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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Corp fox know-nothings hijack schools

Ravitch debunks CFR's regressive “education reform”
Re-reporting by Carolyn Bennett

When a carefully culled list of corporate leaders, former government officials, academics, and prominent figures having a vested interest in the topic collude in their consensus, they tend to reflect the status quo —Diane Ravitch

Diane Silvers Ravitch is a Texas-born New Yorker. She is also an education historian and educational policy analyst, a research professor of education at Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development (NYU), and senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.

In the George H. W. Bush and William (Bill) Jefferson Clinton administrations, she held public office: U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and member of the National Assessment Governing Board. The latter supervises the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

She is an author whose books include (but are not limited to): The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010); EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon (2007); Forgotten Heroes of American Education: The Great Tradition of Teaching Teachers (2006); Making Good Citizens: Education and Civil Society (2003); Kid Stuff: Marketing Sex and Violence to America’s Children (2003); The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (2003); Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform (2000)

 This month, Ravitch wrote a critique of the latest reform-education report by a group of people with other vested interests; and little or no interest in, care or understanding of education and learning or teaching and learning or society’s education requirement. The report was sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. This is some of Diane Ravitch’s commentary.

“If future historians want to see a definition of the status quo in American education in 2012,” Ravtich writes, they may revisit the report “U.S. Education Reform and National Security” by a Council on Foreign Relations task force. “It offers no new directions, no new ideas, just a stale endorsement of the federal, state, and corporate policies of the past decade that have proven so counterproductive to the genuine improvement of American education.”

"Ever wonder
who runs the world?"
What is the Council on Foreign Relations? It is a sister organization to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London (commonly known as Chatham House), “formed in 1922 as a noncommercial, nonpolitical organization supporting American foreign relations.” (Wikipedia)

For five years, beginning in 1939, the Council achieved much greater prominence within the U.S. government and the State Department when it established the strictly confidential War and Peace Studies, funded entirely by the Rockefeller Foundation.

A critical study found that of 502 government officials surveyed from 1945 to 1972, more than half were members of the Council.

The secrecy surrounding this group was such that Council members who were not involved in its deliberations were completely unaware of the study group’s existence. The group’s proceedings were almost universally private and confidential.

Headquartered in New York City with an additional office in Washington, D.C., this “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and publisher” is considered the United States’ “most influential foreign policy think tank.”

From its inception, this membership organization “welcomed Jews and African Americans” but initially barred women.

What separates the Council on Foreign Relations report from its predecessors, Diane Ravtich says, “is its profound indifference to the role of public education in a democratic society, and its certainty that private organizations will succeed where the public schools have failed.

The CFR report “suggests that public schools themselves are the problem, and the sooner they are handed over to private operators, the sooner we will see widespread innovation and improved academic achievement.”

Another flash to the past

I have studied the history of American education myself, Ravitch is right; and it is also clear to me that calculated ignorance or the dismissal of history is “a clear and present danger,” especially when practiced by people in terribly high and mighty, often secluded places.

Here’s an old idea that should have been improved upon, not entirely discarded, especially the part concerning who may or may not attend (minorities) and what content may be included or excluded in the curriculum (foreign language, music, art, physical fitness).

The Common School was a term coined by the New England politician, Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, and American education reformer Horace Mann (b. May 4, 1796, d. August 2, 1859).The Common School was a public school in the United States or Canada in the nineteenth century that was meant to serve individuals of all social classes and religions.

Common schools typically taught “The three Rs” (reading, writing, and arithmetic), history, geography, and math. Grading varied (from 0-100 grading to no grades at all). End-year recitations were a common way parents were informed about what their children were learning.

Student ages varied in the common school but most commonly they were ages six to fourteen (predecessor of grades 1-8). The duration of the school year was often dictated by the agricultural needs of particular communities, with children being off school when needed on the family farm.

Common schools were funded by local taxes. They did not charge tuition and they were open to all children, at least all white children.

Typically, with a small amount of state oversight, each district was controlled by an elected local school board. A county school superintendent or regional director was elected to supervise day-to-day activities of several common school districts.

In Mann’s design the common schools were nonsectarian. But most common schools taught children general Protestant values (with or without Bible readings, e.g., the work ethic); and sectarian battles raged — in New York and Philadelphia, where Roman Catholic immigrants and Native Americans objected to the use of the King James Version of the Bible.

Indeed there was room for improvement on this model.

Ravitch critiques CFR’s regressive tendency

Inequality — The CFR task force “points out the problems of concentrated poverty in segregated schools, exacerbated by unequal school funding [but] offers no recommendations to reduce poverty, racial segregation, income gaps, or funding inequities,” she writes.

The report “dwells on the mediocre standing of American schools on international tests” but fails to “acknowledge that American schools with a low level of poverty rank first in the world on international tests of literacy.”

Return to “academies” Private, for-profit charters—“The task force’s claim that charter schools will be beacons of innovation rests on hope — not on any evidence presented in the report.

“The most ‘innovative’ of the charters are the for-profit academies that teach online—a fast-growing sector which recruits students to take their courses by computer at home.”

Though the head of the task force along with a charter chain CEO led the group’s “enthusiasm for charter schools” (as New York City’s public school system chancellor, task force chair Joel I. Klein opened a hundred charters), Ravitch reports, “these virtual academies” (Does anyone remember America’s Jim Crow segregation-brick-and-mortar academies?) have been severely criticized “for their focus on profits and their poor academic results.”

Reporting “the highest test scores are [charter schools] typically known not for innovation; but for ‘no-excuses’ discipline policies: … students may be fined or suspended or expelled if they fail, with unquestioning obedience, to follow the rules of the school, [rules] such as not making eye contact with the teacher or slouching or bringing candy to school or being too noisy in gym or the lunchroom.”

High attrition (drop-out, burn-out) rates have been found in some “high-performing” charters.

High scores are achieved by some charters “by excluding or limiting students who are apt to get low test scores (e.g., students who are English-language learners).”

Regression disestablishing the public school and its reason for being

A task force of privatizationists and militarists oblivious to “the role of public education in [and for] a democratic society” (as Mann only conceived in a limited way) and “certain that private organizations will succeed where the public schools have failed” are lazy, regressive and disingenuous.  I believe this is what Ravitch is saying in better-chosen words.
“Without the added comments at the end of the CFR report signed by seven of its thirty members, the task force,” she says, offers “misleading economic analysis,” “no recommendations,” and “might be perceived essentially as an urgent appeal for more of the same” (George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top”) gimmicks aimed at destroying public education:  

More testing of students
More top-down control
More privatization of the public schools
More of what the federal government and many state governments have been doing for at least the past decade.

Sources and notes
Historical note Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_School

“Do Our Public Schools Threaten National Security?”   (Diane Ravitch), June 7, 2012,

Further notes of Diane Ravitch

The Council on Foreign Relations’ education reform task force was led by Joel I. Klein, former chancellor of the New York City public schools (now employed by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to sell technology to schools and to advise Murdoch on his corporation’s hacking scandals)

Also on the task force was Condoleezza Rice, U.S. secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration.

“Despite its alarmist rhetoric,” Ravitch writes, “the report is not a worthy successor to the long line of lamentations that it joins. Unlike ‘A Nation at Risk,’ which was widely quoted as a call to action,” the Council on Foreign Relations report “is a plodding exercise in groupthink among mostly like-minded task force members.”

A Nation at Risk (1983) was a report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education,  which followed “a dramatic fall in scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (a standardized test taken by a large number of high school graduates) between 1963 and 1982 occasioned a wave of public concern, and series of national, state, and private-agency reviews.” The emphasis then shifted to “quality of school performance and the relation of schooling to career. The main topics of concern were the curriculum, standardization of achievement, credentialing, and teacher preparation and performance.” (Britannica)

The Council on Foreign Relations report,” Ravitch says, bears “the cumbersome title ‘U.S. Education Reform and National Security’ and a familiar message:

Our nation’s public schools are so dreadful that they are a threat to our national security. Make no mistake, the task force warns: ‘Educational failure puts the United States’ future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk.’

“Once again,” she says, “statistics are marshaled to prove that our schools are failing, our economy is at risk, our national security is compromised, and everything we prize is about to disappear because of our low-performing public schools.”http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jun/07/do-our-public-schools-threaten-national-security/?pagination=false

CFR website
“U.S. Education Reform and National Security (Task Force Report)” Chairs: Joel I. Klein, News Corporation, and Condoleezza Rice, Stanford University; Director: Julia Levy, Culture Craver, http://www.cfr.org/united-states/us-education-reform-national-security/p27618


Yes to Public Education - No to Privatization, ourschoolsnyc.org
bigeducationape.blogspot.com, A bill intended to begin the privatization process for California
Divided We Fail: Segregation and Inequality in the Southland's Schools, scribd.com
Alabama, Connecticut educators turn back for-profit charter schools, educationvotes.nea.org
Common School Movement: 1820-1860, neiu.edu
Ever wonder who runs the world? According to former CFR president, ..., 2012indyinfo.com

Those who can, teach. Those who cannot, pass laws about teaching, http://www.philnel.com/2011/05/14/teach/


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