Corporate-Driven Report Exemplifies Failed Thinking on US Education

Condi Rice-Joel Klein report: Not the new ‘A Nation at Risk’

A new report being officially released today -- by a Council of Foreign Relations task force chaired by Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice -- seems to want very much to be seen as the new "A Nation at Risk," the seminal 1983 report that warned that America's future was threatened by a "rising tide of mediocrity" in the country's public schools.

It's a pale imitation.

The U.S. Education Reform and National Security report, to be sure, has some similar language and themes of a Nation at Risk. It says (over and over) that America's national security is threatened because America's public schools aren't adequately preparing young people to "fill the ranks of the Foreign Service, the intelligence community, and the armed forces" (or diplomats, spies and soldiers).

But it takes a very different view of the public education system than the authors of "A Nation at Risk," who sought to find ways to improve public schools and treat the system as a civic institution. The new report seems to look at public schools as if they are the bad guys that need to be put out of business, with a new business taking over, funded with public dollars.

A Nation at Risk made some basic recommendations, which included improving the curriculum, raising expectations for all children and improving the teaching force.

The Klein-Rice report makes three broad recommendations to fix the stated problem.

The new report seems to look at public schools as if they are the bad guys that need to be put out of business, with a new business taking over, funded with public dollars.

It calls for:

  • expanding the Common Core State Standard initiative to include subjects beyond math and English Language Arts;
  • an expansion of charter schools and vouchers
  • an annual "national security readiness audit" that would look at how schools are addressing the country's needs through increased foreign language programs, technology curriculum and more.

The report cites lots of statistics that paint public schools in the worst possible light, and continues the trend of comparing America's educational system with that of high-achieving countries -- but doesn't note that these countries generally don't do the kinds of things these reformers endorse. Its recommendations would lead to further privatization of public schools and even more emphasis on standardized testing.

Any reader of this blog may recall a post I recently did where I spelled out what the report would say well before it came out. I was pretty much on target. How did I know? The president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard N. Haass, chose Klein and Rice to be the co-chairs, according to Anya Schmemann, the council's task force program director. And he most certainly knew what kind of report he would get.

Klein was chancellor of of New York City public schools for eight years, running it under the general notion that public education should be run like a business. He closed schools, pushed the expansion of charter schools and launched other initiatives before resigning in 2010 after it was revealed that the standardized test scores that he kept pointing to as proof of the success of his reforms were based on exams that got increasingly easy for students to take. Now he works for Rupert Murdoch.

When one member of the commission suggested that people with dissenting views be brought before the panel to present other ideas, and Diane Ravitch's name came up, Klein vetoed it, members of the panel said. Ravitch is the leading voice against the test-based accountability movement and "school choice," but Klein, who has long had tense relations with the education historian, didn't want the panel to hear from her.

Rice was secretary of state under president George W. Bush. She has expressed her admiration for Bush's key education initiative No Child Left Behind, which ushered in the current era of high-stakes testing but has now been called a failure by both Republicans and Democrats.

And talk about stacking the deck! The task force had 30 members, including a long list of people who support the kind of reform Klein implemented in New York. They include Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America; Margaret Spellings, former secretary of education; Jonah M. Edelman of Stand for Children, and Richard Barth of the KIPP Foundation. There were some members with differing perspectives, including Stanford University's Linda Darling-Hammond and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, but they were in the small minority.

Here's the complete list of committee members. Five of the members have astericks by their names, indicating that they wrote dissents to the report.

Carole Artigiani*, Global Kids, Inc; Craig R. Barrett, Intel Corporation; Richard Barth, KIPP Foundation; Edith L. Bartley, United Negro College Fund; Gaston Caperton, The College Board; Linda Darling-Hammond*, Stanford University; Jonah M. Edelman, Stand for Children; Roland Fryer Jr., Harvard University; Ann M. Fudge; Ellen V. Futter*, American Museum of Natural History; Preston M. Geren, Sid W. Richardson Foundation; Louis V. Gerstner Jr.; Allan E. Goodman, Institute of International Education; Frederick M. Hess, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research; Shirley Ann Jackson, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Joel I. Klein, News Corporation; Wendy Kopp, Teach For America; Jeffrey T. Leeds, Leeds Equity Partners, LLC; Julia Levy, Culture Craver; Michael L. Lomax, United Negro College Fund; Eduardo J.Padron, Miami Dade College; Matthew F. Pottinger, China Six LLC; Laurene Powell Jobs, Emerson Collective; Condoleezza Rice, Stanford University; Benno C. Schmidt, Avenues: The World School; Stanley S. Shuman, Allen& Company LLC; Leigh Morris Sloane, Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs; Margaret Spellings, Margaret Spellings and Company, Stephen M. Walt*, Harvard Kennedy School; Randi Weingarten*, American Federation of Teachers.

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