common Core State Standards have focused primarily on teacher awareness, preparedness and opinions regarding the quality of the Common Core State Standards and curricular alignment. This survey study addressed teachers’ views and support towards the Common Core State Standards and its implementation, their anticipated effects, and how its operation has affected their teaching, their anticipated effects, and their thoughts to leave the profession prematurely. Comparisons were made between tea- cher groups based on grade-level taught and years of experience. Overall, teachers had a positive attitude towards the Common Core State Standards and its imple- mentation. Attitudes tended to be more negative as grade-level taught increased and were significantly less favorable for those with thoughts of leaving the profession early; responses varied among teachers with differing lengths of experience.

CCSS PictureHere’s a bit of context. We took up this study in late 2012 as we were hearing several reports of mis-implementation  of CCSS, feedback arriving through email, social media, and through our student interns at the university. Whether or not those things were real outside our little ivory tower bubble was worth examining.

On a sad note, following data collection on the state and national surveys, we lost my dear friend George Denny who, besides being one of the world’s nicest and smartest guys, was a heckuva statistician and a very average racquetball player, a fact that had kept us ‘in court’ most of the then previous five years.

One of George’s students came on board to help with statistical analysis and eventually took on the lead author role for this article. Dr. Ki Matlock is an outstanding person and researcher, just beginning her second year as an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University. Dr. Vicki Collet, Jennifer Jennings-Davis, and Ginney Wright also contributed to this piece and the research project, the first of what we hope will be several articles to come out of the study.

In a nutshell, teachers in Arkansas liked and supported CCSS and CCSS implementation in 2013 when we collected these data. Since that time, I argue the standards have become increasingly political and controversial nationally. Whether those or other forces are factoring in is debatable but the preliminary analysis of our 2015 data collection (same survey, 25 months later) show major changes not for the better.

A closing statement:

If it is true that the working conditions for teachers are the learning conditions of students, paying close attention to the nature of teachers’ perceptions in the midst of broad sweeping educational change is warranted by previous research (Ma and Macmillan 1999).

And here’s a section of the introduction that points to a large part of the CCSS that critics agree is a central problem:

While creating a set of educational standards in this way is not, in and of itself, controversial, the inclusion of the CCSS in Federal legislation vis-à-vis the Race to the Top program predicated at least some of the backlash. Instead of standards existing independently as they were originally intended, they became intertwined with the United States Department of Education and more broadly, with President Barack Obama. Thus, political actors opposing the President or the Democratic Party had ample ammunition to level a charge of coercion against this move. In order for states to compete for billions of dollars set aside in the Federal Race to the Top program, they had to sign on to national standards. The pushback against the CCSS, interestingly enough, is not only a Republican versus Democrat issue, with candidates across the spectrum denouncing [and supporting] the standards and how they were brought forth.

I continue to meet people on all sides of this fence–those who adamantly support and defend CCSS, those who want them gone no matter what, and those who remain undecided. The nature of conducting educational research often means that data are collected, analyzed, and published after the court of public opinion has leveled charges and either sent the defendants packing to prison or set them free. In this case, overall positive reviews of the CCSS in 2013 may mark an important understanding when the history of this particular educational reform is retold.

Foreword: Beware the dam builders, too

In 2014 I was honored to be invited to write the Foreword to Paul Thomas’ latest book, Beware the Road Builders. If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, here’s a convenient link.

I could write in short space about how much I admire and look up to Paul Thomas for the public scholarship he creates. Many thousands of people read and share his public writing each day, from blog posts to op-eds to journal articles to tweets. He’s constantly engaged in the discourse on public education for the sake of the students and teachers involved in it. I could share that he’s also a genuine and good-natured human, someone I’m proud to call a friend. He’s never been too busy to respond to an email or answer a phone call. I save bits and pieces of advice he’s provided and return to it, timely reminders of how to respond in difficult situations.

Instead, let me start by saying just how important I think this book is. Based on the coalescence of his writings on education and deep literary knowledge, Thomas blends the two in ways equal parts beautiful for their craft and terrifying for their truths in revealing the current situation. Every educator and parent needs a copy of this book, the consequences of people not reading and understanding the attacks on learning, children, and teachers outlined here are grave, embodied in the powerful and diverse literary imagery he uses to tell of the current attacks.

Reading it reminded me of a story that hits close to my home of Fayetteville, Arkansas, one that played out a century ago. William Hope ‘Coin’ Harvey, convinced that a greed-based society (later known as unbridled capitalism) would ultimately perish, made plans to build an obelisk in his resort at Monte Ne, Arkansas, to hold a time capsule, preserving the story of how America fell for future societies. Coin’s pyramid was to preserve copies of his financial book, The Remedy, as well as other cultural artifacts of a once great society.

Ill health eventually thwarted Mr. Harvey’s building plans but the model he provides is one that I urge public educators and parents follow after reading Beware the Road Builders. Whether we build an obelisk or the modern day version of making sure something lasts forever, the story of America and our education system is one presently imperiled by faux education reformers; if the current trends are not subverted and reversed, ones that we should all, following Giroux, bear witness to, books like this one will tell the story well, making it simple to tie the end of the American experiment to the loss of its’ system of public education.

Recognized by the National Council of Teachers of English in 2013 with the George Orwell Award for the defense of public language, P.L. Thomas is unflinching and unflappable, unequivocally taking corporate and government figures and ideas to task. Standing above others as what is surely the most literary of the education reform whistleblower texts, metaphors and images borrowed from our literary kin are expertly wielded, axes driving into our collective psyche a strong counter-narrative to prevailing and well-financed forces.

William McComas, photo

Beware the road builders? Despite egregious wealth inequity in America today, Coin’s fatalistic predictions are not yet realized. His resort town sunk beneath the waters of manmade Beaver Lake in 1966, only rarely are the ruins seen when the water recedes in drought. One erect structure, part of two hotels built on the site, is surrounded with barbed wire and covered with decades of graffiti, a building with no capstone of books and artifacts for the future, only its crumbling self. The water I drink and bathe in daily originates from the lake, a public good that was certainly part of the campaign to dam the river and build the lake. But it is the same water covering Coin’s resort town and dreams that is now primarily the embodiment of consumerism, expensive boats racing back and forth in front of million-dollar houses, a well-off personal playground to the rich enabled by the government vis-à-vis the US Army Corps of Engineers. Beware the dam builders, too.

Suggested citation:

Goering, C.Z. (2015). Foreword: Beware the dam builders, too. In P. Thomas Beware the roadbuilders: Literature as resistance. (pp. 15-17) New York: Garn.