We're nearing the lame-duck end of the Bush Administration and it has been one God-awful march through ineffectiveness (9/11, Katrina, health care), cronyism (Katrina, NCLB, Iraq contracting, USA gate), incompetence (everything, especially Iraq), illegality (the Plame affair, wiretapping, USA gate, torture), arrogance (where will it end?), and sheer stupidity (where do we start?). Has the government of the United States ever been worse?
Reading the recent news on Iraq, and even in-depth analysis like that done recently on Kanan Makiya in the NYT, and watching as NCLB comes up for renewal, it really gives me pause to connect the dots.
Realize this: Bush's only so-called success story from two terms in office, No Child Left Behind, is up for renewal right now, and none other than the Democratic majority holds its fate in their hands.
Frankly, this is not a hard call.
What are we supposed to believe?
That all of the Bush Administration's other policies--on health care, on the environment, on income equality, on energy, on Iraq, on domestic surveillance, on veteran's issues, on globalization, on climate change--all of those policies are off-the-charts negative for average people in America, in terms of providing possibility and hope for the future.
That, in fact, Bush and his administration is synonymous with giving the corporate agenda in America a free-hand and free-reign over the interests of America's common citizens, to the detriment of our common security, future and way of life.
But, somehow, by some stroke of divine providence or dumb luck, are we really supposed to believe that Bush has found the magic formula for reforming and improving public education? That No Child Left Behind, despite being rejected as anti-thetical to quality education by strong majorities of students, parents and teachers who work with it every day, is somehow a step forward for America and her out of balance democracy?
I know. Most Kossacks "get" how incredibly stupid, gullible and destructive are the politicians who support NCLB, including some big-name Dems, like George Miller and Ted Kennedy, but just for a moment hold NCLB in the same frame of mind as Iraq.
You see, each policy was crafted by the same Congress in 2001-2002, crazed by 9/11 fervor--cojones gone wild--seeking to straighten the world out once and for all and bend everyone to the "will" of America.
The same mind-set that believed that it could "solve" the long-standing dilemma of the Middle East by invading and occupying a distant nation whose culture, religion and language were unfamiliar and alien to any understanding of the people who were in charge of "fixing" that country, produced a bill that was going to "fix" once and for all the education of every child in America. Despite having no background, familiarity or experience in education.
And guess what? If the current professionals doing the work in America's public schools couldn't get the job done, as demanded by the imposed timeline, the schools were going to be "taken over" by state governments across the land.
"Taken over". Ring a bell? (Iraq. Justice Department. Supreme Court.)
Question: Why does "taking over" an institutional entity constitute a rationale, effective and credible "plan" for success? Isn't that exactly what we thought would work in Iraq? What part of "taking over" delineates how it is will be done, who is going to accomplish what, and why there is any reasonable expectation that things will be better?
NCLB was hailed as a "breakthrough" because it mandated that by 2014, every child in America was going to read at "grade level." While on the surface noble, the truth is that "grade level" is determined by a statistical average of standardized test scores between the 30th and 70th percentile.
In other words, as great as it sounds that every child reads and does math at "grade level", it is, in fact, an arbitrary measure gleaned from test scores of a group of students. It has never happened, ever, in any country, in any district, in any school, anywhere in the world--because in fact, in terms of statistics, you can't force every kid to land between the 30th and 70th percentile or you would no longer have a valid and reliable test, let alone survive heads exploding of rational people realizing that anyone could even believe this was an actual, credible "policy" of people elected to federal office.
So think about this: A bunch of politicians in Washington give Bush the green light to invade a country under the fallacy that he will be able to ... what?, find WMDs?, rid the world of Saddam?, create a democracy in the heart of the Middle East?, create a stable political ally?, protect Israel?--I no longer can even discern the rationale for the Iraq occupation, other than that now the fear of leaving Iraq outweighs the death and destruction of staying there. But, they did give him the green light.
Let's call that policy a massive and potentially unlimited failure.
And, in looking at NCLB, a policy that was misguided and doomed by its very premise, are we now supposed to believe that it can be "fixed", "tweaked", "improved"--that Democrats should step forward and make this their own vision for improved public education, while handing the keys to "improve" education to the Bush administration. Why? What's the rationale? Nothing about it was true to start with.
I work in Minnesota, one of the jewels of the K-12 system: leading the country in graduation rate, ACT scores and in the top five in the recently released NAEP scores. We now have over one third of our public schools labeled as failing--723 Minnesota schools are called "failures" by an administration that has elevated failure to an art form! Whose Education Head, Maggie Spellings, was not even an educator (oh, she was a substitute teacher for awhile) until she came to prominence riding the "abstinence" wave in Texas.
This is not a hard call.
Like Iraq, they have drawn a maximalist "we can do anything" line in the sand and dared anyone to say it cannot be done--so they can be vilified and derided as lacking leadership, as not being bold or patriotic enough. Meanwhile, at the rotten core of the policy is nothing but a cynical grab for power and profit.
Let me be plain: We are talking about demonizing public education for the sole purpose of giving public dollars to private providers--all in the hope that education will somehow improve. Like Iraq. With no plan. With no policy. With no research.
What Kossacks and American everywhere need to understand about NCLB is that it is not a plan for improving our schools. If it was, we would see funding, resources and ideas being poured into teaching and innovative ideas and structures. It is not about policy. If it were, we would see new schools, new methods, new capacities springing up around the country.
NCLB, like Iraq, is about ideology, as Jim Cummins has so eloquently spoken to. And in this case, instead of screwing up a country half-way around the globe, we are screwing up our own kids and our own future right here at home.
I do not dismiss the disaster that is Iraq; my heart bleeds every morning knowing that our finest are in another land killing, maiming and intimidating others under our flag, under our name, believing in the cause of democracy--while ignorant of the futility of imperialism. The failure of this is enormous, enduring and inevitable, and by now, is well understood, at home, and particularly abroad.
But, what is less well understood is how the same exact mind-set, a mind-set which believes it can control, dominate and bend to its will, an entire generation of people, is still operational here in America.
By all intents and purposes, the same people, particularly George Miller and Ted Kennedy, are ready to go ahead and "improve" NCLB, keeping in place the statistically impossible "goals" of 100% achievement by 2014, ensuring that corporate testing of our schools will not only continue, but increase--all the while undermining public confidence and support for what has been an historically effective, democratic and dependably civic institution.
I will not speak to the considerable damage being done by endless standardized testing, to our kids, to our best educators, to the very ideal of public education. I've already done that here, hereand here as have many others. It has been diaried ad nauseum. Research proves that you cannot test your way to excellence. Even a former Bush Administration flack, Michael Petrilli, has spoken to the fact that you can choose high standards or you can choose a minimum standard, but that you can't have them both.
I only wish to point out that the maximalist-hegemonist fantasy that was the Iraq invasion/occupation is of a single cloth with the same fantasy that brought us NCLB. And, in both cases, the ulterior motives--in Iraq, oil, profit and power, and with NCLB, profit, privatization and power--are the real factors driving policy.
Which leads to the ultimate question: What is driving Democrats, like Miller and Kennedy, to support such a devestatingly stupid and anti-democratic policy?
I really want to know what Kossacks believe is the underlying rationale, stated or not, for Democrats to renew No Child Left Behind--given its undeniably destructive record for public schools in general and poor people in particular?
Let's leave Bush out of this for the moment.
Why are Democrats even entertaining the fantasy of NCLB as something that is good for our country? Why?
This is my party. Can anyone defend them? Anyone?
Why are they doing it? The exact same road as Iraq. And not a question being raised. Why?
Please, help me understand.