Saturday, May 24, 2008


As Amy Wilkins works for the Education Trust (THE TRUST), I thought a few words on the organization might be apropos. No sniping here...okay...not too much sniping here...if my blogmanship is poor, note so in the comments and I'll work on it!

For starters, THE TRUST is made possible by the generous support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: $5,076,846 according to Gates Foundation Records.

“Established in 1990 by the American Association for Higher Education as a special project to encourage colleges and universities to support K-12 reform efforts,” the Education Trust has matured into “the #1 education advocacy organization of the decade, according to the Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center. The Ed Trust was also ranked as a top influential information source in education policy, and [their] president, Kati Haycock, was ranked as one of the most influential people in education.

The two most influential people in education above Mrs. Haycock were Bill Gates and George W. Bush, respectively.

From THE TRUST’s website:
• The Education Trust works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-kindergarten through college, and forever closing the achievement gaps that separate low-income students and students of color from other youth. Our basic tenet is this — All children will learn at high levels when they are taught to high levels.

• The Education Trust provides: advocacy that encourages schools, colleges, and whole communities to mount effective campaigns so that all their students will reach high levels of academic achievement; analysis and expert testimony on policies intended to improve education; and writing and speaking for professional and general audiences about educational patterns and practices — both those that cause and those that close achievement gaps between groups of students; research and wide public dissemination of data identifying achievement patterns among different groups of students; assistance to school districts, colleges, and community-based organizations to help their efforts at raising student achievement, especially among minority and poor students.
This certainly sounds noble, but their methods, their misrepresentations, and their oversimplifications are might even use the word propaganda here...

From Wikipedia:
Propaganda is a type of message aimed at influencing the opinions or behavior of people. Often, instead of impartially providing information, propaganda can be deliberately misleading, or using fallacies, which, while sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid. Propaganda techniques include: patriotic flag-waving, glittering generalities, intentional vagueness, oversimplification of complex issues, rationalization, introducing unrelated red herring issues, using appealing, simple slogans, stereotyping, testimonials from authority figures or celebrities, unstated assumptions, and encouraging readers or viewers to “jump on the bandwagon” of a particular point of view.

To varying degrees, THE TRUST engages in one or more of the above activities in their efforts to influence “the opinions or behavior of people.”

For example, “leave no child behind” and “closing the achievement gap” are “appealing, simple slogans” that few people can disagree with. At the same time the “achievement gap,” as I have shown elsewhere, is an “oversimplification of a complex issue.”

Wilkins is becoming a celebrity (funded by Gates, another celebrity), traveling the country encouraging people to “jump on the bandwagon” that America’s public schools are failing and must be saved via standards-based reforms.

While THE TRUST claims to be “independent,” and “not for profit,” (and therefore above propaganda...) THE TRUST deliberately misleads voters and their representatives with narratives that are “sometimes convincing,” but “not necessarily valid.”

This process of convincing takes place through a process that Chris Mooney calls “political science abuse.” (If you want to read more on the topic Susan Jacoby discusses the concept at length.)

As explained by Mooney, political science abuse is “any attempt to inappropriately undermine, alter, or otherwise interfere with the scientific process, or scientific conclusions, for political or ideological reasons.”

While Mooney does not extend his analysis of political science abuse to education specifically, his framework extends to the field. I employ one piece of Mooney’s terminology in an effort to detail how THE TRUST generates support for standards-based reform...reform, correct me if I’m wrong, that doesn’t have a shred of “empirical” evidence supporting it. (For those interested, you can read more on neoliberal/neoconservative political science abuse here.)

Perhaps the most egregious way THE TRUST abuses science is by “hiding errors and misrepresentations.” While Mooney defines this as making false claims or distorting data, it also involves deliberately misleading individuals, using fallacies, and the oversimplification of complex issues—three hallmarks of propaganda as defined above.

Three TRUST claims that are misleading, contradictory, oversimplifications, or flat out lies:

• Other countries are out performing America, endangering its place in the global economy
• The jobs of the future require a highly skilled workforce
• NCLB is working

"We are falling behind other countries..."

The argument that America’s students are felling behind their international peers has been forwarded since at least 1957, when conservative educational reformers blamed poor schooling for Sputnik. In 1984 A Nation at Risk revived the meme, and today members of both political parties return to this fallacy when discussing educational reform.

In an interview with NPR, Amy Wilkins made the claim that America’s “most affluent kids are getting their lunches eaten by kids in other countries.” The end result, according to THE TRUST: we are in danger of losing our place atop the global food pyramid. As I noted yesterday, Gerald Bracey dismisses Wilkins' misrepresentation here.

“The jobs of today and tomorrow require a highly skilled workforce…”

THE TRUST argues that students must receive specific training in order to prepare them for highly skilled jobs. Writing in Thinking K-16, a journal published by THE TRUST, Patte Barth, argues that “The Information Age set off a rush to find skilled workers in many occupations and simultaneously reduced the proportion of unskilled jobs.”

She warns ominously, “The future holds grim prospects for young people who lack sufficient skills, for they are increasingly shut out of good, middle-income jobs. The occupations experiencing the largest growth are those that demand well-developed cognitive skills and postsecondary credentials.”

I have shown this claim to be both a misrepresentation and a fallacy here.

“NCLB is working.”

When Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, addressed the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, she told them that “despite the shortfalls in funding and the anxiety about AYP, [NCLB] is having a dramatically positive impact on American education.”

And while Haycock noted that “nobody thinks the law is perfect,” she informed the committee that “educators in every part of this country have told [her] that this law strengthens the hands of those who are working to improve overall achievement and close the achievement gaps….”

(Ignoring the few thousand educators who have publicly said otherwise...)

Haycock’s conclusion: “Because of NCLB, achievement gaps are no longer simply tolerated; a culture of achievement is taking hold in our schools, and we are better poised to confront the new challenges.”

Is the “achievement gap” closing?

According to many researchers the answer is a resounding “NO.” Gary Orfield, writing for the Harvard Civil Rights Project, argues “that neither a significant rise in achievement, nor closure of the racial achievement gaps is being achieved.”

Other individuals showing that high-stakes testing has or will ultimately increase the “achievement gap” by reducing opportunities for genuine student development and growth include esteemed researchers and scholars such as David Berliner, Sharon Nichols, Deborah Meier, Bruce Fuller, Monty Neill, Lisa Gusibond, Bob Schaeffer, Derek Neal, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Linda McNeil, and Linda Perlstein, to name a few.

And then of course there is Reading Fi(r)st, an undeniable failure, and an undeniable money maker for those invested in the standardization of education. Reading Fist is not closing any achievement gap...But again...the achievement gap is an oversimplification of a complex efficient tool for propagandists such as those employed by THE TRUST.

Three strikes...THE TRUST is out.


RDT said...

About Haycock's statement:
“educators in every part of this country have told [her] that this law strengthens the hands of those who are working to improve overall achievement and close the achievement gaps….”

It's an interesting choice of words -- focusing not on what the law is doing, but whose "hand it is strengthening."

Anonymous said...

Your own article demonstrates many of the characteristics of propaganda identified in the Wilkipedia entry. The mote is always in someone else's eye.

philip said...

Dear anonymous,

You should consider leaving a name. It helps with civil discourse.

Your point may be valid. Which characteristics, exactly, does my post share with the definition of propaganda I cited?

Outside of my celebrity status of course...

Anonymous said...

Philip said ...

...Which characteristics, exactly, does my post share with the definition of propaganda I cited?

Many of them. I particularly like the irony of your dinging ET on its slogans and then concluding your own article with one ...

Three strikes...THE TRUST is out.

philip said...

Dear anonymous...

Actually, that is a simple quip...and does not fall under the definition of propaganda as cited in this post.

Again, which characteristics, from the definition, does my post suffer from?




"Many of them" does not cut it in professional circles. And, as the members of this blog are trying to grow through discourse, you being specific helps us all out...


Anonymous said...

Again, which characteristics, from the definition, does my post suffer from?

1., oversimplification of complex issues,

2.testimonials from authority figures or celebrities

3.using fallacies,

philip said...

Thank you! Now...

1. where?

2. are we not to cite recognized and respected experts from our particular field?

this is part and parcel with another question that no one on this board has yet to answer:

is a degree from Harvard worth more than one from any online school? If so why, if not, why not?

3. which ones?

Philip Kovacs

Robert Thompson said...

In Education policy, this is to keep consider first.

Muazzam Mehmood
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