Joel Klein’s veracity was challenged–shredded might be a better word–in a recent article in The American Prospect. The best line in the piece was “Klein didn’t overcome demographic odds; he fulfilled them.” The powerful, eviscerating truth of this simple line erases every last vestige of credibility The Legend of Klein ever had.

Michelle Rhee’s breathless claims of atypical results with her students likewise crumbled under further examination.

Arne Duncan’s miracle school actually wasn’t miraculous at all.

Barack Obama’s example of a miracle school was a better example of impatiently optimistic baloney.


The Houston Miracle was a fraud. The only miracle is that no one went to jail.

The New York Miracle really did result in more kids passing their tests, but the eye-popping results were obtained by educrats quietly lowering scores they called passing.

The Atlanta Miracle has been debunked and a thorough investigation revealed systemic cheating.

El Paso’s gains were shown to involve creative kid shuffling.

Rhee’s DC schools miracle is tainted by allegations of cheating, but her successor and friends at the US Department of Education appear to be working overtime to prevent a thorough investigation that might harm her brand and knock the wheels off of her privatization juggernaut.

You read right: I suspect that the DC cheating “investigation” (or lack of legitimate, thorough, independent variety thereof) hints at a conspiracy that reaches all the way to the very top of the US Department of Education, a conspiracy in which education movers and shakers not only stick their heads in the sand and ignore a litany of lies and cheats, but also force everyone else’s heads into the sand, simply so we cannot conclude from the facts that Rhee is a false prophet and her gospel is a sham meant to lead us not to test score nirvana but into the waiting arms of hungry educapitalists.

These reformers should carry with them a disclaimer like you see on commercials for miracle weight loss cures: “Results are atypical.” Nothing they have done has objectively worked.

Essentially, school vouchers, parent triggers, merit pay, value-added ratings, for-profit online charters and the rest of the canon of today’s reform orthodoxy are the public policy equivalents of ThighMasters and CortiSlim (no offense intended to the makers of ThighMaster or CortiSlim). They come with big promises, coordinated efforts to control media coverage, big promotional pushes (sometimes including major Hollywood nonblockbusters), and a glaring lack of real, independently-verified efficacy. As we jerk our attention from one bad idea to the next–ideas from Bill Gates’s failed small schools initiative, to Michelle Rhee’s now-gutted IMPACT program, to the quickly-curdling idea of letting for-profit online charter school chains like Book of Virtues author Bill Bennett’s not-so-virtuous K-12 Inc. take over chunks of our education system–we are ultimately left with a dusty collection of education policy exercise bikes on which we can hang our clothes.

How much energy and money and morale will we waste following these pied pipers of educapitalism?

When something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Finally and really reforming education in the United States won’t include any silver bullets: it will include a long hard slog that looks seriously at social policy instead of longingly at the glittery, substance-challenged world of edu-technocratic faddish-ism/silver bulletism.

You know what’s too good to be true? The idea that we can take kids who live in terrible conditions (which, by the way, we consciously choose to permit and incubate) and–without lifting a finger to improve those conditions–we can inject this or that instructional technique and get comparable academic results with them as with healthy kids who live in stable homes nestled in neighborhoods with libraries and little leagues instead of drugs and dysfunction.

I’m a modern school reform heretic. I think their saints are fakirs. I deny the inerrancy of their holy formulas. Their miracles are mere deceptions. I believe their priesthood is illegitimate, that it stands in the service of Mammon and not of children or truth or national improvement of any kind.

This corporate education reform business is not science in the least. It is a religion built on perverse incentives; it is a profitable cult of mutual delusion.

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