Standards for Lawmakers? 

Maybe It’s Time

by Patricia El Sharei

 

Although many Americans believe that our nation’s public education system is a failure, most cannot agree on the causes.  This author contends that our lawmakers and policymakers are responsible for the condition of public education today, and that citizens must demand greater accountability from public officials who continue to impose more of the same failed policies on an already broken system.

 

New International Benchmark

Standards and Assessments

 

It was back in January of 1992 that the National Council on Education Standards and Testing (NCEST) issued a report calling for the establishment of a national system of standards and assessments, to serve as the basis for comprehensive education reform in the United States.  Today, seventeen years later, after mandatory content standards and annual standardized testing have become commonplace, lawmakers and policymakers are criticizing the system that they, themselves, created and are now calling for the development and implementation of new state standards by December of 2009.

 

To meet this goal, approximately sixty-five “experts” in the fields of education assessment and evaluations have been contracted by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center), in cooperation with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), to establish these new state standards and assessments with international benchmarks.

 

Advocating educational reform, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated in a June 14, 2009 speech:

       We think that every state should set internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in the workforce and college. World-class standards are the foundation on which you will build your reforms.”

According to the Council of Chief State School Officers, this new initiative “presents a significant and historic opportunity for states to accelerate and drive education reform.”  Some opponents of the initiative, however, believe it is just another way to further impose a globalist agenda on America’s youth.

Reform Efforts Target Teachers

New reform efforts, under the Obama Administration, are also targeting teachers and other educational professionals.  In spite of the fact that today’s educators are required to have more professional training, more credentials, and more classroom accountability than their colleagues of the past, both lawmakers and policymakers seem to be convinced that it’s still not enough. 

 

Proposed reform initiatives, as outlined by the U.S Secretary of Education in a speech before the National Education Association (NEA) on July 2, 2009, are calling for higher professional standards and evaluations for teachers to be based on students’ standardized test scores — an approach that many believe is equivalent to holding doctors responsible for their patients’ diseases.

 

Recently, President Obama singled out California for allegedly failing to use education data from standardized testing to distinguish poor teachers from good ones — advocating that California’s policy must change or the state will lose competitive federal school dollars (August 17, 2009 New York Times article entitled, Dangling Money, Obama Pushes Education Shift).

In spite of all the “excellence in education” rhetoric, as lawmakers and policymakers continue to make test scores a public obsession, it becomes increasingly obvious that the emphasis of our nation’s educational system has shifted away from quality education for our youth, to the

maintenance, growth, and survival of America’s education bureaucracy.  It also appears that

teachers and other professionals in the trenches of the system will continue to bear the brunt of responsibility for reforms being passed down by state and federal lawmakers and policymakers.

 

Isn’t it ironic that lawmakers continue to pass down legislative mandates demanding higher standards and greater accountability for students and educators, yet no quantifiable tool exists for constituents to measure their performance? What is wrong with this picture?

 

Lawmakers and Policymakers Determine the

Quality of Classroom Education

 

What the public often fails to recognize is that America’s lawmakers and appointed policymakers are the ones responsible for the failures of today’s public education system — not the teachers on the front lines.  Working together, lawmakers and policymakers create the legislation, control the money, and create the policies that govern classrooms and control the academic futures of our youth.

 

America does not hold its troops personally responsible for the failures of combat efforts when the military orders and strategies are handed down by their superiors, therefore, teachers should not bear the responsibility for the failures that are the result of mandates handed down from lawmakers and policymakers. As Stephen Comiskey once stated, “You can delegate authority, but not responsibility.” 

 

In 1995, Charles J. Sykes published a book entitled Dumbing Down Our Kids, in which he discusses how and why the educational establishment has actually lowered the standards and educational quality within our schools while continuing to raise budgets and school taxes.  The following paragraph is an excerpt from page 274 of his book that refers to the “trickle down” effect of state and federal mandates:

 

          Federal and state mandates and diktats [decrees] that trickle down the bureaucratic hierarchies often make it impossible for schools to emphasize academic achievement. Top-down management undermines strong local leadership and waters down attempts at discipline and accountability.  This is the paradox of school governance.  While every school has a designated leader, they are still essentially leaderless institutions; they are staffed by professionals who are given the discretion of janitors. . .

 

Two Questions U.S. Secretary of Education Should Address

 

Since the quality of education is being determined by lawmakers and policymakers, through mandates that “trickle down” to America’s classrooms, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should be addressing the following questions:

 

1.   How can quality standards and assessments be developed and implemented for        

lawmakers and policymakers?

 

2.   How can this nation improve the quality of its lawmaker workforce to enable better legislation and policymaking for education?

 

Standards are Needed to Make Lawmakers and

Policymakers Accountable to Constituents

 

It is common knowledge today that money buys power and influence, but not necessarily competence.  Just because a candidate raises enough money to win an election, or has the

popularity to get appointed to a position of authority, does not ensure that he/she has the

competence to write legislation or establish policy.  Although state and federal lawmakers and   policymakers are reportedly governed by a number of ethical and procedural standards, there is currently no quantifiable tool by which constituents can measure their actual job performance.  It seems logical, therefore, that an outcome-based evaluation process should be developed for these officials who are responsible for mandating standards for education and other industries.

 

Following the delivery and publication of Secretary Arne Duncan’s speech before the National Education Association on July 2, 2009, this author placed a call to the U.S. Department of Education, and inquired as to where one could find a list of performance standards for the U.S. Secretary of Education?  The response from the staff member answering the information line was, “What Standards?”  After this author rephrased the question, the staff member responded by stating that he didn’t know of any job-related performance standards for the U.S. Secretary of Education.

 

This is just one example of how appointed officials in many high-ranking government offices are exempt from any type of accountability rating systems.  Another good example is the recent appointment of 30-plus “Czars” to high-level government positions who will be accountable only to the President of the United States — not to members of Congress or the American people.

 

A Plan for Accountability

 

Once again, before any genuine education reform can take place, this author contends that lawmakers and policymakers must learn that they too must be accountable to the American public. The following policy draft is just one example of how competency requirements and outcome-based performance standards might be combined into an evaluation tool for constituents to measure the performance of their lawmakers and policymakers:

              

1.    Outcome-based performance standards should be developed and mandated for all elected and appointed state and federal lawmakers and policymakers to better enable evaluation by constituents.

 

2.    Lawmakers should be required to meet one of the following two requirements prior to serving on any policy-making committee:

 

A.   Enroll in, and successfully pass with a grade of “C” or better, at least one college

       credit course in a field of study directly related to each committee in which the

       lawmaker desires to serve, or

 

B.   Pass a standardized competency test (equivalent to a college-credit course) in a field of study directly related to each committee in which the lawmaker desires to serve (Scores to be posted on the Internet and in newspapers for constituents to see).

 

3.    Every lawmaker serving on one or more committees relating to education should be required to:

 

A.   Receive a passing score on the current high school equivalent examination for their respective state, and

 

B.   Present at least one lesson each year on a subject of their choice (as a guest speaker) in a high school classroom within the geographical district that they represent.

 

Is the Concept of Standards for Lawmakers and

Policymakers Too Outrageous?

 

Although lawmakers and policymakers would probably classify these proposed requirements as outrageous, it should be noted that the requirements are no more over the top than the many

changes in teacher credentialing laws and standards-based education that have been legislated in

California, and throughout the nation, for many years.  Take, for example, the passage of the

Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development (CLAD) certificate legislation in California several years ago. 

 

The CLAD certificate program was reportedly designed to expand the teaching skills of trained, credentialed teachers for the purpose of delivering academic instruction in English to non-English or limited-English speaking students.  It required every teacher in California (as a mandate for continued employment) to either take a 3-part proficiency exam, or enroll in a series of equivalent courses totaling 65 course contact hours. Although some districts picked up some of the costs involved with the certification requirement, most of the costs for mandated coursework were absorbed out of the teachers’ pockets, in some cases being as much as $1,200.

 

It should also be noted that although lawmakers rationalize passage of such laws as improving “excellence in education,” the real beneficiaries of such legislation are not necessarily students or educators, but rather the colleges that receive the tuition dollars and the state credentialing agencies that generate revenue from the credential and authorization renewals. 

 

Why Are Teachers and Other Educators

Still Held Responsible for the Failures of Our System?

 

Since lawmakers and policymakers are the ultimate architects of the current educational system, why doesn’t the responsibility for any failures of the current system rest with them instead of on the teachers who receive the mandates?  Perhaps the answer is that it’s that way by design.

 

In 1999, Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, former Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) for the U.S. Department of Education during the Reagan Administration, published a book entitled The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America, currently rated Barnes and Noble’s number one bestseller in its History of Education category.  The e-book version is currently available for free download at:

http://www.deliberatedumbingdown.com/pages/video_iserbyt_under_seige_dddoa.html. 

 

In her book, Iserbyt provides a chronological history of what she refers to as a plan over many decades to “dumb down” America’s children in the public education system — all at the expense of America’s tax dollars. Her book also offers documentation in support of her claims that the true rationale behind the movement is to “allow them [our children] to willingly succumb to a gradual transformation of America from a sovereign, constitutional republic with a free enterprise economic base, to that of an international socialist system.” 

 

Throughout the book, Iserbyt relates many of her personal experiences from that of school board director, to senior policy advisor in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement.  She also provides an astonishing personal account of her career, roles, and experiences from her book in video format at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDyDtYy2I0M.

 

Iserbyt also discusses her former role as a “change agent” within the U.S. Department of Education, in which it was her job to first identify so called “resistors” to education reform from within the system, then work to “con” them into supporting the system’s policy agenda. She also explains the role that social engineers play as they deliberately create and utilize crises in public education to move their agenda forward, while offering radical solutions sold to the public as “fixes,” which never actually solve the problems. She explains how the purpose of each reform is to make way for the next crisis, which in turn provides the pretext for the next forward movement.  Meanwhile, Iserbyt alleges that our children remain manipulated and at risk academically.

 

Could it be, therefore, that many of our lawmakers and policymakers have purposely made educators the scapegoats for an educational system that has been designed for failure?

 

 

Why Don’t More Educators Speak Up?

 

If lawmakers and policymakers are responsible for our faltering educational system, why aren’t more educators speaking out to shift the responsibility back to where it belongs?

 

Unlike America’s lawmakers and policymakers, teachers are required to endure so much training and retraining that after a while it actually becomes indoctrination. Experts tell us that an indoctrinated person usually does not critically examine or question the doctrines learned, especially when they have been an integral part of their ongoing training. As a result, many teachers merely accept the doctrines they have been taught as truth, offering no opposition.

 

Another answer is probably more obvious. Many educators and administrators don’t want to rock the boat or bite the hand that feeds them, so they just keep quiet and roll along from day to day. 

There are, however, some brave professionals who do speak up and ask the difficult questions.  As Charlotte Iserbyt discloses in her book, these professionals soon become classified as “resistors,” and are often isolated and punished by verbal reprisals while on their jobs. The institutions they work for may even withhold support needed to properly perform their jobs.

 

Still another tactic often used to target these so called “resistors” is called the divide and conquer technique, a style of manipulation that is often used to force discussions and meetings toward predetermined conclusions. This technique is just one of many taught by the Alinsky Method, a method of community organizing which is often used, especially in education, to derail public opposition to the implementation of more radical educational policies.  It should be noted, however, that if the “resistors” seem eloquent and have a strong following from the community, they may actually be publicly embraced by leaders of the local, state, or national education establishment and conned into supporting their policy agenda.  More information on the Alinsky Method may be found at http://www.tysknews.com/Depts/Educate/alinsky_method.htm.

 

In Summary

 

Within the past year, the American people have witnessed how a severe national and global economic downturn has led to government intervention into the operations of privately held companies by way of government bailouts.  What may not be as obvious is how the taxpayers, over a period of several decades, have been gradually forfeiting local control of their children’s education in return for state and federal educational subsidies.

 

Today, with the worsening of the economy and property tax revenues diminishing, local school boards (especially in California) are desperately seeking even more federal funds to subsidize local education.  As a result, U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan and the federal government are seizing the moment by offering “cash carrots” in exchange for state acceptance and adherance to federally proposed initiatives.  Americans need to be reminded, however, that “he who pays the piper calls the tune.” Therefore, as local school boards gain greater dependence on funding from state and federal sources, they are losing more control over the education of their youth.

 

Today, as polls indicate an increased level of public distrust for state and national lawmakers, it is time for citizens to begin demanding more accountability from government leaders — letting them know that they advocate positive education reform that allows more local control. That is why the initiation of a grassroots Standards for Lawmakers campaign at the state and national level is so important.  It will send a message to lawmakers that, like educators, they too must have standards by which their performance can be objectively measured.

 

Readers are asked to contact their state and federal representatives and voice their support for the Standards for Lawmakers provisions proposed in this article. It is this author’s hope that such a  movement will lead first to the drafting and qualifying of a voter initiative for the California ballot that will apply these provisions to members of the California state legislature.

 

California State Representatives

 

Office of State Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez

(80th District – Democrat)   

Official Website:  http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a80/

 

District Address:                                                          State Capitol

45-677 Oasis Street                                                        P.O. Box 942849

Indio, CA 92201                                                            Sacramento, CA 94249-0080

                                                                 

Phone: (760) 342-8047                                                  Phone: (916) 319-2080

Fax:     (760) 347-8704                                                  Fax:     (916) 319-2180

 

 

Office of Senator John J. Benoit

(37th District – Republican)

Official Website:  http://cssrc.us/web/37

 

District Address:                                                             State Capitol

73-710 Fred Waring Drive, Suite 108                                 Room 4066

Palm Desert, CA 92260                                                     Sacramento, CA 94249-0080                                    

(760) 568-0408                                                                 Phone: (916) 651-4037
Fax: (760) 568-1501                                                          Fax: (916) 327-2187                                                                                          

  Download this article in pdf format

 

 

Online Resources

 

Common Core State Standards Initiative

http://www.ccsso.org/federal_programs/13286.cfm

 

States Will Lead the Way Toward Reform
Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks at the 2009 Governors Education Symposium

http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/06/06142009.html

 

Partners in Reform
Remarks of Arne Duncan to the National Education Association

http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/07/07022009.html

 

Dangling Money, Obama Pushes Education Shift

By Sam Dillon

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/17/education/17educ.html?_r=1&%20r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss

 

The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America

By Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt

http://www.deliberatedumbingdown.com/pages/video_iserbyt_under_seige_dddoa.html.

 

Video:  Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt – Deliberate Dumbing Down of America

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDyDtYy2I0M.  

 

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