by David Safier
Educator Diane Ravitch, a harsh critic of the standardized testing and charters who used to be an advocate (her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, is a comprehensive analysis of the problems with the new "education reform" movement), published an article Sunday, A Nation's Education Left Behind. It doesn't cover any new ground -- Ravitch has written about all of this before -- but it's worth reading as a primer on the topic.
Here are a few important passages.
Let’s be clear about what NCLB [No Child Left Behind] has really accomplished: It has convinced the media and major philanthropies and Wall Street hedge fund managers that American public education is a failure and that radical solutions are required. The philanthropists and Wall Street hedge fund managers and Republicans and the Obama administration and assorted rightwing billionaires have some ideas about how to change American education. They aren’t teachers but they think they know how to fix the schools.
Their ideas boil down to this strategy: NCLB failed because we didn’t use enough carrots and sticks. They say that schools should operate like businesses, because the free market is more efficient than government. So these reformers—I call them corporate reformers—advocate market-based reforms. They say that states must hand public schools over to private management because the private sector will be more successful than the public sector. They say that teachers will work harder if they get bonuses when test scores go up. They say that teachers should have no job protections because workers in the private sector don’t have job protections, not even the right to a hearing. They say that if schools have low scores, they should be closed and replaced by new schools, just like a chain store—a burger franchise or a shoe store--would be closed if it didn’t make a profit; or the entire staff should be fired and replaced by new staff. They say that the quality of teachers should be judged based on whether their students’ scores go up or down.
The Tea Party governors embraced this narrative and took it to the next level. They used their sweepingvictories in 2010 to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public workers and to slash spending on public education, even as they demanded more funding for charters and vouchers.
And here is the latest voucher scandal. When Jeb Bush was governor of Florida, he pushed through a voucher program. The state courts struck down one part of the voucher program, the part for students in failing schools. But the courts did not eliminate the McKay Scholarships, which enabled students with disabilities to get vouchers to attend any school. Just this week, the Florida press revealed that some of the deregulated voucher schools are fly-by-night operations, conducted in storefronts, churches, and dingy homes, staffed by administrators and teachers with criminal records. They found students who spent their entire day filling out workbooks or hanging around a gymnasium watching television. One school had a class, described as “business management,” which consisted of shaking cans on street corners. Florida has pumped over $1 billion into this voucher program and Governor Scott wants to expand it to more deregulated schools. [Note: This voucher scandal was covered in an investigative article in June, 2011, in the Miami New Times. Here is my summary of the findings.]
We know—or we should know—that poor and minority children should not have to depend on the good will and beneficence of the private sector to get a good education. The free market works very well in producing goods and services, but it works through competition. In competition, the weakest fall behind. The market does not produce equity. In the free market, there are a few winners and a lot of losers. Some corporate reformers today advocate that schools should be run like a stock portfolio: Keep the winners and sell the losers. Close schools where the students have low scores and open new ones. But this doesn’t help the students who are struggling. No student learns better because his school was closed; closing schools does not reduce the achievement gap. Poor kids get bounced from school to school. No one wants the ones with low scores because they threaten the reputation and survival of the school.
[h/t to Richard R for the link.]