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For my 100th diary, I thought I'd tackle something controversial. Yes, this is in part about charter schools. It's also about vouchers, and "standards" and "accountability." It was already in my draft file when I went to the AP US History grading-fest in Louisville the first week of June, and some discussions at my table with high school teachers who have to deal with school reform helped me with my thinking about this. "Education Reform" is the most pernicious term I've reviewed in this series: "pro-life" is simply lying about something, while "marriage equality" is a rephrasing to get "gay" out of the equation to make it a civil rights thing.  This time, "reform" simply means "change," and "education change" would demonstrate too clearly that the target is the public school system.  

The target of "education reform" IS the public school system, and the change these reformers want is the dismantling of it. It's like the term "pro life" because the people involved in this dismantling want you to think they're forces for good, and mostly they aren't.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are SO many people and organizations involved in this, and not all of them are evil (I mean, think Bill and Melinda Gates). There are also many different causes within this.  I'm acknowledging that I know this, because I'm going to look at the people who aren't concerned with anything but their own interests, and probably not at the "good" reformers because they aren't the people creating the problem, and there is decidedly a problem here as you can see from this excellent recent diary, Public Education's 'Shock Doctrine Summer' Rolls Out, Part 2. I'm also aware that I'm likely to make some of you who write about charter schools and home-schooling here very unhappy, and I'll just ask you to think about whether you have been sold a bill of goods by the reformers you're supporting, because I know that many of you, like the writer of this diary, are doing this listening only to your own philosophies, especially the Kossacks who home school.

It's not just me. Consider the recent writings of Diane Ravitch, an education historian, as she charcterizes current education reform:

Public schools as we know them . . . are a threat to national security. What's needed to protect us from foreign enemies is more competition and choice, more privatization of our public schools, more No Child Left Behind, more Race to the Top. Big commissions tend to reflect the status quo. This one does, for sure.
Ravitch is the kind of convert I can respect, and this is how she atones for her collaborationist past.

Let's look at the faces of this particular type of reform:
On your left, friend-of-Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, on your right, former chancellor of the Washington DC schools, Michelle Rhee. This is how complicated it can get. Duncan is there because the Obama administration accepted the premise of "No Child Left Behind" and its standardized test emphasis that led to teaching to the test, but tweaked it into "Race for the Top." Rhee is there because she presents herself as a reformer, but, well, there may have been irregularities in some of the reporting of scores while she was in charge of the DC schools. As for her program, her group, Students First

advocates abolishing teacher tenure; permitting more teachers without formal education training to take charge of classrooms; evaluating teachers in large measure by their students' growth on standardized tests; and expanding charter schools, which are publicly funded but typically run by private corporations, including for-profit management firms.
I'd call this chipping away at the public schools, and there is the "privatization" agenda.  But this is the tip of the iceberg.

While Duncan and Rhee may be the faces of reform, there's an organization called The Center for Education Reform, headquarters in Washington, that acts as the lobbyists for "reform." Their objectives? Like the objectives of the National Organization for Marriage, they're difficult to find on the website. Their issues? Choice and Charter Schools (already you can see where this is going), Online Learning, Teacher Quality, The Unions and Establishment, Standards and Testing, and Federal Policy. For the last five, the site offers a tab called "What We Believe." So let's look at those and end with vouchers and charter schools.

What do they believe about Online Learning?

We believe that the world can be a classroom to our nation’s youth, and being exposed to knowledge of people and things outside the brick and mortar that often confine students' learning is essential to our nation’s progress. Thus programs that truly provide online learning opportunities beyond the typical classroom must be a part of the portfolio we pursue under the heading of education reform. We support utilizing all the tools the 21st century has provided us, and thus applaud the growth that virtual schooling that connects students from home, including proven programs via the internet, blended models of learning that meld such experience with the classroom, and many options beyond and in between.
I didn't know that the physical school building was a problem, but it is. You don't have to read this too closely to understand that part of this is getting students out of the public school classroom and making it easier to homeschool.  Don't be surprised if there's a monetizing aspect to this too.

Teacher Quality?

Next to a parent, a teacher is the most important influence in a child’s life, and, thus, ensuring the quality of every educator that comes in contact with our kids is essential. To that end, we believe in the implementation of strong, data-driven, performance-based accountability systems that ensure teachers are rewarded, retained and advanced based on how they perform in adding value to the students who they teach, measured predominantly by student achievement, along with skills and responsibilities. There must be consequences for teachers who are not successful in educating students, no matter how noble or caring they may be
Noble, but who is entrusted with assessing teacher performance? Not the school principal, and not necessarily a group of master teachers who work for the local school system (we'll see why when we get to the unions section), and the consequences  when a newspaper posts the results of these accountability systems can be tragic. This is also an attack on teachers' unions and the contracts they negotiate with school boards, but that should become clearer when we get to that heading (Disclaimer:  I'm a member of the AFT myself via my community college job).

The Unions and Establishment. Well, when they started their work, there were just too many organizations in Education, Inc. for them to deal with. Here's what they think of the education "establishment:"

The term “Blob” cropped up years ago when reformers began trying to work with the education establishment and ran smack into the more than 200 groups, associations, federations, alliances, departments, offices, administrations, councils, boards, commissions, panels, organizations, herds, flocks and coveys, which collectively make up the education industrial complex.

Taken individually they were frustrating enough, with their own agendas, bureaucracies, and power over education. But taken as a whole they were (and are) maddening in their resistance to change. [Sense an element of "My will be done" here?] Not really a wall — they always talk about change — but rather more like quicksand, or a tar pit where ideas slowly sink out of sight leaving everything just as it had been.

Confusing, isn't it.  Thus
We believe that the special interests that draw funds from the tax dollars funding public education, and that have become an intransient force in political and policy circles, have outlived the usefulness of the associations they once had and have become obstacles to programs and activities that can best and most judiciously serve children. Such groups—from teachers unions, to the associations of administrators, principals, school boards and hybrids of all (e.g., “The Blob”)—should be free to organize but without access to the dollars that are spent to fund schools and should be free to recruit but not mandate members, but they should not have a public stream of money that permits the dues of members to subsidize their defense of the status quo.
Yes, everyone who works with students in a local school system -- teachers, administrators, school boards represents one of a number of evil special interests, and ONLY the reformers know what to do here . Nothing to discuss, right? It's union-busting, and it's also getting on your local school board to replace someone who represents a special interest (because you, the reformer, are NOT a special interest). There's also a BIG public stream of money at stake here, and all of you who try to claim that charter schools don't divert public money?  Of course they do.

Standards and Testing?

High standards are essential in ensuring that every student is prepared for and able to move on to each grade, and that tests, developed at the state level and correlated directly to the standards, are critical to gauge progress. We believe that every parent in America and every teacher to whom parents entrust their children deserve to have high, measurable standards against which to gauge the progress of the enterprise for which they share responsibility. We believe in accountability as a consequence of performance measured against stated measures of proficiency. Any school that consistently fails its students, no matter where those schools are or the demographics of its children, should be closed.
No, we don't trust the public school or the local school district, we need a standardized battery of tests. It's not just me here; consider slatsg's  community spotlighted diary, Accentuate the Negative:
Isn’t it interesting that the method of assessing whether or not students are acquiring these skills is the multiple choice test. Not only that but in an age in which creativity and originality are essential, students are being saddled with a one-size fits all curriculum, a singular method of assessment and a single “correct” way of teaching. It is a wonder that the so-called reformers’ heads aren’t exploding from the cognitive dissonance.
I've seen this close-up. ETS produces correlation charts twice or three times a day to tell us how we're doing vs. the student's score on the multiple choice exam, which assumes that if they do well on the MC part they'll do well on the essay. We were grading the last essay they wrote, ans I saw at least 20 of them in which the student had just run out of time. The high school teachers with whom I was grading found this idea vaguely ridiculous.  But the SAT doesn't have anything but multiple choice questions, and neither do the state tests. Voila, we can't trust the teacher, but we CAN, nay, we MUST trust a new bureaucrat in the state capital.

Federal Policy?

There is a good reason the 10th Amendment reads that, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Making laws and implementing them are hard enough to do in a government that has national and international interests, security and defense to manage. The ability of the federal government to ensure that the public’s interest is protected and that education is well managed is best left to those closest to our families and communities, though not without a strong partnership—a carrot and a stick—with the federal government. Thus, the federal role should be one of assessment and data gathering, conducting nonpartisan, objective research to support policymaking, and ensuring that the most needy are supported and helped, provided that such support is predicated on success, and not the status quo.
TENTHERS! Also, the feds cannot favor the people who actually teach the children they're trying to protect. Those teacher-of-the-year ceremonies? EVIL!

But I haven't addressed choice and charter schools yet. Here, the website makes it difficult too, because there is a whole bunch of links that should be there but aren't. So here, from another organization, EducationSector, a think tank in Washington, DC, is a reformist statement on charter schools and choice:

Options are now the norm in public education through the growth of charter schools, inter- and intra-district choice, virtual learning, and a diversity of other models within district-run schools. With greater choice comes the potential to improve many aspects of public education—by offering students schools and programs that better serve their needs, giving educators more say in where and how they teach, and creating new incentives and accountability structures. But there are many potential downsides, including increased segregation, the creation of low-quality schools, a loss of public accountability, and a shift away from the public mission of public education. Our work on school choice, which recognizes both sides of the debate, encourages growth in the movement in a way that maintains public accountability, equity, and efficiency, and that improves outcomes for public school students.
At least these people recognize a downside, and of COURSE there's no mention of vouchers ("other models," they say), but if you dig deeper into the website, there's support of vouchers for private schools if your public school is failing. Of course, one of the things EducationSector is trying to do is to get teachers to distrust their unions.  Why would they want to do that? PENSIONS! The Bush recession wiped out private pensions, so the "reformers" don't think the public sector should have them either.

So, in brief.  Education Reform: The One True Church. A fundamentalist church at that, which believes that anyone who opposes it is doing the work of the Devil. Teachers, especially people trained as teachers, and local school boards are special interests who can't be trusted. How is it that so many people take them seriously?

I'll close with more Diane Ravitch.

See the pattern on the rug? It grows clearer every day. It is not about improving education. It is not about helping our society become more literate and better educated. Follow the money. We are indeed a nation at risk.
The objectives of education "reform" are privatization and a destabilization of the local school environment including union-busting.  If I'm getting this wrong, show me that the sources I consulted aren't the people driving this attack on the public school system.

Originally posted to Dave in Northridge on Sat Jun 30, 2012 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Political Language and Messaging.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (19+ / 0-)

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Fri Jun 29, 2012 at 08:53:05 PM PDT

  •  Well done, and you're right about this: (3+ / 0-)
    You don't have to read this too closely to understand that part of this is getting students out of the public school classroom and making it easier to homeschool.  Don't be surprised if there's a monetizing aspect to this too.
    . There's always a monetizing aspect in education "reform".

    What did you do in the class war, Daddy?

    by Yastreblyansky on Sat Jun 30, 2012 at 05:25:52 PM PDT

  •  I think school reform started out (7+ / 0-)

    years ago as a sincere attempt to improve instructional practices.  It was jacked.

    Remember it was Albert Shanker and AFT who were the original proponents of charter schools.

    It was the AFT who came up with the value added model.

    I'll repeat again:  School reform was jacked.

    It's important for liberals/progressives who are not close to the issue to understand.  School "reform" today (I call it rheeform) has absolutely nothing to do with improving education and everything to do with privatization and union busting.

    It can't be repeated too often.  Tipped and recc'd.

    Light is seen through a small hole.

    by houyhnhnm on Sat Jun 30, 2012 at 05:41:16 PM PDT

    •  It's all just so (4+ / 0-)

      but education is just one case of a more general pattern that prevails today,  that all "reforms" are based on the same principle, advancing the total hegemony of big money at the expense of all other elements of society.  Because, as Mrs. Thatcher taught us all so well, "there is no such thing as society."

      The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges. ~ Anatole France

      by ActivistGuy on Sat Jun 30, 2012 at 05:49:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Union-busting, privatizing, or (6+ / 0-)


    Follow the money, indeed.

    If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

    by AnnieJo on Sat Jun 30, 2012 at 05:43:07 PM PDT

  •  Right you are ! (3+ / 0-)

    It's all about the $$$, like everything else in this country. Note that there is no law prohibiting for-profit private schools. Anyone can start one up whenever they feel like it. But that's not what they want. They want to get their mitts on the $500 million of taxpayer money spent annually on K-12, they want to divert public funds into the pockets of the 1%. Did you happen to catch this diary ?

    The GOP ... Government of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

    by Azazello on Sat Jun 30, 2012 at 05:46:07 PM PDT

    •  Thanks, Azazello (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Azazello, nomandates

      I hadn't seen it, but I'm going to figure out how and where in this I should link to it.  It's a great case study of most of what I'm discussing.

      -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

      by Dave in Northridge on Sat Jun 30, 2012 at 05:59:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  that's exactly right. They don't want to use (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dave in Northridge, Azazello

      their own money--they want to get their mitts (no pun intended) on public money, and get all the tax breaks as well.  At the same time, education funding is being diverted into private hands by way of corporate tax breaks and for uses other than education. Their agenda is to DISMANTLE--not reform--public education and get all that money into their own greedy, insatiable pockets, and they do not give a damn about improving anything.  

      That is why local and state elections are even more important than federal elections.  See Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan for the damage state legislatures are doing to public education.  

      Great disappointment that the Obama administration is playing into this canard.

      If the plutocrats begin the program, we will end it. -- Eugene Debs.

      by livjack on Sat Jun 30, 2012 at 11:14:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  All "reform" today (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave in Northridge

    and this is pretty much true on a global basis, means full implementation of neoliberal, corporate capitalist, authoritarian Reaganism-Thatcherism.  It's one of the largest pieces of the complete corruption of our political language, which is necessary for any form of totalitarian system to prevail.

    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges. ~ Anatole France

    by ActivistGuy on Sat Jun 30, 2012 at 05:46:28 PM PDT

  •  Why do you acknowledge that (0+ / 0-)

    there are reformers who are not evil but fail to acknowledge that homeschooling is a choice for some families that has nothing to do with your concerns here? Many families who homeschool would agree with you about much of what you say but still not want their children to be in the public school system as it is now, or ever, for any number of reasons. We're not all evil either.

    Aside from that, good compendium of the standardization, testing, union-busting, did you touch on underfunding?, etc., that are deforming the public school system, not reforming it.

    •  I thought I had (0+ / 0-)

      Is this not enough?

      'll just ask you to think about whether you have been sold a bill of goods by the reformers you're supporting, because I know that many of you, like the writer of this diary, are doing this listening only to your own philosophies, especially the Kossacks who home school.

      -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

      by Dave in Northridge on Sat Jun 30, 2012 at 06:07:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, I read it as exactly the opposite. (0+ / 0-)

        You are saying I have been sold a bill of goods. I am saying I am homeschooling for reasons that have nothing to do with the bill of goods you are concerned about.

        Maybe I should have read this differently. Maybe you are leaving open the possibility that I do have good reasons for homeschooling.

        But that I have also been sold a bill of goods? Or are you suggesting that homeschoolers aren't concerned about the same issues you are following? Many of us are.

  •  Compared to who? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave in Northridge, Nance

    I taught for 35 years, (33 in one school) and I get very upset with the testing and accountability BS I see and hear. You are so right to point out that reformers are trying to sow distrust of any facet of public schooling.
    My medium-sized, medium affluent, pretty liberal town has a good school system where kids count.
    "How do you know that unless you test the crap out of them?" the reformers want to know.
    Measures include: performance on state-wide tests (where we know the curriculum), performance in college (feedback indicates students were ready for college work), parents who were happy about what their kids were up to (sports, arts, music, many other activities).
    We were not worried about being compared to anyone else!
    We also knew that the most important thing in education is the home the kid comes from. Let the reformers work on that for a change.

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