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My MLK Post: An Assignment for Test-Driven Reformers

January 20, 2014

On this day dedicated to the memory of a remarkable man who gave his life (literally) for the sake of civil rights and social equity, I expect that education privatizers will use the opportunity to promote themselves as “overcoming” opposition to their self-serving, destructive policies.

They might even go so far as to imply that Martin Luther King, Jr., would endorse corporate reform.

(Why, here’s one by New York State Education Commissioner John King in which he distorts MLK’s message into support for the Common Core State Standards [CCSS].)

Such grandiose, corporate reformer self-titling is nothing new. Beginning with former President George W. Bush in 2002, reformers have been proclaiming themselves as civil rights saviors.

Bush used the “civil rights ” term during the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend at the outset of his No Child Left Behind (NCLB) years:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — With the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend under way, President Bush on Saturday called education “the great civil rights issue of our time” and took the opportunity to highlight his agenda for change.

Regarding Bush’s “agenda for change”: This current year presents a particular irony since Bush proclaimed “100% proficiency” by 2014.

It’s 2014. As education historian Diane Ravitch notes in her January 16, 2014, Bedford, NY, speech, 100% proficiency was an unattainable goal, one that no nation has ever achieved.

Interesting how those advocating test-driven reforms still consider themselves as “leaders” who “shall overcome” instead of privatizing pushers who “have failed” to meet their No Excuses 100 Percent Proficiency Goal.

However, as long as the philanthropic cash continues to flow, to those on the mega-bucks receiving end, there is no test-driven-reform failure.

As evidence of their warped vision for “overcoming” the democratic process in education decision making, in the spring of 2013, the pro-reform nexus, Philanthropy Roundtable (read more about PR in this post), has selected five “K 12 reform donors” as their “overcomers.”

As Dissent magazine writer Joanne Barkan reflects:

Philanthro-ed-reformers have been chanting the mantra “Education is the civil rights issue of our time” for years, and they’ve appointed themselves leaders of the reform movement. The largest stakeholders in public education—students, educators, and parents—have no role to play except as recipients of donor-designed reforms. When they question the charitable largesse, they become part of the opposition that the philanthropists shall overcome. They shall overcome, not we. Solidarity doesn’t figure in. [Emphasis added.]

And so, this is where we find our nation on this 2014 Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. Corporate reform continues to live in its own exploitative world.

Perhaps the problem rests in confusion about what Martin Luther King, Jr., actually said.

So, for the sake of reformers who themselves might still be reformed, I offer this opportunity to compare King’s original “I Have a Dream” speech with the reformer-lived version.

Enter Schneider the Teacher.

To any and all corporate reformers: Here is your Uncommon Core Schneider Standards assignment, should you have the chutzpah to accept it:


Read the original version of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech (Text One, below). Then read the test-driven-reform, modified version (Text Two, also below).

Ask yourself, “Do I want to be remembered as one who contributed to the twisting of King’s dream (Text One) into the dehumanizing, self-serving, destructive, self-aggrandizing so-called education reformer version (Text Two)?”

If not, what do you plan to do about it? Consider breaking ranks by returning the reform-earmarked cash in your possession and publishing an op-ed on your change of heart.

Text One:  What Martin Luther King, Jr., actually said:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

Text Two: What Martin Luther King, Jr., did not say (but what corporate reform has twisted into a so-called “civil rights issue”):

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still envision an education marketing opportunity. It is a strategy deeply rooted in the privatizers’ coffers and philanthropists’ arrogant boredom.

I have a privatizing vision that one day this nation will give up and live out the true meaning of its greed.

I have a traditional public school fiscal reduction goal that one day on the red hills of Georgia federal funding will be conspicuously cut as Georgians decide they cannot afford the price tag of PARCC, and that Georgia public schools will be “chronically underfunded” for over a decade.

I have a networking strategy that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, underregulated, profit-driven charters and insufficiently-trained, Teach for America temporary teachers will threaten the quality of education for Mississippi’s children.

I have a narrow view of educational success that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged by the the content of their test scores.

I have a vision of pervasive standardized test score manipulation today.

I have a public-to-privatized conversion goal that one day right there in Alabama, the public schools can be undermined as its funding is siphoned off to private schools in the name of “school choice.”

I have a risky school turnaround plan ready for national dissemination today.


Who will be first to return the philanthropic reformer money and write a change-of-heart op-ed?

Will there be more than one who does so?

Will there be a widespread attack of reformer conscience?

One can only dream.

  1. Val permalink

    The Dreams Have Been Deferred…. The Dream Continues……

  2. Can you clarify why having a 100% literacy goal is a mistake?

    • First, allow me to apologize for my error. Bush said “100% proficiency.”

      Either goal is a mistake when one punishes those who don’t achieve perfection.

      No nation has 100% proficency (nor 100% literacy).

      Aiming high is one thing. Demanding perfection be met while meting out harsh consequences is quite another.

      • navigio permalink

        Thanks for the clarification. I expected as much, however, as you point out, having the goal and tying it to punitive measures are distinct things. This means we should not use our disagreement with the punitive measures as a reason to justify not serving all kids. When we say, without qualification, that 100% literacy (or proficiency) is a mistaken goal to have we make it sound like we want to do that. my $0.02

      • Good teachers don’t stop short of aiming for the best in teaching their children.

        NCLB makes the assumption that we do.

    • Cosmic Tinker permalink

      And, at the same time that 100% proficiency under NCLB has been expected of all students in public schools, a second tier system of education was created, with the massive expansion of competing, unregulated charter schools, which are exempt from meeting the 100% proficiency rate and other rules and regs under NCLB. Meanwhile, those charters council out and reject the lowest performing students and kids with the highest needs, who then return to the public schools, often just before testing time of the year, so the public schools take the hit for their low scores.

  3. Cosmic Tinker permalink

    If only there were more principled people like MLK Jr., Diane Ravitch and Bernie Sanders, who have a conscience that is stronger than the vacuum forces of their wallets.

  4. John a permalink

    The ‘reformers’ have neither the slightest desire nor capacity to engage in Dr. Schneider’ little assignment. The have anointed themselves the true saviors of the public schools…by destroying them. They have closed their hearts and minds, their eyes and ears. Their journey is a one way ticket to failing our students, parents, schools and communities. They must be derailed. Nevertheless, a nice piece of work, as usual, Dr. Schneider.

  5. Excellent thoughts and piece of writing. By the way, even as a teacher in the Archdiocese where I live, i do not support Alabama’s Accountability Act because I realized when it was passed that it would hurt the public schools. Besides which, the manner in which it was passed was unreal. Please be aware though that I teach in a Catholic School that accepts students with a variety of different abilities; we don’t weed out students who “might cause our test scores to drop”.

  6. Thank you for your focus in Dr. King and education. I was interested in your mentioning the Common Core and belief that Dr. King would be opposed to it. Could you explain why you feel that Dr. King would have opposed the common core?

    • Common Core is part of a top-down spectrum of reforms that is creating a dual public school system of good test takers vs poor test takers.

      Read the posts in the Common Core category on my blog.

      • While Dr.King only taught one semester at a college and was not the best student he did have an advanced degree and a deep love for Morehouse. I am unaware of any statements he made about testing. The issue isn’t rising expectations of the common core it is about unequal funding, inferior leadership and overwealming social issues such as poverty, crime and corruption that stood in the way of NCLB and haven’t been addressed for the common core. Now Dr. King wrote a lot about those issues!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The MLK Test for Corporate Reformers, via the Schneider Standards | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. MLK x2 on Education. | Transparent Christina

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