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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

George Schmidt's Review of The Mismeasure of Education

We are back home!, and I have to say it feels pretty good.  The folks over at Chalkface are great, and we had a great time there, but you know there's no place like home, right?

So we will be here at SM until we win, and then we will continue to be here to defend democratic public schools until death do us part.

We are gratified to see that our followers have actually increased since we left and that readership of our archives has keep us way up in page views.  Thank you for your continuing support.

Today George Schmidt, Editor of Substance News, offered the following insightful review essay of TMoE at SN. We thank George for this work and for placing the book within the context of Chicago's current struggle against CorpEd attacks.  Thanks again, George.  

The only change I have made is in the price of the book and the reference to its high price in the text.  TMoE was originally priced at 42.00, but the publisher, Information Age, graciously agreed to lower the price at our request and the request of our readers.  By the end of the month, the online book stores should be reflecting the lowered price of $27.50, which is now available only at that price from IAP, where there is a dynamite processing department that gets books out most often on the same day.

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Mismeasure of Education' shows The Resistance is winning

[Editor's reviewer's note: This review began on September 1, 2013. As I was developing it and working through the historical, analytical and contemporary aspects of what the book says and what I wanted to say about it, the review expanded beyond anything normally considered for a "Book Review." Eventually, I told my colleagues here in Chicago that my "review" would be a kind of "New York Review of Books"-type essay, since so much had to be covered and recommended. What you have before you below is the result of those revisions, attempting to put Mismeasure of Education in the context of this amazing month, which includes the publication of "Reign of Error" and at least one other book which will help us all understand and build our struggle].
Everyone in Chicago knows that everyone in Chicago understand that REACH and PARCC are the latest sure-fire ways to make public schooling right. Yesiree! And just to be certain of that, Chicago last December hired this guy from Memphis to explain REACH and PARCC. Why a guy from Memphis? Because everybody doing "school reform" knows that nobody from Chicago or Illinois can do "accountability" better than guys from Tennessee.
And so John Barker's debutante Power Point stint at the August 28, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education wasn't really the latest in a long series of mumbo-jumbo doubletalking explorations of bamboozeling the public at great expense. And Barker wasn't the latest snake oil salesman of corporate "school reform" to take the pulpit once held by Phil Hansen, then Don Bugler, then Ginger Reynolds, then Sarah Kremsner -- who proved she knew how to do "accountability" by organizing "performance" metrics for Chicago buses. No, after 15 years of auditioining "accountability" guys and gals, Chicago found the best one, a guy from Tennessee.
FACT: In December 2012, the members of the Board voted first in secret and then in public to pay the guy from Memphis, chiefs, Chicago finally realized that the Tennesse model, and not the CTA or the Georgia or the whatever model, was going to do the job. So -- John Barker, $165,000 a year plus "relocation" expenses because... after years of "accountability" this Board of Education and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who approved it all, knew this was the way. But you won't find the seven members of the school board of the nation's third largest city talking about that decision in public and on the record. All seven of them knew that only a guy from Memphis could straighten out Chicago's "accountability" thing right.
And that may be true, because back there in the closets of corporate "school reform" for Chicago there was the EIA, and CERA, and of course the PEDRA (1984) all of which led to The TVAAS, which naturally brought our neighbor to the GMPP which really helped TN get all that RTTP money from Barack Obama and Arne Duncan. Which is why Chicago is now doing REACH and PARCC. Although it's been available since July, September is the best time to review and begin reading "The Mismeasure of Education" by Jim Horn and Denise Wilburn. Alongside "Reign of Error", "The Mismeasure of Education" really brings all the evidence we need to take on every silly aspect of the current attacks on the nation's real public schools. Once the reader gets past the acronyms for all the reform nonsense and comes to appreciate how complete Horn and Wilburn document their critique, the power of the analysis becomes even more evident. We are facing a 25 year history of deception and mendacity -- marketing as opposed to serious research based policy -- and the evidence, whether from the history of the eugnics basis of Race To The Top or the detailed history of the Tennesse fiasco needs to be studied (not just read) by everyone in the Resistance.As the 2013 - 2014 school year opens across the USA, the resistance to corporate "school reform" explodes. It's as if teachers, students, and parents all at once realized that this stuff is nonsense and gobbledygook, orchestrated by a bunch of corporate hacks, often trained by the Broad Leadership thing, to talk like a bunch of middle age mystics in some language that nobody except them understands.
But in the USA this month, we have new books that bring together the threads of sometimes decades of work. By the end of the first month of school, the growing resistance to the quarter century corporate "school reform" attack on public schools and democracy will be reenforced with a bunch of new books. One of them, "The Mismeasure of Education," is a dense read back through the racist and fascist origins of the current wave of "Race To The Top" stuff, and then a fast forward all the way to how, via some really strange stuff in Tennesse, Chicago and Illinois got the latest plan for public school "accountability" that not one public official can explain, let alone pass.
Reality ? reinforced by careful studies, a passionate commitment to democracy, and powerful critiques of our adversaries ? will have swept away much the mindless (or simply stupid) propaganda that once dominated the discussion of the current and future of public education. The hoaxes and lies that have been spread for a generation or more will still be around, and there will still be hacks to attack those exposing the lies that routinely ooze from Arne Duncan and a dozen other massively subsidized outlets, but the end may be in sight.
The difference between an earlier time and today is that in 2013 the Resistance is growing daily. And a major factor is that the leaders of the teachers unions are no longer apologizing for the nonsense that has been passed around as "reform" for the past quarter century -- or taking the bribes that have been offered by the "Billionaire Boys Club", as Diane Ravitch speared it four years ago. But this essay is about "The Mismeasure of Education" by Jim Horn and Denise Wilburn. Later this week, Substance will begin the discussion of "Reign of Error" by Diane Ravitch.
Millions of Americans are being burned by corporate school reform, thanks in part to the arrogance of the reformers. They believed that all public schools ? "government schools" in their bizarre jargon ? should be replaced by crazed reactionary versions of a theory of society that is really a theology ? the marketization of everything from human kidneys to human schooling in a democratic society. Because the ruling plutocrats and their professors and pundits are really preaching a gospel, and not science in any serious sense, their work therefore has to be understood and opposed as a set of fanatically held beliefs, and not simply as some random bad ideas to be refuted.
The Resistance grows. Hundreds of thousands of intelligent citizens across the USA are organized, communicating in new and old ways. We are resisting what Diane Ravitch's new book calls the "Reign of Error." The Resistance has been around since the 1990s, but the explosion of nationwide Resistance is now. Not since the early years of corporate "school reform" in the 1990s has the critique been this clear, and this much fun.
Substance knows. By 1998, the publication of such works as David Berliner's "The Manufactured Crisis", the monthly critiques of corporate "reform" by Jerry Bracey, and the relentless works of Susan Ohanian provided the intellectual arsenal available to those who opposed the corporate agenda. But our base was still small and the lies of the corporate reformers still had too much sway. Today, a new generation of Resistance is being helped and a new generation of scholarly and popular work is being launched against the current corporate attacks on democracy and public education. The earlier work is still available and on point, but in some ways the new generation books (led by The Mismeasure of Education and Reign of Error) can add the fact that the "reforms" have failed to improve schools, while creating a mess.
September 2013 sees the publication of these two books exposing the latest frauds and the powerful frauds who peddle them. Other critiques are looming. At least one of which will tear off the Emperor's New Clothes of one of the most ludicrous emperors of corporate "school reform" and his mendacious attacks on public schools, teachers, and communities -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Later, for "Mayor One Percent."
For today, and for the first of these reviews, Jim Horn and Denise Wilburn have brought us "The Mismeasure of Education."
BOOK REVIEW: "The Mismeasure of Education," by Jim Horn and Denise Wilburn (Charlotte: Information Age Publishing, 2013). 271 pp., @27.50 (paper).
Despite its brevity (my copy is 224 pages long; the notes take up an additional 46 pages), "The Mismeausure of Education" is a dense study that will repay repeated readings. I'm going to personally recommend it for discussion by Chicago teachers, union leaders, CORE, and others who are committed not only to debunking the stupidities of corporate school reform, but to organizing the destruction of the institutions and lies upon which it has been based. The Resistance needs more books like this. The only barrier to such a recommendation is that the book is priced like a college text, and may be beyond the resources of many of the people who might do well to ponder it [see new price information above].
Eventually our resistance has to go all the way to the President's Cabinet, despite some lingering nostalgia about the 2008 election and all that "transformy" dreamy stuff.
A major object of critique had to be that millionaire Trust Fund Baby, Arne Duncan. From the day in December 2008 that Obama came to Chicago to announce Duncan as his choice for U.S. Secretary of Education, things went from very bad to worst in national policy. Those "progressives" who had been lathered up against George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" were shocked when Arne Duncan, at a June 2009 speech in Chicago, announced that he was going to rid the USA of the nation's 5,000 "worst" schools.
Only those of us who knew Arne's Chicago record believed his words, but it was soon clear that the "Chicago Boys" in the White House and cabinet were going to be worse for democracy and education than their Texan predecessors.
Duncan and Obama have been as bad for public education as their "Chicago Boys" ancestors were for the people and democracy of Chile.
"The Mismeasure of Education" helps organize against Duncan's and Obama's eugenics-based monstrosity, "Race To The Top." It places the Obama/Duncan philosophy in its proper historical context, all the way back to the apologies for chattel slavery polished by the professors and preachers of the 18th and 19th centuries. The ironies are enormous, but in a way they are deserved. But we're going to have to read "The Mismeasure of Education" quickly, now that Diane Ravitch's new book, "Reign of Error", is also on every bedside table (and hopefully in more and more public school libraries and classrooms).
And after that, the Hollywood hype that has brought Chicago the Rahm Emanuel Show will be collapsing in the face of more facts than Chicago's male chauvinist ego-maniacal Chief Executive Officer can withstand. Even as corporate reform appears to have reached its greatest powers -- locally, at the state level, and across the USA courtesy of the bullying of the Obama administration -- its bankrupt ideology and praxis are now exposed to a great, growing, and intelligent movement for democracy and against this latest expression of tyranny.
So for this month's opening of school, the first book on the Little Red Schoolhouse Reading List has to be "The Mismeasure of Education." Horn and Wilburn's book is actually three (or four) books in one, and in less than 225 densely packed pages.
The first chapter of "Mismeasure of Education" traces the ugly history of the pseudo-science behind Obama and Duncan's Race to the Top. It's called Eugenics, and it only went out of fashion when the USA and allies had to fight the bloodiest war in history to end the rule of those who had taken these ideas -- "born in the USA" by the way -- to their logical conclusion, adding a dose of European anti-Semitism to the stew of bad science and ugly prejudice.
"The Mismeasure of Education" thus begins with necessary history. Horn and Wilburn share the lengthy narrative that shows how from the days of slavery to the present, the American plutocracy, whether in the form of the plantation aristocracy of the antebellum South, the greedy Robber Barons of the Gilded Age, or the creators of Silicon Valley and the myths about capitalist innovation paid preacher and professor to use science to prove that those in power had a natural right to that power.
After all, the Best and the Brightest should be running the show. At one time, it's the propaganda of Gone With the Wind. At another time it's the Vietnam War as staged and managed by the Whiz Kids under Robert S. MacNamara. Now it is school reform -- Chicago style, under the Hollywood scriptings and stagings of Rahm Emanuel. Once upon a time in America, "science" showed that slaves were destined to be slaves and slave masters destined to be masters, so was no basis to argue, as did those messy abolitionists, about the equality of Man.
And so it was from the beginning of the USA. The man who wrote the draft of the Declaration of Independence is also quoted in The Mismeasure of Education.
Thomas Jefferson wrote:
I advance therefore as a suspicion only, that the Blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the Whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications. This unfortunate difference of color, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people.(Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia).
How's that for history? It is quotes like this by means of which Horn and Wilburn begin to unravel the story of how we got to corporate school reform in the 1990s and 2000s. Jefferson's qualified musings (which didn't stop him from supporting the three-fifths rule) became the science of the early 19th Century. By the end of the century it had become the "science" of Eugenics.
Some of the most notorious examples of the silliness of racist science and class biased "science" are shared in the book The Mismeasure of Man by the late Stephen Jay Gould (although Horn and Wilburn also note that some of Gould's studies of racist science were equally flawed).
One of the most easily accessible renderings of racist slaveowner sciene is now available from Netflicks and otherwise for those who havent yet seen Django Unchained.
The Candy character's proof of the natural servility of Black people is not a parody of the men of wealth of its time, but an accurate version of the history. Not all slaveowners and educated preachers and professors of the 19th Century believed as Candy did — just the vast majority.
We might need a more forceful reminder that the pseudo-sciences the formed the basis for human slavery in the USA didn?t die out with the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865 and the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution in those few years when the Congress had the votes and the courage to do so. It was a brief period, and experiments in freedom (like Howard University and the Georgia Sea Islands, to name two of my favorites) were quickly overridden by the next generation of plutocratic tyranny ? and the preachers and professors to promote it.
By the end of the 19th Century, as Horn and Wilburn remind us in detail, the new American plutocracy was creating not only unprecedented capitalist wealth, but the ideology to support their version of reality. While classical institutions of apologetics for their rule like Harvard continued to do so, the plutocracy also created new universities to promote the same ideas, outside the former slave states. John D. Rockefeller created (my alma mater) The University of Chicago, while Leland Stanford, a predator almost Rockefeller, created the university in Palo Alto that bears his name. And the apologetics poured forth, not only aiming at the old slaves, now emancipated Black people, but also at the millions of working class white? people arriving to the USA from Europe, and working class Latinos and Asians arriving to the Southwest and West from elsewhere.
Eugenics was born in the USA and Great Britain, a science of superiority and inferiority, dedicated, as the slave sciences before it, to proving that natural right of rulers to rule and their inferiors to be, if not chattel, to work. Horn and Wilburn give the reader a powerful tour of the nearly 100 years of Race To The Top versions of science that yielded, at the end of the 20th Century, our current corporate school reform. In detail, Horn and Wilburn document the gruesome extremes to which the American ruling class went, noting for example the forced sterilization of hundreds of thousands of inferior white people, the feeble minded and degenerates. At the same time, Black people were suffering that, the chain gangs, and other treatments reserved for inferior humans (or the separate species that some preached).
Horn and Wilburn also note that the racist ideas of professors and preachers in the USA were picked up and achieved their fullest fruition in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s ? Adolph Hitler himself praised the scientists from the Midwest especially for giving him the materials for Mein Kampf. And the Nazi racial policies were the direct result of those philosophies in power. It was a short step from the sterilization of inferiors approved by the United States Supreme Court in the USA to the final step ? the elimination of inferiors and the Final Solution.
The natural result of American Eugenics, as Horn and Wilburn demonstrate, was the Nazi Final Solution. And many readers need to be reminded that the genocide against the Jews of Europe was part of a process of racial elimination and purification. Taking their cue from generations of American and British professors and preachers, the Nazis took the theologies (because they were never science) of the ruling classes to their ultimate, logical, and industrial conclusion.
If racial purity were a decent object for a society -- indeed, a necessity for a nation (or Volk, then the pursuit of that objective had to be done by any means necessary. Not only had the "best and the brightest" to be educated and strengthened, but the unfit had to be eliminated. In the USA, with the blessings of the United States Supreme Court, hundreds of thousands of the "feeble minded" and criminal elements were being sterilized, often against their wills and sometimes without their knowledge.
After 1933, Germany just took the process several steps further in its logical direction. "Genocide" was not only reserved for the Jews. The death camps (like the one liberated by my father and his comrades in the 44th U.S. Infantry Division) contained more than Jews. The Nazis also murdered hundreds of thousands of gypsies and the feeble minded during the same years. And following September 1939 and the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Nazi theology demanded that the Nazis resort to enslaving the Untermenschen of Poland and the other inferior nations, while systematically murdering millions of other Untermenschen in their POW camps after the Russian armies were defeated in the early months of Operation Barbossa, the German invasion of Russia and the attempt to complete the conquest of continental Europe.
But Horn and Wilburn make clear that the racist and fascist theories were not confined to the zealots who assembled at Nuremberg. Into the late 1930s, the most powerful universities in the USA taught the gospel of eugenics, not as a historical oddity, but as "science". Horn and Wilburn report:
"Since the eugenics chapter of American social history is rarely taught in schools where even the story of our slave-holding history remains controversial, most Americans do not know that eugenics was taught as a regular part of science curriculums in junior high and high schools, as well as at Princeton, Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, Stanford, and dozens of other American colleges and universities. In fact, Stanford's first President, David S. Jordan, published a book in 1902 entitled Blood of a Nation that was seminal in advancing the notion that attributes such as pauperism and talent, industriousness and lassitude, are inheritable qualities."
It took the massive death in the U.S. Civil War to end the first wave of modern eugenics in practice in the USA (for a short time). So it took the even more monstrous death tolls of World War II to temporarily derail the eugenics movement in the USA and the Free World that had given the science to Hitler and the Nazis.
But anyone who believed that a generation that got a firsthand look at Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald and the other results of such theories would reject forever the theories and theology behind them would have been guilty of wishful thinking. From the Pharaohs to the Popes to the Czars to the Fuehrers, tyrants insist on proving that their wealth and power are the result of "talent" (or some version of "The Divine Right of Kings").
The details are in Horn and Wilburn's study, and they are dense.
But for a time the USA escaped those notions and the policies that had grown out of them. One major result of the victory of the workers in arms organized by the USA and other nations against fascism was a massive if sometimes clumsy move towards democracy at home. Led by Black men and women, many of them veterans who had fought the "two-front war" (against fascism abroad and racism at "home") and were not about to return to the days of separate but equal and other vicious inequalities. One of the unwritten histories of the "Civil Rights Movement" in this year when we celebrate the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington is how many of the leaders of the Civil Rights movements of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s were veterans who had learned, in the face of reality, the practical limits of non-violence. One response to the demands for equality and equity in the years following World War II was the demand for equity in public schools. And the final reporting done in Horn and Wilburn's book shows in detail how the "Coleman Report" upon which so much subsequent policy was based explained the complexity of the problems.
But although the explosions of the movements for democracy and diversity in the 1960s and 1970s were taking the nation in one direction, the ageless demands of power, wealth and privilege were also re-grouping after their world historic defeat on the battlefields of World War II and in the minds of those who fought it.
And who better to revive the racist and eugenicist theories from the highest position of power in the USA than a B movie actor who had spent his war making propaganda films from the safety of barracks in Hollywood? By the 1980s, with Ronald Reagan they were in power. Reagan, who was better at posing to be a hero than actual real world heroics, had acted his way through World War II. During those same years, some of Reagan?s Hollywood -- and sports celebrity colleagues, including Jimmy Stewart and Ted Williams, had actually fought the Nazis and their allies. But by the 1980s, eugenics was back in fashion, at least among some, and the racist theories were again in play and receiving major support from the leaders of the USA. The first chapter of "The Mismeasure of Education" brings the reader through this sordid intellectual history, naming names and citing facts. And that history brings American education up to the reign of George W. Bush and "No Child Left Behind", the agenda for the 21st Century.
In their final part of this history, Horn and Wilburn take note of the fact that the crazy demand of "No Child Left Behind" -- that every school in the USA reach "proficiency" by 2014 -- was corrected by research even as it was being promulgated. But by then the disconnect between belief and reality was virtually complete. The resurgence of the new eugenics demanded that the United States Congress vote overwhelmingly in favor of a physical impossibility -- universal competence, through the public schools. "No Child Left Behind," the Bush education policy, set the stage both for the predations of "Race to the Top,"on the one hand, and the "value-added" fetish, on the other.
After bringing the reader up to the age of "No Child Left Behind", Horn and Wilburn begin to really have fun with their history and analysis of the theology of "value-added" educational measurement, and that's the subject of the second part of "The Mismeasure of Education."
The second lengthy study in Mismeasure of Education is the chapter on the evolution of the pseudo-science of Value Added testing and policy. It's called The Tennessee Case. Tennessee is the place where it evolved the most dangerously, and strangely as well. In their second lengthy chapter, Horn and Wilburn provide the reader with a history that includes research from the actual legislative debates on Value Added and the Tennessee model.
In order to appreciate the Alice in Wonderland reality of the Value-Added odyssey in Tennessee, Horn and Wilburn give a simple history of three areas of public spending: prisons, schools, and health care.
Once prisons and health care in Tennessee were firmly privatized, with growing costs that went into the pockets of entrepreneurs, spending on public education declined.
"At the same time that education funding was experiencing minimal growth and garnering a smaller and smaller percentage of the state budget, other state functions were claiming larger chunks while doubling tripling their budget allocations," the authors report. "The three areas experiencing the largest growth were Health Care and Social Services (HC&SS); Law, Justice and Public Safety (LJ&PS); and foreign industrial incentives. Between 1977 and 1995, the HC&SS budget more than tripled, from $1.365 million annually to over $5 billion..." The increases for prisons and tax incentives for corporations likewise increased.
While the privatization of health services and prisons was growing, schools got not more money but more and more strange accountability. In and out of the economic cycle, Tennessee schools always faced austerity because the gospel of corporate school reform required it. Education was important in the abstract but not important enough to lower class sizes or make more money available to the schools themselves.
Instead, Tennessee went on what looks in retrospect to have been a Kafkaesque foray into acronym land, all with the objective of concocting some pseudo-scientific scaffolding for what always amounted to the same thing: proving that poor children in poorly funded schools scored lower on tests than wealthier children.
In the course of the development of the Tennessee model, the state went through a number of testing programs, finally settling on a scheme called Value Added that purportedly measured the value of each teacher's annual input into each kid, just as a factory manager at the Toyota plant could measure how many doors a line worker had installed in a day, a week, or a month. As Horn and Wilburn document through an extensive history of the legislative and public records, the conversation had everything to do with framing the corporate agenda as a straight jacket for schools and teachers and nothing to do with democracy or the varied ways in which human children can learn in schools.

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