An increasing number of students, parents, educators and community members have entered the public domain and created space for their views critical of the Common Core Standards Initiative (CCSI), the ever-increasing emphasis on testing, and the collection and sharing of students’ private data against parents’ will. The Opt Out movement grows as legal will moves farther from that consciously expressed by an increasingly frustrated public, upsetting those who believe money alone makes history. The big education data mining company, inBloom, now lies dormant, on account of public action against it.
Parents and educators have spoken with many voices, and raised many concerns, yet, they increasingly act as one. This unity is formed in action against a trend that is readily recognized as harmful to society, as anti-democratic and anti-intellectual.
These voices and the human agency and dignity which carries them have not backed down. They can’t be bought off. They have not been fooled into a lull by phony commissions or the hot air of politicians that fails to rise up into votes that count, as the increasingly unfettered power of a governor weighs very hard on the remnants of conscience of elected (especially Democrat) representatives of the people.
New York State Education Commissioner King seems to think that being coddled by President Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan, famous for insulting parents, along with his insistence that we ignore reality and move full-steam ahead with Common Core, will convince parents and educators into taking the bad medicine that is the Regents Reform Agenda. Its just not going to happen as usurpers would like.
But to effectively oppose something — to bring it to a halt and be in a position to alter course — requires an understanding of what is transpiring. The Opt Out movement is materially testing the waters of just how arbitrary the State has become. Everyone is learning together. But while opposition ignites and activates, and brings together disparate individuals as organized forces, a deep probing is required in preparation for what lies ahead.
If Only the Common Core Were Bought
In the past several months, increasing attention has been given to the role the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has played in imposing the CCSI. Indeed, estimates of the amount of money coming from Gates to impose the CCSI continue to increase, with a recent chart documenting the contributions of Gates to be nearly $300 million.
There is great significance in this work to document how private foundations are reshaping education in the United States and elsewhere. Below I offer that Gates has spent far more than $300 million to impose his will against the public interest. The CCSI is, in fact, only one part of a much larger agenda, of which Gates has played a leading role.
But the amount of money spent is not the only issue. Key to understanding what is now taking place, to grasping the significance of the Gates usurpation and the fight of the public to claim its place as the arbiter of education, we must examine together the ways in which this money is being used, the purposes in particular, to which it is directed. The issue goes well beyond buying support from organizations like the national Parent Teacher Association and its state affiliates, or the American Federation of Teachers. It is not simply what has been bought, but rather what is being built — and destroyed in its wake — that needs our careful attention.
The Career and College Ready Agenda
The Common Core Standards have become a political lightening rod, and in part as a result of this, it tends to be discussed as a separate, or unique development. While it is often discussed with high-stakes testing and privacy violations associated with the now dormant inBloom, opponents of each often nonetheless speak of “career and college ready” as if what that phrase meant were clearly understood and a legitimate aim for education.
Part of the reason for this separation is that ideological unity across a broad range of educational policies is hard to come by, except among Centrists, of which Bill Gates, Sir Michael Barber and Arne Duncan are prime examples. Right wing Republicans might champion vouchers or charters, as they appear not to challenge state’s rights or even local control (although they do in fact challenge both) while championing something that sounds like free enterprise and personal responsibility. And left leaning Democrats might favor charters that focus on “progressive education” or the promises of “closing achievement gaps” and “equity” that surround a variety of initiatives, including Common Core.
And so, things that are explicitly connected to the CCSI get lost, because folks cherry pick what they like, or target only that which does not easily align to their larger world view. But the fact is, evidenced by the sheer force of the initiatives that the same super rich fund and support over and over again, there is a Centrist agenda evident, of which the Core is one important part.
Based on my developing analysis of the funding patterns of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the CCSI is part of what might be called the Career and College Ready Agenda (CCRA). While I have not yet broken down funding pattern by initiative, I estimate the total spent by Gates between 2009 and 2012 on the CCRA to be over $1.5 billion. This is nearly 1/3 of the $4.35 billion in federal Race to the Top grants. This agenda includes the following components, which are interrelated and rely on each other for “system functionality”:
- The Common Core standards themselves
- Curriculum development aligned to Core Standards. The possibility of a CCSI Czar is on the horizon, to determine what curriculum is in fact aligned to the Core
- Common Core aligned assessments (PARCC, SmarterBalanced)
- Big Data and “Personalized Learning”
- Test-based teacher evaluation; value-added models
- New models of teacher preparation and observation (Teach for America, etc.), using cameras in every classroom
- Computer-based testing and grading (e.g., of essays)
- Educational technologies, such as behaviorist games, connected to big data
- Charter schools and charter partnerships with traditional public schools
- P-20 tracking initiatives in every state and data articulations between higher education and k12, under the banner of human capital
- Public relations campaigns, professional development and related support organizations aimed at serving 1-10
Number 11 is key: Much of Gates’ funding has been spent on (1) doing propaganda — which includes Gates funded “research” — (2) organizing professional development (conferences, you name it) so that it strategically supports all of his initiatives, and (3) building organizations from the ground up and fostering networks with existing organizations that alter their functioning, governance, etc. A final point should be noted: Gates trained and linked reform gurus have been strategically placed (infiltrated) in both the USDOE and state education departments — a notable example in New York is of course the Regents’ Fellows, funded and controlled by Gates and his cadres.
The Anarchy of Usurpation
Gates and the ruling faction of which he is a part have used their huge sums of money to build organizations and networks of organizations that stand as parallel structures to our current system of local, state and federal agencies, augmenting and replacing government functions as needed, when possible, with new structures, and loyal personnel, all under the private direction of oligarchs who are seeking direct control over the state apparatus: the organized instruments of legally sanctioned force against citizens and populations, including the power to decide who exists as a viable political entity.
The privatization of the means of coercion is as historic as it is dangerous. This includes the use of force against students and their families in the form of “sit and stare” and related sanctions against those affirming their rights. The amount of power that has been unleashed from the wealth accumulated by Gates and his fellow usurpers signifies a larger, more radical shift in the basic forms of social organization than might be originally thought.
But the nature of this concentration of power is not as one might think: the power is, while centralized, also arbitrary, and this arbitrariness filters down the chain of command. The power is in some ways ephemeral, hard to get a hold of; it is a power that is hard to make account for itself, to even identify itself as a power, meaning that which caused something to happen. This has been the experience across the country with state boards of education and the federal department of education.
Witness how political reality is now rendered by those defending so-called reform: The local school district says it is doing The Reform because of the state; the state says it is doing The Reform because of the feds; the feds say it is a state choice, and the state asserts that local education authorities remain in control of curriculum and personnel, etc. This is not just doublespeak and passing the buck. It is anarchy. It is the dissolution of authority understood as legitimate power.
This thesis can be explored more by examining how usurpers contend with the problem of accountability: the results following in the wake of the usurpation of a charter chain executive — for those that don’t recall, Commissioner King is connected to Uncommon Schools — over public schools in New York State is anarchy, the antithesis of accountability.
A key example of this can be found with Commissioner King’s refusal to to provide public guidance to school districts on how to process and treat families opting out-of-state tests. Repeatedly school district officials have asked the Commissioner for policy guidance from state education officials. In response, these officials “opted out” — they refused to answer the question. When asked if he would force students to “sit and stare”, Commissioner King reportedly told public school administrators in New York State that he would not answer the question. Again, he opted out.
Following such “leadership”, it is not shocking to find schools across the state implementing radically different policies for handling students refusing to take state tests. Who is served by pushing power down and out in this manner? Who benefits by creating the conditions where a young superintendent thinks his career will be secured if he takes off the gloves; others, fearing wrath from their board, decide on their own to be less aggressive. Some building principles feel empowered to attack parents, empowered by the non-public threat of appearing “not to be onboard”; others see it as their duty to defend and protect families while looking compliant. Who benefits from such a set up? Why does King get to opt out? How is his opting out to be coded? Will it affect Race to the Top funding?
Neither atate education officials, federal education officials, nor their “business partners”, have taken responsibility for the suffering that has been reported in the wake of the Common Core tsunami. And by take responsibility I mean doing something to fix the problem, to make amends, including the central problem of decision-making itself. Rendering the debacle as a series of missed opportunities, as King did in his post-opt out speech noted above, is cynical at best.
The anarchy that follows usurpation functions to dissolve legitimate authority. And this is the crisis that both the animated public and state and federal officials and their venture friends face. No legitimate basis for the order being pursued by usurpers can be established.
Thus, a situation has arisen where individuals act as their own arbitrary sources of power. This is an outcome of King’s policy of refusing to provide a standard for how to deal with opting out. While it may take heat off King, it fuels the fire unleashed by the usurpation reformers can’t quite manage to justify. The only thing left — other than to step aside and let educators, parents and their communities affirm their rights — is to continue to impose anarchy as a means of rule.
The means of this rule is the dissolution of forms and systems that can be rationally interacted with and held accountable to public will. In the end, the theory of governance of the usurpation funded and built by Gates and his friends is that the state cannot and will not be accountable to anyone but him and his clique. This theory admits not even the tiniest room for state responsibility. This is not just “outrageous”: it’s a theory of action premised against legitimate authority, and the very idea of a self-governed people.