Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

Paul Thomas writes here about NPR’s whitewash of disaster capitalism in New Orleans. Without reference to the extensive debunking of “the New Orleans miracle” by Mercedes Schneider, Research on Reforms (Dr. Barbara Ferguson and CharlesHatfield), and others, NPR recycles the glories of closing public schools, opening privately managed charters, eliminating the union, firing thousands of veteran teachers (in this case, the core of the city’s black middle class), and replacing them with inexperienced Teach for America recruits, most of whom would leave after two or three years.

Here is the trick by which radio and TV shows give the illusion of balance: first, they give the narrative, then they invite two or three people to make a critical comment. What they are selling is the narrative. The critics are easily brushed aside. At times like this, I remember that NPR gets funding from both Gates and the far-right Walton Family Foundation, which is devoted to privatizing public schools.

Thomas calls out NPR for playing this trick:

“Framed as “remarkable changes,” erasing public schools and firing all public school faculty (a significant percentage of the black middle class in New Orleans) are whitewashed beneath a masking narrative embracing all things market forces as essentially good, even though the actions taken against pubic schools and teachers in the name of the mostly minority and disproportionately impoverished families and children of New Orleans have not accomplished what advocates claim.

“In the NPR piece, “no teaching experience” is passed over as if this couldn’t possibly be a problem; however, when public schools were dismantled and all the faculty fired, the second disaster swept over New Orleans in the form of “no excuses” charter schools (KIPP and their cousins) and a swarm of Teach For America recruits who were not native to New Orleans and have lived lives mostly unlike the children they teach.

“As well, that black and poor children are “part of an experiment” remains unexamined in this piece. Instead, the entire New Orleans experiment is called “kind of a miracle.”

“At 5 minutes in, NPR allows a critic to call claims of success “overblown,” and then 7 minutes in, one disgruntled parent announces that charter advocates “won’t be able to fool me this time.” But overall, this NPR whitewashing of the New Orleans education reform experiment fails as most education journalism does—absent as it is any real critical questions, absent as it is any effort to honor the weight of evidence in the pursuit of “balance.”

“I find here the exact same pattern I confronted in my criticism of the NPR “grit” piece. While the 8-plus minutes do technically include “both sides,” the less credible position (pro- charter, pro-market forces) is clearly given the greater weight while the stronger position is posed as mere “criticism.”

“Education reform in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina is a model of disaster capitalism and an ugly lesson in how we should not reform public education.”

As it happens, I am in the midst of reading a new book, Kristen Buras’ “Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space,” that lays waste to every part of the alleged New Orleans’ “miracle.” It is a gripping study. By the time Buras is done, the reformers are stripped bare in the public square as yet another wave of white supremacists, in this case arrived in New Orleans to turn black children into a profitable “product.” I wonder if NPR will interview Buras?

Peter Greene has noticed that reformers are in love with order. They love it wWhen students wear identical uniforms and walk in straight lines without a word.

He writes:

“The Cult of Order believes in blind, unthinking devotion to Order. Everything must be in its proper place. Everything must go according to plan. Everything must be under control.

“It is not new to find cult members in education. We all work with a least a couple. Desks must be just so. The surface of the teacher desk must be pristine and orderly enough that bacteria will avoid it and others will either stay back in awe (or experience a near-uncontrollable urge to violate it). Students lose a letter grade for putting their name in the wrong corner of a paper. In high schools, they believe that even seniors would benefit from going class to class in neat and orderly lines.

“But reformster members take the Cult of Order to new levels.

“They were bothered by the chaos of the crazy-quilt state standards, each different from the rest. They are alarmed at the possibility that individual teachers might be teaching differently from other teachers. Order, predictability, uniformity– these are qualities to be pursued, not because they are a path to better outcomes of some sort, but because they are in and of themselves desirable outcomes. Standardization and a national curriculum that gets every student in every classroom on the same page at the same time– this vision is good. Don’t ask “Good for what?” To the Cult of Order that’s a nonsense question, like asking about the utility of a kiss. For them, controlled, orderly standardization is as beautiful as a sunrise.

“The Cult of Order is all about fear– fear that some sort of dark, menacing chaos lurks just beyond the borders. There’s a horrible monster waiting just on the other side of that white picket fence, and the only way to keep it at bay is to make the fence just as neat and orderly as possible.

“And yet, we know this is not how the world of human beings works. Human relationships are messy, wobbly, unpredictable, hard to plan. At first flutter of your heart, you cannot know how that story will end. Friendship may grow or wither, and no amount of orderly control can change it. And on the large scale, throughout human history, the dream of perfect order always travels hand in hand with aspirations of totalitarian despots.”

The Cult of Order never succeeds. In this country, for sure, it won’t. We are too diverse, too varied, too rambunctious, too independent, ultimately too non-conformist for it ever to succeed, not here, not now, not ever.

This is a column that will raise the rafters, curl your hair, or make you shake with rage. It should.

Bob Braun, who started his own blog after writing for New Jersey’s largest newspaper, “The Star-Ledger,” for 50 years, is furious. This week, when schools start in New Jersey, the children of Newark will get on buses and be distributed to schools across the district. This is Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” plan, and Braun is fearful that children will be lost or harmed. He calls on the ministers (this was published on Saturday) to pray for the safety of the children.

Cami Anderson wants Newark to look like New Orleans, so she must break up any attachments to neighborhood schools, destroy the idea that the school has anything to do with the community. So the children must be dispersed, far from home.

This is Braun’s message to the ministers, to Governor Christie, to Cami Anderson, and to Tom Moran, the chief editorial writer of “The Star-Ledger,” who thinks Cami walks on water. Braun writes:

“While I am not a religious person, I will take a lesson from one of the readings scheduled for services tomorrow, at least in Catholic churches, the denomination in which I was raised. The first reading comes from Jeremiah 20:7-9:

“Whenever I speak, I must cry out…outrage is my message.”

“So where is the outrage in the face of the mistreatment of thousands of Newark children who will be transported all over the city in a transportation plan that won’t be implemented until the first day it will be used? No feasibility tests. No dry runs. No studies to determine whether it will work. Every first day of school in every community is chaotic under the best of circumstances–imagine what it will be like Thursday.

“Where is the outrage? For The Star-Ledger, I wrote about education for nearly 30 years. When some suburban school superintendent tried to alter the district lines of one school to adjust for enrollment changes, the community would rise in anger and often block the plan. In Newark, massive changes and disruptions are about to occur–and, yes, there has been anger and there has been outrage, but no one is listening. No one outside the city cares….

“Let us hope nothing happens to the children of Newark. But also pray for justice if harm does befall even just one of these precious young people. Justice for people like Gov. Chris Christie, who knows how to buy friends, even among clergy, but who does not know how to feel for the city’s children. Justice for people like Cami Anderson who, by my measure of thinking, somehow managed to lose her soul in her strivings for personal ambition. For David Hespe, the education commissioner who, like Pontius Pilate, washed his hands of the problem….

“We know what is about to happen is only happening because the residents of the city are poor, powerless and possess a skin color darker than that of Christie, Hespe, and Anderson. We know this would never happen in a predominantly white suburb.

“I am sorry to have to say this to the people of Newark: To many of your brothers and sisters in New Jersey, you–and your children–simply don’t count very much. They blame you for taxes. They blame you for school failure.

“Christie has all but said that the education of Newark children is not a moral obligation or a civic challenge. Rather he believes it is an expense that he would rather not have the rest of the state pay. He would be just as happy to see everyone in Newark disappear and just leave the gleaming towers owned by his friends standing.

“The “One Newark” plan is a slow means of doing just that. The poor and the needy will be isolated and driven from the city. A chain of privately operated charter schools will be made available for the eventual gentrification of the city. The powerful will allow a small percentage of people of color to attain success but there will be no effort to save the rest from poverty. Their children will be warehoused.”

Here are his words for the chief editorial writer of the state’s largest newspaper:

“I know of at least one colleague who is so blinded in his worship of Cami Anderson that he cannot see she is inept and arrogant and consistently unable to make wise choices. I don’t know why he believes that but, God forgive me, I do resent that he believes I will have contributed to the travesty when “One Newark” fails.

“This colleague, a columnist and chief editorial writer for The Star-Ledger (a newspaper I served for nearly 50 years and deeply loved), contends those who oppose what he admits is an “untested” plan “don’t seem to give a damn about the children.”

“Who would want their own children subjected to an “untested” plan? Why is it okay for Newark children to be used as guinea pigs, but not Montclair or Scotch Plains children? How can someone be so unforgivably blind and indifferent to others? How can a major metropolitan daily print such offensive rot? Where are the editors who exercise reasonable restraint on this man’s hero worship?

“How can a sentient being write such incredibly stupid words? I guess I have to hold with Friedrich Schiller that “Against stupidity, even the gods are invictorious.” Those opponents are parents. If he–or Star-Ledger reporters–would bother to look into what’s happening, they would see the opposition is run, not by unions, not by politicians, but by moms and dads, by people who care about their children.

“Yes, Mr. Editorial Writer, black mothers and fathers proud are about their kids, worried about them, wanting the best for them, working in ways you could never understand to help them. Just because they don’t live in the suburbs where you live, just because they don’t look like you, just because they can’t live on one job but need two or three to survive, doesn’t mean they d0n’t love their children. Please, you and your newspaper are abandoning the city and you haven’t cared about it for decades anyway (I know, I was there)–so why don’t you just shut up?

“Please, just shut up.”

Bob Braun is New Jersey’s Jeremiah. Outrage is his message. He will not be silent in the face of injustice. He will not curry favor with the powerful. He is angry. And, unlike those who are playing games with the lives of the children of Newark, his conscience is clear.

I recently saw photographs of John F. Kennedy giving a Labor Day speech in New York City during his Presidential campaign in 1960. He spoke in the center of the Garment District, on the west side of Manhattan. He spoke to tens of thousands of garment workers. Today, the Garment District has been replaced by luxury high-rise residences. Following NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), the garment industry went to low-wage, non-union countries. The garment industry has few workers and no political power. The number of union members across the nation has dropped precipitously. The largest unions are public sector workers–especially, teachers–and they are under attack, as rightwing foundations, billionaires, and their favorite think tanks hammer away at their very existence.

What hope is there? Anthony Cody says there is plenty. He foresees the rise of “the teacher class.”

Here are a few quotes from a powerful statement. Read it all.

“The teaching class consists of educators from pre-school through college. This group is facing the brute force of a class-based assault on their professional and economic status. The assault is being led by the wealthiest people in the world – Bill and Melinda Gates, via their vast foundation, the Walton family, and their foundation, and Eli Broad, and his foundation. And a host of second tier billionaires and entrepreneurs have joined in the drive. These individuals have poured billions of dollars into advancing a “reform” movement that is resulting in the rapid expansion of semi-private and private alternatives to public education, and the destruction of unions and due process rights for educators.”

“As the latest report from Yong Zhao and ASCD illustrates, there is absolutely zero connection between the productivity of our economy and test scores. There may be some minimum level of academic achievement below which our nation’s economy might suffer, but our students are far, far above that threshold. So the entire economic rationale for our obsession with test scores and “higher standards” has been obliterated…”

Even liberal rationales for education reform are falling away. We have heard for the past decade that employers need students who can think critically and creatively, that everyone must be prepared for college. These arguments have been used to promote progressive models of education, along with the Common Core. The economic assumption here is that the middle class will grow as more students are prepared for middle class jobs. But the number of such jobs are shrinking, not growing. The supposed shortage of people prepared for STEM careers is a hoax, as we see with the layoff of 18,000 such workers by Microsoft. In fact, one economic projection suggests that in the next 20 years, 47% of the jobs of today will be gone as a result of technological advances and what Bill Gates terms “software substitution.” (see the full report here.)….”

“Teachers are paying attention. Study after study provides evidence that the central planks of corporate education reform not only fail to work, but are undermining the education of our students. This project that was supposed to be driven by data is collapsing, and would be long gone if our politicians were not being legally bribed to look the other way. Corporate education reform is a fraud, a hoax perpetrated on the public, with the active complicity of media outlets like NBC, which allows the Gates Foundation to dictate the very “facts” that guide their coverage of education issues….”

“Corporate reformers have diabolically targeted teachers where we were most vulnerable, by accusing us of placing our own interests above those of our students. Every element of corporate reform has been leveraged on this point. No Child Left Behind accused teachers of holding students back through our “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Due process has been undermined or destroyed because it supposedly provides shelter for the “bad teachers” responsible for low test scores.

“But this point of vulnerability is also our greatest latent strength going forward. Because teachers are deeply motivated by concern for their students, they are attuned to the devastating effects reform is having on them. Teachers are seeing what happens in communities when schools are closed – usually in poor African American and Latino neighborhoods. Teachers are seeing how technologically based “innovations” funnel both scarce funds along with student data to profit-seeking corporations. We have had more than a decade of test-driven reform, and teachers know better than anyone what a sham approach this has been. Teachers have seen and responded to the Michael Brown shooting, and though there are still difficult conversations ahead about race, teachers have a head start, because of our work with young people who are, like Michael Brown, vulnerable to racial profiling and the school to prison pipeline.

“Teachers have some important pieces of the puzzle, but we have not built the whole picture yet. There is a growing awareness of the discriminatory way laws are enforced, leading to huge numbers of African Americans and Latinos behind bars. But there is still a weak understanding of how this fits into a system that keeps communities of color economically and politically disempowered. School closures are a part of this disenfranchisement, as they rob communities of stable centers of learning. The disproportionate layoffs and terminations of African American teachers are a part of this pattern as well. We need a new civil rights coalition that brings these interests into sharp focus, and establishes alliances between teachers, students, parents and community members.

“When teachers bring a deep understanding of how our work has been hijacked and disrupted to bear on broader social issues, we find similar patterns elsewhere. We can see how profiteers are trying to sideline the US Postal Service, even though the level of service for the public will suffer. We see how the prison industry has turned into an enormous machine that sustains itself through vigorous lobbying, to the great disservice of many Americans. We see how laws governing debt are written to give tremendous advantage to financiers, while binding our students into a new form of indentured servitude. We see how leading Democratic Party politicians have taken campaign contributions in the millions from the sworn enemies of public education, and have become their servants….”

“The term “teacher leadership” has been used to describe a narrow range of activities often related to “getting a seat at the table,” or taking charge of professional development or Common Core implementation. But the real potential for teacher leadership arises when we take the lessons we have learned from a decade of being the targets of phony corporate reforms, and recognize our kinship with others who have been disenfranchised. The number of wealthy individuals who have sponsored this decade of fraudulent reform could fit in a small movie theater. Teachers number in the millions — our students and allies are in the hundreds of millions. The only thing that can beat the power of money is the power of people. But the people must be informed and organized. That sounds like work teachers ought to be able to handle.”

Success has its privileges. This is certainly true when it comes to Eva Moskowitz’s charter chain Success Academy.

Juan Gonzalez of the Néw York Daily News reports that Moskowitz has moved her corporate headquarters from Central Harlem to Wall Street.

In addition, he reports:

“The new offices will cost her organization $31 million over 15 years, according to its most recent financial report.

“The same report shows Moskowitz received an eye-popping $567,000 during the 2012-2013 school year. That’s a raise of $92,000 from the previous year, and more than double the $212,000 paid to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

“That made Moskowitz the city’s highest-paid charter school executive last year. Her spokeswoman said Moskowitz’s current pay is a less lofty $305,000, with her bonus to be determined at year’s end.”

According to the SA website, during the “ 2013-2014 school year, we are serving 6,700 scholars at 22 schools.”

Earlier this year, Moskowitz humbled Mayor De Blasio when he tried to deny part of her request for new schools, offering her only five of the eight schools she sought. Her hedge funds backers unleashed a $5 million TV blast against the Mayor. With the support of Governor Cuomo, the Legislature required the city to pay the rent of all charter schools and required him to approve all those charters that had been authorized by Mayor Bloomberg’s board in its last days. Eva got what she wanted, and the Mayor retreated.

Writes Gonzalez:

“As a result, the school system is spending $5.3 million this year to house the three new Success Academy schools in buildings owned by the Catholic Archdiocese.”

Here is “choice” at its worst.

Cami Anderson, Governor Chris Christie’s pick to run the state-controlled Newark schools, is closing public schools to make way for charter schools. All children get new assignments.

The Tillman family used to attend the Newton Street school, across the street from their home. Their father, George Tillman, Jr., walked his five children to school every day. But under the “One Newark” plan, the five siblings were assigned to five different schools. After the father complained to News 12 New Jersey, a local television station, a school official moved all the children to the same school, the Dr. E. Alma Flagg School.

“Tillman believes he was vocal enough to get the chance, but others aren’t as lucky.

“I’m not the only family that’s been affected like this,” Tillman says. “There’s a lot of kids that are being dispersed throughout the city.”
So far, about 1,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the schools go back to local control. Some parents say they are going to boycott all the schools during September.”

This was not the Tillman family’s choice. They liked their neighborhood school. That choice was no longer available to them.

Paul Horton is a history instructor in the University High School at the University of Chicago Lab Schools. This post explains the Obama administration’s love for charters and its disdain for public schools.

Martin Nesbitt is the President’s best friend, and close associate of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who provided much of the start-up capital for Parking Spot, a very successful off airport parking company that Mr. Nesbitt directed for several years before Ms. Pritzker sold the company. Nesbitt and Pritzker also are invested in the Noble Charter Schools chain in Chicago. In the last year, Mr. Nesbitt has created an investment firm called the Vistria Group that seeks, in part, to bundle capital for Charter School investment.

Mr. Nesbitt grew up in Columbus, Ohio and credits the discipline he acquired at the private Columbus Academy for helping him deal with the violence, drug use, and the social dislocation that surrounded him growing up in a tough neighborhood. He sees the Noble Charter Schools as a vehicle to instill discipline in inner city youth. Like the President, he grew up, for the most part without a present father. They both see themselves as self made men and view charter schools as a potential path to success for inner city youth. (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-01-21/business/ct-biz-0121-executive-profile-nesbitt-20130121_1_martin-nesbitt-michelle-obama-penny-pritzker)

Mr. Nesbitt and the President are basketball addicts. They play as much as they can and talk basketball incessantly. They, of course share this addiction with Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education and Craig Robinson, former Oregon State coach and Michelle Obama’s brother. Mr. Nesbitt sponsors and participates in three on three basketball tournaments all over the country.

During his first campaign, the President narrowed his friendship group, forcing long time friends Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi out of their social circles in response to attacks from the right concerning Mr. Ayers’s political past and from AIPAC on Professor Khalidi’s advocacy for Palestine and criticism of American Middle East Policy.

In Chicago, Mr. Nesbitt was the President of the Chicago Housing Authority in the late 90s where he worked with Rahm Emanuel and other power brokers to create public-private partnerships that created housing on Chicago’s south and west sides to replace the drug and crime ridden behemoth projects, the Robert Taylor Homes (see Gang Leader for a Day) and Cabrini Green.

The Commercial Club of Chicago worked with CHA to re envision the development of mid south and near west sides. A subcommittee created the “Renaissance 2010″ plan that sought to create mixed income housing in these area that was open to former project residents who worked thirty hours a week. “The Renaissance 2010″ plan resulted in heavy real estate investment in these areas and the creation of charter schools were seen as essential to attracting young urban professionals into these areas.

So the connection between real estate developers who speculate on land and building investment and the push for charter schools is very strong. Chicago real estate moguls lead by Bruce Rauner, the Republican nominee for Illinois governor, and the Crown family drive much of the Chicago push to close public schools to expand the charter sector. Indeed, the Commercial Club of Chicago, known as “the billionaires club” on the streets of Chicago, drives the Education policy of the mayor and funds, through connections with the Joyce Foundation (the Director of the Joyce Foundation sits on board of the Commercial Club) funds education “research” (non peer-reviewed) that is printed on the editorial pages of the Chicago Tribune to legitimate public school closings.

This pattern of connection between real estate developers, the creation of and public-private partnerships to build low density mixed income housing in impoverished neighborhoods, and the drive to close public schools and open charter schools has been chronicled in powerful detail by Education theorist and sociologist Pauline Lipman. I have addressed these issues in more detail in an Education Week piece, “Why Obama’s Education Policies will not Change and why ‘Change is Hard.'”

Mr. Nesbitt and Mayor Emanuel are the leading political actors who have orchestrated and executed public policy for the interests of the Commercial Club. Their chief supporters need the value of the land that they bought in gentrifying neighborhoods to increase. They see charter schools as a key magnet to attract middle class professionals back into neighborhoods within a three to four mile radius of downtown on the south and west sides.

The process appears to be working for developers on the near west side with the construction of a massive shopping mall, the sales of condos that were intended to be mixed income to middle and upper middle class white and black professionals, and the plans to build a new selective enrollment “Barack Obama High” smack dab in the middle of the former Cabrini Green.

The gentrification scheme of developers, however, is clearly not working in Bronzeville, on the near south side. According to a recent Harvard study that received some attention on NPR, real estate values in the mId south and Bronzeville areas on the south side is slowed by perceptions of violence. According to this study, white urban professionals are more likely to move into Latino areas like Humbolt Park and Pilsen.

To date, Mr. Nesbitt’s friends are scared to death about their investments in Chicago’s mid south and Bronzeville areas, explaining why this area has been targeted for several rounds of public school closings and charter school openings.

The take away from this piece is that many of the people who provided the funds to transform Mr. Obama into a viable national candidate after he passed the litmus test of Iowa are associated with the Commercial Club of Chicago were heavily invested in real estate speculation and building charter schools as a way to increase the value of property purchased by investors. All of this is couched in the language of making Chicago a global city and creating school choice for parents.

At the national level, Democrats for Education Reform stepped into the discussion over schools in exchange for raising money for Democratic campaigns that was needed to counteract the impact of the Citizens United decision.

The reason why those closest to the President are strong supporters of RTTT and charters is because they are connected to south and west side real estate investment in Chicago and bad press for public schools in the form of low test scores will create the pretext and legitimation for more investment and funding of charter schools that will lead to rising condo sales, condo values, and land values. Once values rise and more middle class professionals move into these areas, commercial shopping and retail investment will do its work to increase the value of real estate.

That the President’s best buddy, should attempt to capitalize on on charter school investment after playing a role in the shaping of the President’s education policy, is either the hallmark of a “free enterprise system” or more grease to the wheels of yet another episode of crony capitalism excreted by the proximity to power of buddies helping each other out.

I taught Mr. Nesbitt’s two oldest children and I have communicated my disappointments about the Obama administrations education policies to him.

I told Mr. Nesbitt several times that the Democratic party would pay a price for creating education policies that did not serve the interests of the majority of parents, students, teachers, and administrators.

He told me that “teachers do not deserve the amount of money that they make,” “that their salaries should be reduced,” and that they deserve no respect for sacrificing other career paths to answer the calling of teaching.

He seemed more concerned about reducing teacher’s salaries to create a profit margin for investors than about the impact the disruptive policies of school closings would have on human communities.

I recently sent him a note that explained to him that the majority of 3.7 million teachers in this country are very upset with policies that denigrate teachers, students, parents and communities for political gain.

For an administration that pretends to care about the disappearance of the middle class and rising income inequality, its lack of support for teachers and public schools is astounding. We have heard nothing from this administration when democratic state representatives all over the country threaten to steal pensions that were not adequately funded due to political incompetence and a willingness to pay political cronies rather than pension funds.

We now see an attack on due process for teachers gaining political support from both parties and the billionaires who will benefit from the destruction of public unions. The attack on due process rights for teacher unions will set precedents for attacks on due process rights for other unions.

Scarcely 12% of Americans belong to unions and real wages in the United States have declined as union membership has declined.

The curtain has been pulled back, and most Americans can see now who are pulling the levers. The Democratic Party no longer supports the working people of this country. it serves the commercial clubs in every major American city, Wall Street bundlers, and plutocrats all over the world.

Mr. Nesbitt, the 3.7 million teachers in this country will not be fooled by staged meetings between a few teachers in the White House, listening to a few BadAss Teachers at the DoEd, or calling for a congress of teachers. WE know that this is political posturing in advance of November elections.

Your administration has disrespected us, our communities, and our families. How stupid do you think we are? Your policies are an attack on our self-respect.

Unless you instruct Senators Harkins and Durbin to defund NLRB and RTTT, fire Arne Duncan, and begin pursuing a new path, very few of us will support you in November.

We know that your billionaire friends will profit from their investments only if you pursue policies that create more charter schools. We know that you and your friends are betting on Pearson and Microsoft stock.

Your blatant disrespect for students, teachers, parents, and school communities will cost you the upcoming election.

You are blinded by greed and ignorance.

Sarah Garland, writing for the HECHINGER Report, says that the Reagan-era report “A Nation at Risk” (1983) laid the groundwork for today’s regime of high-takes testing, longer school hours, and tougher accountability measures. The conservative Republicans he quotes express satisfaction with the Obama administration’s embrace of their agenda. The enduring puzzle: who stole the Democratic agenda of equity and teacher professionalism?

In a truly wonderful article in Sunday’s New York Times, David Kirp of the University of California at Berkeley lays waste the underpinnings of the current “education reform” movement. Kirp not only shows what doesn’t work, he gives numerous examples of what does work to help students.

Kirp explains in plain language why teaching can never be replaced by a machine. Although the article just appeared, I have already heard about angry grumbling from reformers, because their ultimate goal (which they prefer to hide) is to replace teachers with low-cost machines. Imagine a “classroom” with 100 students sitting in front of a monitor, overseen by a low-wage aide. Think of the savings. Think of the advantages that a machine has over a human being: they can be easily programmed; they don’t get a salary or a pension; they don’t complain when they are abused; and when a better, cheaper model comes along, the old one can be tossed into the garbage.

David Kirp dashes cold water on the reformy dream. Today’s reformers devoutly believe that schools can be transformed by market mechanisms, either by competition or technology. Kirp, author of “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools,” says that the tools for the improvement are not out of reach and do not depend on either the market or technology. His common-sense formulation of what is needed is within our reach, does not require mass firings or mass school closings, privatization, or a multi-billion dollar investment in technology.

But Kirp writes:

“It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.”

Reformers have made test scores “the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line.” The teacher whose students get high scores get a bonus, while those whose students get low scores get fired, just like business, where low-performers are laid-off. And, just like business, where low-profit stores are closed, and new ones are opened “in more promising territory, failing schools are closed and so-called turnaround model schools, with new teachers and administrators, take their place.”

Kirp says bluntly:

“This approach might sound plausible in a think tank, but in practice it has been a flop. Firing teachers, rather than giving them the coaching they need, undermines morale. In some cases it may well discourage undergraduates from pursuing careers in teaching, and with a looming teacher shortage as baby boomers retire, that’s a recipe for disaster. Merit pay invites rivalries among teachers, when what’s needed is collaboration. Closing schools treats everyone there as guilty of causing low test scores, ignoring the difficult lives of the children in these schools — “no excuses,” say the reformers, as if poverty were an excuse.”

Kirp throws cold water on the reformers’ favorite remedy: “Charter schools,” he writes, “have been promoted as improving education by creating competition. But charter students do about the same, over all, as their public school counterparts, and the worst charters, like the online K-12 schools that have proliferated in several states, don’t deserve to be called schools. Vouchers are also supposed to increase competition by giving parents direct say over the schools their children attend, but the students haven’t benefited.”

As we have frequently noted, Milwaukee should be the poster child for both voucher schools and charter schools, which have operated there for nearly 25 years. Yet Milwaukee is one of the nation’s lowest performing cities in the nation on the federal NAEP tests. Milwaukee has had plenty of competition but no success.

What’s the alternative? It is obvious: “talented teachers, engaged students and a challenging curriculum.”

Kirp points to the management ideas of W. Edwards Deming, who believed in the importance of creating successful systems in which workers were chosen carefully, supported, encouraged, and enabled to succeed by the organization’s culture. The best organizations flourish by supporting their employees, not by threatening them.

Kirp identifies a number of models in education that have succeeded by “strengthening personal bonds by building strong systems of support in the schools.” He refers to preschools, to a reading and math program called Success for All model, to another called Diplomas Now, which “love-bombs middle school students who are prime candidates for dropping out. They receive one-on-one mentoring, while those who have deeper problems are matched with professionals.”

Kirp cites “An extensive study of Chicago’s public schools, Organizing Schools for Improvement, identified 100 elementary schools that had substantially improved and 100 that had not. The presence or absence of social trust among students, teachers, parents and school leaders was a key explanation.”

Similarly, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, “has had a substantial impact on millions of adolescents. The explanation isn’t what adolescents and their “big sibling” mentors do together, whether it’s mountaineering or museum-going. What counts, the research shows, is the forging of a relationship based on mutual respect and caring.

Despite the success of programs cited by Kirp, which are built on personal relationships, “public schools have been spending billions of dollars on technology which they envision as the wave of the future. Despite the hyped claims, the results have been disappointing.”

Kirp concludes that “technology can be put to good use by talented teachers,” but it is the teachers who “must take the lead. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model hasn’t worked in reforming the schools — there is simply no substitute for the personal element.”

David L. Kirp is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools.”

Paul Thomas says that events are moving swiftly, and we must move with them.

When the corporate reform movement started, educators were taken by surprise and treated like children. When did it start? Was it the accountability movement that began after “A Nation at Risk” in 1983? Was it the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001? Or the election of Michael Bloomberg in 2001 and years of pointing to the New York City “miracle”? Or the appointment in 2007 of Michelle Rhee in 2007, who was the darling of the media? Or the arrival of Race to the Top, which was no better than NCLB? Or the firing of the staff in Central Falls, Rhode Island, and the release of “Waiting for Superman” in 2010?

Thomas writes:

“Most of those accountability years, I would classify as Phase 1, a period characterized by a political monopoly on both public discourse and policy addressing primarily public K-12 education.

“We are now in Phase 2, a time in which (in many ways aided by the rise in social media—Twitter, blogging, Facebook—and the alternative press—AlterNet and Truthout) teachers, professors, and educational scholars have begun to create a resistance to the political, media, and public commitments to recycling false charges of educational failure in order to continue the same failed approaches to education reform again and again.

“In Phase 1, educators were subjected to the role of the child; we were asked to be seen but not heard.

“In Phase 2, adolescence kicked in, and we quite frankly began to experiment with our rebellious selves. In many instances, we have been pitching a fit—a completely warranted tantrum, I believe, but a tantrum nonetheless.”

Now we are in Phase 3, says Thomas. In Phase 3, we shift to substance, not just putting out fires. We are the adults. The reformers may hold the reins of power but they are in retreat as it turns out that none of their ideas actually works.

He says: “In short, as I have argued about the Common Core debate, the resistance has reached a point when we must forefront rational and evidence-based alternatives to a crumbling education reform disaster.

“We must be the adults in the room, the calm in the storm. It won’t be easy, but it is time for the resistance to grow up and take our next step.”

I am all for Phase 3, but I am not sure who will be convinced by rational and evidence-based alternatives. We have always had the evidence. We have known–even the reformers have known–that their reforms are causing a disaster. They believe in disruption as a matter of principle. How do we persuade them to consider reason and evidence? I think that Phase 3 commences when parents and educators wake up and throw the rascals out of office. In state after state, they are attacking public education, teachers , and the principle of equality of educational opportunity. The best way to stop them is to vote them out.

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