Ernest Anemone, lawyer and teacher, describes here the growing opposition to market-based reforms such as school choice, test-based accountability, and Common Core. He praises the Badass Teachers Association for bringing out not only the grievances of teachers but giving them a vehicle to fight such powerful figures as Bill GTes and the Walton family.
What is at stake, he avers, is the future of democracy.
“On one side of this battle are a powerful group of self-proclaimed reformers inspired by market values and financed by billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Reed Hastings and the Walton Family. They believe that the purpose of education is to prepare children for the labor market by teaching them a “Common Core” of subjects which emphasize English and mathematics. Student proficiency is measured by standardized tests in these subjects, and classroom innovations are supposedly spread to the ‘best performers’ through the mechanisms of competition and ‘school choice.’
“On the other side of the battle are groups like the Badass Teachers, the teachers’ unions, and organizations like FairTest and the Network for Public Education who believe that schools should prepare children to be active agents of democracy, while providing them with a potentially-transformative experience. In their vision of education, students are engaged in cultivating their own moral voices through critical reflection, so educational achievement cannot be reduced to a standard curriculum or measured by standardized test results.
“Although classroom innovations are important, educational success is defined by broader factors outside of the school’s control—especially poverty. According to education historian Diane Ravitch, “poverty is the single greatest determinant of low test scores.” However, the standard package of reforms that is pushed so hard by Gates and others lacks any practical understanding of what it means to teach the 45 per cent of American children who come from struggling families, including the 16 million who live in abject poverty.
“The implication of ‘school choice’ programs is that good choices by ‘consumers’ lead to good results, and poor choices lead to poor results. But recasting poverty as a choice is not only misguided but damaging to the fabric of democracy. High-stakes standardized testing also creates a marketplace of shoddy comparisons—a marketplace that fails to see the strength in certain types of variation because it erroneously regards all variation as weakness.
“Against this background, it’s vital to protect the ability of schools to cooperate with each other (not to compete), and to model other aspects of democratic culture. When teachers, parents and children collaborate in a common search for solutions they increase their democratic capacities. It’s a fundamentally egalitarian vision that rejects the view of education as a commodity that can be quantified, bought and sold.”