By November 18, 2014 Uncategorized 4 Comments

I am going out on a limb to say I am likely the first education blogger to ever use the term zwischenzug (schwee-chen-zoog) in a post.

The German word zwischenzug (intermediate move) is a chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move (commonly a recapture of the capturer of a piece that the opponent has just captured) first interposes another move, posing an immediate threat that the opponent must answer, then plays the expected move. Ideally, the zwischenzug changes the situation to the player’s advantage, such as by gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent.

This tactic is all about forcing your opponent into making tough decisions. These kinds of situations will generally provide you with a tempo advantage as your opponent retreats.

The reason I bring up the topic of zwischenzugs and chess strategy is because of the parallels with the current game being played on the table of America’s public schools. One in which the reformers are about to execute their end game.

This phase of the reformers’ strategy seeks to capitalize on their decades-long efforts to paint public schools as incompetent, inefficient government institutions that have failed America. Their checkmate strategy is to replace the current system with unfettered school choice and for-profit charters to gain access to billions of dollars of state education funding.

In doing so, an unavoidable implication will be the resegregation of schools based on race and socioeconomic status.

This game is currently being played out in urban areas across our nation. In New York City, Newark, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and many others (including Tulsa), the reformers are currently moving their pieces into final positions to complete the takeover.

I realize this comes across as hyperbole. I wish it were.

If you are unconvinced, take a few minutes to read the following article from the September 24, 2014 edition of The Nation, titled: “How to Destroy a Public School System” detailing the methodical destruction of the Philadelphia public school system. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you here.

To summarize, the reformers’ strategy over the past thirty years has been fairly obvious for anyone who has been paying close attention.  The key elements of their game are listed below. I ordered them from one to ten, but in reality, many of the tactics are occurring simultaneously.

1. Promote narrative that public schools are failing. This narrative is fed by the use of international test comparisons which fail to take into account the effects of poverty and other socioeconomic factors. This has been a relatively easy process for high poverty schools, yet convincing suburban parents that their schools are equally awful has been more difficult for reformers. This is why steps 7-9 below are so important.

2. Blame teachers and school leaders.

3. Dismantle teacher protections and unions.

4. Reduce funding for public education while simultaneously increasing expectations and mandates.

5. Introduce alternatives to public schools in the form of charters, vouchers, and virtual schools. This will siphon additional resources from public schools to expedite the dismantling process.

6. Create system to replace high cost, experienced educators with lower cost, temporary educators (TFA)…or a laptop.

7. Implement national standards and national assessments to enable comparisons between schools and create a never-ending supply of failing schools. Think about it. As long as we are ranking schools, there will always be a bottom 10% to takeover or replace. That is, until there are no more left.

8. Connect student performance on standardized tests to teacher and leader evaluations and school rankings.

9. Increase the “rigor” of national tests by increasing cut scores so that large numbers of students cannot pass.

10. Blame the teachers and school leaders (I know I already said this one, but we really can’t say it enough, can we?)

If we take this list in order, you can see that the game appears to be close to over. Let’s take a closer look at number nine. In case you missed it, on Monday, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), one of the two consortiums created by RTTT, released their cut scores for this year’s national assessments.

Here is the article as published in Education Week, “Cutoff Scores for Common Core Tests.” It is rather depressing. Take a look:

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test has four achievement categories. Students must score at Level 3 or higher to be considered proficient in the skills and knowledge for their grades. According to cut scores approved Friday night by the 22-state consortium, 41 percent of 11th graders will show proficiency in English/language arts, and 33 percent will do so in math. In elementary and middle school, 38 percent to 44 percent will meet the proficiency mark in English/language arts, and 32 percent to 39 percent will do so in math.

The reformers now have the perfect assessments in place to “prove” to America’s parents that their schools are not just bad, they are awful beyond repair. Seriously, the SBAC’S prediction is that only one in three high school students will be proficient in math, with similar abysmal pass rates for elementary and middle school students. What can this possibly achieve other than to make schools look bad?

The reformers will use these low scores to further demonstrate that the majority of teachers and school leaders are lazy, uncaring, ineffective neanderthals. The majority of public schools will earn failing grades on whatever accountability system their state is using.

The corporate reformers will then ride in on their white horses to save the day with shiny, new charters and virtual schools—full of rigor and attractive, caring educators. You’re welcome to attend, so long as you play by the rules, do all your work, and pass all your tests. If not, “No soup for you!” Back to public school, whatever is left of it.

How do we evade this seemingly inevitable checkmate? I submit we do it by executing a full-scale zwischenzug. In the past few years, the reformers have worked to keep us distracted by inconsequential debates over common core standards and what it means to be college- and career-ready. This has never been a critical part of their strategy.

The real weakness in the reformer’s game is the tests. It has always been the tests. It is where the conversation started back in 1983 with the release of the “Nation At Risk” report. Every piece of the reformers’ strategy is dependent on successful implementation of test-based accountability.

The move we need to make is obvious to me. Can you see the zwischenzug?  If you can also see it, the question then becomes how do we educate and energize enough people to make the move?

We are down to our last few chess pieces and we must play them carefully, yet aggressively.

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