Veteran teacher John Thompson says that it is time for the billionaires to step back and recognize the damage that they are doing to American education. They assume that because they are so successful, they know it all.

Shocked to discover that poverty actually exists, they decided that the best way to save poor kids was to destroy the school system.


In this thoughtful and provocative essay, Thompson writes:

“So, with the best of intentions, these novices assumed the mantle of “accountability.” Market-driven “reformers” set out to destroy education schools, teachers’ due process, and local systems of governance. These accountability hawks had great political success, but educationally they failed. Corporate “reformers” never understood why it is easier to kick down a barn than to build one. So, tens of billions of dollars has been wasted on their data-driven theories. And since so much had been invested in the macho theme of “accountability,” someone has to pay.”……,,,

Being true believers in data, “reformers” had always loved testing. As test-driven accountability backfired, however, standardized testing became a method of stomping down teachers, our unions, and our professional values. They even adopted a system, known as “value-added,” that could not conceivably be a tool for building better schools. It began as a kick upside the head to get our attention, so that educators would comply with top-down mandates. But now, the purpose of these statistical models is shaming and destroying individual schools and educators.

Then, the data-driven crowd tripped over students. Since these ideologues were in the dark and blissfully unaware of teaching and learning, they were not intentionally kicking kids as they struck out at their adult enemies. Having stumbled into a world they did not understand, “reformers” did not necessarily know that the system would respond to their mandates with nonstop test prep and narrowing the curriculum. But, now, high-stakes testing has even been pushed down into primary grades and into art classes……

“Sarah Carr, in Hope Against Hope, describes New Orleans as an example of school “reform.” Hurricane Katrina did the dirty work of wiping the old system. This created a “technocrat’s dream.” They were free to build the system they visualized, “run by graduates of the nation’s most elite institutions, steeped in data, always seeking precision, divorced from the messiness — and the checks and balances — of democracy.”

“In Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington D.C., N.Y.C, and elsewhere, “reformers” have adopted the Katrina method and doubled down on their gamble to destroy the status quo. Once, they might have thought that closing schools might save money or even be a step towards improving educational outcomes. By now, however, we have too much evidence to the contrary. The purpose of school closures, it is now clear, is kicking out veteran educators who have not seen the beauty of their theories of Big Data unleashing creative destruction.

“So, corporate “reformers” are now stumbling over the families of the children who they had wanted to lift up. As Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis explains, parents understand that “reformers” benefit from “one set of schools for children being taught to rule the world.” Whether they understand it or not, the elites’ testing regimes are producing another “set of schools for children being taught to be [Wal-Mart] greeters.”

“It is only a matter of time before urban parents join their children and educators, and become the next dog to be kicked in anger. After all, parents (like the teachers and employees of targeted schools) are workers too. And, the unions that “reformers” are kicking have long been essential to political coalitions working for children and families.

“But, we can’t expect “reformers” to stumble over that realization. They are too busy kicking schools and educators who they blame for the failure of their once-beautiful dream.”