Education Reform 101

Education Reform:
Private Capital vs. Public Schools
Polly Hughes 4.6.13 (updated 7-26-14)

There are some chilling basics behind the seemingly benign phrase education reform. Instead of guaranteeing improved school choices, more competetive preparedness, and brighter futures for our children, this reform is guaranteeing ongoing poverty, the de-professionalization of teachers, and mindless, rote learning on our nation's children.

Big Money

Large amounts of private 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 the Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli Broad, Walton Family, and the Bradley Foundations. 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.

Public Funds, Private Gains

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.”

Testing, testing...One, Two, Three

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 early 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.’[source]

In February 2014 Rothstein found that 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 respected their own families. [source]

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.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan favors the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). 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, historian of education and research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, 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. [source]

Rocketship, a charter school chain in Milwaukee, WI and other major American cities. Rocketship has been criticized widely. [source]

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. [source, pg. 6]

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?

Yardstick for Failure, Not Success

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 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. [source]

Arkansas Mother Obliterates Common Core in 4 Minutes!

Destroy Schools? Wrong! Destroy Poverty

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 Emanuel shut down some 50 schools in 2013; these school closings affected over 46,000 students. According to Emanuel, 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.[source]

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.

Since the 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina, a Louisiana state agency, Recovery School District, took control of the state's public schools. Today, the entire New Orleans school system is run by charters; no public school exists in New Orleans affecting 33,000 students. [source]

Duncan's views are not shared by many parents and teachers. 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 [source]

TFA: Professional vs. Novice

Long before all this closing of public schools began, Teach for America (TFA) emerged. TFA has been waiting and willing to take on the task of sending novice college graduates into urban schools and undercutting the experienced teachers. Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, etal, have been busily recruiting young college graduates (with degrees in any field) to become urban schoolteachers. How can college graduates with no teaching certificate, no education classes, no time spent as a student teacher, be successful in teaching children who come from extreme poverty?

TFA novices (as opposed to professionals) are given a mere five weeks of training with no instruction in differentiating learning styles and teaching techniques. However, those who choose education as a career commit to becoming long-term professionals. Professional teachers, if given the proper resources and not burdened with over-testing and concern over losing their jobs to TFA novices, would be afforded the time to spend their talents handling the many roles of a teacher: teacher, counselor, and advisor.

These criticisms also come from young people who bought into the promises of TFA, tried teaching anywhere from 25-40 students per class, and either failed miserably or realized the disservice done to themselves, public school teachers, and their students. Camika Royal, a former TFA novice from Philadelphia, writes:

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

Wendy Kopp, who founded Teach for America 18 years ago based on her Master thesis, placed 250 corps members in the New Orleans charter schools in 2013.

Jameson Brewer, degreed in education, joined TFA when he was unable to secure a teaching position during the recession. Here is how he describes his experience:

I entered the program with an open mind, but grew concerned as I learned TFA’s framework. . . corps members are told that TFA has studied the characteristics and practices of good teachers for the last 20 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 naïveté 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 argues that all student actions . . .are informed by their teacher’s actions. It is then student actions that cause academic success or failure.. .corps members are told to evaluate their worth. . .(This) 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 (via Anthony Cody blog) Jameson Brewer

Research and testimonials provide proof that TFA is indeed a great disservice to both its recruits and to public school teachers and their students.

Targeting Teachers

Teacher unions have been hit hard, teacher tenure is under fire, and experienced teachers have been fired in order to bring in TFA novices who are paid less, not unionized, and receive no pensions. Urban and rural school districts are strapped for cash as public funding is drained from them to fund private charter schools. The Common Core mandates of new computers and programs (that replace many textbooks) put school districts in dire financial straits. The soluiton is not to replace experience with 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.

Even though the destruction of public schools and de-professionalization of teachers is prolific, the public outcry has effected some changes and the tide, hopefully, is turning and will continue to turn against this travesty. Even many college students have become activists against the proliferation of TFA. Two such groups are Students Resisting TFA and Students United for Public Education.

Some school districts are well aware of the harm TFA can reek on their children and teachers. For example, 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. [source]

Public Money, Private Profits

Federal and taxpayer funding linked with the funds and policies of "charitable entrepreneurs" are a boon to the companies that are raking in profits. The profiteers include Bill Gates' Microsoft, Pearson Education (the company that writes the new tests to align with Common Core standards), and data-mining company InBloom. Others include CEOs of franchised, private charter schools, where most CEOs earn upwards of $500,000 annually.

Our children are not for sale and we must urge every parent, grandparent, teacher, and citizen to become vocal about the for-profit corporate takeover of public schools. Poverty is the number one reason children fail in school.

Richard E. Byrd Elementary School, Cabrini Green (above) prior to its demolition. From 2000 to 2005, teachers and students of the Byrd school campaigned for a new school building, mostly due to extremely poor conditions. Instead, in 2010 the school and land were apparently sold by the city of Chicago to the Immaculate Conception St. Joseph School for $1. The plan to improve the Cabrini Green projects has seen more than 80% of its residents move, successfully gentrifying the area, now filled with luxurious condominiums.Photo

No child can think clearly or focus on learning with a hungry stomach or a depressed family life. No child can focus on learning if he/she is cold, hungry or frightened. Happy children who feel safe, wanted, cared for, and 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.

For more from Polly Hughes visit: Education Resource

Cover photo by Colin Davis