“Best Urban School District in America” Blocks Access to Websites Critical of “Education Reform”

Reports on Gerald Bracey’s Education Disinformation and Detection Reporting Agency email discussion listserv indicate that teachers, students and administrators in the Aldine Independent School District, Houston, Texas are blocked from viewing at least two websites offering alternative views of “education reform” in the United States. Based on student performance on state tests, the district was named “best urban school system in America” earlier this September, and awarded the Broad Prize for Urban Education, $1 million in college scholarships for Aldine’s graduating seniors, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The first site known to be blocked is that of Susan Ohanian. A veteran teacher and author of 23 books, Ohanian has been an active and vocal critic of high stakes testing, the No Child Left Behind legislation, and what she describes as the “politico-corporate takeover of curriculum” (http://susanohanian.org). In 2003, Ohanian reported concerns of teachers from more than one Aldine High School “that some administrators are manipulating testing criteria for students taking the state mandated TAAS and TAKS examinations for the purpose of achieving Recognized or Exemplary ratings which affect the amount of bonus and promotion opportunities for administrators within the district.”

The second site blocked by Aldine is that of the Institute for Language and Education Policy, a “newly formed nonprofit organization,” which describes itself as “dedicated to promoting research-based policies in serving English and heritage language learners…We are teachers, administrators, researchers, professors, students, and others who believe that the time for advocacy is now.” The organization openly challenges the direction the Obama administration is heading, including what they describe as the “test-and-punish approach”. The organization challenges visitors to think about the impact of this direction: “Reform, change, innovation, and other pleasing generalities are in the air and on the lips of the President and his education advisers. Virtually no one on any side of today’s policy debates would oppose these goals in principle. But what will the words mean in practice?” (http://www.elladvocates.org/)

The message received by those attempting to access either of these websites from computers on Aldine’s network reads: “Access to this web page is restricted at this time. Your attempt to access the requested site may be in violation of Aldine ISD policy and has been restricted by the Technology Services Department. Site Category: ‘Education;Political/Activist Groups’”

Participants on the email listserv have challenged Aldine, raising important concerns about the responsibility of government to the public. “This may be [the result of] some site-blocking software, but it seems highly unlikely. Let’s not forget that Aldine ISD and all the other public schools are formally arms of the local governments (and, it could be argued, the state governments). They cannot censor wily-nilly. In this case, I would very much want to know their formal reason for blocking “Education; Political/Activist Groups”, in general, and for classifying any particular site under that label, specifically,” writes Victor Steinbok.

According to Ohanian, Aldine was one of six districts selected in 2007 by the Center for Reform of School Systems to participate in Reform Governance in Action (RGA), described as “a comprehensive two-year training program for school boards and superintendents…. The RGA program is an effort underwritten by the Eli Broad Foundation and the Meadows Foundation to support and encourage reform-minded leadership in school districts across the country. School Boards enrolled in RGA will study ways to better serve their constituents’ needs, how institute effective policy, and how to create and implement a cogent transformation plan.”

Education Week described the school as follows: “Aldine is striking because the district leaves so little to chance when it comes to student success…. It takes little time for a visitor to Aldine to see the heavy emphasis that is placed on preparation for state tests. Computer programs scroll through lists of practice questions. Printers spit out scores for teachers to review. Timed practice quizzes help students prepare for the real thing.”

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