Let’s look at this list of traits and see how they fit today’s education “reform” movement.
1. Illusion of invulnerability — Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
Remember how No Child Left Behind was launched? We had the “Texas Miracle,” the high school dropout rates of zero reported by George W. Bush, which evaporated when it was revealed that the glowing stats were simply the result of administrative maneuvers and falsified data. And the whole NCLB project projected that schools must reach 100% proficiency by 2014.
Promoters of charter schools have been claiming for years to have “figured out” how to overcome the effects of poverty. Only now that we are several years into the experiment we hear that we must “calibrate our expectations” as they fail to deliver. We hear similar confident claims for the new tests being designed to align with the Common Core State standards, exams thatwill somehow magically wipe away the damaging effects of the previous ones.. Not to mention the wonders of the Khan Academy and other computer-based delivery systems, which will allow us to simultaneously increase class sizes and “personalize” learning.
2. Collective rationalization — Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
We have had report after report documenting the failures of NCLB and high-stakes tests. Not a single experiment in pay for high test scores has worked. Every time it fails a reason is found that allows the idea to survive.
3. Belief in inherent morality — Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
What is the mantra of the phony reform movement — now repeated by Mitt Romney? “Education is the civil rights issue of our time.” As if discrimination, housing, poverty and voting rights no longer trouble us! Our schools are now even more racially and economically segregated than any time since the 1960s, and this is given not a thought by these crusaders.
Neighborhood schools are closed, entire staffs are fired, and dedicated teachers are subjected to humiliation by the press, all justified by this moral crusade for the children.
4. Stereotyped views of out-groups — Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
Public education is defined as the “status quo,” and anyone who defends it is defending a failed, moribund system. There have been some interesting windows into the thinking of education “reformers.” A recent report on what members call the “Fight Club” reveals national coordination among various “Education Reform Advocacy Organizations,” such as Stand For Children, the Education Trust, and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst. They see as their enemy “the collection of teachers unions and other school employee associations derisively called the ‘blob’….” The unions are the chief villains in this morality play, acting to defend “bad teachers,” who morph into child molesters who cannot be fired, or simply lazy individuals responsible for the economic decline of America.
5. Direct pressure on dissenters — Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
This is most damaging within public schools, when teacher evaluations are increasingly based on whether the teacher succeeds at embracing data-driven practices mandated from above. Administrators’ careers advance or not, depending on their willingness to distort and juggle data to support disastrous assessment-driven classroom practices.
In the public arena, education historian Diane Ravitch is an archetypal heretic, who was attacked when she left the conservative “reform” fold. Columnist Jonathan Alter called her the “Whittaker Chambers of school reform.” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said she was “in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country who are proving her wrong every day.”
The current effort by NCTQ to silence criticism of standardized testing from schools of education is a frightening expansion of this campaign. When NCTQ’s ratings of these schools are released, it will not be surprising to see schools of education that actively question the obsession over test score data receive low scores, and preparation programs affiliated with alternative certification, such as Teach For America, receive high scores, because of their devotion to “data-driven” instruction. And we will hear Secretary Duncan launch a program that removes funding from programs that produce graduates with lower test scores, as he has already indicated is planned. This is ideological and fiscal coercion, tying funding to data to punish those who deviate from the correct thinking.
6. Self-censorship — Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
Within schools, there is pressure to join in the obsession over data, and this has intensified with recent “reforms” that require test scores to be used as a significant part of teacher and principal evaluations. Teachers who may have been willing to voice dissent in public in the past are now in fear of poor evaluations and possible termination. If one expresses a lack of faith in the latest curriculum or testing package, one might be accused of poor implementation, or worst of all, of the cardinal sin — “not believing all students can learn.”
A Teach for America corps member named James offered this advice in response to a post by Teach for America critic Gary Rubinstein: “Corps members who choose to question TFA-doxy, … should be prepared for an escalating series — in length — of ‘mindset chats.’”
I have not been privy to such a conversation, but clearly there is some heavy pressure at work to keep the corps members thinking a certain way.
7. Illusion of unanimity — The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
Take a look at the 2010 multimedia extravaganza that accompanied the release of “Waiting For Superman.” For Education Nation, the news division of NBC prepared a week-long parade of education “reform” superstars like education activist Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Newark Mayor Cory Booker. There was a driving narrative that was almost unquestioned, with the exception of a hastily arranged “Teacher Townhall.” This was the projection of a consensus where none exists. Anyone who disagreed with the main storyline was marginalized. Similarly propagandistic programming was aired on Oprah that week.
8. Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ — Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.
When President Obama accidentally spoke the truth a little more than a year ago, and described how he felt we were overemphasizing test scores, and “using them to punish schools and students,” the mindguards at the Department of Education leapt to the breach. They insisted that “The President and Secretary Duncan are on the same page,” though clearly the president’s remarks were far different from his minion’s policies. And when President Obama assembled a roundtable of advisers on education, not a single actual educator was present.
But in a bigger way, all of the organizations now being funded by the Gates, Broad and kindred foundations are functioning as mindguards for the American public. We have Astroturf groups ready to bring teachers to testify against their own due process protections, and groups like StudentsFirst willing to pour millions of dollars into lobbying policy makers to ensure they get the message about where their votes should go.