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Block that Metaphor: Life Isn't a Playing Field

by Susan Ohanian

In her resurrection of that tired old metaphor that the new ESEA bill is "leveling the playing field," AFT president Randi Weingarten shows that she hasn't caught on that the union members paying her salary are a whole lot savvier to the political process than she realizes.

  • New York Times: Senate Plan to Revise No Child Left Behind Law Would Not Measure Teachers by Test Scores, April 8, 2015

    This is a big deal.It goes back to the original intent of the law, to level the playing field for at-risk kids.--Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

  • Randi on Twitter:

    cmon-- we have said the bipartisan bill is a good step--which @DianeRavitch also says.--April 8, 2015

  • What's with this? Is Randi hoping to pick up a few of Ravitch's 109K followers on Twitter?

    Bad enough that the metaphor is so old and broken, but even worse, she's wrong on the issue itself. As Jim Horn has observed over at Schools Matter, "Obviously, she did not read the Bill. It includes this final states rights provision, Sec. 6302:

    "Nothing in this title shall be construed to mandate equalized spending per pupil for a State, local educational agency, or school."

    Original intent, really, Randi?

    Jim Horn has also pointed out:
    This Act, if approved, will further erase the boundaries between corporations and government, and the main job of the USDOE will be to service the applications for extra assistance for charter school expansion, charter school facilities, training of charter school staff, incentivizing test-heavy merit pay plans, and other corporate "innovations" aimed to replace public schools with corporate welfare schools and to further diminish the profession of teaching.

    The Alexander plan gives 41 pages to detailing charter assistance, growth, and expansion, with no mention of the shameless segregation within charters. The plan dedicates 4 pages to outlining a disappearing magnet school assistance plan.

    There is nothing in the Alexander plan to limit high stakes tests or segregative programs that may be dreamed up by states or a "state entity," and there is a clear ban on any effort by the feds to enact rules for equalizing state funding, per Sec. 6302 (below):"Nothing in this title shall be construed to mandate equalized spending per pupil for a State, local educational agency, or school." How anyone could like this Bill (even Diane Ravitch) is beyond me. It underscores what it takes to satisfy some who, otherwise, are always talking tough and saying everything required to put a damper on the educational revolt by teachers and parents that is sure to come if this piece of dreck moves forward.

    See for yourself:
    * http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-a_0AygJVxnI/VSUqZJiHewI/AAAAAAAAC00/GTaRFRBkykg/s1600/esea1.png
    * http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-J48nNZUkfWU/VSUqXTDMHEI/AAAAAAAAC0E/x4w4GZgf6NE/s1600/esea%2B2.png
    * http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-lzpki32yPjg/VSUqXvrRhjI/AAAAAAAAC0M/CcrEVP5hFd0/s1600/esea%2B3.png
    * http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-6Fv6L1dRpj4/VSUqX4jBreI/AAAAAAAAC0U/zRI4bGuD6Yc/s1600/esea%2B4.png
    * http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-to5jq2I6_iM/VSUqYLGyZmI/AAAAAAAAC1I/iYzodzbTUQU/s1600/esea%2B5.png
    * http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-f5Izxr8d2sY/VSUqYNbXv0I/AAAAAAAAC0Y/mbrzm9il47I/s1600/esea%2B6.png
    * http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-110Fbw99sms/VSUqYR8yEsI/AAAAAAAAC0g/t_u0vXALGnw/s1600/esea%2B7.png
    * http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-p-ZRcW6W7E0/VSUqYnsE6yI/AAAAAAAAC0o/FW1qLFwHgQg/s1600/esea%2B8.png
    * http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-mS5GV0sNMwI/VSUqYw2WfJI/AAAAAAAAC0s/j-lCo9i9t6A/s1600/esea%2B9.png
    * http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-VCX2LMWxbmM/VSUqXY6kNpI/AAAAAAAAC0A/LRaUC2ZM3M0/s1600/esea%2B10.png
    * http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-bAa2MVi59lg/VSUqXb7pVmI/AAAAAAAAC0I/7Wil0NtC9YM/s1600/esea%2B11.png
    Block that Metaphor

    Not that the bogus level playing field nirvana is a new metaphor for Randi. Her disgraceful Huffington Post piece that repeats the canard that there will be a day when all 3rd graders "read on grade level," is titled Leveling the Playing Field for Our Kids. We could go back to the 2010 Statement by Randi Weingarten,President, American Federation of Teachers, On Report on Fairness in School Funding, where she speaks of providing "school districts with the proper amount of funding to level the playing field." Or her statement at the New Mexico state capital: "What (early childhood education) does is it levels the playing field for poor kids."

    All of this presupposes that schools can change children's lives--even if they don't have parents receiving a living wage, adequate housing, diet, and health care.

    "Leveling the playing field" proclaims a cheap fix that doesn't disturb the status quo: It proclaims the lie that schools can do it all.

    Of course the Senate reauthorization draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), titled Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, is corrupt. For starters, "Every child." Every child must be tested and meet the same proficiency standards but "Nothing in this title shall be construed to mandate equalized spending per pupil for a State, local educational agency, or school." (Sec. 6302) In 2012, the Washington Post reported that Weingarten was pushing a national bar exam for teachers; Randi explains that such a bar exam would "just level the playing field."

    On Feb. 18, 2015 Twitter, Randi speaks: "#ESEA was created to help level the playing field so all kids have a fair shot."

    And so on and so on. When you read on you'll see that this could easily become a question of who uses this phony metaphor more often: Randi or Arne.

    But promises of a "level playing field" abound whenever someone has something to hide-- from a discussion of septic systems on Cape Cod to auto insurance premiums in British Columbia, steel manufacturing policy in Pakistan, US import/export arrangements with China, state sales tax on tobacco in Oklahoma to catfish farmers in Mississippi, hours a pub in Australia can be open, informing adults of youth drug use in Zebulin, NC, comparisons of UK pig farmers with those in rest of Europe, problems of merchants selling lumpfish roe as Beluga caviar, why new rules for the 34th America's Cup would not provide "a level playing field.

    The term is a favorite with American politicos:

  • Treasury Secretary Donald Regan often uses the analogy of the "level playing field" when describing the type of free market, deregulated competition he would like to see between banks and nonbank-financial institutions. Nancy Ross, Washington Post, Oct. 26, 1981

  • Every restaurant owner in New Hampshire is equally free to decide whether to allow smoking. All owners face the same consequences, both good and bad, of their decision. That is a level playing field.--Sen. Robert Flanders, Union Leader, April 6, 2006

  • The SAT offers a standardized, level playing field in the admissions process, where grade inflation has made it difficult to weigh the real value of the GPA of a student from one school against that of a student from another.--Gaston Caperton (former governor of West Virginia, is president of the College Board, which owns and develops the SAT.), US News & World Report, Sept. 4, 2009

  • "An Assessment of Academic Predictors for Admission Decisions: Do Applicants Varying in National Origin and in Sex Have a Level Playing Field for a Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership?" Educational Research Quarterly, v33 n3 p39-51,March 2010

  • Arts education remains critical to leveling the playing field of opportunity.--Arne Duncan, Arts Education Partnership National Forum April 12, 2010

  • This is an historic day for American public education and for our nation as we begin the journey to level the academic playing field for every student. State Boards of Education are ready to play an active role in this process and some have already started the progression of adoption. We are eager to move this agenda forward." -William Bradley Bryant, Georgia State Board of Education, "National Governors Association and State Education Chiefs Launch Common State Academic Standards," Press Release, NGA & CCSSO, June 2, 2010

  • I think every student needs access to technology, and I think technology can be a hugely important vehicle to help level the playing field. --Arne Duncan, New York Times Magazine, Sept. 19, 2010

  • Speaking at the Statehouse earlier this week to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Ohio Manufacturers' Association, AK Steel CEO James L. Wainscott reiterated what many have been saying for years: Our nation must have a level playing field.--editorial, The Ironton Ohio Tribune, Dec. 9, 2010

  • Technology can even the playing field. . . We talked to some teachers in a school system that just brought in new technology two months ago and they were already raving about how much time it saves. They said their students are much more engaged.--Arne Duncan, "The New Platform for Learning," SXSWedu speech, March 8, 2012

  • They did not think of it as cheating because a) taking drugs was expected of them by their teams. . . . And b) because everyone else was "at it" -- the level-playing field argument which Lance Armstrong's loyalists cling to amid the wreckage.--Matt Dickinson, The London Times, Sept. 7, 2012

  • Today, it is time for every young child in America to have access to high-quality preschool. It is time that we level the playing field and stop playing catch-up.--Arne Duncan, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Legislative Summit, March 19, 2013

  • If we can invest, invest heavily across the country and make sure we level the playing field before our babies enter kindergarten, that's maybe one of the biggest gifts we can leave the country.--Arne Duncan, Ohio NPR interview, April 23, 2013

  • Our children are as smart, as talented, as committed, as entrepreneurial as children anywhere in the globe. We just have to give them a chance to compete on a level playing field.--Arne Duncan, aboard Airforce One, en route to Mooresville, NC., June 6, 2013

  • [Pre-school] is the best investment we can make as a nation,-- said Duncan. "We have to level the playing field and we have to do it together."--Arne Duncan, Bloomington, Minnesota, July 16, 2013

  • Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who spent part of the morning along Safe Passage routes around the city, said later in an interview, "The city is diverse. This isn't everywhere. But it does address certain parts of the city and certain communities so every child has a level playing field."-- New York Times, August 26, 2013

  • In tune with the times, David Coleman, president of the College Board, does want to improve access, in part by making a more level playing field. To counter test preparation courses taken by more affluent students, he announced a partnership with the online Khan Academy to make preparation videos available free. And he will make it easier for low-income students to take the test and apply to colleges without charge.--By Richard Perez-Pena, New York Times. March 6, 2014

  • That's one reason I'm excited about our Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity program, proposed in the President's FY 2015 budget. . .
    For our students to remain competitive in a knowledge-based, global economy, we must do much, much more to level the playing field and enable every child to begin school at the same starting line. -- Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, "The New Spotlight on America's Opportunity Gaps," Release of the 2011-12 Civil Rights Data Collection, March 21, 2014>>

  • Bill Gates shows just how level the playing field can be: After dropping out of Harvard, he went on to found Microsoft and become one of the wealthiest men in the world.--Cindy Perman, USA Today, May 11, 2014

  • And on and on and on and on.

    Note: The above is intended as a sampling, not, by any means, a definitive list of the level-playing-field attempt to hoodwink a gullible public.

    Also note that all along there have been a few dissenters:

  • Of late, auto bonus-baby Lee Iacocca may be the leading culprit in spreading the gospel of the Level Playing Field, although other Detroit kingpins, like Ford Chairman Philip Caldwell, are also enamored of the term. "We've got to try to level the playing field," the Chrysler chairman has said over and over again in discussing auto quotas. "These are gut issues," he added recently for emphasis.--Merrill Brown, Washington Post, June 18, 1984

  • Unquestionably this year's pet rock/Cabbage Patch Kid, yielding 30 computer-generated pages of paragraph-long samples from 67 members of Congress on 17 different subjects ranging from international trade to highways and campaign financing, to American agriculture and American industry, to women's rights, veterans rights and civil rights, to health care, national defense, the budget, pesticides, taxes and space.

    The Level Playing Field is the brass ring of the U.S. Congress -- a perfect solution that lies just out of reach. Enemies (in Europe, Japan, in the West, in the Midwest, in New England or, perhaps, Texas) have everything their way. Federal/local/international regulations are such that the people of the United States/my state/my district can't compete. All we ask is a Level Playing Field, and our problems will be solved.-- Guy Gugliotta,Washington Post, July 4, 1991

  • With a heroic effort, we might level every playing field in the land. But then, someone would just move the goalposts. And, boy, is there a lot of that going around.--Denny Boy, Vancouver Sun, April 28, 1995

  • Level playing field? Not in your baseball lifetime.-- Barry Rozner,Chicago Daily Herald, November 19, 2006

  • "Snooker should be on a level playing field." This is the linguistic equivalent of a drunken brawl outside a McDonald's. It disturbs the peace of any lover of clarity. . . . Perhaps it is still possible to reclaim "a level playing field" from the mire of misuse. But the prosecution asks for a severe sentence to aid rehabilitation.
    Judge Jargon says: Let all users of this muddy metaphor report to the poorest-quality municipal sports pitch in their area and fork it into shape until they can see the error of their ways.--The London Times, Jan. 29, 2009

  • Critics of the term seem to have given up. Note the ease with which Arne uses the term--frequently. He can be at ease employing a forked tongue, knowing the media will never call him on it. Meanwhile, whenever the rest of us hear someone blathering about leveling the playing field, we know to turn on our crap detectors.

    — Susan Ohanian




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