Market Solutions in Education Reform: Panacea or Hoax?

It is a great formula: Lobby the nation to go to war over false pretenses. Stir up as much fear as possible. Ignore and discredit those who claim the threat is misrepresented. Destroy the target with impunity. Give huge government contracts to the predetermined private think-tanks and publishing houses and multi-national firms who have some capability to restore infrastructure—and who have friends in high places. Pay them (often former government officials) large salaries and amazing bonuses to reassemble the parts in a form that will continue to reap huge profits for themselves. And the most insidious piece of the puzzle—don’t hold the private contractors accountable for their actions.

No, I am not talking about Iraq. I am talking about the War on Public Education. Same exact formula. Really. As we all now know, in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, our leaders had to convince us that there existed a cause (WMD’s) worthy of destroying a nation. (Just think about that thought for a second!) In the war on Public Education, the new, but just as imaginary, Weapons of Mass Destruction are the oft-reported shortage of scientists and engineers, the so-called deplorable graduation rates, the ever-present low test scores, and the increasing need for remedial classes in college. Each of those charges is as fraudulent as any claims about WMD’s. ( In a recent diary I documented how much of the complaint against Public Ed. is unfounded and often totally fabricated.)

So in any questionable war, the war makers and profiteers need to provide us with a good story, an evil enemy or a fearful cause. STEM gaps, engineer shortages, testing shortfalls are the pitch the fear-mongers hope we buy in order get us to sign off on destroying the infrastructure: “Be afraid. Be very afraid. We are failing to educate our kids for world dominance. We are falling behind other nations who will dominate the world if we are not prepared to do so. Finland, South Korea and Singapore will fling Educational Weapons of Mass Destruction at us and we will be defenseless against their onslaught! Help us tear it down and we will rebuild it for you.” Doesn’t your common sense tell you at some level that this argument is absurd? But the drum beats of propaganda and pervasive dishonesty are difficult to combat. Well-meaning legislators and citizens on all sides of the aisle are moved to entertain and fund this war. They cry: “We must fix Public Education! We must find and destroy the WMD’s!”

Whenever a war like this comes along there are those select movers and shakers who demonstrate their incredible patriotism and commitment to improving our nation. They are standing by ready to do the rebuilding. In the Iraqi War it was Haliburton, KBR, Blackwater. In the War on Public Education it is the American Legislative Exchange Council, Pearson, RAND, AEI, and so many others. These great patriots are prepared to combat the terror that Public Education has inflicted on the nation through a new (but really old) initiative: Market Solutions. (This paragraph brought to you by the Department of Really Bad Satire.)

I am convinced that many in the Current Education Reform Movement, a great euphemism for the War on Public Education, mean well. But they are misguided (I won’t get any nicer than that.) Market Solutions in the field of education are simply a mega-hoax being perpetrated on the American people in the name of large profits for whichever vendors and providers can get in on the earliest waves of the movement. And just as the contractors lobbied hard for their share of the billions of dollars suddenly in the marketplace during Iraq and Afghanistan nation building, the Education lobbyists and corporate reps are ready to get their share of the plunder. They are fighting for their position at the trough.

In order to understand the Market Solution movement in education, it is necessary to get outside of the education world and see what Market Solutions means in the competitive corporate world of profit making. In that world, where the bottom line is paramount and where shareholders’ return is the ultimate test of success, Market Solutions seem to cover a lot of ground. There are, however, several concepts that consistently appear in the literature: efficiency, profitability, sustainability, data analysis, competition, increased market share and promotion.  In the business of education these get translated into increased privatization, in the form of both public charter school and private schools. Ironically, Market Solutions often demand an increased accountability in public schools while lessening accountability in charter and private schools. And of course, one hallmark of every Market Solution Plan is the demand for the dissolution of the teachers’ unions. Basically, the Market Solution folks say, if we make these changes, the Market will solve the problems. (Yes, those pesky problems in schools that are already being corrected at record rates.)

Kevin G. Wellner, professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, School of Education, specializing in educational policy and law, and Director of the CU-Boulder National Education Policy Center (NEPC), put it this way:

The Duncan-Obama approach should sound familiar, even to those who do not follow education policy discussions. Defund, deregulate, de-unionize, and shift to the private sector. Reallocate policy-making authority from democratic institutions to a wealthy oligarchy. Corporate-endowed think tanks like AEI have been successfully promoting this road map for everything else, so why not education? (Wellner, 2011)

Should parents and communities be paying careful attention to those who would “fix” education’s ills using Market Solutions as the guiding principles? Of course. But many of these ideas seem on the surface to be reasonable. Do taxpayers have a right to demand accountability for how their taxes are spent? Yes. Should classroom teachers, school building administrators and district level superintendents have ongoing, consistent methods of data assessment to help them reflect on the success of their practice? Absolutely. Should parents have choice in a competitive system of schools where those competing schools and programs offer a variety of experiences and focus? Yes, if done right. Should profitability have anything to do with providing learning opportunities to children? Definitely not.

The research confirms that American Public Schools are doing a better job of educating our children that ever before. Yet we know that we can do a better job of meeting the needs of all students. But will these “solutions” actually solve anything? According to Helen Ladd, Edgar Thompson Professor of Public Policy Studies and professor of economics at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy:

Overall, the evidence suggests that the economic model of markets does not translate easily into the provision of compulsory education. Nonetheless, many of the concepts underlying education markets, such as consumer choice, flexibility for schools, and incentives for them to raise the quality of education, are worth pursuing. The challenge for urban policy makers is to find ways to introduce these ideas while at the same time promoting the public interest that, ultimately, provides the rationale for a publicly funded and compulsory education system.

Ladd goes on to state:

Like public school systems in many other large U.S. cities, the Washington, D.C. school system faces serious challenges, many of which are related to its high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students. Because one size school does not fit all and because students from low-income families tend to have far fewer schooling options than do students from higher income families, I support efforts to give low-income families more choice. The argument for greater choice is far more compelling, however, when it is cautiously applied to schools within the public sector than when it is extended to private schools, as would be the case under HR 684. This conclusion follows because policy makers are in a better position to assure fair access to public than to private schools and to hold schools that are publicly operated or publicly chartered and funded accountable to the public.  (Ladd, Market Based Reforms in Urban Education, 2002)

The real problem with Market Solutions is that they have no humanity. Profits based on efficiency and large economies of scale will require changes that are truly frightening. In the name of efficiency, students will have to get seriously tracked by academic levels. That will be determined by test scores. If you are quick to say, “This is good. We will finally challenge our very best and brightest.” Are you willing to see the other side of that coin? Efficiency will demand that there are winners and losers. What kinds of schools will we end up with? Some very good ones, no doubt. But there will be some very bad ones, no doubt. For most students it will be much worse. You doubt me? Remember that Market Solutions demand efficiency and efficiency demands specialization. Specialization demands narrow focus. Schools will want to keep up their statistical claims to be the best because competition will be strong and people are going to choose based on the best story line out there. Potential losers—students with IEPs, a history of discipline issues, students in poverty—will be too risky to enroll. The actuaries will start an entire new cottage industry rating students as risk potentials for schools. If you rate an 8-10 you’re in. 1-4 won’t even get you in the door. And so Market Solutions tries to eliminate people from the business of people. Much like the health insurance companies, when left to decide for themselves, have shown a strong desire to refuse to provide health care, Market Solutions in education, left to decide for themselves, will show a strong desire to refuse to provide educational services. In the name of efficiency.

Market Solutions are big business—literally. So do we want to turn over the reins to those whose Market Solutions are built on profitability and high return on investment? Should we “Reallocate policy-making authority from democratic institutions to a wealthy oligarchy”? What would that wealthy oligarchy’s motives be? What would their goals be?

Consider this: When profits are the rule and efficiency is the way, then learning is not the goal. It is only a happenstance.

 Works Cited

Ladd, H. F. (2002). Market Based Reforms in Urban Education. Economic Policy Institute.

Ladd, H. F. (2003). School Vouchers Don’t Make The Grade.

Wellner, K. G. (2011, Spring). Re-Imagining Education Reform. Retrieved from Dissent:









NRA Easter Gifts: Mace-In-An-Egg!

I get the whole NRA armed guard thing. They are looking for positive role models to help our children in this time of confusion and fear. Macho gun toting guards in every school. Replace fear with respect. Replace confusion and anxiety with order. I get it now. It took a few days, but I get it.

So I called up a former high school buddy who works in the Headquarters Offices of the NRA. Back in the day I used to ride around with him in the middle of the night thrashing mailboxes with three-woods so I knew he could be trusted to give me the inside dope. Here is what he told me about that confidential NRA Department Head work session that brought us phase one of the NRA plan. That’s right. Gun Totin’ guards is only phase one of the NRA’s comprehensive strategy to dramatically alter the mindset of every single child in America and get them on the path to peace of mind.

In phase two, to be introduced at the press conference scheduled for Valentines Day, the NRA plans to reveal a new line of designer body armor from a very select group of hip American designers, for school aged girls. Wayne LaPierre is apparently already in discussions with several members of various boy bands for sponsorships. Currently it comes in black only, but they are testing a pink camo line that comes in all the youth sizes, all the way down to toddler for you preschool parents. Why Valentines Day? Well, what says love from a parent to a child like a gift of new body armor?

Phase three, planned for an Easter unveiling, will be the new Mace-In-An-Egg. designed to fit in pencil boxes, it’s the Easter gift every child will be demanding. Imagine the child who finds that special hidden Easter egg and discovers the child-friendly Mace-In-An-Egg. Beats jelly beans any time. My friend’s understanding is that Mel Gibson is working on a Saturday morning program called,”Lockdown!” to help cross market the product.  Sure to be a hit.

Phase four will be aimed specifically at high school kids as the NRA leads the marketing highway for a new product called Zip. Its the smallest, lightest, quickest and easiest to use firearm ever invented. Resembling a ball point pen, it fires a single .22 caliber round. Targeting the nerd market specifically, it comes with matching pocket protector.  Imagine, you’re writing that essay for the World Lit class and you suddenly suspect that the person entering the room is a Bad Guy. He is, after all, carrying what resembles a ball point pen. You instantly stop writing and without giving it another thought, you fire. Everybody calms down and you finish that pesky essay. Now that’s how you make Student of the Month.

My friend didn’t have time to fill me in on the final three phases of the plan because he thought he heard funny clicking sounds on his phone and quickly hung up. But he hinted at possible new product lines for middle schoolers aimed at the untapped holster and bandoleer market.

I wished him luck.

Today everything changed at school.

Staff meeting first thing in the morning. The superintendent addressed the staff with some new changes. First, every classroom will be locked and the doors will be closed during instructional time. Second, nobody leaves the classroom without a hall pass. Third, A security consultant arrived at 11:00 to advise us on how to install a buzzer at the front door with an intercom system and a closed circuit camera monitoring the entrance. Fourth, all visitors that enter the building must have a visitors badge. Fifth, we ordered stanchions for the front, the kind of posts and barriers that will direct all traffic to the office door.

If these precautions seem to be the kinds of things that should have been in place all along, let me explain a bit about my town and my school. I am the assistant principal and a teacher at a very small K-12 school with 200 total students in the district. We are all in one beautiful building.  The outside grounds are litter free and the interior misleads people into believing our building is quite new when it is actually over 20 years old. My town has a permanent, year-round population of about 800 people. We are high up in the mountains and this time of year we are basically at the end of the road. (15 inches of new snow on the ground and snowing hard as I write this.) We have small class sizes and students call teachers by their first names. We all know each other and parents and teachers socialize a lot. We don’t lock our houses and we leave our keys in the car. But after Sandy Hook our parents are scared. After Sandy Hook I am still somewhat in shock.

As of today, Mrs. Smith will not be allowed to bring the lunch sack her son left on the kitchen counter and drop it off in his classroom. No more will those three responsible high school girls be allowed to work their group projects in the hallway. No more will Mike and Sammi be trusted to leave class to get a drink or to use the restroom without carrying a “passport.” No more will parents just walk into the building and drop in on their son or daughter’s first grade classroom. And I am very saddened by this. Gun violence on the other side of the continent has forced us into being something we have resisted for a long time.

Standardized Testing Wastes Much More Than Money

School Testing In U.S. Costs $1.7 Billion, But That May Not Be Enough: Report (

Should I be surprised that the Huffington Post has published an interview with David Coleman, president of the College Board, the company that administers the SATs, in which Mr. Coleman says America spends too little on testing? Gee. The president of a testing company says the US should spend more money on testing. And the president of GM thinks we should buy more cars. And the owners of coal mines think we should forget about green energy. And the Republican party thinks the rich need more tax cuts. How can a journalist write this kind of story without exposing it for what it is?

By the way, it isn’t just the money that is wasted through standardized testing. Standardized testing wastes some things that are far more valuable than money, things that are difficult to measure such as time, imagination, discovery, creativity and critical thought. Other bloggers, authors and educators have written on this issue ad nauseam…and the people who control the purse strings refuse to listen. In twenty-five years we will look back at this business-model-for-efficiency-in-education-fiasco and ask ourselves what was the craziness that got into us.

The International Student Testing Myth

From: Japan and its standardized test-based education system By Kevin Burns

[At age 12] exam hell starts and from which students never really recover. The standardized test-based education system of Japan that starts in the junior high school years kills any kind of initiative, creativity and especially thinking outside of the box. Unfortunately, these last three are what Japan especially needs in the 21st century; perhaps Japan`s most challenging 100 years yet.…

Let’s just say that America decides to test its 17 year-olds in the areas of math, science and technology and decides to compare its results against other nation’s students taking the same test. It’s fair. It’s objective and it’s a good method for comparisons regarding educational rigor in the classroom and relative student abilities. Right? Well, it might be if the other schools were assessing their 17 year-olds too. But because of the wide range of student ages in other countries, they may very well be using the test scores of students up to age 21. I don’t know about you, but I was a much better thinker and overall student when I was 20-21 than I was at 17-18. And I mean a lot better.

Now let’s just say that a major testing company wants to compare the test scores of random American high school students and compare those scores to the random students in other nations using the same or similar test. It’s fair. It’s objective and it’s a good method for comparisons regarding educational rigor in the classroom and relative student abilities. Right? Well, it might be if the populations of the samples are similarly random. But they aren’t. A random sample from an American high school may include anyone of any ability and interest and motivation level. Not so in other nations in the world.

This international comparison doesn’t work because most nations in the world select students out of the test sample before they ever reach the level that Americans would consider high school–much, much sooner in most countries. In many, if not most asian nations, a test is given typically at 7th-8th grade. Do well, continue on with your schooling. Don’t, and your life options are few. In Germany, decisions are made for children at age 10, where they are divided into one of four tracks. Compulsory education ends at age 14. Japan and Germany are representative of the method most nations have for getting their best and brightest separated from the rest of the students. As a result, by the time international testing companies make their assessments, the top students in those countries are the only students available. Test only the top 10-20% of American students and then see how we stand.

I have given you two examples of why international comparisons of student testing is a false measurement and I haven’t even mentioned poverty yet. Consider the following regarding the Program for International Student Assessment:

From: PISA: It’s Poverty Not Stupid…

NEAToday published remarks from National Association of Secondary School Principals Executive Director, Dr. Gerald N. Tirozzi, that have taken “a closer look at how the U.S. reading scores on PISA compared with the rest of the world’s, overlaying it with the statistics on how many of the tested students are in the government’s free and reduced lunch program for students below the poverty line.” Tirozzi pointed out, “Once again, we’re reminded that students in poverty require intensive supports to break past a condition that formal schooling alone cannot overcome.” Tirozzi demonstrates the correlation between socio-economic status and reading by presenting the PISA scores in terms of individual American schools and poverty.  While the overall PISA rankings ignore such differences in the tested schools, when groupings based on the rate of free and reduced lunch are created, a direct relationship is established.

Tirozzi and others have reviewed the PISA data and rightly concluded that if we only tested kids from schools with less than 10% poverty rate we would score above every other nation in the world. And that is significant because the nations that score above us have already selected out for ability, interest and motivation, as I mentioned above, and they also all have much lower poverty rates. Of all the nations tested by PISA, the United States has the highest student poverty rate. We are testing all students regardless of ability and we are testing more students in poverty than any other nation. (I wonder how many of us know that America has more students in poverty than any other nation in the world. That just doesn’t seem to fit our idea of America, does it?)

So the next time you see an international test report where the U.S. scores 17th in math behind the Czech Republic, Norway and Finland, remember that if we were to test similar populations against other nations, we would rank number one in the world. This matters. It really does because if these are not our problems we shouldn’t be wasting our energy and resources trying to fix them. We should be focused on the real issues not the false ones.

If We Really Want to Fix Our Schools Let’s Be Certain to Get the Correct Picture

I agree that America needs to address some serious deficiencies in the nations schools. But let’s be certain that we are addressing the real issues. If we keep making decisions based on bad information and fallacies that go unchallenged we will find ourselves eliminating the good that our schools do while “fixing” the wrong ills. Consider what you hear about America not producing enough math and science trained graduates and see how that jives with some real information below.

From: Shortage of Math and Science Graduates Is a Myth By Walt Gardner

Critics assert that schools are not producing enough qualified math and science graduates to meet the needs of companies as they attempt to compete in the new global economy.  But the latest data released by the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates call that view into question.

A record 49,562 doctorate degrees were awarded in the 2008-09 academic year, representing a 1.6 percent increase over the 2007-08 year.  According to the foundation, the growth was largely due to increases in the number of degrees in science and engineering.  In 2009, 67.5 percent of all doctorates were in these two fields, a 1.9 percent increase over the previous academic year.

Yet despite this growth, companies continue to insist that they need to recruit abroad because of a shortage domestically.  The more likely explanation is that they prefer looking overseas because H1-B visa holders are willing to work for below-market wages.

In light of the available evidence, it’s time to wonder if criticism of America’s education system in this crucial area is justified.  The usual attack is based on tests of international competition, specifically on the Trends in International Math and Science Study. But TIMSS is given to students in their final year of school. [This means that most American students who take this assessment are 17 years of age but are upwards to 21 in many other ntions.]  Clearly, the differences in ages are significant, but curiously not noted in reportage.


From: Bureau of Labor Statistics

High school math courses and college attendance in two generations

Students who graduated from high school in the late 1990s and early 2000s took more rigorous mathematics courses than those who graduated in the mid to late 1970s and early 1980s. Among the more recent graduates (who were born in the years 1980–1984), 11 percent completed high school calculus and 24 percent completed precalculus, trigonometry, or other advanced math. Among the earlier graduates (who were born in the years 1957–1964), just 2 percent completed high school calculus and 8 percent completed precalculus, trigonometry, or other advanced math.

A more rigorous high school math curriculum is associated with a higher probability of attending college. This positive association grew stronger between the 1970s and 2000s. College attendance increased markedly during this period. (College attendance is defined here as having been enrolled in college by age 21.) The college enrollment rate increased from 53 percent among those born in 1957–1964 to 67 percent among those born in 1980–1984.

The bottom line is that someone is feeding us all the wrong line. No matter what you have been hearing, American high schools and universities are producing more and more math and science trained graduates. The problem has more to do with the  economics at the hiring end that it does with education.



Education Fraud Part III, Yong Zhao Interview: Will the Common Core Create World-Class Learners?

Below are some selected quotes from Yong Zhao’s article on Common Core.

The Common Core Standards Initiative is having a great time, much like NCLB in its early days, with lots of money and lots of political power behind it. And of course there are many who would stand to make some money off and perhaps earn some political points from it as well and for these organizations and individuals the Common Core must continue.

…judging from the accomplishment of NCLB and Race-to-the Top, I would say that five years from now, American education will still be said to be broken and obsolete. We will find out that the Common Core Standards, after billions of dollars, millions of hours of teacher time, and numerous PD sessions, alignment task forces, is not the cure to American’s education ill. Worse yet, we will likely have most of nation’s schools teaching to the common tests aligned with the Common Core. As a result, we will see a further narrowing of the curriculum and educational experiences. Whatever innovative teaching that has not been completely lost in the schools may finally be gone. And then we will have a nation of students, teachers, and schools who are compliant with the Common Core Standards, but we may not have much else left.

In fact, I would argue a single bar in itself is discriminatory because it favors one type of ability over others, while other abilities may be as valuable.

Albert Einstein once said: “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

A true high expectation comes from the students themselves when are allowed autonomy and rewarded for genuine contribution to the society using their talents, passion, time, and efforts.

Yong Zhao is Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, where he is a full professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy and Leadership. You can read his blog here.





Educational Fraud: A Call to Action. Reject Common Core!

The so-called educational reform movement in America is a total fraud. There I said it. No mincing of words, no watered down argument. The movement to standardize all classrooms in America with a so-called Common Core is not only un-educational, it is un-American. It is everything that we should not want. It is counter to everything that is great in America: individualism, creativity, inventiveness, entrepreneurial spirit, democracy. Education reform in America is all about standardizing and narrowing curriculum choices for students and teachers. This is about handing over control of our schools to businessmen who know nothing about educating young people. Corporate America only wants to institute (reinstitute) the factory model back into the system as a complement to the lowering of American wages and work expectations. And in the process, if a few large and wealthy and politically connected publishing houses make a ton of money, all the better.

Are there some schools failing our children? Yes. Is the narrowing of the curriculum while limiting exploration and creativity and discovery the answer? Abosultely not! It is time for America to reject these false reforms.

There is so more much to say about the myth of bad test scores and the myth of what American students don’t know and the myth of where American students stand in the world, but there isn’t room to say it all here on this post. Comments? Thoughts?

Indoctrination vs Critical Thinking One Take on the Church/State Thing

Vouchers, Faith Based Schools, Intelligent Design, Climate Change Deniers, Loch Ness Monster Disproves Darwinsim. Hmmm.

I remember Sunday School well. Most of my friends went to the same church I went to and we spent our formative years getting indoctrinated into the church beliefs and norms and traditions. When I was young the stories were cool and when I got older the girls were hot. So I was contentedly indoctrinated. Like kids everywhere, I was discouraged from such questions as ‘where did Adam and Eve’s kids come from’ and ’how does anyone know for sure what heaven is like’ and ‘so, why do good people still go to hell?’  Now before you get upset with me, you need to understand that I think that was okay. I enjoyed it, for the most part. And as long as that indoctrination remains in the church setting I’m okay with it. More or less anyway

Here’s the problem, as I see it anyway. Indoctrination is by definition anti-critical thinking. In matters of faith, critical thinking must eventually break down and fail you. If you can critically think your way through your belief system, there is no need for faith. And I understand that. People can choose to do this. The church’s very existence is predicated upon faith.

While faith must eventually abhor critical review, education must constantly demand it. Education in its grandest sense is about testing and experimenting and obvserving and making determinations and thinking critically about the things around us.  Critical review requires a scientific approach. One must weigh evidence and examine inconsistencies. This is exactly where the desire to bring Christian teaching into public schools become scary. The fight for Christian Churches to inflitrate the public school system is nothing less than the desire to restrict critical review. Conservative leaders have made certain that Evangelicals associate ‘Global Climate Change’ with liberals which in turn connects them to Obama, abortion and godless communism. Thus, simply  accepting what the vast (vast is an understatement) majority of scientists say about the truth of global climate change, would be akin to becoming a liberal. Oh My God!

Evangelicals who insist man was made as a distinct and completed species on a particular day in the history of our universe may teach that at Sunday school all they want but they may not teach it in public school specifically because it will not stand up to critical review. It doesn’t even take much of a philosophical argument to show how that particular dogma is probably insulting to any God, due to its small mindedness.

Water to wine, walking on water, flaming chariot rising to heaven, giant fish eating a man and spitting him out after he learns his lesson–these all require no small amount of faith to accept, and solid, swift indoctrination kick starts the young’uns. Teach faith if you must but leave it out of the school. Or could it be that those who want us to replace critical thinking with church dogma are concerned (insecure) that their faith won’t stand up to scutiny? What does that say about their faith? Then again, maybe that’s the whole point.

Wisconsin Collective Bargaining Law Struck Down By County Judge

Kind of makes you think the world is coming back into some sort of balance again.