The Ugly Facts About Ed-Reform, Partisan Bickering and the Resistance


I find it disturbing how quickly basic facts are flushed down the memory hole.

Yes, Betsy Devos is the extreme example of the type of privatizer destroying public education, but the Democrats – with Obama at the helm – opened the door.

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at Obama’s Digital Promise Initiative, whose purpose was to break open the education market for companies to sell personalized learning products to school districts. Why employ actual teachers, when computers and software can do the job.

How about the ESSA’s inclusion of “innovative assessments” – which edutech predators like iNACOL can’t wait to leverage into more online learning software and continuous testing in the classroom.

The ESSA also gave the charter lobby everything they wanted, and then some.

How can financially stressed public schools, always under the threat of being labeled “failures” based on test scores, compete with flush and unaccountable charter schools? Answer: They can’t.

I believe facts still matter and will fight alongside anyone who wants to protect our public schools, but I refuse to be a cog in anyone’s machine.

I won’t be participating in the partisan blame game, where public education plays the pawn. I’m over the constant maneuvering to score political points – while our schools burn to the ground, but neither of this country’s two cynical political parties seem to smell the smoke.

I’m also convinced it’s impossible to fight and win using the same structure that makes neoliberalism so destructive.

So don’t ask me to become a faceless member of your public education defending non-profit. Paying dues and then walking away isn’t enough for me now.

I’m also sick of powerful, god-like leaders sitting atop hierarchies which rob members of their voice, conscience, and agency.

How can we claim to care about democracy when we refuse to practice it?

If we are truly fighting against the commodification of public education, why would it be acceptable to treat members of our own groups as objects – either as an unintelligent mass that needs to be lead to the truth by an “enlightened” leadership or – at the most cynical – a captive audience to be manipulated for personal gain and advancement by the vanguard of a revolutionary dictatorship.

How can we claim to care about the unique gifts of every child and at the same time be afraid of our own individuality and power?

Barbara Deming – deep thinker, feminist, and champion of nonviolent social change – had this to say about the power of individuals:

If greater gains have not been won by nonviolent action it is because most of those trying it have, quite as Oglesby charges, expected too much from “the powerful”; and so, I would add, they have stopped short of really exercising their peculiar powers – those powers one discovers when one refuses any longer simply to do another’s will. They have stopped far too short not only of widespread nonviolent disruption but of that form of noncooperation which is assertive, constructive – that confronts those who are “running everything” with independent activity, particularly independent economic activity. There is leverage for change here that has scarcely begun to be applied.

If the solution was easy; we’d already have done it.

These are trying times. What used to work has failed us.

We’re scared. The question is what to do with this fear? I see two choices:

We can allow this fear to push us into a panic-stricken frenzy; forever reacting to the latest crisis, allowing those we oppose to set the agenda.

Fear also has a way of justifying tactics which compromise our integrity and over time robs us of our humanity.


We can pause, go deep, and really consider Barbara Deming’s challenge to come up with a new “form of noncooperation which is assertive, constructive – that confronts those who are ‘running everything’ with independent activity…”

In it for the long haul.

Fighting back against ed-reform is going to take a lifetime. Undoing the damage and creating schools which foster face-t0-face democracy, will take even longer.

This is good news. We have the time to get it right.

Since the United States was built on the double fault line of genocide and racism, this is an opportunity to begin to right those wrongs; build on the lesson that ignoring past oppression guarantees more oppression in the future.

Flattening hierarchy, promoting individual agency, and increasing the public good means no one or any group gets tossed aside in the name of expediency.

There’s time to do our homework, to dig down and learn what has worked in the past and the powerful insights mixing in with the failures.

This is an opening to deeply learn our history. Get to know the labor radicals, socialists, populists, anarchists, and all the other colorful rebels of the past.

It’s also an opportunity to face and understand the ugly facts buried in the past: Manifest Destiny and genocide, lynching, eugenics, and the human/environmental carnage brought about by the industrial revolution and perpetuated by modern capitalism.

The architects of ed-reform have given us one clue to their system’s weakness: They love the idea of highly processed children, who will grow up to be widget-like adults.


Because beaten-down children, all taught from the same script, have the potential to create the most compliant worker class the world has even seen; afraid of authority, accepting of the master’s world view, and willing settle for anything.

Bootlicking is the career our business pleasing politicians are really getting our children ready for.

If there’s going to be any hope for a sane and equitable future, we desperately need to encourage and develop the independent, divergent thinkers among us. These are the individuals who will be the first to shake things up.

Want to be a rebel? Start buying books and reading. If you want to be a revolutionary, organize a reading group.

Crisis of courage. 

Unfortunately, teaching, as a profession, is on a different timeline.

I believe due to the recent alignment of technology and federal law, the United States is now on an accelerated track to diminish and ultimately eliminate the role of teacher as a professional career.

Instead, the idea of the teacher will be re-purposed. First, as digital facilitators. Later, the human component will be replaced all together with digital mentors and tutors. 

Teachers, at this point, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by standing up and fighting back against the push to destroy our public schools.

The only thing missing is the courage to do so.

Final thoughts.

The small bit of success I’ve experience as an activist has occurred by refusing to play the game and forcing my opponent to engage using my parameters and rules. Other critical elements have been: fearless friends, humor, and the willingness to let others join in and put their own spin on the action.

I believe all of us already have what’s needed to make change possible: a conscience and the ability to act. All we need is the courage to use these gifts.

-Carolyn Leith






Washington State’s Digital Promise School Districts: Creating new markets for personalized learning snake oil


Back in 2011, Congress created a non-profit which would allow education startups and software companies easier access to America’s public schools. The initiative was called Digital Promise.

From White House to Launch “Digital Promise” Initiative press release:

Transforming the market for learning technologies. With more than 14,000 school districts, and an outdated procurement system, it’s difficult for entrepreneurs to break into the market, and it’s also tough to prove that their products can deliver meaningful results. Meanwhile, the amount we invest in R&D in K-12 education is estimated at just 0.2% of total spending on K-12 education, compared to 10-20% of revenues spent on R&D in many knowledge-intensive industries such as software development and biotech. Digital Promise will work with school districts to create “smart demand” that drives private sector investment in innovation.

But how would the Digital Promise Initiative allow education hucksters, sorry – “entrepreneurs”- to break into the market and get around school districts’ outdated procurement systems?

Simple. Create another layer of well-funded, unaccountable bureaucracy and then encourage individual Superintendents to commit their districts to this system. No need to involve school boards or notify parents.

This additional layer of bureaucracy is called the League of Innovative Schools. Here’s part of the League of Innovative Schools Membership Charter:

The League is…

A network of superintendents and district leaders leveraging technology to improve student outcomes

A national coalition of public school districts partnering with entrepreneurs, researchers, and leading thinkers

A testbed for new approaches to teaching and learning

A representation of the diversity of public education in the U.S.

The League is action-oriented. League members:

Collaborate with colleagues to enhance learning for ALL students

Share successful strategies and adopt innovative teaching and learning practices

Solve challenges facing K-12 schools through learning technology and education research

Commit to equity of access to technology for all students

Upon joining the League, members commit to:

Attend biannual League meetings, which feature classroom visits, collaborative problemsolving, and relationship-building with peers and partners

Join working groups on a broad range of topics relevant to the changing needs of school districts

Engage with entrepreneurs to advance product development and meet district needs

Support research that expands what we know about teaching and learning

Participate in the League’s professional learning community by connecting with other members online, in person, and at each other’s school districts

In short, the commitment outlined in the charter allows our public schools to be the testing ground for new education products and our kids as the unpaid, software testers. No permission needed.

It also drops the pretense of public education being anything other than a talent and product development pipeline for corporate America. The League of Innovative Schools is a resource grab wrapped in the progressive jargon of innovation, 21st Century skills, and personalized learning for all.

As you can imagine, everyone wants in on the action.

The philanthropic supporters of Digital Promise includes The Gates Foundation,  Carnegie Corporation of New York, Chevron, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, The Grable Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, The Overdeck Family Foundation, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Startup:Education, Verizon, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

If that list isn’t business friendly enough, here’s the actual corporate sponsors:


There’s only one small problem with this masterpiece of technocratic subterfuge: Getting people to buy the snake oil.

Even tech-happy EdSurge admits to this weakness:

But in a recent study of 450 educators, including district leaders, school leaders, teachers, private businesses and other groups from 46 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and multiple foreign countries, it became clear there is one thing everyone could agree on: The biggest challenge to personalized learning is getting others to buy into it.

Education entrepreneurs have another unstated concern: The value of online teaching software is questionable at best.

The success of the Digital Promise Initiative rests on districts quickly switching to online learning platforms before parents or school communities have a chance to question the benefit of this drastic change.

Currently, Washington State has three Digital Promise School Districts: Highline, Kent and Vancouver.

Parents, this is the time to speak up and make some noise. Ask the uncomfortable questions the education speculators don’t want to answer.

Teachers, what’s happening in your schools?  Are you being asked to incorporate personalized, online learning in your classroom?

What are  your stories?  Please share them with us at 

Final Thought

Edupreneurs think they can use our public schools as product development laboratories, our kids as guinea pigs and our teachers as market research assistants.

This is unacceptable. The time to pushback is now.

-Carolyn Leith