This Is My Last Straw - Is It Yours Too?

By Dave Russell
As a teacher, I have sat and watched our children increasingly suffer needlessly as the life of the of the school day has been systematically suffocated to the pallor of a deathly grey. The gauntlet of NCLB has morphed into the scourge of the corporate take-over model which spawned a full on attack warrior in the form of Michelle Rhee and her "resistance is futile" lobby group, StudentsFirst. My blood boils every time she rolls out a new Madison Avenue savvy propaganda smear or full court press media blitz designed to further the Oligarch's planned agenda for education takeover, uh...I mean "reform."

As my anger and frustration has grown, nothing has enraged me to the boiling point more than the recent publicity buzz flying around the paper authored by Economists Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia. In this 92 page report, these economic experts claim to have tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years concluding that the kids with improving test scores had lower teen-pregnancy rates and higher college-enrollment rates than their peers. They also had higher earnings, lived in better neighborhoods, and even saved more for retirement. In a front page article about the paper, The New York Times concludes “test scores help you get more education, and that more education has an earnings effect" (how's that again...test sores do what now?).

It's not too surprising that nobody was quicker to pick up on this paper and trumpet the message from this cherry bit of propaganda than Michelle Rhee and the merry Jesters at StudentsFirst! The ballyhoo from StudentsFirst is as predictable as clockwork! Some kluged report jukes the data to develop erroneous conclusions that dance right into the laps of the Rhee/Duncan/Gates Cabal of reformists and BAM! it happens; you place the stick in their hand, they will bang the drum.

This report is hogwash and StudentsFirst should be ashamed for publicizing it. The authors admit that their conclusions are extrapolated from stale data that was gathered in bulk (not for individuals as the summary leaves readers to believe), run through an analysis tool that is so fraught with statistical noise (individual and often conflicting point-source influence on outcome) that their only conclusion --there is far too much noise to disaggregate (take apart) the most reasonable conclusion-- is that teacher quality HAS to be the driving force for the very gains that they couldn't actually track because it was stale and gathered, after all, in bulk. WTF?

But honesty and integrity are not the norm, nor are they qualities valued by this Reformers' Cabal. Instead, truth is denied, facts are skewed, research (real research - not this 5 and dime tinker-toy variety) is overlooked, and professionals at all levels across the nation are ignored and besmirched.

The agenda of StudentsFirst is to use well crafted rhetoric, propaganda and deceptive practices to create false hysteria, create mythic villains in teachers and unions, project horrific consequences should the fabricated travesty be allowed to continue unchecked, and then (wait for it!) charge in like the Knights in Shining Armor they believe themselves to be, carrying their Shield of Righteous Purpose, picture perfect, jiffy-tailored solution that not only sounds good and gives that ever so needed cozy-snugly feel of good satisfaction, but is hawked and carnival barked as the only effective, critical, and urgent fix, and to not support it dooms he world as we know it to inevitable implosion. By God! reading their agenda you would think StudentsFirst is single-handedly saving every child in every classroom every day from a hideous ordeal in the slash & burn world of the indifferent, self-important, selfish, ineffective teacher!

All StudentsFirst is interested in is changing the game so the new power brokers can continue to coerce states and districts into adopting unproven agendas such that expensive teachers can be arbitrarily, capriciously, and summarily tossed onto the curb like so much rubbish only to be replaced by unproven, untrained, two-year commit-me-not ivy-league Slam-Bam-Thank You Ma'amers.

And all this hinges on some snake oil smoke & mirrors algorithm called Value Added Analysis, which in and of itself hinges on students passing a test nobody has ever seen, nobody has ever ensured is aligned to the hundreds of varied curricula and texts, and not fact checked for accuracy or cognitive appropriateness. It is taken on faith by StudentsFirst and the rest of the Rhee/Duncan/Gates Cabal of reformists that the ENTIRE machine that sets the standards, writes the curriculum, formulates the textbooks, writes the tests, scores the tests is SO seamlessly perfect that all children, regardless of socioeconomic status, family (dis)function, language abilities, learning difficulties, or desire to participate, will excel if it weren't for the incredible prevalence of those damned ineffective teachers.

The most aggravating aspect of the agenda water-boarding perpetrated by the whole Rhee/Duncan/Gates Cabal of reformists is that the American public is either too drunk on their cool-aid, too stupid to understand the realities, or too apathetic to do anything but allow their children to be willingly led to the intellectual slaughter.

Too harsh you say? Ask any child in Florida or anywhere else in America how excited they are to come to school. Ask them how relevant the curriculum is to their lives. Ask them when the last time it was that they engaged in test prep - and for how long. Ask them why they even take the test. Ask them if they feel like the institution is encouraging them to live, learn, and grow according to their (student centric) needs as 21st century learners. You want harsh? Listen to these kids rail on the Bull Shit that is the result of decade of reforms designed by a Cabal of reformists who think that the best way to solve our problems is to use a white-hot blowtorch approach to intensifying the same thinking that created the problems in the first place.

To all the members of the Rhee/Duncan/Gates Cabal of reformists and to Race to the Top as well, you can kiss my ass and the collective asses of kids all across America!

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