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Big Ed is Deep State

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An Editorial Opinion by A. Patrick Huff, Ph.D.

August 3, 2019

As students and teachers begin to head back to school, I thought it would be a good idea to bring up a few topics that need to be faced truthfully.  If you have followed my writings and posts in the past you know that I speak mainly about the Accountability System, excessive standardized testing, and school ratings. I am one of many who address what is wrong with our public education system today and try to awaken people to the truth of the agenda played out on our children and grandchildren. There are some great researchers that I have worked with and collaborated with to produce information that we hope is helpful and enlightening. Most of our attention has been focused at the state level.  As I highlight critical information for all to understand, there is one piece of information that stands above all the rest.  Keep this in mind as you read this article.  America’s public schools, its teachers and its students, have been subjected to the same education reform agenda for over 30 years.  It has not been fixed in over 30 years of going down the same road (I think that’s the definition of insanity, right?).  There are still “failing schools” (I would argue they are only failing when subjected to the accountability standards set by the Reformers that want to control the education agenda).   There is still a crisis in our schools; a crisis that is going on 30 years plus. Teachers are leaving the profession, in higher numbers, in both the new teacher category (one to three years) and veteran teachers who are succumbing to the pressure of trying to achieve higher testing outcomes from their students who come from such difficult neighborhoods, the effects and ramifications of living in neighborhoods of extreme poverty are just too hard to overcome.  All of this is brought to you by the Accountability System and Education Reform. Education Reform cannot fix the problems that teachers, principals, and superintendents are facing.  They can’t fix the problems because Education Reform has created the problems.  They continue to move their agenda forward under the pretense that the next phase is what is needed to lead the schools and the students into education Valhalla. Let me make this proclamation. It’s not going to happen.  Education is hopelessly stuck in this horrid accountability/testing/teach to the test for a school rating, glued to a Chromebook, agenda. Now let’s get into the message. I hope I can convey my message adequately. There is a significant threat that all of us must recognize.

 

The threat is the privatization of public education, and the unwillingness of anyone in positions of power, at our statehouse, to change direction in the education agenda that is moving increasingly toward privatization.  Allow me to explain.  Public education is currently being threatened from the private sector through the many private companies that have been allowed to data-mine our student’s inputs into their electronic device issued through the school so that these same companies can then promote their education products to the school districts under the guise of improving testing outcomes.  The Accountability System that public schools have been ruled by for the last 30 years, lends itself to this miscarriage of oversight and personal freedoms since improving outcomes means a higher accountability rating for the school and school district.  Laws have been passed in the states that permit the state education agency, which in Texas is the Texas Education Agency, to take over duly elected school boards if they have just one school in their district that has been underperforming for several years. This would be an appointed board by the state education chief, which in Texas is Mike Morath.  This means this board is answerable to the Commissioner of Education, not the taxpayers.  There would be no representation for the taxpayers.  This is just one area where the voice of the people and parents, are being silenced.

 

There are many who support a return to sanity in the Accountability System and testing programs and a return to true local control by local school boards.  Many great patriots have been waging a war of words through written articles, social media and physically appearing before the governing committees at the statehouses across the country.  National figures like Diane Ravitch, Charlotte Iserbyt, Kelleigh Nelson, Mary Thompson, Anita Hoge, and the late Phyllis Schlafly have been very vocal about the overuse of testing to judge the quality and overall success of public schools, and properly measure at what level the student has learned.  Within the last fifteen years, there has been a new wave of soldiers to the fight.  Awesome people, most of whom are parents, who have been alarmed at how their children are being educated and who is profiting from the curriculum programs taught to their children. People like Alice Linahan, Emily Talmage, Lynn Davenport, Steve Swanson, Randy Houchins, Meg Bakich, Kim Gutierrez, Lynne Taylor, Carole Hall, and so many more who have been moving mountains trying to get those at the statehouses across the country to pay attention.  Well documented transcripts have been provided to lawmakers trying to convince them to at least look at another alternative than the path they are on.  My good friend, Steve Swanson, has documented in many forms, and presented to many lawmakers, that Texas already has all the laws and policies we need to guide and educate our students.  Everything needed is already written into the Texas Education Code.  Unfortunately, all of these policies and laws are being overshadowed by the Accountability and Testing policies that keep schools marching to the beat of the testing companies and data collectors. The travesty of all of this is that with all this data, we still really don’t know how effectively students are learning.  We do see through the data if their testing outcomes have improved, but does that correlate to actual learning?  Is it possible that improved testing outcomes have been made possible through better, more effective, test-taking strategies?

 

Despite the outcry and resistance, the expansion of charter schools continues, and the laws favoring privatization have not been abated. Much of the public’s attention has been focused on school ratings in judging how well schools are “performing”.  Teachers are evaluated by their performance which correlates into how well their students performed on the yearly administered state test.  Students are generally held accountable for their performance on the state test to determine if they are “learning” sufficiently to move to the next grade or graduate from high school.  I’ll state again, does the performance on the state test correlate to truly learning the material in the subject curriculum, or is the student mastering the ability to succeed on the test through well-coached test-taking skills taught through the teacher?  Because the stakes are so high, most teachers can tell you that they have spent considerable time on test-taking strategies.  Doing so provides their students the best chance of scoring well on the test and therefore the teacher has the best chance of getting a better evaluation.  Of course, all of this effort on test prep takes away from what was previously taught in standard curriculum essential elements.  This is called selective abandonment in education circles. Selectively abandon elements of the curriculum previously thought as essential, but now considered non-essential, so that test-taking strategies can be inserted.

 

It seems that all the bases have been covered by those who control the education agenda for the states.  The students are required to perform, the teachers are required to perform, the school administration is required to perform, and the district is required to perform to get their all-important rating that is used to judge the worth of what is happening in their schools.  All of this is held in place through laws passed by the state legislature that mandate certain perfuming percentages for their schools and students. This is the Accountability System.

 

For those of us watching the developments in the privatization of public education, attention will be drawn soon to the publishing of state test results from last spring of 2019.  Of particular importance is the Houston ISD and its ongoing battle with the Texas Education Agency.  State Education Commissioner, Mike Morath, has placed a bullseye on the Houston ISD signaling his intention to replace the school board with his appointed board of managers.  The justification for this, as said earlier, the fact that there are schools in Houston ISD that have not met standards is several years. Standards, please understand, are the percentages of students that passed the test.  If the students don’t rise to the level required to achieve the all-important rating than the school is labeled a failure.

 

This is what public school has become now.  It has been on this path of testing followed by a rating, followed by more benchmark tests, followed by more testing, going on three decades now.  In fact, students that have gone on to become teachers, can’t remember a time when a school has not been conducted this way. What is different now, though, is the increased pressure being applied to teachers, through principals, in turn being pressured through central office instructional officers, to produce greater results on student outcomes, so that the letter grade affixed to the district and the school can be as high as possible.  Schools have had accountability ratings going back to the early 1990’s so the idea of receiving a label of success or failure built around state test scores is nothing new.  What is different is the letter grade.  There just seems to be something about getting a letter grade that has sent school officials and principals over the edge.  The pressure to produce has never been greater. For more information on this fear factor that has gripped the schools, I would encourage you to visit another article I wrote back in March of 2019.  You can find that article here,  http://www.voicesempower.com/the-fear-factor-medicalization-of_education-mental-health-in-the-classroom/.

 

The next part of this article will center around what I believe to be our last hope for turning around our public-school system, returning to some semblance of sanity, and truly getting back to local control.  Those of us who have been fighting the battle of information, trying to create a tipping point where the numbers of parents and educators resisting the agenda of education would elicit a change of direction at the statehouse, are seeing that the numbers who have woken up to the agenda are not getting to that tipping point fast enough.  Great strides have been made and the awareness of where the problems lie in public education is greater than it ever has been. Still, though, it is not enough and the statehouses across the country are not paying attention.  Nothing is changing, and the agenda is marching on instituting the next phase as if there is no opposition.  Our kids are being shortchanged with their education, the education profession is being reduced to facilitators and the electronic device has become the teacher, and the globalist march toward privatization seems to be advancing unabated.

 

Before I address what I feel we must begin doing in order to have any chance to turn back the tide of privatization, I need to review what took place in 2012 that affected every state in the Union.  For some of you who have followed my research, this will be information you already know, but I know that with the passage of time, we always have new people joining us in this fight. So please indulge me while we have this quick review. The next part of the article is critical to understand why the statehouses are not budging and why the agenda continues.

 

With the passage of No Child Left Behind, schools and school districts were put on a course of rising percentages that had to be met within each school and school district subpopulation of students.  This progression of required percentages was called Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.  The percentage reflected the number of students that passed the test.  It was a collective percentage within each subpopulation that was critical.  For example, in 2011 the percentage of students in each subpopulation that had to pass the test was 80% in English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) and 75% in math.  This was not what each student had to make on the test, it was the percentage of the subpopulation of students as a whole.  With these percentages, schools and school districts were failing to meet the standards in record numbers. Remember, the standards are the AYP percentages.  This crisis of failure swept the country.

 

Superintendents were in a state of panic. There was little they could do because in 2012 the AYP percentages were set to go up to 87% in ELAR and 83% in math. Why were the percentages continuing to go up?  The percentages of AYP had to reach 100% by 2014.  This was the law of the federal government written into No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  I have written about this in many articles and detail this horrible agenda, along with data that supports my assertions, in my book, The Takeover of Public Education in America: The Agenda to Control Information and Knowledge Through the Accountability System, Authorhouse, 2015.  The point I need to make here is that in 2012, President Obama did something that affected every state, every school district and every school in the country.  Through Executive Order, President Obama signed into law the U.S. Department of Education Flexibility Plan. This became known as The Waiver.  The Waiver would remove 10 mandates required of all schools under NCLB, but the most significant item that was waived was the requirement to be perfect (100%) in your students testing outcomes by 2014.  This is why the percentages required for AYP were going up each year. There were three requirements that each state had to agree to before the state could receive the Waiver:

 

 

  1. Each state had to agree to a new set of academic standards for ELAR and Math. These standards were called College and Career Readiness Standards, which turned out to be Common Core. (This is how the entire nation was put on Common Core.)
  1. Each state had to agree to evaluate all teachers and principals according to how well each teacher’s and principal’s students performed on the state test. (This cemented a notion by teachers of NOT teaching to the test.)
  2. Each state had to come up with their own plan for Accountability and AYP standards that would meet with the approval of the Secretary of Education (which was Arne Duncan at the time). The state could not receive the Waiver until their plans for School Accountability were approved.

 

It is this last condition that I need to focus on now.  Due to the fact that receiving the Waiver to the NCLB mandates came with the conditions just outlined, this quid pro quo, forever linked state with federal and is the single greatest element that keeps states from separating themselves from the federal ties in education.  Due to this quid pro quo made possible through the Waiver, the USDOE essentially set-up 50 individual USDOE’s in each state capitol. The state will not change their mind on any of the accountability measures because they can’t change their minds. Perhaps it might be better said, they choose not to change their minds.  This is why despite many pleas for the proud State of Texas to chart their own path and turn their back on the USDOE, they won’t; they can’t.  This, however, does not mean that Governors and their staffs are helpless to try and solve this severe problem.  They owe it to their citizens to be transparent and let us know the truth.  Instead, they choose to go along with Washington and try to make us believe it’s the best education program that can be provided, and that their plan is unique and independent of federal ties.  That is utter nonsense and it is truly a total lack of accountability on all governors who go along with this charade.

 

With the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act in 2016, the federal lawmakers made much ado about returning to the state’s control over their own education plans.  The states, however, just continued to follow every new program and accountability guidelines.  Despite all the resistance from parents and educators alike, they marched on doing everything the federal USDOE wanted them to do. Why?  Because the conditions of the Waiver were, and are, still being applied.  The states cannot change without agreeing to cut ties with Washington, which would mean cutting ties with the federal money.  No governor has chosen to cut ties.  So, it appears our statehouses across the country, are stuck following orders from Washington DC.

 

This brings me to what I see as the only solution.  We know parents are not going to stage walkouts at state testing time.  At least not in sufficient enough numbers to make any type of impression on lawmakers.  We know that the opt-out movement (parents opting their children out of state tests) is, likewise, not gaining ground in insufficient numbers to make an impact on lawmakers. We also know that many companies and corporations are ready to collect enormous profits from the privatization movement they see as just around the corner.  We also know that our Congress in Washington DC is hopelessly deadlocked and can’t begin to come together in any kind of decision-making capability. Our only hope to turn this horrible state of affairs around is a new Executive Order.  The Waiver was issued through Executive Order, and it could just as easily be dissolved through Executive Order.  President Obama’s Executive Order caused a ripple effect that completely changed the public education landscape.  President Trump, issuing another Executive Order would likewise cause the same type of ripple effect.  I contend, though, that this ripple effect would eventually lead to an education system that is in the best interest of the children, not the corporations and power brokers.

 

After stating what I have reviewed, in my opinion, our last hope for turning this education agenda around is through a massive appeal to President Trump. This is where I know I will lose many of you.  The thought of asking for help from the President is totally beyond the pale for some who oppose the President.  This, however, is where we need to begin to think outside the box.  On most issues, Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals are terribly divided. There is, however, one agenda that both parties have been able to agree on, and that is education.  Those on the side of Education Reform, both Republicans and Democrats, have kept this system in place no matter who occupied the White House.  In this vain is why I contend that education at the federal level is Deep State. The tentacles that fan out controlling all public education in every state is vast.  Conversely, in the eyes of the public, when it comes to public education, those who are against Education Reform, no matter their political persuasion, can come together when it comes to public education.  We all agree it is horribly flawed and in need of major repair.  The only people, it seems, that like the current system are those who benefit from the system staying with the status quo.  That would include politicians, bureaucrats, and corporations that are vested in the testing industry and its remediation programs and stand to lose large profits from this system changing.

 

With that said, I am calling for all of us who oppose the current system, to band together and begin calling on President Trump to sign an Executive Order, handing back true control of education to the states. This would include the right of the states to choose their own curriculum program, to choose their own method of how they will gauge their student’s progress, and remove from teachers and principals the burden of being evaluated by how their students perform on any kind of state test.  It could even mean that the state test of accountability is banned.  By signing an Executive Order that would deliver this promise to the states, it would be freeing the states to once again be in charge of their public education programs.  States could then choose not to test their students every year with a standardized test.  Can you imagine the dollars this would put back in the state coffers?  Yes, this would be a blow to the testing companies that make huge profits from these tests, but it would put back in the state treasury billions of dollars that the state can then use to better fund their public education needs. Every year billions of dollars are wasted on the state test with little to show for the expense except school ratings that only serve to punish the poor and reward the rich.

 

President Trump has been very vocal about waging a war against the Deep State at the present time.  We all know the Deep State is entrenched in all our government bodies and institutions.  To deny this is not being realistic.  Public education, and the agenda that controls it is as Deep State as it gets.  The ability of a government, or managing interest, to control what a child learns, what he/she believes about his/her country and the world, and to have the ability to control social and emotional issues and shape attitudes and beliefs, is be a powerful tool of manipulation and control over a child.  The ramifications of this control could affect him/her for years, perhaps even influencing their entire life.  This is where we are in education today.  The agenda to control information and knowledge is evident in the public-school system. Add to this the high stakes of the standardized state test that produces a school rating, and is it any wonder why teachers teach to the test and are the recipient of intense pressure to make sure their students perform well on the test each year.  This has led to teachers teaching only what is likely to be seen on the test.  For those that seek to control information and knowledge, this is a gold-mine.  For those that want to shape and mold a child’s mind to what they want them to believe and feel about the world around them, it is fertile ground for propaganda and brainwashing.

 

Yes, education is Deep State and if President Trump wants to root out the Deep State and drain the swamp, as he professes, then he must address the education swamp.  Now, I know there are many out there that are skeptical of President Trump wanting to change the course we are on in education.  After all, didn’t he appoint Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education?  Ms. DeVos is a non-educator.  She comes from the private sector and has at the top of her agenda to expand charter schools, school choice, vouchers, and privatization through the many companies waiting in line to make their pitch to the statehouses across the country.  Yes, our current Education Secretary is a huge concern.  President Trump, however, if persuaded through an outpouring of sentiment from the people, who are also voters, could change his mind.  He could finally do what President Reagan promised to do but failed to follow through, and that is, close the U.S. Department of Education for good.  It would take, however, more than that.  The laws that control the state’s education programs would need to be rescinded.  I know there are also those that worry about returning to the problems that plagued public education prior to federal encroachment.  I can only say to that issue, we have learned a lot and grown a lot in defining what encompasses a fair and equitable education.  I think that the federal government, with all the good that it did in regards to desegregation, have demonstrated that they cannot be entrusted with the power that goes along with having complete control over education. They have abused the trust we all put in them.  Most importantly for President Trump, if he does not change course and address Deep State Ed, then he is continuing with the same program defined by the Clinton/Bush/Obama years.  I would see that as very hypocritical on the President’s part.

 

This is where I will be directing my energy from this point forward.  I will not be making any more appeals to the Governor, nor the Lt. Governor.  They are not going to reverse their course.  The political leaders in the House and the Senate are not going to stand up to their political leaders and urge them to change their course.  They are locked into the agenda.  So, I call on all my friends in this fight, both Republican and Democrat, to focus on the one person who can make this change in the course of education a reality, and that is President Trump.  Among the awesome parents and citizens I have come to know in this struggle, I urge you to continue focusing on those items you find most troubling. You demonstrate unbelievable knowledge and awareness of where the dangers exist.  I am not asking any of you to change your course on these very important areas of concern.  I am asking you, however, to make the White House a priority.  Please add to your list of contacts through email, tweets, Facebook posts and phone calls, the White House and President Trump.  Implore our President to save public education. Call on him to save our children.  Save our future for our great country, because it is through public-education of the masses of children that our country has the best chance to stay free and independent. I welcome your thoughts and comments and do appreciate your consideration of what I am asking.

 

Patrick Huff is a retired educator of thirty-four years, with experience as a middle school and high school principal. He has a Bachelors of Science in Education from Texas Christian University, a Masters of Education from Sam Houston State University, and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Prairie View A&M University. His awareness and insight into the domination of testing in today’s public schools and the unrealistic mandates of No Child Left Behind law led him to write The Takeover of Public Education in America: The Agenda to Control Information and Knowledge Through the Accountability System (Published through Authorhouse, 2015).   He is currently an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas located in Houston, Texas.  His book and other articles can be found at www.aphuff.com.  He can be reached by email at aphuff51@gmail.com.

 

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