Substance Archive

The Resistance | January 2003 Issue

Terroristic threats by Bush education advisor

By Susan Ohanian

On November 18, 2002, Reid Lyon announced, “If there was any piece of legislation that I could pass it would be to blow up colleges of education.” We’ll get to the context of the remark a bit later, but first let’s look at Lyon’s Chicago connections.

Reid Lyon, Chief Child Development and Behavior Branch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, is no stranger to Chicago. Just five days after making his infamous “blow up the colleges of education” remarks, he offered a keynote address, “In Celebration of Science in the Study of Reading Development, Reading Difficulties, and Reading Instruction,” at Chicago’s All City Conference “Helping All Students Achieve,” sponsored by the Office of Specialized Services and The Special Education Leadership Academy in collaboration with the offices of Professional Development and The Chicago Reading Initiative. Whew! Quite a mouthful.

If teachers coughed up the $60 registration fee, they could earn up to five CPDUs — and they got a choice of salmon, chicken, or vegetable lasagna for lunch. The registration form kind of says it all: Listed at the top of the form is Mayor Richard M. Daley. Underneath comes the Board of Education, and then Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan and the other city education executives.

Is there any other city in America where the mayor gets top billing on an education conference registration form?

Reid Lyon’s credentials listed on the program included this information: “He is currently responsible for transmitting the research findings and scientific discoveries of the National Institutes of Health relevant to the health and education of children to the White House, the United States Congress and other governmental agencies.”

One can only speculate how many times he’s told them to blow up the colleges of education.

This wasn’t the first time Lyon and Daley had teamed up. In April 2001, Lyon served as a member of the Mayor’s Reading Round Table. Other panel members included: Edward J. Kame’enui, Louisa C. Moats, Susan B. Neuman, and Jean H. Osborne, names very familiar to those battling the imposition of direct instruction and imposed teaching scripts.

In a question and answer format, Mayor Daley asked, “What do you think should be our goals: first, for helping our youngest children to learn; and second, for teaching reading to children in the primary grades?”

In his reply, Reid Lyon gave a gentler/kinder precursor to his “blow up the colleges of education” statement.

“ Mr. Mayor, we know a great deal about what it will take to achieve those goals. We have a fairly strong idea of how children learn to read. We have a good idea of what goes wrong when they don’t. And we have a very good idea about which kids are most susceptible to that type of failure, and we know a great deal about what to do about it.

“ The goals directly are to make sure that every youngster is able to read well enough so that they enjoy what they’re reading and they can read to learn. And that requires a fairly complicated process. And that requires that teachers be prepared adequately to make sure they have those abilities. We know how to do that. The disappointing fact over the last many years has been we can’t close the gap between what we know how to do and how we can provide our schools and teachers with that information so that they can carry it out effectively.”

Then to pound home the point about inadequate schools of education, he answered another question with:

“ Our problem is that we continue to have the gap between what we need to be doing and what our fine teachers are being provided in their preparation programs … If Chicago is like many large cities and smaller cities in this country, the teachers coming out of some teacher education institutions simply do not have these kinds of backgrounds, nor probably are they going to get these backgrounds from those kinds of institutions.

“ In several states either the superintendents or the governor or whomever it may be are beginning to figure out ways where their teachers can get the critical information, become certified such that the certification is aligned with what we know about teaching reading and moving simply around the colleges and education which are concretized in some cases. A big accountability factor here that isn’t used, and it’s a tough thing to say, but many of our colleges of education simply do not have the will, the courage or the knowledge to do anything better than they’re doing, and it’s time to move around them.”

Then-President of the Chicago Board of Education Gery J. Chico asked, “Given the local control of schools in Chicago, how do we best select system-wide programs and approaches?”

Reid Lyon concluded his reply with a variation on a theme: “The problem in education has been that we have gravitated toward belief systems and dogmas over so many years. You know, I have to address this with Congress a great deal. They always ask me ‘How is it that our teachers are using programs and approaches that simply don’t have any evidentiary base?’ And I have to answer them that the assumptions upon which those instructional approaches have been built are in fact erroneous but were never tested, and the educational community did not monitor itself, because … everybody feels that everybody can teach kids to read or to learn. They can’t do it. Learning is the most complex interaction that our youngsters are going to have to go through, and it takes a heck of a long time to figure out how we can get teachers to know their stuff, how those teachers can apply their stuff, and how those teachers stuff those kids every chance they get.”

In reporting on the conference, the Chicago Sun-Times education reporter noted that then-Chicago schools CEO Paul Vallas said the discussion validated his plan to limit the curriculum models that 200 struggling schools can use. “If there was any recurring theme, it was professional development, and if anyone got beat up, it was the colleges of education,” Vallas said. “Clearly they are not delivering … We’re going to have to pick up the ball.”

Vallas and Lyon were, of course, both chosen for incoming President George W. Bush’s Education Transition Team in January 2001. Other team members included former governors, executives at Lockheed-Martin, Cisco Systems, State Farm Insurance; such conservative foundations as Hoover, Thomas Fordham, Heritage, American Enterprise Institute; state standardisto education functionaries.

Perhaps the passage of “No Child Left Behind” has made Reid Lyon more bold. Perhaps being a “close advisor” to the president makes him feel he can say anything he wants — with impunity. In 2002 he added the language of terror to his prepared remarks. People ruling the schools from Washington D.C. can say anything about educators they wish. Corporate America sponsors them to do this.

“ If there was any piece of legislation that I could pass it would be to blow up colleges of education.”

— Reid Lyon, Chief, Child Development and Behavior Branch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH, speaking at a major policy forum, held by the Council for EXCELLENCE in Government, titled “Evidence-based Education Forum with Secretary Page.”

The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy is going to help the Department of Education push scripted curriculum into every classroom in the land. This “Coalition” was set up solely for the purpose of making sure No Child Left Behind is implemented.

You can see and hear the video containing Lyon’s remarks: http: // displaycontent.asp? keyword=prppcEvidence

Interested readers can see and hear that after these remarks Lyon continued talking and participated in the question and answer session. No one asked to explain his rhetoric of terrorism; no one denounced this rhetoric of terrorism; no one asked him why he’d threatened colleges of education. Lyon was safe in saying this because with this group it’s business as usual. No one indicated in any way that anything unusual or outrageous had been said.

Business as usual. Maybe those in attendance had heard it before. Maybe these remarks are shocking only to schoolteachers.

It is no coincidence that Lyon opened his remarks by talking about his intimate conversations with the President, using this relationship as his claim to importance. He declared that “most doctorates in education do not know what they do not know” whereas the President is “interested in evidence.”

Is it this intimacy with the President that gives Lyon free rein to make terroristic threats?

If a professor of education said she’d like to blow up the National Institute of Health, she’d find herself behind bars.

Editor’s note: For more information about the “evidence-based” education forum and its sponsor, the Council for Excellence in Government, including the council’s officers, trustees, past chairs, vice chairs, and corporate and foundation partners, please see Susan Ohanain’s website:

The detailed list is fascinating. Ohanian writes: “The staggering weight of corporate/government alliances who declare their alliance to No Child Left Behind should raise alarm bells. It should serve as a call to action from the education community and the public.”


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