This open letter is published with permission from the author, liberal high school history teacher and former professor Paul Horton of Chicago.
The Honorable Tom Harkin
Chairman, Subcommittee on Labor,
Health and Human Services, and Education
Senate Appropriations Committee
June 3, 2013
Dear Chairman Harkin,
I was very saddened to hear that you have decided not to run for reelection as a United States senator. You have always represented the most honest branch of the Democratic Party and the long proud legacy of Midwestern prairie populism extending from James B. Weaver, to Williams Jennings Bryan, to Bob LaFollette, the Farm-Labor party, Paul Simon, George McGovern, and Tom Daschle. We could also count the comedian turned senator from Minnesota in this, but he needs a few more years of “seasoning.” I am sure that you are mentoring him in the tradition. Your friend and my senator, Dick Durbin, shares this tradition, but I am worried that he has cozied up too closely with the Chicago plutocrats to be an effective spokesperson for “the small fry.”
I write because you hold a very important position in congress that has oversight over Education. I am a history teacher, a historian, a leader of history teachers, and a critic of the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top Mandates. I have thirty years of teaching under my belt, including service to the people of the great state of Iowa at Malcolm Price Laboratory School in Cedar Falls where I taught high school students and trained pre service history teachers at the University of Northern Iowa.
Your friend and colleague, senator Grassley, has sent you a letter expressing his concerns about the Race to the Top mandates and the Common Core Curriculum Standards, so I will not belabor the concerns that he has already expressed to you, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/04/19/common-core-standards-attacked-by-republicans/.
I would like to encourage you to call our Secretary of Education before your committee and ask him some hard questions about the way that the RTTT mandates were constructed. His responses to the concerns that many citizens have from all points on the political spectrum have been exceedingly evasive. He typically claims that those who are opposed to the RTTT mandates and the Common Core Standards are hysterical wing nuts who fully embrace Glenn Beck’s conspiracy theories about attempts to create a one world government: <http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2013/04/paul_horton_of_common_core_con.html>.
In fact, despite the claims of a recent Washington Post story (<http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/tea-party-groups-rallying-against-common-core-education-overhaul/2013/05/30/64faab62-c917-11e2-9245-773c0123c027_story.html>), critics of the RTTT mandates and the CCS come from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. In the national education debate, the status quo agenda that is being pushed comes from the corporate middle of both parties that is backed by many of those who have been the biggest beneficiaries of the current economic “recovery” in Seattle, Silicon Valley, and Manhattan (and Westchester County) and large foundations.
I humbly recommend that Mr. Duncan be called before your committee to answer some serious questions under oath about corporate and investor influence on Education policy. Mr. Duncan told a committee of congress that he did not want to “participate in the hysteria” surrounding the RTTT and the CCS. Because he is a public servant, it is his duty to serve the people of the United States. Part of his job is to be accountable to the public.
I recommend a few questions that any populist or progressive senator would have asked in the 1890s or early twentieth century:
1) How many of your staffers have worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? Who are they, and why did you hire them?
2) What role did these staffers and Bill Gates have on the formulation of the RTTT mandates?
3) How much classroom teaching experience do the principal authors of the RTTT mandates have, individually, and as a group?
4) Why are these individuals qualified to make decisions about education policy?
5) Were you, or anyone who works within the Department of Education in contact with any representative or lobbyist representing Pearson Education, McGraw-Hill, or InBloom before or during the writing of the RTTT mandates?
6) What is the Broad Foundation? What is your connection to the Broad Foundation? What education policies does the Broad Foundation support? How do these policies support public education? How do these policies support private education? What was the role of the Broad Foundation in the creation of the RTTT mandates?
7) How many individuals associated with the Broad Foundation helped author the report, “Smart Options: Investing Recovery Funds for Student Success” that was published in April of 2009 and served as a blueprint for the RTTT mandates? How many representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation assisted in writing this report? What was their role in authoring this report? How many representatives of McKinsey Consulting participated in authoring this report? What was David Coleman’s role in authoring this report?
8) Do you know David Coleman? Have you ever had any conversations with David Coleman? Has anyone on your staff had any conversations with David Coleman? Did anyone within the Department of Education have any connection to any of the authors of the Common Core Standards? Did anyone in your Department have any conversations with any of the authors of the Common Core Standards as they were being written?
9) Have you ever had any conversations with representatives or lobbyists who represent the Walton Family Foundation? Has anyone on your staff had any conversations with the Walton Family Foundation or lobbyists representing the Walton Family Foundation? If so, what was the substance of those conversations?
10)Do you know Michelle Rhee? If so, could you describe your relationship with Michelle Rhee? Have you, or anyone working within the Department of Education, had any conversations with Students First, Rhee’s advocacy group, about the dispersal foundation funds for candidates in local and state school board elections?
This is just a start. Public concerns about possible collusion between the Department of Education and education corporations could be addressed with a few straightforward answers to these and other questions.
Every parent, student, and teacher in the country is concerned about the influence of corporate vendors on education policy. What is represented as an extreme movement by our Education Secretary can be more accurately described as a consumer revolt against shoddy products produced by an education vendor biopoly (Pearson and McGraw Hill). Because these two vendors have redefined the education marketplace to meet the requirements of RTTT, they both need to be required to write competitive impact statements for the Anti-Trust Division of the Department of Justice.
Senator Harkin, I have a simple solution to this education mess. You represent a state with a great education system. In Iowa, there are great teachers in Cumming, Hudson, and West Des Moines. Most teachers across the country are dedicated, talented, and creative. They, and not Pearson, McGraw Hill, or InBloom , have a better sense about what is good for kids. Allow teachers to create national rubrics to evaluate authentic assessments and allow teachers to do their jobs and grade these assessments. We can save billions of dollars in a time of austerity if we do this. You have control over the disbursement of RTTT funds. These funds should go to teacher assessments, not assessments designed by people with little or no classroom experience. Likewise, these assessments should be graded by teachers, not by temporary employees or computers under the control of for profit corporations.
Let’s invest in our teachers to insure that this investment stays in our communities and states. Education vendors are not loyal to kids, parents, or states. They seek profit, and they will invest their proceeds wherever they can make the most money. It is time for some common sense. We need education policy for the small fry, not education policy for plutocrats.
I would love to speak to you and to your committee on these issues.
The very best to you,
The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools
former History Instructor, The University of Northern Iowa
Malcolm Price Laboratory School, Cedar Falls, Iowa