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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On Wounding the Many-Headed Monster of Educational Reform

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Two years back, I wrote a letter to the President on Presidents' Day, regarding my views on Race to the Top and its impact upon educators, such as myself, and their students.  I received a reply mailed on the cusp of Indepedence Day.  I think I received it July 5th.  

The reply didn't specifically address my concerns, of course.  It was more of a form letter and it referred me to the federal government's website for educational policy.  I visited the site, but I didn't find my concerns adequately addressed there either.

I always try to trace a problem to its root in order to search for a permanent solution.  I used to think the federal government was the source of the problem for public education.  Indeed, with its Race-to-the-Top grants filtering down to the states, students and teachers became simultaneously subject to junk science measures of accountability as well as the Common Core.  Without fully realizing what they were in for, states reacted to federal initiatives in order to claim their piece of the pie.

The House Education and Workforce Committee has now approved a Student Access Act.  In brief, it would replace "national accountability" with "state-led accountability systems," prevent the U.S. Secretary of Education from "coercing states into adopting Common Core or any other standards," streamline a "maze of programs," provide for more "school choice" (probably code for public-school closure and the creation of opportunities for business) and focus more attention upon the needs of English-language learners, homeless children and, I am guessing, special-needs children, too.  

At one point, the major threat to public education in the City seemed to be Mayor Bloomberg.  Obviously, Bloomberg had no need to cater to the super wealthy for campaign donations.  He is one of them and one of the most successful ones at that.  He can buy most anything he wants.  It seems he did all in his power to help the likes of charter operators and the business-minded (like McGraw Hill with its failed online Regents scanning and grading experiment of 2013) create large salaries for managers and sometimes profits through throwing education further into the arms of the private sector. 

Making schools responsible for their own budgets and installing a Leadership Academy to dole out business-minded principals to schools encouraged cost-cutting and sometimes personal greed at the expense of sound education.  Older teachers became liabilities.  Some cost-cutting principals encouraged them to retire, minus the gold watch.  The City still suffers from some of the Leadership principals.  Bloomberg is gone, but his legacy lives on and his money will still find manifold ways to cause pain to public education.

Now, the focus in NY State is upon fighting back Governor Cuomo.  In his State of the State 2015, the Governor made clear to all that he is no fan of public education.  He would put in place, if he had his way, a plan to make 50% of teachers' evaluations dependent upon their students' test scores on tests meant to fail a generation.  He would continue Bloombergs policies of closing schools in favor of charters--which may just turn into more schools that further segregate society.  He would offer incentives of merit pay to pit one teacher against another as well as increase corruption in the system.  He has no plan for success.

It is clear to me that the problem with education "reform" does not start at the local, state or federal level of government.  It is clear to me that it starts with a segment of the super wealthy of society.  It is clear to me that it starts with families like the Waltons, some Wall-Street magnates or hedge-fund operators and the like.  They vigorously push their agenda, more than generously funding those who support them.  It is clear to me that they can buy a lot of what they want and much of it seems to be public policy.

It is clear to me that we face a multi-headed monster that would further increase the unequal distribution of wealth in society.  I would call it a money-hungry hydra, but I really feel it has many more heads than anything Hercules ever fought.  Perhaps, we can beat back the Governor's budget, and stop one head, but there are still so many left.  And, they quickly regenerate, sometimes into two.  Each is bankrolled by billions.  In many cases, the attacks are coordinated.  They seek to demolish due process and the dignity of labor.

If a mayor loses power, he will be replaced by a governor, well-funded by charter schools, hedge-fund operators and the like, who seek to destroy public education.  If federal policy is beaten back, the states may rear uglier heads still.  If we don't trace the problem to its roots and look for a solution there, we will forever be fighting the same damn monster in a different form.  

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