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NCLB Outrages

Would you trust the Bush administration to manage snake control in Ireland?

Gerald Bracey sent this to reporters at the Washington Post, hoping it would provoke/inspire someone to cover NCLB in greater depth.

Most of you, even the usually too gentlemanly Mr. Broder have managed to unleash strong criticisms of the Bush administration in virtually all areas of endeavor save one: education. Both the editorial and reportorial parts of the paper have given Bush a free ride on this disaster. Why? My guess is that the answer is twofold: Despite professing extreme concern for education and what it means to the nation, most journalists find it boring to write about. It lacks the cachet of politics or war.

One seldom sees a column headed "Johnny's Miserable SAT's" such as issued from Mr. Cohen in 1990 (and which, I must point out, is responsible for most of my career over the last 17 years). How about something like "NCLB:Public Schools::Katrina:New Orleans." Or "In The Long Run, Tests Count for Very Little" (which, the data show, is true). NCLB is 90% test scores but if test scores don't mean much, shouldn't someone be pointing that out?

Second, as I say in an op-ed accepted by the Post but not yet published, when it comes to education, it's hard to find where liberals and conservatives disagree. They both part of the much larger "schools suck" bloc. In preparation for a debate over NCLB on Friday, I was looking over a point-counter point between Richard Rothstein and Robert Gordon of the Center for American Progress, which bills itself as progressive. Yet, clearly Gordon pitches his tent in the "schools suck" camp and manages with sophistry and cheap debate club tricks to support NCLB (almost as many tricks as Teddie Kennedy in his plea for NCLB).

And, migawd, have any of you actually looked at "Leaders and Laggards," a joint venture of CAP and the Chamber of Commerce. The report can be retitled "Schools Suck Worse than We Thought." It contains extremely misleading statements and discredited Right-Wing research, yet John Podesta, he who attacked the administration on yesterday's op-ed page, in email correspondence said that although CAP disagreed with 90% of what the Chamber does, it found nothing to object to in the agenda. And, he said, "We are not naive." Well, then, you're not progressive either.

Much was made over Dick Cheney's meeting with energy people and keeping it a secret. Bush did not quite make a secret of who he met with to discuss ways to soften criticism of NCLB. Did you see the list? It's attached in an entry I sent to my blog site at
Huffington Post
[See Below}, with my annotations about the group's members. Talk, as Ms. Marcus did recently, about foxes guarding henhouses! Shoudn't the Post help make this information public (there was an AP story, but it did not carry the list of invitees).

"But the little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) recognized by its sponsors. Constant reference to a "war on terror" did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of policies they want to pursue."


So wrote Zbigniew Brzezinski in the Washington Post March 25, 2007. Sound familiar? Try substituting "competitiveness in the global economy" for "war on terror" and no meaning is lost. The only difference is that demagogues have tried to scare us about our public schools for over 50 years now. It started before Sputnik, but that little orb kicked the criticism into high gear, even if the criticism was stupid, and it was. The Russians beat America into space largely because no one paid sufficient attention to Goddard until it was too late; because the military saw rockets as weapons, not as tools of space exploration and because the three branches of the military squabbled like a dysfunctional family and even on occasion sabotaged each other (with words, not bombs). The Nazi scientists we had absconded with after WWII got behind the Nazi scientists the Russians had absconded with after WWII because of the internecine warfare. Eisenhower's proposal for NASA, a civilian organization to coordinate space efforts, arrived six months after Sputnik's launch.

Although NCLB is increasingly (and falsely) justified as a civil rights issue, the arguments for it in the beginning--and still to a certain extent--were that we needed it to compete with the Chinese and Indians just as 20 years earlier we needed the recommendations in A Nation At Risk in keeping the Japanese wolf from the door (incidentally, an AP story last week pointed out that India has run out of qualified high-tech workers. I thought that was supposed to be our problem). It sustains a culture of fear about public schools.

The Bush Bunch has been taking a lot of flak lately on NCLB so Dubya gathered a group to hear the complaints. Susan Zelman, Ohio's Superintendent for Public Instruction might qualify as the only educator in the room and might have been invited as compensation for the Supreme Court's having beat up on her in the Cleveland voucher case. Here's a list of who's advising Bush on NCLB these days, as indicated by that meeting:

Margaret Spellings, Secretary of Education

Lauren Maddox, Assistant Secretary (journalist by trade; PR flack, in other words)

Jeanne Allen, CEO of Center for Education
Reform (uber-zealot for vouchers and charters)

Craig Barrett, Chairman of the Board, Intel (and chronic whiner about the schools)

John Castellani, President, Business Roundtable (the BRT has been the most chronic whiner of them all)

Tom Donohue, President and CEO, U. S. Chamber of Commerce (whose recent joint effort with the Center for American Progress was trashed here earlier)

Tom Luce III, CEO, National Math and Science Initiative (former Assistant Secretary)

Shelia Evans-Tranumn, Associate Commissioner of Education, New York

Janet Murguia, President and CEO of La Raza (Murguia and Tranumn are the token minorities in the room).

Ed Rust Jr., President and CEO State Farm Mutual (and why? Because his daddy was and his granddaddy before him; also previous, maybe current head of the Business Roundtable's education task force).

Art Ryan, Chairman and CEO, Prudential Financial

Paul Vallas, CEO, School District of Philadelphia

An article by one of two reporters permitted in the room (open government?) said there was "unified agreement" on reauthorization and that the group mentioned "international competitiveness and social justice" as rationales.

Washington Post editor Ruth Marcus recently (April 4) wrote "Fox-in-the-Henhouse Government:" "The tornado of disastrous headlines--Pentagon can't take proper care of its' wounded, a Justice Department that can't be trusted to follow the law or tell the truth to Congress, a top White House aide who lied to a grand jury--has been so overpowering that the day-to-day outrages of life in the Bush administration tend to get overlooked." She then lists many outrages that were barely noticed.

Add to this Paul Krugman's revelation that televangelist Pat Robertson brags he has 150 graduates from his Regents University in the Bush administration, then blend in the usual suspects listed above and remember that Margaret Spellings' very first act as Secretary of Education was to ban an episode of "Postcards from Buster" because it incidentally showed Lesbian families. If you're an administrator, teacher, parent or kid, you can find reason to be scared, very scared.

Something to think about.

— Gerald Bracey
e-mail to Washington Post and Huffington Post


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