Friday, October 01, 2010

A Dose of Kryptonite Truth for the "School Supermen!"

Readers may know of me that for about 12 years I was a professor of education. I began my studies in the field in the mid-'80s (and took the Ph.D., in 1989), at near the apogee of the Reagan-era attacks on the public schools and the beginning of the aggressive phase of the "home-school/de-schooling/high-stakes testing" revolution. This "revolt" was stimulated by such books as "A Nation At Risk," and was abetted by a variety of (educationally and philosophically) marginal characters, includinig Chester Finn, Bill Bennett, Lamar Alexander and various other minions of the CorpoRat establishment eager to get their fingers into the huge pots of money that the nation and the various states spend on the largely futile (anymore) project of trying to induce cognition, meta-cognition, and reflection from electronically and nutritionally narcotized youth. The centerpiece of the movement was an effort to delegitimize teachers, which effort continues apace under Shamwow & "Lurch" Duncan.

Now, 30 years later, the same crowd of ersatz educators--privatizers, home-schoolers, charterizers, militarizers and corpoRatizers--seem to have infiltrated (or been enthusiastically welcomed by) the Obama/Duncan educational ("Race to the Top") team. Obama knows NOTHING about education--No, really, he's an ignormus on the matter-- and what Duncan knows is the result of his efforts to destroy public education in Chicago during his tenure there. Luckily, this situation has not gone unnoticed, and earlier this week, a piece outlining the till obvious flaws of the enterprise appeared in one of the serious parts of HuffPost. Read the whole thing, but to me, this is the take-away:
So what is this really about?

The kind of school reform that gets significant airtime right now -- a combination of school closures and/or conversions, merit pay, test-based accountability, executive control of schools, and standardization -- is a corporate one, and the corporate interests that created it are also funding the PR campaign to sell it. The Gates, Broad, and Walton Foundations, along with for-profit education organizations and hedge fund managers, have helped fund the creation and promotion of movies like "The Lottery" and "Waiting for 'Superman,' " events like NBCs Education Nation, and "grassroots" activist groups like Stand for Children, Education Reform Now, and Done Waiting. They donate to politicians as well.

Now, some will say, "Who cares? What's wrong with applying business concepts to schools?" Three things, mainly.

One: None of these reforms work. (Note that corporate reformers never subject their own children to these gimmicks.) We're embracing "reform" strategies the rest of civilization is trying to escape! ... Remember, these people are not education experts -- they're businesspeople. It shouldn't surprise us that their reform agenda doesn't systematically improve education, but does present a greater business opportunities.

Two: This very ideology -- "ditch the old regulations, weaken worker protections and let the free market work its magic" -- brought the rest of our economy to its knees. The sacred ideals of the business crowd failed us in the business world, and that's their area of expertise! Do we seriously want to hand them our public schools -- the cornerstone of our democracy -- and just hope the children fare better?

Three: Speaking of democracy... whatever happened to democracy? Corporate elites became unspeakably rich by gaming our democratic and economic systems. They used their money to create legislation favorable to their interests, then gambled away our jobs, our homes, and our financial security. Their plunder eroded the tax base that supports public institutions like schools. Now that schools are starved for resources, some are offering us a portion of our money back in the form of grants and donations -- if we accept their un-proven reforms or un-democratic reformers. (We then have to hope that these new education leaders have good ideas, or that they'll resist the temptation to implement whatever faulty reforms their wealthy patrons offer in the future.)...

Corporate reform strategies created this mess -- they will never solve it. We can have the real reforms championed by actual educators and communities (like resource equity, smaller class sizes, better teacher training, increased teacher collaboration, and so forth) if we resist this corporate reform agenda and stop wasting money on gimmicks. Don't be conned by the "Supermen." Unite with your fellow Americans to demand the kind of equitable, humane educational system we deserve.
Former Reaganaut, right-wing "reformer" Diane Ravitch has apparently undergone the same epiphany.
It would be good if our nation's education leaders recognized that teachers are not solely responsible for student test scores. Other influences matter, including the students' effort, the family's encouragement, the effects of popular culture, and the influence of poverty. A blogger called "Mrs. Mimi" wrote the other day that we fire teachers because "we can't fire poverty." Since we can't fire poverty, we can't fire students, and we can't fire families, all that is left is to fire teachers.

This strategy of closing schools and firing the teachers is mean and punitive. And it is ultimately pointless. It solves no problem. It opens up a host of new problems. It satisfies the urge to purge. But it does nothing at all for the students.
Of course, doing anything "for the students," other than sorting and classifying them according to their potential usefulness to the Owners, has LONG been off the table in American education.


caboeyes said...

Woody I whole-heartedly agree. I appreciate the way you've laid it out simply and to the point. We are obligated to find a way, "for the students." Our future depends upon them. As a society we need to continue to address poverty, and race, and popular culture and try to move forward as one. We need to stamp out ignorance through education. We need to start looking at our children as being "Kids at Hope," rather than "Kids at Risk." They deserve a fair chance.

i5urf said...


It's analogous to having everyone who's ever had their teeth cleaned suddenly telling dentists how to do root canals!!!