Killing Ed Deform and Making American Education Suck Less: Some Suggestions

The subtitle of Diane Ravitch’s Blog, one of my favorite Internet sites, is “A site to discuss better education for all.” It’s wonderful to read, on her site, the heated discussions of curricula and pedagogy. As many readers of her blog will know, Milton, in his great defense of unlicensed printing (and thus of free speech), wrote that

“Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”

When there are vigorous debates about curricula and pedagogy, when teachers have the autonomy to follow competing models, when a practitioner or scholar can propose materials and approaches in print with some expectation that readers might adopt (and perhaps adapt) these, then innovation occurs, and we move forward.

In stark contrast to this is the Ed Deform model–one ring to rule them all.

One set of national “standards” that become the default, defacto curriculum,

one set of state tests that dictate what, finally, matters and what doesn’t,

one curriculum commissariat and Ministry of Truth convened by billionaire money to do the thinking for all the rest of us,

depersonalized educational software with an invariant approach and learning path, hyped as “personalized” because a pretest plops students down at different places on the path.

I’ve worked as an English teacher and as an ELA textbook writer and editor all my life. Never have I seen the sort of horror of standardization and regimentation that has occurred since the adoption of the high-stakes testing regimen and the Common [sic] Core [sic]–which is being used in almost all states, though it has typically been given local names because of the widespread disdain for Master Gates’s and Lord Coleman’s puerile bullet list.

Every textbook or online curriculum project, these days, starts with a spreadsheet containing the Common [sic] Core [sic] State [sic] Standards [sic] in one column and the places in the program where these are “taught” in the next column over. If a person on the development team dares to suggest that a concept, a bit of descriptive or procedural knowledge, or an approach be taken, in any part of a new project, today, that is not already on Lord Coleman’s bullet list, it is immediately shot down, however necessary or valuable it might be. End of discussion. There will be no innovation, no deviation from the script, until Master Gates reconvenes his Ministry of Truth to write the next generation of standards for the rest of us to follow. That’s what Gates calls “innovation”: following his orders.

Go to a library. Check out some copies of The English Journal from the 1970s. There you will find hundreds of interesting, practical ideas for great lessons in English classes–practitioners of the art and science of instruction in English daring to think anew and for themselves. But this is not how things are supposed to work in the New Feudal Order. Any innovation is supposed to be dictated from on high.

What? The Ed Deformers cry! You are suggesting chaos. No. I am suggesting democracy. In place of the current top-down standards-and-testing accountability regime, instead of “One Ring to Rule Them All, we need this:

a. Bottom-up continuous improvement based on local (school-level) programs of peer collaboration and evaluation via something like Japanese-style Lesson Study (in which teachers are given the time in their schedules to meet, weekly, to go over, with their peers, what worked and didn’t the previous week and to plan for the upcoming week)

b. Instead of bullet lists of “state standards,” broad, very general frameworks describing overall goals–frameworks that are general enough to allow for the degrees of freedom within which real pedagogical and curricular innovation can occur

c. A national forum for posting, by scholars and by teacher practitioners, of suggested, COMPETING curricular outlines, learning maps, lists of key descriptive and procedural knowledge in various areas of study, reviews and evaluations and studies of pedagogical approaches and curriculum materials, reading lists, vocabulary lists, public domain materials, check tests, model lessons illustrating the use of various approaches and materials, sample assessments, lesson and assessment templates, free diagnostic and formative tests, and blog threads for debate and discussion about these

By its own preferred measure, test scores, twenty years of Ed Deform, of national “standards” and high-stakes testing and evaluation schemes based on those tests, has UTTERLY FAILED. It has brought about no statistically significant improvement in test scores, and it has not closed achievement gaps. Enough. It is incredibly stupid to look at a failed policy and say, “Well, what we need is more of that.”

Ed Deformers often ask, “What’s your alternative?” Well, I just outlined it. But they will HATE my suggestions. Why? Well, the Ed Deformers are billionaire masters of the New Feudal Order or paid minions of those masters. They like top-down control. They have a rage for standardization and regimentation. They think that everyone else should simply shut up and do as they are told.

But in a democracy, that’s not how we roll.


For more pieces by Bob Shepherd on the topic of Education “Reform,” go here:

For more pieces on the teaching of literature and writing, go here:


About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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2 Responses to Killing Ed Deform and Making American Education Suck Less: Some Suggestions

  1. Richard Turner says:

    Bob, I would love to go to my library and find copies of English Journal from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, that is, before “A Nation At Risk,” but our Deformer Principal decreed that any book, magazine or reference material older than 4 years was obsolete, and wiped out, and I mean that literally, the School Library. Oh, and that was after they had strategically fired all the Librarians and hired LITT teachers (Library/Technology Something Something) and replaced book people with Film and Internet nerds. Visuals is where it is AT, doncha know. I plan to outlast this principal and make sure everyone knows that the Deformer Plan for Education always was, and still is, to Rewrite History by eliminating all text reference to it. If there ever was a NeoFascist approach to education, and they dont even know they are, this is it.

    Liked by 1 person

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