Jamie Gass is Pioneer Institute’s Director of the Center for School Reform. Jamie has more than two decades of experience in public administration and education reform at the state and municipal levels. Previously, he worked at the Massachusetts Office of Educational Quality and Accountability as Senior Policy Analyst-Technical Writer and in the state budget office under two Massachusetts governors. In the 1990s, Jamie worked for the Dean of the Boston University School of Education/Boston University Management Team in its historic partnership with the Chelsea Public Schools. He has appeared on numerous Greater Boston media outlets, as well as talk radio across the country. He has been quoted in The Economist, Education Week, and The Boston Globe, and his op-eds are regularly published in Boston and regional newspapers, as well as education journals. Jamie speaks on school choice, academic standards, and school district accountability at events throughout the country. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Boston University. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
This past week, at the urging of state K-12 education commissioner Mitch Chester, Deval Patrick’s Massachusetts Board of Education took a vote against Massachusetts’ nation-leading and achievement gap-closing charter schools. The vote reminds us once again how intellectually warped so much of K-12 education policymaking remains.
The biggest victims of this BOE vote are the tens-of-thousands of underserved poor and minority children trapped in chronically underperforming urban school districts with no school choices and zero way out.
The vote reminds us that despite the huge gains the country has made since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education and the events in places like Birmingham, Alabama, in the early 1960s, as a people America still has, in the words of poet Robert Frost, “miles to go before [we] sleep,” to make access to equal K-12 educational opportunities a reality.
These kinds of events recall the life and work of the great unsung Birmingham Civil Rights leader, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (pictured above). More on him in a minute.
For those who think 1960s Civil Rights analogies to modern K-12 education policymaking are overwrought, let’s remember that piles of independent research now make it clear that one year in a high quality Boston charter school is equal to two years in the Boston Public Schools.
In the minority-majority urban Massachusetts school districts, 30 percent of the students drop out and among the students who stay, over half score in the lowest two categories on the MCAS test. If this isn’t a 21st century Civil Rights issue, what is?
As the Worcester T&G editorial board wrote concisely in its Friday editorial, entitled “An affront to freedom,” about the Massachusetts BOE’s anti-charter vote:
“Sadly, state education officials have made it clear they are more interested in protecting the jobs of bureaucrats and teachers than in letting real choice and competition do for education what they do for every other consumer market.
The BESE’s latest move is to give so-called student growth scores 25 percent of the weight in the charter-school formula, up from 20 percent. Ostensibly, that move is to recognize districts that, while still seeing below-average performance, are making rapid progress.
It means that some urban communities, including Lowell, Somerville, and Worcester, will no longer be considered among the bottom 10 percent of school districts in terms of academic performance, thus dampening charter school growth.”
The most astounding aspect of this brazen BOE move to limit Massachusetts’ charter schools, which have demonstrably closed the achievement gaps between poor/minority kids and their wealthier and often white peers, is that it takes place within a week of the 50th anniversary of the passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Enter Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, whose leadership was the key to getting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to come to Birmingham (the South’s most bitterly segregated city) in 1963. The direct action of Civil Rights leaders like Revs. Shuttlesworth and King set up the historical confrontation with Bull Connor, his cadre of racist, billy club-wielding Birmingham policemen, and the firemen who opened up high-pressure fire hoses on children and students protesting to gain their Civil Rights.
These actions set the stage for King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Gov. George Wallace “standing in the school house door,” King’s March on Washington and “I Have a Dream Speech,” the tragic bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four little girls, and finally the July 2nd signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Drawn from the biography of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth by Andrew Manis, A Fire You Can’t Put Out, here’s a story that highlights what farsighted and genuine Civil Rights leadership should look like.
On a Monday night in 1959 in the St. James Baptist Church, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, (whose house had already been bombed by the Klan on Christmas in 1956, who was beaten with bike chains and baseball bats by a segregationist mob in 1957, and whose church was bombed in both 1956 and 1958) was assembling a mass meeting of his parishioners and activists.
When, after weeks of harassment from the Birmingham Fire Department, firemen showed up at the church falsely claiming a “report” was called in about a fire in St. James Baptist. Upon leaving the church to resume the mass meeting at another church a block away, Fred Shuttlesworth told the Birmingham Fire Chief, “Y’all think it’s a fire in there? You know there ain’t no fire in there. The kind of fire in there you can’t put out with hoses and axes!”
This story should be instructive to Massachusetts charter school supporters. After all of the Patrick administration’s, Mitch Chester’s, and the board of education’s petty harassments, the commonwealth’s charter school movement is not unlike those who gathered in St. James Baptist Church so many decades ago.
The Fred Shuttlesworth model of defiant, principled Civil Rights leadership is what Bay State charter activists will need to channel to overcome the modern-day Bull Connors and George Wallaces who want to wall off poor and minority kids from their natural educational birthrights and deprive them of quality educational choices.
Who says that Common Core ELA cuts classic literature, poetry, and drama? Our good friends at the Fordham Institute (see Checker & Co. as Gates Foundation vendor) must wake up early to start writing their dramatic “exemplar” texts and examples for America’s kids and policymakers. But here’s a dramatic exemplar of Common Core’s Surrealist art imitating life: Checker Finn as ed reform’s very own Hamlet.
A new episode in the Common Core drama demonstrates once again the situational ethics involved with Common Core advocacy. Let’s take it from the top.
Back in 2011 (the Era of Good Feelings for the Common Core) one time “conservative” Checker Finn must have been feeling all “together we can” and “change you can believe in” when the Obama Administration used its gentle “voluntary methods” of RttT bribes, Title I threats, and conditional NCLB waivers to get (see the definition of coerce) states to adopt national standards. Clearly, Fordham’s inner LBJ needed to come shining through in this triumphant Great Society moment when Checker signed, along with other noted conservatives Linda Darling-Hammond; M. Joycelyn Elders, MD; Donna E. Shalala; Marc S. Tucker; and Randi Weingarten, in support of a nationalized curriculum to accompany the nationalized standards, nationalized tests, and nationalized teacher evals being driven by those other stalwarts of the Party of Reagan — President Obama, Arne Duncan, and the Gates Foundation.
Shanker Institute “Manifesto” for a Nationalized Curriculum — March 7, 2011
“We therefore applaud the goals of the recently released Common Core State Standards, already adopted in most states, which articulate a much clearer vision of what students should learn and be able to do as they progress through school. For our nation,this represents a major advance…Shared curriculum in the core academic subjects would give shape and substance to the standards, and provide common ground for the creation of coherent, high-quality instructional supports — especially texts and other materials, assessments, and teacher training….With U.S. education’s long history of state administration and local control, the very idea of common curriculum guidance will strike many as overly controversial. The fear of centralization, institutional rigidity, and narrow-minded political orthodoxy is deeply ingrained in our political sensibility—beginning with our Constitution’s implicit delegation of education’s governance to the states. But now, in an era when states are coming to recognize the national importance of a coherent education system, they are working together to find ways to raise expectations for all. They are showing a willingness to trade state-by-state invention and reinvention for a more shared implementation of successful practices together with the possibility of greater economies of scale—in effect, to create a new and more consistent system.”
As Whitney Tilson would say: STOP THE PRESSES!! That was then, this is now.
As people in the K-12 edu-sphere now know, Fordham has had more costume changes than Madonna (the Material Girl, not the good one). Now as Common Core is daily being pasted in the press from coast to coast and mocked by comedians on late night TV, and as right-leaning reformers are seeing more and more of the real Beltway-loving Fordham, Checker must be getting what the existentialists called “bad faith” or “bad conscience.” Or, at least Fordham must be having concerns about the branding troubles associated with their strategy of “Forward,” “We Won’t Quit,” and “Betting on the Future” with those DC-based champions of academic excellence: the CCSSO, NGA, Achieve, AFT, Gates, and Obama/Duncan/US ED. Not to mention that this is all hardly aligned with Fordham’s “right leaning” or “conservative-leaning” Royal Nonesuch-style masquerade they periodically like to perform.
So, here it is – aptly titled “Intellectual coherence and the Common Core” May 21, 2014 Fordham’s own exemplar text of “we were for it before we were against it” where they now piously declare:
Which brings to mind two lines from Shakespeare that seem to best summarize Common Core and its advocates:
“All the world’s a stage… one man in his time plays many parts.”
and also what the Bard’s Marcus Brutus says about Julius Caesar:
“The abuse of greatness is, when it disjoins
Remorse from power: and, to speak truth of Caesar,
I have not known when his affections sway’d
More than his reason. But ’tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round.
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend. So Caesar may.”
Commentary magazine did a great blog about how Common Core is really ObamaCore and how right-leaners and left-leaners alike across the country are now in open rebellion over the growing federal takeover of K-12 education standards, testing, and curriculum. See below:
Wherever you stand on the Common Core, an attempt to provide a set of nationwide education standards, it can’t be good news for the program that it has begun to so resemble the disastrous process and rollout of this administration’s last federal reform, ObamaCare. Yet the opposition to the Common Core has followed a familiar pattern.
As the Heartland Institute noted in 2011, “The Obama administration made adoption of the Common Core a criterion for winning part of $4.35 billion in federal Race to the Top grants in 2010, and states receiving Title I appropriations in the future may be required to adopt the standards,” after which “Forty-two states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards in 2009 and 2010 in hopes of winning Race to the Top money.” This led to the first major complaint about the Common Core: conservatives worried the federal government was taking control of state-by-state education policy.
Liberals responded exactly as they did during the ObamaCare debate. Writing for theNew York Times, for example, Bill Keller resorted to name-calling and equated conservative concerns about the Common Core standards to birtherism. Keller’s complete and utter disregard for even elementary intellectual engagement with conservatives was indicative of a defensive posture: it seemed the self-conscious ranting of an advocate of a weak policy for which he didn’t have a serious defense.
It portended darker days ahead for the Common Core. After all, there were real concerns about the Common Core from an educational perspective. They wouldn’t go away just because the left wanted them to. And then, true to form, the complaints piled up. The administration responded in typical fashion: Education Secretary Arne Duncan blamed white resentment. Obnoxious racial politics and bureaucratic conceit aside, Democrats were also turning on the Common Core….
Have no fear, ObamaCore’s and the Gates Foundation’s faithful rodeo clown Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute jumps in to immediately defend ObamaCore from the right-leaning critics at Commentary. This caused a minor dust up on the State Policy Network edu listserv this AM.
Truth be told, I’m just trying to figure how Fordham even calls itself “conservative” anymore or why it is even on a free market listserv. How is it possible for Fordham – which recently got all misty eyed, weepy, and nostalgic for LBJ and his Great Society (below) – to have anything in common with libertarians or free marketeers at SPN?
MICHAEL J. PETRILLI: “The so-called War on Poverty has been fantastically successful at eradicating poverty among the old and devastatingly miserable at eradicating poverty among the young.” [Update Feb. 26, 2014: Added rest of sentence.]
CHESTER E. FINN JR.: “Forgive an aging education-reformer’s reminiscences, but LBJ’s declaration of war on poverty shaped the next 50 years of my life…Between LBJ and Pat Moynihan, I now had a sense of mission. So I applied to the ed school instead of the law school. And on it went from there.”
BTW, how are Fordham Institute’s “conservative/libertarian/free market” friends at Obama’s US ED, the Gates Foundation, Achieve, Inc., the CCSSO, and AFT’s Shanker doing these days?
Here we have Checker Finn/Fordham joining AFT’s Shanker, AFT’s Randi Weingarten, Marc Tucker, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, and Donna Shalala, to advocate for an illegal nationalized K-12 curriculum. It seems like Fordham prefers federal government monopolies and warm & fuzzy relationships with the teachers’ unions to free markets or states/localities/parents controlling their own educational destinies.
In reality, Common Core/national tests/ national curriculum are all actually farther Left than the federal legal barriers that LBJ and Jimmy Carter signed.
For many, Memorial Day is regarded as the official kick-off of summer – in Massachusetts, the start of the season of backyard barbecues, beaches, and boating. But in communities all across America – small towns and large – we’ll also see lively parades with marching bands, and breathtaking images of veterans’ memorials and cemeteries adorned with rows of Star-Spangled Banners.
In the 150 years since the Civil War, Americans have shown remarkable dedication to the annual ritual of honoring the one million service men and women of the United States Armed Forces who have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their country and its founding philosophy.
These brave soldiers gave their lives in defense of our enjoyment of the principles enshrined in our Declaration of Independence – life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness – and the rights codified in our Constitution – especially the freedoms included in the First and Second Amendments – that our people still hold so dear.
Memorial Day as we know it became an official federal holiday in 1971, but it takes its roots from informal “decoration” ceremonies held in both the North and South after the Civil War. Given the holiday’s origins, we think it is fitting to honor soldiers this year by presenting a video of Pulitzer-Prize-winning Civil War historian James McPherson, the keynote speaker at our recent forum, “The Legacy of Lincoln: US History in American Schooling.”
In the video, McPherson provides useful commentary on one of America’s most famous speeches, the Gettysburg Address:
“”Four score and seven years” in the past, said Lincoln, “our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty.” Today, in 1863, our generation faces a great test whether a nation so conceived can survive. In dedicating the cemetery on this battlefield, the living must take inspiration to finish the task that those who lie buried here so nobly advanced by giving their “last full measure of devotion.”
“Life and death in this passage have a paradoxical relationship: men died that the nation might live, yet the old Union also died, and with it would die the institution of slavery. After these deaths, the nation must have a “new birth of freedom” so that government of, by, and for the people that our fathers conceived and brought forth in the past “shall not perish from the earth” but live into the vast future, even unto the next millennium.” – James McPherson
The Civil War killed approximately 625,000 Americans and another 405,000 were wounded. There were 10 battles with combined Union and Confederate casualties of 17,000 or more. In Vietnam, 26 Americans died for each day of the war; that number was 416 people in World War II. From 1861 to 1865, daily Civil War deaths averaged 599.
The Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the American military’s first official Black units, is memorialized directly across the street from our State House.
Sadly, it now appears that most of our children will never know these historical facts and human realities. That’s because student scores on national testing have seen decades of decline. National Assessment of Educational Progress results show that only 22 percent of US students test proficient in civics, and only 18 percent rate proficient in U.S. history.
In Massachusetts, passing a basic U.S. history MCAS test had long been scheduled to become a high school graduation requirement for the Class of 2012. But in 2009, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education abandoned it. As a result, history courses are being replaced with additional courses in tested content areas.
If schoolchildren are going to have an understanding of the importance of these soldiers’ sacrifice, they need strong instruction in US history. Polling data show that Massachusetts parents, teachers, and state lawmakers support restoring the state assessment in US History as a graduation requirement.
Two Pioneer Institute reports, “Shortchanging the Future: The Crisis of History and Civics in American Schools,” and “The Rise and Fall of the Study of American History in Massachusetts,” note the general lack of understanding of American history in our society, because of how we teach history in K-12 schools.
With the Commonwealth’s students missing out on studying the Civil War, the time has come to restore our history to its rightful place in Massachusetts schools by reinstating the requirement that students pass a U.S. history MCAS test to graduate from high school.
“America will never be destroyed from the outside,” Abraham Lincoln said. “If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” The nation’s ongoing war of neglect of its own history is making President Lincoln’s words sound eerily far-sighted.
As opposition to Common Core national education standards picks up steam across the country, with more grassroots activism and movement among state and national political leaders, we’ll do our best to bring you the latest news on this front. See today’s round-up below:Weingarten sparks dialogue on Common Core standards Education Week: Paul Horton takes down Common Core advocates’ “conspiracy theory” sound bite IN: Pence Says He Won’t Prejudge Common Core, But Favors Pause Washington Times: Critics join common cause to block Common Core school standards MO: Critics question Common Core education standards at St. Louis County meeting MO: Common Core standards discussed and questioned NY: Common Core standards in New York State not benefitting children NY: Groups to hold forum on high-stakes tests, Common Core standards Common Core: Will Testing Be Its Fatal Flaw? WI: Americans have a common cause in battle against Common Core State Standards TN: Second Common Core meeting to draw 700-plus opponents ID: Anti Common Core in Idaho ID: Objections continue about Idaho schools using Common Core standards AZ: The hard sell of the Common Core State Standards Initiative