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Rod Paige could hardly wait to get to the meeting at the White House, where all the best lies are told. The nation’s largest teachers union is a “terrorist organization,” exclaimed the Education Secretary to an audience of state governors. The place got quiet all of a sudden, and Paige had to regroup. It was “a bad joke; it was an inappropriate choice of words," he back-peddled to reporters. If only George Bush had been in the room – someone to share Paige’s wild-and-crazy-guy sense of humor.

It is no wonder that Paige has lost his mental balance, and imagines that the National Education Association’s 2.7 million members are under the sway of (Al-Gebra) terrorists. Paige’s Department of Education has become an Alice In Wonderland lie-ocracy where not a word of truth is spoken; where arch racists claim to be civil rights activists, government divests itself of public schools to improve them, and higher standards of teaching require the abolition of teacher standards. Paige’s brain has been left behind in the rush to privatize the nation’s schools.

Printer friendly version of destruction of U.S. public schools cartoon

The entire edifice of Bush education policy – every printed page and verbal utterance – is double-speak propaganda designed to mangle the public perception and actual workings of public education. It was inevitable that Paige, the dim bulb at the top of the bureaucratic stairs, would one day tumble from the hyperbolic (vouchers equal “reform”) to the ridiculous (vouchers equal “emancipation”) to the maniacal (the NEA is “terrorist”). People get disoriented when they spend every waking hour turning truth on its head.


Bush hammers relentlessly on the themes of educational “accountability” and “raising the bar” of teacher standards. Yet his proposed budget “eliminates funding for the most respected teacher certification organization in the country and instead funnels millions to an untested certification organization backed by friends of the Administration,” said People for the American Way, earlier this month.

The Bush gang is engaged in a massive fraud – a deliberate campaign to plunge the public schools into chaos and disrepute in order to create a larger “market” for education privateers. There is method behind the madness of No Child Left Behind, as administered by Rod Paige and his menagerie of covert and overt voucher contractors. While rich and poor school districts alike struggle to make sense of NCLB-imposed testing and performance criteria, the administration prepares to defund the venerable National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) in favor of the newly-invented, pro-voucher, typically misnamed American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE). Founded in 2001, ABCTE has tested only 100 people, according to PFAW – which is, in a perverse way, understandable since the rich right-wingers who created the entity fundamentally oppose certification of teachers!

The fraudulent ABCTE is the offspring of the Education Leaders Council (ELC) and – another wild misnomer – the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). Both owe their existences to the fantastically deep pockets of the Wal-Mart family and Milwaukee’s Bradley Foundation, the parents and principal paymasters of the national voucher network. NCTQ is itself the mutant child of ELC – the result of inbreeding among millionaire Republicans.

Proudly displayed on the NCTQ’s website is a report from the Abell Foundation, of Baltimore, titled “Teacher Certification Reconsidered.” Unlike the chastened Rod Paige, who for public consumption apologized to teachers, calling them “the real soldiers of democracy," the Abell Foundation does not hide its contempt for public school educators:

“There is a scientifically sound body of research, conducted primarily by economists and social scientists, revealing the attributes of an effective teacher, defined as a teacher who has a positive impact on student achievement. This research does not show that certified teachers are more effective teachers than uncertified teachers. In fact, the backgrounds and attributes characterizing effective teachers are more likely to be found outside the domain of schools of education.” (Their emphasis.)

This is an incredibly bald statement: that the people who currently teach school are generally less fit to be in a classroom than folks somewhere “outside” the system. As tempting as it might be to engage the foundation’s argument – which is as shallow on its face as creation science or the energy industry’s dismissals of global warming – one should not fall into the trap. The report has only one purpose: to justify the employment of unqualified “teachers” at taxpayer-subsidized (vouchers) private schools.

The authors of the report also understand that, in order for private schools to find a secure “market,” public education must be made to seem pointless, wasteful – even harmful. Thus, they make a great show of concern for urban education – the easy target. If they can succeed in eliminating teacher standards in the public schools, then private schools staffed with fake teachers will seem relatively more attractive. Therefore, the Abell Foundation proclaims that “deregulation is in order” for teachers in the Maryland school system, and recommends the state “eliminate coursework requirements for teacher certification.”

Certification represents a societal standard, an essential aspect of the social contract that underpins not only public education, but a general commitment to the public welfare. The Abell Foundation wants to break that contract. Its report reflects the ideology and goals of the financiers of the national voucher network. The report maligns teachers in general and dismisses the very concept of teacher certification. Yet these are the “reformers” that George Bush has invited into the Department of Education.

Dumbing down teachers

“We have never before seen such a shameless disconnect between rhetoric and action,” said People for the American Way chief Ralph Neas, summing up Bush’s No Child Left Behind record to date. But the contradiction exists only if one believes that the Bush men actually want to improve public education. In reality, they are systematically lying about the true purposes of their administration of NCLB. This corrupt class of business-politicians wields chaos and confusion as weapons to destabilize the public sphere – with a cynicism so profound as to threaten civil society, itself.

New Jersey Education Association President Edithe Fulton peeped the larceny that is at work. Her February 22 newspaper column is titled, “Highly qualified teachers need not apply.”

Under the administration’s so-called “No Child Left Behind” act, all public school teachers of core academic subjects (English, math, science, foreign languages, history, geography, civics and government, economics, and arts) must be “highly qualified” by September 2005.

“Highly qualified” means holding at least a bachelor’s degree, and obtaining full state certification or passing a state teacher licensing exam. The bar is unusually high for beginning special education teachers and middle school/high school teachers who teach multiple subjects. They must either pass a rigorous state test in each subject they teach or successfully complete coursework or credentialing in each subject area. Veterans must either do the same or demonstrate their competence in all subjects they teach in a state evaluation.

Ironically, under the newly enacted District of Columbia voucher law – a major priority of the Bush administration and its allies in Congress – teachers in private and religious schools receiving taxpayer-funded vouchers don’t even need to possess a college degree.

Whatever happened to “highly qualified” teachers?

The $42 million Bush plans to lavish on ABCTE, the phony teacher certification board, is a cruel hoax on the nation’s students and teachers – although Rod Paige probably considers the whole thing a great joke on his nemesis, the “terrorist” teachers union.

Reality turned upside-down

Lisa Graham Keegan, head of the Education Leaders Council, claims the DC vouchers bill “provides District residents with a new civil right – the right to rise above mediocrity, change a failing school system, and provide all students with access to a quality education.” Yet the private schools clamoring for vouchers reject standards that would show whether they are excellent, mediocre, or worse. These schools reserve the right to accept or reject students, and the vast majority of them have no capacity for special education. Moreover, there is no evidence, anywhere, that voucher schools perform better than public schools. (See “A conversation on school vouchers,” Economic Policy Institute, June 12, 2003.)

The voucher conspirators are most shamefully dishonest when they claim to wish all the best for public education. Economist Milton Friedman, an architect and guru of the national voucher network, gave the game away in 1995 when he said: “Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system.”

Friedman was a founding patron of the Black Alliance for Educational Options ( BAEO), the main African American voucher front group. He financed the symposium that launched the motley outfit of political hustlers and education product entrepreneurs in 2000, and spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars on the BAEO’s media coming-out party blitz in 2001. The Bradley Foundation and the Wal-Mart (Walton) family did the heavy financial lifting for their Black surrogates, together lavishing at least $3 million on the BAEO in its first years of existence.

If an alternative, rightwing political leadership ever emerges in Black America, its lineage will be traced directly to the rich white racists who invented the voucher “movement.”

More such unwanted “gifts” may be on the way. The foundation world is abuzz with reports that the Wal-Mart family will endow up to $20 billion to their non-profit empire over the next few years. The family currently spends about $100 million annually to influence the political direction of the nation, the great bulk of it in the education arena. If the rumors are true, the most reactionary super-rich family in America could soon be doling out $1 billion a year.

How many “movements” can that buy?

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