Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Common Core: Brave New World in Education

We visit a typical American classroom in the not too distant future:

April 1, 2025:  Two highly paid consultants, one from Wireless Generation, a leading company in the sale of education software, the other from Pearson, a major player in the testing industry, are seated in the back of John Galt’s seventh grade American history class. Neither consultant has ever taught. Yet they are here to assess how new technology, guaranteed to boost standardized test scores and company profits, is functioning. Did we just say, “Boost test scores and company profits?”

We meant: “To enhance true learning.”

Several surveillance cameras, all set to follow Galt’s every move, are running in the room. This is part of the push to improve schools by holding teachers totally accountable. Because, let’s face it. The only person who matters in the room is the teacher.

That’s what school reformers like to say.

In this class every child a computer—purchased from Amplify, a division of Wireless Generation. (Corporate motto: No Dollar Left Behind.) Galt and his students are hooked to a series of electrodes. Today, the class is trying to hold a decent discussion about the battle for women’s rights in the 1800s.

“Mr. Galt,” a student named Dagney inquires, “I’ve been wondering. Who were the leaders in the fight for equality?”

“One would be Susan B. Anthony,” Galt responds gingerly. He consults his computer to be sure Anthony is specifically mentioned in the Common Core Curriculum. She is. “Susan B. Anthony may be on the standardized test,” Galt says. “The other leader, who will not be on the test, would be Eliz…”

Before he can finish his sentence the electrodes attached to his scalp deliver a powerful shock. The smell of singed hair fills the room.

(He was going to say: Elizabeth Cady Stanton.)

Every student receives a flashing red warning on their screen:  DANGER! MATERIAL NOT INCLUDED ON STANDARDIZED TEST! DANGER!

A voice similar to HAL, the deranged computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, delivers the message verbally, as well.

Joaquin, seated in the desk closest to the door waits for Galt to recover. He raises a hand to add to the discussion. “I can’t understand why women weren’t granted equal rights when the U. S. Constitution was first written. My grandmother told...”

The poor boy should have known better!

A loud buzzing noise, followed by Joaquin’s spastic jerking, and another computer warning, teaches Joaquin and all his curious classmates an important lesson. If it can’t be tested…it isn’t education.

Carolyn wants to know:  “What year did women finally win the right to vote?”

ZAPPPPPP. Another shock for a foolish student. Again, computers flash the warning:  DANGER! MATERIAL NOT INCLUDED ON STANDARDIZED TEST! DANGER!

Galt wants to answer. He wants to say “1920,” and note that his mother was in kindergarten by the time men got around to deciding that women were capable of voting. He wants to say to the girls in the room, “Just think. In all the long centuries of human history the dumbest man walking the face of the earth had more rights than any of the women.” Galt used to use this line—before Common Core—and remembers how it always riled up the ladies and got them interested. But now he knows if it’s not on the test, it doesn’t matter. Considering that Ohio enacted laws in 2013 to tie teacher pay to test scores, maybe it’s for the best. Still, he’s a professional. He wants his kids to learn.

“It wasn’t just women who couldn’t vote,” he says. “Poor white men.…”

That’s as far as he gets. Another shock is administered and Galt jumps where he stands like a fish on an electrified line.

He’s a stubborn man where learning is involved. He tries again, disguising his reply: “No vote. Pale skin. Poor…” ZAPPPPPP. The computer gets wise to what he’s up to and delivers a jolt.

The consultant from Pearson makes a note: “May need to increase voltage.”

Perhaps in his confusion, Galt forgets where he is—in a modern U. S. classroom—with all the reforms of recent years welded firmly into place. He forgets he’s expected to follow what is virtually a script. He is going to tell students that in the summer of 1964, Congress debated a massive civil rights bill designed to guarantee equal treatment to people of all races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. He is going to explain that Representative Howard W. Smith from Virginia stepped forward to block the legislation. Smith feared a world in which blacks might win equal rights. (Galt is also thinking he may bring up the Loring v. Virginia case, which overturned state laws against interracial marriage three years later.) So Smith devised a clever ruse to derail the bill. He suggested on the floor of the House that the word “sex” be added to the bill.

Surely, he imagined, no sane person could vote for a bill which granted equal rights to blacks and women! 

Galt is going to tell this story because he thinks it reveals the ludicrous nature of prejudice in all its forms. He tries to get it out by talking fast—telling the story at preternatural speed—and the cameras and electrodes and the computer are baffled for precious seconds. He gets in “summer of 1964” and “Howard W. Smith” but when he mentions the word “sex” the system catches up and gives him a mighty shock.

When the smoke around his head clears Galt sees a brave seventh grader in the front row put up a hand. He wants to ask a question about gay marriage and discrimination. But he decides it’s not worth the risk and lowers his hand.

Galt tells the class he needs to sit. You know: recover his wits. He consults his materials, prepared over the course of forty-five years in the classroom, and tries to figure out what he’s allowed to cover. He has a lengthy reading prepared on the fight for women’s rights—but realizes that on a standardized test there won’t be more than a single question on this topic. Should he then include extra material? If his classes learn—but what they learn isn’t tested—does that count as learning?

If someone asks a question in the forest and the tree falls on his head and no one hears the answer does it matter?

Isn’t that how the riddle goes?

Maybe there’s still some way to slip this reading past the Common Core censors. He knows, over the years, that students have always found it interesting.

It reads in part:

The ideal woman [in the 1800s] was a wife and mother. And wives must be content within this sphere. One expert on women—a man, by chance—argued that bed-making was “good exercise.” He continued:  “There is more to be learned about pouring out tea and coffee than most young ladies are willing to believe.”

“A woman is a nobody,” one newspaper commented. “A wife is everything.”  

The handout Galt has always used before continues in the same vein for ten pages. One writer compares men to elm trees and women to ivy vines. They need a man to lean on for support. The husband controls all property, including his wife’s paycheck (if any). Judges uphold the right of husbands to beat their wives for nagging.

A Massachusetts judge does order a husband not use a stick any bigger around than his thumb!

At this point—in an era before standardized everything, standardized tests, standardized texts, standardized humanity—Galt would have illustrated the point by picking up his pointer and whipping it through the air. The “whooshing” noise would make it clear how much damage a rod of such thickness might do.

Now, Galt knows better. Too much depth. Depth has nothing to do with Common Core Curriculum. Depth of knowledge can’t be tested.

He remembers how he used to tell classes about the writer in 1850, who compared men to elm trees and women to ivy vines, in need of a man to lean on for support. Without a man the woman was doomed to fall in the dust.

The girls who played sports always laughed at that story…but again, it’s not going to be on any Pearson test.

No sense telling it now.

Then Galt thinks about all the damage fools who claim to be fixing education do and it makes him angry to the core. (Irony intended.) Like all good teachers, he has dedicated himself to imparting all the knowledge as can. He is determined to broaden today’s discussion. He will tell his classes how it was for women in this country even in the 1960s and 70s. He will explain how his old high school tried to start a girl’s track team in 1967, and how everyone thought the idea was absurd. Only two girls showed up for tryouts. Galt will emphasize how much attitudes—what we think we can do and what we think we cannot do—shape our lives. He believes this is a lesson he can impart to students. He feels it in his bones.

He feels the lesson matters.

They will discuss the idea that women were once considered too delicate to run long distances. He will throw out the example of Paula Radcliffe, who set the record for women in 2003, running the London Marathon in 2 hours and 15 minutes, a pace of 5:09 per mile. He will circle back again to the idea that women are weak like ivy vines.

He thinks he can plant a seed, hint to all the girls that they should take on any challenge …and Galt will make it clear the same attitude equally applies to boys.

“When I was in high school,” he begins.


“They said girls were too weak.…”


“Paula Radcliffe.…”



By now Galt is prone on the floor. He looks bad. He raises his head slightly and gasps. “Women…not…ivy vines.…”


The consultants shoot each other knowing looks. The Pearson rep makes a note to include one question on the standardized test about Susan B. Anthony. After all, you want the tests to align with the Common Core Curriculum.

Oh hell, who cares! Pearson is making hundreds of millions of dollars annually designing more and more standardized tests.

The consultant from Amplify is happy, too. Galt is out cold. Now the kids have no choice but to rely on their computers for some warm student-machine interaction.

It’s U. S. education for the future.

The testing companies really care about children?


In a recent story, the Washington Post reported that between 2009 and 2014, the four biggest corporations in the “standardized testing market” had spent $20 million on lobbying of state and federal officials and politicians, “as well as sometimes hiring them—to persuade them to favor policies that include mandated student assessments, helping to fuel a nearly $2 billion annual testing business, a new analysis shows.

It’s that old saying, of course: you have to spend money to make money. Right! I mean, $2 billion dollars’ worth of tests generated annually—that’s not chump change, my friends.

(Then again: if you wanted to truly help children, you could use that money to send 400,000 kids, at $5,000 each, to pre-school.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Site Index, Updated, April 2015

My Promise 

WHEN I STARTED BLOGGING IN 2011, I said I planned to speak up for good teachers. I would not defend bad ones. 

I began by trying to debunk the myth that something was wrong with America’s teachers as a group.

I mocked the idea that U. S. teachers were stupid again in: America’s Teachers! We’re Dumb! And We Suck!


I loved life in the classroom, loved working with teens, and taught for more than three decades. Today, I’m worried about what might happen to young teachers. When I look at current education reforms it appears to me that self-appointed experts (who never teach) are pushing disastrous policies.

My most successful posts, and some of my personal favorites:

4) Corporate Public Schools! It’s Going to be Great! This one is new; but every ridiculous example is true.

8) Hiking in Glacier National Park. This one has nothing to do with education. I just love the park; and if I was still teaching, I would try to convince students to go there someday. Not standardized education, of course.

9) How Many Reformers Does it Really Take to Fix a School? If you are a real teacher you already know the answer to this question.

10) Michelle Rhee’s Perfect Ponzi Scheme. Speaking of reformers, the lady is a fraud.

13) R.I.P. No Child Left Behind. Ten years of reforms and SAT, ACT and PISA scores have all declined. Even NAEP reading scores are flat. (If you’re a real teacher you start to wonder: Do the experts who keep telling us what to do have a clue?)

14) Sham Standards: Governor Kasich and the Standardized Testing Fetish. What happens if we line up fourteen veterans from five different wars to talk to 700 Loveland Middle School students. Is that good education? How do we measure what students learned???

18) Yellow Brick Road to Nowhere: Teachers and the Tea Party Movement. This is probably my personal favorite, of all my posts. I like the story of the boy who earned a standing ovation from peers in my class.

19) Confessions of a Bad Teacher: Okay, I admit it. I was a no good, rotten, terrible teacher. I didnt believe standardized testing did much good. Seven thousand teachers seemed to agree when I put up this post.

20) Teachers Anonymous: A 12-Step Program for Bad Teachers: Follow up post to the post above. I explain how bad teachers can recover from their delusions and embrace the virtues of standardized tests.

21) 2014: The Year Teachers Became the Enemy: When did school reformers decide teachers were the biggest problem in U. S. education? And were they right?

Coming Soon: Two Legs Suffice: Lessons Learned by Teaching

I KNOW GOOD TEACHING IS extremely hard. I know even the best teachers face victory and defeat in the classroom, oftentimes the same day. I am currently putting the final touches on a book titled Two Legs Suffice: Lessons Learned by Teaching.

The title relates, in part, to two bicycle rides across America, one at age 58, the second four years later.


If you’re interested in reading about my first ride go to I transfered the story of my first ride, in 2007, to that blog not long ago. So that story now shows up at the start. (My youngest daughter is a type-1 diabetic and I pedaled to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Students helped raise more than $13,500 for that great cause.)

My second ride—including my temporary arrest as a bank robbery suspect—is documented next, at the same site: viall4diabetes2011. I was able to prove my innocence and pedaled 4,615 miles in 58 days, again raising more than $10,000 for JDRF.

Tioga Pass, leading into Yosemite Park. I cycled across the USA twice for a cause.




(This category keeps growing.) 

Allison Wyatt, one of the victims at Sandy Hook.


Michelle Rhee: Reformer with a Broom. (See also: RHEE, MICHELLE.)

Thanks to Fox News a video of a student ranting against his teacher went viral (What One Student Rant by Jeff Bliss Doesn’t Tell Us). Based on ninety seconds of tape people weighed in on what they felt was wrong with all teachers.




             An auxiliary post provides even more examples.

Finland Has Better Teachers, Better Colleges, Fluffier Kittens! What if all the test scores comparing various nations never add up?

George Stranahan (who taught for half-a-century) addresses a number of critical issues in his book, A Predicament of Innocents. He shares my disdain for standardized testing.


Related posts include: June 30, 2011November 4, 2011June 8, 2012.




Why Teaching Matters: What’s the Square Root of Inspiration? Former Loveland students fill a whole series of posts with heartfelt comment.






Skip these if you are conservative.

Far-Right Conservatives Invent New Language was “liked” more than 100,000 times when posted repeatedly on AddictingInfo.

A number of posts in August, September and October 2012 might also be of interest to those who like to argue liberalism vs. conservatism, and everything on the fringes and in between.


Freedom of religion is fine. Using tax dollars to support schools that debunk modern science might not be wise. See: Christian School Lays Smack Down on Science.


No school reformer has done more to damage the image of public school teachers than Ms. Rhee. Rhee’s claim to fame rests on raising test scores in miraculous fashion. Unfortunately, certain ugly facts undercut her claims: Michelle Rhee’s Perfect Ponzi Scheme.


Michelle Rhee, a leading education reformer, promised to use a broom and sweep out all the bad teachers in Washington, D. C. She failed to say what she would do about the students carrying knives. See: Michelle Rhee: Reformer with a Broom.


The argument that U. S. public schools are failing (compared to schools in Finland, Japan, etc.) rests on tenuous comparisons and flawed logic. So what if our students rank 25th in math? What if the same kind of lists prove that America ranks 24th in life expectancy? Are hospitals in America failing?


I’m Facebook friends with almost a thousand former students. They keep me up to date on what they’re doing and remind me why I liked teaching so much.

Class of 2000, The (This entry focuses on the students I had in class in 2000, who would have graduated from Loveland High School five years later.)



These two stories go together:


Frank Bruni, writing in the New York Times, laid blame for the failure of school reform on recalcitrant teachers and their unions: The Big Evil in U. S. Education: Teachers’ Unions.

Time RunsA Incredibly Stupid Story. (that title should include an “an.” My site settings do not allow me to correct titles.



In recent years, insulting teachers as a group, has been a fad. Want to know why this movie was stupid? Consider what director Davis Guggenheim and critics who loved it missed: A Fairy Tale Called Waiting for Superman.

Teachers make a difference in a thousand ways.
Note to a young teacher and former student of mine.