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Open Letter to Congress on ESEA Reauthorization

Jim Horn

To Members of the 113th Congress:

I write to express my concerns regarding the various versions of the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) now circulating in Washington, all of which appear to have enough in common to be combined, perhaps, under a more fitting title--something like The Corporate Foundation and Education Industry Welfare Act of 2013. All of the versions that I have seen appear to embrace the principle that known failure should never be sacrificed for untried levels of success.

The past four decades represent generations now of failed accountability efforts to assist, threaten, demand, shame, and bribe public school students and their teachers to raise school achievement as a way to demonstrate that testing accountability can accomplish what racism and poverty have made consistently impossible in America. The chimerical idea that increasing education access could cure social and economic injustice was and is an ambitious, though fanciful, project that has been embraced by both liberals and conservatives since the late 1960s at least. Increasing educational access during the 60s came to serve as a coward's proxy for more substantive and politically risky structural changes in housing, health care, jobs, transportation, and safety--all of which were and are as desperately needed as they are studiously ignored.

Today we are reaping the results of what we sowed during four decades of doing more of the same testing accountability while expecting different results. Today's hot and breathless pursuit of the status quo is packaged with the label of "reform," and it is bound together with pretty rhetorical ribbons like No Child Left Behind Act, Strengthening America's Schools Act, the Student Success Act, and Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act. All of these fine-sounding pieces of legislation depend upon schooling methods that were cutting edge a hundred years ago, when achievement testing and IQ testing were first used to create a pseudo-scientific and entirely fake meritocracy based on real economic privilege and the sordid sorting and segregating of the poor, the culturally "inferior," and the socially "defective."

During that era, millions of Mexican children had their futures determined by racist IQ tests and classist achievement tests given in a language that they could not even read. To show you how much things change and remain the same, today in Tennessee and other states wanting to "first to the top," kindergarten children are taking standardized tests (the SAT-10) before they learn to read and count. A hundred years ago society's "defectives" (either mental, social, cultural, or racial) were offered, on the basis of junk IQ tests, a very different industrial training education that taught students to accept and to actively participate in the own subjugation.

Today we use state or corporate achievement tests to justify closing public community schools and opening segregated corporate reform schools that no middle class parent would ever send they own their children to. In these neo-eugenic schools, children are programmed to blame themselves if the propaganda fails to deliver. Ask how many KIPP teachers or TFA missionaries would send their own children into the anti-cultural straightjacket chain gangs. Ask your colleagues in Congress if they would make their children KIPPsters.

Today the hostility of corporate education reformers to the public interest and the common good is matched only a rapacious and unchecked greed that is supported now with hundreds of millions of federal dollars that your programs approve. And all of the fine-sounding bills listed above want to scale up the KIPP model, TFA, and their emulators within the growing school incarceration industry of urban America. Public schools, with your help, have become corporate revenue streams and miseducative, unhealthy testing labs.

If your plans proceed, more and harder tests from the Common Core Corporate Standards guarantee a continuing supply of hostile corporate takeover targets within poor communities. More "turnarounds" equals more corporate reform schools, and there will always be a bottom five percent to prey upon. Despite warnings from the science community, these same national tests you are planning are to be used in evaluating teachers, who will doubtless sacrifice care and commitment to students for the necessity of assuring their own paychecks. Testing performance has replaced student learning, and all of your bills further enable that tragic transition.

The bills you are offering, too, will help to make teaching even more unattractive than it is today (if that is possible), thus increasing the demand for more and more Teach for America temps who have no inkling of the damage they are doing. You must understand that corporate reform is about building businesses of the most corrupt and exploitative variety--it is not about education.

I expect you will have quit reading my letter before you get to this point, but let me offer a picture of what may happen.

If the new ESEA does NOT eliminate high stakes tests and segregated corporate reform schools,

  • You will see a growing army of parents and teachers and grandparents and policymakers, all working together to nullify the grand schemes of your legislation, with its next generation of racist and classist high stakes tests and segregated chain gang schools.
  • You will see increasing numbers of students refusing to take the high stakes tests, enough to regularly cause test results to be useless.
  • You will see an increase in civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance that will use any non-violent means to stop corporate schooling and high stakes testing.
  • You will see very expensive technical snafus increasing as online high stake testing increases.
  • You will see testing data warehouses targeted by hackers.
  • You will see the end of corporate unionism and the rise of a real teacher union movement with the health and welfare of children's physical, mental, and emotional health as the first and foremost non-negotiable demand.
  • You will see a multiplicity of new information sources that no longer print the lies and propaganda that corporate foundations offer to you and the corporate media for parroting.
  • You will experience increasing disruption of corporate education at every level, from pre-K to graduate school.
  • You will see increasing resistance from within the university, and you will see much new high quality research in the public interest rather in for corporate benefit.
  • You will see the vampire squid of the education industry exposed for public examination.
  • You will find your connections to the corporate reform schoolers the subject of constant and unceasing examination.
  • You will see that what Wall Street fears, the spirit of Jeffersonian and Deweyan democracy, is alive and well and increasingly impatient with the status quo.
  • You will come to see that these demands are not negotiable.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Jim Horn

Jim Horn

Jim Horn is Professor of Educational Leadership at Cambridge College, Cambridge, MA. He is also an education blogger at Schools Matter @ the Chalkface and has published widely on issues related to education reform and social justice in education. His book "Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through No Excuses Teaching" was published 1n 2016. And, with co-author, Denise Wilburn, his book, "The Mismeasure of Education," was published in 2013.

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