Susan Ohanian – “On 21st Century Drones, Destroyers and Teachers”

Teacher, author, and public school advocate Susan Ohanian is one of the nation’s leading voices in the battle to take back control of the public education system from the corporate education reform industry.  She is also a winner of the NCTE George Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language.

You can (and should) subscribe to her posts at

I’m taking the liberty of re-printing her most recent breathtaking post on the work of the Corporate Education Reform Industry.

On 21st Century Drones, Destroyers and Teachers by Susan Ohanian

Common Core tests are to teaching as the Total Ship Computing Environment is to sailing. Both posit drones as the ideal, to eliminate the need for human participation, which involves variability, even quirkiness. The USS Zumwalt Total Ship Computing Environment costs $5 billion, which is in the ballpark for what states are spending on Common Core tests which are promise to be designed to eliminate teacher decision-making.

The USS Zumwalt isn’t just a destroyer; it’s a 21st century ship, “a ship with a brain of its own.” That claim is eerily similar to what promoters say about the Smarter Balanced Common Core test:

Assessment information can offer specific information about areas of performance so that teachers can follow up with targeted instruction. 

Entities formerly known as professionals “following up” on instructions from a test with a brain of its own.

The BusinessWeek writer notes

In an age of rampant hacking and password pilfering, you don’t have to be clinically paranoid to find something worrying in the prospect of a highly automated warship that can be controlled by anyone who has the right login information. 

But no media seems perturbed by computer dictating what a kid will study next.

Teachers, your unions again prove themselves incapable of standing up to the task of resisting:

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust announced today grants to Smarter Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) totaling more than $1.6 million. These grants will fund a partnership between the two multi-state assessment consortia and the nation’s largest teachers’ unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), to further engage educators in the development of next-generation assessment systems. . . . 

These aren’t just tests; they are next-generation assessment systems.

And here’s more about this new partnership:

These grants fund the first formal partnerships between the two common assessment consortia and the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which together represent the majority of the U.S. teaching workforce. (emphasis added) 

Note the terminology: US teaching workforce.

The unions already received Common Core millions from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Now they have their hands out to Helmsley. Note: For good reason, Leona Helmsley was known as the Queen of Mean.

But to the unions, money is money and now we will watch for local “teacher ambassadors” pushing the tests in turnkey training

Teacher Ambassadors will provide turnkey training related to the new assessments to 1250 teachers across the Smarter Balanced states and assist in the development of exemplar lessons and professional learning modules that will meet the Quality Criteria for the Smarter Balanced Digital Library.

Smarter Balanced gets $785,000 to send out these drones (whoops! teacher workforce ambassadors to spread the message.

Randi Weingarten declares this “an important opportunity to bring teacher voice and expertise to the development and rollout of the assessments, which should serve to inform teachers and families and enhance instruction.”

Similarly, Dennis Van Roekel applauds the Helmsley Charitable Trust for “recognizing the importance of engaging educators and their unions in the development of the next-generation assessments.”

Here is the press release.

Now do you see why none of the unions will endorse, support, and/or spread the message to do something as innocuous as sign the petition to end abusive standardized testing? Just follow the money. That’s where your union will be.

Not to mention everybody else receiving Gates money. Here’s a PARCC announcement:

Overall, support for the standards and assessments appears to be very strong among stakeholder organizations. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Council of Teachers of English, the National PTA, the National Governor’s Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the National Business Roundtable are just a few of the groups voicing their support and working to build public understanding of the need for higher academic expectations. 

PARCC says, The assessments and reports provided in the Summer/Fall of 2015 will reflect “Consortia 1.0”– their initial and somewhat modest iteration. Every Consortium has had to restrain its design due to the low level of technology infrastructure — hardware, bandwidth, and tech support — in some schools. . . .

A message to those who children are suffering from this spring’s field testing: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

The USS Zumwalt has a new gun that fires rocket-propelled warheads as far as 100 miles. Teachers can soon expect the message that whenever someone opts out of a Common Core test, terrorists win.


— Susan Ohanian blog (April 05, 2014)

You can read the full piece at:

  • Castles Burning

    WOW. The sellout of the unions continues and “professional” organizations are joining and the drone becomes an even more apt metaphor.

    Thanks, Susan, as I knew nothing about the USS Zumwalt and it is heartening to know that not only business people, philanthropists, anyone but educators, and the military provide guidance and models and mania for “the need for higher academic expectations.”

    “Pow!” is right.

    • JMC

      I agree, CB. This news is stupefying. Thanks to Susan and Jonathan for outing it and supplying the smoking gun proof of what we who were attuned suspected. Now we know precisely why the crickets were chirping at AFT, NEA, and CEA Headquarters. The sellout of the teachers by their unions is already a fait accompli. Now the the teachers’ unions’ paid professional service staff will begin to gin up the requisite zombie teacher ambassadors to lay the patina of collegiality on this steaming turd.

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