America Federation of Teachers joins reactionary panel in support of Common Core at Ed Writers Association... 'Opt Out Movement' viewed as the enemy of so-called 'standards'! while Ed Writers broadens its blacklist of who is a 'journalist'...

Continuing its rear-guard action defending the Common Core and corporate education "reform", the American Federation of Teachers sent one of its most prominent personalities to the annual Education Writers Association conference to be on a panel to defend the "Common Core" under the guise of defending so-called "standards."

While the Ed Writers conference has been blacklisting many long-time critics of corporate "Ed Reform" strategy and tactics, the group sustained a bit of legitimacy when the AFT leadership, without consulting any of the union's major locals (except perhaps New York's) allowed vice president Mary Cathryn Richter to be on the Ed Writers panel. The panel was stacked like a Fox News discussion, with the token "liberal" and the reactionary experts. But because of the AFT's own conflicts, the national union wound up giving token support to the Ed Writers positions, which conflict with the majority of parents, students, teachers -- and union members -- across the nation at this point.

Ed Writers reported as follows:

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) continued its support for corporate "education reform" by dispatching vice president Mary Cathryn Richter (above at the SOS rally four years ago) to speak on a panel on the Common Core at the Ed Writers Association meeting in Denver. Ed Writers members long ago gave up its credibility by mindlessly backing every twist and turn of corporate "ed reform", and by providing Richter to the panel in Colorado, AFT continued its support for corporate "reform" despite the massive opposition to Common Core and the corporate agenda within the AFT's ranks.DENVER, Colorado - The Common Core needs to avoid an Internet catastrophe with its new tests for the country to embrace the new multi-state education standards, a panel of experts agreed Thursday, It will need to survive the release of low test scores in late summer, just as Republican Presidential debates begin.

And it will have to overcome ongoing "misinformation" - as supporters call it - before the public will fully accept it.

Members of the panel organized in Denver by the Education Writers Association disagreed in their hour-long discussion before reporters Thursday about whether the standards have enough support to survive opposition.

But they had consensus over several issues that still stand in the way of the standards gaining public confidence.

Among them: recent opposition to testing, concerns about how tests will affect teacher ratings, the testing "opt-out" movement, struggles to come to grips with classroom changes and a new round of bills in state legislatures to block the standards.

The panel had a strong Common Core backer in Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute, but lacked an equal voice from the opposition. It instead included political science professor Deven Carlson, of the University of Oklahoma - a state Carlson described as "Ground Zero" of opposition to the Common Core, and which repealed it last year.

Adding an unbiased national look was Daniel Thatcher, senior policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, who tracks legislation that might affect the standards in all states.

And it included Mary Cathryn Ricker, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, which backs the standards, but opposes many uses of new Common Core tests.

Here's a broad overview of where the Common Core stands in states across the country and what panelists had to say about what they expect in the coming year:

What states have adopted the Common Core?

As compiled by Education Week and reporters across the country, 43 states are using Common Core standards in some fashion and under different names in each state.

In Ohio, they're part of "Ohio's New Learning Standards." Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina have adopted the Common Core standards, then repealed them. North Carolina, Missouri and Tennessee are reviewing them.

Does that mean they are here to stay?

Petrilli, who campaigns nationwide in support of the Common Core, says that the standards have lasted through criticism on social media, on talk radio and through some poor polling results.

"You would think this thing has become so unpopular, there's so much backlash, that half the states would have pulled out by now," Petrilli said.

Lots of very Republican states still support it, he said, despite opposition from the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, because the business wing of the party wants the standards. Among the major supporters: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Carlson, who watched the Common Core repeal - and fallout from it - in Oklahoma, noted that recent repeal bills in South Dakota and Arizona could not get enough votes to pass.

A similar bill in Ohio last year also failed to receive enough votes to pass in the Ohio House and died at the end of the year.

Carlson said legislators nationwide are looking at what repeal means in terms of possibly losing their state waiver of No Child Left Behind and the costs of creating and adopting new standards. In many cases, repeal does not make sense after a cost-benefit analysis.

"The wave of opposition, at least politically, is cresting," Carlson said. "Overall, the debate is moving on."

Instead of fighting the standards - a set of expectations for students at each grade - opponents are protesting Common Core testing. Bills against the Common Core increase

Not so fast, says Thatcher, whose organization tracks and compiles data on legislative activity nationwide.

There are more bills to kill or limit the standards in states across the country today than there were a year ago, he said.

Thatcher said he is tracking 39 bills in 19 states in opposition to the standards. Eight of those states are seeing anti-Common Core bills for the first time this year.

"Unless he has polled legislators directly about their views on Common Core, I would be uncomfortable saying one way or another whether opposition has crested," Thatcher told The Plain Dealer after the panel. "There are 7,383 state legislators and conversations with a few here or there ought not to be indicative of a trend."

He also noted that legislatures are objecting - after the fact - to their states adopting the Common Core administratively and not through them.

About 15 states, he said, have changed how standards can be adopted to require more parent and legislative input.

Lower scores could bring a backlash

New Common Core tests will bring lower test scores for students. Some states, such as Kentucky and New York, have used the Common Core in their own state tests, seen results drop, and had parents upset.

But in New York, complaints were worse.

Petrilli said that's because Kentucky didn't use the new scores in teacher evaluations but New York is using them.

"That has sparked all kinds of backlash from teachers, and rightfully so," he said.

He attributed recent complaints about the new tests from teachers in New Jersey to the scores being tied to teacher evaluations.

The AFT's Ricker did not address the opposition in those states, but repeated AFT's longstanding objection to new exams being used in teacher ratings.

"Disconnecting test scores from evaluations is an important part of gaining confidence in a system," she said.

Petrilli said that these lower scores will be released in late summer, about when Republican candidates for President will start debates.

Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is exploring running, has backed the Common Core, but other possible candidates are lining up in opposition to it. That could make the scores a focus in the debates, Petrilli said, creating more opposition.

Is debate more about process and "misinformation" than content?

Ricker said she is disturbed as the "visceral" and "hypercritical" discussions about the Common Core that usually avoid what they mean in a classroom.

She said: "What is really sucking a lot of oxygen out of the room is the political side of the debate: Should we have common standards? And who has dictated the common standards?"

She said that even teachers lump together different parts of the debate: the standards themselves, the technology needed for them and the online tests, teachers' own training in the new standards. "I am all for separating out these arguments," Ricker said, so that each can be debated and resolved on their own merits.

And she attributed opposition to "misinformation" about the standards.

Panelists did not spell out information they consider misinformation, though they have complained in the past about opponents attributing things to the standards that do not appear in them.

Kasich recently derided Common Core opposition as a "runaway internet campaign."

A recent national poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University about the Common Core found that more than 40 percent of those polled believe that the standards cover sex education, evolution, global warming and the American Revolution.

Though teachers may choose to teach about them or assign readings with those subjects, they are not in the standards, which are only for English and math and do not include history or science

Testing is now the big concern

With opposition now shifting to the new tests using the Common Core standards, Petrilli said one of the great fears of supporters is a major failure of the online portion of the tests. A failure on the lines of the national health care website would be catastrophic.

Carlson agreed and said that people will easily object to a test that can't be given properly. That's an easy failure to grasp and could be a much bigger issue than the questions asked and how well students perform.

"If the test didn't go off well, that creates the furor," he said.

And Ricker said she worries that people may focus even on anecdotal stories about kids struggling with the online tests, even if the issues are scattered.

Both major testing consortiums, Smarter Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) plan for testing to be entirely online.

Ohio uses PARCC, which started in Ohio last week and had some issues with the online version of the tests. It is still unclear if those will be isolated or will be widespread issues, as testing expands in Ohio and in other states this week and next week. Disagreement over opting out

Petrilli and Ricker, who agreed on several parts of the discussion, had very different views on the growing movement by parents to pull their kids out of testing - to "opt out."

"Telling parents they should opt their kids out of state tests is like telling parents to opt their kids out of vaccines," Petrilli said.

Not taking the tests may not hurt the child, Petrilli said, but it will affect measurement of whether all kids are being educated well or not.

Ricker said that AFT wants parents to have a choice about the tests.

Petrilli then accused the union of hypocrisy. After years of complaining about not having good tests, he said, the unions should want kids to take these new and better ones.

He challenged the AFT to encourage parents to have kids take the tests.

Ricker declined, saying said she cannot "in good conscience."

She said the AFT would rather push parents only to talk to teachers more. She said parents can still learn about their child's school by visiting, talking to teachers, and looking at things like graduation rates.


The stacked deck at the February Ed Writers conference was not surprising. In January, Diane Ravitch reported on her blog that Ed Writers had purged Anthony Cody from its ranks, saying he was not a real "journalist." Since the beginning of the 21st Century observers (including this reporter, who once won an Ed Writers award) have noted that Ed Writers is a group of hacks who specialize in apologetics for corporate "school reform" in all its twists and turns. That tradition is simply continued -- with help from the AFT -- in February and March 2015.

Here is Cody's report:

Anthony Cody was stunned to be rejected by the Education Writers Association when he applied for an award. Only last year, he won a first prize from EWA for his writing. But now he no longer meets their criteria as an independent journalist.

Cody tells the story:

The Education Writers Association has decided that, although I was awarded a first prize for my writing just last year, I am no longer permitted to submit my work for consideration for future awards. Leaders of the organization have decided that I do not meet their definition of a journalist. Investigative blogger and author Mercedes Schneider recently applied for membership, and was likewise denied on the same grounds.

I think this decision constricts the vital public discourse, and excludes those of us not on the payroll of mainstream corporate media.

The EWA has two forms of membership; Journalist and Community. I joined the EWA when I was still working full time as a teacher coach for the Oakland schools. Since writing about education was not my primary occupation, I signed up as a community member. This status did not prevent me from submitting my work for their award competition, or from participating in their events, though as a non-journalist I was not allowed to pose questions at their events.

In 2010, my work was awarded a special citation by EWA. Two years ago, my dialogue with the Gates Foundation won second prize. Last year, I was awarded first prize in the opinion category for my posts about the Common Core.

Neither Cody nor Schneider met the EWA requirements for being an independent journalist, but Cody notes that other bloggers who are paid to blog do qualify under EWA guidelines.

He adds:

Both Schneider and myself are completely independent. Unlike many of those accepted as journalists by EWA, neither of us are funded by major corporate philanthropies that actively seek to shape news coverage. Nor are we paid by unions or any other organization, for profit or non-profit.

One of the roles my blog has played is to challenge the Obama administration publicly, in a way few mainstream media outlets choose to do. When President Obama criticized his own policies back in 2011, it was my blog that obliged the Department of Education to respond, as covered a few days later in the New York Times. In fact, the headline of that piece was Bloggers Challenge President on Standardized Testing. And again, on December 19, my blog challenged President Obamas assertion, at his press conference, that test scores for African American and Latino students are on the rise in states that have initiated reform. This is the sort of general statement that is left un-interrogated by most mainstream reporters, and thus becomes part of the received wisdom, even though it is contradicted by a mountain of evidence.

My blog, and those of many other education bloggers, are truly independent of the subtle and not so subtle controls exerted by employers and publishers. Where else but from independent bloggers like Bob Braun in Newark, New Jersey, would we get hard hitting investigations of corruption there? How else, but as a result of the relentless digging of Mercedes Schneider, would we get the real truth about the origins of the Common Core? You will not find members of any Gates-funded education journalism projects doing such investigations.

It could be that the EWA is embarrassed by the active presence of bloggers such as myself in their events and in their awards. I recently published a book that systematically challenges the Gates Foundation, and, not surprisingly, the Gates Foundation is a leading sponsor of the EWA.

But the functioning of a democracy requires a free and independent press. While the EWA asserts that it retains sole editorial control over its programming and content, the fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is #1 on its list of current sustaining partners is hard to overlook.


March 2, 2015 at 7:30 AM

By: Susan Ohanian

Education Writers Association

Although they accepted my dues, Education Writers Association purged me from their listserv in 2003. I'd made only one post, committing the sin of providing a reporter who asked a question with some info. I was careful to make my information delivery straightfoward & factual.

Before this happened, by following the listserv I witnessed how an ed story gets made--rather like sausage production.

After trying to talk to John Merrow (who was a big-wig in the association at the time) about my distress about the ugly, anti-teacher presentations at their Chicago meeting, I wrote about it:

The Annual Meeting of Education Reporters, Writers and Editors: Plenty of Wattage but Not Much Illumination

October 13, 2015 at 12:09 AM

By: Neal Resnikoff

The Behaviorist Origin of Close Reading--Common Core Standard

The Behaviorist Origin of Close Reading

by Mark Garrison, September 29, 2015

I ended Metric Morality by outlining the role I believe behaviorism plays in the current attack on public education and democratic living more generally. In particular, I contend, behaviorism is implicated in an ever increasing drug-like fixation on qualification, a mechanistic and reductionist mentality that deform understandings of skill, thinking, teaching and learning. One such distortion is close reading.

Close readings most enduring techniques and assumptions have their origins in psychological behaviorism, the deterministic doctrine made famous by John Watson and B. F. Skinner.Joshua Gang

With the exception of a few, the connection between behaviorism, close reading, and the Common Core remains hidden.[1] While those celebrating the obvious goodness of the Core standards sometimes mention close readings official founder I. A. Richards, nowhere is it discussed that close reading (or what Richards called practical criticism) emerged out of the behaviorism of John B. Watson.[2]

This absence is significant. Why?

This realization is significant because it offers further evidence that the Core regime consists of repackaging the worst ideas of the past two centuries, and therefore is about as far away from innovation as is its partner in crime, high-stakes testing.[3] The ideas guiding the Core are simply not new; they are old and discredited.

Behaviorism in particular has long been discredited, which is why it is rarely mentioned by name in public discussions about education; instead, we are presented with personalized learning and educational games that are nonetheless behaviorist in nature (Skinner, 1958, 1968, McRae, 2013). That behaviorism is now being revived is significant because it and its offspring, close reading, reflect a dead vision for society. The Cores rendering of close reading is one means to socialize the young to accept that vision. So, it needs to be exposed and interrogated.

Experience with the Common Cores Close Reading

Educators and parents alike have been struck by the very odd teaching practices demanded by the Common Core ELA standards (Cores close reading is also to be a basis for teaching history). These apparent anomalies include:

an insistence that students not know the context of a text;

an insistence that students not read texts in their entirety, or only read short hard texts;

an insistence that students focus only on the text itself;

only questions about the text itself can be entertained.

Importantly, these principles dictate that one is not permitted to consider author intent, a corollary to the demand that texts be studied without concern for their social and historical context. Also included is the imposition of an emphasis on a particular form of annotating texts (Frey and Fisher, 2013). That one might read to learn something about the world is minimized while the emphasis on the mechanics of reading dominates. I cant escape the feeling that the word close is best replaced with the word machine. While the most obnoxious of these mandates is related to denying the importance of a readings context for deep learning, the rationality of each of these tenets becomes clear when we place them in their behaviorist context.

Behaviorism: Yearning for Skill Without Consciousness

While many social factors contributed to rise of various behaviorisms, common themes do exist (Mills, 1998, intro.). A key tenet is this: Behaviorists have in common disregard for or denial of human consciousness. Because consciousness is not something one does, it is not observable; its existence or importance is denied in favor of fixing attention on behavior itself. E. L. Thorndike, an early behaviorist and leading developer of standardized testing techniques, argued that both animal and human capacities could, be explained without making recourse to unobservable phenomena (like consciousness) or other magical agencies (Gang, 2011, p. 2). By removing consciousness, the question of purpose is removed from the study of human ability. While radical behaviorists such as B. F. Skinner scoffed when words suggesting consciousness or understanding were used, thinking for them is a mere behavior no different in principal than voluntary arm movements.[4]

As such, understanding, awareness and even intention are banished. In banishing consciousness proper, behaviorists exclude the social and historical aspects of human existence, denying the centrality of purposeful action for human beings. In denying human agency, behaviorists struggled to explain social change. Thus, a technological determinism ensues, where somehow behaviorism is able to separate the origins of techniques from the society in which they were created, re-envisioning human beings as biological machines.

This vision in turn is reflected in the behaviorist conception of skill as the ability to perform a task to a pre-defined standard of competence, a definition common to almost all discourse regarding so-called 21st century skills as decontextualized and thus transferable. If it cant be measured it does not exist; skills are solely defined by how they are tested. Testing fixation is a necessary outcome of the behaviorist program (Hinchliffe, 2002).

Behaviorists were also insistent that they could turn individual human beings into whatever they wanted, if given the chance. Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in, Watson bragged, and Ill guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any specialist I might select doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestor (as cited in Birnbaum, 1955, p. 17). This determinism is thus another important feature of behaviorism.

It is important, however, to distinguish it from the notion that social class relations structure the educational experiences of youth. The only way in which behaviorism acknowledges the social is in the individuals interaction with his or her environment, which structures individual human behavior through what is known as operant conditioning.[5] This model postulates that individuals only as individuals interact with their environment to maximize rewards; there is no common good or shared experience, etc., since these are forms of consciousness. In this model, individuals have no agency; they only have successful or unsuccessful responses to stimuli, that is, either the desired behavior is reinforced or it is not reinforced. For behaviorists, what behavior is desired is self-evident and success is defined in especially conformist, narrowly quantitative terms (e.g., test scores).

Watson and the Birth of Close Reading

So, how does an outlook that denies the social essence of human existence inform a technique for reading instruction in schools?

I. A. Richards is regarded as the founder of close reading. Richards was both a contemporary and follower of Watson, publishing reviews of Watsons work in leading literary journals. While critical of some aspects of Watsons work, it is clear from Richards own writings that his theory of practical criticism is derived from and consistent with behaviorist principles (Gang, 2011). Following Watson, Richards and his followers took the following approach. First, they treated literary texts as behaviors, defined as external phenomena without reference to internal mental states. Second, they would record how the stimuli of poems affected readers physiologically and use these results to ground analyses of meaning and form. When we defer to the authority of the text, Gang argues, or insist on the irrelevance of authorial intent, these actions can be traced back to Brooks, Wimsatt, and Richards. Any attempt to ascertain the mind of the author would compromise the critics objectivity, according to Richards (p. 1, 5).

Richards Practical Criticism (1929), for example, tries to develop a type of literary criticism based on this model: the imagined listener who gleans meaning from overt language use rather than covert (and imagined) mental states.

Richards transformed his classroom at Cambridge into an ersatz laboratory; in the spring of 1926, just when his review of Watson was published in the New Criterion, Richards led a seminar at Cambridge called Practical Criticism. In this seminar, he provided his students with radically decontextualized poems poems with no titles, identifying marks, or clues about origin. Such decontextualization, Richards hoped, would force his students to restrict their analyses to the poetic text exclusively and to make psychological speculation impossible. Students provided Richards with written responses to each poem which then became the central evidence cited in the monograph Practical Criticism. Richards forced his students to analyze the poems as behaviors as overt phenomena to be considered independently of the poets consciousness. (p. 7)

For Richards, all mental events including literature occur in the course of processes of adaptation somewhere between stimulus and response (p. 8). Thus we have the basis for a method that renders the skill of reading necessarily devoid of consciousness.

Close Reading is Preparation for Living without Thinking

In 1922 in an essay entitled Living without Thinking, George Santayana reviewed John B. Watsons Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist, and penned an apt description of the behaviorist vision. I foresee, he wrote based on his read of Watsons book, a behaviorist millennium; countless millions of walking automatons, each armed with his radio all jabbering as they have been trained to jabber, never interfering with one another, always smiling, with their glands all functioning perfectly (Santayana, 1922, p. 735).

I foresee a behaviorist millennium; countless millions of walking automatons, each armed with his radio all jabbering as they have been trained to jabber, never interfering with one another, always smiling, with their glands all functioning perfectly.George Santayana

Replace radio with smart phone, educational technology for personalized learning, and consider the health and insurance industreis desires to nudge everyone into functioning glands and you have an apt description of the neoliberal ethic of individual responsibility developed by way of behaviorist technique[6]



Birnbaum, L. C. (1955). Behaviorism in the 1920s. American Quarterly, 7(1), 1530.

Frey, N., & Fisher, D. (2013). Close reading. Principal Leadership, (January), 5759. Retrieved from

Gang, J. (2011). Behaviorism and the beginnings of close reading. ELH, 78(1), 125. Retrieved from

Greene, P. (2014, January 9). Close reading 2.0. Retrieved September 24, 2015, from

Hamann, T. H. (2009). Neoliberalism, governmentality, and ethics. Foucault Studies, 3759. Retrieved from

Hinchliffe, G. (2002). Situating skills. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 36(2), 187205. Retrieved from

Leahey, T. H. (1997). Learning and cognition (4th ed). Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall.

McRae, P. (2013). Rebirth of the teaching machine through the seduction of data analytics. ATA Magazine, 93. Retrieved from

Mills, J. (1998). Control: a history of behavioral psychology. New York: NYU Press.

Santayana, G. (1922). Living without thinking. The Forum, LXVIII(3), 731735.

Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Skinner, B. F. (1968). The technology of teaching. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Skinner, B. F. (1958). Teaching machines. Science, 128, 969977. Retrieved from

Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2009). Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness (Rev. and expanded ed). New York: Penguin Books.


1.See, for example, Greene (2014). While it is the case that a variety of practices have gone by the name close reading, and while some of those seem perfectly acceptable, the methods now being imposed with the Core standards are derived from the founders of close reading, who were inspired by key behaviorist tenets.

2.As an example, see: Frey and Fisher (2013). Education Genius writes that, most English teachers since New Critic I. A. Richards would probably agree that [close reading] is it [sic] essential to any humanities curriculum. Of course our corporate robot genius gets it wrong: Richards preceded the New Criticism; see Gang (2011).

3.The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exclaims: A significant body of research links the close reading of complex text whether the student is a struggling reader or advanced to significant gains in reading proficiency and finds close reading to be a key component of college and career readiness. This establishes a direct link between close reading and a narrow emphasis on preparation for high-stakes testing.

4.Skinner wrote: Thinking is also identified with certain behavioral processes, such as learning, discriminating, generalizing, and abstracting. These are not behavior but changes in behavior. There is no action, mental or otherwise. When we teach a child to press a button by reinforcing his response with candy, it adds nothing to say that he then responds because he knows that pressing the button will produce candy. When we teach him to press a red button but not a green, it adds nothing to say that he now discriminates or tells the difference between red and green. When we teach him to press a red button and then discover that he will press an orange button as well, though with a lower probability, it adds nothing to say that he has generalized from one color to another. When we bring the response under the control of a single property of stimuli, it adds nothing to say that the child has formed an abstraction (Skinner, 1968, p. 120).

5.While Pavlov and others observed patterns of behavior regulated on the premise of classical conditioning, where a signal precedes the reflex giving rise to automatic behaviors, operant conditioning is the means by which organisms learn all of their voluntary behaviors through reinforcement or punishment following a behavior, the aim being to strengthen or weaken voluntary behavior. According to Skinner, observable behavior is a lawful function of environmental changes. Importantly, radical behaviorism treats everything an organism does as a behavior, including private events such as thinking and feeling, making them subject to the same principles of learning and modification that exist for overt behaviors. This includes thinking or in Skinnerian parlance, verbal behavior (Leahey and Harris, 1997, Skinner, 1957, 1968, 1958)

6.For an example of this outlook, see Thaler and Sunstein (2009). For an analysis of neoliberal ethics that suggests behaviorist logic, see Hamann (2009

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