Standardizing Whiteness: the Essential Racism of Standardized Testing


“As a method of social production, as well as social reproduction, standardized testing has had serious cultural implications, not the least of which has been the eternal question of American identity. Consistent with notions of American identity, standardized testing, as an opposition to a cultural other, represents the normalization of whiteness, richness, and maleness.”
-Andrew Hartman

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
-Toni Morrison

We talk about standardized testing as if we don’t really understand what it is.

We say we want No child left behind!

And then we pass a law named after that very sentiment that ensures some students MUST be left behind.

We say we want Every student to succeed!

And then we pass a law named after that very sentiment that ensures every student will NOT succeed.

It would be absurd if not for the millions of children being forced to endure the harsh reality behind our pretty words.

It’s not these ideals that are the problem. It’s standardized testing.

Researchers, statisticians, and academics of every stripe have called for an end to high stakes testing in education policy. Parents, students and teachers have written letters, testified before congressional committees, protested in the streets, even refused to take or give the tests. All to deaf ears.

The federal government still requires all students in 3-8th grade and once in high school to take standardized tests.

But these assessments are graded on a curve. A certain amount of students are at the bottom, a certain amount are at the top, and most are clustered in the middle. This would be true if you were testing all geniuses or all people with traumatic brain injuries.

It doesn’t matter how smart your test takers are. There will always be this bell curve distribution. That’s how the tests are designed. So to talk about raising test scores is nonsensical. You can raise scores at school A or School B, but the total set of all test takers will always be the same. And some students will always fail.

But that isn’t even the worst part.

Standardization, itself, has certain consequences. We seem to have forgotten what the term even means. It’s defined as the act of evaluating someone or something by reference to a standard.

This socket wrench is a good socket wrench because it most closely resembles some ideal socket wrench. This McDonald’s Big Mac is good because it resembles the ideal McDonald’s Big Mac.

That’s what we’re doing to people – children in fact. We’re evaluating them based on their resemblance to some ideal definition of what a child should know and what a child should be.

But children are not socket wrenches nor are they Big Macs. It is not so easy to reduce them to their component parts and say this is good and that is bad.

When you try to abstract them to that point, it is impossible to remove various essential factors of their identity – race, gender, socio-economic status, etc. Nor would it be admirable if you could, because you would have abstracted to the point where the individual is no longer visible or valued. A child raised in poverty is simply not the same as a child from a privileged upbringing. A child from a culture that values cooperation is not the same as a child from a culture that values individual achievement. And that’s often a good thing.

But when you define a standard, an ideal, you make certain choices – you privilege some attributes and denigrate others. Since the people creating the tests are almost exclusively upper middle class white people, it should come as no surprise that that is the measure by which they assess success.

Is it any wonder then that poor kids and children of color don’t score as well on these tests? Is it any wonder that upper middle class white kids score so well?

We’ve known this for almost a century. Standardized tests do a poor job of assessing intelligence or knowledge. Those things are too complex and the tests are too simple. If you’re evaluating something equally simple like basic addition and subtraction, these tests can work alright. But if you’re trying to get at something complex like critical thinking or creativity, they end up doing little more than prizing the way some people think and not others. In short, they elevate the thought processes most associated with rich white kids.

It doesn’t mean poor and/or black children are any less intelligent. It just means rich white kids have the things for which the test designers are looking. Some of this is due to economic factors like greater access to private tutoring, books in the home, parents with more time to read to their kids, coming to school healthy and more focused. However, a large portion is due to the very act of taking tests that are created to reflect white upper class values and norms.

Think about it. Almost all the questions are field tested before they become a permanent part of the exam. Students are given a question that doesn’t count to their final score, but test makers tabulate how many kids get it right or wrong. So when most white kids answer a field tested question correctly and most black kids get it wrong, it still becomes a permanent test question because there are so few blacks relative to whites. Maybe it’s a question that references sun tan lotion, something with which darker skinned people don’t have as much experience. Imagine if a question referencing the hair care practices of  black people became a test item. White people would have difficulty with it because they can’t easily relate. But the field testing process doesn’t allow that because it normalizes whiteness.

So black kids stumble while white kids have an easier time. We even have a name for it: the racial proficiency gap.

Many well-intentioned progressive voices have bemoaned this problem and wondered how to solve it. But it’s not the scores that are the problem. It’s the assessments. They are doing exactly what they were designed to do.

That’s right. You cannot have such obvious, historical problems perpetuated year-after-year, decade-after-decade, and still think they are mere unintended consequences.

This is how the system was designed to work. This is how it’s always been designed to work.

If you were going to create a racist and classist school system from scratch, what would you do? How would you go about it?

You’d need the lower classes to have SOME mediocre education so they are able to do the menial work that keeps society running. But only so much. Education as a social ladder is all well and good as propaganda. But you don’t want that ladder to lead out of the basement for more than a few.

You need something that will create a hierarchy with people of color at the bottom and poor whites only slightly better off so they can feel ennobled compared to their darker subordinates.

You need a biased sorting mechanism – something that allows you to put students into privileged and unprivileged categories but that will look to all the world like it was doing so fairly. It would have to appear like you were choosing students based on merit.

You’d need something like standardized test scores.

This is how these assessments have functioned from their very beginnings.

When Carl Brigham and Robert Yerkes, U.S. Army psychologists during WWI, designed the alpha and beta intelligence tests to determine which soldiers deserved to be officers, they were creating a pseudoscientific justification for white privilege. They used biased and unfair assessments to “prove” that rich white folks were best suited to give orders, and the rest of us belonged in the trenches.

Brigham and Yerkes were drawing upon eugenics, also called “racial hygiene” or “scientific racism.” This was a radical misreading of Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin. Eugenicists thought positive traits such as intelligence were widespread in Northwestern European races and almost nonexistent in others. Moreover, negative traits such as laziness and criminality were common in nonwhites and almost absent in those same Northwestern Europeans.

“We should not work primarily for the exclusion of intellectual defectives but rather for the classification of men in order that they may be properly placed,” wrote Yerkes.

THIS is the basis of standardized testing.

After the war, Brigham took the same principles to create the Scholastic Aptitude Test or S.A.T. – in principle the same exam still taken by 2.1 million teenagers every year to ensure they get into their chosen college.

The test was further refined by fellow eugenicist Lewis Terman, Professor of Education at Stanford University and originator of the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. Together these three men created the foundations for the modern field of standardized testing. And make no mistake – its axiomatic principle is still that some races are genetically superior and others are inferior.

Or as Terman put it:

“A low level of intelligence is very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among Negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come… They constitute a grave problem because of their unusually prolific breeding.”

After WWII, the eugenicist brand suffered from comparison to the Nazis who had been inspired by the findings of Brigham, Yerkes and Terman among others. In the post war years, we’ve discarded the overtly racist language but kept the assessments. Yet they still function the same way – sorting out blacks and the poor while prizing the rich and white.

This information is not secret. It is not kept under lock and key in some hidden military base somewhere. It’s accessible to anyone with Internet access or a library card.
We ignore it, because otherwise it would destabilize the current power structure – the corporate education policies that drive school practices in our country. We close our eyes and pretend it isn’t happening.

But it is.

“Standardized tests are the last form of legalized discrimination in the US,” said Education and Psychology Prof. Phil Harris.

With them you can give rich and middle class whites every advantage while withholding the same from students of color. And we don’t call it racism or classism because we pretend the whites earned their privileges by their test scores.

“We are using the testocracy as a proxy for privilege,” said civil rights theorist Lanni Guinier. Test scores are the excuse for prejudicial and unjust practices that would be impossible without them.

For instance, if you really wanted to help someone who’s struggling, you might offer extra help. But low test scores are used as the reason for withholding that help. We actually use these invalid scores as a means of demeaning and firing poor black kids’ teachers – as if anything they could do could completely overcome biased assessments and poverty. In this way, we not only remove those already in place to help these kids, we ensure few people will volunteer to take their place.

And when you have a teacher shortage in these poor urban neighborhoods, you can use that to justify further deprivations. Instead of teachers with 4-year education degrees, you can hire lightly trained Teach for America temps – college grads who’ve taken no coursework in education beyond a six weeks cram session.

And if the parents of these children complain, you can open charter schools to pull a quick bait and switch. Make them feel like they have a choice when really you’re pulling the rug out from under them. You provide them with a school with none of the safeguards of a traditional public institution – no elected school board, no transparency on how tax dollars are spent, little oversight, a right to refuse any student they wish, etc. And when the school goes belly up, these kids will be pushed back to their former traditional public school that has had to make due with less funding and now can provide even fewer  services than it could before students jumped ship.

Using standardized test scores to judge not just students but whole schools, you can destabilize the entire system of public education. Charter schools and traditional public schools fight over ever-dwindling funding, one required to prove everything it does, the other able to do whatever it wants until it closes with little to no consequences for charter operators who take the money and run.

The US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs Board that we can’t have “separate but equal” schools because when they’re separate, they’re rarely equal. But somehow that doesn’t apply to charter schools.

Somehow we’ve stopped caring about integration – one of the central victories of the Civil Rights movement! This plays right into the hands of the corporate education reformers. They have done everything they can to increase segregation because it makes it so much easier to privilege rich white kids and crush poor black ones.

They don’t want an equal mix of black and white, rich and poor in our schools. That would make it much harder to select against one class of student while boosting another.

They need to keep the races and classes as separate as possible. Charter schools help in this regard, but they would be insufficient without the help from many white families who flee from these “other” darker complected kids. It’s just another way to send more funding to white kids and less to poor black kids. They say it’s based on local property taxes. That way they can pretend it’s all fair and above board. Rich folks have a right to be able to give their kids the best, and if poor folks can’t afford to do the same, who do you expect to pick up the tab?

Oh! And let’s not forget setting “high academic standards” while all this is going on. They throw out everything that’s been working and come up with a Common Core of knowledge that all kids need to learn. Don’t include black and brown history, culture or the arts – just the stuff the business community thinks is valuable because they know so much about what’s really important in life. And have the whole thing written up by non-educators and non-psychologists and don’t bother testing it out to make sure it works.

Your rich white kids will have no problem jumping through these hoops. But your poor black and brown kids will stumble and fall – just as planned.

This is what has become of our public schools.

This is corporate education reform.

This is our racist, classist school system.

And it’s all based on standardized testing – a perfectly legal system of normalizing rich whiteness.

F- It! I’m Voting For Jill Stein



I have had it with this election.


Trump is a petulant, disgusting, fascist with terrible hair and a machismo complex. Clinton is a warmongering Wall Street lickspittle who smiles in your face as she secretly advocates policies that will hurt you and your family.


I simply refuse to choose between either one of them.


And before any of my so-called progressive friends start chiding me about third parties, let me just give you my reasoned argument: FUCK YOU.


Don’t tell me it’s a wasted vote. Don’t tell me it’s a vote for Trump. Read my lips: IT’S A VOTE FOR JILL STEIN!


No, I don’t want Trump to win. Yes, I agree Clinton is the lesser of two evils. But I simply cannot spend the rest of my adult life voting for evil.


Get real, people. When you keep choosing the best of the worst, it never ends. Do you really think things will be any different in four years? In eight?


The major parties will still give us a choice between dumb and dumber. I am done being a part of it. I’m opting out. Take your fake two-party Democracy and shove it.


When pundits and partisans talk about Presidential politics, they pretend it’s a game of chess. No. They think it’s fantasy football. Who won which debate? Who’s polling better with Latinos? Who’s got the most endorsements? They want you to take all this useless overcooked data and vote strategically, relying on the media to maximize the outcome regardless of the quality of the candidates involved. Unfortunately, it’s all baloney.


Few polls are actually scientific and even those that are given this dubious moniker are iffy at best. No matter what your opinion, you can find a poll or statistic somewhere to back it up. At least 60% of people know that!


This election has done a lot to foster my distrust of the media. The Associated Press calling primaries for Clinton before people were even done voting! Ignoring stories of voter irregularities! Giving Clinton debate questions ahead of time! Leaking a five year old video of Trump being a pig to bury Wikileaks emails that might otherwise hurt Clinton!


My God! We’ve gotten more actual news from whistleblowers in the past few years than journalists! And it’s pretty obvious why. The media is really just the public relations arm of the handful of corporations that own the dwindling number of newspapers, TV stations, search engines, etc. Very little makes it through the amalgamated filter that isn’t in the interests of the moneyed few.


Sorry. I prefer to think for myself.


There is just no reason to play games with your vote. It’s really quite simple. Vote for the candidate who best represents your values. That’s your only responsibility.


It’s up to each candidate to earn my vote. If I don’t cast a ballot for Clinton, I’m not a spoiler. She hasn’t done enough to prove to me that she’s the person for whom I should be voting. If that means she loses the election, it’s not my fault. She didn’t run a successful campaign. She didn’t give voters like me enough, she didn’t prove to us that she isn’t the same neoliberal lapdog of the elites that she’s always been.


She voted for the Patriot Act twice. She pushed for more troops in Afghanistan and US intervention in Libya. Her top donors are the same folks who crashed the economy – JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup. She sold fracking to the world through the Global Shale Gas Initiative. She signed on to the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which, according to the ACLU, would have effectively legalized discrimination, and she introduced a bill that would have made flag burning a felony.


I’m sorry. I don’t care how many pussies Donald Trump grabbed. I can’t vote for a person like that!


So why Jill Stein?


Easy. I’ve met the woman, and she’s the real deal.


No, she doesn’t have Clinton’s experience, but that’s a good thing. I’m not entirely satisfied with what Clinton did while Secretary of State, a U.S. Senator or First Lady. Better to hire someone with good intentions who has to learn on the job than someone who is immediately in a position to continue our endless series of petty wars, enrich the banks and compromise away protections for the environment.


As a father of a school age child and a public school teacher, education is my number one issue. Trump wants to tear everything down and give it all away to big business. Clinton wants to do much the same but more slowly and with a smiley face sticker on it. Stein is the only candidate who actually wants to help.


When United Opt Out held its annual conference in Philadelphia last year, Stein was the only candidate to actually come and speak with us. You read that right. She didn’t send a surrogate. She didn’t write a letter. She came in person and talked to us as a group and one-on-one. Heck! She even gave me a hug as a fellow activist working for change.


She is in favor of everything that needs doing for our public schools. She wants to stop endless high stakes standardized testing. She wants to stop school privatization. She wants to fairly fund all public schools. She wants to provide free college and end all student debt. She wants single payer healthcare paid for by cutting our bloated military budget with no raise in taxes. She wants to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, stop giving weapons to Israel, freeze terrorist-funder’s bank accounts, end the War on Terror and engage in a policy of peace. Moreover, Stein wants the savings from slashing our biggest federal expenditure to be used to fund a New Green Deal, creating full employment and a living wage all while transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2030!


Now that’s a platform I can vote for without reservation.


However, I have no illusions that she’ll win. When tens of thousands of people can look at an admitted sexual predator like Trump with approbation, I know we’re just not ready as a species for a candidate like Stein.


We’re too stupid. Too racist. Too sexist. Too classist. Too much the evolutionary apes that conservatives refuse to believe in.

Yet those on the other side of the aisle are so civilized they’re willing to politely follow the leader over a cliff. They’ll ignore every criticism, silence any dissent as they’re given marching orders by the establishment all the while congratulating themselves for being so intelligent.


I’m not sure which is the bigger joke – this election or our electoral system. Trump whines that the election is rigged against him, and we laugh because he’s his own worst enemy. But the system is far from fair. You can’t tell me some of those primaries weren’t stolen from Bernie Sanders – people living in highly concentrated Sanders leaning districts facing long lines, closed polling stations and uncounted votes. Always against Sanders voters, hardly ever against Clinton or Trump supporters.


Even setting aside the crappy primary, look at our obsolete and eminently hackable voting machines. Look at our refusal to make election day a holiday. Look at our recent spat of voter ID legislation which makes it so much more difficult for the poor and minorities to cast a ballot.


This is the best system we can muster!? But of course it is, because the powers that be don’t want all of us to vote. They want just enough of us to foster the illusion of a democracy – a weak one that they can manipulate and control. They decided a long time ago they wanted Hillary Clinton to win. Trump is just there to scare the rest of us into voting for her so that we can pretend we had a choice.


I’m not saying things couldn’t go astray. If white nationalists come to the polls and everyone else stays away, we’ll have our new fuehrer. But the rich and powerful are betting on Clinton. She means stability for the market, she means the needs of business will be met and the rest of us will just sit back and take it because we had a “choice.”


Well, screw that. I’m not doing it.


I will proudly go to my polling place this November and give my vote to Stein. She’s earned it.


Who’s More Valuable – a Union Busting Lawyer or a Union Worker?


There he was standing in front of me in line.


New gray pinstriped suit. Silk red Armani tie. White button down shirt so bleached it hurt my eyes.


We were waiting to board our plane to take us to Houston. Me, a public school teacher. Him, a union busting lawyer.


I was on my way to an education and civil rights summit. He was going to an annual lawyers conference, one of many he attends each year.


I got all this information not from talking to the guy. He was jovial enough but he just couldn’t contain his backstory to a single audience. He was in the mood to talk to anybody and everybody as we waited for the stewardess to tell us it was okay to board.


He spent most of his time talking with two representatives of the natural gas industry who had visited my home of Pittsburgh to invest in our rich deposits of Marcellus shale – and incidentally poison our environment. He also joked with another lawyer further up in line and already tipsy.


I listened to him yuk it up about exclusive golf courses, wine country and the presidential election (he’s a Trump supporter) and felt a warm dislike spread through my chest.


I looked at my faded t-shirt and jeans and wondered how it was that this guy gets so much for what he does and I get so little. Oh I get all the intangibles, but he gets… well… the money, pride and prestige.


There he was asking the gas guys about a good steak place for lunch in Houston. I love steak. I’d like to eat a nice, juicy steak. But I can’t afford it.


I’m only able to make this trip because I took the least expensive flight (coach, by the way – guess where he was sitting) and I was sharing a hotel room with a college professor who had saved up enough discretionary funds to cover the room.


While the attorney was dining on steak, I’d be lucky to store up a muffin or two from the hotel’s complimentary breakfast.


Yet there he was telling the whole world his story unafraid that someone would take offense.


Well, I do take offense, buddy.


You make your living finding ways to make it harder for me to make mine. You spend your whole day looking for legal loopholes and documented precedents to take away protections at my job, cut my pay and make me work longer hours without overtime. You eat at expensive restaurants and wear Italian leather shoes while people like me live paycheck-to-paycheck. You are nothing but a parasite.


Yet no one else seemed to take offense at his braggadocio. Only me. The natural gas guys clapped him on the back and congratulated him on the delicious rib eye in his future.


It makes me wonder why unions are so often made to seem the villain and guys like this are seen as good ol’ boys at best and merely innocuous at worst.


I teach young children how to read and write. I open their minds to the world around them and show them how to think critically. I raise up the weak and give succor to the needy.


What value does he add to society? Seriously! How does he make the world one bit better than the way he found it?


Yes, I am a union employee and proud of it. I collectively bargain for a fair wage. I band together with my colleagues for a middle class income so I can afford to be a teacher. I demand professionalism and autonomy so I can do the job. I seek fair treatment so I’m not constantly looking over my shoulder in case a school board member would rather give my job to one of his cousins. And if you’re going to fire me, I ask for due process – proof of wrongdoing.


Somehow in the eyes of the public this makes me a monster.


But this guy gives you nothing. He provides no return on your investment except that he stifles me.


He makes it harder if not impossible for me to stay in the profession. He works so I can’t support my family. He endeavors for me to be paid the minimum wage so I won’t be able to come home and help my daughter with her homework but instead will have to move on to my second or third job. He argues that I should not be considered a professional and should not be treated like an intelligent person with an advanced degree but should be a factory widget who does as he’s told. He tries to make anxiety my normal state. And he seeks to ensure I can be fired at will with no proof, no reason, just an employers whim.


If he achieves his ends, my students will not have a productive atmosphere in which to learn. When you weaken teachers, you weaken students. We all say to put the kids first, but you can’t do that when you put teachers last.


He does all this and still has the gall to boast of it aloud in public. All while I stay silent, seethe and silently rave.


So we got on our plane, and when we landed in Texas went our separate ways.


I spent the weekend fighting for children and families. He partied with his partners. As a taxpayer, you pay a lot of money for his services. I’m a bargain, a steal. You get next to nothing from him. I open the gates for the next generation.


And somehow I’m the bad guy.

Fighting for Public Schools Means Fighting Against Systemic Racism – United Opt Out Education and Civil Rights Summit


What do you do when you hold a civil rights summit and none of the big names show up?

That’s what happened last weekend when United Opt Out (UOO) held its Education and Civil Rights Summit in Houston, Texas.

We invited everybody.

We invited the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). We invited the National Council of La Raza “The People,” the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Urban League and several others.

None came.

But instead we were host to many of these organizations individual members.
Just how many people came to the Lone Star State for the summit? Thousands? Hundreds?

More like dozens.

Not only did the major civil rights groups neglect to send their leadership, but the bulk of our nation’s education activists also stayed away.

United Opt Out had just gone through a major reorganization on philosophical grounds. Only three of its long-time board members remain – Denisha Jones, Ruth Rodriguez and Ceresta Smith. They have since been joined by five new directors – Gus Morales, Zakary Rodriguez, Erika Strauss Chavarria, Deborah Anderson and Steven Singer (me).

The directors that left the group did so for various reasons, but some of them split along ideological lines. Some thought United Opt Out shouldn’t work with labor leaders or civil rights groups that weren’t perfectly aligned with all of UOO’s goals. So they left. Those who stayed are committed to working with almost anyone to push forward the cause, piece-by-piece if necessary.

As a result, this organization that had been growing by leaps and bounds, finds itself starting afresh. While last year’s conference in Philadelphia drew progressive luminaries like Chris Hedges, Jill Stein and Bill Ayers, this year’s gathering was more low key.

But it was far from somber. In fact, the board’s vision was vindicated in the most amazing way during the summit.

As Jesse “The Walking Man” Turner discussed the importance of reframing school policy to include students basic humanity, Gus looked up from his phone and announced, “The NAACP just ratified its moratorium on charter schools!”

We all stopped what we were doing and went to our phones and computers for verification. Denisha found it first and read the resolution in full.

We cheered, laughed and hugged each other.

This was exactly the kind of change we’ve been talking about! In fact, Julian Vasquez Heilig, education chair of the California and Hawaiian NAACP chapter, had originally been scheduled at the summit as a keynote speaker. When the resolution that he had been instrumental in crafting came up for a vote at the national NAACP meeting, he understandably had to cancel with us. Clearly he was needed elsewhere.

And now one of the largest civil rights organizations in the country has taken a strong stance on charter schools. Not only does the NAACP oppose charters as a solution to inequities experienced by children of color, they’ve now gone beyond mere ideology. They’re calling for action – no new charter schools.

It is a tremendous victory for parents, children and teachers everywhere. And a much needed win for civil rights and education activists. The civil rights community (including the Black Lives Matter movement) is starting to acknowledge that Brown vs. Board is right – we cannot have “separate but equal” school systems because when they’re separate, they’re rarely equal.

Let me be clear – UOO did not achieve this triumph alone. It took many people, some of whom probably have never heard of us. However, activists supporting our movement such as Julian were strongly involved.

And if we had listened to the naysayers who proposed only working with perfectly like-minded groups, this might never have happened.

As a national organization, the NAACP still supports standardized testing as necessary to hold schools accountable for teaching all students. But this was not always the case.

In October of 2014, there were 11 civil rights groups including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) who wrote a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to reduce standardized testing.

Then in January of 2015, a full 19 Civil Rights organizations including the NAACP wrote to Congress asking lawmakers to preserve annual testing.

What changed in those three months?

All of these organizations accept huge donations from the corporate education reform industry including some of the richest people in the world like Bill Gates. While none of us were present at these decision making sessions, it seems clear that fear of losing their funding may have forced them to make hard compromises.

Should we then as education activists wipe our hands of them? Should we refuse to work with them on some issues because we disagree on others?

United Opt Out says no. We’ll work with almost anyone where we can, when we can. And the results were on display with the NAACP resolution calling for a charter school moratorium.

Perhaps now that we’ve found that common ground on school privatization, we can do the same with standardized testing. Perhaps we can help educate them about the history of this practice, how it was a product of the eugenics movement and has always been used to support white supremacy and keep people of color and the poor in their place.

If we can make that argument, think of the potential. Perhaps leadership at these big civil rights groups would be less willing to compromise if they understood that standardized testing was used to justify mass sterilizations of American citizens and it was greatly admired by the Nazis. Perhaps if they understood that our modern standardized assessments are little better and create a racial proficiency gap by their very design – maybe then threats from rich white philanthropists won’t seem as important. Perhaps if they understood that schools can best be held accountable by reference to the adequacy of the funding they receive and a detailed accounting of what they do with it, these organizations might be less inclined to rely on multiple choice testing.

In fact, this is why we were there together in Houston in the first place. We wanted to make our case to these same civil rights organizations.

They may not have sent their leaders, but their members were already here. And we spent the time working together to find ways to make our case.

It was really quite amazing.

Audrey Amerin-Breadsley, professor and author of the blog Vamboolzed, gave us an incredibly accessible and informative keynote on value-added measures (VAM), the practice of using students test scores as a way to evaluate their teachers. For instance, did you know this common practice was originally based on a model for the cattle industry? It’s junk science and has little relation to education, teachers and students. All it does is pit students and teachers against each other creating a culture of fear where educators can be unfairly fired at any time – not the best environment for learning. Yet ignorant, lazy and/or corrupt bureaucrats still champion it across the country as a solution to improving schools.

Sam Abrams, Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education (NCSPE) and an instructor at Columbia University, explained in minute detail how corporate education reform relies on bad statistics and is bad business. He explained how academics blinded by economics and unencumbered by any real-life experience of public schools came up with this scheme, which has been disproven by the facts again-and-again. Not only do the highest achieving countries such as Finland go a different route, but those that follow this market driven model find student achievement suffering. In short, our current education policies are really faith-based initiatives, a faith in the invisible hand of the market, and an ignorance of reality.

But perhaps most heartening was the series of talks given by the locals. Houston Federation of Teachers is one of the few labor unions to pass a resolution supporting parents rights to opt their children out of standardized testing. In fact, teachers and parents even run a free Opt Out Academy for children not taking the tests so that their education continues while their peers suffer through these useless assessments. We got to meet parent zero, the first parent to refuse testing in the district. We heard the community’s painstaking process of spreading the movement one family at a time. This was in effect an opt out cookbook, a how-to for anyone wishing to bring this social justice action to their own neighborhoods.

It was a weekend to give anyone hope.

We were small but we were powerful. Given a few years to rebuild, UOO could well be much stronger than we once were. Meanwhile parents across the country continue to refuse these tests for their children at an exponential rate.

There are many struggles ahead. But we have made real progress toward our goal of providing an excellent education for all children.

No longer can our governments be allowed to keep discriminating against them based on the color of their skin, their parents bank accounts and other factors. We’re standing for all students, because we don’t see them as consumers or data points. We see them as children, as human beings. And we stand together to protect and preserve that shared humanity.

What better way to spend a weekend?

State Senator To Propose Rewriting PA Charter School Law To Hold the Industry Accountable



Pennsylvania’s charter school law is a national disgrace.


It allows charters to defraud the public and provide a substandard education to our children.


Charter school managers pay themselves with taxpayer money for leases on properties they already own. They funnel money through shell companies into their own pockets. Academic achievement at many charters is far below par.


And it’s all legal.


That’s why state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has long called it the “worst charter school law” in the country. But his call for sweeping reforms from the legislature has fallen on mostly deaf ears.


Until now.


State Sen. Jim Brewster (D-45) is in the early stages of proposing legislation that would ensure charter schools are held as accountable as other public schools.



Specifically it would require these types of schools, which are ostensibly public but privately managed, to be transparent, fiscally solvent and responsible to taxpayers.


“It has become abundantly clear that systemic changes are needed in how brick and mortar and cyber charters operate in Pennsylvania,” Brewster says.  “There is a growing frustration that charters are unaccountable.”


The bill doesn’t have a Senate number yet, nor has its specific language been made available. However, the State Senator from McKeesport announced plans to formally propose it in Harrisburg within the next several weeks.



Brewster’s bill would:

  • Require local school boards to sign off on any new charter construction project costing more than $1 million. The project would have to be backed by a financing arrangement with a local industrial development authority or other government entity. This way charters would have to prove that new construction projects are fiscally sound and won’t be abandoned after wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.


  • Compel charter schools to prove they have the funds to keep running for the entire school year. They would have to post a bond, other type of surety, or agree to a payment escrow arrangement. This would ensure charters don’t close suddenly leaving students and parents in the lurch.



  • Limit the scope of the state Charter School Appeal Board to solely determining whether the local school board acted appropriately in reviewing charter school applications. The state should not be approving new charter schools. That power should remain at the local district level, though the state can determine if local school boards are acting within the bounds of the law.


  • Require officials from the state Department of Education (PDE) to visit the proposed site of a charter school to ascertain the condition of its physical building. Their report will then be made a part of the charter application. This way charters can’t get away with paying themselves for properties they already own and they won’t be able to open with substandard buildings.



  • Mandate that a charter school applicant obtain approval from multiple school districts if the charter school draws more than 25 students from a specific district. Every district impacted by the opening of a new charter should have a say whether it can open.


  • Upgrade accountability by requiring a quarterly report on the operations of the charter school to the local school board – with the report delivered in person by a charter school official. While traditional public schools report on operations monthly, reporting four times annually would greatly increase charter school transparency. At present charters don’t have to provide such reports sometimes for years after opening. Moreover, having a flesh and blood representative of the charter school at these meetings would allow for the public to ask questions about how their money is being spent.



  • Make a structured financial impact statement part of the charter school application. This would include an estimation of enrollment multiplied by tuition payments. The impact statement may serve as the justification for denial of a charter application. This would be huge. Traditional public schools can be sucked dry of funding from fly-by-night charters without their record of proven success. Necessitating an impact statement of this kind would truly make the local district and the charter school educational partners and not competing foes.


  • Increase the percentage of certified teachers at charters from 75 percent to 90 percent of faculty, though current faculty would be grandfathered in. Except under extreme circumstances, all teachers at traditional public schools are certified. Making charters raise the bar close to that of traditional public schools is an improvement – though Brewster has in the past proposed legislation to require 100 percent of charter teachers to be certified. It’s unclear why he’s settled on 90 percent here.


  • Prohibit charter board members from receiving payments for school lease arrangements.  This issue was highlighted in August in the auditor general’s report where he found $2.5 million tax dollars being defrauded in this way. Charter operators have complained that nothing they did was illegal. This measure would ensure that in the future such moves would be explicit violations of the law.



  • Impose a moratorium on the approval of new cyber-charter schools since their academic performance has been so consistently below that of traditional public schools and brick-and-mortar charters. In fact, A recent nationwide study found that cyber charters provide 180 days less of math instruction and 72 days less of reading than traditional public schools. (By the way, there are only 180 days in an average school year.)


Brewster said these reforms offer a place to begin real robust regulation of the charter industry. However, he is open to adding others.


“The auditor general has made a number of worthwhile recommendations and I’ve combined some of these ideas with other features to produce what I believe is an excellent starting point for comprehensive reform,” he says.


“We need to dig deep and look critically at the charter law to make sweeping changes. In this year alone, the auditor general has pointed out that the reimbursement process is flawed, that there were too many reimbursement appeals and that the cyber charter law reeked with ethical issues, poor oversight and a lack of transparency.


“It is clear that the charter law is not helping schools, charters themselves or the taxpayers.”


There are more than 150 charter schools statewide enrolling more than 128,000 students, according to state data. Nearly half of these schools are in the Philadelphia area.

Two years ago, DePasquale released a set of specific recommendations to improve the charter law, which Brewster drew upon when writing his proposed legislation. DePasquale’s suggestions called for an independent board to oversee charter school processes and functions — including lease reimbursements and student enrollment. He also suggested public hearings involving charter changes, limits on fund balances and guidelines on calculating teacher certification benchmarks.


Brewster said he is not unduly singling out the charter school industry. He says he is confident making these changes will help charter schools by ensuring only high quality institutions are allowed in the Commonwealth.


The Democrat Representing the 45th legislative District says he realizes that October is late in the year to be proposing such sweeping changes. He is doing so now to raise awareness of the issue, though he doesn’t expect it to come to a vote until the next legislative session at the earliest.


He hopes to bring up many of these issues tomorrow (Oct. 13) at a Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing at the Monroeville Municipal Building in Monroeville in his district.


The legislature tried to pass a charter school reform bill (House Bill 530 ) this summer but it had been rewritten into more giveaways to the industry than regulations. For instance, it would have allowed charters to open almost anywhere in the state without approval from local school districts. As such, it lost support.


Government watchers cautioned that this charter Trojan Horse bill might rear its ugly head again in Harrisburg. Here’s hoping that Brewster’s bill has more success and isn’t likewise bastardized into a piece of legislation that gives away the store.


If there’s one thing most people agree about in the Keystone state, it’s that we need charter school reform. Brewster’s Bill may be the answer to our prayers.

What If Clinton and Trump Debated Education Policy?


The second Presidential debate was a bust for the millions of Americans who care about public schools.


Instead, we got Donald Trump mansplaining away his vagina-grabbing days. We got Hillary Clinton blaming Machiavellian duplicity on a movie about Abraham Lincoln. But not a word about K-12 education.


After all these debates in the primary and only one more debate left in the general, it seems a pattern is emerging. The media just doesn’t ask the kind of questions parents, teachers and students really care about. After all, there is no defined position staked out by each political party on schools and schooling. Both sides are kind of the same. Asking about it wouldn’t support the usual narratives about so-called “conservatives” and “liberals.”


So once again I appeal to the power of education bloggery to give you what I imagine a debate on this subject might sound like from Clinton and Trump.


Hold on to your pussies. Here goes…



Me: Thank you, Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump, for being here today to talk about education issues.


Clinton: You’re very welcome.


Trump: (sniff) Yes. I am very glad to be here. No one cares more about education than me. Okay?


Clinton: Well, hold on there, Donald. I’ve spent my entire career fighting for kids and families…


Trump: (sniff. sniff.) What about the kids and families of Benghazi?


Me: O-kay! Let’s begin. Shall we? This question is for both of you. How would you describe your education vision? Mr. Trump, you won the coin toss, so you go first.


Trump: Thank you, Steven. And let me just say I have lots of education vision. My education vision is just tremendous. I think public schools are the most important thing in our country. The taxes we pay for them are just incredibly high. No one pays more taxes for schools than we do. Not the French. Not the Chinese. Not the Russians. And as President I would make America great again by cutting taxes on schools. The business community doesn’t need this. It hurts competition and that hurts education. And there are too many taxes for you regular people out there, too. Unlike my opponent, she’s just terrible. Isn’t she, folks? I’d cut taxes while she would raise them.


Me: Your time is up, Mr. Trump.


Trump: …and I just want to say this one last thing, Steven. Hillary Clinton is a liar. And I would never lie like her. Ask Bernie Sanders about that.


Me: Thank you, Mr. Trump. Secretary Clinton? Same question.


Clinton: Thank you, Steven. I want to take this opportunity to thank you, personally, for being here. As a country, we don’t appreciate teachers enough. You are our number one resource. And a renewable resource. Right? You can clap here, People. Ha! Ha! But seriously my vision for education is a strong one. I’ve fought for children and families all my life as First lady of Arkansas, as First Lady of the United States, as a U.S. Senator and as Secretary of State. You might say that I am the most qualified candidate for President in U.S. history.


Me: Thank you. Madame Secretary. Though I wish you had answered the question.


Clinton: Oh I will answer the question. That’s why I have been endorsed by the largest teachers unions in the country…


Me: Next question. Secretary Clinton, you mention your experience. Some have criticized you for putting the needs of Wall Street ahead of working families. How would you prioritize the needs of students and parents over the corporations and edu-tech industry?


Clinton: As you said, Steven, I’ve been around a long time. I’ve seen a thing or two. Like you, I’ve raised a daughter and know how to navigate the pitfalls of our education system. And, honestly, I don’t think we have to have a conflict of interests between business and education.


Trump: Crazy Bernie says differently.


Clinton: …I see our public schools and public charter schools working together hand-in-hand to provide our children with a world class education. You know my husband and I have long supported…


Trump: You should be in jail.


Clinton: Donald, I think this is my time. Is this my time, Steven?


Me: Yes, Mr. Trump. Please stop interrupting. You’ll have a chance to respond.


Trump: Sorry, Steven. I’m just not used to a woman talking for so long. It’s exhausting.


Clinton: Anyway, I’ve always been a booster for higher academic standards. And as President I would do everything I can to make sure our students get the best education possible.


Me: Mr. Trump. Same question.


Trump: What was that question again, Steven? I kind of forgot while I was listening to that long speech she just gave. Talk. Talk. Talk. This isn’t the Bengazhi commission, Hillary, but I wish it was. Trey Gowdy…


Me: Mr. Trump. The question was “How would you prioritize the needs of students and parents over the corporations and edu-tech industry?”


Trump: Students and parents? They’re just wonderful. We need more students, but I guess that’s where parents come in. That’s why I had so many kids, and they’re all so successful. We didn’t stop with just one. We raised one, two, three… a whole bunch of them. And they’re just tremendous. So I would definitely make sure their needs were being met. Their needs are my needs and so, of course, I would make sure they were being met. You know, perhaps she should have spent more time meeting her husbands needs. Do you know what I mean?


Me: Mr. Trump, the question was about corporations servicing public schools.


Trump: (sniff.) In that case, I’d service corporations. I believe in business. I’ve been a businessman all my life. Very successful. No one knows success like Trump. And I’ve just got to say we all might have been better off in the ‘90s if she had serviced her husband more. I have to tell you.



Me: You are disgusting.


Trump: (shrugs) This debate is rigged.


Me: The next question is for you, Mr. Trump. Whenever you’ve spoken out on education issues, you’ve consistently criticized Common Core. As President, what would you do about Common Core and what role do you think is appropriate for a President in setting national education policy?


Trump: Common Core? I’m against it. It’s no secret. I think it’s been just terrible. It’s been a disaster. A national disaster. And one of the first things I’d do – well the first thing I’d do is throw you in jail…


Clinton: Donald, I…


Trump: But after that I’d get rid of Common Core. There would be no more Common Core. Our kids don’t need Fed Ed. Period. They need more choice. Parents should get to pick the schools they send their kids to. We should stand back and let the parents choose. That’s what I did for Ivanka and my other children and they turned out just fine. Don’t you think they turned out fine, folks? You all saw them on my hit TV shows ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’ Those were great shows. Award-winning TV. Must See Television. Those were good days.


Me: Secretary Clinton. Same question.


Clinton: Thank you, Steven. I appreciate the quality of your questions. It’s clear that this debate has been put together by educators and not representatives of the media. Though I thoroughly support the field of journalism as a profession and a calling.


Trump: You never had a TV show.


Clinton: As to Common Core, I just want to ask Donald something.


Trump: (pops a Tic Tac) It’s surprising you’re going to give up your time to let me talk. I have to say. This is the first time you’ve let somebody else talk…


Clinton: How do you propose to get rid of Common Core when the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives that power back to the states?


Trump: (sniff.) E-S-S-A? Never heard of it. I’ll have to ask Mike Pence about it. But the President can do what he wants. You know the old saying, folks: it’s good to be the king.


Clinton: You talk a good game about states rights, Donald, but when you propose getting rid of Common Core, you’re proposing a federal policy that takes away states rights. Every state legislature has the power to change academic standards or retain…


Me: Secretary Clinton, that may be true, but the question was meant for you. What would YOU do about Common Core as President?


Clinton: Nothing. I would respect the law.


Trump: THAT’S a first!


Clinton: I would encourage states to adopt high academic standards and if those standards were the same as Common Core then so be it.


Me: How would you encourage them? By withholding federal grant money like the Obama administration did?


Clinton: I… I think the federal government has a strong role to play in the education of our children. But I would not violate the spirit of the ESSA, unlike Donald. He says he’s for states rights but he calls for a bigger federal power grab than anything my party has ever participated in.


Trump: (sniff.) Wrong.


Me: Okay. Next question. Since we’re talking about the federal role in education, let me ask you both what role you see for the U.S. Department of Education under your administration and whom would you nominate as Education Secretary? Secretary Clinton. You go first.



Clinton: Thank you, Steven. As I said, I believe in the Department of Education. I believe in the Secretary of Education. I believe in teachers. And if we’re going to give our students a leg up – all of our students – then we need to strengthen our public schools and public charter schools. That’s where the Department of Education comes in. Not to enforce education policy but to set the agenda. It helps the states get things done through competitive grants, research and data collection.


Me: So whom would you nominate to head the department?


Clinton: I would have to talk about that with my advisors…


Me: Give us the shortlist.


Clinton: Perhaps someone like John King.


Me: John King!?


Clinton: He’s already there and as my daddy said, if it ain’t broke do not fix it.


Me: Mr. Trump. Same question. What in your opinion is the federal role in national education policy?


Trump: Well, Steven, I don’t think there is one. You know the government that governs best governs least. I learned that from my good friend, Gary Busey. You know? Come to think of it, he’d make a pretty good Secretary of Education, but no. One of the first things I would do is completely disband the Department of Education. On day one. Gone.


Me: So what would happen to Pell Grants, for example, and all the federal money that helps buoy our public schools?


Trump: Do we need it? I was able to raise my family without any help from the federal government.


Clinton: Unless you count your nine bankruptcies, and using loopholes to avoid paying any federal income taxes for over a decade at least.


Trump: I did it all on my own. My father gave me a loan but I made it pay out for me so I could build the Trump empire.


Me: Didn’t you inherit most of your money?


Trump: I’m surprised at you, Steven. I expect something like that from her. She’s bleeding from her… whatever. But you should know better. You think Americans are stupid. And I just think they are strong enough to do it on their own. They don’t need the government to help. We don’t need the regulation, the taxation. Parents can use state money to choose and that will be good enough. Let the free market decide.


Me: Okay. Next question. Standardized testing has come under fire for assessing children’s economic situation more than what they’ve learned. Would you continue to mandate annual testing for all public schools? Mr. Trump?


Trump: I dunno. I’ll have to ask Pence on this one.


Me: You have to ask your vice president what to think on standardized testing!?


Trump: Yes. I mean no. I’m not really sure. Could you make this one multiple choice?


Me: Secretary Clinton? Same question.


Clinton: Standardized testing has been an important part of how we hold school districts accountable. While I understand the concern about over-testing, I think it is important we keep testing our children in grades 3-8 and once in high school. It helps us make sure our schools are meeting all our students’ needs and not violating their civil rights. Many of my former colleagues in the Senate expressed the same concern you mention, Steven, but changed their minds when they were approached by various civil rights organizations…


Me: Many prominent civil rights organizations such as Journey for Justice and various chapters of the NAACP still oppose testing. Why do you chose to side with the organizations who are beholden to the testing industry for their funding?


Clinton: I think… maybe we can give the situation more study and find solutions that would satisfy both the civil rights organizations and testing critics. But it is imperative that schools are held accountable…


Me: What about politicians? Shouldn’t they be held accountable for adequately funding our public schools? That’s why schools struggle. They serve poor populations and don’t have the resources to help their kids excel.


Clinton: This is something you’re obviously passionate about. I have always listened to teachers and with the NEA and AFT would strive to work together to find a solution that’s mutually beneficial to everyone.


Me: Okay. Last question. Since you brought up civil rights, Secretary Clinton, one of the biggest issues facing our schools today is segregation. Many modern schools are as segregated or more segregated by race and socio-economic status than they were before Brown vs. Board. What would you do about that?


Clinton: That is a problem. We must make sure that all our students needs are being met. We cannot let our schools revert to old bad habits. We cannot have schools for blacks and schools for whites. Black lives matter – even when they’re in school. As President, I would make sure everyone had the opportunity to go to the best schools possible. Students who don’t get what they need at school end up on the streets. They feed the school-to-prison pipeline. They end up lost, and many of them become super-predators.


Trump: (laughs)


Me: Isn’t that the term you used as First Lady to describe black youth when your husband’s mandatory sentencing policies expanded our prison population exponentially?


Clinton: Yes and I stand by that statement. We need to help minorities rise above their circumstances. We need to give them a helping hand. They deserve all the same amenities my daughter had, because all lives matter…. Oh shit.


Me: Mr. Trump? Your response?


Trump: Do I have to?


Me: Yes.


Trump: Okay then. Let me just say that segregation is a bad thing. It’s terrible. I’m not exactly sure why but that’s what I’m hearing. We need to make sure only the best students get to go to the best schools and the worst students get their own schools, schools that are right for them. That’s why we need school choice to weed out the worst kids and let them go to the schools that are right for them.


Me: Isn’t that just segregation?


Trump: N…No. That was a really stupid thing to say. Too many people are just stupid today. That’s why I’m going to make America great again. We’re going to have the best schools. You won’t even believe it. They’ll be just the best anyone has ever seen. Okay?


Me: But they’ll be separate schools for blacks and whites? Rich and poor?


Trump: I’d like to pass, Steven.


Me: Okay. That’s all the time we have for today. I’d like to thank both candidates for coming…


Trump: Steven, I just want to say one last thing.


Me: O-kay.


Trump: I… uh… I never grabbed anyone’s pussy. That was just locker room talk.


Clinton: Oh please! It’s just that kind of talk that empowers rapists…


Me: Thank you both for coming…


Trump: Your husband certainly understands this, Hillary. Men like us with such big hands, we’ve never had any complaints. You know? Here let me show you. (reaches into pants.)



Me: Cut their microphones please. Call security on, Mr. Trump. Thank you, everyone, for coming. We’ll see you at the polls in November. Just remember, you picked these two assholes. We could have had Bernie Sanders but we’re left with these two tools. This is your democracy at work. We should have let Jill Stein in here to class up the joint. Oh well. Goodnight and good luck.

If I Were Secretary of Education – A Classroom Teacher’s Fantasy


I will never be Secretary of Education.

Frankly, I’m just not qualified.

I’m only a classroom teacher. The powers that be don’t trust someone like me with that kind of responsibility. It’s okay to give me a roomful of impressionable children everyday, but there’s no confidence I can make sound policy decisions. For that we need someone with experience in management – not schools, pedagogy, children or psychology.

The presiding incumbent in this prestigious position, John King, somehow overcame that handicap. He had taught for three whole years at a charter school, but the bulk of his experience is in administration – administrating a Boston charter school with high suspension and attrition rates. He also was New York State Education Commissioner, where he single-handedly dismantled the state system of education and sparked one of the largest parental revolts in the nation in the state’s opt out movement.

The previous Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was much more qualified, having never taught a day in his life. Before getting Congressional approval, he was appointed to run a charter school and later was entrusted as CEO of Chicago City Schools where he likewise blundered his way to the top with policy decisions that devastated a great system of public education.

What do I have to offer compared to all that? I only have more than a decade’s worth of experience helping kids learn. I’m only one of 3% of teachers nationwide who are Nationally Board Certified. I’ve only earned a Masters degree in Education. I only help run a more than 56,000 member national education advocacy group, the Badass Teachers Association, and write a popular blog dedicated to education and civil rights.


I’ve never sunk a major metropolitan school. I’ve never been run out of a populous state chased by citizens armed with torches and pitchforks.

But let’s close our eyes and imagine that somehow through the magic of education bloggery I was whisked into office at the U.S. Department of Education.

What would a person like me do as Secretary?

1) Respect the Limits of the Job

Though George W. Bush and Barack Obama come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, these two Presidents did more to increase the powers of the Department of Education than any chief executives before them. They turned it into – as former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander puts it – a national school board with the Secretary was the national superintendent.

The department forced test and punishment policies on the states, cudgeled and bribed state officials to enact lousy Common Core Standards, and held federal grants hostage unless states accepted every corporate education reform scheme big business could think up.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a New Deal Franklin D. Roosevelt Democrat, but even I think these two administrations blatantly abused their power and overstepped their Constitutional authority.

So the first thing I would do is take a step back and follow the law. The recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) sets explicit limits on federal power over education policy returning much of it to the states. As Education Secretary, I would respect the power of the states to control public education. It is the state’s job to set policy. It is the federal government’s job to provide support, encouragement and oversight.

Therefore, the role of the Department of Education is to ensure public schools are being properly funded, civil rights are not being violated and to be a repository for national data and research. I’d dedicate myself to that – not some corporate fueled power trip that both parties condemn except when they’re practicing it.

2) Push for More Federal Funding for Public Schools

Therefore, the first thing I would do is use the full power of the office to ensure the federal government is giving its utmost to help state public schools. I would use whatever grants were available to increase federal funding to the most impoverished schools. I would fully fund Title I. I would increase the federal share of Special Education – (Under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) the federal government is supposed to fund 40% of the per pupil cost of all special education students but has never met this obligation. I would seek to rectify that if possible.) I would enact a national after school tutoring initiative. I would provide funding to hire additional teachers to reduce class size.  And as far as is possible, I would forgive college students loan debt so they can begin their lives with a clean slate.

This is something that those who seek to disband the U.S. Department of Education never seem to understand. The federal government has an important role to play in our school systems. It’s not the unfounded power grab of the last few decades, but we need another robust player on the field to help the states achieve their goals and also to keep the states honest.

If we disbanded the Department of Education, as some conservatives from Reagan to Paul to Cruz to Trump suggest, what would happen to Pell Grants, for instance? What would happen to the bundles of federal money that boost our public schools? Who would make sure states are doing their jobs? Where could we go to find accurate data about how our schools are doing nationally and not just state-by-state?

If we got rid of the department, at best these jobs would fall back on other government agencies that haven’t the funding, staff or ability to accomplish them. More likely, it would result in the elimination of billions of education dollars that the states simply couldn’t (or wouldn’t) replace. Abuses against students on the grounds of civil rights, gender, special education, etc. would skyrocket with little to no recourse. And we would be in the dark about how well we were educating our nation’s children.

3) Encourage States to Enact Accountability Measures that Don’t Include Standardized Testing

Accountability has become a dirty word in many education circles because of the way the Bush and Obama administrations have perverted it to mean test and punish. It has become a boondoggle for the standardized testing industry, an excuse to close poorly funded and often urban public schools to be replaced by unaccountable charter schools. While this is a terrible misuse of federal power, states must be responsible for the education they provide their children. And contrary to popular belief, this can be accomplished without resorting to the usual corporate reform measures.

As Secretary, I would put an immediate stop to the era of test and punish at the federal level. As it stands, the ESSA allows states to determine what they will use to demonstrate their educational progress for students. This is a state decision, but I would encourage states not to use standardized testing. I would offer to help any state interested to find new ways to show accountability. For instance, districts could submit to a simple audit showing student-teacher ratios, per pupil funding, discipline data broken out by race, degree of segregation, richness of the curriculum, etc.

Let me be clear: it is up to states to make these decisions. As Secretary, I would have no power to force legislatures or departments of education to do any of this. However, I’m willing to bet that many states would be excited by these possibilities and jump at the opportunity. Helping them achieve this would be my job.

4) Stop Federal Funding to Charter Schools, Teach for America and Common Core

Speaking of encouragement, I would stop all federal help for corporate education reform policies. That means turning off the money faucet for programs that enrich corporations and big business at the expense of school children.

This means not one more federal dollar to help private companies open new charter schools. Teach for America would have to rely on its corporate donors, not the taxpayers. And the Common Core gravy train would come to a screeching halt. No more money to help states enact the standards, no more bags of cash for book publishers and test manufacturers.

If states that had enacted the Core wanted to keep it, fine. If not, fine. But they would be on their own.

(In a sad aside, opposition to Common Core is most virulent from conservatives, yet there are an awful lot of state legislatures completely in GOP control that could get rid of Common Core tomorrow but which have done – and continue to do – nothing about it. No matter who the next Education Secretary is, the fate of Common Core is in the hands of state legislatures across the country – not the President, not Congress and not the Education Secretary. There’s far too much rhetoric and not nearly enough action.)

5) Do Everything I Can to Increase Teacher Autonomy, Respect, Pay and Training

Finally, I would use my position as Education Secretary to boost the greatest resource we have to help students learn – teachers. I would speak out on the need for educators to have autonomy in the classroom so they are empowered to meet student needs. I would work to increase public perception and respect for the profession. We simply can’t afford teacher bashing, because when you disrespect educators, you reduce their power to help kids. I would boost teachers pay through matching state grants. If you want the best possible teachers, you have to pay for them. If you want to attract the best people to the field, you need to ensure they will have a reliable middle class income and not have to work a second job or use their own money to buy school supplies. I would invest federal funds in training programs so the newest crop of teachers are up to date with the latest pedagogy and techniques. I would encourage more people of color to enter the field. And I would partner with teachers unions to strengthen protections for teachers while educating the public on the meaning of due process and the reality that strong unions mean fewer bad teachers in the classroom.


Are there more things we need to do to help improve our national system of public education? Certainly.


We need to start integrating schools again and stop the constant push to segregate through charter schools and white flight. We need to ensure every student receives adequate, equitable, sustainable funding. We need to change charter school laws so that they can’t cherry pick students and are as transparent and accountable as traditional public schools. We need to stop closing struggling schools and address root causes. We need to stop state takeovers except under the most dire of circumstances and set limits on how long states can stay in control. And we need to pass strong student privacy laws – even updating the Family Education Privacy Act (FERPA) to protect our children from predatory ed-tech companies that constantly data mine students and sell millions of data points on our children to the highest bidder.

There are a whole host of things needing done. However, most of these things go beyond the powers of the Department of Education and its cabinet level Secretary. They can only be addressed by the President, Congress, state legislatures and/or the court system. The Education Department can help steer that agenda, it can be an ally to real positive change, but it can’t go it alone.

Unfortunately, no matter who wins the Presidency in November – Clinton or Trump – neither seems likely to nominate an Education Secretary who would do any of the things I’ve outlined.


For all his talk of reducing the size of the government, Trump proposes increasing the federal footprint with school choice initiatives turning the Department of Education into a wheelbarrow marked “free money” for big business and parochial schools while forcing states to accept his school policies. Meanwhile, Clinton is likely to continue the course set by Bush and Obama of embracing every corporate school reform package from which Wall Street benefits.

It’s a crazy time full of crazy candidates and crazy solutions, but of this we can be sure – no one is crazy enough to let a teacher make decisions about public education policy.