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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

CIA Chief Bought Seligman Children CIA Logo T-Shirts

Dr. Martin Seligman is the co-developer of resiliency training methods that have been adapted and adopted by KIPP and other No Excuses charter schools to both pacify and motivate school children who never suspect that they are subjects of psychological experiments conducted by untrained non-professionals.  

Despite information in Jane Mayer's 2009 book, The Dark Side . . ., that suggested a significant involvement by Seligman in shaping CIA interrogation techniques during the years of Bush II, Seligman has denied any involvement beyond a single lecture in 2002:
I gave a three hour lecture sponsored by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency at the San Diego Naval Base in mid-May 2002. I was invited to speak about how American troops and American personnel could use what is known about learned helplessness to resist torture and evade successful interrogation by their captors. This is what I spoke about.
Today the New York Times has news of new report detailing the involvement by the American Psychological Society in the CIA torture program.  Included are a number of fascinating emails that point to deep and ongoing collaboration among APA members, the CIA, and White House officials.  Below is the last paragraph of one such email.   

At the end of an email from March 30, 2004 from Kirk Hubbard (Chief of Operations of the Operational Assessment Division of the CIA) to Susan Brandon (NIH), Dr. Geoffrey Mumford (then­-APA Director of Science Policy), and Scott Gerwehr (RAND Corporation contractor), Hubbard is grousing about having budgeting issues in his department at the CIA (my bolds):

My office director would not even reimburse me for circa $100 bucks for CIA logo t­shirts and ball caps for Marty Seligman's five kids! He's helped out alot over the past four years so I thought that was the least I could do. But no, has to come out of my own pocket! And people wonder why I am so cynical!
That one lecture must have been a doozy!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Huge Corporate Testing Balls and the Shrunken Civil Rights Fig Leaf

When Bush II was in the White House, he dismissed skeptics of NCLB's monstrous deformation of educational equity as scoundrels engaged in the "soft bigotry of low expectations."  Never mind the skeptics were to be proven right, for by the time they were, a brand new privatization fleet had been launched and corporate charter school growth was enjoying exponential growth, even as public schools were being blown apart.  As Glen Ford noted recalled in 2012,
High stakes testing was designed as a Trojan Horse for a corporate educational takeover, but packaged as a public good. . . . Everyone involved knew that inner city kids would fail the tests in huge numbers, setting the infernal machine in motion for the closing of schools and the wholesale firing of teachers.
In 2010 when Arne Duncan saw the corporate reformers' propaganda film, Waiting for Superman, at the gala premiere in DC, he declared it a "Rosa Parks moment."  By this he apparently meant that corporate charter reform schoolers were moving from the back of the policy bus and that, in fact, the federal government was going to buy them a brand new bus or as many as they might need to transfer, segregate, restrain, and culturally sterilize the disadvantaged children of urban America.

As Peter Greene suggests in a blog post today, corporate education reformers, indeed, have confiscated the language of the civil rights movement to rationalize the imposition of another generation of racist and classist testing in schools.  Both Bush and Duncan provide earlier exemplars of this practice, and today both Randi Weingarten and Lily Garcia offer prime examples of reformster advocacy trying to hide behind coerced and/or corrupt statements from the shrunken corporate remains of civil rights organizations that dare not bite the hand of the billionaire foundations that feed them.

This past weekend in Chicago, Weingarten said “civil rights leaders” support standardized testing because they don’t want African-American children to be invisible.  That simple-minded gloss, then, offers Weingarten reason enough to do likewise.

Taking a lead role in calling for another generation of standardized testing, which will be used to justify community school closures and apartheid charter replacements or vouchers, are the self-promoters at the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), who owes their org's existence to the Walton Foundation and Rod Paige's ED under Bush II.

But we cannot ignore the obvious conflict of interest of Wade Henderson, the current "president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group of civil rights advocates that includes the NAACP and the National Urban League:" 
Henderson, who has testified before Congress on the importance of keeping the testing mandate, sits on the board of trustees for the Educational Testing Service, the country’s largest such private nonprofit assessment company. He earned $88,250 from ETS in 2013, the most recent year for which tax records are available.
Bruce Dixon at Black Agenda Report understands the issues for what they are:
 If the black political class and black educators really stood for the interests of their students and communities they would be educating black parents and students across the country about their right to opt out of tests that serve no legitimate educational purpose, as teachers in Chicago and Seattle are already doing.
But that's problematic too. Opposing standardized testing would place the black political class in conflict not with the slippery nebulous demons of institutional racism, but biting some of the very real and easy-to-find hands in corporate America that feed it. Taking issue with standardized testing, Common Core and the drive to privatize education would put black educators in opposition to corporate America, to the Gates, Walton Family (Wal-Mart), Eli Broad and other foundations, and to Republicans and Democrats including President Obama and Arne Duncan, his Secretary of Education. This is not an easy thing to do when national black “civil rights” organizations from the National Action Network and the National Urban League have eagerly accepted corporate-engineered school reform with corporate dollars, and President Obama is deeply beholden to the charter school sugar daddies.
One can only wonder what Du Bois or Malcolm X or Dr. King would say about black misleaders and corporate union leaders embracing the white corporate agenda under the threadbare pretense of getting needed attention for black children who are being victimized and terrorized by that same corporate testing agenda.


I worked for 4 years as a mentor to 19 new teachers (TFA corps members getting their Masters) in my role as a field specialist at Fordham University.  I explained to them how different my preparation to become a teacher was compared to the lack of preparation they received.

One major difference was that when I student taught at Taft H.S. in the Bronx I had a master teacher, Phyllis Opochinsky, as my cooperating teacher. I was not allowed to teach for weeks. I only observed her and other teachers. We discussed methodologies. We prepared lesson plans. We discussed techniques. Only then was I allowed to “teach a class” once a week with her observing and coaching afterwards. Finally, when she deemed me ready, was I allowed to take on one of her classes full time.

After several years of observing what has happened to her chosen profession, my guru speaks:

“After three decades of teaching I know what many of you have yet to learn.  I wrote the lessons and tests and decided what my students needed to know about history, government, and current events - And then I graded the tests. 

However, I learned to build in other measurements because I recognized my own fallibility. What arrogance would it have been to think I could decide and then measure what they knew? 

So I questioned them, using questions designed to be thought-provoking rather than one word answer fact driven, listened to their answers to and added their participation in calculating grades.  In addition there were grades on term papers and projects. 

I learned to look for those who came at the questions differently-- the creative thinkers.  I wanted them to love learning and leave the classroom still talking about what they learned.  Interestingly, I had MANY colleagues who did the same!  This all happened in the Bronx at Taft and Walton High Schools.

We were not measured by our test results. We were taught and supervised not by business people and politicians, but by supervisors, colleagues and our students about what worked and what didn't work.

Where is the time for a "teachable moment" in classes where an answer takes the class and teacher in a never to be forgotten experience? 

Where is there time for the one sentence comment to a class or student that is life changing? 

Where is the opportunity for teachers, not those outside the profession, to design and grow something like the Walton High School /Lehman College Pre-Teaching Academy where high school students interned and taught their peers.

I am so saddened about this testing system and lock step teaching. 

Hopefully, this will change but the change must be fast!”


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

NPE's Coalition of the Dissemblers

When the Bush Administration put together the Coalition of the Willing in the lead-up to the War on Iraq in 2003, many countries signed up to help the U. S. effort, even though very few actually put any boots on the ground in Baghdad.  One thing was for sure, however: no Coalition member was allowed to work either behind the scenes or in public to assist Saddam Hussein's government.

That is not the case with the coalition that the Ravitch team at NPE is putting together to protect its rhetorical Maginot Line against the corporate education reform blitzkreig. Instead of at least demanding loyalty, if nothing else, to the defense of the public school homeland, Ravitch wants a coalition that is open to bad actors with long histories of deceit, treachery, and traitorous behavior.  In short, she wants to bring AFT and NEA into her headquarters, where knowledge of operations and strategy will be jointly developed with those that can be counted upon to provide active assistance to the enemy.  If there were, in fact, an enemy or enemies.  

What is bizarre about the NPE coalition is that NPE has declared no foe, preferring instead to pretend to protect the hard earned territory of public education with fortifications made of platitudes that contain its "positive agenda." And even though there are corporate education warlords building and deploying real weapons of mass educational destruction, the Ravitch coalition remains content to verbalize about all those values, ideas, concepts, and practices that are being systematically demolished by the corporate warlords' growing trove of weapons: corporate foundation drones, standardized test bombs, Common Core, TFA grunts, charter schools, segregation, big data, high tech surveillance, vouchers, research propaganda campaigns, offensive techno-gadgets, austerity, teacher d-evaluation, etc.

Meanwhile, the old silver fox and her lieutenants pretend to stand tall above it all, declaring that someday when the pillaging aggressors get tired, she and her loyal band of positive mutual admirers will declare victory among the ruins.  Her troops (or are they diplomats?) are convinced that, as a Ravitch aide-de-camp noted the other day, 
When reformsters have moved on because it’s hard and challenging and a slog and not just as fun as it was a whole ten years ago, we will still be here, doing the job, educating students and doing it all in the midst of the mess created. . .
Such sentiments are sentimental schlock, for sure, but they are also extremely dangerous; the suggestion is that if those who believe in the "positive agenda" wait long enough and talk long enough with their double agent allies at their chandeliered retreats, it is just a matter of time until the forces of good can come out of their banquet halls, move back into their school rooms, and pick up where things left off before the fascist CorpEd invasion and decimation of public schools. This sentimentalized foolishness represents a thought disorder of major proportions and one that is counterproductive to building a resistance movement based on principled actions of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance.

As I have noted, ad nauseum, the corporate education profiteers, the ed industry predators, and the philanthrocapitalists will cease their all-out war against public institutions when, 1) their efforts cease to increase their power and feed their greed, and/or 2) their efforts result in their own livelihoods and properties being threatened or destroyed.   Neither of these outcomes will happen by crafting positive agendas, collaborating with collaborators, or wishful thinking.  

These outcomes will only happen, rather, by devising and implementing strategies to identify and attack corporate enemies of democracy with any nonviolent strategy or tactic at the disposal of an underground and aboveground army that is committed to the end to 1) replacing corporate influence in public education with democratic governance, 2) replacing segregation of all kinds with inclusive boundaries and practices, and 3) eradicating high stakes tests and other racist/classist educational policies. 

The Hard Bigotry of High Expectations

So far, I have come across two articles that get to the heart of problems in Baltimore and other communities. Anyone paying attention to what has been going on in the two America's since John Edwards coined the term, knows  rich privileged kids get a high quality education while the poorest and most vulnerable students have their schools taken over or are force fed an empty, vacuous curriculum in order to make corporations like Pearson richer and more profitable.

One post was written at the Jaded Educator blog:

The Jaded Teacher  had this to say:

Point blank, we have not given these students anything of value. We have not given them a reason to think twice about throwing that rock and landing them in a heap of trouble. We have robbed them of what is within their rights which is an equal opportunity for education.
The question can be asked, are schools supposed to fix everything? Of course not. As an educators, we are already inundated with a myriad of responsibilities to attend to. However, we are the staple community institution, that possesses the power to make a life altering influence on our children.
I must say, I don’t blame my students for their often unruly behavior in the classroom. If you felt that your education was totally inaccessible to you, and didn’t incorporate aspects of your life, you would place little to no value in it. During my year long student teaching I, as well as a colleague of mine, wondered, “So we do all this work on the inside, but how does it translate on the outside of these four walls?” And what I am coming to terms with, is that, for the masses, it doesn’t. What long lasting impact will teaching my students how to multiply 2×2 digit numbers, if I am not able to supply them with life skills, and equip them with constructive strategies to manage their conflicts, and promote socially appropriate emotional responses, educate them using a curriculum that is most salient and relevant to them? What it seems we’ve been told is that it’s not important because its not on the test.
They have not failed, she says. We have.
Urban centers around the country are reeling from decades of decay and neglect in some areas, while the privileged go to schools with art, music, drama, physical education and a rich curriculum. 

Meanwhile, the children in the poorest, most vulnerable communities continue to be blamed because blaming the victim is a lot easier than taking responsibility for injustice and the oppression that now begins in kindergarten. 

The meme perpetuated by the corporate education reforms, hell bent on destroying public education in favor of charters, vouchers and privatization have been talking about the "soft bigotry of low expectations" now for 20 years. It's a way to tout education as the civil rights issue of our time while ignoring income inequality and bad economic policy.  The corporate interest have forced their soulless, mind numbing bullshit tests on the poorest, most vulnerable students and now on all public school students and their teachers who have been targeted as scapegoats. 

It's time to recognize and acknowledge that it is actually the hard bigotry of high expectations that has destroyed communities all across the country, pitted teacher against parents, students against teachers and administrators while segregating communities and schools by test scores permeating education policy to enrich corporations. 

Perhaps it is time to stop telling third graders whose father or mother is in jail, mentally ill, absent or dead that they are failures at 8 years old. This can't be helpful.

For a broader perspective on the rage and anger over the continued injustice that has blanketed the country, read Alan Singer's well-researched and documented statistics on the realities in these communities that have been starved of funds, jobs and infrastructure through no fault of their own:

From Alan Singer, Hofstra University,

One in twenty-eight children in the United States have a parent behind bars. For African American children, that number is one in nine. In the U.S. the average term being served by incarcerated parents is eighty months. Each year the number of children with incarcerated parents continue to grow as a result of the record prison population in the United States. The arrest and removal of a mother or father from a child's life forces that child to confront many emotional, social and economic consequences.

The incarceration of parents creates a crisis for children, a crisis for families, a crisis for schools, a crisis for communities, and a crisis for American society as a whole. If you are a teacher in an inner-city school, you likely have three or four students in each class who have a parent who is incarcerated.
The incarceration of parents creates communities of orphans. Children grow up with a sense of loss, a belief that they somehow are responsible for the break up of their families. They do not develop close emotional parental bonds and are often without sufficient adult supervision.
Households with these children function on the economic margins. Remaining caretaker adults, whether it is a parent or grandparent, are under economic and emotional stress and this is conveyed to the child.
Children are unprepared for school, behave badly, perform poorly, and are punished. Studies show that school-age children of incarcerated parents have school-related problems and problems with peer relationships. They are often teased and become truants.
Large concentrations of similar troubled young people create dysfunctional schools and communities. This is a recipe for self-replicating community crisis.
The incarceration of a mother especially can result in more serious disturbances for a child's development, as the mother is typically the primary caregiver. Fifty percent of incarcerated mothers are also their kids' main financial providers. With many children in severe need of assistance, and with the exception for local aid organizations and welfare services, there are only 6 states addressing this issue specifically.
The days or no excuses is over for politicians and their corporate ed cronies and it's time to acknowledge the hard bigotry of high expectations is destroying an entire generation of black and brown youth with nothing left to lose. More and more people are beginning to connect the dots and it's not a pretty picture. 
Perhaps they will turn all the schools in Baltimore over to KIPP and teach these kids how to work hard and be nice so one day they can work at CVS or Walmart for minimum wage, no benefits and no security like the rest of the 99%.

Memphis Protests Against Community School Closures Continue

Memphis Parents Urge SCS School to Stop Closing Community Schools and to Start Supporting Them

April 28, 2015

Memphis, TN—Parents, students, teachers, and community members will rally April 28 at 160 South Hollywood at 4:30 PM to demand support for community schools and to oppose SCS Board plans to turn over community schools to the IZone and to charter school companies chosen by the State’s Achievement School District.  The protest rally is sponsored by OurStudentsMatterNow, and all citizens who care about keeping public schools public in Memphis are urged to come out and support this effort.

OurStudentsMatterNow demands and end to the use of high stakes tests to target schools in urban communities for closure and turnover, and the organization is urging the Shelby County School Board to commit the financial support required to improve the quality of historically underfunded public schools in economically-disadvantaged neighborhoods of Memphis.

This protest rally represents the first of many public efforts by OurStudentsMatterNow to generate support for quality public schools for all Shelby County children.  OurStudentsMatterNow has established a legal defense fund to take their case into the courts, and they are planning for public demonstrations and organizing events this Spring and into the next school year. 
Those wanting to contribute to the effort to save community schools in Memphis may do so by coming out to rally with OurStudentsMatterNow and by giving generously at the GoFundMe site here:  http://www.gofundme.com/ourstudentsmatter

For further information, contact
ourstudentsmatternow@gmail.com or memphis.teachers@mail.com

New Report Finds Over $200 Million in Fraud and Abuse at Charter Schools

“The Tip of the Iceberg: Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, and Abuse” Exposes Costly Consequences of Lacking Charter Schools Accountability, Transparency

** Full report available here: http://bit.ly/1DDlpjM **

A new report by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) found that financial fraud, waste, and mismanagement by charter schools cost taxpayers more than $200 million in just 15 states—a significant increase from the more than $100 million in charter school financial fraud exposed in a similar report released by CPD last year.

To read the full report, go to: http://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/Charter-Schools-National-Report_rev2.pdf

Charter School Fraud Robs ALL our students!

“Charter schools act like they have a ‘get out of accountability free’ card,” said Jonathan Stith, director of the Alliance for Educational Justice and a spokesperson for AROS. “$200 million dollars that was supposed to go to schools and classrooms is just gone. And that's likely to be the tip of the iceberg, given the lack of transparency or standards applied to charter schools.”

“We will continue to have a charter school fraud problem until we address the root cause – the broken oversight systems that exist on a federal and state level,” said Kyle Serrette, the Director of Education for CPD. “Certainly not all charter school operators are fraudulent, but our system is not good at differentiating the sheep from the wolves in sheep’s clothing. That’s a problem, given the fact that taxpayers around the country are collectively spending over $20 billion a year on charter schools. Charter school parents, children, and taxpayers deserve better.”

Examples of charter fraud and mismanagement covered in the report include:

Washington, DC: The DC Public Charter School Board unanimously revoked the charter of Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter School—which enrolled 1,600 students across three campuses and an online academy—after the school’s founder, Kent Amos, was accused of diverting funds from the school for his personal profit. Despite evidence that Amos—who is currently being sued by the DC Attorney General—diverted more than $14 million from the school in the last 10 years, the DC Public Charter School Board pointed to their limited ability to oversee for-profit management companies, which are often intertwined with non-profit charter schools and face no requirements to disclose salaries or other pertinent information that could prevent rampant fraud.

Michigan: In April 2014, Steven Ingersoll, founder of Grand Traverse Academy, was convicted of federal fraud and tax evasion. He did not report $2 million of taxable income in 2009 and 2010. The school’s audit revealed a $2.3-million prepayment to Ingersoll’s school management company. Ingersoll then used half of a $.8 million loan for school construction to pay down some of his debt to the school. After the founder’s ouster, his daughter-in-law continued to handle the finances of the school.

Ohio: In January 2015, the state auditor released a report of the results of unannounced visits by inspectors to 30 charter schools. In nearly half of the schools, the school-provided headcount was significantly higher than the auditors’ headcount. Schools are funded based on headcount, so these inflated figures amount to taxpayer dollars siphoned away from students. Among the seven schools with the most extreme variances between reported head count and the auditors’ headcount, almost 900 students were missing, at a cost of roughly $5.7 million. Auditors identified eight other schools with troubling, but less significant variances.

Additionally, in June 2014, a grand jury indicted the superintendent and 2 board members of Arise! Academy in Dayton of soliciting and accepting bribes in exchange for awarding a “lucrative” consulting contract to a North Carolina-based company. The contract was worth $420,919 and the charter personnel received kickbacks in the form of cash, travel, and payments to a separate business.

California: In July 2014, the Los Angeles Unified School District performed a forensic audit of Magnolia Public Schools. They found that the charter-school chain used education dollars to pay for six non- employees’ immigration costs and could not justify $3 million in expenses over four years to outsource curriculum development, professional training, and human resources services that the school itself reported.

More examples of charter fraud & mismanagement here: http://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/Charter-Schools-National-Report_rev2.pdf

The report calls for a set of core reforms to end the hemorrhaging of public funds to fraudulent charter schools and also calls on state and federal lawmakers to act now to put systems in place to prevent fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement.


The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) is a national coalition representing more than 7 million Americans who attend and work in public schools, and live in the communities most impacted by the ESEA.

New Report Finds Over $200 Million in Fraud and Abuse at Charter Schools by Robert D. Skeels

the daily howler: Supplemental: Nicholas Kristof, music man!

the daily howler: Supplemental: Nicholas Kristof, music man!: MONDAY, APRIL 27, 2015 Biggest journalistic hoax concerning test scores yet: In today’s first post, we discussed the “pseudo-journalism” ...

TN's Win-Win for Corporate Education Is a Lose-Lose for Children

The Commercial Appeal has a story this morning about Tennessee's new limited school voucher law just passed by the Tennessee Taliban in Nashville last week.  My comments were posted this morning:

Parents in Tennessee are not in favor of a voucher system, and this miseducative and child-hostile law only serves the needs of ALEC and Governor Haslam's crew, whose principal goal is to create a corporate welfare state at the expense of citizens. This limited bad idea is a way to get to a larger bad idea, or to get the camel's nose under the tent to push in another form of privatization of public services, along with the profiteering and corruption that go with it.

In order to get about half of the per-pupil allotment that special education kids now receive in public schools, parents must give up their rights to have input or to demand reviews of how their children's educational needs are being served in the existing private segregated "schools" and the ones that are sure spring up as a result of the new law. 

This ideologically driven legislation serves to make sure that the road to exclusion is further cleared of obstructions and that the charter industry will not have to contend with parents demanding special educational services for their children. It's a win-win for corporate education reform.

Standardized tests versus grades

Sent to the Seattle Times, April 27.

Randy Dorn claims that "Testing can tell if students need help before college and career," (April 27).
I wonder if Mr. Dorn is aware of research evidence showing that high school grades in college prep courses are an excellent predictor of college success, and that standardized test scores (the SAT) do not provide much more information than grades alone.
Is there any evidence that the Smarter Balanced Tests are a better predictor than grades?
Stephen Krashen

Original article: http://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/testing-can-tell-if-students-need-help-before-college-and-career/
Bowen, W., Chingos, M., and McPherson, M. 2009. Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Universities. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Geiser, S. and Santelices, M.V., 2007. Validity of high-school grades in predicting student success beyond the freshman year: High-school record vs. standardized tests as indicators of four-year college outcomes. Research and Occasional Papers Series: CSHE 6.07, University of California, Berkeley. http://cshe.berkeley.edu

No need to test every student

Sent to the Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2015
The House version of the new education law will continue annual testing of reading and math for every student in grades 3-8 and once in high school  ("Education Law Vote Is Pushed Back," April 27).
There is no need to test every student every year. We can get the same information from low-pressure testing of small samples of students, each student taking only a part of the test, and extrapolating the results to larger groups, as is now done with the NAEP test.  This will save money, reduce anxiety, and give teachers more time to teach.
When you go to the doctor, they don't take all your blood. They only take a sample.
Stephen Krashen
Original article: http://www.wsj.com/articles/education-law-set-for-vote-in-house-1425053836?KEYWORDS=Education

Monday, April 27, 2015

Proficiency Based Learning Invades Maine

Emily Talmage is at Ground Zero of a big corporate education reform story that is coming to light in Maine.  It involves another miseducative, money-making "efficiency" scheme. If it is not already in your state, it is coming, thanks to Gates, Lumina, and ALEC. 

But your teachers and parents can stop it before the blood funnel gets fully attached to your state and local education dollars.
    My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine.  In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn.  I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University.  I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

    On April 22nd, I provided testimony for the Education Committee in support of LD 1153, “An Act to Restore Local Control to Towns.”

    Originally, I intended to focus my testimony on my concerns over standardized testing, particularly with regard to the new Smarter Balanced tests.  Recently, I have written about my concerns over these tests in a variety of outlets, and have focused on the lack of reliability of such tests; the level of corporate involvement and profit in their development; ways that they are developmentally inappropriate; and how this particular test was not meaningfully adaptive as it claimed to be. 

    As I did more research to prepare for this testimony, however, it became clear that an even greater threat to our schools in Maine is “proficiency based education,” particularly as it is being implemented through organizations such as Great Schools Partnership and Reinventing Schools Coalition. 

    In my testimony regarding LD 1153, I explained that I approach instructional and policy decisions with two questions in mind: How will this help our students, and how do we know?  When I was not easily able to find substantial, peer-reviewed research to validate claims that “proficiency based education” is a valid and proven way to improve student learning, I grew concerned.  After a great deal of searching, it became clear that the reason I was having such difficulty finding research is because it does not yet exist.

    This is because proficiency-based education (also called proficiency-based learning and competency-based learning) is a concept that has been intentionally developed through strategic investments of the Gates Foundation and other corporate stakeholders in order to expand opportunities for profit by way of the new Common Core State Standards.

    Investments made by the Gates Foundation to develop and promote the Common Core State Standards are no secret.  It should also be no surprise that the Gates Foundation has also invested in projects to develop digital, online, and game-based learning.  What has been less publicized, however, are their simultaneous investments in “proficiency-based pathways.”
    A paper produced by the Gates Foundation describing current investments related to Common Core has a section titled “Proficiency-Based Pathways.” The report states that “conditions are ripe for creating personalized learning opportunities beyond school—in an anytime, anywhere fashion,” and that “we believe it’s possible with the convergence of the Common Core State Standards, the work on new standards-based assessments, the development of new data systems, and the rapid growth of technology-enabled learning experiences.”

    In order to order to make this vision a reality, however, the Gates Foundation had the foresight to see a need for a new theory of learning that they named “proficiency-based education.”  The report refers to this as a “nascent field” that is “still emerging,” and can be described in a variety of ways, including proficiency-based pathways, mastery-driven instruction, standards-based design, and competency-based education.

    Typically, theories of learning are based on extensive research spanning multiple fields of study (education, psychology, sociology, etc.) and are built upon literature and research published in peer-reviewed journals, where they are subject to scrutiny, debate and dialogue with fellow experts. The Gates Foundation, however, in its rush to develop this field and with apparent disregard for this process, decided to bypass this route through a variety of strategic investments.

    It is also worth noting that another organization, the Lumina Foundation, has been doing related work focused on higher education.  The Lumina Foundation is a private, Indianapolis-based foundation arose from a $1 billion student loan sale to Sallie Mae in 2000. Its primary founder, Ed McCabe was Chairman of Sallie Mae at the time of the sale, and joined Lumina to guide its conversion to an Education Foundation.  The Lumina Foundation is currently funding a three-year effort to develop and promote the concept of competency-based education (a term used more commonly than proficiency-based education when related to higher education) through Public Agenda, a nonprofit research organization, which is coordinating the work.  The Lumina Foundation, it should be noted, also has a variety of financial and personnel connections to the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization well-known for its interest in privatizing public education.

    Another related organization that has been on the receiving end of the Gates Foundation’s investments in developing and promoting the concept of “proficiency based” education has been the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, a non-profit that retained 250 million dollars as an endowment when it separated from the Nellie Mae Corporation in 1998. At that time, the Nellie Mae Corporation was sold to Sallie Mae, which created the endowment for the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. In 2010, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation also received 1.7 million dollars from the Gates Foundation. 

    The Nellie Mae Education Foundation has been very active here in Maine.  One of the first things the organization has done with regard to developing the concept of proficiency/competency-based education was to award grants to a handful of schools that it claimed were employing “competency education” models.  Eleven small high schools, all with fewer than 600 students, were given grants in return for participating in NMEF’s “study.”  A table profiling these schools can be found in a report produced by NMEF called “Making Mastery Work.”  These schools employ a wide variety of educational practices, many of which educators hold in high-esteem.  These practices include “expeditionary learning,” in which students produce in-depth projects through hands-on work outside of the classroom to demonstrate their learning, and “performance-based” learning, in which students show their learning through specific, “real-life” tasks rather than tests. 

    Curiously (or, perhaps, predictably) the third section of this report discusses the advantages of a variety of technological and digital tools in implementing a proficiency/competency model - even though many of the schools they profile do not use such tools.  According to the report, “Many of the schools keep students updated on their progress using low-tech tools like wall charts, stickers, and student initials on lists of standards. Indeed, many schools find these tools valuable even when they have more robust technology systems in place.”  Nevertheless, the authors of the report conclude: “In this era of digital data, the quest for an effective computer-based learning management system is inevitable.”  In fact, the report even goes so far as to tell us what we, as teachers, want in our classrooms:  “Neither packaged courseware products, which have little flexibility, nor learning management systems that allow for maximum customization but offer no content, meet teacher needs for online curriculum delivery systems.”  

    The report makes five key points in its conclusion, which together establish a clear link between the new Common Core Standards, technology, online learning, and what is now taking place in Maine with the recent implementation of LD1422 and the rapid spread of “proficiency based learning” in our state.

    The Common Core Standards are more amenable to competency education.
    Rapid technology innovations are simplifying the work of instituting comprehensive competency education information systems.
    Blended and online curriculum increasingly provides opportunities for self-acing
    and differentiation
    Friendly policies have passed at the federal, state and district level, making it possible to establish coherent programs in schools, programs and districts
    Schools and districts are developing increasingly mature competency-based
    pathways and approaches that others can study and potentially replicate.

    It is curious that the Nellie Mae Education Foundation discusses these “friendly policies” and “mature competency-based pathways” as though they occurred outside their sphere of influence, when little could be further from the truth. Since 2011, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation has given almost thirteen million dollars to organizations in Maine to implement proficiency-based learning initiatives, including $490,000 to Educate Maine, an organization that worked to get a law passed (LD 1422) requiring that all high school graduates receive a “proficiency-based diploma” by the year 2017. It is worth noting that LD 1422, currently the only law of its kind in the country, is now listed as model legislation on the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s website – another foundation with direct ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council, which again, is well-known for its efforts to privatize public education. 

    Grants from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation to Maine-based organizations include:

    $490,000  to Educate Maine between the years 2012-2015 for State-Level Systems Change and Public Understanding and Demand
    $3,339,416 to Great Schools Partnership for State-Level Systems Change and Public Understanding and Demand from 2012-2014
    $250,000 to Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education for State-Level Systems Change from 2010-2011
    $4,161,396 to Sanford Schools by way of Re-Inventing Schools Coalition for implementing PBL through Reinventing Schools
    $281,000 to Maine DOE for State-Level Systems Change 2011-201
    $4,179,040 Jobs for Maine Graduates based in Portland
    According to a report put out by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (IACOL) and Competency Works, another organization funded by Nellie Mae, Educate Maine was formed to engage business leaders in the passage of LD 1422, establishing proficiency-based high school diplomas. Educate Maine has created a pathway for business leaders “to engage directly with legislators in support of personalized, proficiency-based learning.” Despite receiving well over a half million dollars from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation for “State-Level Systems Change and Public Understanding and Demand,” Educate Maine (previously called the Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education) did not register as a lobbyist when they were actively working with legislators and other stakeholders to pass LD 1422. 

    A memo dated July 2011 written by Tanna Clews, then Executive Director of the Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education (and whose work, incidentally, is highlighted on the Lumina Foundation’s “Strategy Lab’s” website), discusses the “$50,000 in additional funding for our policy work and the planning of a legislative retreat.” The memo thanks Yellow Light Breen (former Education Commissioner, Chief Strategic Officer of Bangor Savings Bank and board member at Educate Maine) for his “leadership and persistence in navigating conversations with Nellie Mae,” as well as Henry Bourgeois (former Executive Director of the Maine Compact for Higher Education and president of the Alfond Scholarship Foundation) and Duke Albanese  (former Maine Education Commissioner and current Senior Policy advisor at Great Schools Partnership, board member of Educate Maine, and treasurer of the Maine International Center for Digital Learning) for their “insight and willingness to answer my (many!) questions.” 
    The memo also discusses its grant proposal for Nellie Mae’s “Student-Centered Learning: Building a Supportive State Policy Environment” grant program, which “highlights Educate Maine’s legislative work with LD 1422.”  Additionally, the memo discusses the purchase of 200 copies of Inevitable, Mass Customization of Education, to be “distributed by the Maine Department of Education to every superintendent in the state.”

    In legislative records taken in a Maine Senate session on Thursday, April 5, 2012, Senator Brian Langley discusses the “retreat” sponsored by Educate Maine that he took with the rest of the Education Committee to visit two schools who are “involved in the transition to standards based education.”

In preparation for coming into the second half of the 125th the Education Committee went on a retreat in November, sponsored by Nellie Mae, Educate Maine, which includes Cianbro, Apple Corporation, UNUM, and the Maine State Chamber. The New England Secondary Consortium was represented by former Commissioner of Education Duke Albanese. On this retreat we visited two schools who were involved in the transition to standards based education. We actually went into the schools and sat with children, side-by-side with them in the elementary school, and asked them about their education. They were actively involved, engaged, and they could tell you where they were and where they were expected to be before they could move on. It was impressive.
    It is curious, however, to read the description of the classrooms the Education Committee visited.  On a blog post, Representative Brian Hubbell describes his visit with to the Williams School in Oakland, where 200 students attend.  

We visited during the school’s schedule-block for math,” he writes.  “In one classroom, the students were using a variety of tools to learn the fundamentals of multiplication.  In another, the topic was time.  Next door: geometry. Down the hall, it was money and currency.  In another classroom, on the floor with their teacher, students were studying division by doing punctuated sets of abdominal crunches.

Not a single student is described as using technology, online learning, nor game-based digital learning, yet there is little doubt that these are the learning methods being championed by the investors behind Educate Maine.  To read this description and compare it with the stated goals of the organizations’ funders suggests that Educate Maine may have been intentionally engaging in a “bait and switch” scheme with the Education Committee in order to create buy-in and generate support for the new bill. 
    This would not be the only time Educate Maine engaged in questionable lobbying practices.  In 2014, Educate Maine took over the “Maine Teacher of the Year” program. That same year, Educate Maine sent a letter on behalf of Maine Teachers of the Year advising that LD 579, “An Act to Allow Teachers to Teach and Students to Learn by Amending the Laws Governing Education Standards,” ought not to pass.  The letter states that the “goal of proficiency-based education is two-fold: to close the achievement gap in Maine and to close the opportunity gap by holding all students to high expectations connected Maine’s Learning Results.”  It worth noting that the original report from the Gates Foundation does not discuss either of these goals with regard to proficiency-based learning.
    In Lewiston, where I teach fourth grade, we have partnered with Great Schools Partnership, one of the organizations given multi-million dollars grants from Nellie Mae, to implement proficiency-based learning in our schools.  Most of the work has begun in the high school, where parents, teachers, and students have grown increasingly frustrated and wary of the work they are being asked to do.  The work has centered around reworking report cards and grading systems, creating Common Core aligned rubrics and assessments, and trying to negotiate new scheduling challenges.  In our elementary schools, the work has been more gradual, but perplexing nonetheless.  In a planning meeting, we were required to re-code reading and writing assessment data into “standards-based” format and enter it into Pearson Inform.  When I asked what the purpose of this was, the answer given by our instructional coach was simply, “It’s the way Pearson wants it.”
    I now have no doubt in my mind that in Lewiston, we are guinea pigs for a new, experimental method of teaching and learning that has been designed to benefit content providers rather than students.  An article published in Forbes in 2012 had the foresight to predict this change.  Its author, Michael Horn, wrote that at that time:

The behind-the-scenes buzz on Common Core touched on everything from how different the assessments really will be from what some states have today to whether Common Core will doom testing and the accountability movement more generally because of the length of the assessments to whether governors will stick with Common Core once the first year of assessment results come out and people see how students perform poorly on them. 

Indeed, we have seen how unhappy parents, teachers, and students have been with the new Smarter Balanced tests, and it is likely that Horn’s predictions of students performing poorly will be accurate.  It is Horn’s next prediction, however, that is even more concerning:    

Of course, if there were instead systems of assessments in a competency-based learning system built for students to take an assessment on-demand when the were ready to demonstrate mastery on specific competencies, we would see a different picture develop with assessments that left no doubt that they were different.

    In Maine, we are witnessing this very experiment take place in our schools in the form of proficiency-based learning. The Nellie Mae report writes, “Schools and districts are developing increasingly mature competency-based pathways and approaches that others can study and potentially replicate.”  States that have not adopted proficiency-based learning will look in the future to data gathered from students and schools in Maine when deciding whether or not to adopt similar legislation to LD 1422.  We will be the data that does not yet exist.  
    In Lewiston, we have already committed at least sixty thousand dollars to professional development for proficiency-based learning in our district for the coming year, as well as many thousands more to additional technology and software programs to support this new, unproven, corporate-driven theory of learning.  Meanwhile, we cannot afford additional teachers so that my colleagues and I will not have overcrowded classrooms (upwards of 30 students) in the coming year, even though we know that smaller class sizes leads to not only improved educational outcomes, but also outcomes for students beyond school.
     It should go without saying that I am deeply concerned for the future of our public schools, and am hopeful that we will begin to look more closely at the policies we are enacting in our state.  In my opinion, we do not need more time or more money to implement an experimental, corporate-driven reform idea in our public schools.  We do not need to simply start in earlier grades and move forward from there.  

    Our children deserve much better than this.  They deserve classrooms that employ well-research, thoroughly studied educational practices that have been proven effective.  They deserve educators who are empowered professionals and are able to employ their expertise in meaningful ways.  They deserve adults who will advocate for their needs rather than bend to the wishes of corporate interests.  And they deserve to be treated as valuable individuals – not guinea pigs in a large-scale experiment.  

[1] https://docs.gatesfoundation.org/Documents/supporting-students.pdf
[2] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/12/12/lumina-funded-group-seeks-lead-conversation-competency-based-education
[3] http://www.competencyworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Making-Mastery-Work-NMEF-2012-Inline.pdf
[4] http://www.nmefoundation.org/grants
[5] http://strategylabs.luminafoundation.org/champion/tanna-clews/
[7] http://www.mainehousedistrict35.com/private-business-and-public-education-a-wary-but-promising-partnership/#comment-67414
[8] http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/getTestimonyDoc.asp?id=28083
[9] http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/pb_-_class_size.pdf