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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Susan Ohanian: Goals 2000: What's in a Name?

    More than a decade after President Bush the Elder and the nation's governors adopted goals for education for the year 2000,Phi Delta Kappan asked me to write a cover story on what had resulted. I said it was time to ask, Whose good is being served? Now, in this era of Obama and Bill Gates, Race to the Top and the Common Core, it's useful to take a look at what drove Goals 2000. . . and how it has affected our present condition. Many of the players haven't changed, and although the current administration is more ruthless about it, neither have the goals.

    by Susan Ohanian 


    GEORGE BUSH the Elder called it America 2000. Bill Clinton calls it Goals 2000. I call it an alphabet soup of bureaucratic interference in the lives of children, and I say to hell with it: CEI, CIM, NAEP, NAGB, NASDC, NBPTS, NCEE, NCEST, NEGP, NESIC, NSP, NTFEEG, OBE, OERI, OLT, SCANS, STW, TFTP, TIMSS, TSWE, and more. Much, much more. I admit that NCEST is my favorite acronym. Not because I ever remember what it stands for, but because the way you pronounce it suggests the intertwined relationships of the fiscal opportunists and ideologues promoting Goals 2000.

    Goals 2000 is, of course, the offspring of A Nation at Risk, a teacher- and school-bashing report representing not so much an evaluation of pedagogical practices and student achievement as a Zeitgeist of the early 1980s. I wonder what Goals 2000 says about our current ethos -- as we cheerfully, nay, avidly, look forward to a new age when leaders across the country will echo New York's commissioner of education, Richard Mills, in insisting that subjecting fourth-graders to a test they can't pass is a "good strategy." What can we say about an era that coins the term "raising the bar" to describe the way it thinks young children should be treated?

    Writing in these pages exactly 15 years ago, I described the cheap rhetoric emanating from the corporate and political remittance men and their band of consulting mercenaries as being akin to "a nasty swarm of bloodsucking mosquitoes. Their bites may not kill, but they sure don't help us do our job."1 At that time, operating from a third-grade teacher's realpolitik of "This, too, will pass," I shrugged off the documents as just so much ugly rhetoric. I didn't meet one teacher in a hundred who even bothered to read the offal. Everybody knew that being a teacher meant keeping your focus on children and not allowing yourself to be distracted by tiddly-pom.

    Times have changed. This time, we can't afford to shrug off the assaults on public education in general and on children in particular as just one more round of pricks from parvenu opportunists looking for easy, vulnerable targets. (Why don't CEOs ever take out after the members of Congress the way they do teachers? Why don't members of Congress ever take out after CEOs the way they do teachers?) We must not be lulled by the fact that as they co-opt the jargon of our trade for their own purposes, the rhetoric of the corporate/politico connivers has cooled. I, for one, don't find much comfort in being called an incompetent in need of scripted lessons rather than a cancer on the nation's landscape. This time, the sharp talons of the vultures dig much deeper. Before, they just annoyed us; this time, they're sucking our blood. This time, they can kill us.

    By the time Congress passed President Clinton's Goals 2000: Educate America Act in March 1994, the infrastructure was already in place. Take a look at Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America's Public Schools, by Louis Gerstner, Jr., chairman and CEO of IBM (with Roger Semerad, Denis Doyle, and William Johnston).2 The fact that it was published within a month of the passage of Goals 2000 is no coincidence. One of the noteworthy features of Goals 2000 is that Gerstner and his cronies got to name the problem as well as define the solution: claiming the need for choice, competition, and technology in the schools; defining students as human capital and the teaching/learning compact as a "protected monopoly" offering "goods and services"; describing the relationship between teachers and the communities they serve as that of "buyers and sellers." Gerstner and company talk about measuring school productivity "with unequivocal yardsticks" (p. 69). They speak of the need for national tests and "absolute standards," insisting that schools must compare themselves to each other the way "Xerox, for example, compares itself to L. L. Bean for inventory control" (p. 70). Now that's a fine notion: teaching as inventory control.

    Gerstner and his crew address the big questions of education: "How much do students learn each month . . . ? How great are these learning gains per dollar spent?" (p. 69). They define the business of teaching as "the distribution of information" (p. 155). Functionaries writing state standards quickly warmed to this metaphor. At their April 1997 meeting, members of the California Academic Standards Commission of the state board of education, whose job it was to approve academic standards in the various disciplines, showed a similar fondness for teaching as the delivery of skills: "A fifth-grade teacher would have a firm grasp on what skills and knowledge had been conveyed in grades K-4, and would deliver kids to the next grade ready to continue with the next set of expectations." How many minutes does a fledgling teacher have to be in a real classroom before she realizes that students don't pass by her desk like goods on a conveyor belt? You can teach and teach and teach. You can even teach the California seventh-grade history standards.3 But all your teaching doesn't mean those pesky students are going to learn - or deliver their skills intact to next year's teacher.

    Testing, now known as high-stakes testing, is the crucial part of all of this. It gives results that let people in the suburbs know whether their property values are trending up or down in a given year. The testing process works like this: states that may or may not have enough money to buy a textbook for every student and to stock every school with a library and a professional librarian spend megamillions to buy tests made by an anonymous committee that doesn't have a clue about the specific, idiosyncratic needs of the individual, nonstandard children in classrooms across America.

    I know, I know, we must work for the greatest good. But maybe it's time that we question whose good is being served when 98% of the schools in a state fail the test. Whose good is being served when educrats buy these tests and base promotion policies on the results because if they don't, they won't get their federal Goals 2000 lucre? Whose good is being served when, instead of denouncing and dismantling high-stakes testing, quisling academics publish books on how to train children to feel better about taking the tests? Whose good is being served when hapless teachers are manipulated into teaching from an impossible canon decreed by the politico/corporate cartel? Members of Congress and executives at IBM can sleep easy, knowing that every seventh-grader in the land will soon be trained to identify William Tindale. (For a reason known only to them and the Almighty, the California Standardistos who wrote this curriculum imperative insist on this third-alternative spelling.)

    Massachusetts has released the questions on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), which was inflicted on students in grades 4, 8, and 10. The questions in history and social science for grade 8 cover prehistory to 1000 B.C., classical civilizations from 1000 B.C. to 500 A.D., the growth of agricultural and commercial civilizations from 500 to 1500 A.D., the United States from its early Colonial beginnings to 1650; its settlements, colonies, and emerging identity from 1600 to 1763; the American Revolution; the expansion, reform, and economic growth of the nation from 1800 to 1861; the Civil War and Reconstruction up to 1877. Here are a couple of typical questions:

    Many modern historians cite all the following as reasons for the decline of the Roman Empire in the West except:

    A. political crises.

    B. a decline in population.

    C. barbarian invasions.

    D. the abolition of slavery.

    During the Blizzard of 1888, more than 90% of the cattle on the Great Plains died from the cold. As a result,

    A. beef prices in the United States increased.

    B. more people in the East became cattle ranchers.

    C. cattle farming on the Great Plains ceased.

    D. demand for beef increased.
    Hard as it is to pick a favorite, I like this one from the test in science and technology for grade 8:
    Which of the following would be the most important to consider when selecting material for the walls and ceiling of a concert hall?

    A. chemical properties

    B. mechanical properties

    C. thermal properties

    D. acoustical properties
    Of course, the testing experts insist that the correct answer is D, but I say that mechanical properties must be paramount: if your roof caves in, who cares about the acoustics? This question brought back memories of my own ninth-grade science class. Annoyed that my teacher used preprinted multiple-choice tests and didn't countenance discussion, I scoured every test for loopholes. My crowning glory was answering "other" for every question about rendering first aid to accident victims. The test writer wanted to ascertain if students knew whether one should first lower the head or raise the head for different types of injuries. I answered "other" because the Red Cross manual stated that, in every situation, one must take precautions that the injured party doesn't go into shock. So I argued that the first thing to do, regardless of the injury, was to cover the victim with a blanket. The exasperated teacher threw out six questions on the test. But that skewed the results, and, of course, kids who had answered the six disputed questions correctly protested when their scores went down. So the teacher, backed into a corner, decreed that the six questions would stay for those who got them right and be removed for those who missed them. "Do whatever gives you a higher score."

    Days later, when I showed up with Gray's Anatomy to argue a point about the lymphatic system, the teacher didn't even let me get to my desk. Seeing the tome I was carrying, he ordered, "I don't care what dictionaries you bring in here, go to the office."

    My parents stayed out of it, figuring I had deliberately gotten myself into the mess so I could figure out how to get out of it. But I would add that it was my dad's anatomy book and that he'd stayed up late the night before to help me trace the lymphatic system. I know that some readers are figuring that the moral of this story is that an argumentative, obnoxious kid grew up to be an argumentative, obnoxious adult. But for me this is what school should be about. Now, more than ever, we must help students understand that no text is sacred and that, rather than memorize the text, they need to learn how to argue against it.

    But when the tests are shipped in from corporate America, when corporate America has a little plan that requires a certain percentage of kids to fail the test, then who will answer the children? Students in Massachusetts sat through three hours of stupid questions about history, three hours of math, three hours of science, three hours of English language arts. The English language arts section covered everything from commas with appositives to William Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud." Ah, Wordsworth:
    A poet could not but be gay,
    In such a jocund company:
    I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
    What wealth the show to me had brought.
    During my first year of teaching, once a week after school I attended a special poetry seminar. Supported by federal funds, this seminar brought in poets of renown to talk to teachers about their craft. I remember W. H. Auden imploring us not to hit our students over the head with "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud." Auden told us that some chestnuts were better left roasting; he told us that it was our duty to inform ourselves about poetry outside the traditional canon; he told us it was our duty to help students know a living, vibrant poetry, a poetry that could amuse, enlighten, inspire, and even trouble. Thirty years later, Auden is dead, and Wordsworth lives on in the canon. In the name of standards, nobody dares to bury him.

    I would just say that, for at least one person who sat in that crowded hall as a young teacher, Auden lives on because our federal government thought poetry was important enough to spend money on it. I would add that the same government put poets in the schools. A payoff for teachers who took the seminar was that real, live local poets came into our classrooms. The poet who visited my class came early so he could "warm up the kids by playing basketball with them first." Ah, those were the days! We were hopeful. We thought teachers could join hands with poets to make a difference for kids. It's mind-boggling when you think about it: poets, not global economists, as school change agents.

    Robert Herrick's "To Daffodils" is also on the Massachusetts test, and here's what the test writers ask students about this one:
    What is the rhyme scheme of the first stanza?




    I wish I could tell the committee that wrote that question that I'm proud that I once had the opportunity to show students that poets play basketball.

    I always like to give credit where credit is due, but I don't know whether Massachusetts authorities are noble or nuts for holding their questions up to public scrutiny. Surely somebody in that large bureaucracy must realize there's something wrong with these questions - and with the curriculum they impose.

    I don't know whether the board of education in Chicago recognizes just how goofy its questions are, but somebody there realizes that the questions can't bear public scrutiny. The board has dismissed veteran teacher George Schmidt and is suing him for $1 million for publishing some questions from the Chicago Academic Standards Examinations (CASE) in Substance, the meaty and provocative newspaper about the Chicago public schools that he has been putting out since 1975.4 Schmidt believes that, when the academic futures of 100,000 high school students are on the line, maybe the public needs to take a look at the questions those kids are being asked, questions like this one:
    Economic systems determine which one of the following?

    A. what trade should take place

    B. food and language

    C. how much goods are worth

    D. which people should be employed in certain jobs
    In an operation he calls "Dumb Test," Schmidt is now attempting to archive as many tests and test idiocies as possible. He solicits test questions inflicted on students across America, noting they can be sent in "brown paper wrappers," with the anonymity of the senders being protected. Last January, in the name of getting high standards into the schools, 280,000 fourth-graders across New York State took a $5.8 million reading test concocted by CTB/McGraw-Hill, headquartered in Monterey, California. I wonder whether there's a place in the continental U.S. further removed from, say, the South Bronx, than Monterey, California? For months preceding the test, New York newspapers documented a mounting hysteria. Teachers abandoned reading aloud to students, substituting practice on test-taking techniques; at home, parents supervised mind-numbing workbook drills; 9-year-olds confessed to reporters that they worried they might fail the big test and thereby bring shame to their school, neighborhood, and country. Then, in New York City alone, 21,000 children who flunked the test either weren't successful on the repeat test after taking summer school or didn't even show up to take the repeat exam.

    There's scandal aplenty in the way the test was administered, in the way it was scored, and in the way scoring errors were concealed - until a whistle blower got strident. But for me, the real scandal is not that CTB/McGraw-Hill was forced to admit that it had made a mistake in the scoring -- not only in New York, but also in numerous other sites across the country.5 For me, the real scandal is that our school leaders, under pressure from the mandates of Goals 2000, are subjecting young children to these tests in the first place. These are high-stakes tests, written by hack scribes who show no more savvy than a salad bar crouton about children. Consider this: 9-year-old test-takers across the state of New York were shown pictures of labels from several different brands of pancake syrup and asked to choose "the real McCoy," a term defined by the test writers as "anything of true worth or value." The labels show maple-"style" syrup, 2% maple syrup, syrup with artificial maple flavor, and 100% pure maple syrup.

    Such a question is more a can of worms than a fair assessment of a child's reading comprehension. Deconstructing food labels is not a regular part of a fourth-grader's curriculum, not to mention any child's psyche. One might wonder about the income level required to put 100% maple syrup on the family pancakes. In the real world, where plenty of 9-year-olds accompany their parents to the grocery store, 24-ounce containers of Aunt Jemima Lite and Vermont Maid, with maple syrup contents of 2% and zero respectively, cost $3.59 each. An eight-ounce container of Butternut Farm Grade A Medium Amber pure maple syrup costs $12.95. How many consumers opt for the $1.62-an-ounce product over the one that costs just $0.15? Even in my grocery store - in Vermont, no less - you have to go to the pricey specialty section to find 100% pure.

    So what's a fourth-grader to think? That his momma doesn't put "true value" on the family breakfast table? And if we wouldn't trust the chowderheads who wrote this question to buy our groceries, how can we trust them to sort our children? A sorting that amounts to a lifelong sentence. Standardized tests have been familiar fare in schools for decades. But before corporate America exerted its muscle, teachers and parents used the test results as one gauge among many of a child's progress. A child's promotion did not depend on the results of one peculiar test written by a committee accountable to no one. As it happens, I can provide documentation of the production of educational products for a huge publishing company (that at the time had McGraw-Hill in half of its name). If I do say so myself, I had a terrific idea for showing students interesting math in the world around them. I proposed eight little books showing the math in such places as a 747 at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, the Denver Mint, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden, a pencil factory, and the White House. The publisher loved my idea and wanted to buy it outright (and then tell me to go away). But I loved my idea too, and I wanted to do the research and write up the material for children. I persisted, and finally the publisher gave me a contract. I had a great time, visiting the sites (at my own expense) and digging into esoterica ranging from the menu of the meal served at Nellie Grant's White House wedding breakfast to the birth weight of elephants. I wrote up what I felt were some provocative math problems, filled with fascinating information and also filled with kid appeal. Besides coming to this work as a longtime teacher, for a previous three books I had spent about a year and a half visiting math classrooms around the country, so I had a pretty good feel for the subject and for the students.

    And in hindsight, I can see that that's probably the reason the crises erupted. Educational publishers produce by committee consensus. They hold focus groups and hire consultants, and then an editor compiles the results of committee brainstorming. A product need emerges, and a string of freelance writers is asked to write to formula, following a model sent by the editor. Needless to say, I work rather differently. For me, writing is not a collaborative process. I go into my office and shut the door. Some months later, I mail off the manuscript - never having talked to anybody about anything other than data. ("What are the dimensions of the East Room? How many toilets?") I know other people work differently. Well, good for them.

    So, having sent in math investigations based on data about Presidential height, eye color, and birth order, as well as all sorts of information about White House pets, volumes in the library, and the many nontraditional family units that have resided in the White House, I was a bit startled when the editor sent me a packet of math problems written by work-for-hire consultants. One problem told fourth-graders that someone had poisoned all the plants on the White House grounds and that their job, as landscape architects, was to draw up a plan for new plantings. I, who am infamous for never instigating a phone call, actually phoned the editor and announced, "Over my dead body!" The news had just then been filled with stories of assaults on the White House. Someone had scaled a fence; someone else had dive-bombed in an airplane; concrete barricades had been erected as a foil to terrorists. And now we were going to present children with the specter of plant poisoners on the loose? After receiving a series of similarly bizarre questions, I asked the editor if she'd considered recommending counseling to the consultant problem writer.

    I tell this story to show that textbooks and high-stakes tests are like hot dogs: if people only knew how they were made, they would never allow their children near them again. I tell this story to show how out-of-touch with the fourth-grade psyche publishing conglomerates are. The people who wanted to poison the plants at the White House for the sake of a mathematics calculation are the very same people deciding whether children flunk fourth grade or not. Does anybody think that maybe a savvy teacher who has worked for years with fourth-graders might have an informed opinion worth considering?

    When curriculum and testing are removed from the control of people who are in close contact with children, oddities like the poisoned plants and the Monterey maple syrup maze are inevitable. I used to poke fun at the National Defense Education Act approach to reforming education. As a teacher working under special emergency certification in New York City, I received an NDEA fellowship to spend the summer at Princeton University studying innovative methods of teaching the urban poor. Since even the very idea of urban poor in Princeton was quite a stretch, kids from Trenton were bused in every day. A primitive effort, for sure, but at least we worked with kids, and we didn't regard those kids as just so much "inventory" in need of control. The current round of curriculum mandates tells every teacher in the land what her goals must be, and the experts mandating those goals don't even bus in some kids before they issue their decrees; they issue edicts directly from the closeted comfort of their legislative chambers - after receiving advice from Louis Gerstner and his corporate cabal.

    People who try to point out the "Twilight Zone" nature of both test questions and the purposes they serve are warned that the questions are "secure" and that, if secrecy is breached, lawyers will call. I haven't inquired about the details of Vermont's extradition policies with New York, but I'm definitely keeping an eye on what Chicago is doing to George Schmidt. And I remind teachers across the land: use those brown paper wrappers. New York State Education Commissioner Richard Mills announced before the testing that he didn't think his New York fourth-graders would do well on the high-stakes test the state bought from CTB/ McGraw-Hill, insisting, in the self-delusional spirit of Goals 2000, that subjecting 9-year-olds to tests they can't pass is "one of the strategies to change things for the better." What a great boost for the spirits of the children, hearing ahead of time that the person in charge figures you're going to fail. In the same spirit, when 97% of the schools in Virginia flunked that state's new high-stakes test, Kirk Schroder, president of the state school board, announced that he was confident that the state's testing program would become "a national model for excellence in measuring student achievement." If 97% of my students failed a test I had devised, I'd figure that something was wrong with the test - not that teachers nationwide should be beating a path to my door for copies. Scattered across the country, there are hopeful signs of student and parent resistance to such gasbaggery. A cadre of very articulate students from one of Chicago's premier magnet schools refused to take a standardized test. During state testing madness in Massachusetts last May, parents kept their children home for two weeks. Parents in California, Washington, and Oregon did likewise. A college dean in Ohio kept his son home. In early June, Wisconsin legislators responded to parent pressure and voted to kill the $10.1-million high-stakes test for high school graduation, the hallmark of Gov. Tommy Thompson's education agenda. Some wags are referring to these grass roots efforts as the "test offensive." Resisting high-stakes tests is not for the faint of heart. Just ask Curt Doble and his mom. Curt was a 10th-grader at Danvers High School in Massachusetts last April when he signed a petition against the MCAS and then refused to take it. Curt was suspended and then, a day later, on charges that "someone" had heard him make a bomb threat, he was arrested at his home and held in jail overnight - until his mother could raise the $10,000 cash bail. Months later, a judge dismissed the charges, saying there was no probable cause to have issued the arrest warrant. By then, Curt's mother owed $3,100 in legal bills.

    Meanwhile, Gerstner and his cronies continue to cook the data and up the ante. They've formed Achieve, Inc., an alliance to consolidate standards and create even more tests. Gerstner and Gov. Thompson are co-chairs of this effort. And newspaper headlines continue to scream about scores on tests nobody is allowed to see, while paying scant attention to other numbers.

    But let's consider some of these other numbers. With a book budget for New York City school libraries of $4 per student, Chancellor Rudy Crew advises parents that their kids should read at least 25 books a year. Mayor Rudolph Guiliani's response is to cut $41 million from the city's public libraries (even as he advocates spending $96 million on sports stadiums). Listen for Marie Antoinette in the wings, intoning, "Let them go to Barnes & Noble" (where a children's hardcover costs, on average, $16.60). You won't read about the deplorable funding of books for New York City schoolchildren in the New York Times, the venerable Gray Lady of record. While I was digging out book budgets, the Times was reporting on our society's experimentation with the limits of self-indulgence. In its pages I read about the $120 chef's tasting menu at Daniel's restaurant; I read about the $1,500 price tag for a regular-season front-row seat at a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden; I read speculation about whether the Clintons might join the just-opened Hudson National Golf Club in Croton-on-Hudson, where the initiation fee is $317,000.

    Such figures reveal the obscene gap between the haves and the have-nots, between our private economy boom and our public sector bust, and this is what Goals 2000 is all about. Once the high-stakes tests drive a standardized curriculum into the schools, politicians and their corporate cronies can claim that they have equalized education -- regardless of the shameful inequalities of facilities and resources. Once Congress shelved President Clinton's plan for national reading and math tests, the White House ratcheted up the ante on Goals 2000. States don't get their money unless and until they institute high-stakes tests.

    And money talks. When Washington politicos holding the purse strings talk about "raising the bar," as though children were steeplechase horses, then educrats tell kindergartners to forget finger-painting and start jumping on command. Officials in Atlanta abolish recess. When Goals 2000 business partners say they want to deny diplomas to high school students who don't pass tests, then educrats start failing fourth-graders. Harking back to Soviet panzer tactics right out of the Frunze Academy - feed your successes and starve your losses - George W. Bush pledges to take public money from schools whose students test poorly on high-stakes tests in Texas and shift the funds to private schools or other educational programs he deems successful. Writing in The Nation, Calvin Trillin suggests that, if cutting funds doesn't help kids score better, "We could prohibit lunch, or take their shoes."

    Algebra or Elimination

    Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband, the governor of Arkansas, were strategic planners of the 1989 meeting in Charlottesville, Virginia, where President Bush announced the six national goals for public education, known as America 2000. (When Bill Clinton became President, two more goals were added, and the plan, which was pretty much the result of his work as governor, was renamed Goals 2000.) "The time has come," President Bush and the 50 assembled governors declared, "to establish clear, national performance goals, goals that will make us internationally competitive." Teachers were not invited to the conference table.

    After Gov. Clinton was elected President, Marc Tucker,6 head of the National Center on Education and the Economy, sent the notorious "Dear Hillary" letter. I think this letter appears on just about every parent advocacy website in the country - as a warning to parents of what could happen if they let any part of Goals 2000 in the door. Tucker wrote of a plan "in which curriculum, pedagogy, examinations, and teacher education and licensure systems are all linked to the national standards . . . a system that rewards students who meet the national standards with further education and good jobs."

    For the follow-up meeting, held at IBM headquarters in Palisades, New York, on 27 March 1996, the governors brought along their business allies. The planning committee included the governors of Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and North Carolina, as well as business leaders from IBM, AT&T, Eastman Kodak, Procter & Gamble, and Boeing. The list of people invited as "resources" reads like a "who's who" of corporate/conservative think tanks and their lackeys: Lynn Cheney, American Enterprise Institute; Denis Doyle, Heritage Foundation; Chester Finn, Hudson Institute; Diane Ravitch, consultant; Albert Shanker, American Federation of Teachers; Lewis Solmon, Milken Foundation; and Bob Schwartz, Pew Charitable Trusts. Third-grade teachers, of course, were conspicuous by their absence.

    At this Palisades meeting, President Clinton talked of a "full-meaning" high school diploma and of "meaningful standards" that would "require a test for children to move . . . from elementary to middle school or from middle school to high school." He used the word "standards" 40 times in his short speech, and he made it clear where these standards would come from:

    I accept your premise; we can only do better with tougher standards and better assessment, and you should set the standards. I believe that is absolutely right. And that will be the lasting legacy of this conference. I also believe, along with Mr. Gerstner and the others who are here, that it's very important not only for businesses to speak out for reform, but for business leaders to be knowledgeable enough to know what reform to speak out for, and what to emphasize, and how to hammer home the case for higher standards, as well as how to help local school districts change some of the things that they are now doing so that they have a reasonable chance at meeting these standards.7

    This noisy alliance of politicians, CEOs, think tank entrepreneurs, and media camp followers remains intent on standardizing education, proclaiming that every kid in America should march in lockstep through the same curriculum. These advocates of a one-size-fits-all curriculum send out a message of school failure that has been rebutted regularly in these pages and elsewhere by Gerald Bracey and by, among others, David Berliner and Bruce Biddle, Clinton Boutwell, and Richard Rothstein.8 The rhetoric is important. Ever since Hillary Rodham Clinton was first lady of Arkansas and helped negotiate President Bush's America 2000 scheme, the rhetoric has pushed for standardization of national curriculum, with the goal of shoving out kids who don't fit so that those who are left can do their duty to the "Fortunate 500." In the name of America's triumph in the global knowledge economy, corporate chiefs and their allies want to end kindergarten as we know it, to deny children's diversity in every grade, and to install a rigid system of tests and measures that will force a national curriculum onto the schools. Once that curriculum is in place, politicians can claim that every student has an equal opportunity to become a global worker. The mantra of marketplace education is "Algebra or elimination." When students fail, members of the ruling elite can send them to their rightful place on the minimum-wage dunghill with the admonition, "Well, we gave you an equal opportunity to meet the goals." Few people in corporate/politico/infotainment circles are asking how much sense it makes to institute tougher academic standards for the students who are failing the current standards.

    Members of the Business Roundtable can blather all they want about a causal connection between the efficiency and academic performance of the schools and the nation's economic vitality, but let's ask for the evidence that Alan Greenspan studies graduation rates or SAT scores or TIMSS results before he makes his decisions about government monetary policies. Larry Cuban, for one, says that "the myth of better schools as the engine for a leaner, stronger economy was a scam from the very beginning."9

    Liberals and Conservatives Join Hands

    "Are you a Republican yet?" My husband asked me that question a couple of months ago. Maybe his question was provoked by the volume of mail coming to our house from the Eagle Forum, the Thomas Fordham Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the National Center on Education and the Economy, the Center for Education Reform, the Citizens for Academic Excellence, the MacArthur Institute, Foundations of Liberty, Free World Research, Freedom First, the Independent American, American Policy Center, Focus on the Family, Halcyon House, Harvest House Publishers, Harold Shaw Publishers, Abique Books, and so on and on. Publish it, and Ohanian's check will follow. That's pretty much been my practice in the last year as I tracked resistance to Goals 2000, which is to say I've been studying government meddling in local education policy.

    I admit to being surprised at what I found. For starters, I found that we have something to learn from the grassroots right-wing whackos, who are a whole lot more organized and a lot more strategic than the ever-eclectic and often bickering left-wing whackos. Liberals grouse and grumble; conservatives set up websites. They publish comprehensive studies of the history of education legislation, tracing its origins to fascism, communism, and the threat of a United Nations takeover; they publish handbooks that advise parents on how to resist. These conservatives remind us that the enemies of our enemies are not necessarily our friends. Case in point: disliking Clinton's policies doesn't come close to being reason enough to support George W. Bush's policies. That many right-wingers are against Goals 2000 should remind us to look beneath party labels and examine what the politicians and their corporate cronies are really up to. That's why many conservatives dislike Chester Finn, Jr., and Louis Gerstner, Jr., and George W. Bush, Jr., even more than liberals do. Incongruous as it may seem, opposition to Goals 2000 might provide an opportunity for right-wing and left-wing zealots to join hands in their common belief that the state is the enemy of education. Okay, so I'm not holding my breath waiting for this strategic d?tente to take place. But even a whiff of the possibility of derailing the Goals 2000 megamonster locomotive barreling across the education landscape with its heavy load of high-stakes tests gives me some hope. Am I a Republican yet? Well, after studying the ways Goals 2000 has intruded into the classrooms of America, I'm not even a Democrat anymore. Goals 2000 has turned me into a third-party whacko.

    I frequently use the term "whacko" with a certain degree of affection, but I know that it's time to come up with a different term to describe the conservative parents whose listservs I've been watching. I'd call them the "neoconservatives," except that Chester Finn seems to anchor that category, along with aid and comfort from Diane Ravitch and William Bennett, among others. And Finn and Bennett, in particular, are on the conservative hit list because they have shown singular zeal as the Standardistos' Standardistos, which is to say they are opportunistic manipulators of whatever government or foundation money is available. Right-wing whackos point out that Finn is a founding member of Chris Whittle's Edison Project. (You remember Chris Whittle, the fellow who brought us Channel One.) Right-wing whackos take this a few steps further, showing the links between Whittle and Lamar Alexander, between Alexander and Ren? Dubos, with Dubos quoting Plato that "the great blessings come to us through madness. . . . Madness which comes from god, is superior to sanity." Right-wing whackos show Whittle's link to Madonna's Sex and to the rap song "Cop Killer." I have developed considerable affection for the Far Right's frequent demonstration of the six degrees of separation, which they can often reduce to just three or four.

    Neoconservatives insist that schools must be more effective in their efforts to serve the interests of corporate capitalism. Right-wing whackos issue tracts attacking corporate intrusion into public education, insisting that the intent to establish a controlled economy proves the direct links to communism. They show that whether it's Lamar Alexander or Richard Riley, Marc Tucker or Chester Finn, matters little. The corporate machinery rolls merrily along no matter what. "The people vote for change, but the policies continue on their course."10

    Right-wing whackos are independent, devoted, diligent, persistent, and, well, there's no getting around it, whacko. You can be following their train of thought, admiring the nitpicking research that characterizes their websites, and then, all of a sudden, they seem to jump gleefully off of an ideological cliff. This is not to say that I find right-wingers a great deal more whacko than I find left-wing conspiracy theorists. But let me forsake the "whacko" descriptor. I am torn. I very much admire Gerald Bracey's appellation "Ultra-Right," but I've decided on "Radical Right" for two reasons: members of this group are working hard to demonstrate the root causes of their discontents, and I'm trying not to be pejorative, at least in the label.

    The aim of the Radical Right is to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education because "parents have the final authority (granted by God) over their children -- not the state, federal government or the United Nations."11 Ever vigilant, its members worry over textbooks, homework assignments, and position papers of the National PTA, an organization they declare to be in the back pocket of the National Education Association. The Radical Right networks incessantly, reporting the triumph of every letter to the editor that gets into print. So everybody knows about the parent revolt against Connected Math in Plano, Texas, as well as the homeschooling mom who was thrown in jail in Vermont because she refused to follow the IEP (individualized education program) that school officials wrote for her learning-disabled child. The Radical Right entreats parents to reject the easy money of school choice, insisting that vouchers, tuition tax credits, and charter schools are all ploys of the U.S. Department of Education in alliance with groups such as New American Schools (formerly the New American Schools Development Corporation) to undermine true choice. Its members show the close links between Louis Gerstner, Chester Finn, Joe Nathan, and others.

    Why is the Radical Right against school choice? Because its members recognize that government money never comes without government strings attached. Right-wingers warn that, as parochial and private schools toady up to the government and line up for the public dole, they lose choice. Quoting from the Constitution more than from the Bible, these right-wingers see Goals 2000 as drawing clear battle lines between the family and the state.

    Looking for Miracles

    What we need, of course, is a miracle. But miracles have to be earned. Remember, David Hawkins told us that the bird doesn't fly into the window of the classroom of the teacher who is unprepared for it. It flies into the window of the teacher who is able to take the unexpected miracle of the moment and help children make something wonderful of it. I am of the generation of teachers who just said "No" to behavioral objectives, and, sure enough, they went away. I ignored teaching machines, and they went away. I ignored basals, spelling workbooks, and pizza bribes. Okay, so they didn't go away, but at least they didn't intrude on my classroom. Except for one week of my career, when I dabbled in madness, I ignored Assertive Discipline. It took me only one day of lunacy to learn my lesson with papier-mache. But this one is different. Somehow, while we were looking the other way, the politico/corporate/infotainment brotherhood has infiltrated our classrooms. This time, the sky really is falling. Forty years ago, Paul Goodman warned against letting the schools be appropriated "as a culling and training ground . . . for the monopolies."12 We should have listened. In the absence of a miracle, we need to do what teachers don't find it easy to do: we must stand up and say "No!" This time, it isn't good enough simply to shut our doors. Goals 2000 knows no barriers. And so we are forced to create a stink. We must do this for the same reason that we became teachers: we must do it for the sake of the children in our care. A good way to get started is to ask parents of all ideological persuasions to join us. That's why I've stopped calling any of them whackos.

    Finally, Henry David Thoreau is always a good place to end. He offers us tough words for tough times:

    They hesitate and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and God-speed, to the right, as it goes by them. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man.13

    In the paper version, this article had charts interspersed throughout, showing what Left-wingers say about Goals 2000 policy issues, what Right-wingers say, and their shared concerns on that issue. I post them all here.

    +++ GOALS 2000: WHAT CRITICS SAY GOAL 1: All children in America will start school ready to learn.


    The same Congress that passed Goals 2000 called welfare mothers "alligators" and "leeches" and passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, throwing 1.2 million more children into poverty and cutting $20 billion from the food stamp program.


    Such empty rhetoric represents opportunistic hypocrisy on the part of government leaders. The terms "all children" and "all students" are used 59 times in the Goals 2000 document.


    The government advocates "womb-to-tomb" control over our lives. "Readiness to learn" can only be ensured by mandatory compliance with a preschool program and verified by home inspections.

    Parents who object to an "at-risk" designation for the children will be prosecuted.


    GOAL 2:
     The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90%.


    No explicitly left-wing concerns.


    This is the wedge in the door for issuing mastery certificates instead of diplomas. Then students who are pushed out by high-stakes tests will not be considered dropouts.


    No explicitly right-wing concerns.


    GOAL 3:
     All students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our nation's modern economy.


    There is a difference between raising expectations and raising standards. Here the focus is on making education more competitive, which will make it more stratified and more unequal. Setting standards at unrealistic levels ensures massive failure.


    The creation of a National Skills Standards Board and School-to-Work legislation links academics and vocational skills and pressures states to issue certificates of mastery instead of academic diplomas.

    The school's function should not be to prepare students for the economy.

    Giant corporations want tailor-made, highly trained workers to compete for a limited supply of jobs.

    "Preparing students for further learning" is code for pushing them out of school in grade 10, making them available as cheap labor.


    Competency is part of the Outcomes-Based Education, Mastery Learning, Total Quality Management, Performance-Based Learning, Break-the-Mold 21st-Century Schools conspiracy to undermine traditional values.

    Linking education with labor means that school becomes less academic and more attitudinal. See the SCANS report.

    Proof of competency will be kept in centralized data banks, with the government maintaining womb-to-tomb records of our achievements and attitudes.


    GOAL 4:
     The nation's teaching force will have access to programs for the continued improvement of their [sic] professional skills and the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to instruct and prepare all American students for the next century.


    It is not in the interest of politicians and their big-business allies for the public to believe that present-day teachers already have the knowledge and skills to do their jobs.

    It is hypocritical to call for increased professional skills at the same time state-imposed standards and texts are de-skilling teachers.>




    Schools should offer a basic, traditional curriculum. It is the right of the family to teach values, and values will not change in the year 2000.

    Although there are good teachers, their hands are tied by the ideological agenda of the unions.


    GOAL 5:
     United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.


    We may be there already. The TIMSS data have been distorted. If we're going to compare U.S. students with students in other countries, we should make sure they all have taken equivalent courses and that we aren't comparing our 17-year-olds with their 21-year-olds.

    The hysteria over TIMSS emphasizes education as a race, with winners and losers.


    The importance of taking higher mathematics has been exaggerated. Positing higher math as the guarantee of the good life offers false promise.

    There is increasing evidence that the current job market does not have enough jobs for math and science Ph.Ds.


    The emphasis on international competition is an attempt to require a National Science Foundation-designed applied curriculum, linking mathematics and science to School-to-Work.

    Math reformists deride such back-to-basics curricula as Saxon Math as being rote learning instead of being in the School-to-Work mold.


    GOAL 6:
     Every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.


    The intent is to train students to accept their "place" in an increasingly stratified society.


    Big business and the government are conspiring to create a planned economy. They will decide what jobs need to be filled and train students accordingly. A global economy means that U.S. corporations are downsizing and shipping jobs overseas.

    The biggest growth sector is not in high-tech or other high-skill areas; it is in the temporary-help industry, where jobs pay minimum wage, with no benefits.

    It is the function of business and industry, not schools, to train employees.


    This is more School-to-Work. Parents must be alert to the intrusion of career fairs, VoTech, school/business partnerships, and career counseling because they all mean the end to a basic education as we know it.

    Emphasis on the global economy reveals that Goals 2000 is part of the International Global 2000 conspiracy, involving the United Nations and the World Bank, among others.

    The goals of anti-family, socialist education reform involve behavioral conditioning for a compliant labor force.


    GOAL 7:
     Every school in the United States will be free of drugs, violence, and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.


    By focusing on drugs and firearms, the government distracts the populace from such long-standing domestic problems as racial and economic disparities.


    Nobody thinks this will happen. It is a news-making distraction from the real agenda.

    It is an expensive distraction of no proven benefit. New York City schools, for example, already spend twice as much on drug-abuse programs as they do on library books and librarians combined.


    It is the government's intention to create hysteria about violence in the schools so that it can disarm the populace, a necessary step in ensuring the state's total authority over the people.

    To implement this goal, students will be channeled into community service and into vocational careers.


    GOAL 8:
     Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children.


    By insinuating that something is wrong with children's social and emotional growth, this is another example of "blame the victim."

    Goals 2000 obscures the inequities caused by poverty and the damage caused by the absence of safety nets.


    Government publications addressed to parents take a paternalistic tone: "Here, we'll show you how to do this." Parents are not acknowledged as informed and intelligent about their own children.

    The language suggests that this is voluntary, and the word "voluntary" appears 101 times in the document. But the government makes available model contracts between schools and parents, spelling out the obligations of both.


    The government has no business dictating parents' level of participation with their own children.

    Schools should stick to academics and not intrude on parents' responsibility for their children's social and emotional growth.

    This makes it possible for schools to require contracts of parents, specifying how much time will be spent on homework, TV watching, and so on.


    1. Susan Ohanian, "Huffing and Puffing and Blowing Schools Excellent," Phi Delta Kappan, January 1985, p. 319.

    2. Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., et al., Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America's Public Schools (New York: Dutton, 1994). Subsequent references will be made parenthetically in text.

    3. I don't know which is my favorite: seventh-graders analyzing the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of Islamic civilizations in the Middle Ages, of China in the Middle Ages, of the sub-Saharan civilizations, of Japan in the Middle Ages, of Europe in the Middle Ages, and of Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations; or the theological, political, and economic ideas of the major figures of the Reformation (e.g., Erasmus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Tyndale). These are just two of 11 standards to be covered by California seventh-graders.

    4. Subscriptions are $16 (11 issues). Contact Substance, 5132 W. Berteau Ave., Chicago, IL 60641-1440; or via e-mail at

    5. According to a release from the Associated Press, dated 17 September 1999, CTB/McGraw-Hill fouled up the scores of 260,000 Indiana students; an unspecified number of South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Nevada students; 60,000 Tennessee fourth-graders; 183,032 Missouri students; and 11,500 Florida students. And that's just CTB/McGraw-Hill. As Roxanne Grossman reported on the Assessment Reform Network Mailing List for 26 September 1999, Harcourt Brace has had its own goofs: California, Philadelphia, Oklahoma, and Connecticut. These goofs involve things like misclassifying as "below basic" elementary students who had actually scored at "proficient" or "advanced" levels and sending 11th-grade tests to eighth-graders and vice versa. (When the mistake was detected, the kids had to retake the tests.)

    6. Conspiracy theories continue to swirl around Tucker. The right wing sees him as a prime mover for "womb-to-tomb" government control. An emerging left-wing theory is that he is positioning himself for lucrative deals when school choice becomes a reality.

    7. The speech was posted on the Web at

    8. See any of the Bracey Reports that are featured in the October issues of the Kappan, beginning in 1991; David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle, The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1995); Clinton E. Boutwell, Shell Game: Corporate America's Agenda for Schools (Bloomington, Ind.: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1997); and Richard Rothstein, The Way We Were? The Myths and Realities of America's Student Achievement (New York: Century Foundation, 1998).

    9. Larry Cuban, "The Great School Scam," Education Week, 15 June 1994, p. 44.

    10. James R. Patrick, ed., America 2000/Goals 2000 - Moving the Nation Educationally to a "New World Order" (Moline, Ill.: Citizens for Academic Excellence, 1994), p. 662.

    11. Ibid., p. 675.

    12. Paul Goodman, Growing Up Absurd (New York: Random House, 1960). &l

    — Susan Ohanian
    Phi Delta Kappan
    January 26, 2013

    Index of Common Core [sic] Standards
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