Who is Dr. Marzano?

Meet Dr. Robert Marzano.


Dr. Marzano calls himself an education expert.  His specialities include competency-based education and teacher observation.

Dr. Marzano, who has long been in the education reform business, recently acquired the Reinventing Schools Coalition.

According to the recently revamped Reinventing Schools website (they dropped the “Coalition” because “RISC” sounded too risky), their “story begins in the early 1990s in a rural Alaskan school district comprised of a native population as well as other groups.”

All sorts of miracles happened, “news about the dramatic success in a small Alaskan town traveled far and fast and Chugach received the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2001.”

Now read here to learn what really happened in Alaska.  (Hint: The Gates Foundation, who funded the start-up of the Reinventing Schools Coalition, was part of the project the whole time, and the award was planned.)

Dr. Marzano now offers a suite of consulting services for districts looking to implement competency-based  education, which is especially convenient because the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act offers a pile of money for states to move to this type of system.

Here’s a map showing states where Marzano is currently at work.


If you don’t see yours highlighted in red, be on the lookout.  Competency-based bills are coming at us fast and furious.

Marzano also recently endorsed a tool called iObservation that administrators can use to monitor how closely teachers’ practice aligns to his theories of good practice.

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The internet is now awash in teachers anonymously voicing their concern with this system.  Here’s a sample of what you’ll find:

  • I have been teaching over 20 years. My experience with this new evaluation system has been overwhelming to the point of getting physically ill. In my opinion this is not a fair system to evaluate a teacher. I think someone must be making a lot of money with all these workshops and the materials that go with it. I also think is a way of replacing teachers with more years of experience and a higher salary.

  • I think it would be more enjoyable to read a legal document than this garbage!

  • This is undoubtedly distracting  from my ability to teacher student well. Most of my time is spent on the process and requirements of Marzanos system rather than preparing, planning and actually teaching my students.

  • I have been overwhelmed by the requirements imposed by iObservation. The workshops and forms required take away from the time I would be giving to my students. I am most angry regarding the amount of money our district is spending and what the Marzano organization is reaping.

  • If we don’t simplify this, there will be a lack of teachers in the nation cause the word is spreading and college students are getting frustrated before getting into the classroom and dropping out. We need to work hard without slavery!

  • How is this making me a better teacher? MOST of the Marzano strategies are nothing new -just repackaged and sold to our school for a nice price. What a racket!

The Withering Apple writes, “The only thing about Marzano’s “research” that can be independently verified is that it’s main purpose is to make money, and lots of it.”

And it’s not just anonymous teachers who are voicing their concerns about Marzano’s work.  Alfie Kohn writes that Marzano is abusing research.  Justin Baeder writes in Education Week that he is “staggered by the hubris embodied in Marzano’s claims.”

And yet.

In 2012, Marzano Research Laboratory received a contract from the U.S. Department of Education to establish a new Regional Education Laboratory, where Dr. Marzano will serve as executive director.

You read that right.  Our federal tax dollars are paying for Marzano to conduct the highly questionable research that he will then use to turn a profit.

Of course, we shouldn’t be shocked. Using our tax money to develop and sell snake oil is par for the course for the U.S. Department of Education.













Why “Innovation” is Ed Reformers’ Favorite Word

The Council for Chief State School Officers runs the Innovation Lab Network. The recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act allows Innovative Assessment Systems. Bellwether Education encourages states to create “Offices of Innovation.”

The word “innovative” is beloved by education reformers.

But why

The answer lies in the work of Clayton Christensen.

In “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” Christensen first proposed his now-famous theory that certain products or services are so “disruptive” to the status quo that they eventually displace established competitors. (Think Amazon.com disrupting the publishing industry.)

In an article in the New Yorker called “The Disruptive Machine,” Harvard historian Jill Lepore describes the extraordinary reach of his theory:

“If the company you work for has a chief innovation officer, it’s because of …“The Innovator’s Dilemma.” If your city’s public-school district has adopted an Innovation Agenda, which has disrupted the education of every kid in the city, you live in the shadow of “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”

Lepore is highly critical of Christensen’s theory, suggesting that it does not hold up to scrutiny.  Scholars from MIT are similarly unimpressed.

Christensen is defensive of his theory, but recognizes its potential for manipulation. In the Bloomberg Business Review, he explains:

“I never thought … that the word disruption has so many connotations in the English language, that people would then flexibly take an idea, twist it, and use it to justify whatever they wanted to do in the first place.”

And yet this appears to be precisely the way Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation collided with education reform.

In the forward of Disrupting Class: How Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learn, Christensen tells us that he was drawn into the field of education when a reform network called “Education Evolving,” led by long time reformer Ted Kolderie, came to him with the following request:

“Clay, if you could just stand next to the world of public education and examine it through the lenses of your research on innovation, we bet you could understand more deeply how to improve our schools.”

Kolderie has long been a quintessential ed reformer, with a fervent commitment to tearing down straw men that can be replaced with technology and charter schools.

In “How Information Technology Can Enable 21st Century Schools,” Kolderie writes that school is currently “designed around the adult,” and that it is “quite common to hear people talk about delivering education.”

(Do you smell the rat?)


He continues: “Today, however, IT is enabling organizations of all kinds to move from mass production to mass customization.”

The concept of technology-mediated, personalized learning is, of course, far from innovative.  In 1974, former Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Robert Scanlon, was calling for the very same “innovation”:

“The objectives of individualized instruction can be used as a basis for designing educational technology. How these devices will be made more cost- effective by new miniaturizations and transistors remains a question, but plans for their utilization must begin now.”

When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was reauthorized in December, Senator Lamar Alexander – a long time admirer of Kolderi – said: “It will unleash a flood of excitement and innovation and student achievement that we haven’t seen in a long time.”

You could almost make a drinking game out of it.





Great Schools Partnership and the Covert Agenda of Assessment Reform

During a required workshop on proficiency-based education this Monday, I spent most of the day moving between anger and awe at the way this billionaire-funded agenda has made its way so seamlessly into our gymnasium, into every school in Maine.

Research to support proficiency-based education does not yet exist, so we were given a copy of the “Ten Principles of Proficiency-Based Learning” instead.

This document, produced by the Great Schools Partnership, states that “students can demonstrate learning progress and achievement in multiple ways through differentiated assessments, personalized-learning options, or alternative learning pathways” and that “students are given opportunities to make important decisions about their learning, which includes contributing to the design of learning experiences and personalized learning pathways.”

The principles match those found in the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s and the American Legislative Exchange Council’s “Ten Elements of High Quality Digital Learning.

Funded almost exclusively by the Gates and Nellie Mae Education Foundations, Great Schools Partnership claim to be experts in proficiency-based education.  They collect fees from districts across the state to consult on the implementation of this model, including the design of professional development sessions like the one we attended Monday.

Gates and Nellie Mae also fund Great School’s sister group, Educate Maine, which was formed for the express purpose of lobbying for Maine’s proficiency-based diploma mandate in 2012.  This mandate is now listed as model legislation for the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

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Directed by David Ruff, who has recently assumed a prominent role in education reform circles, Great Schools Partnership is now leading the nation in the shift to proficiency-based education.

In 2012, at a conference put on by the Coalition for Essential Schools, Ruff gave a presentation titled “Political Advocacy for Practitioner-Based Performance Assessment” with Dan French of the Center for Collaborative Education.

He also advised  former Gates executive and venture capitalist, Tom Vander Ark, on the value of proficiency-based diplomas as “leverage points” in reform.  In “Navigating the Digital Shift,” Vander Ark recommends that all states adopt similar mandates.

Ruff and French each appear to have become connected with Vander Ark and the Gates Foundation in the early 2000’s.  Deborah Meier and French were recipients of a grant to form the “Change Leadership Group” housed at Harvard University Graduate School, while Ruff was a member of the commission that led Maine’s “Promising Future’s” reform effort.

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Sixteen years later, the connections remain.

While Vander Ark’s agenda to push our country toward a digital-based system is clear, the role of the Great Schools Partnership and the Center for Collaborative Education is more covert.

Each of these organizations advocate assessment reform that blends occasional summative testing with ongoing, performance-based formative assessment. In this system, teachers assign “common assessments” and then enter proficiency levels into a data management system.

On Monday, we listened to Power Points and videos on the incompetence of our current grading practices and the need to move to one that is proficiency-based.

An hour or so into the morning session, a teacher raised her hand and asked if there would be an opportunity for us to ask questions.

Not until the afternoon, we were told – but there was a “parking lot” where you could put a question on a sticky note for the committee to review later.

And so we sat in silence, watching Power Points and video clips, including one from a fellow named Douglas Reeves, who was charged with indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 back in 2006.  Reeves was eventually acquitted of this crime, but not until it surfaced that he had been convicted and served jail time for securities fraud in the ‘90’s.

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Reeves, it turns out, is one of Great Schools Partnership’s go-to’s for “research” on ethical grading practice.

In the afternoon session, we did finally have a chance to ask questions and voice our concerns – but not to have them answered.  The questions went up on a piece of chart paper and were told, again, that they would be “reviewed” by the committee.

I asked if they knew Reeves was a criminal.

Just kidding.

What I really asked is when and how they planned to answer our questions, and if teachers would get to be involved in any of the answering.

I’ll let you know when we get a response.



Personalizers On the March

Last year, public school districts across the country fell victim to a coordinated assault by next-gen ed reformers.

These billionaire-backed reformers from the upper echelons of Corporate America weaseled their agenda to transform our education system into one that is personalized and competency-based (and thus dependent upon digital technology) into every document that counted in 2015: the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Obama’s Testing Action Plan, the National Educational Technology Plan, the Teach PLUS agenda, and so on.

Even Mark Zuckerberg (despite my pleas for him to reconsider) jumped on the personalized learning bandwagon in 2015.

Never mind the fact that entire states, quietly used by these reformers as personalized learning labs, have failed to generate these reformer’s desired proof points.  Never mind that the latest Gates-funded “research” hailing the “promise” of personalized learning has been called into question by the National Educational Policy Center.

They are marching ahead anyway.




Now, with the backbone of federal legislation in place and an army of legislators rapidly introducing competency-based and digital badging bills in their respective states, parents, teachers, and students are waking up to find large swaths of their local district’s budgets being siphoned off by corporations to make their dream of digital learning for all a reality.

In this blog post, an anonymous teacher in Baltimore writes that Baltimore County Public Schools has recently undertaken a 270 million dollar technology initiative called STAT for “Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow,” with the goal of setting up a one-to-one computer tablet and online learning program for its 110,000 students in order to offer “personalized learning” for every student.

“No input has been garnered from parents,” the teacher writes, “and the expectation is that teachers will fully embrace the program without question.”

(Maine teachers and parents, does this sounds familiar?)

“This is taking place in a school district that is in desperate need of improvements to infrastructure, transportation, class size reduction, and social programs, issues that have been financially pushed to the side in favor of STAT,” (s)he writes.

“Fifty-two county schools lack air conditioning, and district-wide closures due to excessive heat have become an issue with a school year that begins in August and ends in mid-June. Enrollment and class size have been steadily growing, with school construction lagging far behind.”

In Baltimore and across the country, personalized learning “is being presented to constituents as the solution to close the equity gap in education.”

Meanwhile, in the Land of Reality, reformers continue to suck more money from places it is most needed to line the pockets of those who already have too much.



Hey Kids, Don’t Go To College.

We know from Rex Tillerson of Exxon-Mobile and Jamie Meristotis of the Lumina Foundation that those at the top of the economic food chain view our children as products to be used by corporations to boost their bottom line.

(Sometimes they find those products to be defective, and that’s frustrating for them.)

We also know that there is big, huge, major money to be made in the student loan industry, and that if we could just get every kid to take to take out a loan, well then…


So what happens when you combine the agendas of the widget-makers with that of the student loan predators?

You get videos like this, which encourage students not to go to college – because that doesn’t always pay off and who needs all that literature and philosophy and history stuff anyway – but instead to get some type of secondary credential that better aligns with the “needs” of the workforce, which is apparently in peril because everything is so darn misaligned right now.
Check out the propaganda below that was shown to parents in the Westmoreland School District in Pennsylvania:



Then go take out a loan for your very first digital badge:


The Future Makers

In September 2013, the Center for the Future of Museums and The Henry Ford Foundation invited a group of “policy experts, practitioners, funders, education innovators, reformers, student activists and others shaping the conversation about U.S. education” to a conference at National Building Museum in Washington, DC.

According to Elizabeth Merritt, founding director of CFM and a “professional museum futurist,” they were invited “in response to forecasts from CFM and other futures organizations that America is on the cusp of transformational change in the educational system.”

If you weren’t aware that there are powerful groups that forecast (plan) our future for us, read here for more.  Essentially, these groups, including Global Education Futures and KnowledgeWorks – both of which work with organizations as high up the chain as UNESCO – get together to create maps of the future they envision for the rest of us.

Curiously, despite their rhetoric of innovation and “disruptive” ideas, these forecasters all seem to have the very same vision of the future: doing away with our education system as we know it and replacing it with a digitalized, personalized-standardized, data-cized, competency-based system.

Oddly enough, this just so happens to be the same vision that giant corporations like Microsoft, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Exxon-Mobile have projected for us, along with members of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Oh – and the US. Department of Education.

Merritt, of course, and her fellow futurists, are well aware of the corporate-driven push toward this new type of education system, where students carry around “digital backpacks” carrying their personal information.  In this system – which is rapidly being built with the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – non-teachers certify whether or not students have mastered enough Common Core Standards to earn digital badges, while a gold rush of data, cash and control flows to those at the top.

(It is, as I wrote here, no coincidence that the Peanuts Museum is Common Core aligned. )

Given all of this, it should be no surprise to anyone that this document from the Center for the Future of Museums predicts “the end of the neighborhood schools,” gushes about Khan Academy’s “learning analytics” and mind-reading technology, and is filled with references to all of our favorite ed reformers – Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, the National Governors Association, etc.

If you’re brave, you may also wish you check out one of the stories that was circulated at the meeting in September, which describes the life of a girl living in California in 2037.  Moya and her brother live in a “self-directed” capital-C learning Community, where they use Khan Academy Plus to “level up,” earn badges, and compete for rewards from corporations.

According to Merritt, “Exploring these possible futures helps us prepare for circumstances museums will contend with in coming decades. By challenging assumptions about education (universal; free; public; taking place in schools; directed by teachers), it makes us realize how very different things could be.”

Who knew a “museum futurist” could give us such insight into what is currently happening to our public schools?

At least they let us see into their magic ball.



Trust Us, It’s For the Kids.

The Charles M. Schulz Museum is Common Core aligned.

This means that when kindergartners take a field trip to learn about Snoopy, parents can rest assured that their children are actually learning something.



Just kidding.

What it really means is that parents can rest assured that their child will be contributing to the digital learning cash cow that Wall Street and venture capitalists are banking on.

One of the loftiest dreams of next-gen ed reformers is that children will be able to “learn” anytime, anywhere – at museums, the grocery store, the hair salon – anywhere that is willing to align whatever it does to “standards,” while collecting information about your child and entering it into a tracking system.

Here’s how Mitchell Robinson, founder of Span Learning and former Senior Advisor for Nonprofit Partnerships for the U.S. Department of Education, explains it:

 Jenae spends Thursday afternoons this semester at the museum of natural history following a course of study that was jointly designed by her school science teachers and museum staff. Her work is organized in an online digital backpack that also includes logs of her activities, results of her online quizzes, and a digital portfolio of her completed work. The museum education coordinator reviews Jenae’s work, enters evaluation notes in the digital backpack, and then marks off when Jenae has earned badges for demonstrating mastery of each course unit. When all her badges are completed, the school science teacher reviews the digital backpack and certifies that Jenae has earned her science credit for that semester.

And all you need to do to make this work is buy our digital, personalized learning products!

From the same document:

 Heather leads a community-based after-school program at the local Boys & Girls Club. She has a master of social work degree and seven years of experience at the Club, but she’s not a curriculum expert and used to spend hours each week on lesson planning. Heather is thrilled that now each day she can log-in to her computer and personalized lesson plans for each student are ready to go, jump-starting her planning for the afternoon

You don’t even have to talk to the kids if you don’t want to!

 Alexander’s volunteer Big Brother used to greet him with questions that are repeated every day across the country: “What did you do at school today? What do you have for homework? What do you need help with?” Now instead of relying on Alexander’s self-reporting, his mentor pops up his iPad and can see what he worked on today.

As for data sharing, here’s what Robinson says:

 These systems can also embed parental consents required to share school records and education data between schools and community partners.

Yep – just check the little “agree” box right here, and for a low, low fee, we’ve got you covered:


Okay.  I’m being serious now.

Take another look at this diagram from Global Education Futures that I wrote about here, and see if it’s all starting to make a little more sense:



Don’t be.  It’s for the kids.




Click to access blendedcbo.pdf

















United Way to Parents: Give Us Your Gold

If you haven’t heard yet, data is the new gold, and next-gen ed reformers can’t wait to get their hands on as much of it as they can.

Digital and online learning providers want this gold to “personalize” their computerized instruction; Wall Street wants it to prove that their social impact bonds are “working;” testing companies want it because people are paying them big money for it; and corporations want it so they can track and influence what kinds of products the public schools churn out for them.

Unfortunately for the miners, there are a few pesky barriers preventing them from having full access to your children’s personal information, including the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which prevents third parties from accessing student information without written consent from parents.

To get around this law, United Way of Salt Lake City, which has recently partnered with an organization called “StriveTogether” – a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks Foundation that has received millions from the Gates Foundation – is now encouraging parents to sign a form waiving their FERPA rights.

They’ve even put together a video to convince parents just how important it is that they give up their children’s personal information to just about any organization in the city that wants it – including the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce (see Prosperity 2020 below):

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Watch the video that is being shown to parents in Salt Lake, and brace yourself for something similar that is no doubt coming to a community near you very soon:



And don’t let them make out like bandits!


What Really Happened in Alaska?

If you didn’t know better, you might think that whatever happened in the Chugach School District in Alaska over a decade ago was a full-blown, ed-reform miracle.

“This district literally leaves no child behind,” gushes Edutopia in this article, which describes the big jump in test scores its students made after switching to a competency-based system of education.

As tends to be the case with legends of ed reform, however, it doesn’t take a whole lot of digging for the whole thing to unravel.

First you find out that the only thing this district has in common with most American school districts is that it happens to be located on Planet Earth.

In Chugach, 214 students live in tiny villages spread out among 22,000 square miles. Students must be flown by private aircraft to reach school sites, and a majority of students are actually home-schooled.

Then you keep digging, and it all starts to get weird.

Like really weird.

You find out, for example, that the entire district was literally used as a lab for a group of students working toward their doctorates at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who served in administrative roles within the district while studying the implementation of a “quality schools model” based on principles of the business-oriented Malcolm Baldrige Award.

Then you find the application Chugach submitted for this award, and you discover that the Gates Foundation and Apple were helping to finance the whole thing.

And so you begin to wonder if maybe there was a broader agenda playing out in this rural Alaskan community.

You also find out that Tom Vander Ark – who visited Chugach in 1999 as executive director of education for the Gates Foundation before acquiring a massive venture capital portfolio of digital and online learning companies – was so pleased with what he saw in Chugach that he awarded few million dollars to get the whole thing to “scale up.”

Then you keep reading the application that the Chugach administrators submitted for the Malcolm Baldrige Award , and you stumble across strange comments like this:

 The leadership team sets value for all stakeholders by requiring their input and constant evaluation of the organization.For example, community members helped to create standards. “We want our kids to enjoy what they are learning while hey are learning, and to have a good humor in life,” said a Tatitlek Elder attending OTE meetings. These words are clearly reflected in CSD standards P/S Level 2.5 Demonstrates responsible use of humor.

…and you wonder how much input the Alaskan natives actually had in this whole endeavor.

After a little more digging, you also discover a document from an unrelated researcher who has written about a district that matches the description of Chugach but uses the pseudonym “Tikishla” to protect identities, and you learn that the superintendent of this district made a variety of  disturbingly grandiose claims that sound as though they come straight from this creepy document.

Here’s one:

You have to create the future. It takes a very rare individual to be able to have a vision to create that future, how to make it a better system. And for whatever reason, those people have not been in a leadership role. So they are looking at what we’ve done and analyzing it.

Apparently, this superintendent also believed it was his role to articulate his vision to stakeholders and enlist them as a “team of evangelists that go out and sell the dream for you.’’

Even more disturbingly, you discover that these “evangelists” described above were later invited to your home state of Maine to present at the annual superintendent’s conference, just before setting up shop as the newly formed “Reinventing Schools Coalition” (with big financial help from the Gates and Nellie Mae Foundations) to begin reworking schools in your own back yard.

Including the one where you were planning to send your own son.

And so you begin to get the sense that Chugach and the native Alaskans it is home to were actually being very deliberately used in a giant experiment that would one day serve as a prototype for the drive toward competency-based education that is now sweeping our nation.

It also makes you wonder when you read documents like this from a group called “Partnership for Change” based in Vermont – which claims that their reforms are homegrown when they are actually financed by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation  – whether or not the same type of thing that happened in Chugach is now happening beneath our noses here in New England.

Then you find out that a consultant group called Bellwether Education, which works with Gates and Nellie Mae, actually advocates setting up these types of non-profit groups to trick the public into believing that their reform ideas are coming from the community, and you decide that yes – this is most likely what is happening.

Then it dawns on you:

Our schools are being colonized.