There are some basics behind the “education reform” that touts more choices, better scores, brighter futures for our children. Here’s a guide to education reform 101 that every American should know:
1) BIG money is behind this movement to privatize our public institutions, especially our public schools in urban settings. Money has been poured into this operation and big money will be had by an elite few, and this for profit scheme can only be had on the backs of our children, our teachers, our taxpayers. Funding started with then Gov. Jeb Bush who organized bi-partisan governors to begin this process with the financial assistance of many, but the biggest players have been Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Eli Broad Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation. Bill Gates, alone, has sunk at least $150 MILLION into this project. The Common Core National Standards (CCNS) were written in the early ’90s by mostly legislators, CEOs, and foundation leaders with little input from educators, public school administrators, students, or parents. The failure of President George Bush’s utopian No Child Left Behind and the inclusion of President Obama’s Race to the Top grants (for States) that are tied to mandatory adoption of Common Core have taken us down a slippery slope of for-profit charter schools, voucher programs that re-create segregation in our schools, novice teachers sent into urban settings with too little training or desire to make teaching their career, and a monopoly of profits for select education and testing companies and all put profits before children.
2) Private charter schools have long been touted as better able to prepare our students for the future, to be better in math and science, and to be college-ready. However, all roads leading to the majority of charters come to a dead end. Charters do not perform better and when they do appear to out-perform public schools, it is because charters test only the brightest, most studious students who may be great test-takers while public schools test ALL students including the disabled, English language learners, at-risk, poor, and minority students. And, still, public school test-takers out-perform charters. Why? Because public schools and teachers are NOT failing and testing results can be skewed to match the desired results of the “reformers.”
3) There is a problem with both U.S. national and international assessments given to all students in America , BUT many of the “top-performing” students are hand-picked in other countries. These practices skew the results. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was established in the 1970s and set up to “assess any goal area for which schools devote . . .’15-20% of their time…, [the] less tangible areas, as well as the customary areas, in a fashion the public can grasp and understand.’” Richard Rothstein, February 2014: http://www.epi.org/blog/strong-precedent-accountability-system/ According to Mr. Rothstein, students were tested not only on core subjects of math, science, reading, but also on cooperation, commitment to free speech in addition to ” . . .concern for the welfare and dignity of others, supported rights and freedoms of all . . understood problems of international relations, took responsibility for their own personal development, and helped and respect their own families.” However, in 1974 Congress cut the budget for NAEP in half and the tests gradually were reduced to assessing only in math and reading by 1987.
This leads me to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) that we hear so much about from the education reformers, especially US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In 2015, 71 countries will give PISA (in reading, math, and science) to 15 and 16-year-old students. In America, this means PISA is given to all students in this group from “A” students to those with special education needs to students who have behavioral issues to those who struggle learning the English language. However, other countries choose which students will take these international tests. Shanghai, for example, where the most affluent live, choose only the best “test-takers” and countries are selective (because PISA is expensive) in which schools and who takes the tests. Asian countries typically score higher, according to the PISA reports. However, as Diane Ravitch states: “The more we focus on tests, the more we kill creativity, ingenuity, and the ability to think differently. Students who think differently get lower scores. The more we focus on tests, the more we reward conformity and compliance, getting the right answer.” December 2013 http://dianeravitch.net/2013/12/03/my-view-of-the-pisa-scores/
4) So what about all this standardized testing? We test internationally, nationally, state-wide, regionally, and district-wide in most American schools. According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), students spend anywhere from 20-50 hours per school year taking state-mandated tests. Test preparation can take up to 110 additional hours and the cost ranges from $700-$1000 per student. It is estimated that schools could add anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes of instructional time to each day. Howard Nelson, page 6: http://www.aft.org/pdfs/teachers/testingmore2013.pdf So, where does all this testing get us? Does it help students learn? Does testing assist teachers in assessing students’ knowledge? Or is there something more sinister at work here?
5) Standardized testing, as dictated by the Common Core National Standards, has been used to declare our experienced public school teachers as incompetent, our students lacking in skills to compete in the global world, and our schools failing. One principal of a suburban public school of describes how his 3rd-5th grade students are suffering through an English Language Arts (ELA) mandated test by Common Core standards: “Each day of the ELA testing, I sat down to read the assessments my students were taking. I was appalled at what they were asked to answer and exhausted from reading and rereading passages over and over again. If I as an adult struggled with the task, I can only imagine how my students suffered . . .as I watched my young students, with anguished looks upon their faces, struggling to answer poorly worded and ambiguous questions based on text too difficult for them to comprehend.”
6) In cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, and Philadelphia fascist governors, mayors and their billionaire pals have succeeded in closing schools and firing teachers. When Arne Duncan was Superintendent of the Chicago Public School System, he closed 44 schools between 2001-2009 and fired many of the staff at those schools. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel shut down some 50 schools in 2013; these school closings affected over 46,000 students. According to Emmanuel, these 46,000 students would be routed to better schools. However, according to the Consortium on Chicago School Research, “. . .between 2001 and 2006, most students whose schools were closed by the district re-enrolled in schools that were academically weak. Consortium researchers found that most students lost academic ground in the year their school was slated for closure. And once they were in their new school, they continued on an academic trajectory that was just like the trajectory of the closed school.” More fact-checking can be found at http://www.wbez.org/news/fact-check-chicago-school-closings-107216
And then, Mr. Duncan announced in an interview in 2010, ” I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that ‘we have to do better.’ And the progress that they’ve made in four years since the hurricane is unbelievable.” However, the facts do not support Arne’s premise. A New Orleans reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog commented, “The New Orleans reformed school district ranked 69 out of 70 of all the school districts in the state taking mandated standardized tests last spring. Equally as disturbing, the high poverty schools in the reformed school district in New Orleans scored lower than the high poverty schools in several cities across Louisiana in 11 of 12 areas tested. The bottom line is that despite the billions of dollars from the federal government and foundations, firing of all those old bad teachers, no teacher union and no local elected school board the New Orleans reforms failed miserably.” July 2012 http://dianeravitch.net/2012/07/26/how-new-orleans-did-not-get-turned-around/
7) While all this closing of public schools has been occurring, a company called Teach for America (TFA) emerged. TFA has been waiting and willing to take on the task of sending novice college graduates into urban school settings and out-teach the experienced teachers. In fact, the likes of Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp (founder of TFA), and many others have been busily recruiting young college graduates (with degrees in any field) to become urban schoolteachers. But, you may ask how can that be? College graduates who have not received a teaching certificate, taken no special classes for future teachers, have spent no time in a classroom as a student teacher paired with an experienced mentor are sent into urban schools? How can that possibly be? Well, TFA recruits young people who a) do not know what they want to do now that they’ve graduated with that art history, mass media, or business administration degree b) want to be entrepreneurs, start new businesses, but are not quite ready to jump into the business world feet first or c) think maybe they could spend a couple years in a classroom; it would look great on their resume to launch them into a future career in the business world. TFA gives each recruit five, yes 5, weeks of training to be “prepared” to be successful in reaching the minority children, the poor, the special education needs children, the disabled in schools that are under-funded, crumbling physically, have too few computers and textbooks, and have class sizes ranging from 25-40! Sounds like a winner, doesn’t it? But, don’t take my word for it. Here are excerpts from TFA alumni:
“TFA teachers may have been sold tall tales of being able to correct educational injustice in the two-year commitment, but Wendy Kopp has acknowledged “I know we are not going to change the education system with people teaching for two years. That’s not what we are trying to do.” Then what, educator, are you trying to do? What is your purpose? Urban schools and classrooms don’t need hyped-up heroes who burn out before their fire really gets going. . . the impacts the organization claims to have are likely gross exaggerations. (I’m not buying claims of 2.6 extra months of math growth.) And I do not support some of the directions and choices the organization makes. But that’s why I’ve also chosen to be a critical friend to the organization. Somebody has to tell TFA, in a way they can hear it, when their stuff stinks. Might as well be me.” Camika Royal November 2013 http://magazine.good.is/articles/i-won-t-say-don-t-join-teach-for-america-yet
“I entered the program with an open mind, but grew concerned as I learned TFA’s framework. At TFA’s summer Institute, corps members are told that TFA has studied the characteristics and practices of good teachers for the last twenty years and that they now have the recipe for reproducing quality teachers. However, TFA is unknowingly working within a false sense of reality and thereby creates a recipe that fosters disillusionment and burnout. Corps members come to TFA with no pedagogical or methods training, no specific content training and are told that if they simply follow the TFA system and work really hard that success will be had. The naivety of believing that standardized formulaic teaching will always result in success in every classroom across the country is indicative of individuals who have no experience with pedagogy and it sets the stage for disillusionment. . . TFA’s Academic Impact Model (AIM) holds that at the root of every student’s success or failure is solely a teacher. . . .that the foundational building block of student outcomes are a teacher’s skills, mindsets and beliefs (that) are then manifested as “teacher actions.” TFA then argues that all student actions in and outside of the classroom are informed by their teacher’s actions. It is then student actions that cause academic success or failure. It is by the AIM that corps members are told to evaluate their worth. . .(AIM) is in violation with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in claiming that teachers can cause effective learning despite the physiological, safety, belonging, and self esteem issues students face.” February 2012 Jameson Brewer (via Anthony Cody blog) http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2012/02/hyper-accountability_burnout_a.html
From my research into TFA, I can only conclude that recruiting college graduates in any field, without any pedagogical training, offering them a mere (and I might add, ineffective) five weeks of training, then expecting these TFA recruits to perform miracles in urban settings (where we find the poorest, most neediest students) is a great disservice both to the TFA recruits and the public school students. To add to that, the vast majority of TFA graduates spend only one to two years in those urban school settings before moving on to other careers (often in law or politics). This is harmful to our children and to teachers.
8) Experienced, dedicated public school teachers are a target of Teach for America. These temporary TFA teachers have been replacing experienced teachers across America in our urban schools. Teacher unions have been hit hard, teacher tenure is under fire, and experienced teachers have been fired only to be replaced by novices from TFA. My conclusion is that school districts, strapped for cash as public funding is drained from public schools to fund private charter schools and to purchase computers and programs mandated by Common Core, have fallen into this trap of replacing valued teachers with temporary, revolving door TFA recruits who are ill-equipped to meet or understand the needs of our most at-risk students. The outcome for this generation of children and for the USA will not be pretty.
College students have become activists against the proliferation of TFA. Two such groups are Students Resisting TFA (http://studentsresistingtfa.k12newsnetwork.com/resources/) and Students United for Public Education (https://www.facebook.com/StudentsUnitedForPublicEducation).
Some school districts are well aware of the harm TFA can reek on their children and teachers. Pittsburgh Woolslair K-5 School Board voted in December 2013 to rescind its TFA contract and to reverse the decision of the previous school board to close the school. “A vote halting the process to close Woolslair passed 8-1, with Mr. Isler opposed. The old board had voted 6-3 to begin the process.” http://www.post-gazette.com/news/education/2013/12/18/Pittsburgh-board-reverses-on-Teach-for-America-contract/stories/201312180142#ixzz2y8MAllYZ
9) In addition to the false reasoning of Bill Gates, the Waltons, the Broads, Rupert Murdoch, President Obama, Jeb Bush, Arne Duncan, etal that damages the bedrock of the institution of public schools, the charter schools are bring in tremendous profits. Profits for whom? Microsoft, Pearson Education (the company that writes all the new tests to align with Common Core standards), InBloom (that is currently in the process of becoming approved to collect all personal data of each child from pre-k through 12th grade-information that will be available to the government and future employers as well as presumably to sell all that data to companies desiring to learn consumer habits). Other profiteers are the many leaders of franchise charter schools (such as Success Academy, KIPP, Rocketship, and Harlem Village Academy to name a few). Most private charter leaders earn at least half a million annually!
Our children are not for sale and we must urge every parent, grandparent, teacher, citizen to become vocal about the for-profit corporate takeover of public schools. Poverty is the number one reason children fail in school. No child can think clearly or focus on learning with a hungry stomach or who has experienced abuse at home or bullying at school. No child can focus on learning if he/she is cold or hungry or frightened. Happy children who feel safe, wanted, cared for, who are warm with full tummies can learn to the best of their potential and become future citizens who have the education required to find/create opportunities for generations to come. Let’s be sure America guarantees that for every child!
Where/how should our public resources be spent? Public resources must be used to:
*teach parents how to help their children
*offer on-going training for the dedicated teachers
*provide after-school programs to keep children safe
*purchase enough textbooks and computers for every child to end the practice of having only a few books per classroom or one computer for an impoverished urban school
*keep class sizes low to precipitate better learning
*hire enough specialists to handle the at-risk and special needs of students
*provide basic health services to students who do not have easy access to healthcare
*give each child (regardless of race, religion or social status) an equal opportunity for a top-rated American education
I welcome your comments. Please follow me on Twitter @pollyhughes10 and @fictionslayer and read more articles at againstausterity.org/articles-media.
Joanne Barkan 2011 http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/got-dough-how-billionaires-rule-our-schools
Teach for America falls short in special education December 2013
Professor: Change name of charter schools to ‘corporate’ or ‘franchise’ schools http://www.mlive.com/education/index.ssf/2011/09/professor_change_name_of_chart.html
Larry Miller’s Blog: Educate All Students! https://millermps.wordpress.com/category/rocketship/