I met Susan when I and John Lawhead went down to Birmingham Al for a conference Susan helped organize to fight NCLB and those few days with a great crew of activists were very important in my development. I didn't see Susan again until SOS 2011 in DC and hope to see her on her next visit for a speaking engagement on May 4.
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.)
Read more: http://susanohanian.org/core.php?id=404