The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 18 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, host

Listen to the audio version of this podcast.



Jennifer Gonzalez: This is Jennifer Gonzalez welcoming you to Episode 18 of the Cult of Pedagogy Podcast. In this episode, I talk to Anthony Cody about how teachers can take an active role in changing the policies that impact their teaching.


[Music playing.]


Gonzalez: My understanding of educational policy is spotty at best, but it has gotten better since I started blogging two years ago, because I discovered pretty quickly that if you’re going to put your opinion out there in the public, it better be based on some facts. And up until about a year and a half ago, I really only had my own limited world.

My experience with the Common Core was as a university instructor. I worked with pre-service teachers and the Common Core was introduced to me as a new set of standards. I looked at them. They seemed fine. My state was an early adopter of them, so I introduced them to my student teachers. I said “We’re going to have to work these into your lesson plans now.” And helped them, you know, learn them and get used to them and that was pretty much it. And then a few years down the line, I started to hear a whole lot of noise about them and I honestly didn’t really know what the problem was at first.

Long story short, my questioning of the whole situation eventually led me to someone named Diane Ravitch, who keeps a really incredible blog going. She updates it I’d say a minimum of ten times a day. Where she basically just — It’s almost like a newsfeed on educational policy, on things that are going on right now. She’s a huge advocate for public schools. She’s pretty strongly anti-charter schools, anti-corporate takeover of public schools. I read her book called Reign of Error, which really was such a good education on what the big controversy is all about.

And one of the people who also writes quite a bit on these issues is someone called Anthony Cody. He kept a blog for Education Week for six years called Living in Dialogue and that’s where he was writing primarily when I first met him online. And one thing that I really liked a lot about Anthony was that even though he was moderating a lot of really heated discussions about issues that got people very, very emotional, any time that I read what he was writing, he was always able to handle things like such a gentleman, which is not easy to find. I found him very good at– When he was faced with an opinion that might have been based on a lack of facts, he was very good at explaining the facts back to the person in a way that didn’t always make them feel embarrassed or defensive and really helped to educate them about whatever was the issue that they were talking about.

So I’ve just really grown to respect Anthony’s work quite a bit. So one of the things I had been thinking about lately, as issues of school takeovers and testing and accountability measures and the Common Core just seem to keep growing and getting worse, and teachers are feeling more and more powerless, these issues impact teachers more than almost anything else right now in schools, and I feel privileged to have learned enough about the issues to at least have some idea of what’s going on and what someone could do. But I feel like someone like Anthony, who now has his own blog — He has moved the Living in Dialogue blog over to its own entity; it’s just — I feel like because he talks about this all the time and he maintains this blog, that he would be the right person to talk to about this, about how ordinary teachers can start to become a little bit more involved.

There are a lot of people who have basically made it their life’s mission now to fight some of these fights and try to change educational policy, but it seems to me that this group is not big enough yet and there are a lot of teachers in the classrooms who might be able to do a little bit more, but they feel powerless. They don’t know exactly what they could do. They fear for the safety of their jobs and also they’re just busy. There’s just too much going on. There’s too much to do and not enough time necessarily to get involved and to learn about all the finer details of the issue. So I asked Anthony if he would come on the podcast and talk to me about some things that teachers can do to get started, to get involved. Maybe not get involved deeply, but what things they could do to start impacting some of these policies that are having such a negative impact on their own teaching.

Before we listen to the interview, I would like to just stop for a moment and ask that if you’ve been a regular listener for awhile and you’re enjoying the interviews and information I’ve shared through this podcast, take a few minutes, go over to iTunes, and give this podcast a rating. I have personally learned so much from the people I have interviewed for this show, and I would love for more people to benefit from them. Building up the reviews will really help put the show out in front of more listeners. So if you could give a review, that would be wonderful. Thanks so much.

Now here’s my interview with Anthony Cody.

The Current State of U.S. Public Education

Gonzalez: Some of the questions that I’m going to ask you are things that I kind of already know the answer to.

Anthony Cody: Sure.

Gonzalez: And others I genuinely don’t know the answers. I think that the people I’m trying to help — I have this theory and this is based on my own personality and my own experiences, and also based on people I know — I think people can be very easily intimated in conversations about policy and reform because they feel like they’re going to be very quickly found out to be ignorant and look stupid and shamed for that. So I’m mostly doing this for them. For people who really are frustrated with their current situation, but just don’t know and are intimidated by getting involved and don’t know what they can do and don’t have time either to really dive in. So a lot of my questions are going to be coming from that perspective.

Cody: Okay.

Gonzalez: Okay. So the main thing I want us to talk about are some of those specific actions they can take. But before we step into that, if you could — and this is partly for listeners outside the US who might not be fully aware of what’s going on in this country for the last ten years or so — I do not expect you to give a ten-year summary, but if you could give, sort of give like an elevator speech of what’s going on right now in this country and why there are so many teachers really feeling so, just so up in arms about the current status.

Cody: Ever since No Child Left Behind, there’s been a really concerted pressure on schools and teachers to produce results in the form of test scores and a sort of unfortunate bipartisan consensus that has shaped around the concept that teachers are the most important variable in affecting student performance. This has led to a whole bunch of policies. You know, I mentioned No Child Left Behind, which was designed to withhold federal funds from schools and school districts that failed to show constant improvement towards one hundred percent proficiency.

And then under the Obama administration, that morphed into Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind waivers, which added in accountability elements down to the individual teacher, based on the idea that teachers have their evaluations include test scores. That’s been one of the requirements of the Obama administration over the last several years. So now in lots of districts across the country, in lots of states across the country, we have tests driving instruction even more. We have teachers’ jobs depending on students’ test scores. And their evaluations depending on those test scores.

So it’s created sort of a pressure cooker situation for teachers, especially those who work in schools where the test scores are low, where there’s high poverty, where there’s English learners, where there’s special education students. These students tend to score lower on tests and don’t perform according to the predictions that the various statisticians who create these value added systems — you know, they don’t really work for some of these populations of students.

So if you happen to get, you know, some special ed students or some English learners in your class, or kids in a high state of poverty or instability in their lives, then you’re likely to see your student test scores drop. And the situation is with these VAM models, you could be in the — actually twenty five percent of teachers in the top quartile one year find themselves in the bottom quartile the next year. So these systems are really unstable and inaccurate at identifying who good teachers are.

In about 2010, we got this movie called Waiting for Superman. The big idea in this was that public schools are broken. That there’s many, many bad teachers out there and that if we could just get rid of the bad teachers, then our test scores will rise. And so this has led to a lot of this, this emphasis on the teacher evaluation with the goal being ridding the classrooms of these bad teachers that are holding back our students.

Gonzalez: Let’s talk for a minute about value added measures. I have been reading your book, and I’ve been reading — we’ll go into more depth about your book in a little while — I’ve been reading a lot about the myth basically of multiple measures.That the idea is — I think this is an initial argument. It was definitely the first thing that I thought of when I heard that teacher evaluations would be based on test scores. I thought “Well, if they could include them as a small component, it would make sense, as long as a lot of other factors were considered.” So what was your response to that, because I thought it was so interesting, the circularity of it.

Cody: Well there’s several big problems with this concept of multiple measures. The biggest problem of it is that in these systems, teachers are also being evaluated by the test scores of the students in their schools. And the principals are handed the data about their teachers. Then you know usually in these multiple measures systems, the other biggest component is the principal’s observation and the principal’s judgement. So here you have a principal who has been handed a list of the teachers who are performing — whose students are performing well. And he’s, he or she knows that their evaluation depends on their aggregate students improving. So then he’s going into the classrooms of the teachers armed with this information of who’s produced good test scores and who’s produced poor test scores. That is expected to be another multiple measure independent of the test scores! Obviously it’s not independent of test scores.

The other problem with the multiple measures idea is that the way that the other metrics are chosen is — You know there’s a chapter in my book where actually Melinda Gates was on Education Nation and she was explaining this whole idea about multiple measures. What she said is that the Gates Foundation funded something called the Measures of Effective Teaching and they researched other indicators to determine which ones correlated closely with increases in test scores. So then that’s what they call valid multiple measures. So basically you have your direct indicators and then you have some indirect indicators that also correlate with test scores. But any indicators that didn’t correlate with high test scores, they didn’t consider to be valid. So there’s a way in which we define a good teacher as one who raises test scores. And then we look for all sorts of indicators, secondary indicators of which teachers that will be, to sort of corroborate the raw data that we’re getting as far as that individual teacher’s test scores. So it ends up still, the system revolves around those test scores because they’re determined to have measurable outputs. That’s what the whole system has to be, otherwise it’s invisible to these metrics people that want something measurable.

Gonzalez: So that is still informing the behaviors of all of the schools. It’s still putting– It’s still the reason that when my kids go to school every day and take a computer class, all they’re really doing in computer class is test prep.

Cody: Yeah, well everything — I was in a meeting a few years ago about an after school program and they said, “Well, we have to make sure that we are looking at our outputs.” You know this was supposed to be a recreational program giving the kids a chance to do sports, to do fun activities, to do theater, whatever — And these district people were bound and determined to make sure that there was something that they could show that would be justifiable on the basis of improved test scores.

Gonzalez: So the kids ended up doing a lot of test prep in the after school program too?

Cody: Yeah, so then they introduced some sort of testing that the students should do.

Overview of Problems with the Common Core

Gonzalez: Okay, before we move into the things teachers can actually do, the last area that I think is worth covering here is Common Core, because if there’s any phrase that is included in a lot of protests, and a lot of actions, it is Common Core. This is actually how you and I first met, basically online, was that I was really just coming into it basically like a deer in the headlights saying “What’s the problem? The Common Core standards seem fine to me.” Because I was only looking at the language of the English Language Arts 6-12 standards. As a Language Arts teacher, they seemed like pretty well-written standards, so that’s when I started learning a whole lot more. I had never heard of Diane Ravitch at that point. I got introduced to this whole world. So I have a lot of sympathy for somebody who still asks that question. So if you could sort of summarize: What exactly is everyone’s beef with the Common Core?

Cody: It’s a really fascinating subject because depending on who you talk to, the beefs can be very different because…

Gonzalez: Yes, I’m glad you mentioned that.

Cody: And really a lot of that has to do with where you are on the political spectrum, what your relationship is to the classroom and so on.

From my point of view, we came out of eight years of No Child Left Behind or maybe even seven years, with it being hugely unpopular. The biggest applause lines during both Clinton and Obama’s campaign trips were when they talked about — when they talked bad about No Child Left Behind. And people forget about that. But No Child Left Behind was hugely unpopular across the country by the time — by 2008. So when Obama came into office, you know Duncan said No Child Left Behind is, you know, he called it something like “brand.” You know the brand is no good. You can’t call it that anymore.

So I think Common Core really was invented to, to allow high-stakes testing to continue under another name. And you know all of the rhetoric about Common Core was really intended to provide a new, better model of high-stakes testing.

If you look at the way that it was advertised from the start, that advertisement was really designed to please people who were dissatisfied with No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind was all multiple choice tests. So with Common Core we were going to get better tests. We were going to get tests that measured critical thinking. We were told, and this has very little basis in truth, that teachers were consulted with the Common Core. You know, we were told that it was going to be so much better. You know a lot of teachers, like yourself, looked at the standards and thought “Wow, there is some demand for critical thinking here. This really does look better.” But the problem really comes, from my point of view as an educator, when you introduce the measurement system attached to it.

I don’t know if you saw Carol Burris’ column just this week, sharing some of the English Language Arts items.

Gonzalez: I didn’t.

Cody: You should look at that because the language in some of these English Language Arts tests. Here’s a, let me read you a sentence. You guess what grade level this is appropriate for.

Gonzalez: Okay.

Cody: Paradoxically, we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.

Gonzalez: I sure hope this is grade eleven or twelve, but I have a feeling you’re going to tell me it’s not.

Cody: No, that’s grade eight.

Gonzalez: Oh goodness.

Cody: So you know and this goes on all the way down. You know she has a whole bunch of similar examples where third graders are given sixth grade material. Fifth graders are given, you know, eighth or ninth grade material. And what we see as a result is that seventy percent of the students who take these tests are rated not proficient.

Gonzalez: Right.

Cody: And this is the real diabolical part of these standards. Because from the rhetoric of No Child Left Behind we got this idea that we were going to try to reach every child, try to lift every child up. And with Common Core we had very similar rhetoric, how we were going to make all students college and career ready. But the reality is the standardized tests have always been used to rank and sort students. And determine who is eligible for opportunities and who is not. And so when seventy percent of the students are declared not proficient, basically those students are being told you’re not ready for a college or a career. So I think that there’s a good reason that a lot of students that are seeing that these standardized tests are not operating in their interest. I think that’s one of the main reasons that teachers are opting out, as well as students.

Gonzalez: And then there’s the connection to — since the standards were presented as “Hey, this is just a framework. All teachers have got whatever freedoms that they want to to implement these however they like.” It wasn’t predicted to be the reality and it has not turned out to be the reality in terms of curriculum actually being dictated.

Cody: Well if you happen to be lucky enough to be in a really privileged community where your students tend to perform really well on these tests anyway, then you’re going to find that you’ll have pretty much a lot of freedom because your students are going to perform well on these tests. But the further you are from that sort of upper middle class ideal, the more you are going to be pressurized as an educator and your students are going to be pressurized students. You’re going to find yourself doing test prep. That’s what you’ll see across the country. You see people adopting programs. You see the school day lengthening so that students can stay on the computers and drill, drill, drill. And the whole idea that because these tests are measuring critical thinking, you cannot do test prep for them is nonsense because people are doing test prep all the time for these tests. And it’s a very narrow. What’s interesting is the way that we redefine a concept like creativity and critical thinking. You know when it is — when you have to put that thinking into a test, it really takes on a whole different appearance and a whole different meaning for the learner. Because if you or I were to think of some ways to measure students’ creativity, I am sure we would come up with some open-ended tasks and the students would come up with a lot of different answers because that’s the whole point of creativity. But if you have to score their critical thinking on a test, then you, by definition, you’re going to have to have convergent thinking. The sort of critical thinking that you’re going to get is “Which of these half right answers is the one that the test creator was most likely to be thinking of?”

Gonzalez: Right.

Cody: That’s a very different, narrow sort of critical thinking. It’s a very authoritarian form of critical thinking as well. Sort of like What do I need to do to stay out of trouble? type of thinking.

Gonzalez: Yes. Now this, all of these conditions have created, especially in some states — and I’m thinking of New York the most because it seems like New York has got the most well-publicized, contentious relationship between — well, New Jersey too, I guess, but — relationship between its public school teachers and the state government, really.

How Teachers Can Take Action

Gonzalez: And so let’s move into some of the things — and I don’t want to pigeonhole it into New York, but I guess I just now finished reading about the robo-call campaign that’s been going on in New York. But I want to start off by just opening it up to whatever you were thinking in terms of what are some things that teachers who are unhappy about these conditions or even any other conditions, who feel powerless, what are some things they can do, some real steps they can start to take?

Cody: Well, I think, you know it’s important that they really inform themselves about what’s going on. And understand who are the players. What are the agendas that are at work? How are our unions being manipulated? How are we being manipulated? How are political leaders being manipulated in a variety of different ways? My book, The Educator and the Oligarch, is sort of a primer on the Gates’ Foundation’s role in all of this. So that would be kind of a good start as a way to kind of grasp the spread of how these ideas and these policies have been successfully introduced across the country.

I think once you’ve, once you’ve gotten informed, you know then it’s really important that you not do anything alone. You know that you look for other people that are like-minded. That you find other people that you could work with in your community or nationally. You know I’m up in a rural county in northern California, but I’m very connected to activists all over the country. So no matter where you are, through the internet, you can connect to other activists and start expressing yourself. Start organizing. You know there are people who are organizing within the NEA and within the AFT. There are people in non-union states that are organizing to try to affect their state legislature.

You know there’s a very active group in Indiana called Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, which is just a group of ten or fifteen people that — some of them are retired teachers. Some of them are active teachers. And they have been very effective at communicating state-wide and lobbying the state legislative up there. They were helpful in getting a National Board Certified teacher who was a librarian, a former librarian named Glenda Ritz as the superintendent of schools in the state.

Gonzalez: How did they do this? Was there someone else sort of in line and they were able to…

Cody: What happened was– That’s an interesting case. It was the state of Indiana, which is a very conservative state overall and the incumbent state superintendent of education was a guy named Tony Bennett. He was friendly with Jeb Bush and he was a full-fledged reformer, very pro-Common Core. I think his association with the Common Core may have hurt him because there’s a lot of more libertarians in Indiana. And so the teachers and parents who were really upset about all the high-stakes testing, were able to really spread the word that this guy was not listening to the public. And she ran a heck of a campaign and they were, they actually got more votes than the governor got. I mean she was the top state-wide vote getter.

But unfortunately what’s happened since then is the Republican-controlled legislature and the government have done everything they could to limit her power. It’s been a big battle because the state — you know, the voters elected her to do her job. And basically since she doesn’t go along with the right-wing outlook on education, they’ve pretty much taken away a lot of her power.

Gonzalez: But they were able to get her in. And I’m thinking that there’s got to be some piece of these types of successes — even though it hasn’t panned out well, it’s a step anyway…

Cody: Oh yeah, it shows, you know, it shows that you can win —

Gonzalez: Right.

Cody: — against big money. There have been races in Los Angeles where the candidate won against big money. I mean Mayor de Blasio won against big money. The problem is, getting somebody elected is — you know, like what happened in New York was de Blasio is a supporter of education. And there the big issue is that the charter schools have been expanding. And they take public school facilities. Sometimes they’ll share the facility, but then they’ll kind of hog a lot of the resources. And so when de Blasio came in, he tried to — all he did was– I think there was a proposal on the table for eight new charter facilities, and he rejected three of the eight. Well the charter school supporters rallied hedge funders who immediately donated about three million dollars for t.v. ads. And they ran these piteous t.v. ads with you know children, big eyed children staring at the screen. “Why does Mayor de Blasio hate us?” You know. And he was forced to back down because they were just bashing him and he was taking a beating in the polls. These folks have a lot of resources, and so we’ve got to keep organizing.

Just like we saw in Chicago where Rahm Emanuel again had pulled out a lot of big money, but there’s a movement afoot and I don’t know when it’s going to emerge into a full-fledged national coherent movement. Part of the problem is until you have something that you think can succeed — everybody remembers Nader and Gore — nobody wants to waste their vote and see another Supreme Court get stacked again.

Gonzalez: It seems like a big piece of this, though, has to do with needing to shift the opinion of the public.This is one of the reasons I wanted us to do this, because sometimes what I see on Twitter and what I see on Diane Ravitch’s blog is I see is almost what appears to be the same circle of people talking to each other and not — there’s almost a code in this conversation where basically everyone understands who we’re referring to and what we’re talking about. If I talk about something that happened two years ago, everybody knows what I mean. And to try to bring in members of the public into that conversation, which I think is a big key to this, there has to be some way to stop talking to each other and start talking to them.

Cody: Yeah.

Gonzalez: So do you see any of that happening? I’m sure any time somebody says something in a public forum, then there’s a greater chance of them reaching more members of the public.

Cody: Sure. Yeah, well you know, we’re trying. You know that was part of the reason I left Education Week was to try to create a more widely available or accessible forum for people to read and to include video and so on.

Gonzalez: Yes.

Cody: But you know it’s an uphill challenge when our only sources of media are blogs.

Gonzalez: Yeah.

Cody: That makes it difficult to reach a mass audience.

Gonzalez: Right.

Cody: The opt-out thing has, because it has thrown a monkey wrench into the works.That’s created an opportunity for some of our voices to be heard on the issue.

Gonzalez: Yes, do you, are you talking about the opt-out movement in general or the specific situation in New York right now?

Cody: Well both. New York, as you said, is kind of the most, the most obvious and extreme example of that. But there were also, you know there were also student walk-outs in Colorado and New Mexico and other places around the country, so it isn’t, it wasn’t just in New York.

Gonzalez:So let’s for the — because I’m doing exactly what I was saying is that everybody’s talking about something that they think obviously everybody already knows what this is — what’s been happening in New York in the last week or so with this robo-call thing?

Cody: Well, you know I had a blog post on my blog a couple of weeks ago when a group, a grassroots group of people were raising money for robo-call. And I’m not sure if that’s the same one that you’re talking about.

Gonzalez: Well, the post that I just saw was on April eleventh, but I thought that there was an update. I guess an organization, or maybe two separate organizations, were robo-calling parents to get them to opt their kids out of some test.

Cody: Yes, yeah, okay. I think it’s the state test.You know, the Smarter Balanced test.

Gonzalez: Okay and that’s a Common Core-based test?

Cody: Yeah, that’s a Common Core test.

Gonzalez: Okay.

Cody: So yeah, they raised, I don’t know how much, about thirty some thousand dollars to try to call every parent in the country, I’m sorry, in the state, and urge them to opt out. And you know I think there were large numbers of parents and students planning to opt-out anyway based on the pattern from last year.

The students in New Mexico just, you know, I don’t think anybody organized them. They just looked at what was happening. I don’t know how they got the word, but they just figured it out. They were supposed to take the PARCC test and they could see that it wasn’t going to be in their interest and so they walked out.

So there’s a lot of — You know the students in New Jersey, in Newark. The Newark Student Union, they’ve organized themselves and become highly informed. You know they have a very sharp understanding of what’s happening in terms of standardized testing and everything. So I think you know I think we’re seeing, as the tests roll out, and as the results come back, people really getting a sharper understanding of what’s happening.

Gonzalez: If a teacher is — see, I can see a high school teacher sort of quietly nudging their students in that direction. I think there probably are a lot of teachers who would be fearful for their jobs…

Cody: Sure.

Gonzalez: …when doing something like that. Is that just a risk they should take or is it — I guess I — how are people getting around that concern?

Cody: Well, I don’t think there’s a — you can’t really get around that concern. You can either take the risk or you can not take the risk. You can think about — there’s ways to take the risk where you can make it less risky. You know, making sure that you have support from other parents, or from your community or from your union. But you can’t just pretend that there’s no risk there.

And you know there are people who are confronting it in a public way, saying “I’m going to go to the school board and I’m going to declare to them that I’m not going to give the test.” They’re called Teachers of Conscience. There are some of them, there were four in the city of Renton, which is near Seattle in Washington. There’s some around the country. But on the other hand, there have been cases were teachers have been suspended, or fired even, for making it public, for declaring that they’re not going to give the test. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly.

Gonzalez: Do you have other examples of teachers or districts that have maybe had success, even if it’s just small success at their local level, of impacting policy?

Cody: Well, you know, I think last year there was a really successful effort at Garfield High School in Seattle where the students and the teachers — actually the teachers — it wasn’t the annual test that they boycotted, but they basically declared that they were not going to administer a district mandated test called the MAP, the Measures of Academic Progress. This was supposed to be used to evaluate the teachers. You know it was one of these computer adaptive tests. And the teachers really communicated well with one another. They voted unanimously as a staff to boycott the test. They got a lot of parent and student support. Because of that, the district didn’t — First, the district said they were going to suspend them for ten days without pay. Ultimately the district ended up doing nothing and only a small fraction of the students took the test. So that was a very successful effort. And I think it sort of shows the way that — It’s really important that teachers communicate clearly with parents and students. Because the propaganda on the other side is that teachers are objecting to these tests because we don’t want to be held accountable.

Gonzalez: Right.

Cody: And so it’s really important that we develop an understanding among the public that we’re not worried about being held accountable. We’re worried about arbitrary tests that actually hurt our students and that are against our students’ interests. That’s our primary motivation in objecting to this. It isn’t because we’re trying to save our skins.

Gonzalez: Right, and that’s the impression that I had. I can remember that Seattle protest. That was one of the first times — I guess they got a lot of pictures of some of their more public activities and that, to be honest, that was my initial reaction. Some of the people that I have taught with have been pretty ineffective, basically, and would really resist any attempts to — even just within our school — to try something new. And I don’t mean something, a new innovation from without, I just mean, “Why don’t we try this?” And their attitude was always just, “These kids suck” and “Their parents don’t care.” “I need to keep my lunch break.” It was just a lot of very self-serving language that was not really in the interest of the students. I just think that I just happen to have taught with a lot of people like that. So when I first saw the pictures of the people in Seattle, that’s kind of what I thought too, until I educated myself more about the issues.

Cody: Yeah, well you know — I mean, we have a lot of work to do in terms of educating our colleagues and educating the public. About how to — what does really high-quality assessment look like? Because I think we’re getting this false, this illusion that these tests are rigorous.

Gonzalez: Yeah.

Cody: Really these tests are the lowest common denominator of learning, you know, and if we want genuine rigor, we should look at schools like the New York Performance Standards Consortium, where they have students do a really high quality portfolio that they have to defend before they graduate. You know students really have to produce high quality work and they have to show their competence. That’s a much more rigorous level of performance than taking one of these tests on the computer.

Gonzalez: Right.

Cody: And it’s much better preparation for the real world.

Gonzalez: So I’m going to try to recap some of the stuff that we’ve talked about already. One suggestion for someone who wants to get a little more active is to just get more informed, learn more about the overall, the big picture, and then learn more about where the seats of power are in your own circles, your own district, your own state. Are there any centralized resources where a person who’s really kind of clueless about who’s in charge of what? You know, where would they begin to find out actually how these things happen at their own, in their own state or —

Cody: Facebook has become a really great way to network. If you’re on Facebook, you can kind of snoop around and see where the active people are and what groups they belong to. You know, different areas there are different groups that are very active. You know in some areas it might be a Save Our Schools group. It might be an opt-out group. It might be– There might be Educators for Social Responsibility. There might be — you know the Badass Teachers Association has state chapters. So those are all kind of networks to kind of plug into. The Network for Public Education is holding our conference this coming weekend, April 25th and 26th, in Chicago. We’re going to be live streaming that so you can see some of the workshops and some of the keynotes from that event. Diane Ravitch is going to be interviewing Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen García, the presidents of the AFT and NEA. So that should be interesting on Sunday morning.

Gonzalez: Okay that’s going to be onstage, onstage interviews?

Cody: Yeah.

Gonzalez: Okay. That does sound interesting.

Cody: Yeah.

Gonzalez: Maybe, because this is still one of the first things you’re suggesting, as far as getting informed. Maybe through e-mail you and I can create a nice list of links for people to just start exploring in terms of all these different networks. That’ll help with that. Okay, so getting informed is one. It sounds like some of the things you’re telling me have to do with opting out or pushing for opt outs is another avenue for having an influence.

Cody: Sure. There’s a national group called United Opt Out. It has a lot of information related to opt out. There’s a group called Fair Test that has a lot of information about what’s going on around the country. They have a weekly bulletin that they send out that has state by state sort of news updates about what’s happening. So those would both be good places to start and of course you know if you can, if there’s- it’s possible to run for office in your local union, that’s an avenue of activism as well. Or go to the rep assemblies. There’s always action there.

Gonzalez: Okay, good. Any other suggestions for a teacher or groups of teachers who want to start getting a little more involved, before we move on to talk about your book?

Cody: You know there’s local school board races as well. I’m just thinking about what’s happening in your community. If it’s possible to have an impact there. Some of the big corporate money is flowing into local school board races now, so it’s very important that we support candidates that are willing to defend public education.

Gonzalez: So let’s, before we close, you mentioned your book, but let’s mention it again: The Educator And The Oligarch. And this was written last year, published last fall, correct?

Cody: Yes.

Gonzalez: Okay and why don’t I just give you the floor to talk about what your book is. I’m about halfway through it right now and I’m really enjoying it.

Cody: Yeah, well it’s written to be very accessible. It’s not you know it’s not written in academic or policy speak. It’s written from the point of view of a classroom teacher because I did teach in Oakland for eighteen years. And really, I discovered as, you know as I got more active in education policy that the Gates Foundation was really behind a lot of the bad initiatives, the reform initiatives that I was finding most troublesome, especially around the use of promoting high-stakes tests. And so I started investigating more and the book really takes you inside of how is it that the Gates Foundation has been so effective. How have they directed their money towards think tanks, towards lobbying? Towards…sort of fomenting these astroturf groups that will show up, teachers that will show up to testify in support of laws that strip them of due process, you know? And what are the things that drive Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation’s work, and what’s wrong with that?

I think as you become active, it’s really valuable to be able to articulate what’s — what does really good work look like and what are the conditions we need to defend and protect and nurture good teaching, good learning, good teacher professional growth? What is wrong with this idea of using student test scores to determine who’s a good and who’s a bad teacher? So the book really goes into depth on all of that and tries to find creative ways to poke holes in the arguments that we hear so often from Arnie Duncan or Bill Gates or any of the other paid representatives of corporate reform.

Gonzalez: I think that’s an interesting point that — it sounds like this is what you’re saying, that if you’re going to criticize something out there that is being offered as a solution, you need to be able to clearly identify what you think should be done instead.

Cody: Yeah, and you know hopefully if you’re a teacher, hopefully at some point in your career, you’ve experienced the positive aspects of working with your colleagues, of growing as a professional, and you know, really achieving insights of being a better teacher. And if you think about what were the circumstances that surrounded that, how can we — when I think, when I go to writing about this, I always go back to the work that I did at Bret Harte Middle School with my colleagues and the work that I did across the district in Oakland. And how were we able to bring people together to look at their practice, to be self-critical, to really embrace new ideas. And you know it isn’t easy, but we have, we do understand, I think, the idea that the teaching profession has no clue about how to do this is completely false. There are some really great models that people have done for years and been very successful. So we have to really treasure those, really highlight them and share them as alternatives to this sort of top-down, measurement-driven, profit-driven, competition-driven model.

Gonzalez: If you, if you could sort of predict, I guess — If everything went the way that you would really like to see things going, what do you imagine could be the thing that really does change things for the better? Whether it’s a new candidate in office, or–

Cody: Well, yeah, unfortunately I don’t see any of the new candidates — at least neither of the two primary candidates that we see or nobody on the Republican side — I’m afraid nobody on the Democratic side. At least we only have one that looks like. I don’t think she’s very likely to offer much hope in this dimension.

I think there’s two things. I think that the opt-out movement shows the fragility of the testing movement in that even more than most systems, it really requires the active cooperation of millions and millions of students. And so to the extent that they become disenchanted with the system, they can very easily break it by simply withdrawing their cooperation. So that’s really positive. I think the other thing to realize is just that education is a subset of our social, political, economic environment. It’s not a coincidence that corporate reform has been ascendant at the same time that wealth and power have accrued to the one percent or the top tenth of the one percent. You know these two things go hand in hand. So really a reversal of corporate education reform will require some fairly broad-based social resistance to that control. I think teachers need to consider that and support and relate to a movement that challenges, you know, Citizens United challenges the corporate bribery in our electoral system, that challenges the concentration of wealth. Because ultimately as long as that wealth and power is so highly concentrated, teachers will find ourselves in the same lot as other working people, subject to decisions made by powerful people with lots of political power.

I think we have a problem in our — of paralysis because people do not see viable avenues for their activism and so it’s really important to offer organizations and avenues for grassroots activism because I think that’s where people get feelings of satisfaction that they’re not really powerless and subject to you know complete control. But they can step up and act in concert with others.

Gonzalez: Anything else you want to add before we close?

Cody: No, my blog is Living in Dialogue. The national network that I work with is the Network for Public Education and our website is

Gonzalez: What’s your twitter handle?

Cody: My twitter is @anthonycody.

Gonzalez: Thank you so much.

Cody: All right.

Gonzalez: This has been, I really appreciate this.

Cody: You’re welcome.

[music playing]

Gonzalez: To learn more about how you can start actively influencing educational policy, go to, click “Podcast,” and go to episode 18. You’ll find a nice long list of resources and links to get you started.

Thanks for listening and have a great day. ♦


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