Antithesis of the Briar Patch: School Choice as the Snare Instead of an Escape

This is the beginning of the factual stories behind K-12 educational reform over recent decades that I was saving until after the Presidential election, waiting to see who won. It was my feeling based on the false narratives being spread and the facts in my possession that both candidates would end up pushing the same K-12 education agenda for the most part. Hillary Clinton because she and Bill Clinton have been involved going back to Arkansas being one of the states that volunteered in the 80s for the little discussed, federally-sponsored (while Bill Bennett was Education Secretary and with Lamar Alexander when he was the Tennessee Governor and head of the National Governors Association) “Project Education Reform: Time for Results”. Donald Trump would be pushing the same agenda because his advisors on education hyping School Choice as the panacea do not seem to be telling him its history.

So I will don my metaphorical helmet and flak jacket and begin doing it. For those not raised on Uncle Remus Tales in the South the briar patch in the title is from the “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby” story where the captured, but cunning rabbit, convinced his mortal enemy Brer Fox that no punishment could be as dreadful as being thrown into the briar patch.

“Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.” Not having string to hang him nor being close to a stream to drown him, Brer Fox flings Brer Rabbit “head over heels into the briar patch. Brer Rabbit let out such a scream as he fell that all of Brer Fox’s fur stood straight up. Then there was silence…Then Brer Fox heard someone calling his name. He turned around and looked up the hill. Brer Rabbit was sitting on a log combing the tar out of his fur with a wood chip and looking smug. ‘I was bred and born in the briar patch, Brer Fox,’ he called. ‘Bred and born in the briar patch.'”

Being thrown in the briar patch was actually Brer Rabbit’s escape route. School Choice as it has been developed over the decades by think tanks and professors is actually a trap pretending to be a remedy so it can be put into place as a matter of law. Let’s move away from American folklore now that we have a metaphor for whether something will trap us or free us and move to a book published in 1990 called Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools by John E Chubb and Terry M. Moe. Both will later serve on an ed reform project sponsored by the Hoover Institution, the Koret Task Force, with one of President-Elect Trump’s ed advisors, Bill Evers, so he should be more than familiar with this history of School Choice, but the 1990 book was actually published by the Brookings Institution. Several fed ED grants funded the book along with the Olin and Bradley Foundations that have gone on to finance both School Choice initiatives and the experimental economics/Neuroeconomics work we covered in the last post.

If this convergence of what is clearly a project of the admitted Left and purported Right seems confusing, let me quote from one of the book’s footnotes since I just love to tiptoe through the cited support.

“The classic argument for vouchers is developed in Milton and Rose Friedman Free to Choose (1981)…The Friedmans’ argument is of course associated by educators with political conservatism. But vouchers have also been proposed by social democrats on the left, who seek to enlist markets in the cause of justice and equal opportunity for the poor. Perhaps the most influential of these proposals has come from Christopher Jencks, who, along with like-minded colleagues, urged administrators within the Office of Economic Opportunity (within the late Johnson and early Nixon presidencies) to take vouchers seriously and encourage experimentation by states and districts.”

I bolded ‘states and districts’ there because as we will see when I get back to Time for Results, this trumpeted shift away from the feds to making the local, with the states in charge, the focus has ALWAYS been the vision for how to achieve a fundamentally different vision of American education. To quote another admitted leftist, President Obama’s education advisor who was deemed too radical to be confirmed as an Ed Secretary, Linda Darling-Hammond, from 1990 as well, when she was still a prof at Columbia, on the need for a ‘bottom-up’ approach to reform instead of top-down:

“rather than viewing the disciplines as embodying information to be transmitted by teachers and acquired by students, the frameworks seek to present subject areas as providing ways of thinking that will foster knowledge and understandings to be constructed by students themselves. More than any other state curriculum effort to date, California’s experiment aims explicitly at the goals urged by many recent reform reports: instruction that helps students think critically, express themselves proficiently, construct and solve problems, synthesize information, invent, and create.”

Sound familiar? Even for those who have not yet read my book Credentialed to Destroy, there is nothing new about what is now being called the Common Core or the active coordination of fed ED, the think tanks of every purported allegiance, and the NGA. To anyone who has not guessed it yet, ed reforms forĀ results will become better known and then notorious as Outcomes-Based Education. Education reforms for results embodying actual changes in the students at an internalized level in how they think, feel, and ultimately act needed a new conception of schools and how they operate. That’s what School Choice has always been about. This is from the Foreword to the 1990 book, written by the Brookings’ President (my bolding):

“the nation’s education problem, then, is an institutional problem. To overcome it, the authors recommend a new system of public education based on fundamentally new institutions. They propose a shift away from a system of schools controlled directly by the government–through politics and bureaucracy–to a system of indirect control that relies on markets and parental choice.”

That again was Brookings and it fits with the Rockefeller Foundation’s recognition in the 80s that only “systemic school reform” would allow the kind of change in American schools toward holistic human development for ALL students that it sought. So School Choice became seen as the means for ensuring that ALL schools will offer “a high-quality learning experience” and a “rigorous curriculum in which students actively participate.” Envisioned as a theory in 1990 then, but that same pursuit of active and experiential is what accreditors now require and what the December 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) wrote into federal law for the states and districts to all implement. There is another useful confession in this book that no one seems willing to concede anymore now that School Choice is not just a theory.

“Any private schools that do participate will thereby become public schools, as such schools are defined under the new system.”

That same logic also is how homeschoolers are now poised to become ensnared via School Choice’s newest Vehicle for its Theory–Education Savings Accounts. Anyone using an ESA may be forced to submit to “high quality assessments” measuring and monitoring precisely what they have internalized and what guides their “sense of self”( as Reschool Colorado recently termed it in its Framework for the Future of Learning).

Again, let’s go back to the beginning of the confessions about what Choice might do and who was involved.

“Choice is being embraced by liberals and conservatives alike as a powerful means of transforming the structure and performance of public education…At the federal level, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush have been enthusiastic supporters of educational choice, although there is not a great deal the federal government can do on it own. More consequentially, given the primary role of the states in public education, the National Governors’ Association has come out strongly for choice in its recent report [1986] on education, Time for Results–and reformist governors, Democrats and Republicans alike, have typically been in the forefront in pressing for real change.”

Karl Marx and John Dewey turn out to not be the only ones committed to social transformation via putting theories into practice. Public policy think tanks and their political allies love to as well. Authors Chubb and Moe again: “more important [a full-blown choice system] allows us to suggest in specific terms what our institutional theory of the schools actually entails for educational reform–and to emphasize, once again, how essential it is that reforms be founded in theory.” Now, if you are beginning to feel like a theory guinea pig, or at least a funder of such experiments, hold on for this stunning admission:

“Our guiding principle in the design of a choice system is this: public authority must be put to use in creating a system that is almost entirely beyond the reach of public authority.” If that sounds like nowhere to effectively appeal for any parent or student who grasps that School Choice and the law are to be used to impose the consciousness needed for the Human Development Society, the related footnote confirmed it:

“A good way of mitigating it [state legislatures or governors trying to control schools or their new mission in the future], however, would be to design institutions around fully decentralized authority and then install them through constitutional amendment. The legal foundation of the new system would then be very difficult to change or violate once put in place.”

Now I am just getting started on what has poured out in the last month as I sought to discern why no one was being honest about the history of either School Choice or the Common Core’s ancestry and who has been involved.

I guess we can just call this the Briar Patch Trilogy enlightening us all on why there has been such an insistence on false narratives.

I have been warning that the law and education are viewed as the ways to alter culture and the prevailing individual consciousness to something deemed appropriate for the ‘cooperative commonwealth’–another term frequently used.

If President-elect Trump is going to get us out of the Paris-climate accords (thank goodness!), can we please also cancel the attendant cultivation of a Comrade Consciousness via education reforms?