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






ALEC is Excited About the New Testing Provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), so is iNACOL



Personally, whenever a bill in Washington D.C. is praised for its bipartisan nature – I get worried. The common ground discovered by Democrats and Republicans, usually comes at our expense.

The Every Student Succeeds Act  of 2015 (ESSA) is being sold to educators, parents, and the public as being somehow better than No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

You may remember NCLB as the law which declared every student in the United States would be proficient in math and reading by the year 2014 – because ridiculous mandates make things happen.

To the surprise of no one, 2014 came and went and proficiency wasn’t achieved.

In short, the ESSA is better than the last federal education law that was an absolute failure. But why let some inconvenient facts get in the way of a perfectly good marketing strategy?

This may explain why the rollout of the ESSA was so short on specifics, but all about celebrating the historic bipartisanship which went into its passage.

Peak bipartisanship was reached this summer when the NEA made Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander co-recipients of their friend of public education award for getting the ESSA job done. Similar bills had failed in 2007, 2011, and 2013.

Personally, whenever a bill in Washington D.C. is praised for its bipartisan nature – I get worried. The common ground discovered by Democrats and Republicans, usually comes at our expense.

Let’s take a look at the ESSA and see if my theory holds.

We know the ESSA continues the grade span testing of NCLB and also maintains the 95% participation requirement for these tests.

The ESSA also preserves the “failing schools” rhetoric of NCLB and the stipulation for intervention to turn these “failures” around.

For charter schools, the ESSA is a dream come true.

There’s dedicated federal funds and state grants for the expansion of charters, required timely allotment of Title 1 funds, plus minimum accountability for the first 2 years of a new charter school’s existence. (I wonder why Patty Murray didn’t talk about charters during her friend of public education acceptance speech before the NEA?  The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools saw passage of the ESSA as a “big win” for charter schools.)

If that’s not enough, here’s a huge ESSA red flag to consider:

The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is very excited about the passage of the ESSA.

ALEC sees the new law as an opportunity to introduce its own student-centered accountability systems through the state control provision of assessment in the ESSA.

If you aren’t familiar with ALEC, they’re a neoliberal organization bent on privatizing public institutions and solving societal problems through market-based solutions.

Some legislative success for ALEC is Right to Work Laws and Florida’s infamous Stand Your Ground Law.

Here’s  the relevant excerpt from ALEC’s draft of model resolution on July 28, 2016.


NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the American Legislative Exchange Council recommends that states, utilizing their properly restored authority under the ESSA, consider the creation and implementation of STUDENT CENTERED ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEMS designed around the following general principles:

  • Timely Provision of Student-Level Data
  • Measure Student-Specific Progress and Restore the Focus of “High-Stakes” Testing to be on Advancing Individual Student Instruction and Growth
  • Develop Important Individualized Measures Beyond Sole Reliance on “High-Stakes” Tests, Including Engagement, Teacher Input and Assessments, and Satisfaction
  • Account for Mobility in Graduation Calculations and any other Aggregate Data Indicators
  • Recognize and Respect Parental Intent
  • Do Not Devalue Parental Choice by Treating Schools of Choice Differently
  • Support and Protect Students Succeeding in Schools of Choice

ALEC’s push for “market based solutions” in public education is nothing new. Choice has always been code for charter schools and/or vouchers.

What’s interesting is their embrace of “student centered accountability systems” and “individual student instruction and growth” which most likely is a reference to “personalized learning“, also termed “blended learning”, when a student is in front of a computer most of the school day rather than interacting with a teacher and their peers in a typical classroom setting.

Why is this important?

Six days after the signing of the ESSA, iNACOL release a webinar where the speakers gushed over the prospect of states introducing personalized learning through the innovative assessment clause of the ESSA.

In fact, slide #9 specifically lists NCLB as a barrier to the introduction of personalized learning. See bullet point #3.



Who’s iNACOL?

They’re the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). A non-profit who’s mission “is to catalyze the transformation of K-12 education policy and practice to advance powerful, personalized, learner-centered experiences through competency-based, blended and online learning.”

What Does It All Mean?

The short answer: We’ve been had.

Not only does the ESSA preserve most of the negatives of NCLB, it also opens the door to a tsunami of charter schools AND the introduction of personalized learning — where the online curriculum is also the test.

This is going to be really hard to fight on a state by state basis. It’s bureaucratic divide and conquer. I have a hunch those who drafted, lobbied, and pushed for the ESSA’s passage had this exact difficulty in mind.

-Carolyn Leith

For more on ALEC, see the Center for American Democracy.