Soft Corruption

Reposted with permission from Anarchoeducator.

broke monopoly guy

When it comes to schools and morality, no one wants to call out decisions made by school administrators as corrupt.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the balance of power in our schools. Administrators feel no compulsion to respond to the actual needs of individual teachers in their classrooms. It starts with the principal whose main function is to coordinate the implementation of a predetermined policy which they have come to believe they have the liberty of implementing in their own way, giving them the false hope that their actions are their own and that the results will be due largely to their interpretation of policy. How naïve of them.

Of course principals are merely the first layer in the hierarchy that comes into contact with actual classroom teachers. There are many layers up to the Superintendent and many side spurs as well. But one thing is clear. The hierarchy is self-sustaining and not really dependent on the schools it is meant to manage. Each layer of the hierarchy protects the next layer up from the layer just beneath, so that classroom teachers never see the principal’s boss, the executive director. But all of the administrators see each other, even the principals, because they are all in a club with its own social conventions that are quite different from the social conventions in the schools. Yes, there is a class difference. This is where the corruption begins to be evident.

Just to be clear, the schools are only one hierarchical system within a network of hierarchical systems that relate to each other hierarchically. Superintendents live on the border of the next hierarchy up, government and the political system. Above that, of course, are the banks, big business and the military industrial complex.

When it comes to schools and morality, no one wants to call out decisions made by school administrators as corruption. “Corruption” conjures images of brown paper bags stuffed with cash. But the corruption I see has to do with the culture within the central administration offices. The people who place the orders with ed companies like Pearson are solicited by sales people who pump up their buyers’ self esteem. It is not that difficult to stroke the ego of someone with an important job, an advanced degree and a budget. They earned their place after all and have the credentials. They deserve the free lunch that comes with the territory, since they are so important and meritorious. The problem is they tend to listen to the sales people and the expert colleagues in their offices more than the stakeholders they are supposed to be responsible to. They have a self sustaining culture of “we know better”.

The actions they take, buying worthless text books or expensive solutions to non existent problems, are taken to reinforce their positions. That is what they are paid to do, (along with protecting the next, even more comfortable layer up). Their actions can be seen as job protection. It is self serving . That is corrupt. They actively justify racist policies because the comfort to which they have become accustomed is an easier choice to make than the choice to fight for what their teachers and student families want. Standardized testing has been locked into the system by legal contract. What a waste.

Ultimately, it is the profit motive that messes everything up, not just for the schools but for our society as a whole. Competition inevitably leads to cheating. When competition is monetized it goes into a completely different dimension and that dimension is corrupt. Once the idea “What’s in it for me?” has taken over, displacing it with the more humanistic notion of “How does it affect the next person?” becomes next to impossible. But that is where we are with our school system and its soft corruption. And one last thing; when an administrator claims the tough decision has to be made and it is “for the kids”, there is more than just a bit of insincerity in it.



Understanding Teach Like a Champion

Reposted with permission from Peg with Pen.

Another Brick in the Wall

To be honest, after reading over 100 pages of the book (there will be a follow-up blog when I finish reading the entire book), I have to say it’s incredibly shallow and simplistic – yet the scary part is the dictatorial demand to keep everything shallow, uniform and simplistic. And as mentioned above, Lemov’s beliefs about “teaching like a champion” are beginning to co-opt what true educators really understand about teaching, child development, and engaging learners.  This book is a great primer for reducing learning to uniform and robotic student behavior which is easy to “track” (Lemov’s word – not mine) and manage, in order to get the results that you want. And the results that they want are high test scores. Lemov is clear in stating that this work is gauged via state test scores.

I’m currently in the process of reading Teach Like a Champion 2.0.  I’m reading it because it is one of the “go to” books shared via Relay Graduate School of  NYC, and unfortunately, their work is being spread far and wide here in Colorado in many of our districts, including mine. We are at a very precarious time in public education – our work as educators is being stripped from our schools and replaced by non-educator think tanks who pride themselves on high test scores.  Teach Like a Champion 2.0 is written by Doug Lemov. I’ll let you read more about him here. Ultimately he is not an educator, but has great experience within the world of charter schools. He has two degrees in English and one in business. He is a corporate education reformer. Period.

To be honest, after reading over 100 pages of the book (there will be a follow-up blog when I finish reading the entire book), I have to say it’s incredibly shallow and simplistic – yet the scary part is the dictatorial demand to keep everything shallow, uniform and simplistic. And as mentioned above, Lemov’s beliefs about “teaching like a champion” are beginning to co-opt what true educators really understand about teaching, child development, and engaging learners.  This book is a great primer for reducing learning to uniform and robotic student behavior which is easy to “track” (Lemov’s word – not mine) and manage, in order to get the results that you want. And the results that they want are high test scores. Lemov is clear in stating that this work is gauged via state test scores.

True learning is incredibly messy, but with an inherent structure in place to support the messiness. Those of us with vast experience in public education know this. And we also know that in order for true learning to occur, we must embrace the messiness, while all along keeping a structure in place to allow for the ebb and flow of learning.  We create routines and structures, with student input, to foster an environment which supports student engagement, student learning styles and interests, all the while making certain that our teaching is developmentally appropriate and meeting the needs of each learner.  If we have the necessary resources, the autonomy to teach, and a class size that allows for us to address each child’s needs – amazing things can happen. If children have food, healthcare and books in their home we can move mountains. However, in this day and age – having everything necessary for all public school children to thrive mentally, physically, academically and emotionally – is rare, if not non-existent.

My experience includes teaching almost all grades Pre-K – 6 (never got to teach third!), serving as a district literacy coordinator, serving as a literacy coach, and working as an educational consultant.  I have supported the development of principals and teacher leaders across Colorado and I have worked with teachers nationwide to support their understandings of literacy instruction. I am currently a literacy interventionist in my 19th year of teaching.

In the 90’s I had great autonomy to teach. The inquiries and projects my students completed would not even be possible under today’s testing conditions.  Several of my classes opened restaurants – we literally opened a restaurant in our classroom and charged for meals. We designed the restaurant, shopped for the ingredients at the grocery store, and we made the pasta from scratch in our classroom. Students applied for jobs at the restaurant. We took reservations for parents and district staff to come and eat! Another example was with a sixth grade class in which we created a partnership with a nursing home. Each sixth grader had a friend at the nursing home where we visited weekly to plant flowers, read, sing, and develop relationships with these women and men at the home. The sixth graders interviewed their friends, researched the corresponding time period, and wrote biographies.  I had a fourth grade class who researched activists across the country who were making changes in their communities. These students really wanted to know how they could give back to the community.  We created our own service learning project and gathered food for food banks and worked at the food banks and served at a soup kitchen. We canvassed the neighborhoods gathering canned goods and other items to support families in need. I had other classes who raised money to end landmines that were harming children – we researched these countries and read about the impact on children and created a public campaign to end the landmines. What is interesting about all of these inquiries and projects is that we could connect them to every facet of our day – math, science, social studies, language arts, music, art, and on and on. Those are just a few of the learning opportunities my students had.

I share my experiences because they are important in understanding what education can and should look like. Teaching and learning should not be uniform and defined within a box. Education begins with the students in the classroom, and we then build our curriculum around the students’ strengths, needs and interests. Teachers each have their own talents, their own quirkiness and their own passions which influence their teaching. Students also have their own talents, learning styles and interests which influence how a class takes shape over the year – if indeed we wish for education to be truly intrinsically engaging and purposeful for students. Every classroom is unique – if indeed we are focused on equity for our students and their learning. Education that is standardized and is top down ultimately is dumbed-down.

Teach Like a Champion 2.0 is focused on uniformity. Lemov discusses the idea of standardized formatting for worksheets and note-taking. It is my experience that learners find that certain formats work for them and others don’t.  I always share a variety of styles for note-taking with students and ultimately I let them pick what works for them as it’s important that they are able to begin to discern how they learn best and what tools will best support their learning.  Classrooms must be equitable. In order to be equitable we must discern what is just and right for each student. We cannot demand all students use a tool if it does not meet their needs; this is why we have notebook paper with narrow lines, fat lines, no lines at all. This is why we have fat pencils, thin pencils, and pencil grips. This is why we want children to pick and choose their independent reading books. Uniformity ultimately destroys any chance of equity – again, considering what is fair and just for each individual student. At times do we all use a particular format – or process? Of course! But uniformity and standardization do not drive the learning – students do.

Lemov is very interested in teachers being able to quickly see the answers students are writing as they walk around the room – this is why he prefers standardization of note taking. Efficiency, mastery and getting it right is key.  On page 19 Lemov states that the purpose of order in the classroom is to promote academic learning.  I think the purpose of order in a classroom is to create a space which is safe and inviting for student’s social, emotional, physical and academic learning.  Physically I want my students to be comfortable so that they can learn.  I want them to be able to move around the room as needed to meet their personal needs.  Of course, understand it’s not a free for all, children aren’t running willy nilly around the room – but they do stand if needed or cross their legs in their seats, and at times they spread their work out on the floor if that is the best space for their learning to occur.  Couches are a wonderful place for children to read and work. My students can have a very carefully articulated plan for the day as they maneuver around the classroom as needed to learn, as they get the necessary supplies, and or converse with the necessary people, to do their work at hand. We work as a community and develop spaces within the room to support our work as a whole group, small groups and as individuals. We trust one another.

In contrast, Teach Like a Champion classrooms are typically rows of desks and the instruction videotaped is always whole group instruction, in which the teacher asks a question and a student answers.  So, if you were diagramming the conversation in the classroom on paper it would be straight lines from teacher to student – starting at focal point (the teacher) and spreading out like a fan.  Ultimately if you are wishing for a rich conversation that thrives on student talk you are looking for a diagram where the lines intersect. So, the teacher might talk, then a student, then another student responds, and another, and then back to the teacher…so forth and so on. A classroom in which the teacher asks a question and pops from student to student is very dictatorial and ultimately lacks richness and depth of learning – if the teacher is continually directing the discussion then how do we know what the students are thinking and wondering?  Of the 46 videos I have watched so far the questions the teachers ask are pretty basic – questions about defining a word, a sentence starter – there are some deeper questions asked at the high school level, but the arrangement of the lesson and the classroom makes it truly difficult to really have a deep, rich conversation which builds and ultimately engages the learners in a way that develops student strengths and empowers their individual voices. There is definitely not space for individuals to come together to share and build a greater and bigger idea or thought as a result of student sharing.

I have yet to see any classrooms with tables. Tables are wonderful for classrooms where we value community, conversation, and working together. Out of the 46 videos I have watched so far I have seen only two tables for two small groups of children. I have 29 videos left to watch.

Out of the 46 videos I’ve watched I’ve seen 12 teachers smile and/or laugh and 6 students smile and/or laugh.  Out of the six students who smiled or laughed 3 out of the 6 were due to a child having difficulty answering a question and/or making a mistake when answering.  In the videos, when a student talks in the classroom, it is only a result of the teacher allowing the student to talk.  In terms of what “talk” looks like, it takes form as a direct answer to a question from the teacher, popcorn reading (where the teacher calls on students to read a portion of a text – always a fun and relaxing strategy for readers who struggle), and 4 videos which showed a brief moment where children were allowed to partner talk (simply turning to the person next to you to converse). Another form of talk that takes place occurs when the teacher requires the entire class to repeat something in unison – there is a lot of parroting back what the teacher says.

There was one video – out of 46 that I have watched –  in which a child showed some emotion and said “Oh!” as he raised his hand in excitement to answer a question. There is very little, if any emotion displayed, within any of these videos.  When children are forced to comply with such great constraints and boundaries I can imagine that after awhile the emotion is beaten out of them. There are some teachers who exhibit some emotion and kindness, but the children are only allowed to exhibit any kindness to their peers in the form of hand signals or a statement of encouragement shouted in unison as a whole class. On page 11, Lemov points out that a child smiles in a video in which the teacher asks them to pass out papers faster. As Lemov explains how the students are passing out papers quickly in order to increase time for learning in the classroom he states, “The students, by the way, are happy as can be.  They love to be challenged and love to see themselves improving. They are smiling.”

Students love to see themselves improving at passing out and collecting papers? *sigh* Such an insult to the children. But I’ll move pass that and talk about papers for a minute.

The videos are full of papers. I get that there is a lot of paper in classrooms, but these papers in the videos typically come in the form of worksheets and packets – seat work. I found it interesting that when they read passages from a text they didn’t have actual books in front of them (based on what I’ve seen so far) -they typically had a worksheet.

On page 12 Lemov states, “Few schools of education stoop to teach aspiring teachers how to train their students to pass out papers, even though it is one of the most valuable things they could possibly do.”

Wow.  I don’t even know what to say to that. Perhaps the best thing to say is that that statement pretty much exemplifies the depth of the entire book. Honestly, reading the book and watching the videos is terribly depressing.

The sections I have read in the book so far deal with getting students to answer questions and making sure that the answer is (god I hate this word) “rigorous.” Students must answer questions and if they can’t answer the question they must repeat the answer after another student or the teacher gives the answer.  At one point in the book (p.92) he shares an example of a student who doesn’t parrot back the answer and he states that the child will have to come in at recess because this is a “case of defiance.”  So – not “parroting” back an answer is defiant?  Defiance is defined as a daring or bold resistance to authority or to any opposing force. I personally wouldn’t parrot it back because I’d find it insulting. I’m not a dog who needs to repeat a trick in order to be “trained.” If this is considered defiant I fear for the child who feels the need to scream and throw these worksheets in the trash.

In regard to rigorous – there is much discussion about “rigorous” content. On page 84 Lemov discusses how it saddens him that Diary of a Wimpy Kid is one of the most read titles in sixth grade.  It is not considered rigorous enough. He obviously has not read the research on pleasure reading.  But again, he is not a true teacher, so that is to be expected.

There is lots of discussion around errors. I always find this to be a fascinating pattern within books by non-educators. They focus on the negative. I have always used students’ strengths to build on their attempts and next steps. However, in this book the focus is on creating a culture of error where students feel comfortable making errors and teachers scan for evidence of “incomplete mastery.”  I agree that students should feel comfortable taking risks in a classroom, but his concept of error and getting it “right” are so different than mine.  In a democratic classroom we take risks continually, and when we  problem solve and figure it – often together – it’s a process of learning versus this idea of searching for the errors and getting it right. I believe that the process of learning is full of risks and ultimately, NOT necessarily the right answer, but perhaps……another question?

Lemov uses the word “tracking” a lot. Teachers track students, rather than “watch” students and students must track the speaker. It really feels a bit like hunting when watching the teachers “track.” They are looking for specific answers and they will hunt the answer down until they get it. There isn’t a sense of students really ever working together to problem solve and/or determine some finite answer (this is very much about finite answers) – it’s more that the teacher directs the hunt until he or she hears or sees the answer. It’s very much whole group instruction with individual seatwork to determine “mastery” of the direct instruction. The definition of “tracking” is different for students. When the students track, they literally must shift their whole body to face the speaker – it’s a rather robotic movement to observe. I think about sitting in meetings and how teachers respond when someone speaks – I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an entire group of adults literally shift all their bodies to turn and listen to someone speak – and I definitely haven’t seen it happen in unison.

There is a lot of unison in body movement and speech.  Some of the teachers snap their fingers to demand all students say a word at the same time. Teachers will ask all students to repeat something like, “adverbs end in -ly.”  There were some moments where children were reprimanded and you could hear the teacher saying quietly “Laughing is ten dollars.” or “I’ll call your mother.” If I were a child in one of those classrooms I would positively have exploded under the pressure of keeping my body still and my voice still. All students must be sitting up very straight. Many classrooms have the students folding their hands on the desk at all times – and if they raise their hand, they very quickly rush the hands back to folded position when they are done answering the question. When students raise their hand they are praised for how high and straight the arm is.  If they praise a student they will often ask the whole class to repeat a phrase like, “Way to go, you!”

I can’t sit still for more than ten minutes in a meeting before I must shift my body. If I am required to sit still for too long I ultimately feel very agitated. I wonder how the children feel? And how does this impact how they act when they are finally able to leave school?

All the classes are mainly children of color in the 46 videos I have observed so far. Out of the 46 videos there was only one video in which the children did not wear uniforms. I wonder, where are the wealthy districts in suburbia in these videos? Has this been tried out at Sidwell?

There are all sorts of whole group movements like banging on the desk or doing rock paper scissors all at once to determine an answer to a multiple choice question. Hand gestures are used continually to replace actual speech.

I have grave concerns about this book being used in any school as a model of techniques which support student learning. The fact that I have to explain this in a blog clearly signals a very sad period of time in the history of public education in our country. There is no room for student learning styles in terms of how students sit, talk, or process their learning using these techniques. There is no respect for culture  – some children come from cultures in which eye contact is actually disrespectful. There is no respect for specific learning needs of children – what about the child who does not process quickly, yet is required daily to participate in the gut wrenching practice of cold calling (in which a teacher rapid fires questions at random children with no think time for the child). These strategies are absolutely detrimental to the second language learner or the child with learning disabilities as there is no scaffolding or additional supports to meet their needs.  Children will simply become compliant or….. they will revolt, and then, they will be asked to leave the school. We must remember, few charter schools accept all children and these techniques come straight from charter schools. Charters are also excellent at counseling children out of the school. There is not a single video I have observed yet that shows children independently moving around the room. The children move like robots and the teachers dictate their every move.

Lemov believes that all these techniques create efficiency and therefore better use of time for students to reach “mastery.” What I observe is a large amount of time wasted parroting motions and words that require minimal thinking but 100% compliance. I do not observe any authentic learning. The children are expressionless. In a classroom of vibrant learning you can feel the buzz and hear the buzz of learning. These classrooms feel more like boot camp.

As an educator I have a vast array of approaches I use to support children.  My bachelor’s is in Elementary Education and my master’s is in English as a Second Language, so I understand clearly the many scaffolds and teaching methods that can be used to meet the needs of a diverse group of students. Yet, in these videos of diverse classrooms, the only approach I have observed is whole group direct instruction.

Where are the chatty children who are engaged in learning as they lean over a project or book? Where are the smiling children?  Where are the excited children who are bubbling over with information about their learning, their friends, their family and their school?  And where are the sad children who need the extra moment to talk quietly with the teacher about how they were up all night due to a parental fight?  The children have no emotion. After watching 46 videos of children with absolutely no expression on their faces – minus only six children who let out a brief smile or laugh – I literally wanted to cry.

There is a reason I am absolutely livid over this book. There is a reason I am angry that Colorado – and the rest of the country – is allowing this book and the Relay Graduate School to infiltrate their schools.  When I read the book and watch the videos, all I can think of is fascist, racist times in history in which children were harmed. Corporate education is devouring our children – specifically – our neediest children.  It is gut wrenching to watch the students in these videos.  I know what is possible in a school community – a school where vibrant learning occurs and students and teachers are engaged – with purpose, passion and humanity. Sadly, the strategies in this book adhere to very direct instruction and dictatorial behavior models which strip children of their identity and culture – all in the name of high stakes tests scores. There is no equity here. There is no justice for children.

-Peggy Robertson

An Evening with Seattle Opt Out: 7PM, September 27th @ Moonpaper Tent

Join Seattle Opt Out on Wednesday, September 27th @ 7 PM for a brief presentation and discussion around standardized testing and its impact on our public schools. The event will be held at Moonpaper Tent ( 8503 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115 ) and is free and welcome to all.
Seattle Opt Out Flyer 9:27:17
-Seattle Education Blog

Education Reform and Racism: Why Aren’t We Talking About This?

Original Title: Why Aren’t We Talking About This? Reposted with permission from Save Maine Schools – Helping You Navigate Next-Gen Ed Reform.

Why Aren't We Talking About This?

Everyone in the nation is talking about our racist history, but do people know what type of racism is happening today, beneath our noses, under the banner of education reform?

When I was twenty-five, I interviewed at a charter school in Brooklyn.

Before I sat down to talk to the dean, I observed a kindergarten class that looked nothing like any kindergarten class I had ever seen: just shy of thirty children sitting in rows on a carpet, each with legs crossed and hands folded, all completely and utterly silent.

In my interview, the dean asked me what I noticed about the class.

“They were very well behaved,” I said.

“Yes, they were. But they sure don’t come in like that,” he answered.  With icy pride in his voice, he said: “It’s only because of the hard work of our staff that they act like that.”

I took the job – foolishly – and soon found out what this “hard work” meant: scholars, as we called them, were expected to be 100% compliant at all times. Every part of the nine-hour school day was structured to prevent any opportunity for deviance; even recess, ten-minutes long and only indoors, consisted of one game chosen for the week on Monday.

We were overseers, really.  Our lessons were scripted according to the needs of the upcoming state test, and so we spent our days “catching” scholars when they misbehaved, marking their misdeeds (talking, laughing, wiggling) on charts, and sending them to the dean when they acted their age too many times in one day.

There weren’t any white children at the school, but there I was – a white teacher, snapping at a room full of black children to get them to respond, in unison, to my demands.

Everyone in the nation is talking about our racist history, but do people know what type of racism is happening today, beneath our noses, under the banner of education reform?

With useless, commercial junk-tests as justification, we have been told, for years now, that we must serve up our low-income schools – those schools filled mostly with children of color – to profiteers, who are then free to experiment on children in whatever ways they see fit.

Have you ever seen this video?  Watch as the parents – parents who love and value their school – are told that they need a charter network to rescue them:

“Why come here and discombobulate our home?” one parent asks.

They are discombobulating homes everywhere, of course, but communities of color are almost always hit first – and hardest.

But who, aside from a few bloggers and academics, are talking about this?

Why aren’t more people demanding that these racist institutions and policies be taken down?

Things are about to get much worse, as profiteers are now turning their attention to the measurement and manipulation of the non-academic parts of schooling – how much “grit” a child has, or how compliant he or she is – with computers taking the place of teachers to conduct remediation.


It’s modern eugenics: the molding of children’s personalities, starting from preschool, to suit the needs of our Wall Street masters.

If you aren’t sure what I mean, it’s because it isn’t happening yet in your community. Maybe, if you’re lucky, it never will.

You can be sure, however, that it is happening to other people’s children.

When will we demand that this stops too?

Save Maine Schools

Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wants Seniors to Have a Plan for the Future in Order to Graduate. Chris Reykdal, Washington State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Just Passed a Similar Requirement for 8th Graders.

follow the money

Thanks to the tireless effort of education activist, the general public is on to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

People know Emanuel is bad news when it comes to public education.

Of course, Mayor Emanuel worked hard to cement his reputation – by closing schools, refusing to fund wrap around services, and praising charter schools.

In a city with nearly 800 homicides and more than 4,000 shootings last year, Emanuel refuses to fund wraparound services for students living with this trauma. His Chicago Housing Authority is hoarding a $379 million surplus while we have more than 18,000 homeless students in the city’s school district, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Special education cuts in the public schools have left our most vulnerable students without the services and resources they so desperately need. Seventy-five percent of public schools in Chicago do not have libraries, according to the Chicago Teachers Union (which I serve as president).

Emanuel led the largest mass public school closing ever in one U.S. city—mostly in African-American and Latino communities—and has been accused of fostering educational “apartheid” by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He also is known for his Rolodex full of prominent businessmen and wealthy entrepreneurs who have funded charter school privatization, which set the stage for the aforementioned closures.

Not surprisingly, the only schools Emanuel celebrates in his opinion piece are charter schools. One of them is part of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which named one of its campuses Rauner College Prep after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. The multimillionaire governor, who supports Trump’s nomination of DeVos as secretary of education, is also on record saying that half of Chicago’s public school teachers are “virtually illiterate” and that half of the city’s principals are “incompetent.”

When Mayor Emanuel announced his new graduation requirements: an acceptance letter to a university or community college, proof of an apprenticeship or internship, acceptable to a trade school, or enlistment in the armed services, even Gas Station TV covered the story.

What’s worst, Mayor Emanuel claims he got his latest punitive idea for public education from – you guessed it – charter schools.

Chicago would be the first city to implement such a requirement, although Emanuel said it’s an idea he borrowed from charter schools.

Good grief.

Chris Reykdal Has His Own Plan to Force Students into a Career Path

What’s interesting is right around the same time – when Chicago Mayor Emmanuel was taking heat for his coercive plan for high school students – State Superintendent Chris Reykdal was pushing a similar plan in the Washington State Legislature.

This isn’t surprising to anyone who bothered to read Superintendent Reykdal’s K-12 Education Vision & McCleary Framework.

High School and Beyond Learning Plans for Every Student

The transition from middle school to high school is a substantial risk for students. The research shows that if a students fails even one core course ( math, science, or English ), in the 9th grade, they are less likely to graduate from high school than their peers. Washington State will become a leader in adopting a robust universal High School and Beyond Plans (HSBP) for 8th graders on their way to high school. The middle school provides the plan to the student’s high school, which details the student’s strengths, areas of growth, initial career interests, and a road map of the courses required to graduate from high school successfully. The HSBP tool will be digital and accessible to parents, guardians, counselors, and students. It will also provide the framework for early warning messaging to parents via contemporary digital media tools. Authentic parent engagement needs to meet the needs of the 21st century. (bold mine)

First off, two side issues which need addressing:

Reykdal’s push as a legislator for a statewide requirement of 24 credits has made the issue of students not passing one core class and failing to graduate an even higher possibility.

Second, authentic parent engagement involves actual humans – like teachers- not a text message similar to the ones I get from the dentist reminding me to schedule my next cleaning.

Must Means Mandatory

Here’s the wording from HB 2224, which passed the House with a vote of  94 yeas and ZERO noes on June 27, 2017.

Requirement for High School and Beyond Plan

And this:

HSBP reassesment in 9th grade

“Must have” means mandatory in my book; if it’s a requirement for 8th grade or 12th grade is, frankly, irrelevant.

Instead of coercion, why isn’t our State Superintendent demanding every school in Washington State have full time counselors, nurses, social workers, and all of the other wrap around services kids need to be successful in school and life.

What’s so important about these plans?

Here’s a not so benevolent possibility to consider, from Wrench in the Gears:

Recent “philanthropic” interest in universal pre-kindergarten, early literacy interventions and post-graduation plans (college, career, military or certifications) does not stem from some benevolent impulse. Rather it is about creating opportunities to embed digital frameworks into our education systems that reduce children’s lives to datasets. Once education is simplified as 1s and 0s, global finance will be well-positioned to speculate (gamble) on the future prospects of any given child, school, or district.

That is what accounts for intrusive preschool assessments like TS Gold and the pressure for middle school students to complete Naviance strengths assessments.  Impact investors need baseline data, growth data and “value added” data to assess ROI (return on investment). There are opportunities for profit all along this human-capital value chain. That is why end-of-year testing had to go in favor of constant, formative assessments. That is why they needed to implement VAM (Value Added Measures) and SLOs (Student Learning Objectives). These speculative markets will demand a constant influx of dynamic data. Where is this student, this class, this district compared with where they were projected to be? We need to know. Our bottom line depends on it.

We must recognize that beneath the propaganda of expanding opportunities for our most vulnerable populations, what is happening with “Future Ready” education is predatory and vile. It demeans education, turning it into a pipeline for human capital management at the very moment more and more experts are conveying grave concerns about the future of work in a world increasingly governed by artificial intelligence and automation.


Washington State’s Backdoor Draft and More

This is where HB 2224 gets downright ugly.

Backdoor draft

Admission to university or community college – check.

Proof of an apprenticeship, internship, or acceptable to a trade school -check.

Enlistment in the armed services -check.

Forcing kids to enlist in the military because they can’t jump through all these state mandated requirements to graduate is coercion.

Remember, these extra requirements are in addition to high school students passing all of their classes and earning 24 credit.

I think it’s also important to point out that most adults reading this post never had to pass a standardized test to graduate or had to cope with the added pressure and stress ed-reform’s embrace of business discipline has added on today’s student academic experience.

In short, I will not accept the rationale that these “outs” to an already brutal system are somehow benevolent.

Don’t try explaining away this type of authoritarian pressure to me as a benign attempt by the state to step in and help kids living in poverty make plans for the future because they don’t get that help from their parents.

This excuse is downright insulting to parents trying to make ends meet in our society of ever widening economic inequity – not to mention our country’s continuing love affair with the lie that skin color is character.


How is Washington State’s plan not similar to Mayor Emmanuel’s plan? And if so, where’s the outrage?

It’s also not hard to see State Superintendent Chris Reykdal’s mandatory high school and beyond plans evolving to require even more invasive character and academic assessments in the future – just give the legislature a few more sessions to get the job done.

The legislature already got a good head start when they rewrote the assessment requirements needed to graduate – as requested by Reykdal.

After all, the Washington Legislature doesn’t give a damn about funding our public schools, but they sure do like to pile on the requirements for graduation.


Reykdal - Wa Schools Largest Workforce Development

-Carolyn Leith

Why Delinking Graduation from the Smarter Balanced Assessment & Other Tests is the Right Thing to Do.

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I am writing to encourage everyone who values the 13 years of hard work completed by students as they reach their senior year to call their state legislators. My request is simple: ask your legislator to pass HB 1046. This bill will serve to delink all high stakes testing requirements in all subjects from high school graduation.

While this bill does not eliminate the state tests, it DOES eliminate the high stakes attached to these tests, which is a big step forward in supporting students whose futures have been severely damaged by high stakes testing.

In 2013, Seattle Times writer Donna Blankenship notified her readers about some stark facts tied to the state’s End of Course Math tests:

“But that doesn’t make life any easier for the nearly 7,000 students in the Class of 2013 who have yet to pass the newly required math test and didn’t get their diplomas last month.”

2013 was the first year the state required students to pass an end of course math test in order to graduate and earn their diploma.

This got me thinking. Since 2013, how many students in Washington State have been denied a diploma for failing a high stakes tests required for graduation? I don’t see the numbers posted clearly anywhere, despite the state’s creation of these high stakes.

It gets worst. In 2017-18, students will  be required to pass three high stakes tests in order to receive their diplomas, per OSPI:

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I wrote OSPI and asked them about the number of students who will be denied a diploma because of end of course tests required by the state. After all, we know approximately 7,000 students were denied graduation in 2013 because of one math test. What will happen when three tests are required?

Hello OSPI Communications and Community Outreach,

I have a question about SHB1046. Does OSPI have an estimate of how many students will fail to graduate if testing is not delinked from graduation, please?  How many failed to graduate last year due to testing?

Thank you kindly, Susan DuFresne

OSPI’s  response:

“As of late April, there were 15,645 students in the Class of 2017 who had not met the assessment graduation requirements.  Students are required to pass an assessment – or a graduation alternative – in each of the three subject areas ELA, math, and science.  The 15,645 number includes students who may have passed 0, 1, or 2 of the requirements, but haven’t met all 3.  Also note that these numbers only reflect their status with respect to the assessment grad requirements; it does not include information about whether the student has met other graduation requirements such as credits.”

15,645 students in Washington State are at risk of being denied graduation after investing 13 years of their lives in school.  In years past, a child attended 13 years of school, received passing or failing grades by their professional educators, earned their credits, and graduated with their diploma.

Shannon Ergun, ESL 9-12 Mt Tahoma High School, Tacoma Public Schools is highly concerned about the undue stress level these high stakes create for students and she states:

“I estimate based on there being 1.1 million students in WA that there are 70K-75K seniors that means that about 20% of current seniors are waiting on test scores to know if they can walk at graduation in 4-5 weeks. That is an inappropriate level of stress for a 17 or 28 year old to carry while still faced with AP exams, final exams, and final plans for beyond high school.

Until large numbers of kids are actually impacted everyone will continue to believe it will all be ok.”

I think Shannon makes a great point: What about the ordeal our kids experience just by taking these high stakes tests, knowing graduation is on the line? As adults, it’s sometimes easier to ignore rather than face the pressure these tests place on our kids.

For instance, did you know some students find these tests so stressful there’s an actual protocol for what to do should a student vomit on a test? That’s a lot of pressure. When was the last time you vomited at work over the pressure you felt to perform? I’m guessing this would be a highly unusual occurrence, not likely covered by a particular protocol in the employee handbook.

And what’s the message we’re sending to those kids born without the very particular gift of being a good test takers? You only have value if you can score high on a standardized test?

The State Board of Education is offering a compromise solution: delinking the biology end of course exam, while continuing to use the other end of year course exams as graduation requirements.

Why would it be acceptable to offer a deal to 3,302 students but leave 12,343 behind?

As an educator, I want ALL students who have otherwise completed their graduation requirements based on grades and credits earned to receive their diplomas – despite failing one or more of any of the three high stakes tests imposed by the state.

And what happens to the chances of bright futures for those left behind?

High school exit exams contribute greatly to the school-to-prison pipeline as noted here by FairTest:

“High school exit exams (FairTest, 2008) push many thousands of students out of school. As a result of these factors, urban graduation rates decreased. Some students see no realistic option other than dropping out; some are deliberately pushed out or fail the tests. Either way, these young people are much more likely to end up in trouble or in prison. One study found that high school exit exams increase incarceration rates by 12.5 percent (Baker & Lang, 2013).”

Sadly, youth who are unable to acquire a diploma are often relegated to minimum wage employment, live with state support through DSHS, or become homeless. In 2012, for example, DSHS reported that 69% of their “Opportunity Youth” did not have a high school diploma.

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And what about earnings for youth who do not receive a high school diploma?

“The average dropout can expect to earn an annual income of $20,241, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (PDF). That’s a full $10,386 less than the typical high school graduate, and $36,424 less than someone with a bachelor’s degree.

PBS Frontline reports in Dropout Nation by Jason Breslow and per the 2012 US Census here:

“The challenges hardly end there, particularly among young dropouts. Among those between the ages of 18 and 24, dropouts were more than twice as likely as college graduates to live in poverty according to the Department of Education. Dropouts experienced a poverty rate of 30.8 percent, while those with at least a bachelor’s degree had a poverty rate of 13.5 percent.

Among dropouts between the ages of 16 and 24, incarceration rates were a whopping 63 times higher than among college graduates, according to a study (PDF) by researchers at Northeastern University. “


Are we OK with throwing away the futures of kids who are unable to perform on high stakes tests – after they’ve devoted 13 years of hard work to their education? What message does this send to kids about hard work when it doesn’t payoff and they end up rejected by the system.

What if OSPI was required to report how many students have been denied graduation due to high stakes testing each year? What if our US Department of Education had to file a yearly report which focused on the living conditions of each state’s youth denied a diploma due to high stakes tests?

Perhaps outraged parents, educators, and students would rise up and stop the high stakes testing; the state’s means to punish children, educators, and schools would be lost forever.

By delinking ALL high stakes tests from graduation we can protect thousands of students in Washington from being denied their rightfully earned diploma for simply missing a few questions on a test.

Also by delinking these tests from graduation requirements, we will also save our state between $9-$11 million dollars. Money that could be better spent on actual teaching vs testing.

Call 1-800-562-6000 and ask your legislators to protect our students by delinking high stakes testing from graduation – vote YES on SHB1046! Delink them all! Give our youth the bright futures they deserve!

-Susan DuFresne – Integrated Kindergarten Teacher with General Education and Special Education endorsements – 7 years in the Renton School District, Teacher of Professional Conscience, Co-Owner of the Opt Out Bus, Social Equality Educator, Artist, progressive and social justice education activist, unionist, mother and grandmother – The views I express are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer. #FreeSpeech

Seattle Event: Closing the Opportunity Gap Detracking and De-Testing. An evening with Carol Burris and Wayne Au



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

6:30 PM – 8:00 PM

Garfield High School

Quincy Jones Performing Arts Center

400 23rd Avenue

Seattle, WA 98122  

This event is supported by the Garfield High School PTSA, Seattle Equality Educators (SEE), the Center for Race and Equity and the Seattle Education Association.

Carol Burris, Executive Director of the Network for Public Education Foundation, will deliver a keynote address regarding the tremendous benefits of detracking, and how ranking students based on their perceived intellectual abilities creates de facto segregation in our schools.

Wayne Au, Professor of Education at the University of Washington, Bothell, will also be joining us on a panel of local educators and students who will share their stories and insights regarding inclusion and high-stakes testing.

Carol Burris is the Executive Director of the Network for Public Education Foundation and has been a teacher in both middle and high schools. She received her doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University, and is a former high school principal. In 2010, she was named Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, and in 2013, she was named SAANYS New York State High School Principal of the Year. Dr. Burris co-authored Detracking for Excellence and Equity (2008) and Opening the Common Core: How to Bring ALL Students to College and Career Readiness (2012), and authored On the Same Track: How Schools Can Join the 21st Century Struggle against Re-segregation (2014). We welcome her to Seattle to share her wisdom, as we strive for equity and excellence in all of our schools.

Click here for a flyer.

The deets on DFER, Democrats for Education Reform



The following is the most comprehensive investigation and reporting that I have read so far about Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a group disguising themselves as a Democratic political group. DFER is a group working for business interests that pushes all things corporate education reform including charter schools, the dismantling of the teachers union, and support for Teach for America along with the Common Core Standards, among a myriad of other actions that are not in the best interest of students in public schools.

To follow is the white paper written by two teachers on Democrats for Education Reform also referred to as DFER:

The Intended Consequences of the DFER Education Agenda

By: Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson

Peer Reviewed by Dr. Deborah Cornavaca and Dr. Mitchell Robinson

The Democrats for Education Reform have initiated a shameless war on public education, even as they claim to support children, teachers, and schools.

DFER History and Background

The purpose of this report is to expose that the education platform of the Democrats for

Education is not one rooted in research or supportive of sound pedagogical practice. In

their mission statement the organization claims to be the champions of high-quality

public education for every child, but we will show that much of what they champion,

regarding policies and positions, are not rooted in best practices. We believe that

hedge fund managers, business executives, and privately-run corporations should not

be involved in creating or implementing education policy. Teachers, administrators,

parents, communities, and elected school boards should be the stakeholders

responsible for creating and implementing education policy in this country.


The Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) was founded in 2007 by hedge fund

managers, including Whitney Tilson, R. Boykin Curry IV, and John Petry.


Democrats for Education Reform is a political action committee that uses its immense wealth to lobby for specific policies in public education. In some states, DFER is called Education Reform NOW. Former T.V. reporter Joe Williams was the first executive director of Democrats for Education Reform (2007 to 2015). The organization is now led by Shavar Jeffries. The Board of Directors and Advisory Board of this hedge-fund-financed political action committee includes some of the top managers in the country. As Danielle Beurteaux noted, “Boykin Curry of Eagle Capital, Charles Ledley of Highfields Capital Man. Whitney Tilson of T2 Partners, David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, Michael Novogratz of Fortress Investment Group, Greenblatt and Petry on its director and advisory boards” ( Beurteaux, 2011).

Whitney Tilson stated in the film, A Right Denied,

“The real problem, politically, was not the Republican Party, it was the Democratic Party. So it dawned on us, over the course of six months or a year, that it had to be an inside job. The biggest obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic Party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, ‘Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly, there are Republicans in favor of education reform.’ And we said, ‘We agree.’ In fact, our natural llies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican Party to our point of view…”


Lisa Graves, in her article for PR Watch, How DFER Leaders Channel Out-of-State Dark Money”, wrote, “DFER co-founder…Whitney Tilson explained the hedge funders interest in education noting that “Hedge funds are always looking for ways to turn a small amount of capital into a large amount of capital” (Graves, 2016).


DFER defines their organization: “We are Democrats leading a political reform

organization that cultivates and supports leaders in our party who champion America’s

public schoolchildren.” Their vision as stated on their website is, “To make the

Democratic Party the champion of high-quality public education.” Their education vision

involves test-based accountability for students and teachers, school choice and

vouchers, support of Common Core, and private (charter) schools funded by public

money (Democrats for Education Reform, 2016). Democrats for Education Reform

currently has chapters in eleven states. Most of the state directors and staff are

business people or persons with ties to organizations whose understanding and

commitment to public education was difficult to identify beyond their profit motive.


DFER staff/board of advisors with business/corporate backgrounds (Democrats

for Education Reform, About Us, 2016

Victor Contreras (AZ), real estate

Marti Awad (CO), founding partner Cardan Capital Partners – securities, mergers,

acquisitions law firm

Patrick Byrne (CO), CEO of Overstock

Josh Hanfling (CO), co-founder of Sewald Hanfling – public affairs firm, former member

of Clinton Global Initiative

Hollie Velasquez Horvath (CO), manager of political engagement for Xcel Energy

Tom Kaesemeyer (CO), Executive Director, Fox Family Foundation

Jason Andrean (DC, assistant vice president and relationship manager at Capital One

Commercial Bank

Joy Arnold Russell (DC), founder of Jonathan Arnold Consulting

Victor Reinoso (DC), Senior Advisor to Bellwether Education Partners, an Entrepreneur

in Residence at the NewSchools Venture Fund, and the co-founder of Decision Science

Labs, a K-12 analytics and budgeting platform, investor and advisor to leading edtech

startups including TenMarks, LearnZillion and Ellevation Education

Liam Kerr, management consultancy The Parthenon Group and the national venture

philanthropy fund New Profit, Inc.


DFER staff/board of advisors with ties to corporate education reform:


Rhonda Cagle (AZ), Chief Communications & Development Officer, Imagine Schools

(charter management corporation)

Lindsay Neil (CO), Chief External Affairs Officer Strive Preparatory (Charter) Schools

Mary Seawell, (CO), Senior Vice President of Education, Gates Family Foundation

Amy Dowell (CT), prior director for StudentsFirst in NY

Catharine Bellinger, (DC Students for Education Reform, KIPP

Jason Andrean (DC), chairman of the proposed Legacy Collegiate Academy Public

Charter School

Mikaela Seligman (DC), The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems

Shawn Hardnett (DC), a founding teacher and administrator for KIPP Bayview Academy

in San Francisco, CA; later served as Founder and Head of School at the first single

gender academy within the KIPP Network, KIPP Polaris Academy for Boys in Houston

Texas; past Director of Charter Leadership Development; served as Chief of Schools for

both Friendship Public Charter Schools and Center City Public Charter Schools;

currently partnered with the DC Fund of New Schools Venture Fund

Maya Martin (DC), Chief of Staff at Achievement Prep (charter management


Paula White (NJ), charter school founder, previous member of NJ Charter School Task


Nicole Brisbane (NY), Teach for America (TFA)

Natasha Kamrani (TN), Teach For America (TFA)

Jennifer Kohn Koppel, (TX vice-president of Growth for IDEA Public Schools (charter

management corporation)


The list above represents more than 75% of the DFER staff and board of advisors. As

seen from the list above DFER is clearly not a group of individuals who should be

working on legislation to protect and provide for our public school system. For a

complete list of the candidates that DFER currently supports, visit their website

( ).


DFER Supports the Expansion of Private Schools Funded by Public Money (Charter Schools) 

One of the main platforms of DFER is support of charter schools. In August of 2015,

the delegates for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

(NAACP) issued a statement recommending a moratorium on charters, demonstrating

critical and thoughtful leadership. (Heilig, 2016) DFER quickly refuted this resolution by

stating, “Across the country, particularly in our urban communities, public charter

schools are a beacon of hope that empower parents and families with greater control

over their child’s future.” (Jeffries, 2016) On October 15, 2016, the NAACP Board of

Directors issued a moratorium on charters schools nationwide (NAACP, 2016).


It has, however, been found that private schools funded by public money (charters) are

ripe with fraud and mismanagement. (Strauss, 2015) It has been noted that charters

sort and segregate students. In The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence

Student Enrollment, Kevin Welner points out that, “the patterns are particularly stark

when we realize that such at-risk students are disproportionately enrolled in a small

subset of ‘mission-oriented’ charters – those dedicated to serving a particular type of

at-risk student” (Welner, 2013). Welner also shared that journalist Stephanie Simon

discovered how charters “cherry pick” the students they want. Simon noted that

“applications are made available just a few hours a year, there is a lengthy application

form that is often printed only in English.” Simon further revealed that charters require

“student and parent essays, report cards, test scores, disciplinary records, teacher

recommendations and medical records.” Charters also demand that “students present

Social Security cards and birth certificates for their applications to be considered, even

though such documents cannot be required under Federal law.” Even more egregious,

Simon points out that for students to get their spot in a charter school lottery they must

have “Mandatory family interviews, assessment exams, academic prerequisites, and

requirements that applicants document any disabilities or special needs.” (in Welner,



Frankenberg, Hawley, and Wang stated in Choice without Equity: Charter School

Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards, “as the country continues moving

steadily toward greater segregation and inequality of education for students of color in

schools with lower achievement and graduation rates, the rapid growth of charter

schools has been expanding a sector that is even more segregated than the public

schools. The Civil Rights Project has been issuing annual reports on the spread of

segregation in public schools and its impact on educational opportunity for 14 years.

The report states, “We know that choice programs can either offer quality educational

options with racially and economically diverse schooling to children who otherwise have

few opportunities or choice programs can increase stratification and inequality

depending on how they are designed. The charter effort, which has largely ignored the

segregation issue, has been justified by claims about superior educational performance,

which simply are not sustained by the research. Though there are some remarkable and

diverse charter schools, most are neither. The lessons of what is needed to make

choice work have usually been ignored in charter school policy. Magnet schools are the

striking example of and offer a great deal of experience in how to create educationally

successful and integrated choice options” (Frankenberg, 2012).


One has to wonder, given the preponderance of evidence, why DFER has not backed

away from their support of charter schools, like the NAACP, ACLU, and Black Lives

Matter who have all issued a moratorium on charters, and focus their resources toward

a rebuilding of community public schools designed for all children (Katayama, 2016).

Knowing the history and background of DFER’s board members, this is unlikely to

happen. Funneling money out of public education and into charter schools guides their

decision-making practices, not educational theories and pedagogy.


DFER Supports the Use of Standardized Tests for Accountability


DFER supposedly was founded based on the need to make schools more accountable

for meeting the needs of all students. DFER took a readily available tool, standardized

tests, and pushed them into the spotlight with the claim that they would be the panacea

to identifying schools with poor performance, thereby allowing them to be labeled as

“failing.” DFER’s continued emphasis on testing ignores sound educational practice and

learning theories, and denies the fact that basic human needs must be met for effective

learning to occur in the classroom. However, what they have failed to do is to effectively

put any legislation into action that provides necessary resources to school districts that

are in need of funding to provide pathways to provide the “wrap-around” services that

students need. In doing this, the organization can deny their culpability in the failure of

our government to create a system of supports and services that raise each generation

to become healthier and more self-sufficient, with the needs of the collective population

as the driving force of improvement.


In an attempt to give credit to standardized testing, DFER created an infographic to

show how parents feel about standardized tests (Democrats for Education Reform,

2015). Missing from this graphic is information that shows the effectiveness of

standardized tests in increasing a student’s educational performance. Also missing is

information about how using standardized tests has brought more resources to

classrooms or improved teaching methods. Of course, data and infographics showing

how these improvements were brought about by standardized tests are not being

promoted because no such data exists! DFER was only able to create this particular

infographic because parents have been fed the myth that the use of these tests for

accountability is the answer to what they perceive as an educational issue, distracting

them from the real issue of poverty and inequity in our nation. Instead, as stated in their

reaffirmation of belief in the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for

College and Careers) exam, DFER wants us to believe that high expectations and rigor

are the keys to preparing students for the future, that some educators really don’t want

parents to know how their students are doing, and that a computer test is the true

measure of a student’s preparedness for life after high school (LeBuhn, Barone, 2014).


DFER Refuses to Acknowledge that Standardized Testing Does Not Close the

Achievement/Opportunity Gap 

Instead of being the key to a better education, when analyzing the results of

standardized tests, several studies have shown that standardized testing does not close

the achievement gap. Nichols, Glass, and Berliner used an Accountability Pressure

Index to measure state-level policy pressure for performance on standardized testing,

and correlations between high-stakes testing accountability and student performance.

Their findings show that the achievement gap is not reduced by the use of standardized

tests. Specifically, African-American students had the lowest average NAEP scores in

both fourth and eighth-grade math.


Additionally, the authors noted that fourth and eighth-grade average math scores rose

more dramatically before NCLB than after. Also noted is the fact that pressure for high

performance from 2004 is associated with decreased performance in math for the years

2005-2009. The authors of this study state that it ‘s hard to form a definite conclusion

regarding the relationship of accountability pressure and student achievement. We

maintain that this finding alone is evidence that the overemphasis on standardized

testing needs to be decreased, especially in a time where budgetary decision-making

results in the allocation of more funds towards testing, and fewer funds toward

programs and services that directly help students and their families (Nichols, Glass, and

Berliner, 2012).


Furthermore, in Closing the Achievement Gap: A Metaphor for Children Left Behind,

Giroux and Schmidt found that, “when state tests are viewed as the sole indicator of

student learning, especially when attached to academic promotion and high school exit

criteria, less than positive effects on students’ opportunities for learning have been

reported.” The authors further contend that “The most fundamental element of school

reform is improving educational opportunities for all children who attend public schools,

but this would demand more than simply tougher accountability schemes, expanded

choice programs and more testing.” Giroux and Schmidt reference Gutman (2000)

when calling for powerful systemic education reforms for all children, specifically

underserved children that DFER members continue to ignore. Gutman makes the

following recommendations: ‘‘decreasing class size, expanding preschool programs,

setting high standards for all students, engaging students in cooperative learning

exercises, empowering principals and teachers to innovate, increasing social services

offered to students and their families, and providing incentives to the ablest college

students to enter the teaching profession and, in particular, to teach in inner city

schools” (Giroux & Schmidt, 2004).

DFER also promotes the use of standardized testing to evaluate teacher quality, while ignoring the trauma that underserved children come to school with on a daily basis, trauma that adversely impacts test scores.

Recent research has shown that trauma experienced during childhood can impact concentration, memory and language development that children need to be successful in school. The foundation that a child needs for learning, the ability to form relationships, trust, and communication skills can be affected, resulting in lower assessment results. To rate teachers based upon a test that does not account for these facts is not a valid measurement of a teacher’s ability to teach.(“Traumatic experiences can impact learning,” 2016) The American Statistical

Association noted in 2014 that, “most VAM studies find that teachers account for about

1% to 14% of the variability in test scores and that the majority of opportunities for

quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their

VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality” (American

Statistical Association, 2014). Children who are poor come to school with the trauma of

food insecurity, shelter insecurity, and family disruption. For teachers who teach in

high-needs districts with high populations of underserved children, this is a recipe for

disaster for the child, the teacher, and the district.


The Economic Policy Institute’s Problems with the Use of Student Test Scores to

Evaluate Teachers found that “there is not strong evidence to indicate either that the

departing teachers would be the weakest teachers, or that the departing teachers would

be replaced by more effective ones. There is also little or no evidence for the claim that

teachers will be more motivated to improve student learning if teachers are evaluated or

monetarily rewarded for student test score gains.” On evaluating teachers using test

scores, the report also contends that,

“VAM (Value Added Measure) estimates have proven to be unstable across statistical

models, years, and classes that teachers teach. One study found that across five large

urban districts, among teachers who were ranked in the top 20% of effectiveness in the

first year, fewer than a third were in that top group the next year, and another third

moved all the way down to the bottom 40%. Another found that teachers’ effectiveness

ratings in one year could only predict from 4% to 16% of the variation in such ratings in

the following year. Thus, a teacher who appears to be very ineffective in one year might

have a dramatically different result the following year. The same dramatic fluctuations

were found for teachers ranked at the bottom in the first year of analysis. This runs

counter to most people’s notions that the true quality of a teacher is likely to change

very little over time and raises questions about whether what is measured is largely a

‘teacher effect’ or the effect of a wide variety of other factors.”


On student achievement, the authors state that “ these factors also include school

conditions—such as the quality of curriculum materials, specialist or tutoring supports,

class size, and other factors that affect learning. Schools that have adopted pull-out,

team teaching, or block scheduling practices will only inaccurately be able to isolate

individual teacher ‘effects’ for evaluation, pay, or disciplinary purposes. Student test

score gains are also strongly influenced by school attendance and a variety of

out-of-school learning experiences at home, with peers, at museums and libraries, in

summer programs, online, and in the community. Well educated and supportive parents

can help their children with homework and secure a wide variety of other advantages for

them. Other children have parents who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to support

their learning academically. Student test score gains are also influenced by family

resources, student health, family mobility, and the influence of neighborhood peers and

of classmates who may be relatively more advantaged or disadvantaged” (Baker et al.,



Linda Darling-Hammond noted in Can Value Added Add Value to Teacher Evaluation?

that “the most tragic outcome will be if VAM measures are used to ensure a spread in

the ratings of teachers so as to facilitate dismissals, but the teachers who are fired are

not the ‘incompetent deadwood’ imagined by advocates. Instead, they are the teachers

working with the most challenging students in the most challenging contexts and those

whose students are so far ahead of the curve the tests have no items to measure their

gains, and perhaps those who eschew test prep in favor of more exciting, but less

testable, learning experiences. If value-added measures continue to prove

untrustworthy, the likelihood that they can be used to improve the quality of teaching, or

of the teaching force, will be remote” (Darling-Hammond, 2015).


One need only to reference the case of New York teacher Sheri Lederman to note the

ineffective nature of VAM and its ability to distinguish teacher quality. Dr. Lederman, an

award-winning teacher, sued the New York State Department of Education over her

evaluation score. Valerie Strauss highlighted the case on her blog, “The Answer

Sheet”, for The Washington Post. Strauss noted the history of the suit: “In 2012-13,

68.75 percent of her New York students met or exceeded state standards in both

English and math. She was labeled ‘effective’ that year. In 2013-2014, her students’ test

results were very similar, but she was rated ‘ineffective.’ Meanwhile, her district

superintendent, Thomas Dolan, declared that Lederman — whose students received

standardized math and English Language Arts test scores consistently higher than the

state average — has a ‘flawless record.’” Strauss further noted that “Lederman’s suit

against state education officials — including King — challenges the rationality of the

VAM model, and it alleges that the New York State Growth Measures actually punishes

excellence in education through a statistical black box which no rational educator or fact

finder could see as fair, accurate or reliable.” In May 2015, New York Supreme Court

Judge Roger McDonough ruled that Lederman’s evaluation was “arbitrary” and

“capricious” (Strauss, 2015).


In the larger context, the DFER support of test-based evaluations for teachers is not

only flawed but dangerous to children and public education. Promotion of such policies

that educational experts repeatedly demonstrate as flawed can arguably be considered

educational malpractice. Since most of DFER members are hedge funders, this

approach to teacher evaluation would be like firing a trader based on one day of

performance on Wall Street.


DFER Supports Common Core

Part of the myth that DFER tries to sell is that there is a “magic bullet” answer for what

they feel is wrong with our schools. DFER tries to tell the public that if our schools have

more “rigorous” standards that are composed of more “grit”, our students will be better

prepared to compete in the future workforce. They tout these reforms as “necessary

recalibration”. (Johnson, 2013)


Hiebert and Mesmer noted in Upping the Ante of Text Complexity in the Common Core

State Standards: Examining Its Potential Impact on Young Readers that the drive to set

the bar so high in the younger grades, as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)

does, will have more negative consequences than positive results. Hebert and Mesmer

state strongly that, “we believe that the evidence cited by CCSS writers to verify

declining levels of text complexity pertains to middle and high schools, not the primary

grades. Some overgeneralizations of the textbook simplification research have resulted

in large changes in the primary grades. The early acceleration of text complexity takes

the focus off of secondary level where the patterns of declining challenges in texts have

been clear and consistent for a 40-year period” (Hiebert & Mesmer, 2013).


Hiebert and Mesmer found “text that the CCSS offers as an exemplar for the Grades

2–3 band—Bats: Creatures of the Night (Milton, 1993)—has the same mean log word

frequency as an exemplar for the Grades 11–12 CCR band—Common Sense (Paine,

1776/2005).” In regard to making young children deal with such high level text

complexity, they further stated, “at present, there is research indicating that motivation

decreases when tasks become too challenging and none that indicates that increasing

challenge (and potential levels of failure) earlier in students’ careers will change this

dismal national pattern of disengagement with literacy.” (Guthrie, Wigfield, & You, 2012)


In The Common Core State Standards’ Quantitative Text Complexity Trajectory :

Figuring Out How Much Complexity Is Enough, Williamson, Fitzgerald and Stenner

point out:

“The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) set a controversial aspirational, quantitative trajectory for text complexity exposure for readers throughout the grades, aiming for all high school graduates to be able to independently read complex college and workplace texts. However, the trajectory standard is presented without reference to how the grade-by-grade complexity ranges were determined or rationalized, and little guidance is provided for educators to know how to apply the flexible quantitative text exposure standard in their local contexts. We extend and elaborate the CCSS presentation and discussion, proposing that decisions about shifting quantitative text complexity levels in schools requires more than implementation of a single, static standard” (2013).

Finally, with the emphasis on reading and math, and increased “test prep” for standardized testing, the fine arts have been pushed out of schools across America. Alice Wexler states in Reaching Higher? The Impact of the Common Core State Standards on the Visual Arts, Poverty, and Disabilities: “While the numbing conformism of the Common Core State Standards that has transformed education into test preparation puts all children at risk, the poor and the disabled are inevitably its target. While all children need the arts, these populations are socially and psychically equalized and empowered by them. Children who flourish when engaged in autonomous acts of discovery, experimentation, and hypothetical thinking rather than passive submission to expository teaching, might not necessarily succeed in academics, let alone meet the unreasonable demands of the new tests. Educators need to believe in the educational merits of unpredictability, uncertainty, and risk-taking, all of which good art teachers embrace” (Wexler, 2014).


DFER’s continued support of the CCSS, which has not been adequately researched or

vetted, speaks to the organization’s lack of knowledge about the complexity of

educating children. The continued push by DFER members, and groups that they

finance, for the untested CCSS has had a detrimental impact on teaching and learning

in the United States. If the CCSS are so amazing, one has to ask why private schools

that do not have to adhere to CCSS are not suffering the challenges of achievement

gap. CCSS is not a solution, rather a symptom of a misdiagnosis of the real issue.


DFER Perpetuates a “Failing Schools” Narrative


One of DFER’s most significant accomplishments to date was the feat of pulling the

wool over everyone’s eyes, shifting the blame from where it should be (i.e., the failure of

the government to fully fund schools, provide necessary resources, and address

structural poverty), and placing it in the schools themselves. DFER blog posts and

position statements are full of language that perpetuates the failing schools rhetoric.

After two years of failing to meet annual yearly progress, a school is identified as a

“school in need of improvement”. Lists of these schools are published and plans made

to overhaul the current systems in place, with sometimes drastic changes, that

potentially destroy recent progress. When responding to the recent passage of the

ESSA legislation, DFER praised the legislation for the maintaining of annual statewide

testing and funding to new differential pay and human capital management systems for

teachers and principals (Barone, 2015) despite the fact that there is no evidence to

support annual testing as improving educational outcomes.


What has been created in our nation is a constant market of supply and demand for our

corporate education suppliers that sell products offering the magic-bullet solution for

remediation to learners that perform poorly on standardized assessments. Schools are

encouraged to purchase new curriculums, supplemental materials, technology hardware

or software, classroom management systems, or hire consultants; all of which can be

done, for a price. When that is not enough, new benchmarks are created, proficiency

score levels are changed, and revised standardized tests are created, giving birth to a

resurgence of the education product market.


Monetary resources for education should be spent in ways that will truly benefit

students. Published by the Albert Shanker Institute, a report by Bruce D. Baker explores

the question, “Does money matter in education?” One of his conclusions states that:


“Schooling resources that cost money, including smaller class sizes, additional

supports, early childhood programs and more competitive teacher compensation

(permitting schools and districts to recruit and retain a higher-quality teacher workforce),

are positively associated with student outcomes. Again, in some cases, those effects

are larger than in others, and there is also variation in student population and other

contextual variables. On the whole, however, the things that cost money benefit

students, and there is scarce evidence that there are more cost-effective alternatives”

(Baker, 2016).


Card and Payne further contend in School Finance Reform, the Distribution of School

Spending, and the Distribution of SAT Scores that spending equalizations that occurred

in 12 states in the 1980s after unconstitutional court rulings resulted in children from

highly-educated and low-educated parents closing the gap in SAT average by 5% (or 8

points) (Card & Payne, 1998). Downes and Figlio further support this finding by showing

that the test scores of high school seniors in low spending districts rose after a

court-mandated and legislatively induced finance reform (Downes & Figlio, 1997).


Glaringly absent from the DFER “What We Stand For” statement is any mention of the

following items, as recommended by the National Education Policy Center in 2014:


➤Class size is an important determinant of student outcomes and one that can be

directly determined by policy. All else being equal, increasing class sizes will harm

student outcomes.

➤The evidence suggests that increasing class size will harm not only children’s test

scores in the short run, but also their long-run human capital formation. Money saved

today by increasing class sizes will result in more substantial social and educational

costs in the future.

➤The payoff from class-size reduction is greater for low-income and minority children,

while any increases in class size will likely be most harmful to these populations.

➤Policymakers should weigh the efficacy of class-size policy against other potential

uses of funds carefully. While lower class size has a demonstrable cost, it may prove

the more cost-effective policy overall. (Schanzenbach, 2014)


When discussing education policy-making and how it is conducted, another glaring void

is apparent within DFER. Missing from their conversations are a call for the most

important stakeholders of education to have a prominent voice in policy writing and

decision making: teachers, parents, and students. Their focus on testing without equal

attention towards creating spaces for stakeholder input and collaboration on solutions

allows them to perpetuate the narrative of failing schools.


DFER Believes our Public School Systems are in Decline 

Another part of the DFER narrative is that our school system is in decline. The

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a test that was designed by

the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to test the skills and

knowledge of 15-year old students. Prominent education historian, Dr. Diane Ravitch,

notes, “Never do they explain how it was possible for the U.S. to score so poorly on

international tests again and again over the past half century and yet still emerge as the

world’s leading economy, with the world’s most vibrant culture, and a highly productive

workforce. From my vantage point as a historian, here is my takeaway from the PISA

scores: Lesson 1: If they mean anything at all, the PISA scores show the failure of the

past dozen years of public policy in the United States. The billions invested in testing,

test prep, and accountability have not raised test scores or our nation’s relative standing

on the league tables. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are manifest failures at

accomplishing their singular goal of higher test scores” (Ravitch, 2013).


Furthermore, Des Griffin points out in What’s wrong with PISA: Why condemning

international tests is a distraction, and what we really should be worried about that

“there are other lessons aimed at the US coming from PISA rankings that perhaps the

US, and other countries such as Australia, should be paying attention to. How many

times does it have to be pointed out that ‘socio-economic disadvantage has a notable

impact on student performance’”? Also, PISA 2009 asserted local funding of education

exacerbates inequality and ‘may be the single most important factor for the US.’ But it

seems impossible for Americans to come to grips with these findings” (Griffin, 2015).


Democrats for Education Reform continues to ignore researchers, who repeatedly point

out that the U.S. system of education must address inequality, and that inequity has

been detrimental to education policy and public education.

DFER billions fund local, state, and federal political races and use “the sky is falling” rhetoric to fuel their continued efforts to control public education. As a result, we have seen elected lawmakers, funded by DFER money, work to slash school aid budgets. DFER continues to ignore that equity funding is essential to help our most struggling students and schools. They continue to influence these lawmakers to slash public education budgets in their states, starving the schools of the resources they need to operate.

Decreased class sizes and more certified teachers per pupil are resources that increase

the value of school for all children, especially for our most needy children.

In Evaluating the Recession’s Impact on School Finance Systems, Bruce Baker notes,

“the recent recession yielded an unprecedented decline in public school funding

fairness. Thirty-six states had a three-year average reduction in current spending

fairness between 2008-09 and 2010-11 and 32 states had a three-year average

reduction in state and local revenue fairness over that same period. Over the entire

19-year period, only 15 states saw an overall decline in spending fairness. In years

before 2008 (starting in 1993), only 11 states saw an overall decline in spending

fairness.” Baker further contends that “while equity overall took a hit between 1997 and

2011, the initial state of funding equity varied widely at the outset of the period, with

Massachusetts and New Jersey being among the most progressively funded states in

  1. Thus, they arguably had further to fall. Funding equity for many states has barely

budged over time, and remained persistently regressive, for example in Illinois, New

York, and Pennsylvania” (Baker, 2014).


Baker, Farrie, and Sciara contend in The Changing Distribution of Educational

Opportunities: 1993–2012 that, “over the past ten years, state average staffing

increases have been much more modest, and over the past five years, nonexistent.”

They further point out that, “equity and adequacy of financial inputs to schooling across

states are required if we ever expect to achieve more equitable access to a highly

qualified teacher workforce (as dictated in part by the competitiveness of their

compensation) and reasonable class sizes” (Baker, Farrie, and Sciarra, 2016).

As we have seen over the last decade, corporate education reform proponents such as DFER members continue to ignore the importance of equal and equitable funding.

Research has shown that when children are provided with schools that are funded

equally and equitably, they do well. Research has also shown that when class sizes are

small, and children are taught by qualified teachers, they will thrive educationally,

resulting in improved test scores and future success. DFER continues to ignore this

research. They continue to ignore that you cannot test your way out of poverty, that

CCSS will not cure poverty, and that school choice will not cure poverty. The result of

this ignorance will have a lasting impact on our children, and specifically our children

who live in poverty.


DFER Believes in School Choice

To give parents the illusion that they have a voice in the educational decision making for

their children, DFER relies heavily on the narrative of school choice.


Different states have different programs or a combination of different programs in place that all fall

under the category of school choice. The proliferation of these different programs is due

to the “word manipulation” that DFER members use to pass legislation that allows their

agenda to flourish. School choice can be identified as vouchers, education savings

accounts, tax-credit scholarships, or even as individual tax credits or deductions. The

offering of school choice paves the way for families to enroll students in charter schools.

But, the name chosen for the particular program does not matter; the end goal is all the

same. Financially, this is another way that our public school system is being starved.

Educational dollars remain with each student, so where the student attends school is

where the money goes as well.


Stemming from the narrative that public schools are failing, school choice has become a

way to sell a quick solution to parents and communities. Charter schools, with the

original intent, to allow for educational innovation to occur under a less restrictive

environment, freed from regulations and oversight, have been compromised into an

alternative education system that funnels public funds to private interests. With the

recent induction of Shavar Jeffries into the ranks of DFER, the push for the charter

school agenda has been renewed. Jeffries has argued that increasing school choice is

necessary for closing the income gap (David, 2016).


With the backing of corporate money, the marketing plan for school choice and charter

schools rivals those of large corporations, with DFER doing their share of promotion

(Doctrow, 2014). But parents and communities should take a close look at the results of

school choice in different locations. In 2009, researchers reported that voucher

programs have led to “increased stratification across public and private schools.”


In The impact of school choice and public policy on segregation: Evidence from Chile, Gregory

Elacqua found “that Chile’s unrestricted flat per-pupil voucher program has led to

increased stratification across public and private schools. What has been overlooked,

however, is segregation between schools within a sector and variation within private

voucher for-profit and non-profit (religious and secular) school sectors.” Elacqua further

noted “that public schools are more likely to serve disadvantaged – low-income and

indigenous – students than private voucher schools. I also find that the typical public

school is more internally diverse with regard to ethnicity and socioeconomic status than

the typical private voucher school.” Finally, Elacqua notes, “despite having a mission to

serve the needy, Catholic voucher schools enroll, on average, fewer disadvantaged

students (vulnerable and indigenous) than public and other private voucher school

types” (Elacqua, 2009).


As we have seen in the United States, school choice is not a choice when parents have

to make decisions to send their child out of their neighborhood to a school far from their

home. An example of the impact of “choice” on children is the story of one child in New

Orleans. A student who attended the all-charter district in New Orleans shared his story

at a conference held at Texas Christian University. He spoke of rarely seeing his

mother when he was growing up because he had to catch a city bus at 6 a.m. to get to

school, which was over 20 miles from his home. He played sports after school so did

not arrive home until 8 p.m. He saw his mother for 30 minutes a day, as she went to

bed at 8:30 to get up for her job early in the morning. In the end, this young man said

that school choice was not a choice for him as he was not accepted at the school that

was just 2 miles from his home. Public schools take in, and keep, all children, unlike

charter schools. In a debate with Dan Senor on the Bill Maher Show, D.L. Hughley said

of school choice: “Why do I have to leave my neighborhood to go to school? What is it

about my neighborhood that is so bad that I have to leave it to attend school?”


A study on school choice in New Zealand shows that “choice” is not the route to travel if

we want to make equitable decisions about education. Helen Ladd and Edward Fiske

highlighted in Does Competition Improve Teaching and Learning? Evidence from New

Zealand “that New Zealand’s introduction of full parental choice in 1992 increased

competitive pressures more for some schools than for others. With careful attention to

various potential threats to validity, we conclude that competition—as perceived by

teachers—generated negative effects on the quality of student learning and other

aspects of schooling in New Zealand’s elementary schools” (Ladd & Fiske, 2003).


Hansen and Gustafsson also found in Sweden that school choice leads to segregation.

Hansen and Gustafsson concluded “that school segregation with respect to migration

background and educational achievement had increased over time, while social

segregation remained rather constant. The degree of school segregation varied largely

across different municipality types, and it was concluded that school choice was a

determinant of school segregation” (Hansen & Gustafsson, 2015). Finally, Dennis

Epple and Richard E. Romano found in Competition between Private and Public

Schools, Vouchers, and Peer-Group Effects “that tuition vouchers increase the relative

size of the private sector and the extent of student sorting, and benefit high-ability

students relative to low-ability students” (Epple & Romano, 1998).


DFER’s education policies would have us believe that the voucher system gives all

children choice, when in fact, it provides choice to a few children. Like their Republican

counterparts, DFER continues to support a system that hyper-segregates the school

population, rolls back advances made possible by Brown V. Board of Education, and

destabilizes households when children must leave their neighborhood to attend schools

in areas they are not familiar with. Also, the voucher system in most states depletes

money from traditional public schools that serve, and keep, all children.


DFER Education Policy Fosters an Anti-Union Platform 

Democrats for Education Reform has not come out and directly stated that they would

like to see a reduction in the effectiveness of teachers unions to advocate for what they

feel is in the best interest of the students. All of the above agenda items on the DFER

platform are known to lead towards a reduction in the strength of teacher unions. Their

push for school choice leads families to schools that are not unionized, support merit

pay, and ignore the benefits that experienced teachers bring to the classroom by

denying seniority rights.


As advocates for students, and the last line of defense for children, teachers unions

have developed platforms or position statements against DFER’s policies.


In Do Teacher Unions Hinder Educational Performance? Lessons Learned from State

SAT and ACT Scores it was found that “states with greater percentages of teachers in

unions reported higher test performance” on the SAT and ACT (Steelman, Powell, and

Carinin, 2000). Burroughs noted in Arguments and Evidence: The Debate over

Collective Bargaining’s Role in Public Education that Grimes and Register (1981) found

SAT scores for African-Americans were higher in union schools. In 1990, Grimes and

Register also found that students in unionized schools scored higher on measures of

economic literacy (Burroughs, 2008).


Outside of school walls, unions have been good for American society. Noted for

building and sustaining the middle class, of which teachers are often members, unions

not only sustain a living wage for workers but also have leveled, somewhat, the playing

field for minorities and women. Mishel summarized in The State of Working America,

12th Edition that “unionized workers have a higher wage premium, are more likely to be

covered for health insurance, and have a pension to sustain them in their later years.


With the decline of unions (from 1973-2011 it declined 13.6 percent) we have seen

wage inequality has continued to grow between those at the top and those in the

middle.” Mishel further warns, “together with other laissez-faire policies such as

globalization, deregulation, and lower labor standards such as a weaker minimum

wage; deunionization has strengthened the hands of employers and undercut the ability

of low- and middle-wage workers to have good jobs and economic security. If we want

the fruits of economic growth to benefit the vast majority, we will have to adopt a

different set of guideposts for setting economic policy, as the ones in place over the last

several decades have served those with the most income, wealth, and political power.

Given unions’ important role in setting standards for both union and nonunion workers,

we must ensure that every worker has access to collective bargaining” (Mishel, 2012).



The Democrats for Education Reform have initiated a shameless war on public education, even as they claim to support children, teachers, and schools. 

Essentially, the basic reason DFER was formed was to undermine the strengths of the public school

system and the strength of unions in public education. As Tilson noted, the mission of

DFER was, “to break the teacher unions’ stranglehold over the Democratic Party, NOT

to create equitable schools for our children” (Miller, 2016). Public education is the

bedrock of democracy. It is the one public sector institution that can level the playing

field for black and brown children in America. It is the one institution that can be the

center of communities, both in service of education and a wide range of other societal

needs. What DFER has adopted, as seen in this meta-analysis, is a course of

destruction for public education. The policies DFER lays out for education (i.e., school

choice, support for the Common Core, a “failing schools” narrative, and the overall

decline of public education) are all smoke and mirrors for an agenda that seeks to

privatize public education in order to generate massive amounts of profit for their

wealthy founders and investors. This deceptive campaign has most Americans duped

into believing their disingenuous rhetoric about public education. We believe that this

analysis of the research around DFER’s agenda debunks much of what the organization

supports, and will begin a real conversation about the strengthening of public education

for all of America’s children.



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Wayne Au, PhD: How a whiter Seattle creates more education inequities

racial inequality

Dr. Wayne Au is an Associate Professor of Education at the School of Educational Studies at University of Washington, Bothell, and an editor for Rethinking Schools, a magazine focused on issues of educational justice. He is a product of Seattle Public Schools (Garfield Class of ’90), and he earned his BA and MIT from The Evergreen State College. He also taught in Seattle Public Schools (including teaching at a program for drop outs) and in the Berkeley Unified School District before getting his Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction with a minor in Education Policy Studies, from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is published widely, including multiple articles in top-tier, peer-reviewed education journals, two solo-authored books, three edited books, and a long list of book chapters and magazine articles.

Dr. Au is also an advocate for public education.

This article was originally published at the Seattle Globalist:

How a whiter Seattle creates more education inequities

A recent Stanford study found that, of the nation’s biggest cities, Seattle has the fifth largest test score gap between black and white students in grades 3 through 8. According to the study, African American students in Seattle are 3.5 grade levels behind their white peers. Our city and state should be rightfully concerned.

However, in order to make sense of this achievement gap, it is important to understand the relationship between standardized tests, race, gentrification, and poverty in Seattle.

Economic and racial inequalities are intimately connected to standardized test scores.  Such tests are notorious for reproducing race and class inequalities, and it has been well established that standardized test scores correlate most strongly with wealth and affluence. Indeed, factors outside of school — including food insecurity, housing insecurity, lack of adequate healthcare, exposure to environmental toxins and other issues associated directly with poverty — can explain most of a student’s test score.

This connection between socioeconomic class and standardized tests is important because Seattle has changed. Seattle has gotten Whiter and more affluent in recent years.  In 2013 Seattle was 67 percent White, an almost 2 percent bump from 2010. In 2014 Seattle’s median household income was $71,000, almost 20 percent above the national average.

However, despite Seattle’s increasing wealth overall, Black families have gotten poorer. The Seattle median household income of Black Families in 2014 was only $25,700, down 13.5 percent from 2012. Black families are leaving the city too. The Central District was almost 80 percent African American in the 1970s, and it has decreased to 20 percent today. Many south suburbs now have a higher percentage of African American residents than Seattle’s 7.9 percent.

The decrease in Seattle’s African American population along with the sharp decrease in Black household income signals the likelihood that, in the face of rapid gentrification, Seattle’s Black middle class is leaving the city. One result is that the middle class Black children who would have scored somewhat better on the tests have left too. Another result is that the those African American children still in the city are even more disproportionately poor, where 42 percent of Black people in Seattle under the age of 18 live in poverty.

Given all of this, a significant Black/White test score gap in our city should not surprise anyone. Poverty and unequal access to resources are the one thing standardized tests are good at measuring.

I know from personal conversations that a lot of educators and parents are trying to make sense of Seattle’s test score gaps. Some say it is the fault of teachers. Some fault the state legislature for not meeting their constitutional mandate to fully fund education. Other culprits include district discipline policies and a curriculum that is alienating and not relevant to our kids.

All of these factors do have some responsibility. The recent destruction of alternative schools and programs with social justice, anti-racist curriculum demonstrate Seattle Public Schools’ resistance to materially support content aimed at connecting to the identities and lives of Black children. Teachers need to have a stronger and more critical racial consciousness. The state legislature has failed to fully fund public education funding for years now. Our district discipline policies and practices have consistently produced racist outcomes.

These are all issues we could and should take up if we are interested in improving Black student achievement in Seattle schools. We could implement culturally relevant curriculum and support it with well-funded training and resources, develop stronger and more critical racial awareness among teachers, staff, and administrators, increase the numbers of school counselors, psychologists, and family support workers, end punitive and racist disciplinary policies and practices, push the legislature for full funding, reduce class sizes, ensure access to more art, P.E., librarians, and recess and longer lunch periods.

All of these suggestions would go a long way to making schools more engaging and better places to learn, and they are all changes that can happen relatively quickly. However, if policymakers are interested in educational equity, instead of focusing on the Black/White test score gap , which is an overly-narrow and inherently flawed measure of achievement, they would do better to take issues like affordable housing, food security, access to quality healthcare, and living wages as seriously as any educational reforms they might propose.

Introducing the Decision to Support the Whole Child Refusal Form


It’s no secret that refusal forms provided by school districts are designed to shame and intimidate parents into second guessing their decision to keep their children from participating in high states testing.

One Seattle parent wasn’t impressed with Seattle Public Schools aggressive and threatening refusal form.  Instead, she decided to write her own counter called the Decision to Support the Whole Child Form – The unofficial form for opting out of high stakes testing. 

Check it out. (You can download your own copy at the end of the post).


Decision to Support the Whole Child Form

The unofficial form for opting out of high stakes testing*

Please clearly print the following information and return to your school’s principal.

Student’s Name _________________________________________________________

Parent/Guardian’s Name _________________________________________________________

School ____________________________________________________

Student’s Grade Level _____

As the parent/guardian of the above named student, I have made an educated decision to support my child by opting him/her out of participating in the following:

____ all portions of Smarter Balanced

____ end-of course exams in ___ Algebra ___ Geometry ____ Biology

____ certain subtests (please name subtest – ELA, MSP science)

____ MAP

My reason for this decision is: ______________________________________________________________

____ I have read and understand that:

This decision is a permanent record to document my decision about my child’s educational and emotional well-being without fear of harassment, intimidation, bullying and retaliation by Seattle Public Schools.

Students who do not participate will receive positive reinforcement in knowing they are more than a number and will not experience unnecessary anxiety.

Students who do not participate are free to engage in creative endeavors during the test time

Opting out may positively impact our school by relieving the pressure on staffing and physical space.

Teachers will not have to spend time reviewing test scores that are not reliable in measuring all student’s academic growth in the core academic areas of reading, writing, math and/or science. Instead, teachers will be able to rely on their training and professional judgment to evaluate each child as an individual with multiple strengths and challenges.

Families will not receive unreliable results and will be better able to chart their student’s growth over time by partnering with their teachers.

Smarter Balanced should not be used as the achievement for Highly Capable eligible as there is no proven correlation between achievement on this particular test and advanced learning abilities Smarter Balanced was not intended for this purpose and doing will likely to lead to more racial and socio-economic disparity to advanced learning opportunities.

Signature of Parent/Guardian___________________________Date_____________________

* This form is not published or approved by Seattle Public Schools.  You are not required to use the District’s “Refusal to Participate in Assessments Form,” state the reasons for your decision, or agree to any of the assertions stated therein. Opting out is as simple as emailing your principal

Alternative Opt Out Form

-Carolyn Leith

Obama’s regret: “Taking the joy out of teaching and learning”


Obama’s call to reduce testing to 2% of the school year still requires students to take standardized tests for an outlandish twenty-four hours.  And it isn’t even all the time directly spent taking the tests that’s the biggest problem.

The real shame, which Obama never addressed, is that as long as there are high-stakes attached to the standardized tests, test prep activities will continue to dominate instructional time.

By Seattle’s own Jesse Hagopian

Obama regrets “taking the joy out of teaching and learning” with too much testing

In a stunning turn of events, President Obama announced last weekend that “unnecessary testing” is “consuming too much instructional time” and creating “undue stress for educators and students.” Rarely has a president so thoroughly repudiated such a defining aspect of his own public education policy.  In a three-minute video announcing this reversal, Obama cracks jokes about how silly it is to over-test students, and recalls that the teachers who had the most influence on his life were not the ones who prepared him best for his standardized tests. Perhaps Obama hopes we will forget it was his own Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, who radically reorganized America’s education system around the almighty test score.

Obama’s statement comes in the wake of yet another study revealing the overwhelming number of standardized tests children are forced to take: The average student today is subjected to 112 standardized tests between preschool and high school graduation. Because it’s what we have rewarded and required, America’s education system has become completely fixated on how well students perform on tests. Further, the highest concentration of these tests are in schools serving low-income students and students of color.

To be sure, Obama isn’t the only president to menace the education system with high-stakes exams.  This thoroughly bi-partisan project was enabled by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB became law in 2002 with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats alike.

Obama, instead of erasing the wrong answer choice of NCLB’s test-and-punish policy, decided to press ahead.  Like a student filling in her entire Scantron sheet with answer choice “D,” Duncan’s erroneous Race to the Top initiative was the incorrect solution for students.  It did, however, make four corporations rich by assigning their tests as the law of the land.  Desperate school districts, ravaged by the Great Recession, eagerly sought Race to the Top points by promulgating more and more tests.

The cry of the parents, students, educators and other stewards of education was loud and sorrowful as Obama moved to reduce the intellectual and emotional process of teaching and learning to a single score—one that would be used to close schools, fire teachers and deny students promotion or graduation.  Take, for instance, this essay penned by Diane Ravitch in 2010. She countered Obama’s claim that Race to the Top was his most important accomplishment:

[RttT] will make the current standardized tests of basic skills more important than ever, and even more time and resources will be devoted to raising scores on these tests. The curriculum will be narrowed even more than under George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, because of the link between wages and scores. There will be even less time available for the arts, science, history, civics, foreign language, even physical education. Teachers will teach to the test.

What Ravitch warned us about has come to pass, and Obama has now admitted as much without fully admitting to his direct role in promoting the tests. Duncan and Obama, with funding from the Gates Foundation, coupled Race to the Top with Common Core State Standards and the high-stakes tests that came shrink wrapped with them.  Together these policies have orchestrated a radical seizure of power by what I call the “testocracy”—The multibillion dollar testing corporations, the billionaire philanthropists who promote their policies, and the politicians who write their policies into law.

scrap the map10These policies in turn have produced the largest uprising against high-stakes testing in U.S. history.  To give you just a few highlights of the size and scope of this unprecedented struggle, students have staged walkouts of the tests in Portland, Chicago, Colorado, New Mexico, and beyond.  Teachers from Seattle to Toledo to New York City have refused to administer the tests.  And the parent movement to opt children out of tests has exploded into a mass social movement, including some 60,000 families in Washington State and more than 240,000 families in New York State. One of the sparks that helped ignite this uprising occurred at Garfield High School, where I teach, when the entire faculty voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test.  The boycott spread to several other schools in Seattle and then the superintendent threatened my colleagues with a ten-day suspension without pay.  Because of the unanimous vote of the student government and the PTA in support of the boycott—and the solidarity we received from around the country—the superintendent backed off his threat and canceled the MAP test altogether at the high school level.  Can you imagine the vindication that my colleagues feel today—after having risked their jobs to reduce testing—from hearing the president acknowledge there is too much testing in the schools?  And it should be clear that this national uprising, this Education Spring, has forced the testocracy to retreat and is the reason that the Obama administration has come to its current understanding on testing in schools.

However, the testocracy, having amassed so much power and wealth, won’t just slink quietly into the night.  A Facebook video from Obama isn’t going to convince the Pearson corporation to give up its $9 billion in corporate profits from testing and textbooks. The tangle of tests promulgated by the federal government is now embedded at state and district levels.

More importantly, the President exposed just how halfhearted his change of heart was by declaring he will not reduce the current federal requirement to annually test all students in grades 3 through 8 in math and reading, with high school students still tested at least once. A reauthorization of NCLB is in the works right now, and all versions preserve these harmful testing mandates.  As well, Obama’s call to reduce testing to 2% of the school year still requires students to take standardized tests for an outlandish twenty-four hours.  And it isn’t even all the time directly spent taking the tests that’s the biggest problem.  The real shame, which Obama never addressed, is that as long as there are high-stakes attached to the standardized tests, test prep activities will continue to dominate instructional time.  As long as the testocracy continues to demand that students’ graduation and teachers’ evaluation or pay are determined by these tests, test prep will continue to crowed out all the things that educators know are vital to teaching the whole child—critical thinking, imagination, the arts, recess, collaboration, problem based learning, and more.

Did you know that the Broad Award for "Excellence" is parked permanently in the offices of the Federal Department of Education?
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with Eli and Edythe Broad. The Broad Award for “Excellence” is parked permanently in the offices of the Federal Department of Education.

Obama’s main accomplice in proliferating costly testing, Arne Duncan, said, “It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves. At the federal, state, and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation.”

Yes, let’s all be honest with ourselves. Honesty would require acknowledgement that standardized test scores primarily demonstrate a student’s family income level, not how well a teacher has coached how to fill in bubbles. Honesty would dictate that we recognize that the biggest obstacle to the success of our students is that politicians are not being held accountable for the fact that nearly half children in the public schools now live in poverty. As Congress debates the new iteration of federal education policy, they should focus on supporting programs to uplift disadvantaged children and leave the assessment policy to local educators.  They have proven they don’t understand how to best assess our students and now they have admitted as much. It’s time to listen to those of us who have advocated for an end to the practice endlessly ranking and sorting our youth with high-stakes tests.  It’s time Congress repeal the requirement of standardized tests at every grade level.  It’s time to end the reign of the testocracy and allow parents, students, and educators to implement authentic assessments designed to help support student learning and nurture the whole child.

Cover_MTaSJesse Hagopian is an associate editor for Rethinking Schoolsmagazine and teaches history at Garfield High School. Jesse is the editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.

An alternative to high stakes testing works. New York schools have proven it.


71 percent of English language learners in New York Performance Standards Consortium schools graduated on time in 2015, versus 37 percent across New York City, where all but two of the consortium schools are located.

This is a model that teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle have been studying, traveling to New York to learn how to implement the New York Performance Standards Consortium program described below. This collaborative relationship is highlighted in the film “Beyond Measure.

From the Hechinger Report:

NYC schools that skip standardized tests have higher graduation rates

An interview with the woman overseeing the group defying convention

After almost 30 years at an alternative high school, Ann Cook now heads a consortium of New York public high schools that assess students with little reliance on standardized tests.
After almost 30 years at an alternative high school, Ann Cook now heads a consortium of New York public high schools that assess students with little reliance on standardized tests.

The role of standardized tests is one of the most contentious subjects in public education. And while many people oppose high-stakes testing, few offer concrete proposals for other ways of measuring student progress. But for more than 20 years, schools in the New York Performance Standards Consortium have quietly demonstrated an alternative.

While most New York students must pass state exams in five subjects to graduate, the consortium’s 38 schools have a state waiver allowing their students to earn a diploma by passing just one exam: comprehensive English. (An additional nine schools have a partial waiver.) Instead, in all subjects including English, the students must demonstrate skill mastery in practical terms. They design experiments, make presentations, write reports and defend their work to outside experts.

Getting a waiver is not easy. The number the state grants is limited, and the alternative methods of assessing students can mean far more work for teachers. The schools’ funding is not affected.

Proponents say the alternative system is worth the effort because it engages students and encourages them to think creatively. They also point to data. According to the consortium, 77 percent of its students who started high school in the fall of 2010 graduated in four years, versus 68 percent for all New York City students.

Of consortium students who were high school freshmen in 2008, 82 percent graduated by 2014, compared with 73 percent citywide. (All but two of the consortium schools are in the city, versus elsewhere in New York state. One in Rochester brings up the consortium’s rate slightly.)

The schools have done particularly well getting English language learners and special needs students to graduation. Last year, 71 percent of students learning English at consortium schools graduated on time, versus 37 percent of English learners citywide. The six-year graduation rate for English learners was 75 percent, versus 50 percent for New York City.

The Hechinger Report asked Ann Cook, the consortium’s executive director, to explain its method of student assessment. Cook previously served as co-founder and co-leader of one of the consortium schools, Urban Academy Laboratory High School in New York City.

Question: What are your schools, and how do they work?

Answer: The schools are New York state public high schools. They range from schools working with kids who are academically challenged to [students who] are very academically oriented.

In the major subjects –– English, social studies, math and science –– there are tasks students must complete and requirements for how the work is looked at. The students learn things they can apply [to] whatever the topic might be. So in social studies, they might be experts on the history of the civil rights movement or the role of parties in American politics. They might not know too much about the War of 1812, but they would know how to go about finding out about it if somebody asked.

Very often the students have had a say in what the topics are. Teachers have the opportunity to use their subject knowledge and shape curriculum that meets the standards in a way that is interesting and appealing.

Students present their work starting in ninth grade or 10th grade. By the time they get to their senior year [and must complete performance tasks required for graduation], many of them [present] extremely sophisticated papers. Outsiders sit in on the presentations, so they’re pretty rigorous.

Related: Want high schoolers to succeed? Stop giving them fifth-grade schedules

Q: What kind of results have you had?

A: We graduate double the number of English language learners, double the number of special education kids. … We’ve tracked [our graduates] into their third semester of college. These kids were doing 10- and 15-page papers for years. Writing a paper when they get to college is a no brainer. I think [our students] just have much stronger preparation.

We have five schools that are all English language learners. In these schools we don’t have a lot of directed teaching. You try more discussion. The kids do oral presentations. By the time they graduate, their English is really strong.

Q: What about math?

A: Urban Academy is a transfer school [for students who did not succeed in their regular high school]…. They’ve had algebra, but their math understanding is appalling, and many have a real aversion to math….

We’re introducing different kinds of math curricula. Students have a basic computational understanding, but they also have logic exercises and a project they have to be able to explain.

In science, the students design experiments, carry them out, write them up, have those papers read by committees and defend them orally. I was at a presentation, and kids were presenting things about attitudes toward race. We had a kid who was a dropout and came back to school. He was a skateboarder, and his science proficiency [task] was on the kinds of wheels that give the best friction and traction.

If teachers raise questions in ways that kids can grab onto, they’ll come up with issues that they’re interested in. You stand a better chance of motivating kids if you can tailor things to their interests. That doesn’t mean dumbing down.

We know assessments have an impact on curriculum and instruction. If you have a testing environment, teachers are going to teach to the test. If you have a system that requires kids to write and present, then that begins to affect curriculum and instruction.

Q: Are there similar efforts outside New York state?

A: All over the country, there are teachers who are interested in doing something different. The problem is that the federal government has put all of its eggs in the testing basket and links dollars to it. If you were to get rid of the requirements states are under, more innovative efforts could come forward.

We’ve been testing for 30 years and we don’t have much to show for it. We say we want kids to be critical thinkers. We say we want engagement, but what are we having them do? It’s not the kids who are the problem. It’s the disconnect between what we want kids to do and what we have them do.