Will public schools continue to exist in the United States?

Broad and Secretary Duncan

Arne Duncan and his puppeteer Eli Broad

You have to wonder when you consider the press release below. This morning, billionaire mischief maker, Eli Broad will take time from destroying the economy and reneging on charitable promises, to commit greater violence against public school children in America by awarding his annual bribe prize for the school district that places the greatest misplaced emphasis on deeply flawed standardized testing.

At a time of deep budget cuts in public education, a million dollars is real money. Districts like, Long Beach, CA are addicted to the Broad Prize payola bribe food pellet scholarship money and compete year-after-year at the alter of testing über alles. The Long Beach schools are now so great that Eli Broad and all of his rich friends now send their own children and grandchildren to the Long Beach public schools – I’m only kidding! LMAOROTFL! 🙂

It’s one thing to convince mayors to suspend democracy, seize control of public education and transfer public treasure to private hands (as described in my 2008 GOOD Magazine cover story, School Wars), but Eli Broad’s unchecked power now seems unstoppable. It’s quite likely that Broad will soon turn dozens of Los Angeles Unified public schools into the obedience schools for minority children that he so loves.

Sure, Broad likes to kick-it old skool with his posse, including Bill Gates and Kanye West, but today he wins the VMA of American politics when Federal Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, presents the 2009 Broad Urban Education Prize. That’s right, Duncan will play Pinocchio to Broad’s Gepetto. Since co-opting only one branch of government is so old-fashioned, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will be there too as Eli Broad’s Vanna White. (She has played this role in the past)

Is the United States Government now a wholly-owned subsidiary of oligarchs like Eli Broad? Should educators throw a tea party?

(Below the press release are some links for additional reading on Duncan and Broad)

media advisory

Winner of $2 Million Broad Prize for Urban Education to be
Announced, Named Most Improved Urban School District

Aldine, Broward County, Gwinnett County, Long Beach and Socorro
Vie for Country’s Largest Education Prize

For Immediate Release
Monday, Sept. 14, 2009

Contact: Erica Lepping, elepping@broadfoundation.org
O: 310.954.5053, C: 310.594.6880


U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Members of Congress
D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty
Philanthropist Eli Broad
300 leading education policy-makers and practitioners


Announce the winner of the 2009 Broad Prize for Urban Education, the largest education prize in the country. The finalists are school districts in Aldine, Texas; Broward County, Fla.; Gwinnett County, Ga.; Long Beach, Calif. and Socorro, Texas.


Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009

  • 9 to 10:45 a.m. ET: Panel discussion with superintendents from The Broad Prize finalist districts, moderated by former USA Today education journalist Richard Whitmire
  • 11 a.m. to noon ET: Announcement of winner, with remarks by Secretary Duncan


United States Capitol Visitor Center, Washington, D.C. Enter below East Plaza of Capitol between Constitution and Independence Avenues. Events in Congressional Auditorium.


Please RSVP to elepping@broadfoundation.org to reserve a seat. Capitol Visitors Center press credentials required in advance through House Radio/TV Gallery, 202.225.5214.

The following opportunities to cover the announcement will also be available on Sept. 16:

  • Noon ET: Press kit (in English and Spanish) on http://www.broadprize.org/
  • 12:30 p.m. ET: Conference call with Broad Prize-winning district leaders and Eli Broad. For call-in number and pass code, please email elepping@broadfoundation.org.
  • 4 p.m. ET: Event photos available on AP wire
The $2 million Broad (pronounced “brode”) Prize for Urban Education (http://www.broadprize.org/) annually honors urban American school districts that demonstrate the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement while reducing income and ethnic achievement gaps. The winning district will receive $1 million in college scholarships for high school seniors, with $250,000 in scholarships for each finalist district. The event is sponsored by The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation (www.broadfoundation.org).

Further reading:

Greetings from Australia!

Karl Fisch’s latest blog, Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?, and a horrific current event inspired me to mine the Stager Archives for another old article (originally published in 2007).

I witnessed a horrific spectacle last night. Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister, Julia Gillard, was a contestant on the Aussie version of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Yup, that’s right – an accomplished attorney and Deputy Prime Minister was a shameless combatant in this nationally televised trivia porn.

You MUST watch this 10-second clip!

I know what you’re thinking, my fellow Americans. Does Arne Duncan have what it takes to demonstrate his intellect on pressing questions like, “Which wood is cricket bats made of?” (That was in the 5th PLANTS category)

Is Plants an actual subject area and if so, is it important to know how cricket bats are made?

Deputy Prime Minister Gillard is another in a long-string of accomplished thoughtful professionals whose intelligence drops in half when it comes to matters of education. Ten months ago I wrote about her crush on American public education saboteur in the Australian publication, Crikey. Educators can learn nothing from Chancellor Klein’s visit Gillard is pushing a national curriculum, standardized testing, data-driven decision-making, school ranking and other equally despicable fantasies across her nation in the name of educational quality. She embraces the worst of American trends in public education with two fists.

I will be enormously sad if the Australian teacher unions capitulate on such matters of importance as have their American brethren.

Gillard is also advancing a plan called The Digital Education Revolution under which Aussie schoolchildren may or may not gain access to a personal computer. The most objectionable aspect of this plan is the fact that I am less than an hour’s drive from one of the first schools in the world where every student got a personal laptop computer nearly 20 years ago. In fact, I led professional development at that school 19 years ago! It was the stated policy of the state government in 1990 that by 1991, every child would have a personal laptop computer.

It’s depressing that every 20 years we need to have a revolution to do what we promised to do 20 years ago. Such bureaucratic amnesia proves Stager’s Second Law of School Reform:

Educators will continue to invent what already exists, each time with diminished expectations.

In any event, here is the February 27, 2007 article I wrote for The Pulse.

Is Your State Commissioner of Education Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Tonight, the Fox Television Network will perform a great public service. TV will demonstrate to millions of households what some of us have known for years. Much of what school teaches is utterly useless nonsense.

Jonathan Kozol, Herbert Kohl, Susan Ohanian and Alfie Kohn have long proposed that politicians and business leaders imposing educational standards and high-stakes tests on children should be forced to have their (current) scores on the same tests published in the newspaper. Quick! Name an official with the courage to do so!

While the Miss Crabtree generation laughed at a pie in the face. Fox hopes that the MCAS/FCAT/STAR/TAKS generation will yuck it up to Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader; a light-hearted confection celebrating the humiliating prospect of an adult being “outsmarted” by a kid. If the show is successful, it will be expose the dirty-little secret of American education – school curricula is focused on trivia.

Trivia is the fuel that propels game shows. Some game shows are based on chance or physical prowess, yet some of the most enduring ones are based on “knowledge.” Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy “test” the knowledge of contestants, but what sorts of knowledge are being assessed? Successful contestants combine rapid twitch reaction with spelling, vocabulary and memorization of esoteric factoids. Understanding, experience, talent or effort is not required and therefore unmeasured. That stuff may not be quick, relevant or prone to multiple-choice questions.

The appeal of Game Shows is that the viewer thinks, “I’m smarter than that guy!” Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader ingeniously plays on our fear of appearing stupid and the schadenfreude we enjoy when someone else looks like a buffoon.

I can hardly wait for “State Department of Education Week” or “Business Roundtable Showdown” on Are You Smarter that a 5th Grader!

sample question from the program web site

Do we agree on what it means to be “smart?”

There is an unfortunate paradox in play here. What many of us see as the dumbing-down of American education is now being sold to the television audience as intelligence. Where American Idol (the lead-in to …5th Grader) celebrates perseverance, talent, individuality and personal expression, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader rewards being a smart-aleck and implies that education is a zero-sum game.

The incessant quest for one hundred percent of students to be above the norm reduces schooling to a contest with lots of losers and no exciting cash and prizes. Teachers who camp out in-front of conference booths selling multiple-choice clicker systems hoping to use such technological goodies in their classroom should think about the consequences of their lust. Classrooms are not game show sets and teachers should be more than game show hosts.

However, it should be noted that Jeff Foxworth, host of …5th Grader, is an accomplished artist who has spent more than twenty years perfecting his craft and entertaining millions. Regardles of whether you enjoy his brand of humor, he has a unique style and a strong sense of self. No memo will cause him to change his style or tell a joke he doesn’t think is funny.

By the way… Have you heard the latest Jeff Foxworthy joke? You might be a redneck if you let some anonymous bureaucrat bully you into what and how you teach.*

Oh, I love that joke!

Game shows are one way we escape from thinking. Is the same true for 5th grade?

*That’s not really a Jeff Foxworthy joke and should not be construed as a slur against rednecks. I made it up.