BOOK REVIEW: 'A Chronicle of Echoes... Who's Who in the Implosion of American Public Education' earns a place on every Resistance reference shelf, despite minor flaws

Book Review: A Chronicle of Echoes, Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education by Mercedes Schneider (Charlotte: Information Age Publishing, 2014, 491 pp).

Mercedes Schneider’s ‘A Chronicle of Echoes’ is a useful book for 2014.

First, it is a contemporary “Who’s Who?” in corporate "education reform" in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Equally important, the book is a “What’s What?” that not not only identifies the people involved in the frauds we’ve been facing, but also the wealthy individuals and well-financed entities pushing corporate “school reform.” As a result, the book is a compact bedside companion for anyone currently organizing against the many tentacles of the neoliberal agenda deployed, and now in its fourth decade, against public schools, public worker unions, and democracy in the USA.

A new book, well worth reading.Much of what is in this book is delightfully nasty. After enduring the machinations of the national and New York leadership of the American Federation of Teachers at the recent Los Angeles convention over Common Core, Schneider’s book proved worth the price just for the chapter on the Common Core and her delightful deconstruction of the pompous David Coleman.

And since the debate over Common Core doesn't end with the testosterone silliness of the AFT debate over "our standards," people across the country will continue to need succinct materials on why to reject the Common Core. In that department, “A Chronicle of Echoes" should sit longside the Chicago Teachers Union briefing paper from the July 2014 AFT convention on Common Core.

Officials of the New York City local of the AFT and Randi Weingarten's crew in Washington won't be persuaded, but Schneider's book provides anyone open to the arguments against Common Core with all the information needed to win the debate. And since the debate is not only during a ruthlessly stacked floor fight at the AFT convention, but in every city and state in the USA, the materials will continue proving more and more useful in 2014, 2015, and 2016 (when the next AFT convention will arrive).

With the materials now in hand, we can more easily win over parents, students, and teachers who are not biased in favor of corporate reform or those who are profiting from it by continuing to expose the corruption at the soul of Common Core. David Coleman is just part of a rogues gallery of loud mouthed preachers who have pushed the ideologies and programs of corporate "reform" for decades now. Rarely has anyone exposed the lies about Common Core as succinctly as Schneider does. When Coleman emerged from a number of behind the scenes forays on behalf of Common Core to take the helm at The College Board, much became more clear. "A company like College Board would never miss a lucrative opportunity to form a royal marriage between itself and the Architect of the Common Core. Imagine the opportunity for profits that admittedly began in the planning of CCSS..."

As delightful as much of the writing is ("Royal Marriage..." caught my eye and brought a smile) each chapter has its strengths and, as noted below at the end of this essay, weaknesses.

But all 24 of the chapters in this book deserve study, not just perusal.

The opening chapters set the stage. Beginning with Joel Klein and the "New York Miracle" pushed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the hoaxes, lies, half truths, and obfuscations of the current generation of corporate "school reformers" are nicely exposed. In her opening chapters, Schneider takes on and exposes the corruption of five leading corporate "reformers" -- Joel Klein, Eva Moskowitz, Wendy Kopp, Michelle Rhee, and Erik Hanushek. The details in the indictment against each of these are enough to make the case that corporate reform is a contemporary version of snake oil. (It is not until the latter parts of the book that Schneider provides the reader with the answer to the question "Why?" do these frauds persist over time -- and money is of course the answer, with most of the final chapters in the book dealing with who's paying these pipers).

The five "Chicago" chapters, despite some weaknesses, are important to understanding the entire corporate "school reform" project across the USA. While it is a fact that Michael Bloomber's New York "miracle" was central to the more recent attacks on public schools, Chicago in many ways birthed many of the central lies that are still circulating, based on enormous financial resources, on behalf of corporate "reform." And the titles of the first three Chicago chapters tell much of the story and also include the important fact that Barack Obama, as much as those more easily associated with the attacks on public education, has been central to these attacks since long before Obama made Arne Duncan America's least qualified and most devastating privatizer in the history of the United States.

The first Chicago chapter is called "The Chicago Connection: The Daley-Vallas Years" begins the expose of the frauds of corporate school reform. Any regular reader of Substance (from our print days in the 1980s through today) will find few surprises in this chapter, but it is good to have it all in one place. When he received dictatorial power over Chicago's schools thanks to the Amendatory Act of 1995, Daley immediately begin the policy of appointing frauds and charlatans to the positions of power over the public schools that has continued across the USA to this day. Both Paul Vallas (Daley's first "Chief Executive Officer" at Chicago Public Schools) and Gery Chico (Daley's first school board president) were both political hacks who came not from the private sector but from the swamps of Illinois patronage politics. Sadly, some of the history is left out, and this is one place where it deserves some future attention. The early "reforms" of the late 1980s were promoted by some corporate executives who actually promoted things like Chicago's local school councils. They were replaced by patronage hacks whose ideas and policies were protected by corporate media, including reporters for Chicago's two daily newspapers (the Sun-Times and Tribune) and Chicago's corporate-bankrolled "independent" voice of "school reform," Catalyst.

The two successive Chicago chapters both note forcefully that Barack Obama has been part of this since long before he arrived at the White House. Chapter 7 is entitled "The Chicago Connection: Duncan (with Obama in the Mix")". It follows up on the policies that were launched under Daley-Vallas with an analysis of many that were more or less perfected under "Daley-Duncan." Chapter 8 is called "The Chicago Connection: Emanuel (with Obama in the Mix)" and brings some of the main threads of corporate reform up to the present day. One of the things Schneider does nicely is point out that Emanuel's sudden decision to announce his return to Chicago coincided with the expose of Emanuel's involvement in the collapse of AIG, on the board of which Emanuel sat. More could be devoted to this. By this time, Scheider is at least noting that a major feature of corporate "school reform" is to bust the unions.

There are really two other Chicago chapters, both devoted to how the ruling class continued to utilize the babbling bullshit of Paul Vallas to undermine public schools and unions in other places. Chapter 9 is called "Paul Vallas Beyond Chicago: Wrecking Philadelphia" and the tenth chapter is called "Paul Vallas Beyond Chicago: No good for New Orleans or Bridgeport." One of the things the reader will notice is that Schneider's history and analysis of Vallas's time in Louisiana is much more thorough than the earlier chapters on Chicago. This seems to be because Schneider is from Louisiana and had access to more sources than come to someone who searches the Internet for the basic information.

The chapter “David Coleman and His Common Core State Standards” is not only insightful critique, but also delightful reading. Coleman’s arrogant race to the top of the Common Core pyramid is well documented, fraud by fraud and phony claim by phony claim.

But the book contains much much more than Common Core.

While the five chapters on the notorious career of Chicago’s infamous Paul G. Vallas are a significant (although mixed) contribution to the literature on the Vallas Hoax (as Substance called it 12 years ago), the Coleman chapter is more important to the future of the struggle. Vallas is through, no matter what the outcome of the November election in Illinois. He is as flawed as other rejected from the factories that produce the chattering celebrities of corporate "school reform," which is also why he has returned to Illinois.

Despite the attempt by his plutocratic sponsors to bring a renaissance to the dubious career of Paul Vallas in Illinois during the current months (Vallas was picked by Governor Pat Quinn to be Quinn's running mate just as Vallas was being driven out of Connecticut and his "education" career seemed finally terminated), it's likely, now that Schneider has written the beginnings of what should be a full-lengthy book on Vallas (as a personification of 20 years of the lies and deceptions of the corporate reformers) that Vallas will have worn out his usefulness in high profile positions. (I suspect that they will place him in some sinecure like the College Board job that the plutocracy found for Jean-Claude Brizard when he wore out his usefulness by the time of the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012.

Paul Vallas is as likely as Marva Collins and Michelle Rhee (as well as dozens of others whose names are no longer remembered except by those of us who were part of the struggles in those days) to remain a major player in the national (and international) fraud called “school reform.” David Coleman, Jeb Bush, and a few others, on the other hand, are currently at the height (Coleman) or still ascending (Bush III) of their powers and influence.

By the time a reader has finished going through Schneider's history and analysis of the David Coleman frauds, an entire picture should be clear. The interlocking directorate of organizations (the College Board, for example) and individuals (those who promote Coleman, for another example) are what all of us need to know as much about as possible.

Anyone who has just joined the Resistance to high-stakes testing and the entire complex of corporate-based “school reform” can use Schneider's 2014 book to get a quick update on the apologists, financiers, and poseurs other side. This Who’s Who is useful despite the fact that the corporate “reformers” and their political touts are constantly replenishing their ranks. Money buys much. So when a Michelle Rhee runs out of usefulness, there are always a few understudies like Campbell Brown in the wings. The scripts may shift slightly, but the basic attack on the nation's real public schools is always the same: "choice" and "markets" have to replace democracy, unions, and universal access without equity.

The lucrative business of corporate “school reform” is not only for the new generation. The business includes those like Erik Hanushek, who has been pushing his mythological “research” (proving that reducing class size and spending more money on public schools won’t help) since Milton Friedman created one of the founding myths of this century’s Robber Barons, “Free To Choose,” two generations ago. It includes Chester Finn, who has been around so long he should have tenure at the Corporate Reform School of Misinformation and Platitudinization.

Like Hanushek and Finn, some reactionary celebrities have been profiting from corporate school reform for lifetimes. But even Milton Friedman dies, although his legacy in Chicago will continue for generations and Hanushek continues to gather his fees as an expert witness testifying against equity lawsuits on behalf of public schools. Finn pontificates and seems to be on the Roladex of every lazy reporter across the USA.

With each new generation of apologists for corporate “reform,” there are the long lines of the wannabes. They are lined up to take the place and the paychecks of those who fall by the wayside when exposed as liars one too many times. It then gets to the point where even their most avid corporate apologists in the media and academe can’t hide the truth any longer, so they are subtly dumped from the ranks of the notables and quotables.

From the days of Marva Collins in Chicago in the 1980s through Michelle Rhee’s reign of terror in Washington, D.C. in the current century, the more notorious liars will eventually be exposed. But then they are replaced by the Campbell Browns, providing a new pseudo-celebrity face to the old nonsense.

Schneider’s “A Chronicle of Echoes… Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education” does what it promises. It gives readers a quickie review of the most notorious of the corporate reform leaders and celebrities, a quick update so you know who to challenge when their latest talking points become the “news” on CNN or the rantings on Fox News.

And a goodly listing it is:

There are the individual players: Joel Klein, Eva Moskowitz, Wendy Kopp, Michelle Rhee, Erik Hanushek, Paul Vallas (Chicago), Paul Vallas (Philadelphia), Paul Vallas (New Orleans and beyond), Arne Duncan (Chicago), Arne Duncan (the United States of America), Rahm Emanuel (Chicago), David Coleman, Chester (“Checker”) Finn, Frederick Hess (the Washington area one, not the late tout from Chicago), Jeb Bush, Jeb Bush, and Jeb Bush (in three separate variations)…

And there are many of the outfits and organizations: The New Teacher Project (TNTP), StudentsFirst, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Education Reform Now (ERN), National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), Stand for Children, Black Alliance for Education Options BAEO), Parent Revolution (PR), Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), the Aspen Institute, The Pahara Institute, ALEC, and the Big Three (the ones Diane Ravitch memorably dubbed “The Billionaire Boys Club” – the Gates, Walton and Broad foundations.

The next time you read a “news” article and find one or more of these outfits or individuals quotes, you know that the reporter (and her owners and editors) are either lazy or bought off – of both – in the service of corporate “school reform” and that privatization of public education in the USA.

Anyone who has been following the explosion of Resistance over the past five years or so to what we once called the “Testocracy” (which Susan Ohanian called the “Standardistos”) is aware that the Resistance explosion has been accompanied by a large expansion of blogs and other media featuring Resistance talk. Where once we had to exchange ideas at the Assessment Reform Network (ARN) still supported by Fair Test, today there are literally hundreds of players informing and polemicizing against the "neoliberal agenda" and its corporate "school reform" iteration.

And because the attacks on public education area spread across all 50 states, the problems and books covering the issues associated with the massive movement by American corporate wealth to privative and disrupt the traditional American public school and undermine the long history of democratic control over the schools out children attend is more than anyone can follow in 2014. It is a long way from, say, 1999, when Chicago students were break dancing against high-stakes testing and Paul Vallas panicked with my publication of some of the stupidest tests ever assembled and sued me and Substance for more than a million dollars in a unique bit of legal nonsense, "copyright infringement" on behalf of the government against a newspaper and its editor.

Our Resistance was much smaller then. Fifteen years ago, when the Chicago Public Schools at the urging of Paul Vallas (and with the support of both daily newspapers) moved to fire me for publishing some of the dumbest tests ever brought before students, the active members of what we had dubbed “The Resistance” could meet at a mid-sized conference.

Many of the books outlining the history of the problem with high-stakes testing and corporate "reform" had already been published by the dawn of the 21st Century. The books included Susan Ohanian’s One Size Fits Few (the title of which still described why the majority of classroom teachers oppose the Common Core straightjacket in 2014). A seminal book is David Berliner’s “Manufactured Crisis”, and it was already being passed around among us. Until he was censored by the Phi Delta Kappan (which was basically bought off by the Broad Foundation, the late Jerry Bracey’s “Rotten Apples” were an annual event we all looked forward to. That was back in the days when Diane Ravitch was still one of the most potent defenders of corporate "school reform," and so Bracey's Rotten Apples showcasing the nonsense we were facing as corporate “school reform” and its apologists moved forward to our delight. Richard Rothstein’s columns in The New York Times and books already outlined the intimate connections between race, poverty, and the low test scores that corporate reformers were planning to use to close schools and launch the juggernaut of charter schools across the land. And just as Chicago was a central proving ground for the lies and programs pushed by the corporate reformers, so the Resistance grew very strong here until major attacks (including the one on this reporter and Substance) forced many people, out of fear, into the shadows and wore others down.

But over the past six or seven years, things have shifted back to Resistance, and the Resistance has grown bigger than ever before.

The old Resistance was at the end of the 20th Century. Few of us would have believed that the 21st Century would see worse (under President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind”) and then worst (when President Barack Obama placed Arne Duncan in charge of the Department of Education and went in our faces with Race To The Top.

It had been clear from as early as the Clinton administration that corporate “school reform” was a bipartisan neoliberal attack on America’s public schools. As with so many terrible policies, however, the Republican reactionaries like George W. Bush caught more of the heat. And by the time the audacious hopes of those who voted Obama into the White House had been dashed as more and more people realized that Arne Duncan would be exporting the “Chicago model” across the USA, there were still opportunists who tried to claim, against the facts, that it was possible to reform “reform.”

It’s important for members of the older generation of the Resistance to remind youngers that they didn’t invent either the Resistance or the exposure of the latest among the liars and cheats who profit from it all. At the same time, we have to cheer on the new generation as they update and elaborate on the exposures of the people and mechanisms that continue to carry this nonsense forward well into the second decade of the 21st Century. And so every library should now include "A Chronicle of Echoes..." just as we honor The Manufactured Crisis (and One Size Fits Few) and the two Diane Ravitch books that helped bring a lot forward of late.

The exposes will doubtless continue, although hopefully someone won't have to write another update a quarter century from now, as I am writing this one today. We at Substance exposed the Marva Collins Hoax in Substance by 1985, even though Hollywood (and “Sixty Minutes”) continued for a short time to try and continue promoting the lies that led a failed public school teacher from Chicago’s West Side to become an international celebrity because she was reciting from a script that attacked unions and claimed that public education funding could certainly do more with less.

Susan Ohanian and Jerry Bracey were taking on what Susan called the “Standardistos” around the time that some of our brothers and sisters now in the Resistance were in kindergarten. And, of course, David Berliner’s seminal investigation and expose on the “Manufactured Crisis” has now been in print for 20 years.

Every chapter of Schneider's book should be studied, not just "read." It's the kind of book it's better to own rather than try to "Kindle." For many, it should be utilized for a study group (such as we promote in Chicago through CORE and within the Chicago Teachers Union) or in college and university classes studying social pathologies. I'd like to suggest that no one should graduate from a school of "education" without having studies the recent classics of the Resistance (Jim Horn's book; this one; Ravitch's two recent books, for starters) and others from further back.

Schneider’s book is not without its flaws. It’s, as I report here, a usefull book, but an imperfect one. The book, for example, shows the amusing flaws that come from the quickie editing from blog posts that follows a publisher’s decision to assemble a bunch of blog postings into chapters in a "book." The formula (blog to book) has its merits, but could also use some refining, especially in the area of fact checking, copy editing, and proofreading.

But the larger flaw in Schneider’s book comes from its sourcing. When you are tied to the enemy's ideas and the enemy's version of "facts," you are partly crippled. Like many “researchers” in 2014, Mercedes Schneider is limited to (and by) the materials she can easily locate on the Internet, especially those that score higher in paid-for searches. Anyone who doesn't realize in 2014 that quoting a "news" article from The New York Times may be in danger. And there are other problems as well.

For example, in confronting the Chicago era of corporate “school reform,” Schneider is quoting from the dubious sources like the Chicago Tribune and Catalyst (both ultimately major cheerleaders for “reform”). At the same time, she is ignoring citations (like Substance) that can be located, but with a little more work. We could share a dozen examples, but one will suffice: Schneider notes that Paul G. Vallas had no real teaching experience, although he claimed to have done something like teaching at an Indian Reservation out west, ultimately in Montana. But because Schneider quotes a Tribune article and stops there, she missed the fact that Sharon Schmidt debunked all of Vallas’s “I-once-was-a-teacher claims in the pages of Substance, and in our first on-line editions in a major special called “The Paul Vallas Hoax.”

This problem leads to a bigger one.

Internet “research” is a quickie, and like any quickie, it’s of dubious long term value. Researchers who refuse to go beyond what they can get from their desktops (and with rigged search engines) are likely to replicate a lot of incomplete or even fraudulent history, even if, as in this book, much of what they write is fairly accurate.

Despite these weaknesses, A Chronicle of Echoes is a book that should be studied in 2014 and shared widely as the Resistance grows. A lot of the shots are our enemies are fun, and some are brilliant. Anyone who has taken the time to research every toad and con man from Paul Vallas to Jeb Bush to David Coleman and beyond deserves our thanks. And so it is with this book.


August 14, 2014 at 7:23 PM

By: Susan Ohanian

book review

In November 1982, I started my new job at Learning Magazine, nervous about whether I was making the right decision in making such a dramatic career change. That month's magazine contained an article by a Chicago teacher named George N. Schmidt: "Chicago Mastery Reading: A Case Against a Skills-Based Reading Curriculum."

That article hit home. I had gone through my own Mastery Learning struggles with a know-nothing administrator. I knew that a magazine that could publish such an on-target article was a good place to be.

I just mention this to confirm George's point that some of us have been talking about this stuff for a long time.

September 7, 2014 at 3:49 PM

By: Jean Schwab

Chronicles of Echoes

I just started reading Chronicles of Echoes and I can't put it down-Fascinating

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