Monday, December 10, 2012

The Basic Roots of the Current Ed Reform Movement

Pseudo-education reformers like to declare that they are all about student achievement and ultimately college and career success. I don't believe it for one minute and if you take the same considerable time I have to really explore their statements and actions, you'll conclude like I have that it's more about power, building prestige for their associations or corporations, and profiteering from the public trough. They intentionally mislead the public through misuse of statistics and assessment results and their "rockstar" status garners the spotlight in the media to say whatever they feel like saying regardless of how far from the truth it is.

Two preeminent researchers and authors have much to say about public education reformers and I see their positions as the basic roots behind the entire education reform movement.

Gene V. Glass states that, "Youngsters today appear to be valued less than when they had meaningful work to contribute to the family." (Fertilizers, Pills, And Magnetic Strips: The Fate Of Public Education In America, 2008, pp. 59-73) Perhaps that is why corporate education reformers today see public schools only as a vehicle for producing employees with the specific skills they are seeking. Anything else is considered to be a waste of time and money, especially if it is connected to the ageless values that served for centuries as the purpose of educating the masses.

Glass goes on to say, "Or, perhaps, other people's children are valued less while one's own are overvalued, out of some guilt about not spending as much time with them or depriving them of siblings." (Ibid) In other words, I'll support my local schools, private or public, as long as they are serving a familial need and suage my guilt for having bought into the declining value of children (especially YOUR children), but I'm not supporting the concept of public education in general because of my paranoia about government-run enterprises or I've drunk the kool-aide served up by Gates, Rhee, Governor Snyder and others.

More recently, Richard Rothstein, research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and senior fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, took exception to the reformers' penchant for playing loose with international and national assessment results ('Reformers' playbook on failing schools fails a fact check) :

Education "reformers" have a common playbook. First, assert without evidence that regular public schools are "failing" and that large numbers of regular (unionized) public school teachers are incompetent. Provide no documentation for this claim other than that the test score gap between minority and white children remains large. Then propose so-called reforms to address the unproven problem – charter schools to escape teacher unionization and the mechanistic use of student scores on low-quality and corrupted tests to identify teachers who should be fired.
The mantra has been endlessly repeated by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and by "reform" leaders like former Washington and New York schools chancellors Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein. Bill Gates' foundation gives generous grants to school systems and private education advocates who adopt the analysis. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel makes the argument, and in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has frequently sung the same tune.

Rob Glass, Superintendent of Bloomfield Hills Public Schools in Michigan, posted eloquently on the problem of misusing data (MI Lame Duck Session: Just Lame) particularly by our own Governor Snyder: 

Data have been misrepresented and selectively cited to build a false case that public schools in general are failing, and by extension, that most parents are dissatisfied with their children's schools.

Rob Glass contends, and I agree, that the misuse of data is the foundation by which the ed reform community builds its entire case against public education and in support of for-profit charters. That coupled with the assertion by Gene Glass that children today have become basically an economic burden so we might as well profit somehow beginning with privatizing public education.

As Rothstein concludes, "Systems cannot improve if prescriptions rely on flawed diagnoses." Of course, the politicians and those who stand to profit enormously from the education reform battle first have to want the system to improve.