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Words I Long to Hear: “You’re Fired!”

Recently Peter Greene, who writes the pithy Curmudgication blog, has posted two pieces—one here more or less explaining why “Progressives” oppose Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and one here with the down-low on the “Conservative” rationale for opposing her. None of his points will you find anywhere on the mainstream news outlets; believe me, I’ve looked for them there.

Greene does an excellent job of summing up the arguments against DeVos from both camps, but one thing he doesn’t address directly is how the candidate who promised to “get rid of Common Core” has appointed one its biggest supporters to the catbird seat. (Yes, I know she has eschewed her earlier intense support for the Core, but I attribute that to the pragmatics of jumping off a sinking ship. She still hasn’t given up on “high standards” and “accountability.”) So what led Trump to this seeming contradiction?

I’m certainly not privy to all the machinations and conversations that have taken place among those who are putting together the Trump team, but if we look at Trump himself and how he operates, a likely explanation emerges: DeVos is the quid-quo-pro to buy the support of the reluctant Republican “elite,” the money men who have been scared to death that Trump will mess up their charter school, hedge fund playpen. Trump needs the support of these players, whether he is willing to admit it publicly or not. I have no clue whose idea it actually was to suggest that DeVos might be the key, but it was a brilliant stroke in keeping with Trump’s own tactics in deal-making.

When it comes to education, Trump is simply ignorant. He is a businessman who thinks like a businessman. Like most Americans, he feels he is an expert on education because he went to school. He put in his twelve years as “an apprentice” so he “knows” education. But education—especially public education—is a highly complex, nuanced entity, peopled by humans—students, teachers, and administrators—who do not respond like widgets on an assembly line. Education must address issues such as who is taught, what they are to be taught, who gets to teach them, what assurances do we need/have that students are learning, and how it can be done on the cheap—because the American public doesn’t like to give money to schools.

To all of this, Trump is issue-blind but consummately confident in his ignorance. Thus, I’m sure that when the emissary for those hedge-fund-happy Republican donors suggested someone (DeVos) who had an exemplary reputation in “making schools great again” (through charter schools) and who doesn’t like Common Core (now), Trump felt quite comfortable that he was making a great deal, if by appointing her to the Department of Education, he gained the loyalty of the Republican Old Guard. “I give a little, you give a lot, and we both walk away happy, right?” One wonders who gave more. And public education is once again the sacrificial lamb on the altar of politics-as-usual.

So what do those of us who are opposed to DeVos from either progressive or conservative perspectives do? Do we sit back and wait for this too to pass? I say, no; we did that when the accountability movement started, knowing where it would lead. We as educators protested and groused a little, but for the most part we bit the bullet and tried to do our jobs. The result has been that when accountability didn’t work, the reformers failed to see the error of their ways; they just double-down on accountability and shift it off to the states through ESSA. We cannot afford to continue on the “Do Nothing” path if we want to salvage public education—and I am of the opinion that the future of our democratic republic really does hinge on its survival.

So here’s what we do: we turn DeVos into a huge liability, one that Trump can no longer afford to hang onto. The thing that is more valuable to Trump than the moneyed Republicans whose support he bought with her nomination is the opinions of those who voted him into office. As Peter Greene states, we need to be calling and writing our senators, especially those of the Republican variety to let them know why we think making DeVos the Secretary of Education is a betrayal of Trump’s campaign promises. We must convince enough senators to publicly announce their lack of confidence in DeVos, to the point that Trump understands he is losing the support of those who put him in office. Trump is a pragmatist; if we mount such a campaign and the senators respond as we hope, my guess is Trump’s rejoinder will be, “Betsy, you’re fired!” and rescind her nomination.

We are the only ones who can make that happen. Call, email, write your senators, and then call, email, and write some more—and we must do it quickly as the confirmation hearings will begin very soon. The Network for Public Education offers a “Stop Betsy DeVos Toolkit” with lots of suggestions. A grassroots campaign of social media, letters, calls, and emails to legislators worked in Oklahoma to lay the groundwork to get rid of the Core. Let’s take this spirit of grassroots resistance national!

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On Waivers and Budgets and Things…

Over the last several days I have heard and read several different takes on the loss of Oklahoma’s NCLB waiver as a result of the passage of a law to remove Common Core as the state’s educational standards for Math and English Language Arts. The opinions of the effect of this loss range from “It really isn’t a big deal” to “It’s a disaster!” Clearly, if NCLB remains in place, there is the potential for gut-wrenching readjustments in school budgets and other painful realignments. I have never served in a public school administrative position, so I admit I do not understand the full impact of that. However, if we focus just on this outcome, I believe we are being short-sighted.

As an educator, I opposed Common Core and worked to dismantle it in Oklahoma for many reasons. Not the least of those reasons was the fact that the standards, though in many cases well intentioned, were often developmentally inappropriate, unnecessarily complicated, and not clearly based in recognized research. However, the most important reason that I fought Common Core was that the Initiative of which it was/is the linchpin represented a dangerous undermining of the democratic republican form of government that we have lived under more or less successfully for the last 200+ years.

When the Department of Education was established by Congress, it was with an accompanying fear that such a department might attempt to establish a national curriculum, and lawmakers actually built language into the legislation to prevent that from occurring. What has been happening, slowly and almost imperceptibly, over the last several decades has been an encroachment by the DOE into education at the state and local level that represents exactly what Congress feared. Under the tenure of Secretary Arne Duncan, this encroachment was thrown into high gear. Duncan used Gates money to promote the development of a set of standards that he then tricked and extorted 45 states and DC into adopting using a competition to win grant money to develop the high-stakes tests that would be used to evaluate students taught under these standards, thus establishing a de facto national curriculum. When high-stakes tests are tied to standards, the standards automatically become the curriculum, no matter how the promoters of Common Core do protest. Then to further coerce states into accepting Common Core standards and the tests and the data transfers, he offered them waivers from the draconian effects of failing to meet the 100% requirements of NCLB if they would just pay a little price. The price was, among other things, confirmation of the adoption of Common Core Standards and the use of VAM (value-added modeling) to evaluate teachers using student test scores, a concept that has been repeatedly repudiated in multiple research studies. I do not pretend to know what Duncan’s motivations are, but the effect of his efforts is undoubtedly to federalize public education, and the practical effect will ultimately be the privatization of most of public education, the widening of the achievement gap, and increasing segregation of schools.

A movement is growing to push back against not just the Common Core Standards, but against the excessive use of high-stakes standardized tests and inappropriate collection of student data. There are those, myself among them, who have said all along that the waivers were themselves illegal, amounting to lawmaking by a federal agency, which would also be unconstitutional. Derek W. Black, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, has just written an article (discussed by Peter Greene here)in which he elucidates a clear and reasoned argument as to the validity of this assessment. I understand that Governor Jindal of Louisiana has filed a law suit against the federal government related to at least some part of this issue; I would be surprised if Black is not called to testify in this trial. All across the country, educators, university professors, and legislators are deciding not to roll over and play dead any longer while the federal government rides roughshod over their rights in regard to the constitutional provision that powers not given to the federal government are reserved to the states. They are blogging and talking and learning that they are not alone. It seems critical to me that we seize this opportunity to make a supreme effort to take back what is ours, even if we must pay a price to do so.

One of the concerns of many Oklahoma administrators has been that they are not provided enough money to pay for all the programs and requirements laid on schools and still do the job of educating children, and I agree with them. It seems to me, however, that the most permanent solution to this problem is to fight the machine that is setting up all these requirements, that is, the federal government and its Department of Education. When schools are not required to fulfill unfunded mandates whether at the federal or state level, this should have the effect of freeing up millions of dollars to spend on students, teachers, and classrooms. This, in my mind, is a better solution than asking for more money to do the things we know we should be doing after we’ve spent so much of the money schools are actually given on things that don’t really help kids but are required by silly laws.

So I guess what I’m suggesting is that instead of wasting energy arguing over whose perception about the impact of the waiver is right or wrong, let’s all get on the same page to get rid of high-stakes tests altogether, to get rid of VAM, and to pull down unnecessary databases that serve no one but third party testing and curriculum vendors, all of which suck state and district educational budgets dry. We can only do this when legislators hear us as one powerful voice. Students have been the collateral damage in this fight for years, and I don’t see that ending until we press on to make the voice of free public education heard loud and clear. That means doing even more of what parents and educators in Oklahoma did this past year. It means not wearying in the fight. Ending Common Core was just one battle in a war that will take several years to win, and if we fight each other, we will surely lose. This seems an appropriate place to quote Ben Franklin (who, I understand, is ignored by the new AP History “curriculum”): “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” And ineffectively, I might add.

David and Goliath: An Oklahoma Story

  • An Analysis of the Defeat of Common Core in Oklahoma through Gladwell’s Lens
  • David and Goliath by Gebhard Fugel This past week I was invited to Oklahoma City to participate in a photo event marking the historic signing of HB3399, the bill that ended Common Core in Oklahoma. I’m not at all sure I belonged with the group in the photo, but I was pleased to represent my region of Oklahoma by participating. The effort for HB3399 was totally an ongoing grassroots marathon that for some began four to five years ago. I only became aware and took an active part over the last year, but this involvement has given me unique insight as to how the surprising upset was accomplished.

    In the beginning, overturning Common Core seemed like an impossible goal. By the time anyone really knew what was happening, the governor, the state superintendent of education, and the legislature had worked together to not just put Common Core “in place,” but to put it into law. By June of 2010, it had become the law of the land and virtually no teachers or parents had even heard of it. As some of us began to question it, as we dug into its history and background, we learned that Common Core was much bigger than Oklahoma; it was a national initiative to ensure that all American children learned exactly the same thing at the same time and were tested on their knowledge based on those standards with exactly the same tests, and the data from those test results would be accessible on a national level to third party vendors. We figured out that the impetus behind it all boiled down to a few individuals or groups with a lot of money who either thought they knew better than educators and parents how to run education, or who saw huge profits to be made in providing curriculum materials, computerized tests, and professional development for the “new, national” standards. It has become a fight of the “one-percenters,” the super-rich “philanthropists” with a business perspective and sometimes (oftentimes?) questionable motives, against disconnected, politically unsophisticated, and normally compliant parents and teachers.

    As the battle was playing to what we thought was its end, I happened to be reading Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2013). I was intrigued by the correlation I noted between theories in this text and what was happening in Oklahoma. Perhaps it will be useful to review those correlations.

    Not Playing by the Rules

    At the beginning of the book, Gladwell introduces his premise using the familiar Biblical tale of David and Goliath, but he cautions that David’s victory over the giant warrior was not as straight forward as we usually think of it. It’s important to know, for example, that there were certain conventions of warfare that everyone was expected to follow; one of those conventions involved avoiding devastating and costly battles by agreeing to one-on-one contests. Each side pitted its best hand-to-hand fighter against that of the other side, winner take all. In the David and Goliath story, that’s just what the Philistines were trying to set up, but no Israelite was big enough to stand a chance against Goliath. When David rose to the challenge, everyone, including King Saul, expected him to fight a close, hand-to-hand encounter. David, however, knowing that was effectively suicidal, refused to follow the conventions. He elected to use his highly honed skills as a slinger against Goliath. Slingers comprised one of the three components of every ancient army, along with foot soldiers in heavy armor and archers who stayed behind the lines and did not need armor. Thus, when David approached him with no armor and no visible weapons, Goliath was perplexed, and only too late did he realize that David wasn’t following the “rules.”

    I see a clear correlation here to the story of the defeat of Common Core in Oklahoma. To begin with, the movement essentially started with a very small group of parents, some of them also teachers, who realized early on the standards themselves were not well written. Although there were some good parts to them, on the whole, they were not developmentally appropriate, especially at the lower grade levels, and they made assumptions about children and learning, even at higher grade levels, that were inaccurate. These individuals were led to do a great deal of research through which they began to see that the standards were only a part of a much bigger “initiative” promoted by the federal Department of Education to be “national” standards and funded by philanthropists with a decidedly “corporate reform” bent, and that the ultimate goal of these tightly connected “reformers” was data collection on both kids and their parents and the ultimate destruction of public education. They were determined to stop it, but what could such a small group do against such a huge and well-funded business-government coalition?

    They became “David” pacing back and forth at the top of the ridge surveying the valley below where the huge giant stood commanding the field of battle. For approximately three years, they researched, wrote, and talked to anyone who would listen–and there weren’t many who would. They were often ignored or dismissed. As they traveled from one corner of the state to the other at their own expense, giving presentations with PowerPoints displaying screenshots with documentation for their claims, a few people began to listen, especially parents whose children were now dealing with some of the disturbing curriculum being introduced as “Common Core-aligned.”

    Realizing that, since Common Core had been voted into law, repeal would have to come through the legislature, they began lobbying legislators to submit repeal bills. Although bills were submitted at each session, they never reached the floor, probably because of the influence of the minions of those who had pushed Common Core from outside the state in the first place, and because few legislators saw these new standards as significantly different from any other set of standards, for heaven’s sake! In 2011 and 2013, however, two representatives were given permission to hold a couple of interim studies on Common Core. At each of those studies, educators and parents testified, some angrily, some tearfully, as to numerous problems with Common Core and about the problems with testing that were already being experienced and would intensify as Common Core was fully implemented. I testified at one of these studies; unfortunately, only a handful of legislators actually showed up to hear our testimony.

    Traditional political wisdom would say that the cause was hopeless; there were too many people with too much money and power arrayed against us to achieve our goal. But those with the power didn’t count on the Mama Bears. By late fall 2013 into winter 2014, parent legislative action committees began to spring up all over Oklahoma. These groups were concerned and they were angry. Not only did they feel that Common Core was not appropriate for their children, they felt they were totally left out of the educational and political process. This was the point where “David” stopped following the conventions of how things get done in politics. The various parent groups set up Facebook pages and posted the research that they were doing that revealed the corrupt underbelly of the Common Core Initiative. These posts were shared and re-shared and re-re-shared. There were blogs and Twitter conversations to develop strategies and to keep one another informed. Connections were made with similar groups across the country; we learned we were not alone.

    It was determined that the only way to get the attention of the legislature was to bombard individual legislators with emails, letters, and phone calls, and the Mama Bears did it by the thousands, using social media to coordinate their efforts. In fact I read that, after the bill was passed and the governor was contemplating whether or not to sign it, she received over 20,000 emails and calls requesting her to sign. On at least two occasions, the call went out for parents and teachers to report to the Capitol en masse for a systematic lobbying effort, and hundreds showed up. That is the kind of grassroots demonstration that “Goliath” never expected. And Oklahoma is not the only place this kind of political activism among parents and teachers is being exercised. This is happening in many states across the country, and one by one, the dominos are falling.

    Giants Are Not Always What They Seem

    The second correlation with Gladwell’s rendition of the David and Goliath story has to do with the idea that Goliath’s greatest strength was actually his greatest weakness. According to Gladwell, researchers now believe that Goliath suffered from a malady known as acromegaly. This condition is brought about by a tumor that grows on the pituitary gland, which as you may recall, is the tiny gland in your head that controls growth. Acromegaly causes growth in height to continue well past the time it ceases in normal individuals, resulting in extreme height, sometimes eight feet or more. This certainly could explain Goliath’s reputation as a giant. However, most people with acromegaly also have very poor vision, including double vision, and the evidence in the Biblical text suggests this was true for Goliath. Thus, Goliath was unable to determine that David was not planning to follow the rules of hand-to-hand combat until he was well within range of his slingshot. As Gladwell says, “The powerful and the strong are not always what they seem” (p. 15). I think this is certainly true of the groups and individuals who developed and successfully (to a degree) promoted Common Core. For whatever reason, they believe that they and only they know exactly how to “fix” American education. This deep-seated hubris leads them to believe that the rest of the nation should be grateful for what they are doing and not question it. They believed they could pave the way for acceptance by the people by paying for it with their largess. They did not expect any significant opposition and did not plan for it. Thus, by the time it had developed, they had no response other than to continue to spout the unsupported and undocumented talking points they provided initially. In my opinion, the strength of their self-confidence in themselves and their money was their undoing, at least in Oklahoma.

    Gladwell points out that “underdog strategies are hard” (p. 32). When you are the underdog, the temptation is to use the expected familiar tactics. To develop new ones and to put your trust in them takes guts and determination and plain old consistent hard work. That certainly describes the work of the Mama Bears in Oklahoma in the years leading up to HB3399.

    The Theory of Desirable Difficulty

    Gladwell also discusses the theory of desirable difficulty. This theory proposes that, although discouraging difficulties in life, such as being born dyslexic or losing a parent at an early age, may result in some people accomplishing less than their potential, for others the very difficulties they experience have the effect of being the catalyst they require to succeed. One aspect of this is based on the Five Factor Personality Assessment; this measurement looks at where individuals fall on a continuum of five factors: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. One psychologist believes that innovators, people who think and act outside the box, tend to have a great deal of openness and conscientiousness; however, they surprisingly tend to be somewhat disagreeable, in the sense of being “willing to take social risks–to do things that others might disapprove of” (p. 117). In other words, the difficulties they have faced and survived may actually lead them to take the risks necessary to challenge the status quo.

    In relation to this theory, Gladwell also talks about the fear of fear being a major factor in not overcoming in desperate situations. When a person has been through “hell,” so to speak, and survived, he or she tends to lose the sense of fear. He or she is ready and willing to be “disagreeable,” if that’s what it takes to accomplish an important task.

    How does this theory explain the Oklahoma fight against Common Core? I can only speculate, since I do not have knowledge of the stories of thousands of teachers and parents who took an active role in this campaign; however, I have heard the stories of parents watching their children struggle with developmentally inappropriate school tasks and tests, and I have heard from teachers who are demoralized by the pinball machine of constant reforms and incessant testing and test prep, who are cheated of the opportunity to use their professional knowledge and decision making art and skill. I strongly suspect that many of these folks have moved beyond their fear of the consequences of speaking out and taking a public role in an attempt to regain their voices in the education of the children of this state. It may have been, like the snake in the beaker of water that doesn’t realize the temperature is being raised to the killing point, these folks might have consented uncomplaining, had the “reform” of Common Core been introduced in a way that gave them the appearance of having a voice in its adoption. As it was, the top-down, “we know best” attitude of the promoters and the immediate and devastating impact it had on children and teachers resulted in a level of “discouraging difficulty” like nothing they had yet experienced. At some point that “difficulty” reached a tipping point; there was no fear left; action was required no matter the risk. I do know that many of the anti-Common Core “operatives” became decidedly “disagreeable” in the view of a number of legislators and state officers; they simply would not go away.

    The Theories of the Limits of Power and the Inverted U Curve

    Another theory that Gladwell deals with in relation to battling giants is the theory of the limits of power. He explains the perspective developed by Nathan Leites and Charles Wolf of the RAND Corporation that became popular after World War II for dealing with insurrections. According to Leites and Wolf, people operate rationally on a cost/benefit basis; that is, if the cost is too great, behavior of an individual will change. They believed then that “influencing popular behavior requires neither sympathy or mysticism, but rather a better understanding of what costs and benefits the individual or the group is concerned with, and how they are calculated” (p. 202). In other words, if the rebels’ behavior doesn’t change, the cost to them is not severe enough. According to Gladwell, the IRA Insurrection in Northern Ireland and Viet Nam were both fought on exactly this premise. It didn’t work in both cases, or in many others. This theory has as its basis the idea that “the power of the state was without limits” (p. 217).

    Gladwell maintains that Leites and Wolf had it all wrong. Whereas Leites and Wolf said authority doesn’t need to worry about how those in their power felt and thought, Gladwell says it is absolutely imperative that authority figures care about the feelings of their “subjects” and communicate that to them.

    Gladwell also talks about something called the inverted U curve. The theory of this statistical curve is that making a change of any sort often follows a kind of upside down “U” trajectory. Initially there appears to be a quick and beneficial benefit or “rise” due to the change. At some point, however, the benefit from the “rise” flattens out; applying more of the change doesn’t get the same dramatic effect. Eventually, the benefit actually begins to fall; no matter how much more of the change you apply, the benefit becomes less and less. Gladwell applies this idea to the exercise of power, and comes to the conclusion that there are definite limits to power. He goes on to explain that when those in power do not take the feelings of the people into account, their power loses legitimacy in the eyes of the people. They no longer see any need to be loyal to that power. “The excessive use of force creates legitimacy problems, and force without legitimacy leads to defiance, not submission” (p.273).

    Let’s see how this theory applies to the repeal of Common Core in Oklahoma. Research has shown rather conclusively that there was a concerted effort on the part of several corporate reform entities aided and abetted by personnel in the U.S. Department of Education to bypass the democratic process to install the Common Core State Standards in every state before the public was aware of it, at which point, they believed it would be too late for the states to back out. As the realization of that slowly dawned on parents and teachers in Oklahoma, they began to feel that they had had no voice in what was happening to their schools and to their children. And as they realized the result of corporate reform, including Common Core, would lead to more and more standardized testing, and the data from their students would be shared inappropriately–all excessive uses of force–those pushing for Common Core began to lose legitimacy in their eyes. A strong opt-out movement sprang up in Oklahoma; many parents, including some 800 in the suburban community of Jenks, requested that their students not participate in field testing for the new tests. There was a marked rise in parents who began to homeschool their children in an attempt to avoid the impact of Common Core and other reforms. The development of the parent legislative action committees was in itself an act of defiance.

    To make matters worse, the state superintendent of education essentially turned a deaf ear to all requests by parents and schools to mute the impact of the reforms, including Common Core. Probably the straw that broke the camel’s back was her rigid insistence on the Reading Sufficiency Act (a major part of the corporate reform agenda) which required all third-graders unable to pass the third-grade Language Arts test (of which less than half was a true reading test) at the prescribed level, would be retained. The superintendent’s lack of compassion and understanding absolutely contributed to the decline in the sense of legitimacy of the state education agency. Not only were parents complaining loudly on social media and in other venues, many teachers and administrators across the state took to writing blogs, some anonymously, some not, and writing news releases to draw attention to their plight.

    I feel confident that this loss of legitimacy facilitated the “insurrection” against Common Core in Oklahoma. As I write this, the story is not done. After the governor signed the bill overwhelmingly passed by the legislature, a small group of teachers and parents and members of the governor-appointed school board filed suit in the Oklahoma Supreme Court to have portions of the bill declared unconstitutional. This appears to be a political game organized to deflect the heat from the governor and still keep Common Core. I don’t think the Mama Bears and the teachers are going to be fooled this time. They have lost all faith in the legitimacy of those currently in power in Oklahoma. If the Supreme Court tows the power line and declares the bill unconstitutional, I have no doubt there will be political repercussions in the months to come.

    I don’t propose that the theories that Gladwell spells out in David and Goliath explain everything about how Common Core was/is being defeated in Oklahoma, but I do believe much of what happened and is happening can be interpreted in light of these theories, and I believe we can benefit from understanding how these theories apply. Those who have fought this battle, however, should also consider them a warning. The inverted U curve can exert its power in unexpected ways; the strategies utilized against the pro-Common Core factors can simply lose their effect if they are overused. The inverted U suggests there is a limit to their effectiveness. It remains to be watchful and vigilant, something we haven’t been particularly good at in the past. I hope we are not destined to repeat this history. With knowledge and determination, we don’t have to be.

    Work Cited

    Gladwell, M. (2013). David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants. New York: Little, Brown, and Company.

    Pigs, Wolves, and Principals–Or Is It Principles?

    When I was about five or six years old, my mother would often take my brother and me to visit our grandmother, where we would enjoy playing with two cousins who were about the same age. One of our favorite games was reenacting the Three Little Pigs in my grandmother’s living room. We would use chairs turned upside down for the houses of the pigs, and each of us would take one of the four roles. We would act out the entire story. We all had the dialogue memorized. When we were finished, we would change roles and do it all over again. We passed many an afternoon entertaining ourselves in this way while the grown-ups visited at the kitchen table…fond memories, indeed!

    Interestingly, we had a family reunion a couple of years ago, and in the course of the conversation, I mentioned our old Three Little Pigs past-time. I was astounded to learn that neither my brother nor my cousins even remembered the game. I really couldn’t understand their inability to remember what was stuck so solidly in my own memory. I don’t suggest that there is any particular meaning to that, but clearly unlike my playmates, I never lost my fascination with the old tale (I have a collection of various versions of it) and this, I guess, helps explain why it was the first thing that came to mind when I read about Arne Duncan’s Principal Ambassador Fellowship program, which was announced last year.

    According to details about the initiative provided by Dr. Mercedes Schneider in her two blogs here and here, the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Duncan is setting up a program that bears an eerie likeness to the Three Little Pigs tale. Under this program, individual principals who are accepted are provided with unprecedented opportunities for deepening their knowledge of key federal education programs and enabled to share this expertise with their colleagues in the local schools. As an encouragement to participate in this program, the DOE will pay a portion of the principal’s salary to the school district. Nevertheless, according to the job description, that was until recently posted on the USAJobs website, these principals would in fact be federal employees (See Mercedes’ first blog linked above for the actual language.) The Principal Fellow will thus become the DOE’s conduit to communicate (and enforce?) the federal perspective on how education should function at the school level.

    The vision that came to my mind immediately when I read about this program was Arne Duncan in a wolf suit, knocking on the schoolhouse door intoning this plea: “Little school, little school, let me come in! I have spectacular benefits for you! You can even bypass those interfering state ed offices and have a direct connection to the wonderful, beneficent federal DOE–critical information and support on the latest directives related to No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and our expanding Early Childhood program, not to mention the high-demand Common Core State Standards. Not only that, you will only have to pay about half of the Principal Fellow’s salary! Of course, about half the time, he or she will be actually working for the DOE, but what a bargain for your cash-strapped budget! How can you not let me in? Don’t worry about the principal’s connection with the federal government. I’m sure he or she won’t tell us anything you don’t want us to know. No worries there.”

    My mind-movie of the wolf has him salivating at the prospect of having this presence in schools, literally ready to pounce on and devour the schools, without interference from local school boards or state education agencies, but I realize others may not see the same picture. I fear there may be a number of cash-starved school districts out there doing their best to build their schools with the sticks and straw they have been given to work with that may be tempted by the wiles of the Wolf. They are focused on just making it through the next school year, and after all, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to hire a qualified administrator/principal for half price?

    But I hope that most schools will recognize this offer for what it is. I hope that their response to the Wolf will be “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin! I get that letting the fed-funded principals into my school is a lop-sided trade. I know that what you really want is access at the school level–in my building!–to further undermine local control. I know that opening the door to you will give you eyes and ears as to how and whether our school is falling in line with your directives, many of which are of questionable legality. So take a hike, Mr. Wolf, and you might want to watch your back, because the winds blowing in from the grassroots of this country may just blow your house down!”

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