"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Oregon's Race to the Top, DIBELS Knockoff, Corporate Taxation, and Philanthropic Stupidity

The educational landscape in my home state of Oregon is likely to be greatly impacted by two issues: the Race to the Bottom and a pair of important ballot measures that will be voted on in January of 2010. To my fellow Oregonians out there (or anyone concerned about public education), there are some fine print details about how these issues will impact the lives of our children (and teachers). Predictably, local philanthropists are involved in these issues, and their activity is, well, quite concerning. Let's begin with the ballot measures, but be sure to read all the way down to the discussion about a program called "Easy CBM," a reading program put together by the fools down at the University of Oregon (hint: it's DIBELS, but attached to longitudinal data systems - scary, eh?).

Oregon voters will vote on two ballot measures, 66 & 67, in a January election. The two measures will 1) raise taxes on families earning over $250,000 (2.5% of families) and 2) raise the corporate minimum tax, which currently is set at an astonishing $10 (set in 1931 and unchanged since). Yes, that's ten dollars, which is the likely tax bill for large corporations like Nike, Intel, and the other corporations doing business in our state. The right-wingers and libertarians have, not surprisingly, come out against these measures, which would help the state raise over $700 million, half of which would go towards public education and much of the rest to essential social services.

Here's where local philanthropies come into play. For the sake of this posting, I'll stick to the agenda of the Chalkboard Project, an education advocacy group that bills itself as "Uniting Oregonians to make our public schools among the nation's best." One might think that advocating for the passage of these ballot measures would be a top priority for any education advocacy organization, but the Chalkboard Project has remained entirely silent about these essential funding sources. I asked why, and their communications manager put it this way:
Chalkboard has taken a position on very few ballot measures in the past and the Board of Directors has not taken a position on Measures 66 and 67. [E-mail correspondence, 12/21/09]
Their board of directors includes representatives of Oregon's six biggest philanthropic organizations, and each group is represented by high-wealth individuals (listed here). It should not be surprising to see the Gates Foundation is another funder of this group, and you can tack on a bank and other large corporations to their list bankrollers. Do you honestly believe any of these people would advocate for higher taxes? Not a chance - they're all about a public education system where they don't have to pay their fair share of taxes.

While sitting quietly on the sidelines about the important tax measures, the Chalkboard Project is a prime cheerleader for Oregon's Race to the Bottom application. Also from their communications director:
Superintendent Castillo has said that preparing a Race to the Top proposal is not just about winning the money, it is about creating a plan to improve education in our state. The money would allow us to move faster, but without it the state still plans to pursue reforms that would support effective teachers, turnaround low performing schools, etc. As you've seen in the news, states are making changes already before any federal money has been given out. [E-mail correspondence, 12/21/09]
Oregon MIGHT win a one-time donation of a few hundred bucks per kid (a paltry sum, and hardly enough to make any kind of real changes), but just the temptation of this Race to Stupidity is enough to entice a competition to see who can draw up the most awful reform package. Oregon isn't pushing a Louisiana-like agenda, nor are we explicit about expanding charter schools (although it's implied in the application), but we have pretty much everyone beat when it comes to the most awful reading programs. Get a puke-bag ready, you'll need it.

You remember DIBELS, right? Meet Easy CBM, yet another "reading" program cooked up by the idiots at the University of Oregon. The current RttB draft for my state involves using this program with our longitudinal data system, a perfect way to track how many words kids can spit out in 30 or 60 seconds. This is considered formative assessment, but, of course, it's little more than mindless test prep, complete with multiple choice questions and timed reading quizzes, all feeding into Oregon's data-driven insanity. Easy CBM is programmed to use these kinds of assessments for all Oregon students in grades K through 8. Good luck finding the words "book" or "library" in Oregon's application - those are relics of the past, evidently.

One of the major "researchers" for this program is none other than Dr. Gerald Tindal, who sat on the Secretary's Reading Leadership Academy Assessment Committee with Dr. Edward Kame'enui, Deborah Simmons, and Roland Good, three other notorious U of O edu-idiots. The other main researcher, Julie Alonzo, is a 2007 U of O grad, which means she probably had the chance to study under the aforementioned reading terrorists cooking up assessments down in Eugene. What'd she do before going to U of O? Worked as a high school teacher, but now she's helping decide how Oregon's K-8 kids should learn how to read. Brilliant, just brilliant.

In the future, maybe Oregon kids will ask, "Teacher, what's a book? What's a library? I saw this word the other day, l-i-b-r-a-r-i-a-n. What does that mean?" And Oregon teachers, if they're able to smuggle in some legitimate reading material into their classroom, might be able to dust off a real book and show kids, "This is a book, kiddos. It tells you a story, it can make you lose track of time and the things going on around you...and you can learn from them." The confused children, used to the endless test-prep and 60 second reading quizzes, might be lucky enough to get their hands on one or two of these relics of the Gutenberg press. That is, if we even have a school system to speak of, lest it be privatized or dismantled at the altar of low corporate taxes and trickle-down economics.

It shouldn't be surprising, of course, that the Chalkboard folks, including their executive director, had never heard of the Broader, Bolder Approach when I was quizzed by them at a meeting earlier this year. They're shills for the EEP fools, the more-testing-less-literacy crowd, and small-government fanatics, not to mention some of the wealthiest foundations in our state (which, of course, are tax-free havens full of stock in some of the most offensive companies, including healthcare giants and multinational corporations).

So, just to summarize, one of Oregon's most influential education advocacy groups, which is an arm of the state's six major philanthropic organizations and takes their marching orders from the Gates Foundation/Duncan's DOE, will remain entirely silent on important ballot measures, but they'll push an education reform package that pushes a DIBELS-on-steroids program for our K-8 students.

Good luck, Oregon kids and teachers. You can thank Race to the Top, philanthropic stupidity, the federal DOE, and the U of O idiots for the shoddy education you'll be offered, particularly if you grow up in one of the less affluent parts of the state. Schools matter - and so do our funding streams, fair taxation, and literacy based on books and libraries. Our kids deserve so much better.


  1. Anonymous1:06 PM

    The education reform taking place in Oregon and across the country by these altruistic philanthrocapitalists is what has paved the way for the pathetic health care reform legislation that just passed the Senate today. Isn't this a great country. Merry Christmas. Thanks for sharing Ken.

  2. Anonymous5:56 PM

    Thanks for the heads up on the new-and-improved-DIBELS (sarcasm). Ugh. I'm sure my district in Washington State will be all over it as soon as it is released. After all, we must have ACCOUNTABILITY and PROOF that our kids are "reading", and the so-called "fluency" measure of DIBELS is such a great indicator of how kids are reading that I just had to flag 4 of my students as potential special ed testing candidates because they read slowly, despite the fact that they could tell me about everything they read in the 3 lame passages, meanwhile 9 of my students read so fast, they haven't a clue what any of the passages were about. But of course, only DIBELS is an unbiased measure of how my students are reading, and my professional opinion based on my multifaceted assessments (including comprehension, expression, etc.) and classroom observations isn't worth squat.