Being on the email list of veteran education researcher and author Charlotte Iserbyt is like being in the passenger seat next to a particularly fast driver. As uncomfortable as the position may be, jumping out of the car would be worse.
Iserbyt was a senior policy advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education, during the first Reagan Administration, where she had access to volumes of education documents. Subsequently, she published the Deliberate Dumbing Down of America and founded 3D Research Co, exposing the dangerous direction the American educational system has been heading.
Decades of battle and a sense that time is growing short have made her impatient with those who miss the forest for the trees. “Forget Communist Core,” she writes, referring to Common Core, a project to push national standards that are designed to produce a “workforce ready” population – “this is coming down the pike, which will include Communist Core, even if you think you have repealed it. This is the agenda to expand education into Limited Learning for Lifelong Labor.”
Iserbyt has just sent everyone on her list a copy of “A Vision for Public Education: Equity and Excellence,” prepared by the Georgia School Boards Association and published in 2010. She and the other education researchers behind the 8-disk DVD series Exposing the Global Road to Ruin Through Education see this “vision” as a fairly good example of what’s next in the pipeline, proffered at a point when citizens are weary of battle and feeling they have made their voices heard.
What is the Georgia School Boards Association’s “vision” for public education?
1. It is transformative, changing the current education system “into one that is relevant for today’s children and youth,” and preparing them for “life” and “careers.” (p. 1) The vision paper states that its purpose “is to offer a series of recommendations that, taken in total, implemented effectively over our state, and supported by the citizens of the state and policymakers, will transform public education in Georgia.” (p. 2)
2. It is comprehensive, integrating “[e]ffective structures and processes” of the education system “with purposeful alignment of the roles and responsibilities” of others aspects of society. (p. 1)
3. Its focus is national. “Any undertaking to alter significantly the form, structure, delivery mechanism, or goals of public education cannot ignore the federal government’s involvement and influence.” (p.1)
These elements intersect with one another. The creation of a “comprehensive,” national education/workforce system essentially transforms a locally-controlled, system that is focused primarily on academics. “Transformation,” in this vision, is more radical than finding the best ways to insure academic proficiency for the most students. It “rethinks” everything.
Recommendation 8.2, for example (p 121) would have us “[e]stablish each school as the center or hub of the community in which it exists.” A “partnership” among schools, families, and communities is advanced not only to promote student achievement but the “useful services or resources” schools can provide “their community partners.” Those “services and resources” are, among other things, a trained workforce.
These “community hubs” called “schools” would be wonders of socialist achievement. “[M]obilized communities” would “fill gaps in education, health, family support, childcare, economic support (income, job training, transportation), and related human services” as well as linking “services to bring more continuous and convenient help to families.” (p. 20)
They would “help” to raise the youngest members of society because “sustained preschool investments are a cost-effective way to ensure a better educated workforce, boosting long-term economic growth.” (p. 26) The state – referring to Georgia but, clearly, in a nationalized system, Georgia is Every State – must “ensure that families needing childcare can find nurturing, safe, high-quality, and affordable care.” (p. 21)
The Early Learning and Student Success component assures that by age five, every child is ready for school, able to, among other things, “play well with others, pay attention, respond positively to teachers’ instructions, communicate well verbally,” and can eagerly participant in classroom activities. “Starting at the top, state agencies are responsible for making informed human services policy decisions, committing sufficient resources, and connecting programs and services to all children who need them. Across all early care and education arrangements for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, state agencies have the responsibility for setting program standards for health, safety, staffing, and learning standards for what children should be encouraged to know, do, and experience. Furthermore, state agencies often determine professional development criteria and decide policies for compensation of early care and education professionals and program evaluation of the impact of services on child and family well-being.” (p. 22)
“Parents, families, and communities have a shared responsibility to engage in preparing children for school.” (p. 23) Since schools are “sharing” in the responsibility of raising children, they must not lose track of their charges. Under the heading of “Longitudinal Data System to Ensure Real-Time Access to Essential Data” the Georgia vision paper looks forward to the development of a “comprehensive data collection and management system” that monitors a student’s eBooks and laptop use, customizes the delivery of courseware, and collects “data about school and student performance” in a national database. (p. 62)
The paper recognizes that this view of “shared responsibility” has its own problems. “The roles and responsibilities at the national, state, and local levels are not always clear cut and may lead to confusion regarding who is actually in charge of the education of children.” (p 97) Establishing accountability is, therefore, a priority and there are a number of recommendations proposing to accomplish this, including establishment of “a coherent and comprehensive plan for leader succession. A major component of a viable plan is the identification of individuals within the organization who have potential for growth and ensuring they are provided professional development opportunities that will prepare them for higher level leadership positions. (p 99)
Who identifies these individuals? We are never told. Who holds whom accountable? These are wondrous mysteries. However, the community hubs called schools, with their “shared responsibility” for raising children require expanded resources, as schools “become the site for healthcare delivery, recreational activities, and other community activities.” (p 58)
The community hubs called schools would be coordinated across the country by means of national standards. This is an idea that goes back quite a bit, with the vision paper specifically referencing a 1990 report from the National Center on Education and the Economy’s Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce titled “America’s Choice: High Skills or Low Wages!” The commission recommended nationally established educational performance standards, set for all students, with a Certificate of Initial Mastery to be awarded upon the student’s passing a series of assessments. “The certificate would qualify the student to enter college, the workforce, or technical training.” (p. 6) Georgia’s adoption of the national Common Core standards in 2010 was clearly an outgrowth of this idea, and drove the state’s curriculum formation. (p. 43)
The “transformation” proffered by the Georgia “Vision for Public Education” is about a good deal more than education. It is transformation from a family-centered society, in which the family has the ultimate responsibility to educate and care for its children, to a society-centered family, in which various social structures attempt to “scientifically” determine how to do the job, revising the program, again and again, after each failure.
This vision goes well beyond Common Core, though national standards are a piece of the picture. Iserbyt’s frustration and impatience are justified. This “transformation” has been attempted before.
Spero columnist Stephanie Block is the author of the four volume 'Change Agents: Alinskyian Organizing Among Religious Bodies,' which is available at Amazon.