When the first wave of national education reform was codified into law under the No Child Left Behind act, my initial reaction was that it was just another in a long series of public policy exercises that would wither away and die after appropriating huge sums of money and have very little to show for it.
I was wrong.
The ongoing expansion of the federal government's takeover of education, dictating the day-to-day terms, by which local public schools are run, has spread with the speed of the Kudzu plant in Georgia.
In fact NCLB, which was proposed and passed during the Bush administration, has only been accelerated under President Obama's Race to the Top initiative, with the call for a massive nation-wide overhaul of curriculum known as the Common Core.
So when it comes to the expansion of the federal government in ways that are new to our traditional belief that education was the province of the states, or the expansion of the national security state, President Obama and President Bush are in complete agreement, notwithstanding Mr. Obama's penchant for monotonously blaming the Bush years for all that's ailing America.
Perhaps it's no accident that NCLB and the Patriot Act both passed Congress in 2001, in the wake of the 9-11 attack on the United States.
I've been trying to make sense of the upending of our system of governance engineered by a handful of elites with very little outcry from the populace to end their endeavors because it somehow is not the American way, for some time without success, that is, until I picked up the August 8, Metro New York section of the Wall Street Journal last week.
There, staring me right in the face were three articles on the front page that finally offered an explanation that made sense. There is a real possibility that our leaders have been taken over by the Body Snatchers!
The headlines read Accepting 'Hard Truth': Most City Students Aren't
Prepared for College-Level Work Upon Graduation; Cuomo Hires Writer, Moves Book Ahead; Police Shooting Highlights Persistence of Street Crews.
The first article focused on a press conference held by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City's Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott regarding the dismal results on the Common Core tests. While there's been a good deal of valid criticism of the content and scoring the exams, Bloomberg and Walcott chose to welcome the results instead.
We've long known that remediation rates for students entering New York's community colleges were on the rise, but that never deterred the Bloomberg administration from touting improved high school graduation rates and the widespread improvements his direct control of the schools has brought to New York.
Common Core testing wasn't needed to arrive at this unattractive truth, but it never prevented him from forging ahead with his reorganizations of the public school system.
How do you explain this welcomed acceptance of the new federal standards and Mayor Bloomberg's claim that it no way diminishes his efforts over the past 12 years because as in baseball, when you promote someone from the minor leagues to the major leagues their batting average drops.
Imagine the mayor going before the stockholder's meeting at his company Bloomberg LP, where he is a majority stockholder, and reporting that all the corporate profits of the past decade were overstated, and the value of the stock should be half of what it is today? I wonder how financial reporters would report on that "business model"?
The second story revolves around Governor Andrew Cuomo's decision to hire a writer to co-author his memoir that is due to published by Harper Collins. It is scheduled to come out in 2014 when he is up for re-election.
It will attempt to position him as a serious public policy thinker and doer, and establish his bona fides as a national political figure too.
It was Cuomo who demanded that the all school systems adopt teacher evaluation systems that were demanded by Arne Duncan in exchange for Race To The Top monies.
The outcries of principals state-wide that the evaluations are fraudulent junk science, teacher petitions, or a growing chorus of school superintendents fed up with a seemingly endless regime of testing, has had the same effect as a dog whistle might have on his ears.
The final story concerns the shooting death of 14 year-old Shaaliver Douse on a Bronx street at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning by a police officer. It seems that Douse had fired his gun at another youth in what appears to be a gang-related incident. According to police, when Douse turned and aimed at two policemen in pursuit he was fatally shot by one of the officers.
While his mother claims it was a police set-up, surveillance cameras appear to confirm the police accounts.
The story examines the activity of Street Crews, informal gangs that inhabit his neighborhood, but never touches on Douse's education record or prior interventions attempted over the course of his lengthy police record. Nor do the reporters examine why a 14 year-old was out roaming the streets at 3 a.m.?
Remembering that the tearing apart and re-building of the public education was all for the children, especially children like Shaaliver Douse, I wondered if Messrs. Bloomberg, Walcott, Cuomo, and Duncan, believe that if only Shaaliver had been exposed to the Common Core earlier in his life, along with a harder battery of tests, this could have been avoided?
It then hit me that the reality of the streets and the schools is so incomprehensible to these men that perhaps aliens had taken them over! While they look and sound like who they say they are, their other-worldliness is something I've never seen among politicians, love them or hate them, in my lifetime.
There are other possibilities, but that will require an analysis of the incestuous marriage between private philanthropies, corporations, and the government that heralds a new power arrangement that holds the democratic process in contempt. It extols a government-corporatist state that may signal the emergence of centralized governance that consumes the constitutional arrangements of 1789.