When I was writing the book, it was my firm hope that the real story would get out just as implementation was beginning to occur. The most aggressive states and districts would have to deal with the Truth of education reform once and for all. We would finally have scrutiny of the political and social theories it was designed to quietly enact. And my own children would be safely tucked away in schools in a district I believed was firmly committed to content first. That was not to be.
Unfortunately for me an unexpected district super retirement and a sudden principal departure meant that I was suddenly dealing personally with the radical ed reform I had been researching and describing. Up close and personal. I guess in the end we should all be grateful. I honestly do not think I would have fully appreciated how crucial Accreditation had become to fully implementing the current version had I not been pondering why a new Super would feel privileged to be openly rude. Or why a new principal would loudly proclaim that he was “here to be a Change Agent” at a well-regarded high school and that everyone would just need to adjust.
I had never heard of Cambridge Education until I heard that the new District Super had hired them to do “School Quality Reviews” just like they had done for each of the schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenberg district. I already knew “Quality” was a term insiders used to obscure real changes away from academic content and instruction. Then a middle school principal described the Cambridge recommendations. I heard the kind of insistence on student centered work that had previously caused the district to reject participating in the federal Race to the Top competition for grant money. I came home looking for a connection between Cambridge and UNESCO. What I had heard reminded me of the Education For All basic skills movement. That now established link will be what we discuss in the next post.
So I already knew quite a lot about Cambridge when the new high school principal proudly proclaimed in a meeting with parents that he was “a constructivist”. Thereby immersing himself thoroughly (but unknowingly I hope) in practices and beliefs that actually track back to the Soviets and how they used education to try to control their own citizens. I gulped. He then excitedly went on to announce that the high school’s Quality Review report was back. He said he had told the faculty there was too much emphasis on teachers teaching and students listening and learning. I know. What a shockingly inappropriate thing for teachers to be doing. I smelled a SCAM report designed to change the emphasis of the school away from the transmission of knowledge. I had an advantage. I knew that “learning” was yet another redefined term. It actually now means changing a student’s beliefs, values, feelings, or behaviors. And bringing in a 3rd party to proclaim that facts were no longer to be the primary staple of the classroom and to bemoan the school’s “climate in which academic achievement is valued above all else” was very useful to me.
It was time to do some more digging. We had definitely crashed through the barrier of deference to education officials “Trying to decide how to best teach the kids.” It turned out that Cambridge’s work in the US dated back to 2007 when Michael Barber recommended them to New York City officials. A little searching took me back to frustrated NYC teachers in 2008 being told by Cambridge in Quality Reviews that they were no longer to be focused on teaching the material to the students. Next to Charlotte where their Quality Review reports showed the same pattern. Cambridge comes in to shift the classroom practices. That meant that the new Fulton Super who had come from Charlotte hired Cambridge precisely for that purpose. Reviewing the actual Quality Review report with factual knowledge of the school plus the glossary in my head of what these terms actually mean and what these practices actually are designed to promote and the conclusion is unmistakeable. It is a planted report designed to radically transform school and classroom practices while allowing a 3rd party “professional” evaluation to take the blame.
The crash through the barrier moment goes back to the reason for making the student the focus of the classroom. It is not a better way to learn knowledge and skills. It is unquestionably the fulfillment of John Dewey’s announced dream to use the school to change the student. And the reason he wanted to change the student and keep facts to a minimum was he wanted to use schools and education to transform the US socially, politically, and economically. A shift away from the traditional autonomy of the individual to a collectivist focus. The 8 Year Study and Professor Bode’s quote from an earlier post were pushing Dewey’s vision.
I am afraid I have terrible news for the school principals quite certain they now get to be My Liege Lord Principal to whom Resistance is Futile. Or district Supers presuming to be Your Grace Lord Super to whom all students and taxpayers and teachers must swear an oath of Fealty and Loyalty. Or the Omnipotent Accreditors assuming that all school boards must act as commanded or sanctions will be decreed. In your obnoxious behavior and loud declarations of what you were targeting and restricting and why, you have walked straight into the restrictions and embracing power of the US Constitution. Which actually trumps charter agreements and state statutes and AdvancED edicts.
When the Constitution was written, property was not just something you could touch or hold, like real estate or your horse. To quote the actual architect, James Madison, a man also has “a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.” He has “equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.” In other words, what John Dewey was targeting and what Cambridge is attacking and what these principals and supers and accreditors seek to monitor and change is constitutionally protected Property. Sacrosanct. Not to be touched without justification. So precious in fact are personal beliefs in the US system that we tolerate pornography and flag burning.
I know it is a shock that as government employees and licensees there are in fact limits on what can be done under the banner of education. Education professors and their graduates actually do not have the unfettered ability to decide what kind of country America will be in the 21st Century. And then to use our money to finance the transformation.
The next post will describe in more detail just what that radical change was to look like. And how I know.