UNESCO and the Education Technology Industry

UNESCO and the Education Technology Industry: A Recipe for Making Public Education a Profiteering Enterprise

By Mona McDermott

 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

AUTHORS NOTE: Following the completion of this research (22 pages worth) I came across a document from UNESCO in 2002 that sums it up. Given this recent find, the ensuing research is not necessary to “prove” what I suspected: that UNESCO is steering the global ship of privatization. But enjoy the timeline of events and findings nevertheless—each slice of evidence simply further illustrates what is written in this 2002 document called Education Privatization: Causes, Consequences and Planning ImplicationsWell, the title says it all. This document promotes a slew of market-based reforms that might have well come from ALEC including: voucher programs, promotes charter schools, accountability, and data mining. The article states, “In general, the World Bank (and other supranational agencies) has encouraged reforms which lead toward privatization of public education” (p.32). At the conclusion of this trope, the authors recommend the reader visit a site called National Center for the Study of Privatization of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.


How did we get from first mention of national standards 1984 published at UNESCO to the privatization of public education (of which standards and testing are a huge part) in 2014? The idea of national standards have been an academic and pedagogical exercise for decades if not centuries. What this paper illustrates are not the debatable premises put forth in academic treatise but how national standards as a practice and policy have emerged in the last half century and the ways in which CCSS merges with other related education reform policies all of which lead to one goal: a privatized, market driven and globalized transformation of education.

How did the likes of Lou Gerstner who created Achieve, created in 1996 (who was awarded the contract for CCSS) in 2008 connect with UNESCO? How did an international agency that claims dedication to promoting world peace, and ending of poverty also advocate for a total disruption of education by technology driven corporations?

Without conjecture as to motive or intent, I parallel the last 30 years of reform which are intertwined with UNESCO and find some documented parallels and relationships. The conjecture is left to my reader. My findings here reflect what appear to be the three premises of the last few decades upon which global accountability driven reform are driven, posited by Heinz-Dieter MeyerDaniel TröhlerDavid F. Labaree & Ethan L. Hutt (Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 9, 2014):•

  • homogenizing the heterogeneous reality of education through increasingly abstract and context-indifferent standards and outcome metrics;
  • shifting centers of policy making influence from “local” education professionals embedded in institutions and narratives of national history and culture to a global elite of experts, committed with increasing single-mindednessto the narrative of market efficiency; and
  • moving from decentralized governance and soft guidelines to centralized governance and hard mandates

PART I: The Beginning

1945: The origins of UNESCO (using a very broad stroke here) emerged in 1945 on the tail end of two catastrophic and horrific world wars. It would be understandable that nations around the globe might seek a collaborative international effort that attempts to ameliorate hostilities promulgated through lack of understandings of one another, and that wars might be prevented through education, awareness and communication. Whether or not that is (or was ever feasible) is a debate for another day. It will also be made evident here that current broad sweeping rhetoric claiming UNESCO an arm of a communist driven new world order (and CCSS as part of parcel of that) is indeed problematic.  The evolution of events here demonstrate the power and influence of neoliberal and conservative agendas at play as well. Indeed one might find concepts of “one world” and “global interconnectedness” clearly stated in UNESCO’s agenda….but communist ideology does not own the market on the desire for global management or control.  So where do these roots lead?

According a primary document entitled UNESCO Faces Two Worlds (April 1947) by Byron Dexter (Foreign Affairs, 25, 3, pp 388-407) the two identified goals of the creation of UNESCO were focused on education and mass communications (p. 389). The authors state that “both, in the last analysis, can be said to be concerned with education.”  The organization would serve as a clearinghouse of information and a beacon for freedom on information across national and cultural borders. It is the goal of promoting mass communication in order to promote greater understanding that has taken some interesting twists and turns over the decades. The authors write, “It is the one world idea, particularly vivid in the imaginations of Americans and heralded by the new technical devices which can be described soberly enough as introducing changes in communication comparable to those effected five centuries ago…” The creators of UNESCO anticipated the importance of what they called a “global network.” the sub-themes of the overarching goals in education included: revising educational textbooks in order to eliminate “offensive passages” or “passages prejudicial to mutual understanding between nations” that might lead to misunderstandings, hatred, bias (and ergo…conflict); a literacy campaign, and education reconstruction. Making education freely available to all peoples of the world (half of whom were illiterate at the time of UNESCO’s creation) is an admirable goal. But so is a promise to leave “no child behind.”

The 1980’s: No Child Left Behind… But UNESCO Is

According to Labaree  No Child Left Behind (NCLB) managed to break the longstanding resistance to federal involvement into states’ rights by combining an economic efficiency rationale (“we are falling behind our competitors”) with an egalitarian rationale (“we leave too many kids behind”), a concern whose sincerity may be doubted, given the “compare, punish and close” mode of operation which NCLB institutionalized.

1983A Nation at Risk is published under the auspices of the Reagan administration. Among the remedies prescribed by A Nation at Risk was the establishment of a national curriculum. This report ushers in the era of high stakes, standardized test-driven reform and accountability at a national level.

1984: The Unites States withdraws from UNESCO citing irresponsible spending and a bloated bureaucracy.

1984: UNESCO comes out with a report, which articulates the necessity for a common core curriculum. The reportidentifies two problems with the execution of this effort, 1) “The absence of mutual information…education, culture, and communication are not complimentary and do not conform to a general plan of development, and 2) the absence of mutual information and mutual coordination.” The ability to provide the technology-driven infrastructure for such coordination would arrive in the late 1990’s.

1985: The Committee for Economic Development (CED), an independent organization of 200 business executives and educators, issued a similar report warning that the quality of the nation’s education system put the economic future of the United States in peril. “[E]ducation has a direct impact on employment, productivity, and growth, and on the nation’s ability to compete in the world economy,” the report said. “Therefore, we cannot fail to respond.”

(Now in 2014 CED is supporting the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). CED’s support for implementation of the CCSS is being carried out through a business-led Task Force of spokespersons, made up of CED Trustees and others. CED’s College-and Career-Ready Project is made possible through a generous grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)  

1989: The first ever National Education Summit is convened in Charlottesville, VA by President George H.W. Bush to include the nation’s governors in Charlottesville, VA. Their aim was to draft national “goals for education.”

PART II: The 1990’s: Lou Gerstner Gets the Ball Rolling

Climate of the Decade

According to Monthly Review (2001) “convergence and consolidation are the order of the day. Specific media industries are becoming more and more concentrated, and the dominant players in each media industry increasingly are subsidiaries of huge global media conglomerates …the U.S. market for educational publishing is now controlled by four firms, whereas it had two dozen viable players as recently as 1980.  In short order, the global media market has come to be dominated by seven multinational corporations: Disney, AOL-Time Warner, Sony, News Corporation, Viacom, Vivendi, and Bertelsmann. It is possible that the global media system is in the process of converging with the telecommunications and computer industries to form an integrated global communication system, where anywhere from six to a dozen super companies will rule the roost. The notion that the Internet would “set us free,” and permit anyone to communicate effectively, hence undermining the monopoly power of the corporate media giants, has not transpired.”

Via “big data” of technology the coordinating efforts of UNESCO circa 1984 (mass communication) and the goals of corporate moguls like Louis V. Gerstner Jr.to craft a set of national standards was now possible. UNESCO had its own arm of new technologies in order to manifest the possibilities. The US was not a member of UNESCO in the 1980’s it appears that industry leaders like Gerstner were carrying a similar global message and technology campaign. In the 1990’s the U.S. found common ground with UNESCO.  Through these new technologies education could now be managed like corporations and by managing “big data” on a global scale, corporations can now better determine how to manage, invest, and profit from educational ventures. A common set of standards and tests make data manageable.

Lou Gerstner is the chief executive officer of IBM. Gerstner had long been involved in education reform, both as president of American Express in the 1980s and as CEO of RJR Nabisco before taking the helm at IBM in 1993. He co founded Achieve, the lead architect of the Common Core in 1996.

(Note: At IBM Gerstner established Reinventing Education as a strategic partnership with 21 states and school districts that utilize IBM technology and technical assistance to eliminate key barriers to school reform and improve student performance.”

1994: A book co-authored by Gerstner entitled Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America’s Public Schoolsillustrates that, “The techniques and discipline of business have much to offer in the field of education,”and that part of the problem (as they see it is) Simple organizational ideas like listening to customers, decentralized decision-making, measuring performance, and continuous improvement are notable by their absence in public schools.”

1995: The National Governors Association invited Lou Gerstner to their event.  If the governors showed up, Gerstner told them, he would “team them with a major corporate executive from their state, someone who would back them with strong support in the often withering debates over education reform.” During the event (which was later referenced by a UNESCO report in 2001) Gerstner also stated that, “information technology is the fundamental underpinning of the science of structural re-engineering.” He notes that while IT revolutionizes business and governments, it has not “even made the barest appearance in public education.” Therefore, the same changes that have brought “cataclysmic changes” to business can, “improve the way we teach” as well as improve the “efficiency and effectiveness of how we run our schools.”

1995: UNESCO publishes a book entitled Education Policy Planning Process: An Applied Framework (by Wadi Haddad).  In it the author(s) state “The concern of planners is twofold: to reach understanding of the validity of education in its own empirically observed specific dimensions and to help in defining appropriate strategies for c h a n g e”

1996: Lou Gerstner leads at the Second Annual National Education Summit called for state and local action, 41 governors, 49 corporate leaders and 30 education experts to develop strategies for tough, rigorous standards for the nation’s schools.

Following the 1996 summit, a group of CEOs led by Lou Gerstner and governors founded Achieve Inc., a nonprofit, bipartisan effort to shepherd the process of setting and implementing standards at the state level. In addition, three business interest groups — The Business Roundtable, the National Alliance of Business, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – announced a common agenda to help educators and policymakers “set tough academic standards that apply to every student in every school … and use that information to improve schools and create accountability.”

1998: The creation of Knowledge Enterprise.

Knowledge Enterprise LLC is a private highly specialized consulting firm with a worldwide network of experts, associates and partners and is based in the Washington Metropolitan area. Dr. Wadi Haddad (who authored the 1995 UNESCO book mentioned earlier) established Knowledge Enterprise served as its president and led its analytical, technical and consultation activities. In this capacity, he has served as editor of TechKnowLogia (an online journal of technologies for the advancement of education and learning). He also led collaborative projects with UNESCO, World Bank and Inter American Development Bank. Before founding Knowledge Enterprise in 1998, Dr. Haddad spent 17 years at the World Bank (See WORLD BANK http://educationalchemy.com/2012/09/27/from-metaphor-to-global-nightmare-the-world-banks-influence-on-us-education-reform-policies/. He also drafted World Bank education policies, supervised the formulation and implementation of education development projects in countries worldwide, and led the conceptualization and launching of the “Education for All” (UNESCO) movement. Also served as special adviser to the Director General of UNESCO

1999: Lou Gerstner hosts the third National Education Summit. The focus for the first time was less on the development of standards and more on holding schools accountable for their students’ achievement through measures such as testing and issuing school report cards to the public.

According to one report, “It is no coincidence that among the earliest advocates of testing and raising standards were key corporate moguls like Louis Gerstner of IBM, whose ‘vision’ could have come out of his own company’s mission statement but has since been taken up by politicians of every hue (and cry). It is now routine for education to be seen in economic terms – Tony Blair’s New Labour sees it as essential to making Britain ‘competitive.’

Part III:  2000 to 2014: The Neoliberal Flow of Market Ideas are Full Blown

Technology is becoming BIG BUSINESS and the education “industry” is now in its sites given the corporate demand for accountability, innovative disruption, and standardized testing articulated in the reports cited previously in this paper. With the birth of global “data banks” free market investments into education technology enterprises are a booming industry. A standard set of tests and curriculum plugged into standard platforms for measurement enable investors to make data driven investment decisions.

The anticipation of monies provided to technology companies for “educational” purposes has been made manifest. In the fiscal year 2011, the US Department of Education provided the following contracts: www2.ed.gov/fund/data/report/contracts/servicecontractinventoryappendix/fy11servicecontractinventory.x

Research triangle Institute 14 contracts (many post secondary contracts)

Educational Testing Service (ETS) 9 contracts

Westat 38 contracts to “study data”

Perot Systems 39 contracts for operations and maintenance of the virtual data center.

International Business Machine (IBM) 28 contracts for support of daily operations of central operated processing system,

The costs to schools and profits to technology corporations as a result of Common Core driven reforms can be illustrated here:

2000:   According to a report from Techknowlogia, “The United States (U.S.) is a special case in the educational technology research and development arena because of the scope, scale and continued commitment of the federal government to the use of educational technologies. Education in the United States is a large enterprise, accounting for more than a third of the global education and training market (Software Information Industry Association 2001). Public and private entities in the United States invested nearly $800 billion dollars on education and training in FY2000, and technology-related investments were also sizeable. The Federal government alone invested over $3 billion on technology for education in FY2000, including the e-rate program, and the private sector invested approximately $2.5 billion. $33 million designated to the research and development of educational technologies in FY2000.

2001: A report from Knowledge Enterprise Publishers reads as follows:

“Big businesses have discovered how important management is to be well run, efficient and competitive … they utilized the potential of technology to restructure their procedures and overhaul their processes of production, distribution, training, feedback, maintenance and administration. But the education systems have been slow in exploiting the power of technology. Many educational institutions and systems have introduced simple management and statistical information systems. But this should be only the beginning. Two inter-related measures are needed: First, education systems need to undergo a structural re-engineering of their processes and techniques and to modernize their procedures and applications — at different levels of decision-making and administration. Second, communication andinformation technologies must be an integral part of the restructuring design and application.

Recent reforms within the education enterprise have resulted in observable successes in making educational opportunities more accessible and equitable and the teaching/learning process more effective. Yet these successes are making a hardly manageable system even more complicated:

  • Accent on learning requires setting of reliable and measurable standards, and attending to individual differences.
  • The public sector, which until recently has had a monopoly on the delivery of educational services, is starting to feel the competition from private enterprises which have been entering the market in escalating numbers. In many cases, particularly at the tertiary level, these private entities are using the potential of information and communication technology to lower cost and improve efficiency. Competition will demand from the public sector better-managed and more efficient systems and institutions.

The report from Knowledge Enterprise was published in editorial partnership with UNESCO. In addition, the advisory board for Knowledge Enterprise consists of many members of UNESCO as well as the World Bank.

According to one Mother Jones article, “Bill Gates has built his fortune by taking a standardized platform—Windows—and crafting a platter of services to fit it. He compares Common Core to the electric socket—under the old system, it was as if appliance makers had to make a different plug for each state.”  The parallels between uniformity and standardization in technology/communication and education have merged. Bill Gates contributions to the development of national standards and other efforts to privatize public education as a global market can be explored in greater detail here…and here. In other words CCSS becomes the vehicle through which technology can completely revolutionize global education practices.

As one report suggests, “Standards and interoperability are core tenets of the web. It’s because of shared communications protocols such as HTTP that anyone can create a web page or application that is usable by virtually anyone else. Similarly, proponents of the Common Core argue that having a shared understanding of prioritieswill allow all schools to improve by sharing best practices.”

This agenda is evident in all the reports cited here and further illustrated in the following UNESCO 2002 report.

2002: UNESCO Technologies for Learning is hosted by UNESCO and the Academy for Educational Development.

Lou Gerstner is a keynote speaker. The 2002 UNESCO report states, “Education is increasingly becoming a market,and a global one at that …And access to the production side of this market is even less equitable than access to its usage side.” The report adds that with increase usages of bandwidth, “Education projects may profit from this market-driven growth.”

2002: President Bush to rejoins UNESCO.

2004: The executive director for the American Legislative Council (ALEC) Duane Parde, is appointed by Secretary of State Colin Powell to UNESCO. Mr. Parde will as a state and local representative.

Mr. Parde served ALEC from 1996 to 2006. In 2007, he also worked for corporate consultancy Phoenix Strategiesin Washington DC and National Taxpayers Union (a member of ALEC). Phoenix Strategies was established as a consultancy team which includes seasoned and professional senior level members of the Bush administration. “It specializes in business development, lobbying and consulting. They have represented industry areas ineducation, manufacturing, technology, pharmaceuticals, energy and associations.

He was president and is now Senior Advisor to National Taxpayers Union which receives funding from the tobacco industry and the Koch brothers. Major funder of the Legislation Education Action Drive (LEAD) include Alliance for School Choice, and it works with Parents in Charge Foundation. In 2001 he stated, “”It takes more than money to educate. Now more than ever our leaders must be open to new and innovative ways to improve the quality of education for all our children,” said Duane Parde, the council’s executive director.”

In his UNESCO role Parde announced: “As we look toward our children’s future, it becomes extremely important to place a high value on communication, information and knowledge,” says Parde. “This is precisely how we will break down the digital divide and create opportunities for all people, regardless of race, creed or economic sustainability.”

Other organizations that are ALEC-affiliated that have connections with UNESCO sponsored or supported policies include: Microsoft, IBM, Lou Gerstner, Pearson, Intel, The National Professional Board of Teaching Standards, The Walton Foundation.

Cisco: UNESCO and Cisco work together at a regional level to promote technology-enabled education transformation.”

Ironically in spite of UNESCO’s commitment to freedom of information and media, “Cisco is one of several technology companies complicit in the Chinese government’s censorship of the internet, having produced a ‘firewall box’ allowing the government to block certain websites in the late 1990s. Cisco is also among the numerous corporate and right-wing foundation donors to the non-profit education organization Teach for America.

2004: Teaching At Risk. Established and chaired by Lou Gerstner and supported by The Teaching Commission. The goal of this campaign is “to raise student performance by transforming the way in which America’s public school teachers are recruited and retained.” This document recommends new teacher evaluations, alt cert programs like Teach for America, merit pay, charters, vouchers, and union busting. It states: “This welcome partnership would set acommon national standard for what new teachers should be expected to know—but states will still need to do their part by adopting the new, higher standard.”  The Teaching Commission is supported by Dell Foundation, IBM, The BOEING Foundation, and Lou Gerstner, among others.

2007: Sir Michael Barber (CEO of Pearson, and former partner at McKinsey and Co. See:http://educationalchemy.com/2013/03/23/vampires-mckinsey-co-and-the-future-of-public-education-its-all-connected/ ) produces an education report, How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top, which was produced for McKinsey and provided those nations that were serious about education reform “with a blueprint of what they needed to do to catch up.”  

2008: Lou Gerstner recommends the following reforms as published in the Wall Street Journal.

Abolish all local school districts, establish a set of national standards for a core curriculum, standardized and published national testing, and national standards for teaching certification.

2008: Lou Gerstner argues for “Radical Education Reform” stating, “This unbelievably unwieldy structure is incapable of executing a program of fundamental change …While we have islands of excellence as a result of great reform programs, we continually fail to scale up systemic change.”

2008: “Partnering with Cisco, Intel, and Microsoft, UNESCO launched ICT Competency Standards for Teachers.” The project states, “Competency Standards for Teachers have been designed to help educational policy-makers and curriculum developers identify the skills teachers need to harness technology in the service of education.” 

2010: Mary Hatwood Futrell is elected President of Americans for UNESCO.

Dr. Futrell is also joined the Boards of Directors of K-12 Inc.in 2007. K12 Inc is the largest online for profit education technology corporation, and member of ALEC. Sourcewatch writes, “The company was co-founded in 1999 by its current CEO, Ron Packard, a former Goldman Sachsmergers and acquisitions expert and consultant withMcKinsey & Co.,and by former U.S. Education Secretary under President Ronald Reagan and right-wing talk show hostWilliam Bennett, who served as the chairman of K12 Inc.’s board of directors until 2005,”

(So between 2002 and 2010 two individuals powerfully influential within ALEC take leadership positions within UNESCO)

2011: The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation began work on a “nuts-and-bolts, multi-state, grand-vision education technology project called the Shared Learning Infrastructure. (which would later become InBloom)

2012: “UNESCO: A Global Response to the Learning Crisis”—The Creation of the Learning Metric Taskforce.

UNESCO and Brookings’s Center for Universal Education (CUE) join efforts to convene a Learning Metrics Task Forcethat will investigate the feasibility of learning goals and targets to inform the post-2015 global development policy discourse”. UNESCO will serve as the lead coordination agency …for global monitoring efforts. There were three co-chairs representing the UN, the private sector and civil society including Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor at Pearson. The report claims that, “Exploring whether there is a discrete set of common learning goals that can be universally reached is an important step in shifting the education discourse toward access plus learning.”

2012: Alan Singer points out the following: “Pearson is trying to salvage the situation in the United States with new ventures in the ‘developing world’ … Pearson has also been working through an organization called the Global Partnership for Education that includes representatives on UNESCO … and has been able to get its head of international affairs appointed to the Board of Directors as the only representative of a private for-profit corporation.”

2013: UNESCO endorses the key tenets of market-based reform: Teach for America, teacher accountability via data collection, and merit pay.

“A teacher management and development strategy (which) proposes a harmonized, standardized approach to make more efficient use of resources and improve accountability on the part of both teachers and partners. Relating teachers’ pay to the performance of their students has intuitive appeal. As a result, some governments advocateperformance-related pay as part of a broader agenda of ‘accountability’ reforms to improve the quality of education (Bruns et al., 2011b; OECD, 2009).”

2012: Brookings Institute hosts a Research Symposium on Learning. Discussants include Mona Mourshed, Director of Education Practice at McKinsey & Company. She joined McKinsey in 1999. She was also the lead author of Education for Employment: Realizing Arab Youth Potential, published April 2011, a report commissioned by the IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, and the Islamic Development Bank.

Jan 2014: The Education World Forum Global Summit for Education Minsters is held in London. It is the largest annual gathering of international education ministers. Platinum Partners for this event are Promethean,Microsoft, and Pearson. Education Ministers were joined by Deputy Prime Ministers and by leaders from global and international organizations including the World Bank, the OECD and UNESCO, as well as by senior representatives of international corporations with focus and commitment to education and its support. These corporations included HP, Intel, JPSaCouto, Microsoft, Pearson and Promethean.

February 2014A report from UNESCO called Revolutionizing Data for Education-Challenges and Opportunities, summarizes ideas put forth during an event called the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons: “Prominent world development leaders including Bill Gates and the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons  have called for a ‘Data Revolution for Development’.  Bill Gates has noted, ‘From the fight against polio to fixing education, what’s missing is often good measurement and a commitment to follow the data. We can do better. We have the tools at hand.”

Creation of EdStats: Part of The World Bank. EdStats website  is a “one-stop shop for education data” and “makes more data available and helps users more easily digest it.”  EdStats works with UNESCO’s “Institute for Statistics (our main source of general education statistics), and the SABER team at the World Bank.  The site states, “We hope the portal represents a substantial advancement in access and use of big data in education– education indicators (enriched with learning data) under one platform.”

May 2014: A UNESCO Report declares the “need for tools to measure non-cognitive and ‘21st Century Skills’ in order to assess young peoples’ readiness to enter the workforce.

Formation of the Learning Curve Data Bank (LCDB): Developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit and published by Pearson, the report, entitled The Learning Curve outlines the main findings from analysis of a large body of internationally comparable education data.

The Economist Intelligence Unit: Clients include World Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to their website: “The Economist Intelligence Unit helps business leaders prepare for opportunity, empowering them to act with confidence when making strategic decisions. The Economist Intelligence Unit prepares business leaders for opportunity. We accomplish this by delivering accurate and impartial forecasts and analysis which empower our clients to act with confidence when making strategic decisions.”

The EIU is owned by The Economist a journal owned by Pearson – “…The Economist favours the support, via central banks, of banks and other important corporations. This principle can (in a much more limited form) be traced back to Walter Bagehot, the third editor of The Economist, who argued that the Bank of England should support major banks that got into difficulties. Karl Marx deemed The Economist the “European organ” of “the aristocracy of finance”.

They state, “These topics, and others like them, are critically important to our key clients: governments, NGOs, development banks and foundations, but also companies committed to a programme of corporate social responsibility.”

Final Analysis:

My personal take: UNESCO’s global initiatives were untenable to the free market conservative paradigm which dominated the Reagan era. However, UNESCO and the Bush Administration had a “meeting of the minds” in the 1990’s when neoliberal global market forces were more in line with an agenda and UNESCO leadership. From that point forward, the UNESCO plans as originally stated in 1946 toward greater “mass communications” and “education initiatives” was able to serve the free market “messaging” and policy reforms stemming from U.S. and U.K driven corporate interests. For a comprehensive list of technology-based education corporations cashing in on the flow of local, national, and global funds see The Economic Impact of Ed Tech: Glimpses of a New World (2013) published by ASTRA.

This paper is not an indictment of UNESCO as an organization. Like the proverbial blind man feeling the elephant’s foot I concede there is much more to know and see here. However, it’s also clear that through the decades UNESCO policy and influence have yielded partnerships with well-known education privatizers and profiteers-something that bears deeper examination and consideration.

NOTE: The current CEO of Pearson, Sir Michael Barber, also served under Tony Blair.

High Stakes Testing as a Weapon of War

High Stakes Testing as a Weapon of War

Corporate Control Public SchoolsThe continuing war on public education represents a grave danger for parents and teachers engaged in the struggle to preserve educational opportunities for not only this, but also for future generations. With communities all over the country facing the possibility that their neighborhood schools could be closed, the inherent inequality in which many of the decisions are made is shocking.

As we make resolute decisions to stand against the corporate forces poised to engulf, strangle, and starve our public school systems it is important that we take careful note of the weapons of war being deployed against our schools.

One of the most significant weapons comes in the form of the high stakes tests that are turning our schools into little more than test-prep centers. This is only a stop-gap on the road to schools being labeled as failing schools while the real issues of poverty and inequity are ignored. In New Jersey, such ratings have already led to disastrous results, as evidenced by the One Newark Plan.

High stakes testing has become the centerpiece of resistance against corporate education reform, particularly in white suburban areas where parents feel that their right to make decisions concerning the education of their children has been infringed upon. Not as vocal in the current resistance to testing are the cries coming from our disadvantages communities that are fighting a different, more urgent battle against the systematic closing of neighborhood and community schools.

Corporate Control Public SchoolsParents in urban areas tell of supply shortages, unsafe learning conditions, and the lack of necessary services for the children. In reality, these communities far more devastated by the results of these high stakes testing and should have even a greater reason to cry out against them. These tests are often the main determining factor upon which a majority of educational decisions are based that include the closing of community schools that force children to unfamiliar locations as well as approval of charter school chains that use the false promise of school choice to cherry-pick and skim their students.

When schools are identified as low performing, with high-stakes testing scores as the main measure used to make this determination they are placed under the oversight of Regional Achievement Centers (or RACs). The theory behind RAC is that resources will be shifted and allocated to support the “focus” and “priority” schools. Theoretically, it seems that RACs would greatly benefit schools that have displayed a large achievement gap through the provision of much needed resources to close that gap. However, it has been revealed that the financing behind these RACs include a large grant for funding from the Broad Foundation, an organization created with the intent of closing public schools.

Under the guise of meeting accountability requirements, money has been spent on items that do not directly benefit the students within the district.

In reality, what has happened has become a nightmare for those who support public education. Under the guise of meeting accountability requirements, money has been spent on items that do not directly benefit the students within the district. Consultants are brought in to analyze current curriculums and systems, make recommendations and then leave, their wallets having been made fatter for the experience. Technology is upgraded, or purchased new, only to be locked away so that it will be ready for the PARCC – a computer based assessment.

The goal of the entire district becomes united, but it is not a goal of making decisions that best benefits the children. It is not the goal of providing a safe learning environment for all. It is not the goal to instill a joy and love of learning in the youngest to the oldest of students. Instead, the goal is to raise test scores high enough to rid the district of the “focus” and “priority” labels. With this goal in mind, test-focused programs are implemented as child-centered learning, education of the whole child, and teacher autonomy become distant memories.

Corporate Control Public SchoolsWhen analyzing statistics of the schools and districts that are labeled “focus” and “priority”, a direct correlation is revealed. Districts labeled as such are mainly concentrated in areas that serve a larger population of black and brown students. Economic disadvantages social inequality, lack if resources, and the blatant inequity seen in these areas puts the students at a greater disadvantage when facing high-stakes testing. In fact, research shows that they enter school much more disadvantaged than their white, suburban counterparts.

As a result, the state has singled out public schools that serve predominately Black and Brown students in poor neighborhoods for disparate treatment. The implementation of corporate reform education policies has done nothing to re-allocate resources that would level the playing field to give these students an equal chance. Instead, we have been brought back to a day of racial and socio-economic policies that continue to hyper-segregate our public schools.






Melissa Tomlinson
Melissa Tomlinson

Time and Punishment: Why Teacher Voices Matter

By : Yohuru Williams

The publication of Time magazine’s cover attacking teacher tenure also marked the one-year anniversary of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s infamous attack on New Jersey middle school teacher Melissa Tomlinson.

chris-christie-yells-at-teacherIn the fall of 2013, Christie, then up for reelection, crisscrossed the state spouting the now familiar subterfuge of failing schools and attacks on teachers and teacher unions associated with corporate education reform. In speech after speech, he rattled off brazenly against underperforming teachers and schools, without acknowledging the more than $1 billion in funding cuts he initiated in his first year in office; those cuts severely compromised the state’s system of education. Equally troubling, the governor reiterated his desire to channel more resources away from underfunded public schools to unregulated charter schools and through a proposed voucher program even eventually to private schools. “I would be happy to take as many dollars as possible away from failure factories that send children on a no-stop route to prison and to failed dreams,” Christie told one such audience in Teaneck. He claiming he wanted to “take that money and put it into a place where those families have hope.”

It was a winning, if dishonest strategy, for the gruff governor unaccustomed to challenges to his authority. His reputation for not only bullying and berating opponents but also retaliating against those who opposed him however, did not deter Tomlinson. She arrived at a Christie rally in Somers Point, NJ on November 4 with a simple question for the governor. When presented the opportunity, the otherwise soft-spoken Tomlinson boldly stepped forward, asking Christie why he continued to persist in falsely “portraying our schools as failure factories.”

The question immediately set the short-tempered governor off. “I’m tired of you people,” he barked at Tomlinson finger jammed in her face. “[Schools] have more money now than they’ve ever had before,” he lectured her, the entire tirade documented by Slate reporter Dave Weigel. “This is an old story from you folks,” Christie continued, “and they fail because you guys are failing in those schools.”

The image of the Governor sternly chastising a polite middle school teacher for asking a question, against the backdrop of a state wide investigation into fiscal mismanagement in education, made national headlines propelling Christie and Tomlinson into the national spotlight.

Denied the opportunity for a reasoned dialogue by Christie’s angry outburst, Tomlinson responded in a post on Badass Teachers Association co-founder Dr. Mark Naison’s blog. “What do ‘we people’ want, Governor Christie?” she asked again seeking the space for dialogue. “We want our schools back. We want to teach. We want to be allowed to help these children to grow, educationally, socially, and emotionally. We want to be respected as we do this, not bullied.

Tomlinson never anticipated that her story would make the national news Nevertheless; she was encouraged by the expressions of support that poured in from around the nation. Most were emails and letters from teachers appreciative of her courage in speaking out.

It was an important moment. Tomlinson symbolically stood for every teacher silenced and bullied by politicians, pundits, and public administrators quick to blame teachers for problems in the schools. “It was galvanizing for me,” recalled Arizona teacher and activist Kathie Wing Larsyn. In subsequent interviews, Tomlinson deftly linked race and poverty to her message, continuing to touch a nerve with many parents and teachers disturbed by high stakes testing and other signs of decay in corporate education reform.

According to Bronx teacher and education activist Aixa Rodriguez,
Melissa was the canary in the coal mine. We saw what he did to her and we were like is that all you got. Now we see kids taking the streets and the parents taking the streets in Newark and Camden. We are no longer afraid.
Highlighting her association with the Badass Teachers Association, Tomlinson offered teachers another outlet to find support and express themselves. “BATs exploded after Christie stuck his finger in her face,” recalled BATs General Manager Marla Kilofoyle.
Here you have this tiny woman step up and confront a man who had bullied and pushed around her profession. She didn’t back down and I think that she raised the bar for what we really need to do. We need politicians to be afraid of that wherever they go.
Tomlinson was not the only teacher to stand up, of course. But, her story resonated with many who had become accustomed to seeing the plight of public education as hopeless and victory by the corporate education reformers as inevitable.

Ohio teacher and education activist Dawn Neely Randall best summarized the significance of Tomlinson’s individual action. “Here we had one dedicated teacher,” she explained, “who courageously took her humble pebbles of questions and went to the frontline to confront the goliath who was spewing harmful rhetoric that was a direct assault on the good that was going on in classrooms across her state. She continued, “Melissa made me realize that I needed to not be afraid to confront the goliath in my state of Ohio, too.”

Perhaps, she will never join the ranks of other celebrated persons in history whose acts of courage and defiance helped to advance the cause of justice. It may still unfortunately, be too soon for many to appreciate the importance of the battle by teachers and others to roll back the corrosive effects of corporate education reform. Nevertheless, Melissa Tomlinson remains a powerful symbol of why teachers need to lend their voices to this struggle in whatever capacity. Her defiant stand still has the power to inspire. As Connecticut teacher Jo Lieb explains, “Every time I see the photo of Melissa standing up to Christie, I feel empowered as a teacher to stand up for my own students.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote memorably in his masterpiece, Crime and Punishment, “Power is given only to him who dares to stoop and take it … one must have the courage to dare.” In speaking out against Time Magazine and up against the likes of political bullies like Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo and Tom Corbett who have waged war on public education, teachers like Melissa Tomlinson and others dare to speak truth to power in pursuit of true educational equality and economic justice.

Common Core Betrays the Civil Rights Movement

By Nicholas Tampio and Yohuru Williams

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGiven the power of its symbolism, many individuals and entities have attempted to appropriate the legacy of the civil rights movement for their own purposes. In 2010, for instance, conservative talk show host Glenn Beck led a march on Washington to restore what he professed was the distorted history of the movement. While Beck’s tenuous appeal to the movement’s heritage might be dismissed, the danger of misappropriation of its core values of justice and equality are greater when the person or group doing the usurping can legitimately lay a claim to that legacy.

This has become clear recently with a campaign to promote the Common Core State Standards by the National Urban League, which played an important if less visible role during the civil rights movement. Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League, has declared that the Common Core will “help bridge the achievement gap by leveling the playing field so that all students, regardless of race, geography or income, have an equal shot at gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century global economy.” This fall, the National Urban League haspartnered with Radio One to deliver this message on multiple media platforms.

We agree that education should empower young men and women, of whatever race or background, to succeed in college and careers. Our contention, however, is that the Common Core’s promise does not correspond to its reality. More strongly, we contend that the Common Core betrays the civil rights legacy more than advances it.

In his recent book on the origin and consequences of No Child Left Behind, the political scientist Jesse H. Rhodes explains why civil rights activists support the idea of national education standards. For years, activists demanded that black children have the same opportunities as white children, including science and history courses, music and theater programs, and qualified teachers running small classes. The equity movement failed, however, to produce measurable results and overcome conservative opposition.

The idea of educational standards, however, unites civil rights and business groups convinced that all Americans need a quality education. That is why both the National Urban League and the US Chamber of Commerce support the Common Core. The excellence movement, as it is called, may succeed where the equity movement didn’t.

Yet good intentions do not always translate into effective policies. The National Urban League, whose mission “is to enable African Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights,” is on shaky ground with the Common Core. We can identify at least three reasons why the Common Core is already harming a generation of young African-Americans.

First and foremost, Common Core testing has branded a large percentage of black youth as failures. In New York, only 19.3 percent of black students demonstrated proficiency on state math tests and 17.6 percent demonstrated proficiency on state English language arts tests. Do these numbers light a fire under educators to do a better job? Maybe. But they also mean that the educational system is signaling to many black children that they have no future in higher education or the modern workforce.

Second, the Common Core focuses attention on math and English test prep above all other academic or extracurricular pursuits. The Race to the Top program incentivized states to adopt the Common Core as well as a testing regime that punishes teachers or schools with low student test scores. In New York City, the Success Academy charter schools excel on the Common Core tests. How? According to one administrator, by turning children into “little test-taking machines.” It goes without saying that many wealthy parents would never accept such an education for their children; in practice, the Common Core widens rather than narrows the opportunity gap.

Finally, the Common Core dedicates limited resources to textbook and testing companies rather than teachers and children. The Race to the Top program awarded$330 million to two Common Core testing consortia: PARCC and SBAC. Schools, in turn, must purchase aligned-curricula as well as the technology to run the online Common Core tests. Meanwhile, financially strapped school districts are cutting art and music programs that stimulate brain development and teach skills such as cooperation and perseverance. This is a tragedy for all students, including African-American ones.

We share the National Urban League’s ambition to prepare black youth to succeed in the 21st century global economy but disagree that the Common Core is the way to make that happen. So far, the Common Core is draining educational budgets, narrowing the curriculum and turning students into little test-taking machines. This is no way to advance the civil rights legacy. Instead, we should recommit to the principle that all children, of whatever race or background, can attain the same kind of education only available, right now, to the children of privilege.

Opting Out: Our Strongest Weapon against…

Opting Out: Our Strongest Weapon against the Corporate Education Reform Machine


batopt2Since No Child Left Behind was implemented and schools across the country were held hostage to unreasonable goals, punished for educating low achieving students, and besieged with an alarming increase of high stakes standardized testing, parents, teachers, and students have been fighting back. Unfortunately President Obama and his administration doubled down on the false narratives set by NCLB with Race to the Top which increased testing and evaluating teachers based on those tests, also known as value-added measures.  Nonetheless, those of us who know that high stakes testing is not a valid measure of a student’s academic achievement or a reliable measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, continue to fight back against these dangerous policies that have created an atmosphere of blame, punishment, and failure.  United Opt Out (UOO) is a grassroots national organization formed in 2011to lead the fight to resist high stakes standardized testing. The mission of UOO is “to strengthen public education; fight corporate based reforms . . . and, in particular, to end the practice of punitive, high-stakes [testing] and related activities that are fraudulently being used as ‘proof’ of the incompetence of public education/ teachers [and schools].”

UOO has encouraged parents to opt their children out of high stakes standardized testing in an effort to deny the corporate model of education reform the data they need to profit off our children’s education.  Parents have a right to say no to policies and practices that they believe are unethical and harmful to their children. Although many states and education leaders claim that opting out is not legal, UOO has developed state guides that inform parents of their right to opt out is indeed a recognized right for parents to have control over the education of their children. UOO also instructs parents on how to inform the principal at their child’s school that they will be opting out of high stakes testing.  Some parents have felt resistance and have been scared into thinking that if they opt their child out it will have a negative effect on their school but to date that has not happened and thousands of parents across the country have been successful in opting their child out of high stakes standardized tests, field testing, and testing used to evaluate teachers.

Parents are our first line of defense when it comes to opting out because unlike teachers they cannot be fired for their decision. However, teachers are increasingly choosing not to administer tests that they know are harmful to their children. In January 2013, teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle Washington voted not to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test to their students. The teachers argued that the tests lacked any significant value because they were not aligned to the state standards. Superintendent Jose Banda threatened to suspend any teacher who did not administer the test but after receiving numerous emails and calls of support from parents he backed down and the teachers were not punished for their actions.

In February 2014 both Drummond Elementary School and Saucedo Elementary School boycotted the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). Parents, students, and teachers were also threatened with dire consequences if they went through with the boycott but they refused to back down. As the opt out movement continued to grow, President Obama continued to pay lip service to the concerns of parents, teachers, and students about the alarming increase of high stakes testing. During his State of the Union Address in 2012 he called for an end to teaching to the test and this past month he issued a statement that appeared to be a call to reduce the escalation of high stakes testing. The Christian Science Monitor writes that President Obama said, “I have directed [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan to support states and school districts in the effort to improve assessment of student learning so that parents and teachers have the information they need, that classroom time is used wisely, and assessments are one part of fair evaluation of teachers and accountability for schools,” in a statement on Wednesday October 15, 2014.

Two days letter Secretary of Education Arne Duncan writes an article for the Washington Post where he claims to support the cutback in testing but continues to argue that tests are the best ways for parents to know how their students are performing. Dr. Yohuru Williams, a professor and education activist reminds us that these words are not surprising given that we are in an election year and that we should not be fooled into thinking that the Obama Administration is going to back down from the mantra of high stakes testing.  Despite the continued rhetoric that does not correspond to real action from our supposed education leaders, teachers, parents, and students continue to fight back and say no to corporate education reforms that seek to privatize public education.

Last month, kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles from Gainesville, Florida issued a statement to the parents of her students that explained why she would not be administering the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading (FAIR) tests. Citing her ethical concerns that administering a test for six weeks to kindergarten children was not something she could do in good conscience she risked being fired to do what she felt was right.  In response Florida education officials have dropped the FAIR test for kindergarten students throughout the state. A small step but immensely important victory for the opt out movement.

Following closely in Bowles steps, Peggy Robertson, an administrator for UOO and a teacher in Aurora Colorado also issued a letter stating that she refuses to administer the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, a new test aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  She argued that the tests along with the CCSS “have placed unrealistic expectations on our youngest learners, many who now view themselves as failures because they are unable to meet the developmentally inappropriate expectations set by the . . . standards.”  UOO next issued a plea for unions to support teachers who refuse to administer the test. When asked by Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss if they would support teachers who refused to administer the test both NEA and AFT said they would support teachers who did not administer the test but failed to elaborate on what kind of support they would issue.

So what should be our next move? We know we cannot wait for the Secretary of Education to follow up his claims with tangible actions that actually reduce or eliminate our national reliance on high stakes standardized testing. And we know that we cannot continue to allow our children to be over-tested and turned into data points instead of human beings who are entitled to a high quality public education.  So we must continue to fight. But we need to be strategic in how we fight. The unions say they will support teachers but what will that support look like and will it be enough? The only way to know for sure is for more teachers to refuse to administer the test. If teachers are disciplined for their refusal then we will demand that the unions offer the support they promised.

Now we understand that every teacher is not in a position to risk losing his or her job. Many teachers work in right-to-work states and have zero protections including tenure and the right to due process. And although the unions claim they will support teachers who refuse to administer tests we do not know what this support will look like and if it will keep teachers from losing their jobs or being disciplined.  So we are looking for teachers who are preparing to retire or leave the profession and are willing to risk retaliation if they refuse to administer the test. If the teacher is disciplined or fired for their actions we will reach out to their union leaders to demand the support and advocacy they said would be there.  Then we will know just how far the unions are willing to go to support teachers.  Therefore, if you are willing and able to refuse to administer high stakes standardized tests, which are not a valid and reliable measure of student’s ability and promise, please write and publish a letter stating your intentions.  Send a copy to info@unitedoptout.com so we can keep track of your situation. Together we can deny the corporate reformers the data they so desperately need and drive out the testing insanity that has dismantled our public education system.


To learn more about how you can actively fight back against corporate education reforms, please join United Opt Out at their Standing Up for Action Spring Event January 16-18th at the Broward County Convention Center in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, UOO is hosting an event that brings advocates for public education together to form plans of actions.  For more information and to register visit our Eventbrite page.

By: Denisha Jones

Denisha Jones is a professor in the School of Education at Howard University. She is former kindergarten teacher and preschool director. She is an admin for the Badass Teachers Association and United Opt Out.

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