The corporate style reformers–the cheerleaders for charters, vouchers-and high-stakes testing–like to claim that they are leading the civil rights movement of their day. They imagine themselves locked arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King, Jr., in their efforts to end collective bargaining rights, to eliminate teacher due process rights, and to privatize public education.

 

I am not sure if they actually believe this or if they think they can pull the wool over the eyes of the media and the public.

 

In this fascinating interview, Josh Eidelson of Salon puts the question to Linda Darling-Hammond: Would you agree or disagree that the Vergara case–which would end teachers’ job protections–is an extension of the civll rights movement, as its proponents claim?

 

My guess is that Linda either fell off her chair laughing, or was momentarily dumbstruck by the absurdity of the idea.

 

She responded:

 

“I can’t understand why anyone would agree. To me, it’s completely unrelated to the agenda from Brown, which was about getting equal access to educational opportunities for students — you know, initially through desegregation, but the heritage of Brown is also a large number of school finance reform lawsuits that have been trying to advocate for equitable resource distribution between districts and schools. And Vergara has nothing to do with that …

 

“Even if you got rid of teachers’ due process rights for evaluation, you would do nothing to remedy the inequalities in funding and access that students have. And in fact you might exacerbate the problem.”

 

See, Linda remembers that the Brown decision was about equity, equitable resources for schools, and desegregation, and today’s self-proclaimed reformers avoid discussing things like that. They say that poverty is an excuse for bad teachers. Martin Luther King Jr. would never have said that. They certainly don’t care about desegregation. As the UCLA Civil Rights Project and as researcher Iris Rotberg have documented, charter schools exacerbate segregation. Indeed. the so-called reformers like to boast about all-black schools that get high test scores; segregation just is not an issue for them. They don’t see any reason to reduce class size–Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg think it should be increased. If pressed, they say that we are spending too much on education already. Things like desegregation, equitable resources, and class size are not on their agenda.

 

Eidelson asks whether the plaintiffs are right in saying that it should be easier to fire bad teachers, and Linda responds:

 

First of all, just to be clear: It is extremely easy to get rid of teachers. You can dismiss a teacher for no reason at all in the first two years of their employment. And so there is no reason for a district ever to tenure a “grossly ineffective” teacher — as the language of the lawsuit goes — because you know if a teacher is grossly ineffective pretty quickly, and it’s negligence on the part of the school district if they continue to employ somebody who falls into that classification when they have no barriers to [firing them]. And districts that are well-run, and have good teacher evaluation systems in place, can get rid of veteran teachers that don’t meet a standard and [don’t] improve after that point.

 

But in fact, the ability to keep teachers and develop them into excellent teachers is the more important goal and strategy for getting a high-quality teaching force. Because if what you’re really running is a churn factory, where you’re just bringing people in and, you know, firing them, good people don’t want to work in a place like that. So it’s going to be hard for you to recruit. Second of all, you’re likely not paying enough attention to developing good teachers into great teachers, and reasonable teachers into good teachers.

 

That’s not to say you shouldn’t get rid of a bad teacher if you get one. But you ought to be very careful about hiring and development – that makes that a rare occurrence.

 

When Eidelson asks Linda what should be done to fulfill the promise of the Brown decision, she responds:

 

First of all, we have a dramatically unequal allocation of wealth in the society, which is getting much worse … We need another War on Poverty … Because we have a quarter of our kids in the country, and more than half in the public schools of California, living in poverty.

 

And so that’s No. 1: We need to do what other developed nations do, which is ensure that kids have healthcare, housing and a context in which they can grow up healthy – in communities which still have the kinds of recreation facilities, public libraries and other supports, [including] early childhood education, that would continue to allow children to come to school ready to learn.

 

Then we need schools that are equitably funded, with more money going to the students who have the greatest needs. I’m proud to say that in California, we’ve just passed a school funding law that is probably the most progressive in the nation, and that will actually, over the next years, allocate more money to each child that is living in poverty, is an English learner, or is in foster care than to other children. And we will begin to redress some of the profound inequalities that exist today … Cities in California typically are spending much less right now – before this kicks in — than affluent districts. That’s the real thing — if we were litigating the successes of Brown — that’s the real thing that would be first on the agenda to correct.

 

And then beyond that, I think we have to be sure that the state builds a high-quality teaching force, well-prepared for all candidates. If we were a highly developed nation that is high-achieving, we would be offering free teacher education to everyone that wants to teach, in high-quality [preparatory programs] … and getting rid of the [programs] that can’t meet the bar, so that everyone comes in ready and competent.

 

Wait a minute, that’s not what Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and other leaders of the Status Quo want!