The Corporate Roots of NCLB

Prepared for The Peace and Justice Caucus of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Chicago, July 13, 2008, and delivered in part during the session sponsored by the Peace and Justice Caucus.

Barack Obama’s Education Platform ADVOCATES: More accountability; Higher standards; More money for NCLB; Merit pay (“teachers…who consistently excel in the classroom”).

Barack Obama's Education Platform ASSERTS: The single most important factor in determining a child’s achievement is. . . “You teachers”. . . NOT parent income (July 13, 2008, address via satellite to AFT Convention).

This agenda should qualify Barack Obama for a seat at the Business Roundtable. This agenda certainly raises a few questions about the AFT:

Why did the attendees give these remarks applause? Why did many people even stand up and while they applauded? Why didn’t AFT hold Obama’s feet to the fire and try to leverage a better position on these issues—instead of, like NEA, issuing a knee-jerk, blanket endorsement?

The unions are in ‘business as usual’ mode with their corporate-politico bedfellows.

As a teacher with an emergency certificate, I began my career in New York City in a school larger than my hometown in rural northern California. As a new member of the UFT I was stunned to read in the contract that one of the stipulated “rights” I had as a teacher was for an adequate supply of tissue in the lavatory. “How could union be so petty?” I asked myself. I wanted them to care about professional issues, but I later taught in upstate New York, I learned what happened when a union doesn’t write toilet paper into the teacher contract. But that’s another story.

I am of the generation of teachers who just said “No” to behavioral objectives, and, sure enough, they went away. I ignored teaching machines, and they went away. I ignored basals, spelling workbooks, and pizza bribes. Okay, so those didn’t go away, but at least they didn’t intrude on my classroom. . Somehow, while we were looking the other way, the politico/corporate/infotainment brotherhood has infiltrated our classrooms. This time, the sky really is falling. But my refusal had to be personal, individual The union will never get involved in curriculum. And curriculum is, of course, at the heart of NCLB.

Last Fall, the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union invited me to go to Korea and warn their politicians about the harm done by NCLB. Korean teachers are asserting that their collective bargaining rights should include curriculum. When are we going to force NEA and AFT to do the same?

I have a bumper sticker: Republicans/Democrats: Same shit, different piles. In reality, these two are two halves of the Corporate Party, with the NEA and AFT hanging on as minions. NCLB passed with 87-10 votes in the Senate and 381-41 in the House. NCLB enjoyed such staunch bipartisan backing. The NEA still supports NCLB and the AFT just admitted it should be scrapped. It’s important to examine the corporate and union roots of NCLB, so that we get out of the “blame the Republicans” game. Sure, blame the Republicans, but blame the Democrats too. Kathy Emery, my co-author, says, “When Ted Kennedy and George Bush agree on something, one needs to worry about who the man behind the curtain is. While writing our book Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? it became clear to us that the men behind the curtain are the members of the Business Roundtable.

People are so used to thinking of issues as right wing and left wing that too often they miss the business wing. Go to the Business Roundtable (BRT) website and you can download the NCLB Business Leaders Toolkit. In the name of preparing students for “the 21st century workplace,” CEOs are urged to deliver the BRT-crafted messages to public officials, taking advantage of this “exceptional window of opportunity...[to] act strategically and with a common voice.” Of course BRT will declare all pubic school failures, opening the door to vouchers and privatization. But it also paves the way for school-to-work plans that have been sitting on the back burner ever since Clinton failed to get the national test he wanted. When school-to-work, which is a technology-based learning model training students for their place in the global economy (meaning school ends for some kids after tenth grade), is combined with NCLB-type open enrollment (in which kids revolve constantly from school to school), a marketplace model determines the relationship of people to schools. Which is exactly what business wanted in the first place.

As Kathy Emery and I pointed out in Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? No Child Left Behind represents the latest manifestation of a bipartisan bandwagon of standards based advocates – a bandwagon built in the summer of 1989 by the top 300 CEOs in our country. At this meeting, the Business Roundtable CEOs agreed that each state legislature needed to adopt legislation that would impose “outcome-based education,” “high expectations for all children,” “rewards and penalties for individual schools,” “greater school-based decision making” and align staff development with these action items. By 1995, the Business Roundtable had refined their agenda to “nine essential components,” the first four being state standards, state tests, sanctions and the transformation of teacher education programs. By 2000, our leading CEOs had managed to create an interlocking network of business associations, corporate foundations, governor’s associations, non-profits and educational institutions that had successfully persuaded 16 state legislatures to adopt the first three components of their high stakes testing agenda. This network includes the Education Trust, Annenberg Center, Harvard Graduate School, Public Agenda, Achieve, Inc., Education Commission of the States, the Broad Foundation, Institute for Educational Leadership, federally funded regionally laboratories and most newspaper editorial boards.

By 2000, many states legislatures, however, were balking at the sheer size and scope of what corporate America was demanding. The Business Roundtable took note of this resistance when publishing, in the spring of 2001, a booklet entitled Assessing and Addressing the “Testing Backlash”: Practical Advice and Current Public Opinion Research for Business Coalitions and Standards Advocates. The mantra is everyone should go to college. But the facts have always been clear that the number of jobs requiring a college degree have not increased nor are they projected to do so. Read Richard Rothstein. Go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. In The Shell Game, Clinton Boutwell postulates that Corporate America wants to increase the number of college educated engineers and computer programmers to increase the supply of college educated workers well beyond the need for them, thereby paying them less. I set up my website against NCLB — — in 2002, a couple of months after it was signed into law. By now, I feel rather like a reverse of Dickens’ Mme. Defarge, keeping track of what’s going on, knitting a register of outrage. I get a lot of mail from desperate teachers, parents, grandparents. -- After three years in kindergarten

-- Ready for first grade.

-- Ready for what?

-- Poisonous humiliation?

-- Every failure teaches something,

-- But not a belief in democracy.

Too old? Too bad. Too poor? Too bad. Too hungry? Too bad.

The seven deadly sins:

Food, clothing, firing, rent, taxes, respectability and children. Nothing can lift those seven millstones from Man’s neck but money...

With those millstones

How can the spirit soar?

Florida Governor Jeb Bush said, “It’s OK to hold them back So that they can acquire these skills And they will soar.” (7-8)When Childhood Collides with NCLB.

Shamefully, there has been no attempt by union nor professional organizations to organize teachers in opposition to the de-professionalization of their craft.

Follow the Money—

and I don’t mean McGraw-Hill

Shamefully, neither unions nor professional organizations have set about organizing teachers in opposition to the assault on children. Instead, they try to preserve their funding territories and political alliances.

“The move to eviscerate the program [Reading First] by drastically cutting it is the ultimate example of throwing the baby out with the bath water,” said Alan E. Farstrup, the executive director, International Reading Association. —Education Week, June 8, 2007

In a conference call on June 19, 2007 about NCLB Reauthorization, when Rich Long, IRA lobbyist, was asked about IRA’s position on NCLB Reauthorization (and possible support of the Educator Roundtable Petition), he replied “IRA would never tell Kennedy and Miller things they don’t want to hear.” In December 2007, Joel Packer, Director of Education Policy and Practice at the National Education Association (NEA) justified NEA’s opposition to the Educator Roundtable Petition to Repeal NCLB by insisting the union would lose its “seat at the table” if it advocated such a polity (Phi Delta Kappan Dec. 2007).

In our rebuttal, Philip Kovacs and I quoted Malcolm X’s warning: “Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on thatplate.”

In a film tribute to Sen. Edward Kennedy at the 2008 AFT Convention in Chicago, Kennedy is shown enthusing about AFT President Ed McElroy “It’s nice to be with a president I can agree with.” In a film that closes with a picture of Ted Kennedy on the screen, a voice intones that AFT blocked the NCLB bill and that the union gives members access to the political process they would not otherwise have. If we lined up everybody who NOW claims to have helped defeat NCLB, maybe we could NOW get them to sign the Educator Roundtable petition calling for the end of NCLB nearly two years ago.

Instead of unanimously endorsing Barack Obama, the union should call on the NEA and the professional organizations to put Obama’s feet to the fire and tell him to acknowledge:

1. that Reading First is a bad law based on bad research and even worse pedagogy

2. that only through strong-armed and extra-legal tactics could states and schools be forced to adopt it and continue to conform to it.

3. that no school or school district has any obligation to continue to use a program or test that was forced illegally on them.

4. that the roots of the problems with Reading First are in the law itself and that the law must be dumped. 5. that in the future the full range of professional input needs to be consulted.

A Los Angeles area teacher tells me that student texts in her first grade classroom add up to 45 pounds. Each six-year-old is responsible for the material in 45 pounds of books.

Ask yourself: What if we had labor sections in newspapers as well as business sections? What if we had teacher unions who looked out for teachers and children instead of spending their time vying for a seat at the corporate table?

Who’s Speaking out for Teacher Judgment? Not our professional organizations, not our unions.

Dateline: Madison, WI: “Relying too much on Teacher Judgment...”

After providing Dr. Kathryn Howe [Reading First technical assistance center at the University of Oregon] with extensive documentation, Madison officials received a letter from her and the center’s director, saying that because the city’s program lacked uniformity and relied too much on teacher judgment, they could not vouch to Washington that its approach was grounded in research. (—New York Times, March 9, 2007).

The T-shirts given away at the AFT convention in Chicago bear the label: “This garment is proudly manufactured in the USA by Intl. Brotherhood of Teamsters Union Members.”

Surely, teachers belonging to AFT ought to be able to make the claim, “This classroom is proudly designed by a member of the AFT.” Surely, the AFT works for their right to be professionals.

“The perfect teacher…” As one of the graphics available on my website suggests, the “Perfect Teacher” is not an infantry soldier, but a teacher who carries a Number 2 pencil for standardized tests instead of a rifle. [This graphic is available at susanohan]

Perfect for what? As pencil carriers for the Business Roundtable? God said “Let there be teachers” And they were not without form. Nor void. Nor in need of Corporate scripts. . . . Taking on a deluge of deterministic detail From the NCLB central processing unit, Teachers Strive to answer the federal question Why Can’t a Third Grader Be More like a Stockbroker? (16-18)

Here is an e-mail from Alyson: “’Good’ teachers are the ones who teach to the test, rather than those who employ creativity, excitement and a positive learning environment. In my school, a specialist has written a rigorous ‘bell-to-bell’ schedule, in which each minute of our day is mapped out. We are told what and how to teach, what to put on our walls, what interventions to provide.”

A Nation at Risk, Al Shanker, and the ‘Accountability’ Movement

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

With this introduction, the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983 is a good starting point, not because there weren’t other corporate screeds attacking public schools before then, but because it provided such a powerful rallying point, and it really is the grandfather of NCLB.

Incoming American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten confirmed this in her presidential remarks. Embracing A Nation at Risk, Weingarten claimed it “affirmed that we should accept nothing less than universal attainment.” Weingartem continued, “We believed in high standards — and we still do.”

Democratic (small “d”) educational theorist David Gabbard has observed that we should consider A Nation At Risk as the greatest lie that the state has ever produced regarding America’s public schools.

More than a document, this report has provoked a warehouse of policies and reforms over the past twenty-five years. It comes as no surprise that the AFT still embraces A Nation at Risk in such glowing terms. After all, Al Shanker was a key backer. And the thing that was most clear to me from witnessing the AFT officials at the 2008 convention was that “Al lives.” Speakers frequently invoke his spirit and his policy, saying to the assembled throng, “What would Al do?” That’s a direct quote from Randi Weingarten, appearing in the 8th sentence of her presidential address on July 14.

If it is significant that Al Shanker supported A Nation at Risk, it’s also significant that Bill Clinton spoke at Shanker’s memorial service. Two wily, thoroughly corporatized politicos who loved standards and testing. NCLB is their legacy. They both fought for national standards. I’m happy to say they lost, but watch out: The demise of NCLB could well mean the elevation of NAEP to the status of national test. It is a compromise the Democrats would embrace.

— How Does NAEP Label a Reader “Proficient?” An Inside Look at Children’s Responses Labeled “Inadequate”

http://susanohanian. org/show_research.html?id=103

— Who’s Who and What’s What: A Scoring Guide for NAEP, the Outfit Claiming to be The Nation’s Report Card. See who’s behind the huge corporate-politico push to make NAEP the nation’s test, pushing a national curriculum.

Also in 1983, Billionaire H. Ross Perot, who got rich off government money, was chosen to head the Select Committee on Public Education in Texas, and he had a solution: “We’ve got to drop a bomb on them. We’ve got to nuke them. That’s the way you change these organizations.”

As Eli Broad and Bill Gates would do two decades later, Perot used his own money and zeal to stamp his vision on education reform, though certainly Perot was more colorful and headline grabbing. Not one reader in ten thousand knows who Eli Broad is; everybody knew Perot. The two have a lot of similarities in their approach to education. They don’t bother to talk to educators, dealing instead with political and corporate power brokers. (Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? 101)

In 1989 the Business Roundtable CEOs had reached consensus on what school reform should look like and they began cranking out materials and strategies enabling its members to speak with one voice. They devoted their entire annual meeting to their plan for education reform.


• Outcome-based education

• Strong & complex assessments

• Rewards & penalties for schools

• Emphasis on staff development

• Establishment of Pre-K programs

• High expectations for all children

• Greater use of technology

• Provision of social health services

1989: APEC formed (Asia-Pacific Economic Communities)

1989: Education Summit, Charlottesville, VA

APEC, formed in 1989 as a new mechanism for multilateral cooperation among the economies of the Asia-Pacific region. In 1997, the Ministry of Labor of the Republic of Korea published a paper for APEC, summarizing the consensus reached by APEC members on what education is about. One of the themes of the paper is that globalization is inevitable and that education must prepare workers for the business needs of this globalization. (Why Is Corporate America? 71)

Key points of APEC 1997 paper on education

— Decisions must be taken by a school system for good business reasons with maximum business intervention

— Governments create a complementary educational environment and system [for] industrial restructuring due to technology advancements, a new international order with increased competition, and a distinct world trend of globalization.

— Emphasis on education for itself or education for good members of a community should be deemphasized.

Dr. Alan L. Ginsburg

• First chair of APEC’s Education Forum

• Director of Planning and Evaluation Service for U. S. Department of Education

• Coordinator, School-Home Links Reading Kit, organized around a skills framework developed by Edward Kame’enui and Deborah Simmons of the Univ. of Oregon Direct Instruction and DIBELS fame.

(Philadelphia schools under Paul Vallas proposed grading parents on how well they checked their children’s reading skills each night.)

The leader of the Ontario, Canada teachers union sent me information about APEC. Where was the NEA? The AFT? The NEA website brings up zero references to APEC; the AFT cites only one mention of APEC—an article extolling Japanese teachers.

Also in 1989, the Business Roundtable devoted its entire annual meeting to carrying out an education agenda. In the fall of 1989, this Business Roundtable agenda was circulated to the nation’s governors as America 2000, which Clinton later renamed Goals 2000.

Think of this history the next time you hear pontification about the scientific evidence behind the NCLB rules and regulations. What hogwash: The Reading First provisions of NCLB are about as scientific as the astrology chart in your newspaper.

Once public schools fail to pass the muster of NCLB, the business of education will be handed over to businesses, private corporations. This will remove educational decision-making out of the public sphere. Teachers will no longer function as public servants but will become employees of corporations and, therefore, expected to simply follow orders and the curriculum guidelines handed down by their superiors.

Susan Traiman, currently Director of Education & Workforce Policy at Business Roundtable, provides a strong link between and among the business community, politicos, the U. S. Department of Education, the 1989 Education Summit, and more. Prior to joining the Business Roundtable, Ms. Traiman was Education Policies Studies Director at the National Governors Association (NGA) where she coordinated assistance to governors in developing and implementing systemic education reform strategies. At the NGA, she participated in planning the 1989 National Education Summit in Charlottesville, Virginia and the subsequent development of National Education Goals. Ms. Traiman was a senior associate with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement and served on the staff of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, contributing to the development of its landmark 1983 report, A Nation at Risk.

Lou Gerstner later said of this 1989 summit: “The goals established in ’89 were wonderful statements of intention, but they didn’t have a practical, tactical dimension that pushed us along toward achieving those goals. The single most important thing we need to do to get back on track is to create a set of standards against which we can measure performance.” (—Louis Gerstner)

Jobs for the Twenty-first Century: Spin and Scam

At a press conference July 30, 2003, President Bush was asked about jobs being shipped overseas. He replied, “As technology races through the country, workers’ skills don’t keep up…”

It’s called Blame the Victim. It goes along with Blame the Schools. The reason people are unemployed is because we have provided kids with skills. A California Pulitzer Prize newspaper just announced that copy editing positions are being outsourced to India.

The Standardisto-screaming headlines about the high skills needed for jobs for the 21st century are a scam. In reality, jobs of the 21st century are not different from those of the 20th century. All one has to do is check the projections of U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2010: • 22% of jobs will require four years of college

• 9% of jobs will rquire an AA degree—some technical training.

That leaves a whole lot of jobs for high school graduates. The crime is, not that there are no jobs, but that these jobs don’t come with a living wage.

Barbara Ehrenreich Nickel and Dimed

More than 60% of new jobs don’t pay a living wage.

Everyone should visit the National Priorities Project once a week — just to be reminded of the real priorities of our corporate politicos who are spending our tax dollars. http://www.

You can enter the amount of federal taxes you paid and get a pie graph of where those dollars went for an idea of where this nation is truly at risk.


“Is democracy about nothing more than individuals competing against each other for test scores? For prestigious degrees? For jobs? For consumer goods? . . . Democracy can also be about collaboration, collective action, & a different kinds of competition that fights for social justice rather than individual advancement—the well-being of all rather than the ascendancy of one.”

Kenneth Saltman in Teachers College review of Education Inc.

Among industrialized countries, the United States ranks:

• First in military technology • First in military exports

• First in Gross Domestic Product • First in the number of millionaires and billionaires • First in health technology • First in defense expenditures • 12th in living standards among our poorest • 13th in the gap between rich and poor

• 14th in efforts to lift children out of poverty

• 16th in low-birth weight rates

• 18th in the percent of children in poverty

• 23rd in infant mortality

• Last in protecting our children against gun violence

People in Vermont were burning furniture to stay warm last winter.

Every 52 seconds a high school student is pushed out.

Every 2 minutes a baby is born into poverty.

Every 4 minutes a baby is born without health insurance.

Every 7 minutes a baby is born at low birthweight. Every 15 minutes a baby is born to a mother who received late or no prenatal care.

Every hour a baby dies before his first birthday. NCLB. NCLB is the grandchild of Nation at Risk; Business Roundtable 9-point plan, Gov Clinton & Lou Gerstner’s America 2000. Pres. Clinton’s Goals 2000. Enthusiastically endorsed by the teacher unions. It delivers the corporate politico message:

• that students are never good enough

• that teachers are never good enough.

Schools pass this pressure on to the home, destroying family life with an overload of homework, offering pressure that never lets up.

• One way to keep teachers intellectually barefoot is to announce a constant crisis.

• Educating Kids for Jobs for the 21st Century: Spin and scam

• No matter how many fourth graders pass the test, it won’t raise the minimum wage.

How much nonsense can you read

In one minute?

Haj rij buv, vai, sim, lut

Skills for a World Class, Global Economy

Minimum Wage workforce.

It doesn’t take one minute

To figure out why

The Business Roundtable supports


Bank robbers follow

The Two Minute Rule.

Two minutes in and out

Is all the time they get

Before the cops show up.

Kindergartners get only one minute

To pass the DIBELS test

Before testing coaches show up.

DIBELS grunting

Brought to your neighborhood school

By Reading First,

A tight-knit group of incest

Offering longtime blight.

The childhood version

Of smoker’s cough

Black lung disease

When Childhood Collides with NCLB

I am not apologetic about the fact that I counseled a desperate Oregon mother to get her first grader out of a school that insisted he repeat kindergarten because he didn’t recite the requisite number of nonsense words in one minute. I applauded her decision to homeschool. If I wouldn’t allow that to be done to my child, how can I allow it for someone else’s?

If you die in the service of our country and qualify for a US government gravestone marker, the Federal government allows a choice of 38 emblems of belief for placement on the headstone, including ones for atheism, humanism and Wiccan. Our corporate-politicos will allow 38 faiths but only one belief about reading, a scripted curriculum evaluated by DIBELS.

We need to be really clear on this: DIBELS is awful not because its originators and pushers make a lot of money. It’s awful because it destroys children’s lives.

My neighbor is teaching her two-year-old to read the Wall Street Journal

It all began when she woke up one morning and heard on NPR that US kids are behind. And there was her son squshing Cheerios with his thumb, Not even counting them. Just squishing. “Ohmygod,” she worried, “I’m leaving this boy behind. How will he ever get ahead in the Global Economy?” Too old for Baby Einstein, she bought her boy a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, figuring it’s never too young to get a feel for the landscape. They read together after morning vitamins. He sits beside her, his sticky little fingers tracing the letters SMART MONEY, While she reads the Nasdaq numbers, Nuzzling his neck and whispering encouragement into his soft, pliant ear. He is a handsome child with curly hair and bright brown eyes. And she is a good teacher. Persistent but not impatient, Later encouraging him to fingerpaint the page orange and purple, his favorite colors. Princeton’s colors, too. Admittedly, phonemes are still a frustration, But she’s making flashcards to upgrade the Wall Street Journal breakfast experience. Phonemes for the Global Economy. Too young to pick stocks on his own, For now, she manages his portfolio as well as his phonemes. And he’s on the A-list for the right sort of pre-school. —Substance, June 2008

Algebra or Elimination

Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband, the governor of Arkansas, were strategic planners of the 1989 meeting in Charlottesville, Virginia, where President Bush announced the six national goals for public education, known as America 2000. “The time has come,” President Bush and the 50 assembled governors declared, “to establish clear, national performance goals, goals that will make us internationally competitive.” Teachers were not invited to the conference table.

Later, Louis Gerstner said of this meeting, “The goals established in ’89 were wonderful statements of intention, but they didn’t have a practical, tactical dimension that pushed us along toward achieving those goals. The single most important thing we need to do to get back on track is to create a set of standards against which we can measure performance.”

(When Bill Clinton became President, two more goals were added, and the plan, which was pretty much the result of his work as governor, was renamed Goals 2000.)

1992: After Gov. Bill Clinton was elected President, Marc Tucker, head of the National Center on Education and the Economy, sent the notorious “Dear Hillary” letter. This letter appears on just about every parent advocacy website in the country — as a warning to parents of what could happen if they let any part of Goals 2000 in the door. Tucker wrote of a plan “in which curriculum, pedagogy, examinations, and teacher education and licensure systems are all linked to the national standards . . . a system that rewards students who meet the national standards with further education and good jobs.”

1994: Clinton’s Goals 2000: Emphasizes • Choice

• Competition

• Technology

1994 Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America’s Public Schools, 1994

By Louis Gerstner

• Gerstner talks about measuring school productivity “with unequivocal yardsticks.” He asks, ”How much do students learn each month? How great are these learning gains per dollar spent? He defines of teaching as “the distribution of information.”

• Members of the California Academic Standards Commission of the State Board of Education: “A fifth-grade teacher would have a firm grasp on what skills and knowledge had been conveyed in grades K-4, and would deliver kids to the next grade ready to continue with the next set of expectations.”

—April 1997

The Delivery Method pedagogy.

Gerstner Defines • students as “human capital”

• Teaching-learning compact as a “protected monopoly” offering “goods & services”

• Relationship between teachers & communities as “buyers and sellers”

1996: For the follow-up meeting, held at IBM headquarters in Palisades, New York, on 27 March 1996, the governors brought along their business allies. The planning committee included the governors of Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and North Carolina, as well as business leaders from IBM, AT&T, Eastman Kodak, Procter & Gamble, and Boeing. The list of people invited as “resources” reads like a “who’s who” of corporate/conservative think tanks and their lackeys: Lynn Cheney, American Enterprise Institute; Denis Doyle, Heritage Foundation; Chester Finn, Hudson Institute; Diane Ravitch, consultant; Albert Shanker, American Federation of Teachers; Lewis Solmon, Milken Foundation; and Bob Schwartz, Pew Charitable Trusts. Third-grade teachers, of course, were conspicuous by their absence.

• IBM chair Louis V Gerstner says meeting will focus on ‘pain’ that teachers, principals and students feel when they realize they are being held accountable for their performance . At this Palisades meeting, President Clinton talked of a “full-meaning” high school diploma and of “meaningful standards” that would “require a test for children to move . . . from elementary to middle school or from middle school to high school.” He used the word “standards” 40 times in his short speech, and he made it clear where these standards would come from:

I accept your premise; we can only do better with tougher standards and better assessment, and you should set the standards. I believe that is absolutely right. And that will be the lasting legacy of this conference. I also believe, along with Mr. Gerstner and the others who are here, that it’s very important not only for businesses to speak out for reform, but for business leaders to be knowledgeable enough to know what reform to speak out for, and what to emphasize, and how to hammer home the case for higher standards, as well as how to help local school districts change some of the things that they are now doing so that they have a reasonable chance at meeting these standards. (note which YOU he was addressing)

• “We can only do better with tougher standards and better assessment, and you should set the standards. . . that will be the lasting legacy of this conference. I also believe, along with Mr. Gerstner and the others who are here, that it’s very important not only for businesses to speak out for reform. . . but to hammer home the case for higher standards, as well as how to help local school districts change some of the things that they are now doing so that they have a reasonable chance at meeting these standards.” —President Bill Clinton

This noisy alliance of politicians, CEOs, think tank entrepreneurs, and media camp followers remains intent on standardizing education, proclaiming that every kid in America should march in lockstep through the same curriculum, taking algebra in 8th grade

• “There is a strong link between the quality of U.S. education and the fortunes of the U.S. economy, The better the quality of our schools, the better life all Americans will have.” —Louis Gerstner

Algebra for All

• Neoliberal discourses used by policymakers shift responsibility for the inequality produced by the state onto parents, students, schools, communities, and teachers. Policymakers and newspaper editorialists insist that standardized testing and accountability increase equity and fairness by holding all students to the same high standards, giving us the new policy in California that decrees ALL 8th graders will take algebra.

The Business Roundtable has been at the forefront of the effort to craft, pass and implement the No Child Left Behind Act. We believe really that for the first time all the proven pieces of reform have been put together in one place: high standards, assessments of student progress, data for parents and teachers, schools held accountable for results, and expanded parental choice. —Sandy Kress

The No Child Left Behind Act: Where We Stand After One Year, Dec. 11, 2002

We all worked to help shape the No Child Left Behind bill, and we cheered when it won It had bipartisan support and was signed into law last January. Since then, The Business Roundtable has been working with others to help implement the bill in seven states where 40 percent of America’s school children live. The states we’re focusing on are California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York and Ohio. We certainly don’t mean to ignore the other states, but we felt that by focusing on these big states, the big population centers, with nearly half of America’s students, we could have the biggest impact. No Child Left Behind is important to The Business Roundtable because the business community cares deeply about education and education quality.

— Joe Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable

• A Tennessee teacher was reprimanded for consoling a first grader crying during a test. Do we want people in our classroom who won’t stop for tears?

• North Carolina: on the 3rd and final day of NCLB testing, one child started crying during the test. Then she lay on the floor in a fetal position, sucking her thumb, crying for her Momma.

• Schools in Mobile, AL now require letter grades for kindergarten students. If a child does not speak in complete sentences for Show & Tell, he fails

Rhetoric is important. Ever since Hillary Rodham Clinton was first lady of Arkansas and helped negotiate President Bush’s America 2000 scheme, the rhetoric has pushed for standardization of national curriculum, with the goal of shoving out kids who don’t fit so that those who are left can do their duty to the “Fortunate 500.” In the name of America’s triumph in the global knowledge economy, corporate chiefs and their allies want to end kindergarten as we know it, to deny children’s diversity in every grade, and to install a rigid system of tests and measures that will force a national curriculum onto the schools. Once that curriculum is in place, politicians can claim that every student has an equal opportunity to become a global worker. The mantra of marketplace education is “Algebra or elimination.” When students fail, members of the ruling elite can send them to their rightful place on the minimum-wage dunghill with the admonition, “Well, we gave you an equal opportunity to meet the goals.” Few people in corporate/politico/infotainment circles are asking how much sense it makes to institute tougher academic standards for the students who are failing the current standards.

George Packer, a New Yorker staff writer, points to the danger of clarity, observing that seemingly simple and tough-minded words blow out as much smoke as the jargon of the Pentagon of decades past. Nowhere is this smoke thicker and trickier than in the lingo the corporate-politico-media squad uses when talking about public schools. At first glance, their talk seems plain and to the point: failing schools, caring about education, and education as war, no child left behind. In contrast, education progressives befuddle the public with authentic means of assessment, decision-making processes, and triangulated learning.

The expression failing public schools has a lot in common with war on terror. After the media parrot these phrases often enough, we find ourselves at war and in the morass of radical public school deformation. Familiarity breeds acceptance. Repeat these phrases often enough and you make sure the public can’t think about public schools without thinking about failure. We need to unpack the knee-jerk, smoky phrases to examine the purposes behind the rhetoric.

As Ted Koppel put it, “He who names it and frames it, claims it.” If you accept the frame, No Child Left Behind, it’s hard to oppose the law.

Refrains of School Critics

Refrain: Knowledge Supply Chain: Managing K-80 Learning

• Companies are reaching even further down the knowledge supply chain, to K-12 teachers and students. . . • I dream of the day when I can go to a knowledge systems integrator, specify my needs and have them. . . deliver the people I need.

• Work America, Vol 15, National Alliance of Business, 1998

Refrain: Caring about education

In these times, caring about education means caring about the implementation of No Child Left Behind.

—Joseph M. Tucci, chair, Business Roundtable’s Education and the Workforce Task Force

Refrain: Education as War 1

America is engaged in an unconventional conflict that stretches to every corner of the glove….Our nation, which has prevailed in conflict after conflict over several centuries, now faces a stark and sudden choice: adapt or perish. I’m not referring to the war against terrorism but to a war of skills—one that America is at a risk of losing to India, China and other emerging economies. And we’re not at risk of losing it on factory floors or lab benches. It’s happening every day, all across the country, in our public schools. Unless we transform those schools—by upgrading our corps of classroom teachers for the next generation—and do it now, it will soon be too late.

—Louis V. Gerstner, chair, Carlyle Group, former CEO IBM, founder The Teaching Commission, The Wall Street Journal Refrain: Education as War 2

Des Moines school officials laid out their battle plans for closing gaps in academic achievement for struggling minority and poor students.

—The Des Moines Register

Refrain: Preparing All students for 21st century

Today, more than ever, we live in a global economy where competition and technology are changing the workplace and impacting economic success for all Americans. U. S. schools must change if they are to prepare all students for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. This is not a partisan issue.

—Edward B. Rust Jr., chair and CEO, State Farm Insurance; former chair Business Roundtable Education Initiative, Business Coalition for Excellence in Education, National Alliance of Business, Achieve, Committee for Economic Development, McGraw-Hill board member, American Enterprise Institute, President-elect Bush’s Transition Advisory Team Committee on Education

A search of Mr. Rust’s name on the NEA and AFT sites brings up zero hits.

Refrain: The private sector fix: With its ambitious proposal to reinvent Chicago’s worst schools, the city has become the biggest player in the boldest experiment now under way in urban school systems—inviting the private sector to fix what’s wrong with public education.

—Chicago Tribune editorial

A union that cared about children would insist on this warning label on high stakes tests.


Experts on child development have determined:

• This test may cause your child to vomit, have palpitations, nightmares, and school phobia.

• This test will make your child feel insecure, ignorant, and helpless.

• This test will distort your child’s understanding of why people read.

• This test has no academic value. The teacher does not get to see your child’s answers.

• Because of this test, your child will no longer have recess.

• Because of this test, you will become the warden of homework mania.

• By taking this test your child becomes the property of the state.

What the Government Should Do

In the future, the federal government should do only what the federal government can competently do. Its historic role has been three-fold: one, to collect and disseminate information about the condition and progress of education in these United States; two, to write checks help schools educate specific groups of students, especially those who are poor and have disabilities; and three, to enforce civil rights laws. —Diane Ravitch, Huffington Post, 3/25/07

University of Sussex Psychologists

• People who get involved in campaigns, strikes, and political demonstrations experience an improvement in psychological well-being that can help them overcome stress, pain, anxiety, and depression. —Dec. 23, 2003

Daniel Schorr

At least once in your lifetime, take a risk—for a principle you believe in—even if it brings you up against your bosses.

—NPR, August 31, 2003, celebrating his 87th birthday

Be Not Intimidated

. . nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice.

• —John Adams

• Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law, 1765. 


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