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January 7, 2016 - FORDHAM'S COMPLIANCE SCHEME: Resounding Books Responds to Announced Competition for Design of State Accountability Plans

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is holding a competition! 

It's not bad enough, apparently, that Fordham has so relentlessly assisted in the advancement of false education reform. Now they're inviting you to forge with enthusiasm the chains of your own enslavement. Michael Petrilli, Fordham's president, announced this week that the institute is now accepting entries for the design of state "accountability" systems.

The competition's simple description and guidelines cloak Fordham's mendacious scheme in the threads of personal ingenuity, team spirit, and public virtue. Yes! You too can be a reformer and make a difference! And, hey, every state is different, Petrilli, acknowledges, so feel free to embrace a "different strokes for different folks" mindset in devising measures that you believe would work best where you live. 

Encouraging different accountability flavors is, we admit, a stroke of genius in providing--let's be clear--centralized compliance policy with the superficial appearance of "local control." Puts a whole new spin on the meaning of local control, in fact.

Kind of like how "accountability" also no longer means what people think it does...

Gee, there seems to be a pattern here...

The fact that Fordham, like so many education "reformers"--oh hey, look, there's another word that no longer means what one might think--has quietly hijacked language and leveraged it against unsuspecting citizens is precisely why this response to their troubling competition is warranted. 

While many submissions to Fordham's competition will likely come from educratic circles at the state level--people already totally sold out to what the record decidedly reveals to be a bevvy of less-than-noble agendas--its deceptive framing will undoubtedly lure some less-informed but well-intentioned do-gooders. Regardless of who steps up to "help," in the end, the value of such a competition can only be to help public-private partners navigate around--and more deftly overcome--objections to so-called accountability at the state and local levels. Some of us are therefore uninterested in allowing Fordham to press forward with its propagandized subjugation contest without pushback. In fact, Resounding Books is currently working on something in that vein. Some initial glimpses in that direction in a moment.

First, a bit of context as to why we felt compelled to issue a response and confront Fordham's competition head on.

Fordham has proven which side it's on...

...and it's not the side of true education.

Few organizations have been such willing lackeys for those pushing false education reforms as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Their nearly perpetual willingness to throw true education under the bus--along with the students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers it is supposed to benefit--has been nothing short of astounding. Perhaps the only amusing thing about Fordham's industriousness in this regard--and it's quite darkly amusing--is to watch people make the mistake of labeling the institute as either conservative or liberal--depending on who's doing the labeling. On analysis, the organization is neither conservative nor liberal--certainly not in any principled way. The bald truth is that the only label that properly applies to Fordham is "shill." Their primary occupation, in fact, seems to be taking other people's money to push other people's agendas--regardless of any pesky conflicts of interest, negative implications, or resulting consequences.

Over the last several years, Fordham has, in particular, devotedly peddled the Common Core "State" Standards and related measures, the embrace of which even a former U.S. Department of Education official has now openly acknowledged was accomplished through planned coercion. Petrilli, Kathleen Porter-Magee, Chester Finn, and others have repeatedly and zealously buzzed out from Fordham's busy hive to defend Common Core nationwide, not least at public hearings in a host of states. As experts and activists alike have noted, Fordham's 2010 evaluation of the Common Core standards has raised serious questions, as has their comparison of Common Core to states' then-existing standards. Sandra Stotsky, for instance, elaborates in our own 2014 publication, Common Ground on Common Core

The Gates Foundation...gave grants to the Thomas B. Fordham evaluate state standards and promote Common Core’s standards. The reviews they released in 2010, at the time that most states were considering adoption of the standards, showered praise on both the ELA and the mathematics standards. In fact, Fordham’s “grades” for Common Core’s standards were much higher than those it gave to the existing standards in most states, despite the many negative reviewer comments on Common Core’s ELA standards, and the Fordham reviewer’s failure to note the absence of preparatory STEM standards in its mathematics standards. However, Fordham did give California’s standards higher grades than it gave Common Core’s standards, in both mathematics and ELA.

   ....Fordham’s grades—if not necessarily their reviewers’ comments—have been highly influential, especially its “bottom line” that a particular state’s standards were “among the worst in the country.” This boilerplate bottom line was used in its review of many states’ standards (Wyoming, Wisconsin, and South Carolina among many others). Apparently, no reporter or state board member noticed the repetition of that line across state reviews or the additional statement that Common Core’s standards were far superior to those in these benighted states. Yet both of these repeated phrases loudly hinted that the so-called bottom line was little more than a piece of propaganda added at the end of the reviewer’s comments to get state boards of education to stampede to replace their “among the worst in the country” standards with Common Core’s. It is not clear why the media were so completely taken in by Fordham’s grades—and its subsequent claim that Common Core’s standards were rigorous and far superior to those in most other states. 

The mystery is how Fordham still has any credibilty with anyone, anywhere. The institute's broad implication that the Common Core standards could improve the lot of a nation wallowing in a slew of idiocy remains a little difficult to swallow, right down to the present moment--even more so after digging into the standards' history and construction, never mind the cast of characters involved. Across the political and ideological spectrum, informed members of the public have rightly balked.

As part of its work to advance false education reform, Fordham has necessarily assisted in redefining language and concepts at every turn. We've already mentioned some of these terms. Add to the list: standards, grades, rigor, high, low, best, worst, and numerous others. An unsuspecting public is still, in many ways, mired in misleading rhetoric, misinformation, and subsequent misapprehension. This reality has, in turn, led to confusion, frustration, despair, anger, and even alienation among those impacted by this ongoing and--it must be said--purposeful twisting of language.

As Common Core and associated measures have come under increasing scrutiny and fire, Fordham has flitted about in zig-zag patterns, bobbing, weaving and dodging in a calculated effort to maintain its credibility. No mean feat, considering many of the positions it's taken. But it's clear that the organization still works to maintain the good will and the financial nectar of those pushing the centralization, standardization, and degrading of this country's education system. 

So, perhaps none of us should be surprised at Fordham's latest strategem. The design competition for state "accountability" plans is simply the latest chapter in Fordham's well-established record of smoothing the way for all the wrong ideas. In May of 2014, the organization had already published a brief report on the status of state accountability, providing "Common Core 'insiders'...cautionary advice" regarding transition challenges as communicated by "key policymakers and influentials in a handful of states." One heading in the brief reads: "The accountability moratorium is here. Punitive consequences associated with accountability are largely being put on hold."

Now, however, with the Every Student Succeeds Act a done deal and the states essentially designated as the enforcers for federal mandates--including the implementation of the Common Core and the burgeoning bouquet of items attached to it--Fordham is all in for getting accountability done.

So, about "accountability"...

So what is accountability, then, as it's currently framed by those posing as education reformers?

It actually involves compliance with a range of centralized education-related policies (and we use the word education very loosely, here). These policies have frequently been devised behind closed doors by public-private partners for their own ends. The average person--for example, parents and teachers--is excluded as neatly as possible from having any input of consequence.

Perhaps Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson best summed up the spirit underlying this version of accountability when he said on a recent panel:

“I’m not sure public schools understand that we’re their customer—that we, the business community, are your customer...What they don’t understand is they are producing a product at the end of that high school graduation…Now is that product in a form that we, the customer, can use it? Or is it defective, and we’re not interested?” American schools, Tillerson declared, “have got to step up the performance level—or they’re basically turning out defective products that have no future. Unfortunately, the defective products are human beings. So it’s really serious. It’s tragic. But that’s where we find ourselves today.”

There's a charming view of your children, huh? 

Never mind that accountability, in the sense in which Fordham and other reformers frame it, has already been demonstrated not to work, several times over. It's a huge part of the problem, not the solution. In states across the nation, it has resulted in ever more standardized assessment, more data collection, less actual learning, less creative and critical thinking ability, and a lot more damage to the lives and reputations of children, parents, and teachers. Yes, even under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Sorry to burst any bubbles.

Still, Fordham doesn't seem to mind. As long as someone will pay them to pitch poison. 

Notes data scientist and education activist Jeffrey D. Horn in another essay from Common Ground on Common Core

[M]any states are now using performance on assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (Common Core), combined with adherence to similarly aligned curricula, to create single letter grades that indicate whether teachers, schools, and districts measure up. If they don’t, sanctions guarantee intervention or elimination. Letter grades also facilitate public buy-in to accountability measures. A simple label assigned to teacher, school, or district—something familiar that most people think they understand—signals a merited reward or sanction. If a teacher receives a poor grade, most people will assume the teacher to be a problem and not examine other factors—for example, the system within which the teacher must operate. These grades essentially become scarlet letters, borne first and foremost by educators. Not that it stops with them. Common standards permit schools, districts, and even states to be monitored, compared...and “corrected.” 

Think this approach doesn’t affect students? Race to the Top (RttT) grants have paved the way for states to create longitudinal databases for student data—tracking individuals from pre-school through post-graduation (P-20). Achieve’s brief on RttT and P-20 data systems asserts that “[a] seamlessly integrated, accessible P-20 longitudinal data system with college and career readiness as its central driver should be a linchpin of any state’s effort to maximize the impact of its RTTT strategy.”

As for the myth, much touted by many Common Core proponents that accountability helps minorities, Florida educator and United Opt-Out National co-founder Ceresta Smith reveals in yet another well-supported Common Ground essay that "the implementation of federal and state accountability policies, such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Race to the Top (RttT), Florida’s A+ Plan, and other state initiatives...have dispensed with teacher due process [and failed to net] positive results for non-whites. In fact" she adds, "it can be argued that they have caused a tremendous amount of loss and undue suffering."

Jed Hopkins and Tim Slekar of the Edgewood College School of Education in Madison, WI, get at the utter hoodwinking going on in relationship to accountability when they note in one of the same book's final essays: 

[I]t sounds so rational: 

  1. Assess the situation by measuring performance outcomes. 
  2. Find a failed system. 
  3. Identify mechanisms that will fix the failed system. 
  4. Require accountability in order to demonstrate to “the powers that be” an unwavering commitment to these mechanisms. 
  5. Jettison the fat and weak, those who would resist this commitment, while rewarding the lean, compliant, technically proficient workforce of the future—perhaps by not closing down their schools. 

Doesn’t this sound strongly responsible, scientific, and miles from the ideologically messy? 

Together, Hopkins and Slekar then proceed to expose and examine the hidden subtext of each of the above five items--none of which are positive for true education.

What should accountability be instead?

True accountability--accountability that could actually work, and did for years--would involve parents, teachers, and local school boards. It would involve real dialogue between those parties in order to tailor the right decisions for education within any given community. Stakeholders at the local level, those closest to individual schools, who send their children to those schools and support them with tax dollars, should ideally remain the principal decision-makers in regard to what education looks like in their own community. We realize that sometimes there are obstacles to this ideal. But it should be striven for to the greatest degree possible. If we don't want pubilc-private overlords exercising their ugly version of accountability (making us accountable to them), we should be working to maintain and/or restore the greatest degree of local control possible (taking responsibility on ourselves).

In summary, true accountability would involve less threatening and bullying and a lot more engaging, honest, productive dialogue amongst people at the local level.

If accountability were restored to the proper level, how many school districts would choose to assess kids till they drop? ...teach to the test? ...gather intrusive student data and hand it over to anyone who wanted it? ...socially engineer kids to prepare them for what's turning out to be the sham of college- and career-readiness? ...punish ingenuitive teachers? ...or allow themselves to get pushed around by managerially-minded educrats, politicians, and special interests who think that their money, power, and status entitles them to:

  • mold children's lives,
  • write the script for teachers,
  • appropriate public moneys for private agendas,
  • access and use personally identifiable student data, and
  • truncate parental voice and rights.

Enough is enough. 

If Fordham and others insist on fostering and taking advantage of misapprehension, then it's time that people who care start depriving them of their largely unfettered ability to do so. 

So here's what we're gonna do...

Resounding Books is in the process of mounting a counter-competition in order to spur public awareness of the nature of so-called accountability measures. We're trusting we're not alone in wanting to put a crimp in the type of accountability that organizations such as Fordham are pushing.

It's not a battle we can fight alone. But it is one that principled people from across the political spectrum can fight successfully together.

Once we roll out the competition guidelines, we hope you'll join us.

Watch our blog, as well as our Facebook page and Twitter account for more details. We'll have more to share with you within about a week.

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