Is Corporate Education Reform trying to Co-opt the Opt Out movement?
by Ken Derstine
April 8, 2015
This post was published on Schools Matter on April 8, 2015 as CorpEd Assails Opt Out In Desperate Attempt to Protect House of Cards
Bellwether - The term is derived from the Middle English bellewether and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading his flock of sheep. The movements of the flock could be noted by hearing the bell before the flock was in sight.
In typical Orwellian fashion, a corporate education reformer tries to flip the narrative of the Opt Out movement in the April 7, 2015 U. S. News and World Report. Andrew Rotherham, a cofounder of Bellwether Education Partners has an Op Ed which seeks to sow the tried and true method of oligarchs since time immemorial to divide and conquer through sowing ethnic and class differences. In this case, he tries to divide parents who want to Opt Out their children from standardized tests and says they should opt out of public schools to go to privately run/publicly funded charter schools. This has become the latest collective talking point of corporate education reformers.
First he warns of the dire consequences if parents choose to Opt Out and praises some state officials for “responding with force.”
He then goes on to say the Opt Out movement is “not some organic happening”, but, with no proof, implies that the Opt Out movement is being funded by the leadership of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
As anyone involved in the Opt Out movement can attest, the national unions have been manifestly missing in action in the Opt Out movement. Some state and local unions are supporting Opt Out, but it is parents who have been playing the leading role in the Opt Out movement.
Mr. Rotherham claims that “American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten straddles the issue by saying she vigorously supports the right of parents to opt-out but isn’t urging it.” Her actions behind the scenes say otherwise. As a recent panel at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute disclosed, Ms. Weingarten has been collaborating very closely with the corporate reformers to develop teacher evaluation systems based on standardized test scores.
After claiming that Opt Out is funded by the national union leadership, Rotherham recognizes the parents but this time to sow ethnic and class discord. He claims that the Opt Out movement is a “mostly white led effort to boycott state standardized tests that are arguably most important for low-income and minority students who are frequently denied a quality education in our nation’s public schools.” Why standardized tests, which have taken over many hours of instruction time for test prep and administration, is benefiting “minority students who are frequently denied a quality education in our nation’s public schools.” is never explained.
He singles out the Montclair Public Schools where 42% of students Opted Out of PARCC tests in March as one of the “affluent opt-out hot spots”. He derisively says these parents are not opting out their children from the SAT and ACT tests, ignoring that no instruction time is used for SAT test prep as opposed to the hundreds of hours of test prep and administration for the Pearson PARCC tests. He also ignores that year by year more and more colleges and universities are no longer using the SAT for admission.
Once again, parents involved in the Opt Out movement know that this attempt to make Opt Out a racial issue is a red herring. The link shows that Rotherham is sterotyping both Montclair and the Opt Out movement. He claims that “the Common Core tests are linked to school accountability and teacher evaluation. The data are disaggregated to make sure some students, especially low-income and minority students, are not shortchanged.” How will a standardized test help low income students? A standardized test is not learning. Its only purpose is for ranking students and schools.
This is the canard that corporate education reform is the next civil rights movement. It bases itself on blaming teachers in schools with a large number of low income families for the schools’ problems which must therefore be “turnedaround” to charter companies. Any talk of lack of resources is not allowed in this paradigm. That the public schools have been systematically starved for the last ten years in order to build up the charter sector by politicians aligned with ALEC is not allowed to be brought to light.
It is low income communities that are being hit the hardest by corporate education reform. Standardized test scores have been used to close public schools in urban areas all over the country. This has devastated communities. Parents living in low income circumstances are increasingly aware they are yet again being marginalized for the interests of private profit as can be seen in the video in this article about the “turnaround” of schools in Camden, New Jersey.
He concludes with a rallying cry for parents to leave public schools. Corporate reformers hope their more than ten year promotion of starving public schools while building up charters will make leaving public schools an attractive choice for parents.
His final statement is a threat to teachers that if they resist “school accountability schemes” then corporate reformers will push for more unaccountable but profit making charters.
So who is Andrew Rotherham and his Bellwether Education Partners? This article “Three Non-Profits Selling Out Public Education…in the name of “public education”, has this information about Rotherham and Bellwether.:
Co-founder of Bellwether. He serves on advisory boards and committees for a variety of organizations including Education Pioneers, The Broad Foundation, and the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. (CALDER). Rotherham is on the board of directors for the Indianapolis Mind Trust, is Vice Chair of the Curry School of Education Foundation at the University of Virginia, and serves on the Visiting Committee for the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Board member for Democrats for Education Reform.
The article says Bellwether was founded in 2010 and lists its many “Education Partners”. Note that almost all of them come from the corporate world and corporate education reform and none from education. Prominent is partners from Bain and Company founded by former members of the Boston Consulting Group. In November, 2013 Bellwether received $1,981,978 from the Gates Foundation “to support CoreSpring, an initiative to build a bank of shared Common Core aligned formative item and assessment resources that assure improved discoverability, availability and interoperability.”
As always, we must see things in context. Is it a coincidence that this Op Ed appears in U.S. News & World Report? As can be seen above, among the organizations Rotherham is associated with is The Broad Foundation.
The owner, publisher and editor-in-chief of U.S. News and World Report is Mortimer Zuckerman. He is also the owner and publisher of the New York Daily News.
In 2009 - 2010 he was on the Board of the Broad Foundation - which also included Joel Klein, Arne Duncan (until he became Secretary of Education), Michelle Rhee (while she was Chancellor of Washington D.C. schools and she is still on the Board in the 2013-2014 report) and Wendy Kopp when she was director of Teach for America (she is still on the Board in the 2013-2014 Annual Report).
The 2011-2012 Broad Annual Report still had Zuckerman on the Broad Board of Directors.
The 2013-2014 Broad Annual Report doesn’t have him on the Board, but currently he is on The Broad Prize for Urban Education Review Board - which includes Condoleezza Rice, Ed Rendell, former Governor of Pennsylvania (who is also involved with the fracking industry), and Andrew Stern, former President of the Service Employees International Union.
See page 42 and 43 of the Broad Foundation Report 2013-2014 for the full list. Also see page 24, 25 of this report for the current Broad Board.
The PDF’s of all of the Broad Foundation Annual Reports can be found here.
Are the teachers, parents and students in America’s public schools flocks of sheep to be led around by corporate education reform?
The New Teacher Project and New Democrats
Schools Matter - June 2, 2009
The Testing Circus: Whose Fault Is It?
Curmudgucation - May 25, 2014
More spin from Andrew Rotherham.
Have You Heard?
Philadelphia African-American parents speak about why they are Opting Out.
Edushyster - February 27, 2016
The Search for Great Teachers
Curmudgucation - February 3, 2016