The road to the massive cheating scandal in Atlanta runs right through the White House.
The former superintendent, Dr. Beverly L. Hall, and her 34 obedient subordinates now face criminal charges, but the central role played by a group of un-indicted and largely unacknowledged co-conspirators, her powerful enablers, is barely noted.
Beyond her “strong relationship with the business elite” who reportedly made her “untouchable” in Atlanta, she was a national super-star for more than a decade because her work embodied the shared educational policies of the Bush and Obama administrations. In the testing frenzy that characterized both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top Dr. Hall was a winner, consistently praised over many years by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for raising test scores, hosted at the White House in 2009 as superintendent of the year, and appointed in 2010 by President Obama to the National Board for Education Sciences. When the Atlanta scandal broke in 2011 Secretary Duncan rushed to assure the public that it was “very isolated” and “an easy one to fix.”
That’s not true. According to a recently released study by the independent monitoring group FairTest, cheating is “widespread” and fully documented in 37 states and Washington D.C.
The deeper problem is reducing education to a single narrow metric that claims to recognize an educated person through a test score. Teaching toward a simple standardized measure and relentlessly applying state-administered (but privately developed and quite profitable) tests to determine the “outcomes” both incentivizes cheating and is a worthless proxy for learning.
I recently interviewed leaders at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools—the school Arne Duncan attended for 12 years and the school where the Obamas, the Duncans, and the Emanuels sent their children—and asked what role test scores played in teacher evaluations there. The answer was none. I pressed the point and was told that in their view test scores have no value in helping to understand or identify good teaching. None.
Susie Bright, in addition to being a best-selling author, activist, and podcast host, is editor at large for Audible. Susie's blog, The Bright List, keeps readers and listeners apprised of new audiobooks.
This is the story of Bill Ayers, a survivor of the American New Left who, years later, was pilloried by the Tea Party, who claimed Chicago Bill was Obama's BFF—a "secret socialist plot!"
All that was nonsense, but here's the real deal: Bill Ayer's life and comradeship is far more interesting than banal White House name-dropping.
Ayers came from a suburban upper-middle-class family, a prep school grad. Nothing in his family predicted: "Will Seize State Power Upon Maturity."
The story of how the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement changed Bill's consciousness forever is one that many of us will identify with. Bill became one of the founders of the Weather Underground and spent seven years in its disciplined cadre—the details are excrutiating.
When it all fell apart, after WU bombings went belly-up tragic, Ayers spent ten years as a fugitive, living underground, nameless. Finally, in the third chapter of his life, he became a indefatiguable public education activist.
How did he survive, what does he revere—and what does he regret?
Ayers is an engaging storyteller who doesn't beg for our sympathy but earns your respect. I first read Bill's book when I was preparing to write my own memoir, which also covers violent and passionate years in the trenches of a minuscule-yet-influential American socialist left.
I wanted to read someone who wasn't going to "skip on the embarrassing parts"—nor someone who lost their mind and became a bliss-ninny. Ayers did not disappoint me. Just reading about how his comrades negotiated their love lives, or the communal housework—in the middle of plotting the overthrow of the United States— had me laughing and crying simultaneously. Been there and survived that!
I'm very very proud to bring this historical book to Audible.
William Ayers is Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the founder of the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society, and he is the author of many books on education, including Teaching Toward Freedom: Moral Commitment and Ethical Action in the Classroom, On the Side of the Child, and A Kind and Just Parent. His new memoir, Public Enemy: Memoirs of Dissident Days, will be published by Beacon Press in Fall 2013.
I’m sure this is a moment you want to savor, a time to take a deep breath, get some rest, hydrate, regain your balance, and take a long walk in the sunshine. It might be as well a good time to reflect, rethink, recharge, and perhaps reignite. I sincerely hope that it is, and I urge you to put education on your reflective agenda.
The landscape of “educational reform” is currently littered with rubble and ruin and wreckage on all sides. Sadly, your administration has contributed significantly to the mounting catastrophe. You’re not alone: The toxic materials have been assembled as a bipartisan endeavor over many years, and the efforts of the last several administrations are now organized into a coherent push mobilized and led by a merry band of billionaires including Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Sam Walton, and Eli Broad.
Whether inept or clueless or malevolent—who’s to say?—these titans have worked relentlessly to take up all the available space, preaching, persuading, promoting, and, when all else fails, spreading around massive amounts of cash to promote their particular brand of school change as common sense. You and Secretary Arne Duncan—endorsed in your efforts by Newt Gingrich, Paul Ryan, and a host of reactionary politicians and pundits—now bear a major responsibility for that agenda.
The three most trumpeted and simultaneously most destructive aspects of the united “school reform” agenda are these: turning over public assets and spaces to private management; dismantling and opposing any independent, collective voice of teachers; and reducing education to a single narrow metric that claims to recognize an educated person through a test score. While there’s absolutely no substantive proof that this approach improves schooling for children, it chugs along unfazed—fact-free, faith-based reform at its core, resting firmly on rank ideology rather than any evidence whatsoever.
The three pillars of this agenda are nested in a seductive but wholly inaccurate metaphor: Education is a commodity like any other—a car or a refrigerator, a box of bolts or a screwdriver—that is bought and sold in the marketplace. Within this controlling metaphor the schoolhouse is assumed to be a business run by a CEO, with teachers as workers and students as the raw material bumping along the assembly line while information is incrementally stuffed into their little up-turned heads.
It’s rather easy to begin to think that “downsizing” the least productive units, “outsourcing” and “privatizing” a space that was once public, is a natural event. Teaching toward a simple standardized measure and relentlessly applying state-administered (but privately developed and quite profitable) tests to determine the “outcomes” (winners and losers) becomes a rational proxy for learning; “zero tolerance” for student misbehavior turns out to be a stand-in for child development or justice; and a range of sanctions on students, teachers, and schools—but never on lawmakers, foundations, corporations, or high officials (they call it “accountability")—is logical and level-headed.
I urge you to resist these policies and reject the dominant metaphor as wrong in the sense of inaccurate as well as wrong in the sense of immoral.
Education is a fundamental human right, not a product. In a free society education is based on a common faith in the incalculable value of every human being; it’s constructed on the principle that the fullest development of all is the condition for the full development of each, and, conversely, that the fullest development of each is the condition for the full development of all. Further, while schooling in every totalitarian society on earth foregrounds obedience and conformity, education in a democracy emphasizes initiative, courage, imagination, and entrepreneurship in order to encourage students to develop minds of their own.
When the aim of education and the sole measure of success is competitive, learning becomes exclusively selfish, and there is no obvious social motive to pursue it. People are turned against one another as every difference becomes a potential deficit. Getting ahead is the primary goal in such places, and mutual assistance, which can be so natural in other human affairs, is severely restricted or banned. It’s no wonder that cheating scandals are rampant in our country and fraudulent claims are commonplace.
Race to the Top is but one example of incentivizing bad behavior and backward ideas about education as the Secretary of Education begins to look and act like a program officer for some charity rather than the leading educator for all children: It’s one state against another, this school against that one, and my second grade in fierce competition with the second grade across the hall.
You have opposed privatizing social security, pointing out the terrible risks the market would impose on seniors if the voucher plan were ever adopted. And yet you’ve supported—in effect—putting the most endangered young people at risk through a similar scheme. We need to expand, deepen, and fortify the public space, especially for the most vulnerable, not turn it over to private managers. The current gold rush of for-profit colleges gobbling up student loans is but one cautionary tale.
You’ve said that you defend working people and their right to organize and yet you have publicly and noisily maligned teachers and their unions on several occasions. You need to consider that good working conditions are good teaching conditions, and that good teaching conditions are good learning conditions. We can’t have the best learning conditions if teachers are forced away from the table, or if the teaching corps is reduced to a team of short-termers and school tourists.
You have declared your support for a deep and rich curriculum for all students regardless of circumstance or background, and yet your policies rely on a relentless regimen of standardized testing, and test scores as the sole measure of progress.
You should certainly pause and reconsider. What’s done is done, but you can demonstrate wisdom and true leadership if you pull back now and correct these dreadful mistakes.
In a vibrant democracy, whatever the most privileged parents want for their children must serve as a minimum standard for what we as a community want for all of our children. Arne Duncan attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (as did our three sons); you sent your kids to Lab, and so did your friend Rahm Emanuel. There students found small classes, abundant resources, and opportunities to experiment and explore, ask questions and pursue answers to the far limits, and a minimum of time-out for standardized testing. They found, as well, a respected and unionized teacher corps, people who were committed to a life-long career in teaching and who were encouraged to work cooperatively for their mutual benefit (and who never would settle for being judged, assessed, rewarded, or punished based on student test scores).
Good enough for you, good enough for the privileged, then it must be good enough for the kids in public schools everywhere—a standard to be aspired to and worked toward. Any other ideal for our schools, in the words of John Dewey who founded the school you chose for your daughters, “is narrow and unlovely; acted upon it destroys our democracy.”
In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Beacon Broadside is running a series of posts on educators and education.
Today's post is by William Ayers and Rick Ayers. William Ayers is is Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago (retired). He is the founder of the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society. Rick Ayers is a Professor in Teacher Education at the University of San Francisco. He has worked as a Master Teacher for KQED Education Department, on the Teacher Advisory Board for Youth Speaks, and as a core team member of the Berkeley High School Diversity Project.
Teaching involves engaging real students every day, nurturing and challenging the vast range of people who actually appear before us, solving problems, making connections, putting in 70 hour weeks and spending our own money on supplies; and it means listening to every two-bit politician, the bought media, and big money misrepresent what we do and attack us shamelessly every day.
Want to appreciate teachers?
Don't allow education to be defined as an endless Social Darwinist competition: nation against nations, state against state, school against school, classroom against classroom, and child against child. Education, like love, is one of the fundamentals--give it away generously and lose nothing--and school is where we work out the meaning and the texture of democracy-coming together to explore the creation of community, pursuing the hard and challenging questions, and imagining new ways to be in balance with the earth and in harmony with one another. Good teaching deals with the real--honor teachers for that.
Reframe the debate: We are insistently encouraged to think of education as a product like a car or a refrigerator, a box of bolts or a screwdriver-something bought and sold in the marketplace like any other commodity. The controlling metaphor for the schoolhouse is a business run by a CEO, with teachers as workers and students as the raw material bumping along the assembly line while information is incrementally stuffed into their little up-turned heads; it's rather easy to think within this model that "downsizing" the least productive units, "outsourcing" and privatizing a space that was once public is a natural event; that teaching toward a simple standardized metric, and relentlessly applying state-administered (but privately-developed and quite profitable) tests to determine the "outcomes," is a rational proxy for learning; that centrally controlled "standards" for curriculum and teaching are commonsensical; that "zero tolerance" for student misbehavior as a stand-in for child development or justice is sane; and that "accountability," that is, a range of sanctions on students, teachers, and schools-but never on law-makers, foundations, corporations, or high officials-is logical and level-headed. This is in fact what a range of wealthy "reformers," noisy politicians, and their chattering pundits in the bought media call "school reform."
Oppose the "reform" policies that will add up to the end of education in and for democracy: resist replacing the public schools with some sort of privately-controlled administration, sorting the winners relentlessly from the losers-test, test, TEST! (and then punish), and destroying teachers' ability to speak with any sustained and unified voice. The operative image for these moves has by now become quite familiar: education is an individual consumer good, not a public trust or a social good, and certainly not a fundamental human right. Management, inputs and outcomes, efficiency, cost controls, profit and loss-the dominant language of this kind of reform doesn't leave much room for doubt, or much space to breathe.
Note that good working conditions are good teaching conditions, and that good teaching conditions are good learning conditions, and that teachers independent and collective voice is essential in determining these conditions.
Fight for smaller class size, limited standardized tests, enhanced arts programs at all levels and in every area, equitable financing, and a strong teachers contract that encourages collegiality and collaboration.
Multiple Choice Question: A typical American classroom has as much to offer an inquiring mind as does:
A) a vacant lot B) a country road C) a street corner D) the city dump E) the custodian’s closet F) none of the above
Analogy Test: High-stakes, standardized testing is to learning as:
A) memorizing a flight manual is to flying B) watching an episode of Hawaii Five-O is to doing police work C) exchanging marriage vows is to a successful relationship D) reading Gray’s Anatomy is to practicing surgery E) singing the national anthem is to citizenship F) all of the above
Education is a perennial arena of struggle as well as hope: struggle because it stirs in us the need to look at the world anew, to question what we have created, and to wonder once again what’s worthwhile for human beings to know and experience; and hope because it gestures toward a possible future, toward the impending, toward the coming of the new and the strange. Education is where we ask how we might engage, enlarge, and change our lives; it’s where we confront our dreams and fight out notions of the good life; it’s where we try to comprehend, apprehend, or possibly even transform all that we find before us.
What does it mean to be human in the 21st Century? What are we? Where have we come from, and where are we headed?
Education raises these most fundamental questions again and again. It’s a yeasty and combustible brew and a contested space, an essential and natural site of conflict—sometimes restrained, other times in chaotic eruption—and it was always so.
In the U.S. today, we are insistently encouraged to think of education as a product like a car or a refrigerator, a box of bolts or a screw driver—something bought and sold in the marketplace like any other commodity. The controlling metaphor for the schoolhouse is a business run by a CEO, with teachers as workers and students as the raw material bumping along the assembly line while information is incrementally stuffed into their little up-turned heads; within this model it’s rather easy to think that “downsizing” the least productive units, “outsourcing” and privatizing a space that was once public is a natural event; that teaching toward a simple standardized metric, and relentlessly applying state-administered (but privately-developed and quite profitable) tests to determine the “outcomes,” is a rational proxy for real learning; that centrally controlled “standards” for curriculum and teaching are commonsensical; that “zero tolerance” for student misbehavior as a stand-in for child development or justice is sane; and that “accountability,” that is, a range of sanctions on students, teachers, and schools—but never on law-makers, foundations, corporations, or high officials—is logical and level-headed. This is in fact what a range of wealthy “reformers,” noisy politicians, and their chattering pundits in the bought media call “school reform.”
The magic ingredients for this reform recipe are three: replace the public schools with some sort of privately-controlled administration; destroy teachers’ ability to speak with any sustained or unified voice; and sort the winners relentlessly from the losers—test, test, TEST! The operative image for these moves has by now become quite familiar: education is an individual consumer good, neither a public trust nor a social good, and certainly not a fundamental human right. Management, inputs and outcomes, efficiency, cost controls, profit and loss—the dominant language of this kind of reform doesn’t leave much room for doubt, or much space to breathe.
The forces fighting to create the new common-sense-school-reform-normal are led by a band of dilettante billionaires—Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Sam Walton, Eli Broad, the Koch brothers — who work relentlessly to take up all the available space. Preaching, persuading, and promoting, they often spread around massive amounts of cash to make their points. When Rupert Murdoch was in deep water in the summer of 2011, it came to light that Joel Klein, a leading “reformer” as head of the New York City public schools (and whose own kids attended private schools with small class size, well-resourced classrooms, opportunities for the arts, and more), was on Murdoch’s payroll. Apparently the two saw eye to eye on a core set of education principles: that charter schools needed to expand; poor instructors (the now-famous “lazy incompetent teachers”) should be weeded out; and the power of the teachers union must be curtailed. These new “marketeers” aim to create a certain kind of schooling aligned with a particular social vision.
Those of us who resist that narrow vision— who enter the contested space intent on fighting for more democracy, more joy and justice, and more diversity of thought and desire—and who hope to live in a more emancipated society, struggle to create and nurture robust schools. In a vibrant and liberated culture, schools would make an iron commitment to free inquiry, open questioning, and full participation; access and equity and simple fairness; a curriculum that encourages independent thought and judgment; and a base-line standard that recognizes the humanity of each participant. As opposed to obedience and conformity, the foundational curriculum would promote initiative, courage, imagination, and creativity. Schools in an authentic and animated democracy would put the highest priority on fostering free people oriented toward enlightenment and liberation.
Schools for compliance and conformity are characterized by passivity and fatalism and infused with anti-intellectualism and irrelevance. They turn on technologies of control and normalization—elaborate schemes for managing the mob, knotted system of rules and discipline, exhaustive machinery of schedules and clocks, laborious programs of sorting the crowd through testing and punishing, grading, assessing, and judging—everyone in a designated place and a place for everyone. Knowing and accepting one’s pigeonhole on the towering and barren cliff becomes the only lesson one really needs, and all of this offends a robust sense of schooling for participatory democracy; it conforms more easily to schooling for a society at the end of empire, bent on permanent war and experiencing the fatal eclipse of the public square.
By contrast, teaching toward freedom and democracy is based on a common faith in the incalculable value of every human being, and acts on the principle that the fullest development of all is the condition for the full development of each, and, conversely, that the fullest development of each is the condition for the full development of all.
We expect schools in a democratic society to be defined by a spirit of cooperation, inclusion, and participation, places that honor diversity while building unity. Schools in a realized democracy resist the overspecialization of human activity — the separation of the head from the hand, the heart from the brain, and the creative from the serviceable.
On the side of a liberating and humanizing education is a pedagogy of questioning, an approach that opens rather than closes the process of thinking, comparing, reasoning, perspective-taking, and dialogue. It demands something upending and revolutionary from students and teachers alike: Repudiate your place in the pecking order. It urges, remove that distorted, congenial mask of compliance: You must change!
The ethical core of teaching toward tomorrow is necessarily designed to create hope and a sense of agency in students. The big lessons are these: history is still in-the-making, the future unknown and unknowable, and what you do or don’t do will make a difference; each of us is a work-in-progress—unfinished, dynamic, in-process, on the move and on the make—swimming through the wreckage toward a distant and indistinct shore; you don’t need anyone’s permission to interrogate the world.
When the aim of education is the absorption of facts, the acquisition of knowledge becomes exclusively and exhaustively selfish, and there is no obvious social motive for learning. The measure of success is always a competitive one. People are turned against one another, and every difference becomes a potential deficit. Getting ahead of others is the primary goal in such places, and mutual assistance, which can be so natural in other human affairs, is severely restricted or banned.
On the other hand, where active work is the order of the day, helping others is not a form of charity, something that impoverishes both recipient and benefactor. Rather, a spirit of open communication, interchange, and analysis becomes commonplace. In these settings there is a certain natural disorder, a certain amount of anarchy and chaos, as there is in any busy workshop. But there is a deeper discipline at work, the discipline of getting things done and learning through life.
Knowledge is an inherently public good—something that can be reproduced at little or no cost, and, like love, is generative: the more you have, the better off you become; the more you give away, the more you have. Offering knowledge and learning and education to others diminishes nothing. In a flourishing democracy, knowledge is shared without any reservation or restrictions whatsoever. This points us toward an education that could be, but is not yet, an education toward complete human development—humanization—enlightenment and freedom.
This is the urgency: “Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witness they have,” writes the dazzling James Baldwin (in his essay "Nothing Personal" found in the collection The Price of the Ticket). “The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” This is the burning imperative for school people, parents, and all citizens today, and might become the measure of our determination now.
Beacon Broadside ran a post by William Ayers on April 7 about being "disinvited" from lecturing at the University of Wyoming—read the original post here. Earlier this week, Denver Westword's Michael Roberts, who followed the incident closely as it became a lawsuit, reported that United States District Court Judge William Downes "ordered that Ayers be allowed to speak at the university," after dismissing the university's security concerns as a "heckler's veto." According to Roberts, the federal judge cited earlier free speech cases—including the famous Williams v. Wallace involving Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—and "stressed that 'fear is not enough to override the First Amendment.'" Ayers spoke yesterday to a crowd of more than 1,000; the Billings Gazette offers a write-up of the event, which drew "about 10 protesters."
Beacon Broadside ran a post by William Ayers on April 7 about
being "disinvited" from lecturing at the University of Wyoming—read
the original posthere. On April 13,INSIDE Higher Edran an updateon that
story: the university is encountering criticism and possible legal action for
free speech violations.
William Ayers is Distinguished Professor of
Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at
Chicago. He is the founder of the Small Schools Workshop and the Center
for Youth and Society, and he is the author of many books on education,
including Teaching Toward Freedom and A Kind and Just Parent, and a memoir, Fugitive Days.
On March 30, 2010, officials at the University of Wyoming, citing “security threats” and “controversy,” canceled two talks I was invited to give in early April, one a public lecture entitled “Trudge Toward Freedom: Moral Commitment and Ethical Action,” and the other, a talk to faculty and graduate students called “Teaching and Research in the Public Interest: Solidarity and Identity.” I’d been invited in August, 2009, but one week before I was to travel to Laramie, I was told I had been “disinvited.”
In February, as the University began to publicize my scheduled visit, a campaign to rescind the invitation was initiated on right-wing blogs, accelerating quickly to a wider space where a demonizing and dishonest narrative dominated all discussion. A wave of hateful messages and death threats hit the University, and was joined soon enough by a few political leaders and wealthy donors instructing officials in ominous tones to cancel my visit to the campus. On March 28 an administrator wrote to tell me that the University was receiving vicious e-mails and threatening letters, as well as promises of physical disruption were I to show up. This is becoming drearily familiar to me, as I’ll explain.