Photo: Graur Codrin (click photo to link)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I've Been Conned!!

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Don't get fooled again
No, no!

—The Who

            I suppose that I had it coming.  In the virtual world of Gmail, Facebook and Twitter, there is no shrieking siren or a flashing red light to alert folks that they’re about to fall into a pit of vipers.  Lulled into a false sense of security, I’ve settled into a daily routine of skimming quickly through my e-mail for worthy petitions, calls to action, and clicks to support worthy and benignly apolitical causes (think “kittens and puppies”).  I’m a regular at, and at the GreaterGood Network.  Looking over these two sites, I think you’ll agree that they do “kittens and puppies” feel-good work that makes life more worthwhile. Every day, I go to The Hunger Site, and click to donate a cup of rice to hungry children all over the world, and then click on the other buttons to donate books, mammograms, trees, pet food, and so on to the other causes on the websites in the GreaterGood Network.  I like participating in these sites; they offer us a chance to “click” and by doing so, participate in acts of “micro-charity”.  Most of their partners are non-profit NGOs, so it’s hard to believe that those innocent clicks might benefit causes that I don’t support.

Picture from DesktopNexus

            It was all over in an instant: a couple of clicks of the mouse, and I had the “too late—oops” reaction when I realized I’d made a truly regrettable error. The innocent subject line was something in the vein of “kittens and puppies”, and so I clicked… and confirmed that I supported “kittens and puppies”. Another window opened asking if I’d support some other worthy “kittens and puppies” cause (click), and another (click)…and another (click).  And suddenly, there it was…the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the Trojan horse of all Trojan horses: Join the Fight to Save Great Teachers,  a petition initiated by Students First, the education policy lobby run by faux education expert, Michele Rhee.  Remember her?  The mythologized Bee Eater who got results in the Washington, D.C. schools, and then quickly ducked out when her mayoral patron was evicted from office?  The role model for superintendents of urban schools everywhere, featured in “Waiting for Superman”, as she brags about firing bad teachers with her Machiavellian teacher evaluation system?  

            Here’s what Students First says they’re for which sounds a lot like “kittens and puppies” at first blush:
  • Elevating the teaching profession by valuing teachers' impact on students;
  • Empowering parents with real choices and real information; and
  • Spending taxpayers' money wisely to get better results for students.
But Students First (SF) perpetuates a fraud on families through smoke and mirrors:
  • SF narrowly defines the value of teachers’ impact on students, equating impact with large scale test scores.  It devalues the impact of teachers’ relationships with students and their families by minimizing the effects of teacher experience and the trust that families build with teachers over time. It fails to recognize the strength and local knowledge that comes from commitment of and by the school community.
  • SF says that choice is good but is blind to the information on the demographic consequences of school choice. A National Education Policy Center study suggests that charters actually increase segregation of students. For many children excluded by charters through “cherry-picking” and “counseling out” there is no choice if they are to get the supports they need. And the children who are disproportionately affected by these tactics? The poor, those with disabilities, English language learners, the very children SF claims to be helping.
  • SF promotes responsible use of taxpayers’ money, but ignores the shell games played by commercial charter operators to profit at public expense.  Hedge fund investors capitalizing on the “crisis in education” have joined the fray.  Public school districts lose in this tug-of-war for resources.

            Using social media like and The Petition, Students First is selling their agenda by stealth.  Their taglines are all “kittens and puppies”: “Every student deserves to attend a great school”, “Pay effective teachers what they deserve”, “Join the fight to save great teachers”, “Pass the DREAM Act to give every student a chance at the American Dream”.  They are using progressive-sounding phrases and twisting their meanings to serve their very un-progressive ends.  As we get closer to re-authorizations of ESEA (aka NCLB), and IDEA, don’t be surprised if Students First begins to claim a wellspring of support from these misleading petitions.  

Image copied from Facebook by K. Kosobud

            So, I’ve been conned.  Bamboozled.  Seduced by “kittens and puppies”. Snookered.  Fallen into the pit of vipers.  Learn from me.

            And remember, a snake may shed its old skin...but underneath it's still a snake.  (Thanks to S.F. for this bon mot).
Kathleen Kosobud is temporarily retired from her teaching career as a special educator while completing her Ph.D. at Michigan State University.  She blogs for the Learning Disabilities Association of Michigan at, and for her own amusement at She has the distinction of being one of the first National Board Certified Teachers (EA/Generalist) in the U.S.