Imposing Slavery at Home and Empire Abroad
On the surface, the Common Core program, which deals with education, and the NSA, part of the Pentagon’s war machine, would not appear to be similar. However, a closer examination reveals common qualities. Among these are the removal of vital public matters from the public domain, utilizing more and more secrecy; data mining on a massive scale serving private monopoly interests; and eliminating the role of public governance, including elected legislatures at all levels, from a decision making role. Both have in place machinery that is arbitrary, anti-public and serving to humiliate and control people on a broad scale.
War and peace are vital social matters, for the peoples here and abroad. Decisions concerning them belong in the public domain. Similarly, public education and public schools are vital social matters belonging to the public and also connected to the future of society.
Yet decisions concerning both are increasingly concentrated in the hands of the executive, like the president or governors and secretaries of defense and education. Discussion about the information and considerations going into decisions are systematically being removed from the public domain, and more and more being kept secret. The public is being rendered as a force unable to govern and decide any significant matter.
No one is to know why the spying and metadata is needed, how they in any way contribute to peace and security. On the contrary, the government repeats that it must keep such matters secret. It is a situation where no one feels more secure and most feel humiliated and abused.
When it comes to the Common Core testing regime, a main feature is that the Common Core is privately owned and the tests themselves are closely guarded secrets. Teachers are forced to sign a waiver saying they will not discuss the tests and doing so can be grounds for firing. Why the secrecy if these tests are supposed to improve education? Public debate would serve to contend with the problems with the tests and testing regime, yet it is being blocked. The only role for the public is to accept the Core — and the broad humiliation and abuse it involves.
While the massive metadata collection by the NSA is well known, what is less known is that a similar level of data collection and data mining is taking place in the public schools. Microsoft and other monopolies are using public education as a means to grab more and more of the public treasury, and the government is making sure they succeed. A private data collection monopoly called inBloom is working directly with the states to secure massive amounts of private data of students and teachers. This is being done without the consent of parents or teachers. And the data is not to serve education but rather the private interests of the monopolies involved, like Microsoft. InBloom will be selling the information to other private monopolies as well as using it to bully schools into buying testing and related software “necessary” to implement the Common Core. New York is one of the main states already handing over such information.
Private monopolies get to see, discuss and sell private, personal student and teacher information, without any consent from parents or education workers, while teachers and students are told they cannot even discuss (or see, in the case of parents) the tests.
It is not the tests or test policies alone that are the problem. It is not the NSA spying and metadata collection alone that are the problem. Both reflect the growing arbitrary anti-public power imposing them. Both reflect governing arrangements where the role of elected governance, and the public more generally, is being eliminated and arbitrary anti-public executive rule is put in place. This arbitrary power is serving the private narrow interests of the most powerful monopolies. And because it is arbitrary, it uses violence, threats and humiliation as a means to control the public. The NSA spying says the U.S. will do what it wants, when it wants, to whoever it wants. The Common Core regime and InBloom spying say public schools are no longer for purposes of educating the youth, but rather for purposes of regulating youth and labor for the narrow benefit of the super rich.
What the NSA and Common Core have in common is that they are about imposing a high-tech form of slavery at home and U.S. empire abroad. They bring to the fore that it is not only the spying and testing that need to be confronted, it is the arbitrary, anti-public executive power that also must be confronted. For the public schools to serve the public good, they must be accountable to and governed by the public. Similarly, for peace and security to prevail, it is the people themselves who must govern and decide. It is by defending public right and expanding the role of the public in governance — including organizing public meetings by and for the public on these vital social matters, that further steps can be taken to empower the people to govern and decide.
Parents Demand NYSED Say No to InBloom
Many parents are demanding that the NY State Education Department (NYSED) stop its cooperation with inBloom Inc. InBloom was created and funded with $100 million by the Bill Gates and Carnegie Foundations. It is a private company making arrangements with states to have them turn over confidential and personally identifiable student and teacher data. This information — including student names, addresses, economic standing, race, grades, test scores, disciplinary status, special education status, and more — is being gathered, starting in kindergarten, without the consent of parents and without any public control over its use.
Despite broad outrage and opposition from parents and teachers, New York is currently the only inBloom partner nationwide sharing data involving the personal information of 3.6 million students. InBloom then uses this information to further the Gates-developed Common Core program, including selling testing and other software programs to schools. It also sells the data to other for-profit vendors.
The data is being stored on a cloud run by Amazon.com, with an operating system by Wireless/Amplify, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation — already known to illegally use such information for its private, profit-making interests. InBloom has also said it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored.” It has secured agreements from New York that it is not responsible for any breaches in security or use of the data by others. So, while New York will be required to pay inBloom to store the data (by 2015), it is New York State, not inBloom, who will be responsible for any lawsuit brought for misuse of the data.
Tell NYSED No! to InBloom
One organizing effort among parents is to send letters to NYSED Commissioner King demanding that their children’s data not be sent to inBloom. We reprint below a sample of the letters being used and encourage parents to join this effort, alongside those to refuse the testing regime.
Dear Commissioner King:
As a parent, I was appalled to learn, as a Reuters article confirms, that the NY State Education Department is planning to share the most private, confidential data of my child and all NYS public school students with a corporation called inBloom Inc., that will store this highly sensitive information on a vulnerable data cloud and disclose it to for-profit vendors.
This data will include children’s personally identifiable information, including names, addresses, phone numbers, grades, test scores, detailed disciplinary records, health conditions, special education and economic status.
This data will include children’s personally identifiable information, including names, addresses, phone numbers, grades, test scores, detailed disciplinary records, health conditions, special education and economic status.
InBloom Inc. has already stated that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored…or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.” All this is happening without parental notification or consent.
I hereby OPT my child’s data out of this plan, and demand that you do NOT disclose any of my child’s personally identifiable educational records with ANY third party, including the Gates Foundation, inBloom Inc. or ANY other private entity or corporation.
I DO NOT give my consent. Instead, I urge you to hold public hearings in NYC and throughout the state to explain the purpose of this project, offer all New York parents the right to consent, and inform the public who will be legally and financially responsible if this highly sensitive data leaks out or is used in an unauthorized fashion. I expect to hear back from you immediately as to whether you will honor my request to withhold my child’s private and confidential educational records.
If not, I will call your office until you do so. I am outraged at this plan, which not only violates every ethical standard, but also your commitment as the state’s highest educational official to protect my child from harm.
The current teacher evaluation regime being imposed involves a 1-100 rating system, with teachers rated as ineffective, developing, effective and highly effective. As with all the testing the “cut score” — the cut off number for each of the four categories — is determined by the New York State Education Department (NYSED). The federal government and private owners of the Common Core likely also play a role, but since it is kept secret, like the tests themselves, it is not known. The ratings, like the tests, are being rejected by many as arbitrary and inaccurate, falsely labeling teachers as “ineffective” and “developing.”
NYSED and others pushing the Common Core like to point out that the portion of the rating involving student test scores usually accounts for 20-40 percent of the score. The other 60 percent is supposed to come from classroom reviews done by the principal. What is left out is that in most cases, a “failing” rate for the portion connected with the tests requires a “failing” rate, or “ineffective” overall.
As well, as the article below indicates, every effort is now being made to make certain that the evaluations done by the principals or other administrators are consistent with the Common Core regime. Principals are not going to be free to make their own judgments and assessments based on their knowledge and experience with teachers and students in their schools and more generally. Instead, they are all being “calibrated” to provide the assessments demanded by the private owners of the Common Core and their monopoly partners, like Microsoft. NYSED is facilitating this and paying for the “calibration training” required. This training is yet another means to remove any decision making from those directly involved in educating the youth — the students, teachers, principals and parents themselves — while also “calibrating all concerned to be god and willing slaves. We reprint below an article on the “calibration events” by Carol Burris, principal in Long Island.
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“I hope I’m not sounding like an elitist,” my friend the music director said. “But I’ve got a problem with being ‘trained.’ You train a puppy to not jump on the couch and a parakeet to poop on the cage paper…but people? Don’t we educate people?”
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Calibration,” he replied. “They want to calibrate us with a Calibration Event… But I am not a machine. I’m a man, not a printer.”
I worried I might need the school nurse.
The Music Man explained. He had just returned from Teacher Evaluator Year 2 training. I stopped worrying about his mental hygiene. This was a healthy response, I thought. “So the class began with a video,” he said.
“Not the one that likened the teacher evaluation plans to a plane being built in the air again?” I groaned.
“No. It was an old ‘think different’ commercial from Apple,” he said. “But here’s the thing. After they made us watch a video about how important it is to think differently, the rest of the day they tried to make us all think the same…The commercial said ‘think out of the box’ but they wanted us to be in the same box…to sync up with the Master ‘oda.”
I tried to listen to the last word as the second period bell rang. “Why would they want us to sync with the Master Yoda?” I wondered as the Music Man sadly walked away.
Two days later I would understand. It was my time to be calibrated, and off to BOCES [Boards of Cooperative Educational Services] I went. Apparently, the reformers of New York had been having Calibration Events with ambassadors who even got to attend a Gates Ambassador Reception. Now it was their turn to bring the Calibration Event to us.
“Wow,” I thought, “This is sounding more like Star Wars all the time.” I was disappointed. I was not to be synced with the Master Yoda but rather with the Master Coder, the recently calibrated Ambassador told our class.
Master Coder? Our curiosity was piqued. An administrator from another district asked who the Master Coder was. “He is someone in Albany; we do not know who,” was the reply. “Well, at least they had the sense not to call him the Master Rater,” a colleague chuckled. I sighed and dropped my head.
The trainers went on to explain why we were there. We would have four sessions to prepare for Calibration Day. We would learn “the tool,” and watch teaching videos for two days. Day Three — the pre-test. Day Four — Calibration Day and the Calibration Event. We would see a video of a teacher, use the rubric to rate her, and then try to sync up with the Master Coder.
“If you miss one or two, you might not be misaligned,” one of the Ambassadors reassured us. The Music Man was right — they surely have mistaken us for printers.
A colleague from another district asked, “Does the video pause on Calibration Day?” The Ambassador replied, “I am not sure, but I am going to speak for the tool…”
I stopped listening to the reply. “I am in the Star Wars Cantina,” I thought.
Before calibrating up with the videos, we first needed to be taught to avoid “bias words” in our observations. “The tool” has a list of bias words and if you use them, “the tool” will turn the bias words red. “Do you think it will give us a shock?” a colleague nervously asked me. “Only the Master Coder knows,” I replied. The Ambassador of the Tool gave examples.
Expressive — “The teacher read the poem in an expressive way.” We cannot say that anymore — it is judgmental.
Monotone — “Can we say the reading was not monotone?” someone asked. “No, no, no. Monotone is a bias word” Ambassador #2 replied.
Challenging? — Never, nunca y jamais, nie wieder.
Bias, bias everywhere. “Will my skill improve? Will I be scored on the teaching evidence I include?” you could hear the frustration in the questioner’s voice.
“As long as we get the right number with the Master Coder, that is all that matters. The ultimate goal is you want to be calibrated” was the reply. I prayed a Wookie would enter the room and save us.
I was starting to feel sorry for the calibrated presenter. In an attempt to make sense out of nonsense, she blurted, “Think of it this way. In first grade we teach kids how to fill in the bubbles…today we are learning to fill in the bubbles.” I prayed Darth Vader would enter the room and end it all.
But there would be no rescue, no reprieve. So I thought of Madeline Hunter and a time when teaching was both an art and a science. How she abhorred it when anyone tried to create a checklist from her work. She understood the importance of classroom tone in student learning — described by bias words like patience and warmth. She often said the only thing that a teacher MUST do in every lesson was to think, and to never humiliate a child.
Now, we are driven by data, and checklists and mindless calibration — all being done in the name of a reform that fritters away tax dollars on tests, test prep and calibration events. I stopped listening and searched for the source of the calibration obsession. I found this: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/college-ready-education/Documents/ensuring-accuracy-wp.pdf
Well, at least the mystery is solved. I now know who the Master Coder is…
Education reform cowboys and cowgirls say they love education standards, and maybe they do. But they seem less enamored with existing legal standards. Below is some of the evidence regarding the illegality of current reform efforts.
The Illegal Status of Race to the Top (RTTT), the Common Core, and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC)
There are two sections of federal law explicitly and broadly restricting the actions of both Congress and the Executive Branch with respect to education. First, there is the long-standing General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), which governs the administration of federal education programs. It sets the following limitations:
“No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system …”
Enacted in 1979, the Department of Education Organization Act (DEOA) established the Department of Education (USDOE) as an executive branch department administered under the supervision and direction of the Secretary of Education.
The law’s purpose is described, in part, as follows:
“It is the intention of the Congress in the establishment of the Department to protect the rights of State and local governments and public and private educational institutions in the areas of educational policies and administration of programs and to strengthen and improve the control of such governments and institutions over their own educational programs and policies.”
The following broad limitations are outlined:
“No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, over any accrediting agency or association, or over the selection or content of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, except to the extent authorized by law.
Since Race to the Top (RTTT) is not itself a law, its provisions cannot be construed as legal exception. A plausible legal basis for RTTT could be the American Recovery and Reconstitution Act (ARRA), which authorized RTTT funds (but not its content). But, while granting the Secretary broad and unchecked power, it offers no clear exception to the GEPA or the DEOA.
Four sections of New York State law were rewritten in accordance with RTTT requirements. These sections concerned teacher evaluation, charter schools, and expansion of student and teacher data systems. In effect, USDOE offered waivers and monetary incentives to the States in order to obtain their compliance with USDOE favored policies that have no basis in current federal law. Thus, the USDOE has engaged in law-making activity outside the bounds of Congress, and against provisions of existing legislation, namely DEOA. Each of the four legal revisions concerns the “administration” of education and thus suggests the USDOE has “exercised direction” and thus is in violation of its own authorization. Legal revisions to the laws of New York State were done explicitly to win RTTT funds and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers. The USDOE established the guidelines for eligibility, and used the promise of funds to compel changes to state law.
While some might quibble with this, the clear intent of the DEOA to limit the USDOE from establishing curriculum in any way, shape or form is not debatable. Adopting the Common Core was a key requirement to win RTTT, offering further evidence of legal violation. This argument holds whether or not the standards themselves were constructed by the USDOE or other federal agencies. New York’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOA), for example, is with the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) — the private owners of the Common Core. The MOA is for the USDOE’s benefit because entering into the MOA and meeting its provisions is a basis for the USDOE awarding grants.
New York State’s (like all such MOA’s) “Common Core of Standards MOA” reads:
“Purpose: This document commits states to a state-led process that will draw on evidence and lead to development and adoption of a common core of state standards (common core) in English language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. These standards will be aligned with college and work expectations, include rigorous content and skills, and be internationally benchmarked. The intent is that these standards will be aligned to state assessment and classroom practice. The second phase of this initiative will be the development of common assessments aligned to the core standards developed through this process.”
Mercedes Schneider, a teacher and blogger wonders:
“If the process is “state-led,” why is the state entering into a legal arrangement with the federal government to “ensure” that the state “leads” itself? If the state is “leading itself,” how is it that the “standards” will be “common” to other states?”
Going back to the purpose of the DEOA, do we see evidence of the USDOE working to “strengthen and improve the control of such governments and institutions over their own educational programs and policies.” I think not. Instead we see the opposite: the notorious “module” scripted lessons that include what books are to be taught in schools. Librarians are being compelled to purchase books consistent with the Core regime, a flagrant violation of the DEOA.
There is more evidence that the USDOE is violating the portion of federal law cited above: the USDOE compelled states to apply and commit to the Race to the Top assessment program and the consortia, like the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) that it created, before states could reasonably consider the implications of RTTT assessment application requirements. Consider the following timetable.
While the NY MOA is signed by then-Commissioner Steiner and Chancellor Tisch, it is not dated. New York’s RTTT application, however, is dated June 1, 2010. The RTTT assessment program, which gave rise to the state consortia PARCC, of which New York is now a governing member, was announced in the Federal Registrar on April 9, 2010. The PARCC application is dated June 23, 2010. Practically, RTTT applicants were agreeing to participate in two programs, with one application. The little time given to review such massive change suggests compulsion. This is further evidence of the federal twisting of the state arm, eliminating the possibility that state constituencies could be involved in decision making. This does little to strengthen local control over educational programs, a stated aim of the DEOA. It appears, in fact, that the hope was to impose the reform quickly before anyone would notice what was actually happening. And NYSED clearly orchestrated the appearance of broad support for its initial RTTT application.
PARCC’ing Democracy: Creating Private Entities to Govern Assessment Against Public Authority
PARCC is another means for altering governing arrangements against the stricture of existing law and its defense of public, local control. Three significant changes have occurred as a result of PARCC, all of which serve to further eliminate the public from governing education, further emasculate legislative bodies (federal and state) and increase extra-state power of state executives.
First, PARCC (a 501c3) signifies the removal of assessment governance from state authorities, and places responsibility for assessment into the hands of a private, non-profit entity (and its corporate “partners”) that is accountable to no one. Thus, as a result of federal initiatives, local and state control over assessment has been diminished if not completely emasculated.
Second, PARCC sets up a governance structure among states, where executives of each state form governance mechanisms over other states (including matters of finance), but outside the bounds of the federal system and state authority. In a sense, PARCC reflects “contracting out” assessment of public schools authorized only by each state’s law to a “public/private partnership” outside the bounds of the federal-state system. How a state legislature such as in New York would hold PARCC accountable is unclear. [...]
None of this serves to strengthen the rights of the public or enhance local control. And, by controlling assessment, curricular mandates associated with the Common Core can be enforced, over and against state authorities, especially Local Education Authorities. Thus again, we see the USDOE violating the DEOA.
Finally, few realize that New York State’s RTTT assessment application contains an MOU promising to eliminate any state law or policy inconsistent with RTTT assessment requirements, which means, New York’s Department of Education agrees to impose compliance with PARCC and its inBloom data system outside the normal process for state legislation, including public debate of proposed laws. [inBloom is a privately owned metadata system where all variety of data on children is to be gathered without parental consent, starting in kindergarten — BF Ed. note.]
The Lawlessness of Reform
It is becoming clear that not only are education deformers acting to destroy both the public and education, they are introducing lawlessness in their wake.
As I have followed developments around the state this fall, I’m hearing consistent reports of two disturbing trends: (1) the imposition of mechanist, command-and-control regimes in schools as educators are required to follow NYSED regulations (based on RTTT), and simultaneously, (2) the imposition of anarchy as districts attempt to hurriedly implement a plethora of unclear, contradictory, and otherwise nonsensical mandates. Thus, an atmosphere of chaos is being imposed by top-down, command-and-control authority structures, where leadership is increasingly confused with dictate and impunity. Reform cowboys and cowgirls raise hell, but take no responsibility for the chaos that ensues. This is the lawlessness of “reform.”
This lawlessness has given rise to a de facto change to the legally stated purpose of education. Wendy Lecker, a senior attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project at the Education Law Center, offers this example:
“Is ‘college-and-career-ready’ an adequate standard, as measured by Connecticut’s constitution? The answer is a resounding “no.” In the pending school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell, Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled that our constitution “guarantees Connecticut’s public school students educational standards and resources suitable to participate in democratic institutions, and to prepare them to attain productive employment and otherwise to contribute to the state’s economy, or to progress on to higher education.”
My interpretation of the DeGrasse ruling in New York State is the same: RTTT’s imposition of the Career and College Ready Common Core agenda removes the democratic purpose of schooling New York State is legally bound to provide, according to that ruling. This reveals the Career and College Ready agenda to be more of a Servant and Slave Ready agenda.
Thus, it is not merely that current education policy is illegal, although as readers see, I do believe that to be the case. As no action has been taken to stop the patently obvious legal violation by responsible authorities, we are seeing the transformation of state and federal authority into lawlessness itself: 1: not regulated by or based on law; 2a: not restrained or controlled by law: unruly.
In the end, the Billionaires “driving” reform think they can do what they want, when they want, with whomever they want. It is definitely not the parents and teachers who are out of control in New York State.