Translate this: It’s NOT about learning. . .


                   “EDUCATION REFORM”


“Education Reform” is in effect, false advertising and deceptive packaging, “brought to you by” sponsors who are NOT professional educators.  Classroom or school-based training and experience is generally zero for “reformers”.  Often, they are, politicians, business executives, corporationsphilanthropists, and Wall Street barons  with no direct knowledge of which they speak.  Even national political programs like “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top”are of this ilk.

There is no real reform to learning proffered by “education reformers”.  They are not about more effective or more efficient or more enjoyable ways to learn.   There is no change to pedagogy in their “education” reform.



Gym body No GymInstead, they offer up a dangerous tease, which is sort of like: “Want to lose 30 lbs. in 30 days…without dieting or exercise?

“Education reformers” are about political maneuvering, misleading measurement and deception, leading ultimately to privatization…



Essential knowledge, an evidence-basis and the key ingredient, the children, are completely missing in “reformers'” desires for a seismic shift.

Photo c FLICKR alamosbasement
Photo c FLICKR alamosbasement




Yes, we need a fresh vision of reform, true, ”learning” reform.

Yes, we do need a fresh look at schools, learning, the whole child, public health data, and even neuroscience.  Yes, we need fresh, transparent language and throughout:  we need input and evaluation by trained professional educators from the front line.

We do not need trojan horses from “outsider”, flag-wavers for Milton Friedman and Adam Smith, nor Smith’s “invisible hand”.


False and Deceptive labelling 

Self-labelled “education reformers” are NOT about learning itself, or about the learners. Instead reformers use a trojan horse comprised of measurement, control, and accountability.

The trojan desires of adults far outside the learning arena, include creating a one-size-fits-all “Common Core” to “standardize” what is taught, then “standardized tests” to (theoretically) measure results, and then more “Value added Measures” to (theoretically) hold adults accountable for results of their “standardized tests”.  Reforms to actual learning itself are glaringly absent.

We need to stop accepting devious semantics.

Let’s label “reformers” more clearly then: Education “Scorekeepers”, or “Controllers”.

Education “Controllers” strive for a “number”,  a single measure to identify education “results”.   A single number, via a standardized test, identifying (in theory) “how a school is doing” across all classrooms, across all grades, across all subjects, across all student groups, all ages across a full year of time, all condensed into one measure.  So the entire school (or District) is either universally “passing”, or universally “failing”, based on their one number. . .     Is there data supporting the validity of that concept?  No evidence-basis has been presented.  That “one number” in turn has then been used to measure educators, a practice already shown to be flawed. 


Learning, by nature,  is not  a smooth, standardized, “efficient” process.  

Learning is a personal process.  A complex process.  The learning process and its timeline for children varies infinitely, as does human experience.

Still, outside Controllers lust for a single number to hold someone “accountable” when their measure of “standardized” education progress isn’t achieved. They seem to be “talking to themselves” about a meaningless “score”.  Their own one-number premise is misleading at best, but it’s easier for “Controllers”, if it’s only one number. .  . nothing here about learning yet . . .


The most menacing, deceptive, “reform” agenda is their desired end-game of “privatization” of public education. These reformers have none of their own “skin” or kin in the public school arena (again ‘outsiders’).  Their privatization agenda is an issue of political philosophy, going back to Milton Freidman in the 1980s and earlier.  You can continue the lineage even further back to Adam Smith and his “invisible hand”.  Smith’s “invisible hand” is by definition, all about efficiency and the ‘power of the market’ to deliver the survival of (only)the fittest.  It is a marketplace philosophy in direct conflict with equity and equal access principles ! It is a philosophy without any evidence-basis in other arenas.  It is a philosophy in direct conflict with an equitably educated citizenry in an effective democracy.

Meanwhile, the same “invisible hand” market offers a very lucrative hundreds-of-billions-of-dollars financial opportunity:  education “businesses”.  Billionaire, “outsider” Education “Controllers” see a new source of profit.  Hence their motive to show (or create) “failure” of public schools. Their privatization agenda fits nicely with their research void around a meaningless measure of “universal failure” for public schools.

Here again, clearly the “Controllers’ ” blind spot is actual learning.

Photo c Daun Kauffman
Photo c     Daun Kauffman
Deceptive packaging; missing ingredients

Learners, whole Children, and their uniquenesses are completely missing from the reformers’ package.

Yet learners are the most complex aspect of learning.

We all would agree that “my child is different than your child or the neighbor’s child”.  We would agree further that merely walking through classrooms for a few hours is not the same as understanding the child, nor incorporating the perspective and context of the learner.


Children’s uniquenesses create dramatic variations in their learning processes. Nevertheless, Education “Controllers” focus on “systems”, oblivious to missing human learners. Odd, because successful barons of business get successful by focusing on and prioritizing consumers’ perceptions, needs, wants and uniquenesses.


Likewise, in medical arts, educated professionals wisely center on the human beings who are pursuing health, and especially on their “pre-existing conditions”.  No efficient process of health would begin without understanding and factoring-in those human conditions and the medical history. They’re crucial connections to all else.

A single example of a counterpart to “pre-existing” conditions in educational practice is Childhood Trauma.  It is intense in effect and broad in impact.  Childhood Trauma directly affects body chemistry, brain architecture and function, and then and social responses, all as natural, logical defenses to chronic trauma.  Again, “Controllers” ignore these learners’ realities.  The physiological reality is that learning doesn’t happen in a mode of chronic trauma.  Further, Public Health research (evidence-basis) has shown that Childhood Trauma affects 20% to 50% of child learners in America today. The impact of childhood trauma is broader than the impact of English Language Learners (ELL), broader than learners with an Individual Education Plan (IEP).


How do you interpret “standardized” education “results”, given that 20% to 50% of very unique learners, are presently not identified by any measurement or accountability system?  In fact, oblivious “systems” put trauma-impacted children in danger of re-triggering their existing traumas, daily.  Those learners are expected to be in the same class, at the same time, “learning” in the same “system”, at the same speed, with no support.  You can probably imagine the learning and social “results” in that classroom.


Learners and their contexts are missing from the deceptive “package”, or paradigm, of the Controllers.


Failing Schools or Failing Paradigms ?


How can we tell whether places-of-learning are universal failures or not?  Is that even the right question?


In the Controllers’ paradigm, education consumers, learners, are treated as “objects” in the learning process, excluded from participating in the discussion, and excluded from even being a topic in the discussion.  Learners’ lives, their stories, and their pre-existing conditions are treated as though they are irrelevant to the paradigm.

Teachers (better, ‘learning facilitators’) are only very slightly more often included in the discussions than the students.  Controllers’ learning paradigms are oblivious to who is missing from the discussion.   Worse, it seems “Controllers” don’t think it matters who is in the classroom either.  They use the same “system” for whoever, whenever, wherever.


The faulty view that student-specific context and perspective don’t matter was named the “Banking Model” of education, long ago.  Paulo Freire convincingly exposed and rightfully rejected the Banking Model of learning, almost 50 years ago. Actual educators have moved on, but those ‘outsider’ Controllers now presume the Banking Model upon our children and grandchildren;

“…it turns them into “containers,” into “receptacles” to be “filled” by the teacher.  The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better the teacher she is.  The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.

 Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor.  Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits, which the students patiently receive, memorize, repeat.” 

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed  Chapter 2.


So, outside “Controllers” generate confusion, frustration and stress for those ‘inside’ the arena of learning and facilitating.  “Controllers” focus on measurement, control, accountability (and profit).  Learners and learning are glaringly absent.


Very flawed discussions.

Very flawed paradigms.

Yet “Controllers” continue rewarming the same “Banking” paradigm, the same discussion, the same way.

To serve their own agenda, “Education Reformers” create a deceptive, single measure to signify universal “failure” — without any evidence-basis and with a gaping blind spot for missing ingredients: learners.  Translation: it all handily serves their deceptive, privatization agenda.

.Maybe it’s not really a case of Failing Schools, but Failing Paradigms.

We don’t need this kind of “help”.  We need to get back to learners and learning.



Towards a New Learning Paradigm

There is no quick, easy solution to improving learning.  Don’t trust outside “Controllers” who claim otherwise.  Meanwhile, some strategic-level priorities which will help correct our course:


  • Put learners first, directly in the center of the paradigm.  Aggressively pursue learner-centered learning.
  • Prioritize equal access and fair funding for all learners, before prioritizing “scores”.
  • Acknowledge explicitly that pre-existing conditions — life experience — is a core aspect of every human endeavor, including for learners and learning.
  • Incorporate life experience of  learners.  Specifically, incorporate , learner factors such as Childhood Trauma, IEPs and ELLs.  Provide appropriate supports for all.
  • Use “Learning” reform language for transparency and a reminder of the objective.
  • Put learning and learning research back as the priority, versus measurement and “control”.
  • Include professional learning facilitators (teachers) in the discussions, as central to understanding learning (and the learners), and as crucial to implementing change.
  • Acknowledge explicitly that learning is an infinitely varied activity, not “standardized” in content or “standardized” in results.
  • Secondarily, pursue a new way to evaluate infinite variation in learning styles. Maybe we need more than “one number” to evaluate and report about the kaleidoscope which is “learning”.


That is only a start towards a new paradigm.  More to come.


Daun Kauffman has been a professional learning facilitator (teacher) in north Philadelphia Public Schools for 14 years.


“Translate this”,                                                                                   as edited at  here.

Emma Lee WHYYNewsWorks

3 thoughts on “Translate this: It’s NOT about learning. . .”

  1. Excellent article Daun. We have to confront the ideology that is putting public education at critical risk. An ideology that is built on a foundation of sand, no evidence based research to support it. The overwhelming influence of the mega wealthy to profit off of the public’s tax dollars is a shameful attack on our children. You can’t attack teachers without it filtering down to attacking our kids. Daun, you bring up an excellent point: When are we going to go back to allowing evidence based research to drive our educational policy and practices? Our political leaders on both sides of the aisle have their heads buried in the sand while their pockets are being filled with dollars to keep the ideology….the public injustice and inequity, alive and well supported.


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